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Tiger Balm

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On April 23, 2005 @ 10:16 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

This is getting ridiculous. I think we all expected Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright to take their lumps against the Rangers’ young power bats, but to have the Yankee offense manage just five runs over two games against rookie Chris Young and notorious free agent disaster Chan Ho Park is difficult to take. Actually (and even worse), just two of those five runs came against the two Texas starters, the other three coming against the Ranger bullpen.

On Friday night the Yankees failed to score despite getting their leadoff hitter on base in the first, second, and sixth innings. In the fifth, Luis Sojo again windmilled Tony Womack home with two outs only to watch him get thrown out by several strides. In the eighth, the Yanks couldn’t get a runner home from second with one out. Save for a Hideki Matsui double in the fourth (which drove home Gary Sheffield who reached on a leadoff walk), the offense wasn’t able to break through until the ninth inning, when three pinch hitters–Rey Sanchez, Andy Phillips!, and Jorge Posada (John Flaherty got the start with Brown on the mound)–combined to produce two one-out runs (Sanchez singled, Phillips reached on an error after chopping the ball in front of the plate, and Jorge doubled them home). But by then it was too late, as Kevin Brown repeated the formula of his first start by allowing four runs in the first and another in the third before he and the bullpen (Stanton and Quantrill on this night) shut the Rangers down the rest of the way.

Yesterday, the Yankees again got the leadoff hitter on in the first inning (Derek Jeter’s on-base percentage is .471 and he’s on pace to walk a career high 144 times), but failed to bring him home. In five different innings the Yankees didn’t get a man on base until after the second out, scoring that man only once (in the third, a Bernie two-out double followed by a Sheffield RBI single). Alex Rodriguez reached third with two outs in the sixth, but was stranded when Posada struck out to end the inning.

Again, the Yankees finally broke through with pinch-hitters after the game was essentially out of hand. Down 10-1 in the eighth (six runs off Jaret Wright, two each off Steve Karsay and Felix Rodriguez), Torre began pulling his starters. Bubba Crosby singled for Sheffield, Matsui walked, Rodriguez moved them over via a groundout and Giambi got Crosby home via another. Almanzar then walked Posada and Buck Showalter brought in lefty Ron Mahay to pitch to Tino Martinez, prompting Torre to give Andy Phillips his second pinch-hit at-bat in as many games. With runners on the corners, Phillips blasted Mahay’s first pitch into the gap in left, but Kevin Mench was able to chase it down, nabbing the ball in the top of the webbing of his glove as he charged toward the warning track. The Yanks stranded another two-out baserunner in the ninth.

Of course the big story was the pitching.

Kevin Brown again was roughed up early on before settling down somewhat. To look at his final lines, he would appear to have pitched better on Friday than in his first start in Baltimore:

Bal: 6 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 3 K (61% strikes)
Fri: 6 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 4 K (63% strikes)

But the reality of the situation is that Brown actually pitched better in the later innings of his Baltimore start than he did in the later innings of his second start. After giving up four runs in the first on Friday and escaping a lead-off single in the second thanks to double play, Brown gave up another run in the third, then allowed three singles in his final two innings of work. In Baltimore, Brown only allowed two baserunners in his final four innings of work, both singles, one of them an infield single, and required ten fewer pitches through six innings than on Friday.

Still, despite the dismal results, there remains some hope that Brown can figure out why he’s getting roughed up early despite throwing great pre-game bullpen sessions and shutting opponents down in the middle innings. There has to be hope for Brown because Jaret Wright is on the Disabled List (you may now settle your office pools: April 23, 4 starts).

Yesterday, for the third time in four starts, Wright was terrible. After giving up six runs on eleven hits (three of them home runs) through five and a third, Wright stooped over in pain after throwing a pitch that Alfonso Soriano hit for a single. He was immediately removed from the game. Wright later described his injury as a sharp pain in his pitching shoulder, confessing [1], “I kind of felt it in the second and it gradually got worse. It got pretty bad in the sixth.” Wright also experienced some tightness warming up before the game, though at the time it didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

According to MLB.com [1], Wright said that the pain, “was similar to what he felt in 2001 while pitching for Cleveland. He had surgery that September to remove unhealthy tissue and part of the clavicle in the A/C joint.” [the A/C joint is where the clavicle, or collar bone, and shoulder blade meet] In that same article, Brian Cashman said, “Dr. Hershon told me it’s clear that it’s a definite 15-day DL at the very least.” (emphasis mine)

Wright will have an MRI on Monday, but there is a very real possibility that he won’t be back for a very long time. This just makes it all the more amazing that the Yankees didn’t run and hide when Wright failed his initial physical for the team this winter. That failed physical did lead to some restructuring of the contract the Yankees offered Wright, but the restructured contract did not give them a sufficient out in this sort of situation.

Instead of a 3-year, $21 million deal, the Yankees gave Wright two years at $14 million with a $7 million player option for 2007 (meaning they gave Wright an out, but not the team). Perhaps in exchange for the player option, they added a provision stating that [2], “if [Wright] is disabled an aggregate of two-to-three months with a shoulder injury during the two guaranteed years of the contract, the third-year option could be discounted by as much as $4 million.” Meaning they’ll owe Wright $17 million over three years rather than $21. Great work there. Remind me not to hire the Yankees’ lawyers. Essentially, the team was so clearly convinced that Wright could deliver that they were willing to take a huge gamble that had the potential to leave them a pitcher short in the rotation. Less than twenty games into the season it has come back to bite them.

Fortunately, the Yankees have Chien-Ming Wang in Columbus and, thanks to the serendipity of Tanyon Sturtze also being on the DL at the moment, that’s exactly who they’ll turn to. In fact, miracle of miracles, since they won’t need Wang until Wright’s next turn (Friday night against the Blue Jays) they are calling up Colter Bean to work out of the pen in the interim! Said Cashman in that same MLB.com article, “He’s been pitching the best right now, so that’s the guy we’ll be looking to.” I’m speechless.

Bean, of course, also pitched the best last year (2.29 ERA, 109 K, 23 BB, 3 HR, 1.02 WHIP in 82 2/3 IP), but didn’t earn as much as a September call-up. Thus far this season, Bean has allowed no runs and just three baserunners while striking out 14 in 8 2/3 innings, which apparently the answer to the question “how #@$&!*& well does this guy have to pitch to get promoted?!”

Curiously the three injuries the Yankees have suffered thus far this season (not counting Kevin Brown’s DL stay as the unnecessary fifth starter), have forced them to promote the three best players on their triple-A squad, who, as such, also happen to be the three pet players of bloggers such as yours truly. As a result, these injuries could actually make this team better (which I realize would not be hard to do right now). Bean will likely not get much of a look in the four game’s he’s on the major league roster (assuming he’ll even be on hand for today’s 1:00 start against Texas), but getting on the shuttle is an important first step for a Yankee minor leaguer.

Meanwhile, with Ruben Sierra’s injury diagnosed as a bicep tear that will have him out for four to six weeks, Andy Phillips is virtually guaranteed to get the at-bats he’ll need to prove his worth to Joe Torre. He already has two in two days after getting none in eleven games with Sierra on the roster, and I’m no longer the only prognosticator expecting him to get starts at first against lefties, something that should actually happen Wednesday night when the Yankees face Angel’s southpaw Jarrod Washburn. As for Tiger Wang, if he can come up big against Toronto on Friday, he could be given a chance to stick in the rotation. That may not be an improvement on the 2004 version of Jaret Wright that the Yankees thought they were getting, but it would be preferable to Torre taking Sturtze out of the bullpen roll in which he has thrived and putting him into the rotation at Wang’s expense. Now if only Rey Sanchez would pull something, this team could really start to take shape.

The Yanks need to win five of their next six games to finish April at .500. Today Randy Johnson hopes the gopher ball sees its shadow as he attempts to play stopper. Of course, if he is going to do so, he’ll need the Yankee bats to come back alive against the astonishingly effective Pedrdo Astacio (1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, .213 BAA, 3 BB, 0 HR in three starts). Prepare your garments for rending.

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URLs in this post:

[1] confessing: http://yankees.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article.jsp?ymd=20050423&content_id=1026348&vkey=news_nyy&fext=.jsp&c_id=nyy

[2] stating that: http://yankees.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/nyy/news/nyy_news.jsp?ymd=20041217&content_id=923828&vkey=news_nyy&fext=.jsp

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