Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Vazquez Moving In The Right Direction

It is easy to get caught up in the moment, especially in New York.

Witness Javier Vazquez's second start of the season, during which he was booed mercilessly.

Was that start (4 ER in 5-1/3 IP) even close to acceptable? No shot.

Was the derision expected? In New York, yes.

Was it fair? Debatable at best.

Was it short-sighted? Absolutely, because when taken in the larger view of the season, we see Vazquez making progress.

Associated Press
Vazquez allowed three runs in 5-1/3 innings Tuesday as the Yankees defeated the A's 7-3 in Oakland, Calif., to begin a nine-game trip. Vazquez allowed six hits and three walks. He struck out six and threw a respectable 72 of 107 pitches for strikes to earn his first win of the season.

Now this is not by a quality start by any means. It also is not going to get the job done over the course of the season.

But when taken context of Vazquez's first three starts of the season, it clearly represent a solid step forward.

Vazquez's first start was miserable in his season debut, allowing eight earned runs in 5-2/3 innings. He second start was better, though still not good.

Tuesday would have to be classified as adequate. His offspeed pitches were sharp and he maintained the velocity on his fastball deep into the game. He did benefit from some strong defense and some key double plays, but good teams, such as the Yankees, make plays in the field and all their pitchers benefit from that.

Vazquez did make two mistakes, one a homer by Travis Buck in the fifth and the other a two-run homer by Kurt Suzuki in the sixth.

Associated Press
To be fair, had Alex Rodriguez not hit a monster three-run homer in the fifth to give the Yankees a big lead, a clearly tired Vazquez would not have been sent back out there in the sixth. But with some margin for error, Joe Girardi rightly sent Vazquez back to the mound.

Look, you don't want to routinely ask your bullpen to get 12 outs in a regular season game, and with Phil Hughes set to pitch tonight, there is a decent chance the Yankees will need their relievers to put in some extra duty again.

Vazquez was able to deliver one more out, and as he left the mound, we knew he looked more like the pitcher who won 15 games for the Braves last season than he had in h is previous two starts.

"He's going to be fine. We're not concerned about Javy, man," A-Rod said, according to The Associated Press. "He gave us a good shot. It was important for him to get a nice win and hopefully get some rhythm going from here."

But Vazquez still is going to need a lot of help from pitching coach Dave Eiland. Vazquez has all the talent in the world and a strong arsenal of pitches, but has not been able to pitch at an elite level. Why? Because of his mechanics.

"My mechanical stuff still is off but it was an improvement from my first couple starts," Vazquez said. "That's my weakness, mechanics, through my career. I just need to get it back. The first two games were tough. I can't hide that, but it's still early in the season and there are still a lot of games to be played."

Now Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell is one of the better pitching coaches in the baseball with a keen eye for a pitcher's mechanics. Clearly Vazquez responded to him in going 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA last year.

Eiland is going to have to be just as sharp.

So far this year, that relationship seems solid. We just have to hope Vazquez continues to make progress and can produce the results we all expect.

Up Next
Tonight, 10:05 p.m., YES
Hughes (1-0, 3.60) vs. Ben Sheets (1-0, 2.65)

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