It’s a soggy day in New York. Here in North Jersey, the rain was intermittent and largely stayed away this afternoon, but right now, roughly an hour before the scheduled first pitch of tonight’s game between the Yankees and Red Sox, it’s pouring. The Yankees have said they will try to play tonight, but it’s going to be messy if they do.
Since the Red Sox swept the Yankees in three games at Fenway the weekend before last, the Yankees have gone 4-2 against the Tigers and Angels, while the Sox pushed their winning streak to 11 games with a win last Monday but went a mere 3-4 against the Indians and Rays.
The Sox have made just one change to their roster since the Yanks were in Fenway. Julio Lugo has returned from rehabing his knee to replace Nick Green as the team’s shortstop and number-nine hitter. Green thus moves to the bench where he replaces Gil Velazquez. Given that Green as hitting .304/.371/.464, that’s actually a downgrade for Boston. Perhaps Terry Francona has realized this as Green has drawn the start tonight.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have thought better of recalling Anthony Claggett (who took the spot of the injured Damaso Marte before Sunday’s rain-out) and have farmed Claggett out for Alfredo Aceves. With rain expected nearly all week, this is likely a move made to give the Yanks a long reliever should an extended rain delay end a starters’ night early, but it’s the smarter move regardless of the weather. Aceves has pitched very well in his last two starts for Scranton Wilkes-Barre and showed a nice uptick in velocity in his short-relief outings for the big club last September. He’s worth having around, while Claggett is still trying to adjust to Triple-A. Aceves also gives the Yanks a less valuable alternate if they decide that the conditions for a given game are too dangerous to risk putting a more valuable and more fragile starter out there.
For now, however, they’re still going with Phil Hughes tonight. I, like most of you I’m sure, have been anxious to see Hughes get back on the bump following his fantastic start in Detroit (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 99 pitches). The Hughes we saw in that start and his September 24 start against A.J. Burnett and the Blue Jays last year (8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 100 pitches) is the Phil Hughes we were all so excited about before his hamstring tear in early 2007. He was pinpointing his 93 mile per hour heater, dropping in wicked 70 mph curves, and keeping hitters off balance and off base with his new high-80s cutter. It would have been preferable for him to start in yesterday’s relatively low-profile game (a Sunday afternoon against the Angels with the Yankees leading 2-1 in the series), but Hughes’s problems have always been physical, not mental. If he’s feeling good, I don’t expect he’ll be terribly disturbed by trying to break the Yankees’ season 0-fer against the rival Sox.
Boston counters with 25-year-old lefty Jon Lester, who held the Yankees to two runs over six innings at Fenway. Lester’s only start since then was a dud (6 IP, 5 R in Cleveland), but curiously his peripherals for both starts were identical (7 H, 3 BB, 7 K)with one large exception: the Yankees didn’t hit a home run off Lester, while the Indians stroked two. Just two of Lester’s five starts have been good ones, but he has struck out 23 men in 19 innings over his last three, so odds are he’s just shaking off some April rust. Last year, he had a 5.40 ERA after six starts, then went 15-4 with a 2.82 the rest of the way.
Nick Swisher (elbow) returns to the lineup to face Lester. Jorge Posada will DH with Jose Molina catching. Melky Cabrera’s in center and hitting seventh. Angel Berroa bats ninth as Joe Girardi continues to deny Ramiro Peña plate appearances against lefties (he has just two, a walk and a strikeout). Peña has been weaker against lefties than righties in his minor league career, but not significantly so (though it’s hard to tell given his poor hitting overall).