Friday, June 19, 2009

Pettitte At Home On The Road

No DH? No Alex Rodriguez? No problem.

Andy Pettitte had an RBI double in the three-run second inning and allowed one run on three hits over seven innings as the Yankees bounced back from their most embarrassing losses of the season to beat the Marlins 5-1 in Miami Friday.

Before the game, the Yankees scratched A-Rod from the lineup and announced he wouldn't play for two games, though he would be available to pinch hit.

A-Rod had played every game since coming off the DL on May 8 and has been struggling, going 8-for-55 for June. The plan when he was activated was for him to get one day off every week, but A-Rod refused those days off. Recently he's been saying he's fatigued.

I'm wondering what Joe Girardi was thinking here. Why is he allowing a player to dictate how much he plays when there is a significant health issue? A-Rod is a gamer and wants to play every day, but it's a long, long season and it's the manager's responsibility to keep players fresh and healthy. Joe Torre had a sixth-sense about these things. Girardi just has poor judgment.

But let's not dwell on that.

Friday's victory was a sharp performance overall and a much-needed after losing the Yankees lost their previous serious to the lowly Nationals at home, scoring two runs in the final two games.

Given how poorly the Yankees have been playing recently, they are fortunate to be only two games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, following Boston's 8-2 loss to the Braves. Daisuke Matsuzaka's continuing struggles are becoming a big story in Beantown, but that's an issue for Dave to deal with.

For one night at least, the Yankees pitching problems were a distant memory. Hopefully it stays that way -- though I still think pitching coach Dave Eiland needs to go. (Hank and Hal, you disappoint me, so.)

Pettitte has long had a reputation as being a guy the Yankees can turn to after a loss and count on a win. This season, he's 3-1 after a Yankees' loss, pitching an absolute gem at Land Shark Stadium Friday.

Pettitte made one mistake all night, a leadoff homer to Cody Ross in the third. He walked none for the second time this season, struck out seven and threw 66 of 108 pitches for strikes.

But here's the thing that's puzzling about Pettitte. At home he's allowed nine homers and has a 5.77 ERA. On the road, his ERA is just 2.35 and he's surrendered two homers.

“I might have given up three or four (home runs) tonight at home,” Pettitte
“For the most part, that’s it right there. I’ve given up a few more long
balls at Yankee Stadium. … I need to figure something out at home.”

It's a good thing Pettitte's a veteran, otherwise those struggles at home could get into his head. Still it makes me wonder why guys who have been around as long as Pettitte are struggling at Yankee Stadium.
Afterall, Pettitte spent three years pitching at MinuteMaid Field in Houston, which is a hitter's park. He did OK there. Make that did he great there, going 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA in 2005. He wasn't afraid of the home run there. Why is he so afraid now?

That's an issue all the Yankee pitchers have to get figured out soon.

Meanwhile, the offense broke out of its doldrums and spotted Pettitte to an early lead, showing no signs of the struggles it's had against unfamiliar pitchers.

Derek Jeter led off the game with a double against Sean West and came around to score on Jorge Posada's single. The first inning fizzled when Nick Swisher grounded into a double play, but the Yankees continued to attack in the second.

Robinson Cano led off with a single and after Melky Cabrera popped up, Angel Berroa, starting for A-Rod, laced a double to score Cano and Pettitte followed with an opposite field double to drive in Berroa. Johnny Damon followed a Jeter base hit by driving in Pettitte with a single for a 4-0 lead.

Cabrera closed out the scoring with a two-out homer to left, his seventh of the season but only his first on the road. While the Yankees pitchers are struggling at home, Melky needs to figure out how to take some of that home hitting mojo with him on the road.

The Yankees ended up crushing West like we were expecting them to do against likes of Craig Stammen and Fernando Nieve. West pitched four innings allowing 10 hits, two walks and five runs. He did strike out seven and threw 47 of 82 pitches for strikes.

And once West left, the Yankees were able to cruise. Brian Bruney pitched the eighth and Brett Tomko the ninth.

Here's a little secret, the Yankees bullpen hasn't allowed a run in its last five games, spanning 12-1/3 innings. That scoreless streak coincides with Bruney's return from the DL.

And while this win is certainly reason to feel better about this team, let's not go overboard. It was just Sunday when A.J. Burnett pitched seven scoreless innings and the Yankees rocked Johan Santana and the Mets.

This rotation still has to prove it can be consistent.

Burnett takes the mound tonight, if he's brilliant again, we can feel much better that this team is emerging from it's slump.

Runners In Scoring Position
5-for-14 (.357)
163-for-618 (.264)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
97-for-350 (.277)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Saturday at Florida, 7:10 p.m., YES
Burnett (5-3, 4.46) vs. Josh Johnson (6-1, 2.76)

This game is not a gimme. Johnson is one of the top pitchers in the NL. The Yankees will need a big performance from Burnett, while the offense needs to grind outs at-bats and take advantage when it gets runners in scoring position.

I wonder who will catch this game for the Yankees?

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