Sunday, May 31, 2009

Yanks Endure Some Growing Pains

When the Yankees play their kids, every so often we'll have to endure a game like this.

That doesn't make the loss any easier to accept or that aftertaste any less bitter, though.

Brett Gardner made two mental mistakes, Phil Hughes ran into one rough inning, and Phil Coke and David Robertson struggled with their control in the ninth as the Yankees lost to the Indians 5-4 on Jhonny Peralta's walk-off single Sunday in Cleveland.

Rookies are going to have their ups and their downs. All rookies have growing pains. They're going to make their share of mistakes and, hopefully, learn from them. But did they all have to come in one game? GUH!

The most visible culprit was Gardner, who took a step in on Asdrubal Cabrera's line shot in the fifth, playing it into a double and costing the Yankees and Hughes a big run.

“If I step back instead of ahead, I catch that easily,” Gardner

He got a bad read, but that happens sometimes, even to good, veteran fielders. I can remember Bernie Williams misplaying a ball or two.

Gardner's bigger problem came in the ninth after the Yankees had rallied to tie the score at 4.

Hideki Matsui led off against Indians closer Kerry Wood with a walk and Nick Swisher sacrificed pinch runner Ramiro Pena to second. Before I get to Gardner, why couldn't Pena steal second against Wood's slow delivery and be sacrificed to third?

Anyway, Garnder followed with an infield single, putting runners on the corners with Jorge Posada coming up. Everyone figured Gardner would run to take away the double play possibility. But Gardner stayed put, and, of course, Posada hit into the 4-6-3 to end the inning.

So why didn't Gardner run? Turns out Joe Girardi had put on the steal sign, but Gardner was worried about being picked off on the fake-to-third-throw-to-first attempt.

That's stunning. Gardner is on this team because of his speed and base running. When he's on base, he needs to be the most arrogant son-of-gun on the planet, almost Rickey Henderson-like. He needs to believe and act as if anytime he gets on first, it's as good as a double. And he can't ever, ever be worried that he's going to be picked off.

“I cost us the game,” he told Peter Abraham.

While it's good that Gardner understands the magnitude of his mistakes, they were not the only reasons why the Yankees lost this game.

Just look at the bottom half of that inning.

Phil Coke started it off by walking Trevor Crowe, the ninth batter hitting .170. Coke's had some good moments this season and some bad ones. This one ranks among the worst. Walking the leadoff man is always a bad move, but it's particularly bad when the batter isn't even sniffing the Mendoza line.

Cabrera followed with a sacrifice, and Girardi brought in Robertson.

Robertson had been throwing the ball very well since his return from Scranton, but not on this day. He walked Ben Francisco and then fell behind Peralta 3-and-1. He had to come in with a strike and it was too fat. Ball game over! Indians win!

But let's not take Hughes off the hook here. His stuff was lively, reaching 94 mph, and he should have been able to dominate this lineup, which was missing the injured Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore.

In fact, he got ahead of most hitters 0-and-2 and 1-and-2, but instead of going after them, he nibbled. It resulted in a mediocre line: 5 innings, five hits, four runs, one walk, two hit batters, six strikeouts and 66 of 95 pitches for strikes.

He got burnt in the third. With one out, Crowe doubled and Cabrera singled to put runners on the corners. Francisco then walked and Peralta singled in two. Hughes then hit Shin-Soo Choo before Mark DeRosa hit a sacrifice fly and Ryan Garko grounded out, giving the Indians a 3-0 lead.

Hughes is only 22 and still developing into a good major league pitcher. The hope is that he'll evolve into the type of elite pitcher who can limit damage to one run, two at the most, when he gets into trouble like this.

Two other things bit the Yankees on this day. Derek Jeter extended his hitting streak to 14 with a leadoff double in the first. But that's as far as he went. Johnny Damon lofted a fly to center. Mark Teixeira grounded out and A-Rod ended the inning with a fly to center.

It was a great opportunity to jump on Carl Pavano, put the Indians in a hole and apply some pressure to that weak lineup. But the inning came undone when Damon failed to get Jeter over to third. Little ball plays a big role on championship teams and the Yankees have to become more consistent with that aspect of the offense. Sunday, it hurt them.

The other thing that hurt was a bad call by first base ump Mark Carlson. With one out, Jeter hit a topper and clearly beat the throw, but Carlson called him out. The play wasn't even close and Carlson probably realized his mistake when he saw the replay.

Damon followed with a single before Teixeira's 16th homer of the season. Instead of 4-2, it should have been 4-3.
However, Teixeira still tied it at 4 in the eighth with a two-run double.

May was a great month for Teixeira. He hit .330 with a .398 OBP and .747 SLG. That's a 1.145 OPS to go along with 34 RBI and 25 runs in 28 games. He's raised his average from .182 to .281 and is a strong candidate for player of the month.

The other big bright spot for the Yankees in this game was Chien-Ming Wang, who pitched three more scoreless innings, lowering his inflated ERA to 16.07. He was topping out at 94 and his pitches were diving sharply. He allowed three hits -- all grounders -- and one walk, while striking out three. Only one ball was lifted in the air, a fly ball to left that Damon caught for the final out of the eighth.

Wang threw 28 of 42 pitches for strikes and could have pitched the ninth, but Girardi needed to hold him back just in case Pettitte can't pitch Wednesday because of his stiff lower back.

But Wang looks all the way back. He looks like that guy who lead the majors with 38 wins in 2006-07.

So let the debate rage. When will Wang return to the rotation and what will the Yankees do with Hughes and Joba Chamberlain? Chamberlain starts today and Hughes will get another start.

If Hughes is mediocre again, he could be sent down, though I don't think that will help his development. But if he has another strong start, demoting him will be tough.

The Yankees have no intention of move Joba to the bullpen until he gets near his innings limit, despite the calls of many --and Dave -- to do so. The Yankees envision him being a starter for his career and want to build up his innings. Another year in the bullpen would hinder that growth.

And Wang needs to pitch regularly to be effective.

That would seem to indicate the Yankees are headed to some form of a six-man rotation, though that's not an ideal situation either.

This is going to be a tough decision for Girardi and Brian Cashman, but it's a good problem to have.

This much is for sure: the Yankees are going to need all these guys as the season goes on. Another injury is more likely than everyone staying healthy, making whatever decision Giradi and Cashman arrive at nothing more than a short-term answer.

One more thing ...
The Yankees did not make an error, extending their errorless streak to 17 and tying the 2006 Red Sox for the major league record.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-8 (.250)
127-for-460 (.276)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
61-for-192 (.318)

Up Next
Monday at Indians, 7:05 p.m., YES, ESPN
Chamberlain (2-1, 3.97 ERA) vs. Jeremy Sowers (1-2, 7.71)

Joba needs a strong start here or the calls for his return to the bullpen will get only louder -- not that Cashman intends to listen to them. But more importantly, the Yankees' lead over the Red Sox in the AL East is a half game. Yanks need the win to maintain sole possession.


Megan said...

I need to stop losing sleep over games like this! It was chock full of what ifs! AGH! And you hit every single one of them. I agree with you on Wang (yes I giggle when I say or write his name. I know, rather sophmoric of me). As well as he pitched yesterday, he still hasn't been tested enough. I'd like to see him used as a long reliever for now. I think his sinker is a sight for sore opposing team's eyes during the latter innings. A couple of things: he has not pitched in back to back games and you're right, with Pettitte's back stiffness, they may need Wang to make a start if necessary. I've never had to complain about starting pitcher rotation abundance, but the bullpen is still in dire shape at times. Having Wang in their pocket (yeah, I'm laughing) is a good thing. As to how long they keep him there will always be up for debate. Love the piece Aviv!

Unknown said...

The way Wang's sinker's been diving his last two outings, I'm not sure it matters when he enters the game. That's the old power sinker. That's the one that made him so successful. That's the one we've been waiting to see all season.

The big question with Wang right now is his endurance (go ahead, giggle). He probably could go about 70 pitches right. Of course the only way to build that up is start him.

Dave said... would have killed you guys to have Joba in the 'pen.

All I am saying is this; he is 2-1 in nine starts with a 1.56 WHIP. His value to the Yankees is higher in the pen where he can lock down close games like yesterday. He's not a bad starter, but he is an elite reliever.

Unknown said...

His value right now is higher as a reliever. But the Yankees have to think about the future, too. He's also only 23, an age where nearly all starters are still developing in the majors. Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, CC Sabathia, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, none of them were stud starters at this age either and needed time to develop. We don't know what Joba will become as a starter and there is only one way to find out.

Dave said...

I could roll out Roy Oswalt, Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy, Mike Mussina, Carlos Zambrano and Cole Hamels as examples of guys who proved they could be top starters at 23. And Joba isn't as good as any of them.

The point is that, right now, Joba is more valuable to New York as a reliever. Even if he becomes a top starter, unless he goes 7-8 innings an outing the Yanks will still have bullpen issues. In the pen, he wins your team games they are losing right now. Yesterday's being a prime example.

Unknown said...

And yet the Yankees are in first place.