Heading into Sunday’s finale against the A’s, Yankee manager Joe Girardi figured he had a well-rested bullpen (Phil Hughes last pitched on Thursday night, Mariano Rivera hadn’t pitched since Wednesday) and his fifth starter on the mound making just his second major league start since 2007, so he devised a plan that required his starter to go no more than six innings.
As it turned out, Sergio Mitre only needed 72 pitches to get through the first five frames. Still, nursing a one-run lead heading into the sixth, Girardi had lefty Phil Coke warm and waiting. Kurt Suzuki led off with a single off Mitre, and with four of five hitters behind Suzuki being left-handed, Girardi put his plan into effect right there and then.
Since Girardi didn’t appraise me of his plan before the game, I had no idea what the hell he was doing. Mitre had given up three runs on nine hits, but he hadn’t walked anybody and was getting a ton of ground balls. After a rough first in which he allowed two runs on a double and three singles, two of the latter well-placed bouncers up the middle, Mitre had pitched effectively and economically. After pitching around a two-out single for a scoreless second, Mitre worked a four-pitch third, hitting Scott Hairston with a curveball with his first pitch, then getting a 1-6-3 double play from Jack Cust on his next offering and getting Suzuki to groundout on an 0-1 pitch. A pair of singles set up a Mark Ells sac fly in the fourth, but Mitre survived his own throwing error on a would-be double play by getting a successful 6-4-3 DP on the next pitch thanks to some great glovework by Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano (Jeter ranged into the hole, turned and fired a strike to Cano without making a leap; Cano caught the ball with his back to first then spun and made one of his signature all-wrist throws, hard and on the money to Mark Teixeira to beat Adam Kennedy at first). In the fifth, Mitre again induced a 6-4-3, then struck out Cust on four pitches.
Mitre had thrown 91 pitches in his last start, so there was no good reason to take Mitre out. It smacked of overmanaging, particularly after Coke gave up a two-out, two-run homer to righty-swinging Mark Ellis that gave the A’s a 5-4 lead.
Fortunately, the Yankee offense was having none of that. After Mitre gave up two runs in the top of the first, the Yankees answered back with four in the bottom of the first, the key hit being a three-run bases-loaded double by Robinson Cano (who went to third on the throw home, but overslid the bag and was tagged out for the third out). After Ellis’s two-run jack gave the A’s their second lead of the game, the Yankees stormed right back with three in the bottom of the sixth when Melky Cabrera drew a one-out walk, Cody Ransom doubled him to third, Derek Jeter singled them both home, then Damon doubled and scored on a Mark Teixeira single. (Jeter didn’t score in that sequence because he was picked off first by A’s starter Dallas Braden, who has a sick move. Jeter was roughly two steps off the bag when Braden quickly stepped off the rubber and fired the ball right at Jeter’s bellybutton. The ball got there almost before Jeter could react and all first baseman Daric Barton had to do was put his glove on Jeter’s stomach and catch the ball.)
With Phil Coke thus having successfully vultured the win, Girardi went to Phil Hughes, who worked a 1-2-3 seventh striking out Hairston and Cust and then Suzuki to start the eighth. Hughes then lost a eight-pitch battle with Ryan Sweeney, walking him, and gave up a double to Daric Barton to put runners on the corners and put his scoreless streak in jeopardy. Girardi promptly brought in Brian Bruney, who struck out Mark Ellis on four pitches, then brought in Mariano Rivera for the four-pitch save. A pair of groundouts and a pair of strikeouts later, the Yankees had taken the series with a 7-5 win, wrapping up their second-half-opening home stand with a 9-1 record.
I love it when a plan comes together.
Some thoughts from the game:
- Girardi and Brian Bruney both said after Bruney gave up two home runs against the Orioles that, despite the two bombs (by young O’s stars Nick Markakis and Adam Jones), Bruney’s stuff looked all-the-way back. Bruney’s only faced five batters since then, but he’s struck out three of them and got a groundball from a fourth. Bruney’s throwing strikes (as the home runs partially evidenced) and throwing hard and could work his way back into the Yankees’ end-game strategy.
- Speaking of that end-game strategy, Hughes has been used for multiple innings in each of his last two outings. On Friday night he pitched two perfect frames, earning the save and throwing 28 pitches. Sunday afternoon he threw 1 1/3, but used 39 pitches. Not for nothing, but with Hughes up to 39 tosses (he also threw 40 against the Tigers two Fridays ago), he could be well on his way toward being stretched out again for starting. I don’t actually think that’s what’s happening, but with Bruney rounding back into form and Joba Chamberlain up over 100 innings already, the Yankees’ moment to switch Hughes and Chamberlain–a tough call to make given how well each is doing in his current role–might be now or never.
- No word yet on who the Yankees new position player will be when they arrive in Tampa tomorrow, though Girardi already said it would not be center field prospect Austin Jackson, whose development the Yankees don’t want to mess with. Don’t forget that Eric Hinske can play the outfield corners, so the Yankees already have a thumping fourth outfielder, which would seem to eliminate the similarly left-handed John Rodriguez from consideration. Ramiro Peña has started five games in center since being demoted and could come back as a utility man capable of playing center if his Scranton coaches have been sufficiently impressed with his efforts at the position. That would give Joe Girardi a bit more flexibility in his infield, where Cody Ransom appears to be the only backup given that Girardi has yet to give Hinske any playing time at third base, but Peña remains a fielder first and a bat third. If the Yankees want production at the plate, they have to go with Shelley Duncan, who can play first and the outfield corners while providing some right-handed thump and a strong throwing arm. Duncan would be a nice compliment to the lefty Hinske on the bench and could spot-start for Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui against lefties. Looking at the Upcoming Schedule on the sidebar, the Yankees will face three lefties in the next week (Scott Kazmir on Tuesday and Clayton Richard and John Danks over the weekend). In all honesty, I’d be tempted to go with Peña simply because I think the Yankees are in greater need of defensive versatility than they are more offense. The idea of Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher being Melky Cabrera’s only backups in center scares the hell out of me, and I’d like Girardi to have some choice in how to rest and replace Alex Rodriguez, as well as the ability to relieve Jeter or Cano in addition to Rodriguez late in blowout games. That said, I won’t be upset if see Shelley at the Trop Monday night.
- Look for Mark Melancon to be optioned out to make room for the new arrival. He’s pitched once since being recalled and gave up three runs in 2 1/3 innings in that outing. So I guess Girardi can bury relief pitchers, too.