The Yankees had lost three straight going into last night’s game and frustration built by the inning as Chris Young was stingy and kept the Bombers off the board. Frustration turned into irritation when Young hit a two-out RBI single in the sixth inning to put the Mets up, 3-0.
And then, over the course of four pitches, the game changed.
Mark Teixeira led off the seventh against Young and worked the count full. He hit a foul tip that was dropped by the catcher, Josh Thole. The next pitch was over the plate but low for ball four. Close, and on a different night with a different umpire it could have easily been called a strike. Nick Swisher took a big swing at the first pitch he saw and it was likely his swing that caught right fielder Lucas Duda off-guard. Duda stepped back, hesitated, and then ran forward. Swisher hit the ball off the end of the bat and was so sure that he’d made an easy out that he ducked his head and loafed out of the box. But Duda’s hesitation was costly as he ran ahead and dove for the ball. He missed and the ball squirted behind him. Teixeira moved to third and even without hustling Swisher made it to second.
Before Yankee fans could say “runners in scoring position” Raul Ibanez hit a line drive on the first pitch he saw from Young. It was a seed, headed for the right field corner, and whoosh! it went over the fence, a three run homer. Four pitches and the game had changed.
Jon Rauch relieved Young, struck out Russell Martin and got ahead of pinch-hitter Eric Chavez 0-2 when he looked to waste a pitch up in the zone. It was at Chavez’s shoulders but the lefty fought it off and hit a fly ball to left. It appeared to be a long foul ball, but it stayed fair and went over the fence to put the Yankees ahead 4-3.
That’s how the score remained as the Bombers worked out of trouble in almost every inning–David Robertson pulled his usual Houdini act in the eighth, walking two and striking out the side–as it was the Mets’ turn to come up short with men on. Raphael Soriano got the save. The last out, a long fly ball off the bat of Daniel Murphy, looked scary coming off his bat. But it didn’t have that good sound and it fell into Swisher’s glove.
According to Joel Sherman in the New York Post, the Yanks are still interested in Eric Chavez and they are also interested in trading A.J. Burnett.
So just how long should the Yankees wait before making some kind of move with Derek Jeter and/or Jorge Posada? While it’s become fashionable to proclaim both players as fully cooked and ready to begin their five-year waits for Hall of Fame consideration, those calls convey ignorance and a lack of knowledge about the Yankee organization. First off, it’s foolish to make full judgments based on the first month of the season. The same people that always cry out “sample size” conveniently forget about the principle when it involves players they don’t like. Jeter has been so reviled by some in the Sabermetric community that they’re ready to drop the guillotine at a moment’s notice.
His critics will quickly add that Jeter’s poor performance is a continuation of his 2010 finish, but his overall 2010 numbers were hardly as bad as what he’s done early in 2011. On the whole, Jeter was a passable player in 2010. So let’s give it more than a month before we proclaim a death knell. I would suggest the Yankees give Jeter at least until the end of May, if not until the middle of June, before they drop him to a lower spot in the batting order. And if his lack of hitting continues beyond that, let’s say into July, then it would certainly be fair for the Yankees to consider removing him entirely from the starting lineup.
There is another reason to have patience. Who exactly is ready to step in to become the starting shortstop? Bucky Dent and Tony Kubek are not available. Eduardo Nunez’ throwing problems make it clear that he’s not ready NOW; he might be later this season, he might be in 2012, but he’s clearly not ready at the present time. Ramiro Pena, starting at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, is an excellent defensive shortstop but isn’t likely to represent any improvement over Jeter’s current hitting. Are Yankee fans really ready to wade through a bottom-third of the lineup that has both Pena and Brett Gardner? I know I’m not.
Then there’s the case of Posada, who’s coming off a respectable season in 2010. Would it be smart to give up on Posada so quickly, especially when he’s at least shown significant power over the first 30 games? I don’t think so. I would suggest a similar timetable with Posada. If he’s still struggling badly at the end of May, it would be fair to consider a platoon with another player, perhaps Andruw Jones. And if Posada is still struggling into July, and the Yankees are in danger of falling out of contention, then yes, it might be the right time for a total replacement.
In the case of Posada, the Yankees DO have tangible replacement options. Jones is one; the other is super prospect Jesus Montero, who is close to being ready to hit in the major leagues, if not handle regular catching duties. (Montero is finally drawing a few walks and has his batting average up to .372.) Montero could be just what an aging offense needs, particularly if Jeter’s punchless hitting continues. The problem with demoting Posada is what to do with him? Teams do not need backup DH’s who cannot play the field and cannot run the bases. Unless the Yankees change their mind about using Posada as a backup catcher, he could become a roster albatross by the middle of the summer.
It’s certainly possible that Posada and Jeter, who’s been nicknamed “Captain Groundout” by Rob Neyer, might be done as useful players. It’s just too early in a long season to draw that conclusion once and for all. So let’s give it a little more time before we make them walk the plank…
There is only one conclusion to draw from Ivan Nova’s performance on Wednesday night in Tampa: he is going to make the Opening Day roster, and most likely as the No. 4 starter. In bouncing back from his lone poor performance this spring, Nova pitched brilliantly by forging six hitless innings against the Orioles. He threw strikes, kept his fastball down, and even mixed in a slider, the latest addition to his repertoire. Nova recorded 11 of his 14 outs on ground balls, which is exactly the kind of ratio the Yankees would like to see this summer.
With Nova slotted in the fourth spot, that leaves only the No. 5 starter to be decided. The two right-handed veterans, Freddie Garcia and Bartolo Colon, will continue to fight for that honor, with the loser possibly heading to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees take the careful route and place Joba Chamberlain on the disabled list to start the season. (I don’t think Chamberlain’s oblique injury is all that serious, but the Yankees tend to be overly cautious when it comes to these things.) The Yankees could also open up a relief spot by releasing or trading Sergio Mitre, a possibility that has actually been rumored this spring despite Joe Girardi’s affinity for the former Marlin.
The other outside possibility for the bullpen is Romulo Sanchez, the ex-Pirate who is out of options. Sanchez has been wild this spring, but he has a live fastball that has impressed opposing scouts, and would almost certainly be claimed on waivers by someone. At 26, Sanchez is a lot younger than both Colon and Garcia, and more accustomed to pitching out of the pen.
Whatever happens with the 12-man staff, the Yankees at least appear to have some decent pitching options, more so than they appeared to have at the start of spring training…
Last year, career minor leaguer Jon Weber was the feel-good story of spring training. He hit everything in sight and made a run at the Opening Day roster before being demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Weber’s story ended nightmarishly; the veteran outfielder was suspended in mid-season for a third violation of baseball’s drug policy, and rather than take a 100-game ban, he opted to retire.
Let’s hope that the story of Jorge Vazquez ends far better than that. Like Weber, Vazquez is no prospect. He’s soon to turn 29 and will never be a regular in the major leagues. But he has legitimate right-handed power, is versatile, and could be a useful backup player in the Bronx. It’s only been a few games, but the career minor leaguer and ex-Mexican League standout has been rapping line drives around the Grapefruit League, putting himself in position to make an outside run at the 13th and final spot for position players.
Vazquez spent most of 2010 at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, where he slugged .526 as a part-time third baseman and first baseman. There’s little doubt about his power; he twice exceeded the 30-home run mark in Mexico, and has hit long balls at a similar rate in the high minors of the Yankee system. Now the down side. He’s the ultimate free swinger, having never walked more than 25 times in a full season. So let’s call him Celerino Sanchez with power.
Vazquez’ best shot at making the team rests on his ability to continue hitting this spring, along with a potential breakdown by Eric Chavez, who is also vying for a spot as a backup infield cornerman to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. I think the Yankees would like to see Chavez make the team, based on his pedigree of left-handed power and defensive supremacy at third base. But if Chavez cannot stay healthy (a big IF for a guy who hasn’t played a full season since 2006) or if he fails to show any of his past power, then the door might open for Vazquez
As with Weber, I’ll be rooting for Vazquez. I guess I’m just a sucker for career minor leaguers. …