July 2009

Finding a fifth starter

mitre300_073109.jpgLet’s just say Sergio Mitre hasn’t exactly instilled confidence as a fifth starter. In three innings, he gave up seven hits, five earned runs, faced seven full counts. And threw 75 pitches.

What a coincidence that Mitre started, and departed early, on the day of the trade deadline. You have to wonder if the Yankees ultimately will regret not addressing their pitching depth before 4 p.m. today.

Or what they’ll do when Joba closes in on his innings limit — a number even he claims not to know — in six starts or so and they preemptively move him to the bullpen.

Or if, perhaps, Phil Hughes is being stretched out before our very eyes. Three of his six appearances in the second half have been for two innings. In three, he has thrown at least 35 pitches. With Aceves recently suffering from shoulder fatigue, Hughes might be the better option of the two should the Yankees need a starter.

For now, the Yankees will hope they don’t need a starter. Mitre’s next scheduled turn, by the way, is the series opener against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.

Shelley Duncan:
He’s absolutely delighted to be here, having become resigned to spending the entire season at AAA. “I can’t tell you how happy I am,” he said between hugs from Joba and Hughes. The Yankees have another roster move to make tomorrow, however, and Girardi talked during pregame about the versatility he would gain by utilizing Ransom and Hairston. You’ve got to think the roster move will be between Duncan and Ransom.

Roy Halladay: It will be interesting to see how he reacts to not being dealt. The Yankees will be the first to find out; he pitches Tuesday against Joba at Rogers Centre. J.P. Ricciardi overplayed his hand, never actually intended to trade his ace — unless the offer was completely ridiculous — or recently got assurance from inside the Blue Jays organization that he didn’t have to make the trade. Or something else. No matter what, the situation played out very publicly — probably to a point where it disrupted the routine-obsessed Halladay.

Ozzie Guillen:
He was giddy while talking to Jeter before the game. Now he’s wearing a sweatshirt as he walks to the mound. A sweatshirt. Like Belichick, except Ozzie’s doesn’t look like it was at the bottom of the laundry basket.

Michael Bolton:
He’s here. Love him! “Soul Provider” is a great song. CVS sells his greatest hits for $8.99 or something like that. A tremendous bargain.

Today in unsurprising news…

manny_250.jpgThe Yankees and White Sox are under way after a 64-minute rain delay. A rain delay. Go figure.

In other news that cannot possibly qualify as surprising, two more stars in the game have been exposed, having shown up positive for performance-enhancing drugs on the 2003 list, the one with 104 names. The one that was supposed to be confidential. Manny and Big Papi join A-Rod. Nearly six months later.

The leaky faucet that is baseball’s steroids past continues to drip.

The most telling part of today was the reaction – weary, subdued reaction – from Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira in the clubhouse. Damon said the news surprised him – really, how could it have? – but couldn’t have said anything else about his former teammates. Damon later joked that perhaps he will turn out to be the biggest idiot of them all for never noticing, never suspecting.

Damon and Teixeira – and on the other side of the field, Ozzie Guillen – said the list of the 104 should be made public in a once-and-for-all attempt to deal with and then move past the hovering dark cloud. That the guilty were once promised confidentiality no longer seems to sway the weary. They’ve had it.

Those who compromised the confidentiality – and, make no mistake, they are a different brand of guilty — ultimately may win.

“I guess,” Damon said, shrugging, “you really can’t trust what anybody says nowadays.”

And maybe you simply can’t trust an entire era even though a bewildered Jeter again felt compelled to offer this reminder: “Everybody wasn’t doing it.” Upon today’s news, try to convince anyone that steroid use wasn’t pervasive in the 2003 Red Sox clubhouse.

“That’s probably what is being said,” Damon said, “and that’s what makes guys like me upset.”

Teixeira suggested that kids look to himself, Matt Holliday and Chase Utley as players who’ve put up numbers since 2003 and “have done it the right way.”

Or how about young players like Evan Longoria, Adam Jones, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and the Upton brothers, who weren’t even in the game back then?

Or how about the ones – perhaps not as numerous as we’d hope – who came out of the steroid era clean, who are able to look themselves squarely in the mirror?

After talking to the media, Jeter went to the batting cage to stow his bat in the Yankees dugout. As he did, a few kids wanted autographs, which he signed. An older gentleman at the edge of the dugout simply asked to shake his hand. “I admire,” he told Jeter, “the way you’ve always played the game.”

Jeter shook his hand. And said thanks.

The Boss says hi

Steinbrenner-7-29-250.jpgGuess who paid a visit to the Yankees clubhouse before the game? George M. Steinbrenner III. He then moved upstairs to a suite where he is watching the game – believed to be the first time he’s seen the Yankees play in person since the season opener.

Mr. Steinbrenner visited in the manager’s office for about 45 minutes during and after batting practice. Players came in to shake hands and visit with him.

Michael Kay says Mr. Steinbrenner kiddingly asked Matsui why he doesn’t speak English yet. Matsui answered in English, saying he uses interpreter Roger Kahlon only for the media. Surely, everyone in the room got a kick out of that.

C.C. and CC: Nice job by Crawford and Sabathia today in answering questions, giving advice and offering batting and pitching tips to 300 kids from local Boys and Girls Clubs. Both also signed lots of autographs. CC signs with his right-handed, interestingly. Then again, Joba signs with his left.

Alfredo Aceves: He has a fatigued pitching shoulder, which is why he’s been on the mound for just one-third of an inning over the past eight days. For the past three days, he received treatment. He says he woke up this morning feeling “great.” Then he threw 20 fastballs off the mound before batting practice and said he felt “great.” Girardi says he’d be inclined to think about using Aceves tomorrow in Chicago.

Shelley Duncan: Assuming the bullpen is refreshed, the Yankees could add a right-handed bat for the White Sox series, when they’ll see lefty starters on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If they stay in-house, Duncan is a possibility. Girardi said if they do go the call-up route, it wouldn’t necessarily be a permanent move; it could be something that simply makes sense for, say, a four-game series.

Joba Chamberlain: He looks so much better when gets the ball and throws it. No more shaking off Posada 100 times. It seems to work nicely.

Marissa of Central Jersey: She’s 15 and she’s a blog reader and she presented us with a box of Mike & Ike’s today at the Trop. Thank you, Marissa! Maybe we’ll save them for Chicago and share with Leiter. Maybe.

Want to win vs. must win

This is a series the Yankees want to win and the Rays have to win. As for tonight’s pitching matchup, this says a lot: A.J. hasn’t lost since June 20; James Shields hasn’t won since June 20.

Shields was the Rays opening day starter. He’s 6-6 with nine no-decisions. He closed the first half with one win in his last six starts.

A.J. has been, in a word, dominant. Since that disaster in Boston on June 9, he’s gone 5-1 in seven starts and allowed a total of 10 earned runs.

We’re not always into numbers telling the whole story, but the performance of these two has gone a long way in the respective seasons of their teams.

A.J. also has made a habit out of getting out of self-induced jams, whether it’s a couple of walks or what he just did in the first inning – after his throwing error allowed Crawford to go from first to third with one out, he struck out Longoria and got Zobrist to fly out. (Even if Swisher made it a bit of an adventure.)

Hideki Matsui: Wonder what they’d call that slide in Japan. It was almost a belly flop in reverse. Like a butt flop. At the very least, it’s something his teammates will make fun of. Of course, they’ll also appreciate that he busted it from first to score on the Posada double.

The Rays: According to Elias, Tampa Bay’s .524 combined winning percentage of the teams remaining on its schedule is second-highest, behind the Jays. It’s going to be almost impossible for the Rays to duplicate last season’s magic. They do have 36 of their remaining 63 games at home, including tonight’s.

Michael Kay: He went with chicken fingers and fries from the concession stand for dinner. Kenny ate in the dining room. We had some fries, added onto Kay’s order. Somehow there are peaches, bananas and cherries in the booth, which is much healthier than the usual fare. Where are the Snickers?

CC and CC:
We’ll be there Wednesday for “Catching up with Carl Crawford,” when Sabathia joins him for an event to encourage more African-American youth to play baseball. Both CCs are excited about it. We’ll have coverage on the BP and pregame shows.

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Update (9:42 p.m.): Another thing about A.J.-Shields: A.J. entered the game with a 3.74 ERA. Shields’ was 3.70. Shields, for whom run support obviously has been an issue, lost two games in April despite giving up three or fewer runs. But more recently, Shields hasn’t been as stingy. In his last four starts, including tonight, Shields has given up 17 runs. A.J. has given up 16 earned runs in his last 11 starts.

It really does come down to pitching (and defense), doesn’t it? The Yankees are getting big pitching performances and the Rays aren’t. That’s the difference between these teams.

Yanks will miss Gardner

Our feature on Polly Tompkins ran today during pregame and Polly texted to make sure we knew she appreciated it. Sometimes, that’s all that matters. This is one of those times.

Polly is such an inspiration, an example of how to stay positive — and keep smiling — when faced with extreme adversity. In her case, it’s the return of cancer. And we wish her well as she continues to fight and, hopefully, continues to get good news.

brett_072609.jpgBrett Gardner: The Yankees will miss the instant offense and speed on the basepaths he provides, not to mention that he’s hit over .300 since mid-May. Gardner will be in a cast for two weeks and re-evaluated. He won’t be available for the series in Tampa, which starts tomorrow, or the upcoming one against Boston, beginning Aug. 6 at the Stadium. He’s the player in pinstripes who plays most like a Ray.

Rickey Henderson:
The man who once said, “I’m a walking record” will make a speech that could be one for the ages at the Hall of Fame. We’ll have to catch the (many?) highlights.

Paul O’Neill:
His kids are here today, so there are three pizzas in the booth. Or what’s left of them. “Another slice and some ice cream and I’ll be set,” Paul just said between innings.

Alfredo Aceves: He joined media relations czar Jason Zillo on “Batting Practice Today presented by Audi” to talk about HOPE Week. Ace made a big impact, playing guitar for the Camp Sundown children and young adults late Thursday night. He had as much fun as they did.

CC and CC: Still have to read the Sports Illustrated article on Carl Crawford. That’s on the to-do list during the flight. On Wednesday in Tampa, Crawford will be joined by CC Sabathia for an hour before the game for “Catching up with Carl Crawford,” an event to encourage more African-American youth to play baseball. They’ll tell stories to the kids. We’ll try to listen in.

Adam Jones:
The Orioles center fielder is one of the best young players in the game. He also happens to share his name with the NFL cornerback nicknamed Pacman by his grandmother. Pacman Jones has had a hard time staying out of trouble, to put it charitably. Adam Jones, an All-Star, cleans his own cleats in the clubhouse. Where are we going here? Last night, while a sports wrap-up show was providing background noise, we heard an anchorman who thought he was very, very clever link the two, yelling “Pacman!” while some Orioles highlights played. That’s nice. And just wrong on a couple of different levels.

Meanwhile, Adam Jones the Oriole can’t stand being called Pacman. Can you blame him?

Andy turning back the clock

Here’s the danger of a Saturday day game on a glorious afternoon: Our announcers — Kay, Leiter and O’Neill — sit and chat between innings about their evening plans and dinner reservations. (Just to clarify, O’Neill isn’t going to Chili’s tonight. In case you wondered.) And then the game flirts with four hours and everyone’s mood is deflated.

Talk about a jinx.

Polly Tompkins:
We have a feature on Polly — the Yankees honorary bat girl in May as part of MLB’s campaign to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer — that will air during tomorrow’s pregame. It’s a good one. Swisher already asked for a copy on DVD.

andy_blog_072509.jpgAndy Pettitte: Where were you on June 7, 1995? Andy got his first career win that day, against the A’s. So far, he looks like he’s turning back the clock today. Especially with a couple of nifty defensive plays of his own.

Michael Kay:
He just said something else about a fast game. Leiter yelled at him.

HOPE Week was quite a success

The Yankees HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) comes to an end tonight, and it’s been quite a week. Last night in particular, after the nearly three-hour rain delay, many players stayed into the wee hours with the kids and young adults from Camp Sundown. And they had a blast, with several saying they stayed much later than they’d intended because they were having so much fun.

One blessing of the long rain delay: the Camp Sundown folks were scheduled to arrive in the second or third inning. Because of the delay, they were able to see the entire game.

Aceves and AJ made music, playing acoustic guitar and singing and, sources say, Cashman joined in the vocals. The on-field carnival was a tremendous success. As the entire week has been.

tex250_072409.jpgMark Teixeira: He’s tied for the AL lead in home runs after launching a(nother) rocket to the second deck in right field last night, on a 3-0 pitch. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that pitchers had gone 3-0 on Teixeira in 16 previous plate appearances this season. He’d walked each time, five intentionally. In other words, no other pitcher dared as Vin Mazzaro did, serving up a pitch over the middle of the plate.

Chien-Ming Wang: He might pay a visit to Dr. James Andrews on Monday as he continues to seek the best course of treatment for his right shoulder strain. Wang calls the past year “very frustrating” and fears he won’t pitch again this season. Girardi says the Yankees have to proceed as if Wang won’t be back this season.

Paul O’Neill: He’s joining Kay and Leiter for the balance of the A’s series. He is lucky to have missed last night’s game; O’Neill and two-hour, 43-minute rain delays don’t mix. “That wouldn’t have been real good,” O’Neill said. During the break every half inning, Kay and Leiter sit and sometimes talk, laugh or make fun of each other. O’Neill walks around. He just came back with a hot tea and cookie from the dining room.

Outlook bleak for ailing Wang

Beautiful night in the Bronx. It’s Hope Week at Yankee Stadium, which is a fantastic undertaking by the organization. We could all use a little hope.

wang_200.jpgChien-Ming Wang: And that includes Wang, who felt pain while playing an innocuous game of catch this afternoon, his first on-field action since pitching against Toronto July 4. At this point, it will be a bonus if the Yankees get anything out of Wang this season. Girardi said as much. That puts a premium, obviously, on Joba and Andy having better second halves than first halves.

Sergio Mitre: He’ll start tomorrow night against the O’s (on My9), and he’s the fifth starter. Meaning, he’s not in the rotation on a start-to-start basis. He’s in the rotation. Girardi says they can count on 100 pitches from Mitre. If he’s up to the job, he would give this team some peace of mind.

Alfredo Aceves:
If the Yankees have to resort to using a reliever as a starter, it’s likely to be Aceves not Hughes. Girardi says it would take Hughes 25 days or so to build up starter’s arm strength. It would take Aceves less time. And, let’s face it, Hughes is just so good where he is right now, it’s tough to think about moving him. Maybe impossible.

Adam Jones:
The O’s All-Star CF cleans his own shoes. Today he was cleaning his own bats. He figures the clubbies have other things to do. He also had a blast at the All-Star Game — probably his first of many — meeting President Obama and taking groundballs with Jeter before the game. He said the highlight was high-fiving his fellow All-Stars after the win.

Second-half happenings

Derek Jeter says he still gets goosebumps during player introductions for the All-Star Game. That’s cool.

So is this: The second half of the season is officially underway in the Bronx.

Sergio Mitre:
He’ll make the start Tuesday. Aceves is too valuable in the bullpen and will stay there. You definitely get the feeling the No. 5 spot in the rotation might be Sergio’s for a while.

Chien-Ming Wang:
He’s scheduled to play catch Sunday or Monday, Girardi said. This might be a lost season for Wang, who’s logged just 42 innings in nine starts and 12 appearances this season.

Joba Chamberlain:
He said his four-day break spent in Nebraska was perfectly relaxing. When he asked about ours, we told him we spend 20 hours (on WFAN’s midday show with Adam the Bull) talking about him. Joba shook his head and laughed.

Phil Hughes:
Girardi says he’s comfortable with the rotation and believes Pettitte and Joba each will have a big second half. He said he’d become concerned about the rotation if the Yankees were to lose CC or AJ to injury. (Uh, yeah, you’d think so.) Anyway, it would only be under such a dire scenario that Hughes would return to the rotation this sea son. At least that’s how things stand today. Hughes owns an ERA of 0.98 in 13 relief outings.

Mike Mussina: He’ll be here for Old Timer’s Day. Wow, an old timer. We’ll have ask Mussina how that sounds.

Al Leiter: He brought Mike and Ikes to the booth! And Twizzlers. Nice.

Tino Martinez:
Hey, maybe he’ll be here for Old Timer’s Day! We’ll corner him with your (very old) questions.

Not facing Yankee hitters a holiday for Halladay

You know, this Home Run Derby reminds us of the compelling performance by Josh Hamilton last year at Yankee Stadium. A powerful story. An intriguing personality. And a heck of a show. This one doesn’t exactly have the same feel to it, does it?

Isn’t there a way to speed up the derby? Just a little bit. After all, since the derby started, Jillian the Bachelorette has managed to bed all three of her remaining suitors and eliminate one of them.

halladay_250.jpgMeanwhile, Roy Halladay could be quite a rental for the next season and a half, huh? Plenty of his fellow all-stars probably have floated the idea to him.

Interesting that Halladay told the all-star media that he wouldn’t mind pitching – and batting ninth — in the National League because “I’d rather hit than face Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui and Teixeira.”

Hmmm. All Yankees. There’s a way he could avoid facing the Yankee hitters besides going to the NL, of course. Roy could ask AJ about that.

We’ll talk about all of this tomorrow on WFAN, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with Adam the Bull. Actually we probably won’t talk so much about Jillian.

Feel free to join us. The great John Flaherty and Betsy from Pete Abraham’s blog were the stars of today’s show.

Oh, and to answer one of your questions: Presumably, Kay stopped saying Lil’ Kim when it no longer amused him. Who knows? He always got a kick out of saying it, then one day he didn’t say it anymore. End of story.

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