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Tag: Alfredo Aceves

Fade to Black

The Yankee-Red Sox game was blacked out in most of the Metropolitan area last night, but Manny Banuelos didn’t pitch badly:

“That guy’s 20 years old?” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia asked. “He’s really good, and he seems to have an idea. Shoot, when I was 20, I was swinging with an aluminum bat [in college].”

“I think for this young man’s future they should go slow with him, very slow,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said with a smile.
(Costello, New York Post)

Alfredo Aceves started for the Sox, who beat the Yanks, 2-1.

Welcome Back

According to Mark Feinsand, the Yanks have re-signed Chad Gaudin. The Bombers need help in the bullpen as Alfredo Aceves had a set-back in his rehabilitation yesterday.

Observations From Cooperstown: Call-ups, Helmets, and Lookalikes

Let’s file this in the category of “taking nothing for granted.” Even with a sizeable lead over the Red Sox, I’m happy to see that the Yankees haven’t waited for Scranton’s Triple-A playoff season to end before bringing some reinforcements to New York. Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Mark Melancon, Edwar Ramirez, Mike Dunn, and Jon Albaladejo represent the first wave of call-ups, giving Joe Girardi additional options for the final month of the regular season. As painful as it is for fans of the minor league affiliates to hear, the priorities and needs of the major league team should always come first. Given the frequent rest needed by Jorge Posada and the semi-ludicrous pitching limitations being placed on Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees can use some bolstering in the areas of pitching and catching depth.

Once Scranton’s postseason run is complete, the Yankees should then promote their two best everyday players at Triple-A: Austin “Ajax” Jackson and Shelley “Slam” Duncan. If nothing else, both players deserve to be rewarded for fine seasons in Triple-A; minor league players need to know that they will be promoted if they produce at lower levels. Jackson still has flaws in his game (including a surprising lack of power and too many strikeouts), but did well enough to be named the International League’s Rookie of the Year. Duncan has had nothing less than a terrific season for Scranton-Wilkes Barre, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage. Hopefully, the Yankees will be able to put an early clinch on the AL East and give Duncan some at-bats in which to impress opposing scouts. He could help any one of a number of teams, including the Indians, A’s, Diamondbacks, and Pirates. Heck, he’d be a good fit for the cross-town Mets, who probably won’t be re-signing Carlos Delgado and desperately need an infusion of power and enthusiasm. If someone gives Duncan a chance, they might just get some Dave Kingman-type numbers in return, with slightly better defense and significantly better attitude…

In pioneering the oversized S100 helmet made by Rawlings, David Wright has started me thinking about the history of batting helmets. Former Yankee great Phil Rizzuto is generally acknowledged as the first major leaguer to wear a full batting helmet in a game. “The Scooter” made the move from cap to hard hat in 1951, one year before the Pirates outfitted all of their players with helmets and a full 20 years before helmets became mandatory throughout the major leagues. Rizzuto wasn’t just a great shortstop and a funny broadcaster; he was a smart guy who realized the value of protecting oneself in an era when most pitchers felt comfortable pitching high and tight.

As much of a pioneer as Rizzuto was, he was not the first professional ballplayer to don a helmet in a game. That honor belongs to another Hall of Fame shortstop—longtime Negro Leagues great Willie “El Diablo” Wells. After being beaned and knocked unconscious in a 1942 game, the Newark Eagles’ legend returned to action wearing a workman’s helmet, which he found at a New Jersey construction site. Deciding that the construction helmet would work at bat, Wells donned the hard hat in his next game. El Diablo might have looked a little odd, but who could have blamed him?

Speaking of Wright, his use of the S100 helmet has conjured images of two of Hollywood’s beloved characters: The Great Gazoo from “The Flintstones” and the laughable Dark Helmet from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. So whom do you think Wright more closely resembles? It’s a close call, but I’ll place my vote with Gazoo, as portrayed by the brilliant Harvey Korman. In the immortal words of Gazoo, “Goodbye dum-dums.”…

Finally, has anyone else noticed how much Alfredo Aceves looks like former Yankee Jim Leyritz? Every time I see Aceves take the mound, I have to remind myself that “The King” is no longer playing. I had similar flashbacks when Bobby Abreu played for the Yankees; he always reminded me of former Yankee outfielder Matty Alou, at least in terms of their facial resemblance. Then again, maybe I’ve just been looking at too many old Topps baseball cards.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

Observations from Cooperstown: DeRosa, Aceves, and The Classic

When a team plays well for an extended stretch of games, the intensity of the rumor mill tends to lessen. That’s certainly been the case for the Yankees, who have played well for the last month in taking a share of the top spot in the American League East. The only prominent name that I’ve heard linked to the Yankees in recent weeks is Cleveland’s Mark DeRosa, a player that the Cubs foolishly traded over the winter for three middle-of-the-road pitching prospects. Ravaged by injuries, the Indians are going nowhere in the AL Central. DeRosa is 34 years old and just a few months away from free agency; he is almost certain to be traded sometime between now and July 31.

So should the Yankees make a play for DeRosa? I’d say yes, but within reasonable limits. Let’s begin with DeRosa’s potential contribution. As well as the Yankees have played since Johnny Damon hit that three-run homer on a Sunday afternoon against the Orioles, their bench remains mediocre at best. Francisco Cervelli and Brett Gardner have been assets, but the Yankees have received precious little offense from their backup infielders and have virtually no power in reserve—at least until (or if) Xavier Nady returns. DeRosa would solve the latter two concerns. He can play third, second, or first, along with the outfield corners. He has above-average power, along with a team-first grittiness that would play well in New York.

Yet, the Yankees should be conservative in what they offer for DeRosa. After a career year for the Cubs in 2008, DeRosa brought back only three mid-level prospects on the trade market. In the midst of a mediocre campaign with the Indians, DeRosa’s value has decreased further. I might be willing to give up two young pitchers—pick two from a group that includes Anthony Claggett, Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, and Christian Garcia—but no more. I’m not giving up Mark Melancon, or Alfredo Aceves, or even an injured Ian Kennedy. DeRosa would help, but he’s not currently worth a price tag involving any of those right-handers. If the Indians insist on any of the three, I’d suggest that Brian Cashman hang up the phone…

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Yankee Panky: Less Is Mo?

This week’s briefing begins with a note from WFAN’s Richard Neer. As I drove home from the golf course Sunday, Neer was entertaining a call from a Mets fan, who in typical Mets fan form – actually, he was calm – ranted about Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran and how the Mets’ core players don’t play smart, and they don’t play hard.

Neer poo-pooed the call, saying – and I paraphrase – that Mets fans are looking for things to get upset about while the team is in first place. Mets fans can’t exist unless there’s something to kvetch about. Well, those calls are even more heated now, since the team from Queens changed its logo from “METS” to “BEARS,” and replaced their names with the “Chico’s Bail Bonds” sponsorship patch.

It got me thinking, though, about the legitimacy of the recent Mariano Rivera arguments that have pervaded local and national Yankee telecasts. Are fans and media alike looking for a negative amidst the best positive streak the Yankees have had this season? Or is it valid that due to his age, Rivera 1) should not pitch more than one inning when called upon, and 2) should not pitch on consecutive days?

My answer to both questions is no. I’m actually surprised the Rivera argument is the focus, when he remains the most consistent pitcher on the Yankees’ staff. From a relief pitching standpoint, who is more reliable? Who has been able to consistently throw Strike One? Phil Coke has, sometimes. So has Alfredo Aceves. Jose Veras? Edwar “Leave off the ‘d’ for ‘Don’t you know I’m throwing a changeup with two strikes’ Ramirez? Brett “I gave up Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run in ’98 and now I’m a Yankee” Tomko? Not so much.

Yes, Joe Girardi has to be mindful of Rivera’s age and use him wisely. Take Monday night, for example. Rivera had logged three innings and thrown 44 pitches over the previous two games. He had not pitched three consecutive days all season and was given the night off. A wise move by Girardi, and with a big lead, his decision seemed validated. That was, of course, until the ninth inning, when the ESPN team of Chris Berman and Orel Hershiser strained as Coke struggled to a “save” to complete the series sweep of the Twins. Intermittently, ESPN cameras cut away to Rivera sitting in the bullpen with his jacket on, looking like he wanted to warm up and get in there if necessary. Poor Phil Coke. At least he didn’t have to endure Berman’s incessant references to “Coke Classic,” “New Coke,” and anything other beverage jokes he could come up with. And he did secure the victory, much to the chagrin of the headline writers of the Post and Daily News, who were probably salivating at the chance of plastering “PHIL CHOKE” on the back page.

Wednesday night, Michael Kay lamented Rivera’s eighth-inning entrance both during the game and in the post-game analysis. Kay’s main beef was that someone else should have pitched the ninth inning, especially after the Yankees blew the game open with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rivera threw four pitches in the eighth and needed 10 to get three outs in the ninth. He also yielded his fifth home run of the season.

Kay used those last two points to validate his argument, which upon reading over again, still seems weak, and here’s why: Recent history has shown that the guys who were available – Veras, Ramirez, Tomko, and Jonathan Albaladejo – could not be counted on to get three outs and hold an eight-run lead. Kim Jones didn’t ask why Rivera pitched the ninth on Wednesday, and if it was asked later on, Girardi’s answers will be column fodder for Thursday’s rags.

My opinion: Girardi made the right move. As I’ve written in this space before, and reviewed many times when Steven Goldman’s columns passed my edits, sometimes a save occurs in the eighth inning. This game against the Orioles was one of those times. Leaving him in to pitch the ninth: why not? Isn’t that partly why he’s getting paid upwards of $15 million? What about the possibility that Rivera asked to pitch the ninth? Having been his former catcher, isn’t it possible that Girardi believes that Rivera knows his body better than anyone and that maybe he left the decision to the future Hall of Famer?

Looking at Rivera’s profile, his 2009 workload is being carefully planned, primarily based on pitch count. Wednesday was only the third time all season River was asked to get more than three outs in an appearance – it just so happened that it was the second time in his last three games. And he was pitching on two days’ rest, so he was fresh. Rivera averaged 30 pitches in the two four-out or more appearances. He threw just 14 on Wednesday.

If you were the Yankees manager, how would you handle Rivera? I would likely do the same thing Girardi’s doing. Oh, and under no circumstances, ever, would I have Tomko warming when I need to get one batter out in the ninth inning.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When the misses are in the same spots (up and in to lefties and up and away to righties) and no adjustments are made, you have to wonder if anything’s going on between the ears.”
– Orel Hershiser, during Phil Coke’s ninth-inning struggles Monday

Until next week …

The New Third Amigo

Don’t look now, but Alfredo Aceves has passed Ian Kennedy on the Yankees’ prospect list. The two pitchers are very similar. Both are right-handers of unexceptional stature with similar repertoires (91 mile per hour fastball, changeup, curve). Both went from high-A to the major league rotation in their first year of pro ball, and both have impressed in their September call-ups.

The difference between the two is that Aceves did last night all of the things the Yankees have been trying and failing to get Kennedy to do all season. He threw strikes, worked quickly, and mixed in all of his pitches. That last is the most significant. In his various unsuccessful stints in the major leagues this year, Kennedy has been a two-pitch pitcher, throwing straight fastballs to spots (and often missing) and trying to get his outs with his changeup. Last night, Aceves varied speeds and breaks on all three of his pitches (really four as his best pitch is a cut fastball with some impressive movement) giving him an assortment several times more varied than Kennedy’s.

Of course, Aceves maturity on the mound comes from his maturity off it. Aceves may be in his first year of “pro ball,” but he has six years of professional experience in the Mexican League behind him while Kennedy was pitching in college in 2006. Despite that, Aceves is just two years older than Kennedy. It’s possible that Kennedy could learn what Aceves knows in the next two years, but even if he does, he’s unlikely to be much better than Aceves is now. The real question is exactly how good is Aceves now? He’ll certainly be in the mix for next year’s rotation, but is he just a younger, wilier Darrell Rasner, the sort of pitcher who can fill a vacant rotation spot and slide back into a long relief role when the rest of the starters get healthy, or does he have the potential to be a mid-rotation guy like many hoped and even assumed Kennedy would be as early as this year?

Whatever he is, it’s worth recognizing that in one short season he’s passed fellow 25-year-old Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and even Kennedy on the Yankees’ list of starting pitching prospects, which may tell you as much about Horne, Marquez, and Kennedy as it does about Aceves.

Aceves High

Last night’s game started off a lot like Monday night’s 12-1 humiliation. Bobby Abreu erased a Derek Jeter single* with an inning-ending double play in the first. In the second, the first three hitters reached on a single, a hit-by-pitch, and a double resulting in a run and putting men on second and third with none out, but Ervin Santana struck out Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano before getting Chad Moeller to line out to end the threat. In the third, Abreu delivered a two-out single, but was promptly thrown out stealing second with Alex Rodriguez, who had singled to lead off the previous inning, at the plate. The Yankees stranded another two-out single in the fourth and went down in order in the fifth.

What was different was Alfredo Aceves. Making his first big league start in front of 31 friends and family members and 43,011 strangers, Aceves worked quickly, mixed his pitches, threw strikes, and made quick work of the Angels. Pitching to contact, Aceves got into just two three-ball counts all night, both of them full counts, one of which ended in a strikeout of rookie Brandon Wood, and didn’t walk a batter. He consistently got ahead early, throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 26 batters he faced, and after three of his first four outs traveled a fair distance in the air, he got ten of his last 17 outs on the ground and two more by strikeout.

To be sure, the defense behind Aceves’ helped out. The first out Aceves recorded came when Robinson Cano made a great sliding stop to his right, then spun to his feet to throw out the speedy Reggie Willits. Alex Rodriguez made several nice plays at third base including eating up a hard hopper in the second and making a nice backhanded play on a shot down the line in the third.

Robinson Cano made another nice play in the fourth with a diving stop to his left that he tried to turn into a 4-6-3 double play, but Derek Jeter let Cano’s throw clank off his glove as both runners reached safely. That came after the runner on first had reached by lining a ball off the right wrist of a diving Jason Giambi. Though both plays would have been exceptional, they should have been made. Undeterred, Aceves took matters into his own hands by reaching across his body to stab a comebacker and start an inning-ending 1-6-3 DP. Aceves has a face of stone on the mound, but after escaping that jam he pumped his fist and shouted a few words in Spanish.

With the score still 1-0 entering the sixth, the Yankees finally gave Aceves some insurance. Derek Jeter led off with a deep fly into the gap in right center. Gary Matthews, who had just been put into the game in place of Torii Hunter, whose back was acting up, got to the ball, but had it clank off his glove for what was initially ruled a triple (later changed to a three-base error). Bobby Abreu followed with a five-pitch walk, and Alex Rodriguez cashed it all in with a three-run jack that made it 4-0.

Those runs came just in time as Aceves appeared to be fatiguing a bit in the bottom of the sixth. Though he had thrown just 60 pitches through the first five frames, allowing just a trio of scattered singles, his pace slowed in the sixth. Reggie Willits took five pitches to ground out to Cano. Garret Anderson then worked a nine-pitch at-bat (just the second three-ball at-bat of Aceves’s night), eventually winning the battle with a groundball single in the gap past Cano. Mark Teixeira followed by lacing a high fastball into right center for a double, pushing old man Anderson to third. Aceves then got Guerrero and Matthews to groundout, but Anderson scored in the process.

Given two more insurance runs in the seventh thanks to a Chad Moeller single and a Johnny Damon dinger that drove Santana from the game, Joe Girardi sent Aceves out for the seventh. Six pitches later, Aceves was back in the dugout getting congratulated on seven strong innings of one-run baseball against the team with the best record in the majors.

Aceves didn’t blow anyone away last night, and he didn’t show any particularly overwhelming pitches, but, as advertised, he mixed his pitches to a dizzying degree. Aceves throws a fastball, a cutter, a changeup, and a curve, but seems to have a variety of breaks and speeds on each one. His fastball topped out at 93 miles per hour and tended to sit around 91, but he threw some 92 mile per hour pitches that dove like sinkers and some 88 mile per hour pitches that almost looked like splitters, as well as cutters in that same range that stayed level but moved side to side. His changeup sat in the mid-80s, but seemed to have a curve-like hop to it. Later in the game, he threw back-to-back straight changeups at 81 and 78 mph to get the final out of the sixth. His curve tended to be in the high 70s and have a moderate break, but in pursuit of the final out of the fifth, he threw Sean Rodriguez a 76 mph back-door yakker that was a called strike (a generous strike zone from home plate ump Ed Rapuano also worked in his favor), then got Rodriguez to groundout on a less-severe 78 mph curve.

All totalled he gave up one run on five hits (four of them singles) and no walks in seven innings while striking out two and throwing just 89 pitches, 71 percent of them strikes. Save for the lack of strikeouts, that’s a near repeat of his line from his two relief appearances. Dig:

RP: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K
SP: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K

As for the rest of the game, Damon added a solo homer off Justin Speier in the ninth and Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte slammed the door without incident. So the day after taking a 12-1 whooping, the Yankees dropped a 7-1 score on the Halos, who came no closer to clinching as the Rangers beat up on Felix Hernandez to beat the M’s 7-3.

In the other notable out-of-town game, the Rays, leading Boston by just a half game, took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth at Fenway only to have Dan Wheeler give up a two-run homer to Jason Bay and hand Jonathan Papelbon a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth. Joe Maddon sent Dan Johnson, who had just been called up before the game, in to pinch hit, and Johnson greeted Papelbon with a game-tying homer over the Red Sox’s bullpen in right center. After a Willy Aybar lineout, rookie Fernando Perez, who had pinch-hit in the seventh, doubled to left and then Dioner Navarro doubled him home to make it 5-4. Troy Percival then walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth, but struck out Jason Varitek, and got David Ortiz to fly out. With two outs, pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury stole second and went to third on Navarro’s throwing error only to have Coco Crisp pop out two pitches later to end the game and inflate the Rays’ lead to 1.5 games.

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Aceves Up Their Sleeve

The Angels can clinch the AL West tonight if they beat the Yankees and Mariners beat the Rangers, but from the Yankees’ perspective, the big story is Alfredo Aceves, who will make his first major league start. A 25-year-old Mexican League product, Aceves is in his seventh year of pro ball, but his first in the U.S. He started the year with high-A Tampa, where he posted a 2.11 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 4.63 K/BB in eight starts before being promoted to double-A Trenton, where he posted a 1.88 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP, and a 5.83 K/BB in seven starts.

Aceves was promoted again at the end of June, this time to triple-A Sranton, but a groin injury delayed his first triple-A start. After four abbreviated rehab appearances for Scranton, Aceves returned to his normal starting role, but with less success than he’d had at the lower levels. Aceves’ first four post-rehab starts saw him allow 16 runs in 20 2/3 innings, but he seemed to make the necessary adjustments from there, posting this combined line in his last two triple-A starts before being called up to the majors: 12 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 16 K. In two major league relief appearances thus far, Aceves has been similarly effective: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K.

Here’s a note from Chad Jennings following those final two starts for Scranton:

After his last start . . . Aceves was talking about using his body more to generate a little more velocity on his fastball. There was in fact a little more velocity last time and this time, but Aceves said he has looked at tape of his last start and no longer thinks he’s doing anything mechanically different. It just felt that way. The key for him is working faster, getting himself in a groove and not thinking about things too much. He picks the pitch he wants to throw, and he throws it. The game moves faster and he works a lot better.

Earlier in the year, less enthusiastic scouts dismissed Aceves as a strike-throwing junkballer who lacks an out-pitch and tops out as a number-five starter in the majors, but I was at his major league debut, and the Yankee Stadium scoreboard was registering his fastball at 94 to 95 mph. That’s likely an inflated number, but there was definitely some zip on his heater, and he complimented it well with his secondary pitches.

Here’s a scouting report from his double-A catcher P.J. Pilittere, courtesy of Thunder Thoughts’ Mike Ashmore:

He’s a guy that’s going to have no patterns when he pitches. He’s got four pitches that he commands real well, and he can throw them at any time in the count. That’s a definite talent to have. He kind of makes my job a little easier because he’s got a really good gameplan, and he really knows himself well. He does a good job on his own of trying to set up hitters, so it’s different and kind of refreshing, almost, to work with someone like that who’s thinking about the game along the same lines I am.

He’s got a really good cutter. What makes it so successful, is it’s not a lot different in speed off of his fastball. It’s pretty similar in miles per hour to his four-seam fastball. His cutter’s a good pitch, and when you have command of a pitch like that and you can throw it when you’re behind in the count, it can really bail you out of some stuff. Him being able to throw it on both sides of the plate is a definite plus for him.

Because he came on so fast and seemingly out of nowhere, it’s hard to say what the Yankees have in Aceves, but with a few good starts in these dog days of September, he could throw his hat in the ring for next year’s rotation.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver