There are hot summer days when a ballgame is a familiar companion, an occasion for a cool drink, a light snack, and an excuse to get off your feet and out of the heat for a while and do a whole lot of nothing. There are other days when the game slowly turns into a blackhole, adding to the oppressiveness of the temperature, ticking by minutes like hours, and leaving you exhausted and bitter about having failed to pull yourself away and done something constructive or even enjoyable with your day.
Saturday’s afternoon tilt between the White Sox and Yankees was the latter. On one of the first genuinely hot days of the year, the Yanks and Sox milled about on the field for nearly four hours, working the opposition for a total of 374 pitches, drawing 11 walks, stranding 15 runners on base, and ultimately leaving the home crowd deeply unsatisfied by the entire experience.
Javy Vazquez was again ineffective. The damage was slight early on. In the second, the Sox loaded the bases with no outs on an infield single and a pair of walks, but Vazquez escaped with just one run scoring thanks in part to being able to face Juan Pierre (who popped out on the first pitch) and Omar Vizquel (who plated the one run via a sac fly) and in part to A.J. Pierzynski getting caught off second when Mark Teixeira cut Curtis Granderson’s throw home on Vizquel’s sac fly. The White Sox also scored a lone run in the first and third innings, both times on a solo homer by Andruw Jones, who owns Vazquez (.392/.446/.824 with five homers in 56 plate appearances entering the game). The Yanks scratched out a run against Jon Danks in the third following a leadoff single by Brett Gardner to close the gap to 3-1, but Vazquez failed to get an out in the fourth.
After an infield single by A.J. Pierzynski, Vazquez gave up a long home run to Mark Kotsay, of all people, then walked the scuffling and typically impatient Pierre on four pitches before giving up a single on an 0-2 count to Vizquel. That single, with none out in the fourth, came on Vazquez’s 83rd pitch. Just 55 percent of those pitches were strikes, the walk to Pierre was the fourth he had issued, and the homer by Kotsay was the third he had allowed. YES didn’t put up it’s radar gun readings until the third inning, and then recorded Vazquez striking out Gordon Beckham on a 91 mile-per-hour fastball, but most of Vazquez’s fastballs were in the high 80s, and there was no bite on his breaking stuff. In other words, he was no better and probably a bit worse than he had been in his first four starts.
If Vazquez’s struggles weren’t mental to begin with, they likely are now. Despite his poor performance, the entire infield came to the mound to reassure him when Joe Girardi came to take him out of the game with two runs in, two men on, and none out in the fourth. Girardi seemed like he was trying to say something positive to Vazquez as well when he got to the mound, but Javy just handed him the ball and pushed past him (though he didn’t display any obvious anger and did stay in the dugout to watch Sergio Mitre strand both inherited runners).
Attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons Vazquez handed them, the Yankees scratched out another run against Danks in the fifth, albeit barely as Alex Rodriguez beat out a would-be double play with one out and bases loaded by mere inches, thanks in part to a hard, clean slide by Mark Teixeira at second. Though they didn’t cash in a big inning there, the Yankees did work Danks over thoroughly, sending him to the showers after that inning having thrown 118 pitches. They then jumped all over righty reliever Scott Linebrink in the sixth with one-out singles by Marcus Thames, Granderson, and Gardner, and RBI groundout by Derek Jeter, and a two-run home run by Nick Swisher, who seemed elated to get a big hit in his home park.
Swisher’s hit gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead, erasing Vazquez’s poor start, but even amid that rally there were more lemons, as Curtis Granderson pulled up lame rounding second on Gardner’s single and left the game with a Grade 2 strain of his left groin that has since landed him on the 15-day disabled list. Damaso Marte then came in and knocked over the glass of lemonade, relieving David Robertson to face the lefty Pierzynski with two out and men on first and second. Pierzynski launched Marte’s 1-0 offering deep into the left field gap, scoring both runners and giving the Sox a 7-6 lead that Linebrink, lefty Randy Williams, J.J. Putz, and Bobby Jenks cashed in for the win.
In the short-term, the loss of Granderson won’t hurt as much as it might seem. In fact, it could actually have a positive effect on the roster, which despite the Yankees early success, could use some tending in places. Granderson had been ice cold since the final game of the last homestand, going 4-for-37 (.108) without an extra base hit in 12 games leading up to his injury. Marcus Thames, meanwhile, has been on fire, though admittedly he had just one at-bat against a righty before singling off Linebrink. With a more-than-capable center fielder in Brett Gardner and Randy Winn as Thames defensive caddy in left, the Yankees can get by without Granderson for a couple of weeks if the duration of his DL stay doesn’t drag on much past the minimum.
The increased exposure that will give Randy Winn should force Joe Girardi to either find a role for him or ask Brian Cashman to replace him. As I mentioned in my pregame post, Granderson was hitting .172/.200/.242 against lefties this year and was 1-for-19 with no walks against Danks in his career before flying out twice against him on Saturday. I understood Girardi’s desire to put a strong defensive outfield behind Javy Vazquez, but if the combination of that desire and Granderson’s splits wasn’t an occasion to put Gardner in center and start Randy Winn in left, then Randy Winn has no role on this ballclub. Girardi did insert Winn for Granderson after the latter’s injury, but when that spot in the order came back around to lead off the eighth, he pinch-hit for Winn with Nick Johnson, effectively sacrificing the DH (Thames, who started as the designated hitter, went out to left field in the ninth) in order to avoid letting Winn hit.
In that situation, Girardi was trying to get a man on base while trailing by one run at a point in the game at which the DH spot wasn’t going to hit again unless that run was scored. I understand that, and I understand that Nick Johnson is the man you want at the plate when you desperately need a baserunner, but it tells you something about Winn’s role on this team that after 23 games he’s made just three starts and come to the plate just twice in the other 21 games. I’m not going to argue that Winn should be playing more, but if his playing time is a true reflection of his value to this club, he has no value and should be replaced.
That is particularly true given the fact that Johnson and Thames have, effectively, no defensive value (Johnson because he’s blocked at first base by Mark Teixeira and can’t play another position, Thames because he’s a butcher in the outfield). If Girardi is opting to start Thames over Winn in left field and Granderson over Winn against lefties, Winn has no role on this team. If Winn hasn’t made a case for a larger role by the time Granderson is ready to return, Winn should be released and replaced with someone like David Winfree, the 24-year-old righty-hitting four-corner man from the Twins organization who went down to the last cut in camp and is off to a .300/.350/.486 start for triple-A Scranton.
In the meantime, Granderson is being replaced on the roster by Mark Melancon, whom I’m hoping will stick in the bullpen past Granderson’s return. Of course, Melancon is here in part because the Yankees needed six innings from their bullpen on Saturday and used five relievers (everyone but Joba and Mo) to fill them. His replacing Granderson reduces the bench to three players (Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Peña, and whomever isn’t playing left field). That situation is clearly temporary and could be rectified by the arrival of Winfree rather than later (though they’d need to make room for him on the 40-man roster, perhaps by removing Christian Garcia, who just underwent a second Tommy John surgery). The only question is if the reliever sent down will be Melancon or the struggling David Robertson (who has earned the loss in his last two appearances and allowed eight runs in his last 3 2/3 innings, which includes two who scored on Marte’s watch but not two of four inherited runners who have scored on Robertson’s watch).
The long-shot there is that the Yankees come up with some injury excuse for Vazquez’s performance, place him on the DL and replace him in the rotation with Sergio Mitre, who threw three scoreless innings in relief of Vazquez on Saturday and has allowed just one run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings this season. Vazquez’s next turn falls on an off-day before a weekend series in Boston, and after Saturday’s game, Joe Girardi refused to say that Vazquez wouldn’t be skipped. The last time Vazquez pitched this poorly, he later revealed he had a shoulder injury, and the last Yankee starter to get off to this poor of a start (Chien-Ming Wang last year) did indeed get a DL timeout to work on his mechanics (only to return and suffer a far more serious, and legitimate, injury . . . the danger of tempting fate).
And here I was thinking the only injury note on this game would be the healthy return of Jorge Posada to the lineup. At least there was that.