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 (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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    April - The good, the bad and the whatever

    Sunday, May 1, 2011, 1:58 AM [General]

    For the second straight season, the Yankees have won 15 games in the opening month. They were 15-7 last year and by going 15-9 this month, the Yankees have won at least that amount of games in consecutive opening months for the first time since 2002 and 2003 teams were a combined 38-16 in those Aprils.

    The Yankee offense has had an interesting and contrasting month.

    The .253 batting average places them slightly above the league average which was .249 going into Saturday's games. The .337 on-base percentage ranks in the top half of the league and well above the league average of .319 going into Saturday's game.

    Where the Yankees have really shined offensively is hitting home runs. Their 43 home runs lead the league by far and only four of their 24 games have not featured a home run and six players have at least five home runs.

    On the pitching front, the Yankees have finished the month with a 3.79 ERA. A week ago, it was at 4.33 but this week, Yankee starters pitched nine straight games before allowing three earned runs, a streak that A.J. Burnett broke during his six innings of yesterday's 5-4 win over the Blue Jays.

    In terms of player performance, it has been a mixed bag, which you'd expect since very few teams have anyone clicking on all cylinders at the same time.

    Starting with catcher, Russell Martin has been a steal. Besides hitting for a .293 batting average, second-best on the Yankees behind Robinson Cano, Martin has surpassed his home run total from last year. He also has been a defensive upgrade and has provided excellent encouragement towards getting Burnett to throw his changeup. Burnett threw that pitch close to 50 times and often credited Martin with encouraging him to do so.

    Moving to first base, Mark Teixeira made it through April well above his normal opening month performance. He finished the month by equaling his .256 batting average from last year. He also hit six home runs, though three were in the opening week and ended April by going 5-for-22 in the final week.

    Moving to second base, Robinson Cano showed numerous signs of being the AL's best player with a .320 average. He finished the month by hitting in 18 of his last 19 games and 21 of 24 overall. He actually hit .400 through the first month of 2010 but by hitting eight home runs in April, Cano is the third player to hit that many in April, joining Vinny Castilla (1997-98 with Colorado) and Alex Rodriguez (2002-03 with Texas).

    Moving to shortstop, Derek Jeter finished at .250 without a home run and six RBI. When he swung at a high fastball from Octavio Dotel Friday, a few columns wondered if he was done. Jeter has had 92 at-bats and Joe Girardi said earlier that it would be 150 or so at-bats before he considered moving him further down in the order. For what it's worth, Jeter did hit well in the final week of the month, going 8-for-24, but a year ago when he finished at .270, the captain was .330, four HR and 18 RBI in the first month.

    Moving to third base, Alex Rodriguez spent most of the month over .300 but dealt with an oblique injury (the one that seems to going through baseball). He returned last Saturday with a 2-for-5 performance that lifted his average to .370 but in the last week the batting average dropped 80 points due to a 3-for-23 slump. Combined with age and that injury, it's something to bear watching, which is what Girardi did when he gave him Saturday off.

    Moving to left field, Brett Gardner disappointed at the leadoff spot, which he was placed in against right-handed pitchers through April 16. When he hit .135 in that spot, Gardner went back to hitting at the bottom of the order. The last week of the month has been a decent one for Gardner, who went from .154 to .188 by going 5-for-17 and hitting two of his three home runs. Gardner hit .277 last season and the first sign that he has returned to normal is when the on-base percentage goes over .300 and in the last week it has increased from .214 to .273.

    Moving to center field, Curtis Granderson's late season surge has continued into this year. You can make that conclusion based on his .271, seven home runs and 15 RBI as well as his .280 batting average off left-handed pitchers, which is an increase from the .234. Should Granderson continue that figure, it would be his best mark against southpaws since becoming a full-time center fielder in 2006. It would also represent a nearly .100 point increase from two years ago.

    Moving to right field, Nick Swisher had a rough month that in the final week saw him hit his first home and end droughts of 19 at-bats without a hit and nine games without an RBI. It was during that week that Swisher also went 4-for-25 and saw his average drop by nearly 30 points to .226.

    Moving to designated hitter, the adjustment to getting three or four at-bats per game has not gone well for Jorge Posada. Posada has had a weird month with six home runs, but has just three other hits and because of that goes into May hitting just .125. Though given Posada's age, you would not expect the production from the DH spot the Yankees had from Hideki Matsui two years ago, but you'd certainly expect better than the first month.

    Moving to the rotation, CC Sabathia has been fine and is off to one of his best starts despite a 2-1 record in six starts.

    Burnett has had a history of pitching well in April and this year was no different. Many are waiting to see what happens in May and beyond before saying Burnett has turned it around from last year, but his mechanics look free and easy. That makes you believe this year will be better, especially if he uses the changeup with confidence and conviction.

    Freddy Garcia pitched well in two starts, which was impressive for someone who hadn't pitched in a while and had two starts changed due to rainouts. Garcia beat Texas and pitched well against Baltimore but his assortment of slow stuff and fastballs in the high 80s had nothing Friday against Toronto in a game that could have been much worse than a 5-3 loss.

    Phil Hughes was awful in three starts and so far nobody has figured out why his velocity has diminished or why it appears for two innings and then goes away. That happened in his last start April 14 against Baltimore and Hughes has not pitched since, going through various MRIs and tests to figure out the mysterious cause.

    Hughes' problems bring us to Bartolo Colon and impressive would be an understatement for someone who last pitched two years ago and has not had a winning season of more than 10 starts since being a 21-game winner and a CY Young pitcher for the 2005 Angels. Colon has started twice and thrown mostly two-seam and four-seam fastballs and for someone of his age, it was quite the sight to see him hitting 95 and 96 late in his eight inning start against the White Sox.

    The final rotation spot is occupied by Ivan Nova, who pitches today. Nova's biggest problem in his brief career has been getting through the fifth and sometimes the sixth but he did Tuesday when he pitched into the seventh before the bullpen blew it. You'd like to see Nova get more than the 12 strikeouts and less than the 11 walks he had in 21 2/3 innings. For now, Nova seems to be someone who will split good and uneven starts right down the line based on the four runs and 11 hits he produced in 12 1/3 innings against the Twins and White Sox compared with the nine runs and 11 hits produced in 8 2/3 innings against Boston and Texas.

    Finally the bullpen, what can you say about Mariano Rivera that hasn't been said before? Yes, he is human when he blows consecutive save opportunities but his nine saves in the season's opening month are his most before May 1.

    As for the eighth inning, it has been a rough first month for Rafael Soriano. When someone takes the Yankee money, they take the booing that goes along with it when it does not go well. That happened twice to Soriano, who allowed six runs and four walks in ugly performances against Minnesota and Chicago. Soriano did not own up to it after the Minnesota but was very engaging the next afternoon. There is some talk that Soriano cannot make the adjustment from being a 45-save man to the eighth inning but it seems to be a little early for that chatter, especially when his other 10 appearances have produced a respectable 2.89 ERA.

    The seventh inning is Joba Chamberlain's for the time being and he produced a 4.15 ERA. For the first time since coming up in August 2007, Chamberlain seems to have a defined role and it appears the velocity is back at around 94, 95 after it being down in the previous two years, which is to believed to have been caused by the August 2008 shoulder injury.

    Elsewhere in the bullpen, David Robertson has pitched well. He was unscored upon in 10 appearances until Friday night when he froze as Jose Bautista stole second on him and his throw sailed into center field. He is allowing roughly one hit per inning and has struck out 12 in 9 1/3 innings so far.

    As for Boone Logan, the onus is on him to pitch as well as he did during the second half last year when Damaso Marte's injury made him the lone lefty. This year, Logan is currently facing the same scenario since Pedro Feliciano is sidelined with a torn capsule. Logan finished the month with a 3.00 ERA in nine outings and that was due to three scoreless appearances this week.

    In terms of what lies ahead for the Yankees, the next month opens with one game against the Jays, followed by a seven-game trip through Detroit and Texas, which was a nightmare place for the Yankees last year. There are home games with Kansas City and Boston to go along with a visit from the Mets and Blue Jays again. The Yankees also see Tampa Bay for the first time, return to Baltimore and end the month in Seattle and Oakland.

    Right now, the Yankees are on pace to win 101 games and hit 290 home runs and if you want to see if that pace can be maintained the best advice would be to stay tuned.

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    Throwing words and not the ball around with the Jays

    Saturday, April 30, 2011, 2:26 AM [General]

    When three hours and 35 minutes of tightrope and high-wire baseball ended, there were a number of words thrown around.

    Walking over to the Blue Jay clubhouse, presided over by first-year manager John Farrell, words like game-changing, complete player and lead pitch were used as descriptive terms. Also used were angelic.

    Game-changing described the speed element anchored by Rajai Davis. Complete player referred to Jose Bautista and lead pitch described the normal role of Casey Janssen's final pitch. Angelic was used by Ricky Romero, who described being lucky enough to avoid getting hit by a line drive in the third inning by saying:

    “I guess there’s an angel next to me right there."

    All of those components led to the end result of a really long night at Yankee Stadium, the kind that vendors really like but writers necessarily don't and when it was over, Farrell was effusive in praising that trio and the others who helped the Blue Jays to a 5-3 victory.

    It was difficult to determine which was more impressive.

    Was it Davis stealing twice and being a constant distraction fresh off an injured ankle?

    Was it Bautista slugging a home run that has yet to land or pulling or aggressively taking second when David Robertson froze in the sixth in conjunction with Davis that led to a run?

    Was it Janssen leaving the tying run on base with a nasty curveball that made Alex Rodriguez look so helpless that ended the seventh?

    So with that in mind, let's begin with Davis. A known speedster to anyone who has watched him ply his trade in the Bay Area (137 stolen bases with the Giants and Athletics and 146 overall), Davis was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics with the idea of getting Toronto more proficient in baserunning

    "My vision for this team is to be more aggressive on the basepaths, find other ways to score runs, rather than being so reliant and sitting back, waiting for the home run to make us an unpredictable offensive team."

    That was what Farrell said after taking over a team that accumulated the following totals and league rankings in stolen bases:

    2010 - 58 - 14th

    2009 - 73 - 13th

    2008 - 80 - 10th

    2007 - 57 - 13th

    2006 - 65 - 8th

    You get the idea, the three steals gave Toronto 27. Besides ranking is in the top half of the AL, it is an amount they did not reach until July 2 last year.

    As for Bautista, Yankee fans might have been looking at the best player in the AL all week by watching Robinson Cano hit four home runs in the last five games. Cano was good last night with two solo home runs and two walks, but Bautista was better and more distracting.

    There's nothing distracting about facing a man who hit 54 home runs and is the leader in several major categories, such as walks, runs scored and home runs. He also three of Toronto's 27 stolen bases, which is one-third of his total this year.

    Though regarded by an above average baserunner, Bautista hadn't been too aggressive but he caught David Robertson by surprise in the sixth. On a 1-1 count, Davis was leaning off third base, daring Robertson to throw. For a split second, Robertson faked and it was then Bautista raced towards second, causing the reliever not to properly set his feet and throw the ball into center field for an error.

    "Thankfully, he's in our uniform," Farrell said. "Whether it's an aggressive play on the basepaths, whether it's getting the right pitch in a certain situation where he drives it out of the ballpark ... We've said it a number of times -- he's very much a complete player, it shows up every night, and it's a fortunate thing for us."

    "I figured (Bautista) would go sooner or later, he’s really fast,” Robertson told reporters. "They’re real aggressive on the base paths. It would’ve been great to steal an out there and get out of the inning with no damage, but I blew it today."

    Also fortunate was Janssen's fortitude to throw a curve to a player such as Rodriguez. It was one of six curveballs thrown in that inning and the second that generated a swinging strike three.

    Farrell described it as a big pitch, but one that's more of a lead pitch, meaning it is designed to set up fastballs and then he credited catcher J.P Arencibia for selecting it at that point.

    With Yankee Stadium, anticipating a rally and two on base in a three-run game it was the biggest pitch of the night until the next biggest pitch of the night. And that was in the eighth after Cano's second home made it a two-run game.

    Eventually it gets to Derek Jeter with the bases loaded and one out after Octavio Dotel walked Russell Martin and Brett Gardner. Jeter fell behind, evened the count and then Dotel didn't really come after him but tried to get him to chase at a high fastball and it worked.

    "They're going to come after you. We know that," Jeter said. "They got the best of us. You would have liked to have gotten at least one [run] out of those situations. They pitched well today."

    The next four outs were easy for the Blue Jays and when it ended, they could enjoy a complete performance of stable starting pitching, power, aggressiveness on the bases and clutch relief pitching.

    "We've had to overcome some things early on, and hopefully we can keep doing that all season long, because that's what winning ballclubs do," Bautista said to reporters. "No matter what happens throughout the year, they find a way to keep winning games."

    The Blue Jays are back at .500 through 26 games. Though they're not projected to win the AL East or the wild card, displays such as this would make them a pesky opponent managed by someone who knows all about trying to win this division.

    "He's loud, man. Every time he hits the ball, it's hard," Freddy Garcia told reporters, after allowing three runs on seven hits and five walks over five innings of work. "This is his moment right now."

    And based on what Bautista showed last night, there could more moments like that for opposing pitchers to deal with.


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    Items of Interest - White Sox-Yankees Series Finale

    Thursday, April 28, 2011, 5:51 PM [General]

    Today is April 28 and two years ago Curtis Granderson was the leadoff hitter for the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park for an 11-0 loss to CC Sabathia and the Yankees. Granderson went 0-for-3 that night but has done fairly decently there by hitting .272 in 550 games. That's where he is tonight as Derek Jeter gets his first night off and a chance to enjoy the action from the dugout.

    One person who hopes to enjoy the action more is Phil Hughes. Hughes found out that there is a low-level of thoracic outlet syndrome and is headed to St. Louis for a Monday consultation with vascular surgeon Dr. William Robert Thompson.

    "The more I listened the more I was led to believe it was a done deal," GM Brian Cashman said. "We did not come up with any kind of diagnosis. That’s why Phil is going to see the specialist."

    Numerous pitchers and players have had this and the comeback results have been mixed, but Cashman is not ready to cross that point until Hughes' visit in St. Louis is over though it could be like a situation on the FOX show "House, which Cashman is apparently a big fan of when he said: "He's really really smart but it takes awhile sometimes."

    Also getting the night off is Mark Teixeira, whose sore shoulder will keep him day-to-day. The right shoulder was originally injured Tuesday when he made a diving stop and again after his third at-bat last night. The pregame routine for Teixeira was to have some treatment and then possibly take some swings. At that point he would find out whether it hurts more from the right or left side.

    "If at some point, I need to swing today, I’ll find out then," Teixeira said after also saying he didn't think it was anything too serious.

    Eric Chavez will make the start at first, something he has never done as a professional in a regular-season game. Chavez spent part of spring training working on things such as footwork and fielding low or short hopped throws with the aid of Tino Martinez and Teixeira.

    Those two also suggested that he make the switch to a first baseman's glove since Chavez originally entered camp in possession of an outfielder's mitt.

    "I was kidding with Derek yesterday, - just make sure you don’t hit me in the chest," Chavez said. “I’ve worked on my footwork around the bag and shorts hops. I’ve tried to work on that whenever I can. You never know until that actually happens."

    Sabathia will pitch tonight and will attempt for his 159th win. That would tie him with Roy Halladay for the most wins in the last decade.

    That's impressive but so is 10 earned runs through five starts, which marks his third-lowest ERA of his career at this point. In 2006, Sabathia was at 1.95 and two years earlier he was at 2.34.

    As for the White Sox, they can clinch their first series victory in New York since scoring six runs and taking two of three in August 2005. That series is probably best remembered for Aaron Rowand running all over the place and tracking everything down in center field.

    This series might be best remembered for Brett Lillibridge's two game-ending catches Tuesday in right field. Though he has 32 innings there, manager Ozzie Guillen said he is a very good outfielder and tonight has him leading off and playing left field where he has played just eight innings.

    Speaking of Guillen, it appears that  MLB will be reviewing the two tweets he made after his first-inning ejection by plate umpire Todd Tichenor.

    "I no worry about that," Guillen said. "Let's talk about [expletive] baseball. [Expletive] tweeting."

    That's what Guillen said after Wednesday's game.

    With that in mind let's play ball and for the White Sox, they hope Edwin Jackson can continue the positive trend of starting pitching that has seen Phillip Humber, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Mark Buehrle allow eight earned runs and strike out 28 over the last four games.





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    Wowed by Colon

    Thursday, April 28, 2011, 2:17 AM [General]

    Bartolo Colon has made 327 regular-season starts since becoming a major leaguer with the 1997 Indians. On two previous occasions, I had seen him person (7/23/02 with the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium and 7/6/07 with the Angels at Yankee Stadium.

    At those junctures of his career, Colon was at different points.

    In 2002, he was the man traded for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips on a team trying to go for it as best they can, which was evident when he pitched a 134-pitch complete game five days earlier. Colon was not awful, but was not good that rainy night as he surrendered home runs to Mo Vaughn and Mike Piazza.

    Five years later, Colon left Montreal via trade to the White Sox and then cashed in, joining Vladimir Guerrero with the Angels. He won 39 games and a CY Young in the first two years before injuries hit and when Colon pitched the second time in person, he failed to win for the eighth straight time by allowing seven runs in two-plus innings of a 14-9 Yankee win.

    That year also represented the last year Colon made more than 15 starts. It also represented the last time he completed eight innings - until last night. Colon has 13 more starts to go to reach 15 and considering the injury news on Phil Hughes, it could happen.

    Or it could happen simply because he is too effective to go back to the bullpen. One thing for certain is that anyone who paid attention to his second Yankee start was wowed and in awe of the free and easy motion that produced 65 strikes, 90 fastballs in eight innings.

    Not only that, the pop was something to be awed it about. The pop was from a fastball that consistently hit 90 and reached at least 95 on 15 occasions, including when Juan Pierre struck out swinging.

    “I can’t remember seeing him like that since he was in Cleveland or with the Angels,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “His ball was moving great."

    It was moving up, down, in and out, which is what it was doing when Colon went 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in seven starts for Aguilas Cibaenas. It was there Tony Pena saw something similar to what we saw last night during those eight masterful innings.

    It was the same thing Robinson Cano saw while occasionally watching on TV during his offseason in the Dominican Republic.

    "We all know the kind of guy he was back in the day -- a Cy Young [winner]," Cano said. "I saw him pitching in the Dominican, and he was really good. He came to Spring Training, and he pitched the same way."

    "I had no idea what to expect," Joe Girardi said. “I knew what he used to be, but he hadn’t pitched with any distance for a while. But as he’s shown you, there’s been consistency since day one of spring training.”

    Consitency is always good. Getting wowed occasionally is nice and that's what happened last night to anyone watching Colon.

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    Items of Interest - Phil Hughes MRI saga edition

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 5:44 PM [General]

    Today is April 27 and 64 years ago, major league baseball celebrated Babe Ruth day as the Sultan of Swat made his penultimate appearance at Yankee Stadium.

    Back to the present, if it seems like the last 36 hours have been like the Phil Hughes' watch, that is because it has as Hughes continues getting tested for the mysterious symptons of that troublesome dead arm.

    Hughes spent part of last night watching Alex Burrows score the overtime winning goal for the Canucks that eliminated the Blackhawks. Hughes certainly would rather spend his time talking about as well as watching the Tampa Bay Lightning play their seventh game tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Phil Hughes watched Alex Burrows score the overtime winning goal for the Canucks that eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks. He also will be interested in watching the Tampa Bay Lighting play their seventh game against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.

    Those are topics that Hughes would prefer talking about, especially since he has spent nine hours over the last two days at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and still does not have a cause for the mysterious dead arm.

    The latest round of tests featured an MRI with the ink and dye and a CT scan just to cover the bases. When Hughes spoke at approximately 4:15, he said team physician Christopher Ahmad would notify him at around 6:00.

    As for yesterday’s tests on his shoulder and elbow, there are no results yet simply because as Hughes said: “He’s not going to talk to me about what he thinks it is until he has everything put together. He’s not going to tell me one thing last night and change his mind.

    As for what they’re looking at, the doctors are looking all over Hughes’ body besides his elbow and shoulder and doing various tests.

    Unless something pops up out of the ordinary, Hughes would expect this would be it for tests and MRI.

    "I’m anxious to figure out what it is and get back on the track of fixing it and get back to throwing. I’m hoping it’s nothing that set me back. Hopefully it’s something minor and fixable and something that will get me back to doing what I can do."

    And hopefully for Hughes, the end to this mysterious saga ends soon.

    Speaking of sagas, this Rafael Soriano thing became quite a big deal, at least among fans calling to sports talk radio and tweeting their thoughts to the world. Many probably had the same reaction that Hawk Harrelson had on those Brett Lillibridge catches when Paul Konerko hit that 1-1 cutter over the left field fence.

    There's always a lot of talk about making changes when guys don't do their roles even though it's just 20 games but the reality is that is not the impulsive 1980s with the Yankees. So therefore Soriano would likely pitch the eighth inning with the Yankees leading by a run or two unless manager Joe Girardi does not want to use him three days in a row.

    In terms of the hitters, here are some recent numbers to chew on for the Yankees:

    Robinson Cano has hit in 14 of his last 15 games, with three home runs in his last four home games.

    Brett Gardner, who is not in the lineup is 4 for his last 41.

    Curtis Granderson is has 15 hits in his last 37 at-bats

    Nick Swisher, hitless in 15 at-bats but 11-for-21 batting right-handed this season. Still the slump was enough for him to engage in very early (as in four or five hours before first pitch) batting practice.

    Swisher will bat righty because the White Sox are throwing Mark Buehrle. Buehrle has struggled against the Yankees by going 1-7 with a 6.88 ERA. He will be making his fifth attempt at winning his 150th game and should that happen the White Sox will have three straight in the Bronx for the first time since sweeping a four-game series June 15-18, 2000.

    Bartolo Colon, who had two stints with the White Sox makes his second start for the Yankees. He last pitched with the White Sox two years ago when he was injured and was 3-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts.

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    Items of Interest - First Summer Day Edition

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 6:18 PM [General]

    Today is April 26 and as Joe Auriemma writes, the home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle truly began 50 years ago in Detroit.

    Moving to a more recent April 26, four years ago Phil Hughes made his major league debut when the Yankees were in dire need of pitchers due to various injuries and ineffectiveness. The Yankees were a last place team and when Hughes could not win his debut and the Yankee bats could not score off Phil Hughes, the record was 8-12 and the deficit was 5 1/2 games.

    "I felt fine but I just wasn't making pitches and anytime you keep yourself behind in the count, it's not going to be good," Hughes said. "Stuff-wise, I felt fine, but the results were not so great."

    That is what Hughes said that night after allowing four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings to 21 batters and now four years later he is talking about having a dead arm.

    The situation is not as dire this time around as the Yankees are 12-7, but there seems to be a pall over Hughes', whose saga of having a mysterious dead arm has taken him to an MRI at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

    Here's what went happened there: Hughes had two MRIs (elbow and shoulder) that took approximately two hours. He spent four hours there and also had tests to check blood pressure and circulation. He will be going back Wednesday because he did not want to spend eight hours with doctors.

    It's a mystery that everyone is trying to solve, but also one that the idea of innings limit was a reason the Yankees used it - to prevent this.

    "I think that’s why we talk about why we’re careful,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Everybody is unique and everybody is going to respond to different workloads. Nobody can say two bodies are alike so what is going on with Phil, we may not see for the next 20 years. We don’t really know right now why he’s having these issues but we’re trying to find out."

    Tonight also is a fourth start for Ivan Nova, who has not pitched in over 10 days. Nova has struggled so far and since he has options, could return to the minors, especially if Kevin Millwood continues pitching well. Nobody is saying that is happen, but the possibility could be weighing on Nova's mind much like it did on Girardi's mind when he was young player for the Chicago Cubs.

    "I believe that can creep into a guy’s mind," Girardi said. "I believe you start thinking about it if you struggle a little bit and if you have options. I think players think about and it’s difficult not to think about it. I think when you’re young and you don’t necessarily have that track record where they feel that managers know he’s going to come out of it. I hope he’s able to shut it out but I’ve been a young player and he’s tough.

     "We told him how important he is. He understands how important he is to this club and we need him to pitch well and we know he’s capable of doing it."

    In terms of the lineup, Jorge Posada who has nine hits (six home runs) but also 19 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances get the night off from the starting lineup as Alex Rodriguez gets to be a DH. That means Eric Chavez gets the start at third base.

    Girardi said Chavez like others not in the lineup that night can often be heard working in the batting cages adjacent to the dugout and that's where Posada likely will spend part of his time in the hopes of figuring out the slow start, which Girardi said might be caused by the following:

    "It just seems like he’s kind of in between. Sometimes it seems like he’s late on the fastball and early on the off-speed. Many times he’s made good pretty good contact and there has been some days where he hits the ball deep and hasn’t had a whole lot to show for it and that becomes frustrating as a player.

    Still it's nowhere near as frustrating as being in the holding pattern Hughes currently finds himself in.


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    I was kind of rooting for that no-hitter to happen

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 2:23 AM [General]

    Being selfish is among the worst human traits anyone can have in most aspects of their lives.

    There are some exceptions and for me it involves no-hitters. Everyone has their bucketlist of things they've never done and never seen and for me that is a no-hitter, which is what was a distinct possibility when Phil Humber pitched 6 1/3 innings without allowing a hit.

    It seemed something special was brewing for Humber when he fanned Russell Martin on one of his 30 changeups but then Alex Rodriguez spoiled it with a single in the seventh.  Rodriguez probably caused some if not all in the press box to exhale since writing a no-hitter story takes extra time and work, but even I had to do extra work, I would not have minded.

    "The way he threw today, even if we'd faced him before, it was a tough day," Derek Jeter said. "He didn't fall behind too many guys. We had a couple of guys on there, but he was getting a lot of ground balls, especially when he needed it."

    Those kind of comments often occur after no-hitters and near no-hitters and it seemed it was going to happen for Ozzie Guillen's White Sox.

    By rough estimations, I've attended close to 800 games at 12 different stadiums and have yet to see a no-hitter. I was close to seeing the David Cone perfect game but the humidity kept me inside on July 18, 1999 but that's about it in person. Of course he might not have thrown it had I actually shown up at the Stadium that day.

    Over the course of that game, I've seen a few flirtations at no-hitters.

    In 1991, I sat in the Loge at Shea Stadium and watched the Mets lose to the Padres and get their only hit in the eighth inning against Greg Harris.

    In July 2005, I was in the stands when Randy Johnson retired the first 17 Minnesota Twins. His bid at a second perfect game and third no-hitter ended when Juan Castro singled and Johnson allowed three hits and struck out 11.

    In September 2005, I covered a Met-Marlin game for SportsTicker and A.J. Burnett pitched one of his last games with Florida. Burnett already threw one in 2001 in San Diego and reached the seventh inning.

    Back in those days when a no-hitter was in progress, you would alert the person managing the boxscores to put a note that would say: A.J. Burnett has a no-hitter through six innings. If it reached the seventh, the editor was alerted and that night it was the newsroom director, who had a unique style.

    So when he was alerted, he responded by saying that I had to end it. (I'm thinking well I can't step in and hit Burnett). The no-hitter ended then and the game lasted five more innings and the Mets won.

    It occurred in 2006 during a late-September game against the Orioles. Daniel Cabrera, who either had no-hit stuff or batting practice stuff in those games against the Yankees, was within two outs until his good friend Robinson Cano hit an infield single, a little roller down the line.

    In 2007, Chad Gaudin actually took one into the seventh during a late-June game when Joe Torre's last team was trying to find its way and get over .500. The Yankees wound losing 7-0 to Gaudin and Rich Harden and the lone hit was a sixth-inning single from Johnny Damon.

    Gaudin was two years shy of joining the Yankees and at that time was making his 10th career start and probably another guy the Yankees hadn't seen live before but still Torre seemed kind of annoyed it happened when he said:

    "Unfortunately, we were easy for him. He pitched an outstanding game but certainly we're more capable."

    The Yankees are definitely more capable but nights like this happen before contrary to the rants and raves of some on various social networking locales and when you've attended this many games without seeing one, there's nothing wrong with being a little selfish.

    I believe those are the four closest I've come to seeing one in person. I did write one once when I was an editor in Jersey City.

    It actually wasn't a routine one. It was Randy Johnson's perfect game for Arizona against Atlanta. I think I was so nervous in making sure I had a few graphs ready to be quickly sent to the wire that I mistakenly mentioned Johnson threw a curveball when anyone knows he did not.

    No-hitters are special. To me, that is regardless of who is pitching, especially since somewhere there is a person who saw a no-hitter in the first game they attended while I've been waiting for one to occur in person since 1983.

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    Items of Interest - Yankees-White Sox Game 1

    Monday, April 25, 2011, 6:52 PM [General]

    Today is April 25 and the last time the White Sox met the Yankees on this date was in 1997 at Yankee Stadium.

    That night, the White Sox then managed by Terry Bevington were 9-3 winners behind 7 2/3 innings from Wilson Alvarez and home runs from Frank Thomas and Albert Belle off David Wells.

    Back to the present, the White Sox scored nine Thursday at Tampa Bay and that represents their lone win since April 12. During that time, the White Sox have scored 16 times and allowed 54 runs in 10 losses.

     So what to do? Do the White Sox panic and the answer is no. 

    Of course that’s not important right now when considering the state of Phil Hughes’ dead arm. Hughes continues to be in a state of flux, especially after he experienced the same thing throwing 10 to 12 pitches during a bullpen session yesterday.

    "Same as before," Hughes said. "It's like nothing's coming out...just a lot of deadness, nothing really there after the first 10 (pitches) or so, so I'm just going to take a couple days, rest it and re-evaluate it from there."

    There is not an official medical term for dead arm, but usually it occurs in August or some other point late in the season. It is rare to see it occur in April but that appears to be what is happening here with Hughes, who compared it to being hit in the thigh.

    "It's like if someone hits you in the thigh really hard, and after that it's just numb. It's the kind of feeling you usually get after throwing 110-115 pitches, and it's normal to feel that way. But this is way too soon. It's discouraging."

    Discouraging is what the Yankees might feel if his meeting with team doctor Chris Ahmad recommends further tests. That should be known within the next 24 hours.

    What is not discouraging is Pedro Feliciano. Everyone thought he was done for the year since many people don’t return from Dr. Andrews with good news. Instead, Andrews saw that the injury was older and recommended a six-week rehab plan.

    "We’re just going to follow the word Dr. Andrews says from experience,” Feliciano said. “Before he got pitchers that got the same injury – capsule injuries – and he just put them in rehab and it works. Why not do that and avoid the surgery and try to pitch again (this year)".

    Also not discouraging is the current performances of Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano.  Granderson has a modest eight-game hitting streak going and his 20 home runs since August 14 are the third-most in baseball behind Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki.

    Cano is batting .345 during a 13-game hitting streak with six doubles, three home runs and 12 RBI.

    So that makes it kind of good news and bad news kind of day for the Yankees. Elsewhere, it appears the Yankees would prefer not using Mariano Rivera tonight.

    Rivera threw 33 pitches in blowing his second save Sunday in Baltimore. The last time, Rivera pitched the next day after throwing 30-plus pitches was May 27-28, 2008.

    All that information is likely in Joe Girardi’s binder, which is why he’d like not to use him. It doesn’t mean he won’t but it seems likely.

    Also seeming likely is the always entertaining Ozzie Guillen living up to that. We’ll have more on that at a later date, so stay tuned.


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