Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Coke And A Smile

Slowly, we can see the Yankees' confidence starting to rise.

Melky Cabrera had a tie-breaking single, Ramiro Pena drove in his first career runs and the Yankees batted around for the third consecutive game in the three-run eighth of a 7-4 victory over the Angels Thursday at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks have won three straight after their four-game losing streak.

And while the Yankees offense finally seems to have figured out what it takes to drive in runners in scoring position, the unsung hero of this game was Phil Coke.

The young lefthander was impressive in his short stint with the Yankees last season and the team had high hopes for him when they broke camp, but Coke got off to a rough start, allowing seven runs (four earned) in 3-2/3 innings in his first four outings.

Since then, however, he has been brilliant.

Thursday Coke (1-1, 3.72 ERA) pitched a perfect eighth, striking out one and throwing 13 of 18 pitches for strikes. A.J. Burnett was shaky allowing four runs on eight hits and blowing another lead in his seven innings of work, but Coke kept the score tied and gave the offense a chance to take advantage of the weakened Angels' bullpen.

Coke has now gone seven straight outings without allowing a run, pitching six innings and giving up just two hits and one walk while striking out four. As the Yankees try to stabilize the bullpen in Brian Bruney's absence, Coke is emerging as the most composed and reliable way to get to Mariano Rivera.

It's a scary situation, but Joe Girardi is going to have to rely on rookies out of the bullpen in some big spots. So far, Coke is showing he is more than capable of handling them. And if Mark Melancon can continue to impress as he gets more opportunities in bigger spots, once Bruney returns (assuming he's 100 percent), the Yankees might finally have the reliable bridge to Rivera they have been trying to rebuild since the Mike Stanton-Jeff Nelson days.

But those are big ifs. Coke and Melancon have a lot to prove. We just have to hope they have the mettle to succeed.

The Good
Cabrera started his fourth straight game in center and won't be coming out of the lineup anytime soon. After losing the starting job to Brett Garnder in spring training, Cabrera has been on a tear and is hitting .327 with four homers and nine RBI. He's had a number of big hits and Thursday's was no exception.

Tied at 4 in the eighth, Robinson Cano singled to extend his hitting streak to 17 after Hideki Matsui led off by flying out to left. Jorge Posada followed with a ground rule double and after Nick Swisher was intentionally walked to load the bases, Melky sent the first pitch from Justin Speier to right to break the tie. Pena followed with a drive into the right field corner to plate Posada and Swisher and the Yankees had all they needed, though they could have had more, leaving the bases loaded.

The offense was clutch all night, coming up with big hits and battling back from a two-run deficit. Mark Teixeira had a two-out double in the first and scored on Matsui's single to tie the score. Burnett, however, gave the lead right back, allowing two to score in the second.

Damon got one back with a homer in the third and the Yankees grabbed the lead in the fourth, plating two when Bobby Abreu booted Derek Jeter's two-out single, allowing Pena to score from first.

Speaking of Abreu, his defense is the one thing that is not missed. Further, Swisher showed why he is a major upgrade, make a running catch in the right field corner on a sacrifice fly and later amade diving attempt near the wall in right on a foul ball. Abreu would never have gotten even close to either of those balls.

In all, the win allowed the Yankees to finish April at 12-10, their best first month since 2006. If not for the bullpen, they would have had a few more wins, but two games over .500 is still a step in the right direction.

The Bad
Burnett was not terrible, but the Yankees were hoping for more. He struggled to keep the Angels off the board in the first five innings, but did settle down after allowing the Angels to tie in the fifth. But after that run crossed the plate, he seemed to pitch with a little more anger and his pitches had a little more bite. Hopefully that will continue in his next scheduled start against the Red Sox Tuesday.

What We Learned
Allowing four runs is too much for any starter to give up, but by pitching seven innings, Burnett still gave his team a chance. It's not a recipe for sustained success, but when the Yankees get length, if not quality, they still can pull out wins, especially against weaker teams such as the 9-12 Angels.

Runners In Scoring Position
Thursday
5-for-11 (.455)
Season
54-for-215 (.251)

Up Next
Friday vs. Angels, 7:05 p.m., YES
Jered Weaver (2-1, 2.45) vs. Andy Pettitte (2-1, 2.96)

Pettitte had his worst start of the year in his last start against the Red Sox (though his line was similar to Burnett's on Thursday), but he's been the Yankees' most consistent pitcher.

1 comment:

Mark said...

A friend of mine who is a Yankees fan told me that Coke was signed by the Yanks on a recommendation from former Yankees great Steve Howe. He wasn't sure why Howe took such an interest in him.