Head on over to Grantland and check out Ben Lindbergh’s story on the art of framing pitches (featuring Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart).
[Photo Credit: Reuters]
When Nick Swisher took his high on-base-percentage and shit-eating grin to Cleveland he left the Yankees with a personality complex. That is, they are now without a goofball, whose enthusiasm, which in Swisher’s case I believe is sincere, people either find appealing or irritating. I tolerated Swisher’s schtick though didn’t think he was funny or interesting. I liked him as a player, though, and so while I thought he was an ass I didn’t think he was a phony and you’ve got to let people be who they are.
Juan Rivera and Kevin Youkilis, well, that is nobody’s idea of charm or good cheer, though Youkilis does have a droll sense of humor. What the Yanks are left with is their one-time mascot who was banished to the minor leagues last season: Francisco Cervelli. You may have heard, he’s the Yankees starting catcher. Now, it doesn’t matter how this adds up in making the Yanks a better team, because it gives them a cheerful pain in the ass, a guy sure to make us smile on occasion because he enjoys his job and a guy certain to piss off the opposition.
And there’s some value in that.
Yanks make a trade and Cervelli goes to the minors. Joe Pawlikowski doesn’t think it makes any sense.
The wife isn’t going to like this.
[Photo Credit: Alejandra Villa/Newsday]
Diane Firstman hipped me to this little feature by Andrew Marchand on Francisco Cervelli.
[Photo Credit: Matt Slocum/AP]
My wife adores baseball mascots. I think she’d rather meet the Phillie Phanatic than any player–oh, how she wants a kiss from that furry green beast. She complains that the Yankees don’t have a mascot. “What a bunch of tight asses,” she says. This helps explain why she is attracted to Francisco Cervelli, the closest thing the team has to a fuzzy cheerleader. She’s liked Cervelli ever since he joined the team a few years ago–though she did not like when he crossed home plate in a hot dog fashion up in Boston last season.
Ever since I’ve braced her for the possibility that he’s a short-timer in pinstripes. He’s spirited, throws the ball to third after a strike out with flair. The pitchers seem to like throwing to him though he doesn’t have a great arm and despite a few Luis Sojo-like streaks of clutch hitting, he’s not much with the stick either. And yet he’s still around and will go into spring training as the favorite to be the Yankees’ back-up catcher.
Over at Lo-Hud, Chad Jennings looks at organizational depth at catcher. There’s also a news-and-notes post featuring word on Phil Hughes and a rumor about Godzilla Matsui. As always, the Lo Hud remains an essential stop for the well-informed Yankee fan.
[Photo Credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times]
The fashionable pitching rules of today couldn’t prevent injury to Phil Hughes and now they’ve failed to save Joba Chamberlain, who is lost for the season with a torn elbow ligament. I’ll spare you a diatribe about the Yankees’ counterproductive babying of their young pitchers and try to answer a more immediate question: who do the Yankees turn to beef up their bullpen?
David Robertson should be fine in the eighth inning, and Luis Ayala may be passable in the seventh, but the Yankees will need more help, at least until Rafael Soriano returns from the M*A*S*H unit. Jeff Marquez and Amaury Sanit are clearly not the answers, nothing more than stopgaps. I’d love to see the Yankees do something daring and try Tim Norton, the six-foot, five-inch, 230-pound right-hander who was just promoted to Scranton after dominating Eastern League hitters. At 28, Norton was clearly too old for Double-A ball, but scouts love his ability to throw a heavy fastball in the 94 to 95 mile-an-hour range. Now recovered from back problems that curtailed his 2010 season, he’s a more complete pitcher who throws strikes. At least one scout has already said that Norton is better than Chamberlain, so why not give him a look in the late innings?
If Norton is too much of a reach, the Yankees could give a look to righty Kevin Whelan, the last remnant of the ill-fated Gary Sheffield-to-the-Tigers trade. As Scranton’s closer, Whelan has struck out 30 batters in 27 innings while holding the International League to a 1.67 ERA. Once considered a real prospect, Whelan is now 27, but is worth a whirl…
It’s beyond me what Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman continue to see in Francisco Cervelli. He made two more errors the other night, bringing his season total to four, and actually putting himself near last year’s pace, when he committed 13 miscues as the backup to Jorge Posada. Cervelli’s throwing is even more atrocious. He’s thrown out a dreadful 11 per cent of runners, down from last year’s merely awful 14 per cent. These are simply not acceptable major league numbers. Cliff Johnson or Curt Blefary could have done better in their day.
As a hitter, Cervelli is mediocre at best, with little power and only a decent walk rate that is worth mentioning on the plus side. Frankly, he’s been living off that hot start to the 2010 season for more than a year now, and it’s high time for the brain trust to take note and a make a change. With Russell Martin ailing, the Yankees need to bring up Jesus Montero NOW–and not in July or August.
I know what the naysayers are saying: Montero is not hitting–he‘s down to a .336 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage–so why bring him up now? Well, it’s possible that Montero is just frustrated over the Yankees’ decision not to promote him at the end of spring training. Sometimes, a call-up is just what a discouraged young player of enormous offensive talent needs. Given Cervelli’s ineptitude, the Yankees should be willing to take the chance on Montero. I don’t see how he could play significantly worse than Cervelli.
If you’re wondering about Austin Romine, he’s not a candidate because of health concerns. Although he’s having a very good season for Double-A Trenton, where he leads the Thunder in hitting and RBIs, he was just placed on the seven-day disabled list with concussion-like symptoms. So that makes him currently unavailable, putting the onus squarely on Montero…
Earlier this week, the baseball world lost two good ones from my childhood years, as Jose Pagan and Jim Northrup both lost battles with Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote about Pagan earlier this week at The Hardball Times, where I touted him as a deserving candidate to become the game’s first black manager ahead of Frank Robinson, but Northrup is certainly worth an extended mention, too.
Northrup was a very good and underrated player for the Tigers, a significant part of their 1968 world championship team and a versatile defender who could handle all three positions in the outfield. A left-handed hitter with power and a knack for hitting grand slams (he hit five in 1968), Northrup gave those Tigers teams of Mayo Smith and Billy Martin some much needed balance. The Tigers’ lineups of that era tended to run heavy to the right, with Al Kaline, Willie Horton, and Bill Freehan forming much of the offensive nucleus. Northrup and Norm Cash gave the Tigers a left-handed presence, discouraging American League opponents from loading up on right-handed pitching.
Noted author Tom Stanton, who has often written about the Tigers as subjects of his books, remembers the ex-Tiger outfielder fondly. “When I think of Northrup, I think of clutch hitting and grand slams and his triple in the 1968 Series [which provided the winning runs in Game Seven] . His name inevitably evokes our unusual outfield situation. We had four top outfielders — Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Northrup — who played together for a decade, sharing duties. This glut of talent, of course, led to Mickey Stanley being shifted to shortstop in the 1968 Series.”
Off the field, Northrup provided the Tigers with one of their most memorable personalities. Nicknamed “The Gray Fox” because of his premature graying, Northrup loved to talk. All one had to do was say hi to him, and that would ignite a quick reply and a long-lasting conversation. A natural conversationalist, Northrup became a Tigers broadcaster in the eighties and nineties, giving him a forum to express his many opinions. When the Tigers changed owners, management decided to fire Northrup because they considered him too opinionated, fearful of his criticism of the new ownership.
Northrup could also lose his temper. He once fought with A’s relief pitcher Jack Aker after “The Chief” hit him with a pitch during the 1968 season. And, not surprisingly, Northrup clashed with Billy Martin, who didn’t play the outfielder as often as he would have liked. Northrup felt that Martin took credit for the team’s victories but often blamed the players when the Tigers fell short.
During the 1974 season, Northrup’s passionate personality led to his departure from Detroit. When the Tigers released Norm Cash late in 1974, they didn’t tell him directly; “Stormin’ Norman” heard it about it on his car radio while driving to the ballpark. Northrup was furious at the Tigers’ inconsiderate treatment of his longtime teammate and friend. He barged into the office of manager Ralph Houk (another ex-Yankee), loudly expressing his disapproval of the handling of Cash’s release. The next day, the Tigers sold Northrup to the Expos.
Jim Northrup, a man who cared, sounded like the kind of guy I would have liked to meet.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.
Sometimes the Yankees’ roster decisions leave me befuddled and bewildered. Not to mention confused. When Eric Chavez went down with a broken foot last week, all signs pointed to the promotion of minor league home run machine Jorge Vazquez. Like Chavez, Vazquez can play both third base and first base. In 139 minor league at-bats with Scranton, Vazquez has hit 12 home runs, which translates into a ratio of one home run every 11 at-bats. So what do the Yankees actually do? They call up no-hit Ramiro Pena, who hasn’t managed to make it into a single game over the last eight days.
Why do the Yankees hamstring themselves in these ways? They now have three shortstops on the roster, one who can’t hit (Pena), and one who can’t throw (Eduardo Nunez). And they really have no adequate backup for either Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez, without, of course, having to take one of their outfielders (Nick Swisher) and play him out of position at first base.
Vazquez would have also given the Yankees another DH option. With Jorge Posada flailing away against left-handers, it might have been nice to give Vazquez a few at-bats as a righty DH. If nothing else, the Yankees might have been able to find out if Vazquez’ free swinging ways would translate at the major league level. Instead, the Yankees gave us Ramiro Pena, who is so valuable that Joe Girardi hasn’t seen fit to use him once in the last week. Criminy…
Someone in the Yankee organization needs to come to the realization that Francisco Cervelli is no longer a good defensive catcher. In committing an error and two passed balls in Thursday’s embarrassing loss to the Royals, Cervelli provided more evidence that he is simply not a good backup catcher. A capable defensive catcher through the 2009 season, Cervelli has regressed badly (and mysteriously) ever since. He was brutal defensively last year, and he’s never going to be the kind of hitter who can compensate for his erratic throwing and inability to cut down opposing base stealers.
If Cervelli’s defensive yips continue, the Yankees will need to make a change. Who would be a suitable replacement? Among the unemployed veterans, there’s Bengi Molina. Within the system, there’s always that Jesus Montero fellow…
Last week, I polled Bronx Banter readers to vote for the worst Yankee defender they’d ever seen. Some interesting names were submitted, including those put forth by Banter writers Alex Belth and Diane Firstman. Let’s take a closer look at some of the nominees:
Mel Hall: Suggested by Diane, old Mel has bigger troubles these days in prison, where he must serve a minimum of 22 years before becoming eligible for parole, but he was a favorite of mine during the dark days of the early 1990s. Hall tried hard–I never once saw him “jake” it in the field–but he just wasn’t well suited to playing the outfield. He wasn’t terrible at tracking fly balls, but with his heavy legs and sluggish way of running, he didn’t cover much ground. But it was his throwing arm that was truly a spectacle. Hall simply couldn’t throw at all; it made him a liability in left field and an absolute millstone in right field. When Hall played in right, opposing baserunners went first to third like New York City drivers storm through green lights.
Marcus Thames: Another suggestion by Diane, Thames was truly awful as an outfield defender during his one year in the Bronx. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Thames’ bat, particularly the aggressive, attacking style of hitting that reminded me of another onetime Yankee, Glenallen Hill. But Thames was just brutal wearing a glove, as bad as one of Kenny Banya’s comedy routines. On every fly ball hit his way, and I mean EVERY fly ball, I held my breath. He took bizarre routes, ran awkwardly, and had hands shellacked in iron. He would have been better off using one of those Jai alai cestas, one of which I believe Luis Polonia used when he played left field at the Stadium.
Chuck Knoblauch (as a left fielder): An Alex Belth special, Knoblauch became a nightmare at two different positions during his Yankee career. We all know about Knoblauch’s struggles in making routine throws from second base, but his outfield play almost made me long for his return to the infield. He looked uncertain on any fly ball not hit directly at him, resulting in him taking staggered routes, particularly on balls hit over his head. His throwing arm was also poor; he had a good arm as a second baseman with the Twins, but he just didn’t have the arm strength to make the long throws from the outfield toward the inner diamond. I felt bad for Knoblauch; by the end of his career, there was simply nowhere for him to play without causing collateral damage.
Rich McKinney: When the Yankees acquired McKinney prior to the 1972 season, they considered him the third baseman of the future. They failed to realize that the man known as “Orbit” had as much business playing third as I do piloting a plane. On April 22, 1972, McKinney put on a fielding exhibition for the ages. Playing at Fenway Park, McKinney made four miscues at third base. In the first inning, he booted Danny Cater’s ground ball, permitting an unearned run to score. Later that inning, McKinney made his second error, allowing two more unearned runs. In the second inning, McKinney mishandled another ground ball by Cater, with an unearned run scoring on the play. And then in the sixth inning, McKinney committed a fourth error, this time on a Rico Petrocelli grounder, with yet another unearned run scoring. The head count? Four errors and five unearned runs.
The Yankees ended the McKinney-at-the-hot-corner experiment after 33 games. By then, his fielding percentage was down to .917. Somehow, that was better than his career fielding mark of .911 at the position.
Hector Lopez: One New York writer dubbed him Hector “What a Pair of Hands” Lopez. And he didn’t mean it as a compliment. Lopez was a poor left fielder, as attested by his dreadful .970 career fielding percentage in the left-hand corner. But it was at third base where Hector truly reached his full potential for defensive ineptitude. Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris wrote about it so lyrically in The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book:
“Now, it is not necessary for me to declare that Hector Lopez was the worst fielding third baseman in the history of baseball. Everyone knows that. It is more or less a matter of public record. But I do feel called upon somehow to try to indicate, if only for the historical archivists among us, the sheer depths of his innovative barbarousness. Hector Lopez was a butcher. Pure and simple. A butcher. His range was about one step to either side, his hands seemed to be made of concrete and his defensive attitude was so cavalier and arbitrary as to hardly constitute an attitude at all. Hector did not simply field a groundball, he attacked it. Like a farmer trying to kill a snake with a stick.”
Folks, I can’t describe Lopez any better than that. Enough said there.
[Photo Credit: NJ.com]
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.
The foul ball that nailed Francisco Cervelli’s foot earlier this week has turned into a worst-case scenario, as further tests reveal a fracture. Cervelli will miss a minimum of four weeks, with some estimates extending to eight weeks.
Paging Jesus Montero!
The Future Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas, aka The Big Hurt, had his number retired before the game today in Chicago. Then Ivan Nova, who is a pretty big kid himself, pitched into the sixth inning and left the game with a 2-1 lead. Boy, was he impressive, throwing hard and throwing strikes. He also had a good curve ball. Seven K’s and just one walk.
Marcus Thames–whose hacktastic swing sometimes looks straight out of a beer softball league–hit another home run and Brett Gardner singled home Francisco “4 for 4″ Cervelli, putting a couple of runs on the board for the Yanks over the first three innings. After that, it was too much Nova and the Bombers’ bullpen. Kerry Wood slipped out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth and Joba Chamberlain hit 100 mph on the radar gun on his way to 1.1 scoreless innings.
The Great Mariano worked around a one-out walk in the ninth and got Omar Vizquel to pop out in foul territory to Cervelli to end the game.
Final Score: Yanks 2, White Sox 1. That’s win number one for Mr. Nova.
A terrific win for the Bombers on a day when the pitching was good and the fielding was slick–the White Sox turned a lovely 6-4-3 double play in the second inning that is bound for the highlight reels.
Sox and Rays go tonight on Sunday Night Baseball.
Sit back, relax, grab some eats, have a beverage and enjoy. See ya in the a.m.
[Picture by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images and Gourmet Magazine]
A few years ago I realized that one of the qualities I appreciate most in people, and value most in friends, is enthusiasm. I’m not talking about perkiness or a simple excess of energy–unrelenting positivity can be grating, and someone who is revved up all the time can be exhausting–but the capacity to nerd out over something specific, to get almost inappropriately jazzed about some little thing in life that brings you joy, seems to me to be a key to happiness, and when I see someone I know showing that kind of oddball affection for something, it fosters affection in me for that person.
That has a lot to do with why I absolutely love watching Francisco Cervelli. It’s not that I think he’s a coming star in the major leagues (he’ll stick around due to his defense, but he has no power at the plate and seems headed for a career as a Plan B starter or well-regarded backup). I have no real desire for him to get more playing time as long as Jorge Posada is still active and hitting and Jesus Montero is still catching. Whenever Cervelli does get into a game, however, I can’t keep my eyes off him.
It’s not just his superficial resemblance to a young Chris Penn. Cervelli has enthusiasm for miles, and he’s not your typical sour-faced, hard-nosed baseball red-ass (Cervelli hits without batting gloves and wears his socks high, but he didn’t balk at wearing a silly-looking, newfangled batting helmet per his doctor’s orders), nor is he a Nick Swisher-style flake. Cervelli just loves to play the game. When he’s on the field, every move he makes broadcasts how much fun he’s having, whether he’s celebrating a big play, making a dramatic windup to throw strike three around the horn, cracking up his pitchers during his quick, energetic mound visits, or recounting the previous half inning in rapid-fire speech between explosive smiles in the dugout. Cervelli did all that and more Tuesday night as he went 3-for-3, made an entertaining circus catch on a foul ball, and scored two of the Yankees’ four runs in their 4-1 win over the Orioles.
A.J. Burnett cruised through the first two innings of Tuesday night’s game, using his fastball almost exclusively until Garrett Atkins led off the third with a single off Alex Rodriguez’s glove. Burnett’s command briefly evaporated while pitching from the stretch, leading to a five-pitch walk of Rhyne Hughes. Ninth-place hitter Cesar Izturis followed with a bunt to the third-base side of the mound, but Burnett’s throw sailed into the basepath and tipped off Robinson Cano’s glove at first just before Izturis crossed the bag, forcing Cano to pull his glove back to avoid injury.
That error put Burnett in a serious jam with one run in, men on second and third, and no outs, but with the lineup turning over, A.J. turned to his curveball and struck out Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters in order, getting all three swinging over curveballs and going to the curve for three consecutive pitches at the end of both the Markakis and Wieters at-bats.
The man who called those pitches, our pal Cervelli, hit the first pitch Baltimore starter Brian Matusz threw in the bottom of that inning into the right-center-field gap. Center fielder Adam Jones dove for Cervelli’s sinking liner but came up several inches short, and Cervelli legged out a stand-up triple, his first three-base hit since he was with High-A Tampa in 2007 and just the third of his professional career. Four pitches later, Ramiro Peña drove him home with a groundout and the game was tied.
In the top of the fourth, with two out and Miguel Tejada on second via a leadoff ground-rule double into the right-field corner, Atkins hit a foul pop toward the Yankee dugout. Cervelli raced back toward the camera pit, adjusted slightly, then made a lunging catch over the protective screen in front of the dugout. His momentum then tipped his center of gravity a bit too far, and he began to slide, on his belly, down the railing along the stairs only to be caught by his manager and hitting coach.
In the bottom of the fifth, with the game still tied 1-1, Brett Gardner led off by battling back from 0-2 to work a seven-pitch walk. Cervelli followed by also falling behind 0-2 on a pair of called strikes, then singled into right field to put runners at first and second. Peña followed with a sacrifice bunt to the third-base side of the mound only to have an exact replay of Burnett’s error on Izturis’s bunt unfold with Matusz’s throw tailing into the basepath and beyond second baseman Ty Wigginton’s reach allowing Gardner to come around with the go-ahead run. After a pair of outs, Matusz walked Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (the latter after a nine-pitch battle) to force in Cervelli and give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
An inning later, Cervelli came up with Marcus Thames on first via a single and one out and, after taking strike one, dropped down a perfect surprise bunt up the third-base line and beat it out for a hit. The Yankees failed to score in that inning, but when they did add an insurance run in the eighth, there was Cervelli again, bunting Gardner, who had beaten out a slow-roller up the third base line and stolen second, to third to set up a sacrifice fly from Peña.
Burnett, meanwhile, was excellent again, allowing just the one unearned run on his own throwing error while striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings against just two walks and five hits. Damaso Marte, who struck out switch-hitter Matt Wieters, and Alfredo Aceves, who needed every inch of the ballpark to retire Miguel Tejada on a fly that backed defensive replacement Greg Golson up against the Yankee bullpen, finished the eighth. Joba Chamberlain pitched around a harmless single in the ninth, striking out two (one of them on a curve) to earn his second save in as many days.
As for how the other half lives, Brian Matusz can’t catch a break. The rookie’s last two appearances were both quality starts against the defending champions, but he got a total of one unearned run of support in the two games and took the loss both times. The Yankees, meanwhile, have a backup catcher who is 12-for-31 on the season and leads the league in enthusiasm.
The Yankees began the week in Washington D.C., where on Monday they stood on risers like members of a high school chorus as President Obama addressed team personnel and then exchanged pleasantries with each individual member of the organization. They closed the week with President Obama’s Chicago White Sox visiting them in the Bronx.
Following the long 10-game road trip, despite the Yankees winning the last two games, they started off shaky and couldn’t get into a flow. Carlos Quentin’s line-drive double off Andy Pettitte in the top of the first was the last straw. That initial part of the opening frame Friday night was atypical for Pettitte, as far as this season is concerned anyway. Pettitte had allowed just four runs over his first four starts. Three of those four runs came in the third inning, usually the beginning of the second cycle through the lineup. Yet here he was having yielded three runs and four hits to an anemic White Sox offense that stood 11th in the American League in runs scored (88 total through 22 games).
Cue the coaching visit. Whatever was said resonated with Pettitte, because subsequently struck out Mark Teahen and Jayson Nix, and the Yankee offense got two runs back in the bottom half to provide a pseudo-bailout. Pettitte had trouble with that top third of the ChiSox order again and didn’t really settle down until he got Paul Konerko, whose three-run home run in the first did the initial damage, to fly out to end the second.
Pettitte threw 42 pitches over the first two innings and dug the Yankees a bit of a hole. In this way, it was a typical Andy Pettitte start — more than a hit per inning, four runs allowed, the offense having to score at least four or five runs to muster a victory. He didn’t run into any more snags until the fifth, when that same bunch of batters — Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, Konerko and Quentin — staged a threat, which Pettitte deftly dodged.
Those are moments where as an observer you can say, “This could be a turning point.” It didn’t look that way when Freddy Garcia made quick work of Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli, but when Brett Gardner singled and stole second to pass the baton to Derek Jeter, there was stirring. The stirring came to a boil when Jeter launched a curveball into the left-field seats to tie the game at 4-4.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Jeter told Kim Jones on YES. “I haven’t been swinging at a lot of strikes lately, so I tried to bear down, and I got a good pitch that was up.”
Jeter got a pitch that was up again in the 7th against Matt Thornton, with runners on first and second. This time it was a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that Jeter inside-outed past a diving Jayson Nix into the right-field corner. Cervelli, who reached on an HBP, and Gardner, who gutted out a single before scored on the triple.
The two runs gave way to the formula: Damaso Marte for LOOGY duty and Joba to close out the 8th, then Mariano Rivera throwing straight cheese to retire the side in order in the ninth.
The 6-4 win gave the Yankees their first April with at least 15 wins since 2003, when they went 20-6. It also kept Andy Pettitte unbeaten in April for the first time in his career.
It was the kind of game we’ve gotten spoiled with over the last five or few years: fall behind early, come back in the middle innings, hold it down late. It’s the kind of win a President can appreciate. Then again, maybe not. He roots for the White Sox.
Why is it that whenever I hear the name Eric Hinske, I automatically think of the “Penske File” from Seinfeld? Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of the show, or maybe I’ve just watched too much baseball, I’m not sure which. More to the point, I like the acquisition of the ex-Ray, Red Sock, and Blue Jay, mostly because he brings some much-needed power to a punchless bench. His left-handed swing should be well served at the new Stadium.
I also applaud the pickup of Hinske, acquired from the Pirates for two low level minor leaguers, because of his ability to spell Alex Rodriguez from time to time at third base. Hinske has recent experience at the position, having played three games there for the Pirates this year and eight games for the Rays in 2008. He doesn’t have much range, but his hands are good, as is a resume that includes several American League East pennant races and two World Series appearances.
Last year, Hinske platooned with the pennant-winning Rays, splitting his time between DH, right field, and left field. He’ll certainly play less often with the Yankees, backing up at the infield and outfield corners and coming off the bench to pinch-hit for the likes of Brett Gardner and Jose Molina (whenever he returns). That should bode well for the Yankees because Hinske is one of those players by which you can measure your ballclub. If he’s playing everyday for you, your team is probably not a pennant contender. But if he’s playing in a platoon role, or coming off the bench, as he will be doing for the Yankees, then that’s a sign that you have a good club…
Francisco Cervelli, who was struggling to maintain sea level against Double-A pitching, has looked competent as a major league hitter, but it is his catching skills that draw the majority of my praise. After watching Cervelli catch two games against the Orioles last weekend, I came away thoroughly convinced that he’s a keeper. From a defensive standpoint, Cervelli does everything you want a catcher to do. He squarely sets his target, and as he receives the pitch, he frames the ball skillfully, holding his glove in place in order to give the home plate umpire a longer look. (In contrast, some Yankee fans might remember the way that Matt Nokes jerked his glove back toward home plate, which is just about the worst way to frame pitches.) Cervelli moves smoothly and quickly behind the plate, allowing him to backhand wide pitches and block those thrown in the dirt. On stolen base attempts, Cervelli comes out of his squat quickly and follows through with strong and accurate throws to second base.
On the offensive side, Cervelli will probably never hit with much power, but he is patient at the plate and willing to take pitches to the opposite field. If Cervelli can mature enough offensively to become a .consistent 270 hitter who continues to draws walks, he will become a very good backup catcher. That might sound like an example of damning with faint praise, but solid No. 2 receivers have become like gold in today’s game. There are only a handful of standout backup catchers in either league: Chris Coste in Philadelphia, Henry Blanco in San Diego, Kelly Shoppach in Cleveland, and Mike Redmond in Minnesota. Cervelli has a chance to become the Yankees’ best backup catcher since a fellow named Joe Girardi, who last played a game in pinstripes in 1999. Yes, it’s been that long…
As uneven as the Yankees’ play has been through six weeks, they haven’t experienced the same kind of schizophrenia displayed by their Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton Yankees. The Scrantonians began the International League season by winning 23 of first 28 games, and they did so by clubbing the opposition with a powerhouse offense. Then came Scranton’s recent four-game stretch. Through Wednesday night, Scranton’s offense had failed to score a run in 44 consecutive innings—a simply remarkable run of futility. The Triple-A Yankees have suffered four consecutive shutouts, in addition to six scoreless innings left over during a previous loss last Saturday. Suddenly, Scranton’s record is a more earthly 23-10.
So what happened? As with the major league Yankees, injuries have hit Dave Miley’s team hard. Second baseman Kevin Russo and outfielders Shelley “Slam” Duncan and John Rodriguez, representing a third of Scranton’s starting nine, are all hurt. And the healthy players are slumping, none worse than third baseman and former No. 1 pick Eric Duncan. Duncan was wallowing in an oh-for-33 hammerlock before finally breaking out with a double on Wednesday. The slump, which dropped Duncan’s average from .309 to .206, probably cost Duncan what little chance he had of a promotion to the Bronx.
Jorge Posada tweaked his already-tender right hamstring while sliding into second base in the sixth inning of last night’s game. He had an MRI this morning, which revealed a Grad 2 strain, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list soon after. He’s likely to miss a month if not more. The Yankees had hoped to get an offensive boost with Alex Rodriguez’s return from hip surgery, likely on Friday, but with Posada out, Rodriguez’s return will merely return the Yankees to the status quo, as Rodriguez will be hard pressed to out perform the .312/.402/.584 line Posada has put up thus far this season.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the status quo is pretty darn good. Entering tonight’s game, the Yankees are tied with the Texas Rangers for the second most runs scored per game in the American League behind the overachieving Blue Jays. The Yankees’ 5.84 R/G is nearly a run better than their mark from 2008 (4.87 R/G, seventh in the AL), and is evenly split between home (5.8 R/G) and the road (5.87 R/G). Also, Rodriguez is going to be in the lineup more often than Posada, who had been on pace for 115 games between catcher and DH.
It’s still bad news, but it’s not as devastating as Posada’s shoulder injury was last year because of the additions of Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, and the rebounds of Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui and, thus far, Melky Cabrera. It’s also good news that we’re talking about a fairly routine hamstring injury and not a recurrence of Posada’s shoulder woes.
Still, losing Posada for any length of time creates a hole in the lineup. Jose Molina’s .257/.333/.343 line looks robust next to his 2008 performance (.216/.263/.313), but it’s simply replacement level rather than well below and falls short of what the Yankees had been getting from Ramiro Peña (.313/.371/.344), though the bottom would surely to fall out on Peña were he to stay in the lineup much longer.
Francisco Cervelli has been called up from Double-A to take Molina’s spot on the bench. After losing most of last year to a broken arm, Cervelli now looks not unlike the catcher-version of Peña. He’s a strong defender, easily major league quality, with little to recommend him at the plate other than a good batting eye. Cervelli looked overmatched at the plate in his very brief September call-up last year, while playing for Italy in the WBC this March, and in spring training after Italy’s elimination from the tournament. The sample size is minuscule, of course, but the competition in each was something less than what he’s likely to see in the majors in May, and he went a combined 4-for-25 (.160) with just one extra base hit and, despite that good batting eye, just one walk across those three appearances. Thus far this year, he’s hitting just .190/.266/.310 for the Trenton Thunder.
Cervelli’s here because the top catcher at Triple-A Scranton, Chris Stewart, is hitting .178/.275/.200 and isn’t nearly as good behind the plate as Cervelli. Kevin Cash, who was supposed to be the third-string catcher, is on the DL with a shoulder injury of his own. I’m not particularly worried about the Yankees “rushing” the 23-year-old Cervelli because Jesus Montero is now just a level behind him at High-A Tampa and is crushing the ball. Montero’s defense is far from major-league-ready, if it ever well be, but he’s nipping at Cervelli’s heals. Peña has handled the jump to the majors wonderfully. Cervelli, who has a veteran disposition—despite his lack of production he was a clubhouse leader on Team Italy—seems as likely as anyone to do likewise.
One hidden aspect of Posada’s DL stay is that it will make the loss of Xavier Nady sting all the more. The Yankees haven’t suffered in right field since Nady’s injury because Nick Swisher has been on fire, hitting .300/.434/.688 on the season. Where the Yankees have missed Nady is in their limited pinch-hitting options late in close games. A three-man bench of Jose Molina, Angel Berroa, and Brett Gardner doesn’t offer Joe Girardi much in terms of late-game pop. That wouldn’t have mattered as much with both Rodriguez and Posada in the lineup, but with the hole at third moving to catcher, the Yankees will continue to long after a bench bat. All the more reason for them to use Rodriguez’s return as an excuse to designate Angel Berroa for assignment and purchase the contract of non-roster slugger Shelley Duncan, who is now hitting .347/.421/.716 with ten jacks for Scranton.