NOW OUR REVELS ARE ENDED, KIRK
With the demotions of Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese, and Brett Tomko, all but one of the spring’s competitions and mysteries have been resolved. Brett Gardner (3-for-4 today) is your center fielder. Xavier Nady is your right fielder. Jon Albaladejo is in the bullpen. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui are more or less ready to go. Mariano Rivera seems more than ready to go. Southpaw Phil Coke should make the team, and he looks like he’ll be a weapon. Joba Chamberlain started the spring in the rotation and will finish the spring in the rotation. Any time a setup man blows a lead all season long someone will second-guess his being there, even if he’s 16-1 at the time, but he’s in the rotation. All that remains to be determined is the identity of the reserve infielder, a player who may only cling to the roster until Alex Rodriguez returns. Assuming no major injuries and a timely and effective return for Rodriguez (which is assuming a lot, but let’s go with it), that player should only have minimal playing opportunities… Unless, as I hopefully speculated yesterday, Joe Girardi is brave enough to use a late-inning defensive replacement for Derek Jeter.
KEPPINGER (A BRIEF NOTE)
Earlier this spring I touted Jeff Keppinger as a player who would make a useful A-Rod substitute and post-Rod utility player. While not a defensive standout at any position, he’s adequate around the infield and has a far better bat than either Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena. Today, the Reds dealt him to the Astros for a player to be named later. As the Astros’ farm system is drier than my aunt’s Thanksgiving turkey, the PTBNL isn’t likely to be anything special, which is to say that the Yankees, had they been in on Keppinger, likely could have topped the offer without giving away anyone of real significance. As the Yankees found out last year, the better your bench players, the better the club’s insurance against injuries to star players. I wrote yesterday that Ramiro Pena could be a fine late-inning defensive substitute, but if he has to start for two weeks the Yankees will suffer greatly. You can’t just look at these reserves as guys who are only going to pinch-run and start once a month when someone needs a day off, and you certainly can’t take the health of your players for granted. Jose Molina should have taught the Yankees that. He’s the true example of what happens when a star player gets hurt, not Erick Almonte.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
It was a bad couple of days for ex-Yankees as Gary Sheffield (499 home runs) and Mike Stanton (1,178 games, second all time) hit the release pile. The Tigers are now free to rotate some useful players, like Marcus Thames and Jeff Larish, through the DH spot. In a spot of good news for a former Yankee, it looks like utility infielder Nick Green has made the Red Sox, Julio Lugo being out and Alex Cora being a Met… Amazing that Alfredo Simon, a pitcher with a career 5.04 ERA in the minors (and a 23-40 career record) will be in the Orioles’ rotation… Chan Ho Park is the Phillies’ fifth starter; in other news, the Phillies will not be defending their championship. They also released Geoff Jenkins, who was made redundant last season after Jayson Werth emerged as an everyday player… The Marlins are going to start Emilio Bonifacio at third base; here’s hoping they enjoy their .350 slugging percentage at the hot corner… Dear Royals: Why Sidney Ponson?
Peter Abraham, live-blogging today’s game, reported that Nick Swisher batted with the bases loaded, was behind in the count 0-2, and came back to work a walk. I got curious as to how often that actually happened in real games, and which Yankees were the best at rescuing a bad situation with patience and selectivity. Working our way around the diamond:
Career walks after down 0-2:
Jorge Posada, 39 in 906 PA (4.3 percent).
Mark Teixeira, 29 in 619 PA (4.7 percent).
Robinson Cano, 7 in 386 PA (1.8 percent).
Alex Rodriguez, 53 in 1597 PA (3.3 percent).
Derek Jeter, 69 in 1442 PA (4.8 percent).
Johnny Damon, 37 in 1445 PA (2.6 percent).
Melky Cabrera, 4 in 269 PA (1.5 percent).
Nick Swisher, 20 in 405 PA (4.9 percent).
Xavier Nady, 10 in 473 PA (2.1 percent).
Hideki Matsui, 24 in 477 PA (5.0 percent).
I don’t know if this tells us much more than that the most patient hitters on the team are able to carry that patience through even the most difficult situations. Before running down the numbers, I had made a little bet with myself that Jeter would be tops in this category, not because he’s the most patient Yankee, but because of how many times I’ve seen him bear down in such situations. My guess was close, but it’s Matsui that takes the prize. Often you hear that clichéd description “professional hitter” applied to players who are no such thing, but what Matsui does, turning lost times at the plate into something positive, is truly deserving of the appellation. Hobbled Godzilla has only hit .220/.262/.342 in his career when down 0-2, but that’s actually a big accomplishment — no-hitter does well when he has only one pitch to work with; last year the American League as a whole batted .185/.217/.274 after an 0-2 count, so Matsui is well ahead of the pack.
I know you’re wondering about Jeter in such situations. He’s been even better than Matsui, batting .230/.283/.340 after 0-2. Hey, you’ve got to do stuff like that to get to the Hall of Fame.
DON’T BURY THE LEAD(OFF HITTER), STEVE!
In this morning’s entry, I wished that Brett Gardner would hit a triple today. Instead, he led off the game with a home run, pulling the second pitch of the game over the right field fence. Your move, Melky. And Kei Igawa pitched well, too, but we’ll pretend that didn’t happen.
According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, Brett Tomko is in competition with Dan Giese and Alfredo Aceves for a spot as a long man out of the pen. All three of those guys would probably make spot starts as well, should any be necessary. As I suggested this morning, Tomko really has no case to make here, having been roundly pounded every year since 1997, with the exception of 2004. As a starter last year, his ERA was 6.17. He pitched 16 innings as a reliever and slowed 12 runs, including four homers. In 177.1 career innings out of the pen his ERA is 4.92.
The best choice here might actually be Giese. Aceves seems like a very interesting starter, and I’m all for the Yankees embracing what little youth they chose to bring to camp, but I worry about his low strikeout rate and high home run rate in a bullpen role. He may simply be unsuited. It won’t hurt the Yankees to try, of course. Giese didn’t pitch that much between injuries, but was more or less effective when he did, particularly before his post-injury appearances in September. He got hammered in five innings that last month (we should watch out for any carryover to this spring), but to that point his ERA was 2.58 in 38.1 innings. Giese seems to be comfortable in the swingman role, and as a 31-year-old rookie last year is no doubt just happy to be in the majors.
All of that said, we’re talking about the last man on the staff. Given the quality of the Yankees rotation and their other bullpen options, this should be the last important decision Joe Girardi makes. Last year Giese generally relieved in low-leverage situations, and it seems unlikely that Girardi would have to call on him, or Brett Tomko, to protect too many leads. Still, if healthy, the guy knows how to pitch and deserves to have something of an inside track given his incumbency. Tomko does not know how to pitch, or if he does hasn’t translated that into consistent big league success — if he had, he wouldn’t be pitching for the last spot on the Yankees, he’d be in someone’s rotation.