Tonight, the Yankees open a three-game weekend series with the Blue Jays in the Bronx. These two teams last met in Toronto just over a week ago, splitting a two-game “series” due to radically disperate performances by Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina. Not much has changed about this Blue Jay team in the interim. The only change to their roster is that A.J. Burnett (hereafter known as the Canadian Pavano) is back on the DL and has been replaced in the rotation by hot prospect Casey Janssen, who was drafted out of UCLA in 2004. Burnett did not pitch against the Yankees last week and Janssen will not pitch in this weekend’s series, so for all the Yankees will know, this team is unaltered.
They have shuffled the line-up however, primarily because of Alexis Rios, who at 25 appears to finally be living up to his early hype. Rios was rushed to the majors at age 23 after just 185 unimpressive triple-A at-bats and has struggled mightily the past two seasons to the point that he was supposed to platoon in right field this year with twice displaced former Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske. Poor Eric.
What’s been most startling about Rios thus far is his power. Rios had just 31 professional homers coming into this season and no more than 11 in any single season at any level, or combination of levels. Thus far, in 18 games he’s homered six times and is hitting .368/.375/.772. Certainly he’s not that good, but a month into the season, he doesn’t appear to be cooling off very much, having gone 3 for 4 with a homer against the Orioles on Wednesday. Last week in two games against the Yankees, Rios went 3 for 7 with a homer, two doubles, four RBIs and two runs scored (doing most of that damage against Randy Johnson whom he’s now 6 for 11 against career with three extra base hits). You just can’t keep that kind of production in the eighth spot, so Rios moves up to second in the order, pushing Frank Catalanotto (or Reed Johnson) into the lead-off spot, and dropping Russ Adams down to his vacated eighth spot. The result looks like this:
L – Frank Catalanotto (LF)
R – Alexis Rios (RF)
R – Vernon Wells (CF)
R – Troy Glaus (3B)
L – Lyle Overbay (1B)
R – Shea Hillenbrand (DH)
R – Bengie Molina (C)
L – Russ Adams (SS)
R – Aaron Hill (2B)
The man who will try to stop some version of that lineup tonight will be Jaret Wright. Wright is making just his second start of the year in addition to a lone relief appearance, both of those prior outings having ended badly. Wright claims that the long rest and excitement about finally getting on the mound caused him to overthrow against the Twins two weeks ago. We’ll see if he’s able to dial it down a bit tonight. He’ll certainly shock the pants off of everyone watching if he is. Making matters worse, his mound opponent is Blue Jay ace Roy Halladay. Halladay hasn’t been his dominant self yet this season, and was even skipped two turns ago due to stiffness in his pitching forearm, but still comes into the Bronx sporting a 3.60 ERA, which should be more than enough to outpitch Jaret Wrong.
A couple quick line-up notes: Kelly Stinnett will catch Wright tonight so that Posada can catch Johnson in tomorrow’s day game. Johnny Damon is back in the field, as is Bernie, who will play right for tonight’s DH, Gary Sheffield.