Items of Interest - Gene Monahan edition

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 5:27 PM [General]

    Today is May 11 and at various points of his 49-year association with the Yankees, Gene Monahan has overseen medical treatment of Sparky Lyle, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez among others.

    Next year though will be different as Monahan announced that this will be his last season and that he will be retiring to North Carolina. Monahan, who described himself as quiet and reserved seemed humbled by holding a press conference and talking about himself.

    And that among the reasons he will be leaving the Yankees, the organization he served in spring training as a bat boy in 1962 and then in the minors in outposts such as Fort Lauderdale, Columbus, Binghamton and Syracuse, is because of the wakeup call he received from battling throat and neck cancer last year.

    While he talked about himself, Monahan explained how the occupation changed from trainers carrying around just two bags to six big trunks because of the evolution of diagnosing injuries.

    He also recalled the first time he walked into the Yankee clubhouse as a major league trainer. That was in 1973, a time when all the Yankee players had big boom-boxes. Sparky Lyle's radio was blasting "Elton John's, Get Back Funky Cat". Lyle looked at Monahan and approved.

    It was a decision Monahan recently made the players aware of. He said his did so while gathering them for oral cancer screenings.

    "It was very difficult for me," Joe Girardi said. "With Geno, he has been someone that I would call a close friend even though as a player he was responsible for keeping me healthy. Geno was someone I thought I could go to about anything. He has meant so much to getting people healthy and getting them back on the field. His sense of humor and love for the game, I'm going to really miss him."

    Five years ago, Monahan was treating Hideki Matsui, who fractured his left wrist in the first inning and because of baseball rules, saw his consecutive games streak end at 1,768 games (combined Japan and Yankees). After not being able to play for a 519th straight game, Matsui apologized for getting hurt, which is rare.

    Speaking of current health concerns,  Rafael Soriano is not avaiable tonight on the recommendations of Monahan and the team doctor. Soriano's MRI showed a little inflammation in the right elbow and the hope is he will return for the Boston series.

    That means Joba Chamberlain is the eighth inning guy. Chamberlain has a streak of six straight scoreless outings after needing just nine pitches in an electrifying eighth inning last night.

    Chamberlain spent part of last night attributing his improved results to a mechanical adjustment of consistently keeping his hands from the center of his body.

    "I just put them (my hands) back to my belt," Chamberlain said. "It was exactly where I put them when I first got called up. I don’t know what happened in the whole process of the last four years. It’s just coming back up.

    "So it’s something that I felt like would be a big adjustment for me because my hands were always kind of bouncing and traveling. So the less movement I have it makes it a little simpler."

    Chamberlain will have that opportunity if A.J. Burnett pitches well. Burnett is coming off a loss in which he took a no-hitter past the fifth in Detroit. Also helping Burnett has been the 6.31 runs per game in his start, which they will try to add to against New Jersey native Vin Mazzaro.

     

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    Items of Royal Interest - Yankees-Royals

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011, 6:37 PM [General]

    Today is May 10 and the last time the Royals were in New York on this date was 1997 for a 5-2 loss. That Saturday afternoon, the Royals fielded a veteran lineup containing the likes of Jose Offerman, Jay Bell, Bip Roberts, Jeff King and Chili Davis.

    It is also one of the few times in the last 15 years that the Royals had a winning record on that date. In 1997, they were 17-16 after that loss and wound up losing 94 games. It also occurred in 2000 (18-15 and 77-85 finish); 2003 (21-13; 83-79 finish); 2009 (18-14; 65-97 finish).

    As for the present, the Royals take an 18-16 mark into their third series at the new stadium and will start Kyle Davies. Davies gave up Alex Rodriguez’s 500th home run on August 4, 2007 but also turned in outings such as June 6, 2008 when he allowed one run and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 2-1 win.

    Speaking of Rodriguez, he is 9-of-53 (.169) since April 23, though he has six hits in his last 22 at-bats. So if you subtract the 6-for-22, he was 3-for-31 beforehand, which might lead you to believe, the end of the slump is nearing.

    Certainly manager Joe Girardi believes so.

    "I've seen some better swings from him lately" Girardi said "Hopefully the day off helped him, just to get away from it. But as I've said, it's what all hitters go through. And they're gonna go through it at certain times during the year, and it's extremely frustrating, but as a manager you've gotta be patient, and understand that guys are gonna come out of it. That's a matter of time, too."

    Just like it was a matter of time for Derek Jeter’s performance Sunday but perhaps the biggest question is can the Royals maintain a pace that has them on pace for an 85-win season.

    It does not happen too often where a team leads the league in runs and stolen bases, which describes the Royals. They are tied with Texas and the Yankees with 170 runs and lead the majors with 42 steals out 49 opportunities.

    The last instance in the AL was the 2001 Mariners who won 116 times by scoring 927 runs and stealing 174 times. It also occurred when the 1999 Indians stole 147 bases and scored 1,009 times.

    Other instances are the 1995 Indians, who won 100 out of 144 games by scoring 840 runs and stealing 132 bags. Nine years before, the Indians also rebounded from a 101-loss season by leading the AL with 831 runs and 141 steals.

    The Yankees actually achieved it in 1985 winning 97 games while leading the league with 839 runs and 155 steals.

    And the man to address it is Jeff Francouer, the ex-Met outfielder, who was quite engaging when he said the following:

    "I’ve never been a huge proponent of base running but when we got to spring training the first day we’re on the back field doing all this base running, For me coming from Atlanta and NewYork, (that were) a little more veteran teams, I wasn’t used to that in spring training and the first couple of days I was like this sucks but they preach aggressiveness and it has helped."

    Francouer also spent some time discussing his thoughts about the state of the Mets, a team that he enjoyed playing for immensely even if the results did not show but that will appear in the papers Wednesday.

    Speaking of ex-New York outfielders, Melky Cabrera is here. As Jon Lane detailed earlier, Cabrera had a number of late-inning hits for the Yankees, especially two years ago. Cabrera is getting hits and there’s a little less of him as he has appeared to lose about 20 or 25 pounds.

     

     

     

     

     

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    A Jeterian Weekend of Flyballs Going Over Walls

    Monday, May 9, 2011, 12:42 AM [General]

    Part of the weekend was spent at my local Barnes and Noble reading the new Derek Jeter book. Another part was spent putting on late night sports talk radio as a way to doze off and until I reached the point of nodding off, the occasional call went something like this:

    "Derek Jeter can't hit leadoff, Derek Jeter should change positions, the Yankees should trade for Jose Reyes."

    Another part of my weekend was spent reading the newspaper, especially since I'm a Sunday paper kind of person and the text below appeared in one of the columns from people who scout the game stood out.

    "I think he still might be bothered by how his [contract] negotiations went down in the offseason. I think he will get his head back right and the warm weather will help him. There is something left, but not an elite player.”

    Nevertheless, an NL scout said of Jeter, “He is pretty much done. The success of middle infielders over 35 is not strong. I think the Yanks are going to regret that deal.”

    I don't have the expertise to know whether someone is done unless it's truly obvious. Roughly one month into a season is not enough for me to make any kind of judgment, especially since I haven't played organized baseball in 20 years and can't even make contact on 80 mph pitches at batting cages.

    But I know as long as things like home runs and fly balls elude a player, especially one of Jeter's age the chatter continues and almost to an excessive and annoying level, especially on the radio.

    As an observer of most of Jeter's career, especially since the 2005 season (when I began covering the Yankees on a freelance/side basis), you cringe when some of the same questions are asked while being worded 25 different ways.

    So with that in mind it was nice to see Jeter get different kind of questioning yesterday, such as about his first home run of the year, first home in over 250 at-bats and first multi-home run game in a while.

    "Everybody needs a day like this," Jeter said to reporters in Texas. "I felt good in Detroit. I was hitting the ball the other way, hitting the ball where it's been pitched, I've been having some good at-bats, and it carried over to here. Sometimes it's not as easy as we make it look."

    Easy is calling up a radio station to complain. Easy is sharing your frustration within the context of social media in a snarky fashion.

    But it's not easy when a player has to hear the same question 20 times about how he may be washed up even it is a player with five championships and nearly 3,000 hits.

    "It wears on you," hitting Coach Kevin Long told reporters. "There's some satisfaction involved because the guy's been busting his tail to get over the hump. He's been feeling a lot better but hasn't had a lot to show for it. Today, he got some dividends."

    And if you're an observer of the Yankees, you'd like to see that continue because the washed up story is getting kind of boring and not because it may be a pending reality someday, but because it can get excessive.

    And if this is an aberration, then so be it, some things are not meant to be, but if it's not, sit back and enjoy it just like this quote:

    "I'm not catching Babe Ruth, you know what I mean?" Jeter said to reporters. "My job is to get on base and score runs. I just want to have good at-bats."

    Many of us want to see just that, especially if another slump generates a similar reaction to what has been displayed most of this year until yesterday.

     

     

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    Where's the Offense - A Two-Week Study

    Friday, May 6, 2011, 2:27 AM [General]

    First a confession, I didn't watch most of this four-game series with Detroit that from the looks of it and accounts in the paper was not the Yankees' finest hour of the first 29 games. First it represents their first three-game losing streak of the year and secondly it is a continuation of the offensive slump that seems to be two weeks old.

    You might remember two weeks ago. That was when the Yankees went from Toronto to Baltimore. After a rainout on April 22, the Yankees scored 15 times on 14 hits the next night.

    Since that time, the Yankees have split their 12 games and the reason is mostly at the plate. The Yankees have scored 46 runs (3.8 per game), which is not great, but also not terrible. Yet it is a dip from the six averaged through the first 17 games.

    The most noticeable dip from a team standpoint comes within the batting average. After that game in Baltimore, the Yankees had a .264 team average but as they head to Texas, the average has dropped to .251. That means the Yankees have hit .232 (89-for-232) in that period and that is despite averaging nearly one home run per game in the last two weeks.

    When the team numbers slide down, it is natural to look at the individual numbers of various players, so with that in mind, let's examine the every day lineup.

    Russell Martin - After April 23, Martin was at .333 (18-for-54) and now he is at .279 (24-for-86) by virtue of getting six hits in his last 32 at-bats.

    Mark Teixeira - After April 23, Teixeira was at .279 (17-for-61) and now he is at .253 (25-for-99) by virtue of getting eight hits in his last 38 at-bats.

    Robinson Cano - After April 23, Cano was at .324 (23-for-71) and now he is at .304 (34-for-112) by virtue of getting 11 hits in his last 51 at-bats.

    Derek Jeter - After April 23, Jeter was at .221 (15-for-68) and his numbers have been better in this period as evidenced by his .250 average (27-for-108) caused by a 12-for-40 stretch.

    Alex Rodriguez - After April 23, Rodriguez was at .370 (17-for-46) and seemingly locked in. It also was right after his oblique injury and since then his average has dipped to .273 (24-for-73) by going 7-for-27 since that point.

    Nick Swisher - After April 23, Swisher was at .254 (15-for-59) and now he is down to .214 (21-for-98) by virtue of getting six hits over his last 39 at-bats.

    Curtis Granderson - After April 23, Granderson was at  .267 (16-for-60) and now he is down slightly to .262 (27-for-103) due to getting 11 hits in his last 43 at-bats.

    Brett Gardner - After April 23, Gardner was at .154 (8-for-52) but now has climbed to .225 (18-for-80) by getting 10 hits over his last 32 at-bats. More importantly is that 10 of Gardner's 14 walks have been drawn in this span.

    Jorge Posada - After April 23, Posada was at .164 (9-for-55) but has dropped to .154 (14-for-91) by going 5-for-36 in that span.

    So there you have it. When most of your regular players have slumped, this is what can happen even as the team ERA decreases from 4.33 to 3.73.

    On the flip side you have the Tampa Bay Rays, who now sit one game back in an AL East where four games is the difference from first and last.

    In the same amount of games as the Yankee slide, the Rays have won has won eight of their last 12 by doing the inverse of the Yankees offensively, though you could go back four more games and says the Rays have won 11 of their last 15.

    Since the Yankees have officially slumped for 12 games, it's better to look at the Rays in the same span.

    Thirteen games ago, the Rays held a .232 team average (145-for-624) but it has spiked up to .240 (248-for-1033) as the team is hitting .252 (103-for-409) in that period.

    John Jaso - Thirteen games ago, Jaso held a .189 average (7-for-37) but has gone 8-for-22 since and is up to .254.

    Ben Zobrist - Thirteen games ago, Zobrist held a .197 average (13-for-66) but has gone 17-for-49 since and is up to a respectable .261.

    B.J. Upton - Thirteen games ago, Upton held a .210 average (13-for-62) but has gone 12-for-47 since and is up to .229.

    Johnny Damon - Thirteen games ago, Damon held a .233 average (14-for-60) but has gone 15-for-50 since and is up to .264.

    That's four players who have experienced nearly a 20-point increase in batting average to counter a pitching staff with a 3.32 ERA and that's how you might arrive at this juncture if you're the Yankees.

    Also, there was some recent talk about struggling against off-speed pitching and here are some numbers for you to chew on based on the inside edge feature of ESPN.com (numbers through 5/4)

    Brett Gardner .210 vs. curveballs

    Curtis Granderson . 195 vs. sliders

    Derek Jeter .217 vs. curveballs

    Those are some examples, but you get the idea. For a further idea, just look at the amount of off-speed pitches thrown at the Yankees by starting pitchers over the last 12 games.


    Rick Porcello - eight hits, 88 fastballs, 32 off-speed
    Max Scherzer - four hits, 72 fastballs, 37 off-speed
    Brad Penny - six hits, 60 fastballs, 38 off-speed
    Justin Verlander - eight hits, 76 fastballs, 51 off-speed
    Jesse Litsch - six hits, 51 fastballs, 43 off-speed
    Kyle Drabek - seven hits, 69 fastballs, nine off-speed
    Ricky Romero - five hits, 74 fastballs, 35 off-speed
    Edwin Jackson - four hits, 46 fastballs, 45 off-speed
    Mark Buehrle - six hits, 68 fastballs, 38 off-speed
    Gavin Floyd - four hits - 64 fastballs, 38 off-speed
    Philip Humber - one hit - 41 fastballs, 59 off-speed
    Jake Arrieta - five hits - 50 fastballs, 47 off-speed

    That's 64 hits on 759 fastballs and 472 off-speed pitches for a total of 1,231 pitches. So in their last 12 games, opposing starters have averaged 103 pitches and 39 off-speed pitches.

    Of course none of this could matter if the Yankees start hitting again. Based various track records, business at the plate is something that will likely pick up sometime in the near future.

     

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    Ivan Nova - Need More Curveball

    Monday, May 2, 2011, 1:21 AM [General]

    Other than a relief appearance April 19 in Toronto, various circumstances gave Ivan Nova 11 days between starts. That meant between April 15 and 26, Nova had nearly two weeks to receive coaching, guidance and encouragement from pitching coach Larry Rothchild.

    Based on the results and the amount of curveballs successfully thrown in those two starts, you have to wonder if Rothchild channeled his Christopher Walken and at some point said "I could have used a little more curveball or I got a fever and the only prescription is more curveball."

    Rothchild probably encouraged it, but possibly not to that extent. Whatever extent he encouraged it, using the pitch obviously worked in these last two starts and is a significant reason for Nova pitching 6 1/3 innings in the last two starts against the White Sox and Blue Jays.

    "My fastball command wasn’t there, but I got my curveball to get people out," Nova said. “That’s the key. Not every time I’m going to have my fastball. Not every time I’m going to feel my best. As a pitcher, I’ve got to find a way."

    "It was a struggle early for him,” said manager Joe Girardi. “He wasn’t using his curveball, and he was getting in some bad counts with his fastball. He didn’t have command of his fastball early today, but then he started using his curveball and everything changed for him."

    Nova's 12th major league start began just as Girardi described.

    He gave up a leadoff home run to Adam Lind on a 2-1 fastball and then had two on and one out when Rothchild came to visit. Without revealing too much of the conversation, the brief chat had Rothchild urging Nova to go right back and attack the strike zone and that he knew the right-handed could do it.

    It did not pay off right away because the Jays strung together a run and two stolen bases, but you could detect it in innings four through seven. Of the 28 curveballs thrown by Nova, 11 were thrown in the first three innings and the other 17 were thrown at various points in the fourth through one out in the seventh.

    The pitch generated two outs in the fourth. It made its most noticeable appearance in the fifth when Yunel Escobar was struck out looking on a curve for the second out and again when Lind swung at a curve for strike three to end the fifth.

    It won't always work well; especially when you consider his ERA was 4.39 in the five starts he flashed that curve at least 20 times last year. In 2011, Nova threw it 37 times in his first three starts and showed a 7.36 ERA but in the last two starts featuring 58 curves, he has a 2.13 ERA.

    "He’s been able to throw it for strikes and take guys out of the strike zone with it," Rothschild said. "He needs to get better at locating his fastball, there’s no question, but he’s got enough movement and power there that he gets people out on some fastballs that aren’t well located just because of the power movement. He’s just getting his feet wet."

    Now the next step is to develop a third pitch, especially a changeup since Rothchild said, "Hopefully he can get that changeup going because he has a good one."

     

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