Late spring mid-week matinee against the Rangers, not so terribly exciting, right? Wrong. Not only is this afternoon’s game the rubber game of the series, but the Yankees enter the day tied with the Red Sox atop the AL East and a half game behind Texas for the best record in the American League. Though it would surely be a temporary condition, a win today could put them alone in first place with the best record in the league. A loss could drop them to second place with the league’s third-best record.
That’s fun, but even more important is the return of Chien-Ming Wang to the rotation. To recap quickly, Wang broke his foot running the bases in Houston last June, missed the rest of the season, then opened 2009 by giving up 23 runs in six innings across his first three starts (34.50 ERA). He was placed on the disabled list with what the Yankees claimed was weakness in his hips stemming from the foot injury. After working out in Tampa, Wang threw 13 scoreless innings across two rehab starts for Triple-A Tampa, but the Yankees weren’t thrilled with the velocity or drop on his sinker and decided to keep him on the farm. Then, on May 21, Joba Chamberlain got hit with a comebacker and had to leave his start in the first inning. The resultant strain on the bullpen motivated the Yankees to activate Wang immediately and stick him in the pen. He pitched three moderately effective innings the next day, but in his two outings since then, he’s been excellent, throwing two perfect frames against the Rangers on May 27 and three scoreless against the Indians on Sunday, striking out five in those five innings.
With Phil Hughes having stumbled in his last start, the Yankees have swapped the two, starting Wang today and putting Hughes in the bullpen (count me among those glad to see them keep Hughes in the majors). The Rangers bats will tell us all we need to know about how well Wang is pitching, but I also go back to this great video analysis from the MLB Network’s Dan Plesac for a an idea of what to look for in Wang’s mechanics: balance on that right foot, a high leg kick, hands in close to the body, getting on top of his pitches, particularly the sinker, and throwing on that downward plain.
The Rangers counter Wang with former White Sox prospect Brandon McCarthy, who is finally healthy and pitching well. McCarthy has allowed more than four runs in a start just once this year and pitched fewer than five frames only in that same start. Last week, he shut out the Astros. In his last start, he held the A’s to one run on three hits over six innings.
Mark Teixeira, who sat out last night’s game having bruised his ankle on that take-out slide on Tuesday night, is back in the lineup. Francisco Cervelli gets the start behind the plate after Jorge Posada got hit with a variety of bats and balls in last night’s game. Derek Jeter also gets a game off, with slick-fielding Ramiro Peña starting behind the groundballer Wang and Nick Swisher moving up to bat behind Johnny Damon in the two-hole.
In other news, A.J. Burnett was suspended six games for throwing at Nelson Cruz the other night, so maybe Hughes will get another start anyway. Vicente Padilla, who has reportedly been placed on waivers by the Rangers, was merely fined.