Javier Vazquez has signed a one-year deal to pitch for the Florida Marlins.
No hard feelings. I always liked Javy, it just never worked out for him in the Bronx.
[Photo Credit: Picture of the Day]
Yankee pitching coach Dave Eiland, who always looks irritated, in an old-school, tough guy way, has been working with AJ Burnett on a change-up.
Eiland chuckled after the game when asked about needing to sell Burnett on the changeup, and insisted it was more about getting him to throw it with the right mechanics and timing so that it sinks late and hard.
“When he throws it right, like he did tonight,” said Eiland, “it’s almost like a splitter – it’s a great pitch. It all starts with his fastball command, with getting out over the rubber and releasing the ball out in front of him.
“When he doesn’t do that, when his arm drags, he doesn’t have command of the fastball, and when he throws the changeup it’s just a flat fader. Tonight he was out in front and on time with everything. He only threw four changeups, but on three of them he got outs with it.”
Hey, makes sense to me. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte threw again yesterday with good results. And Alex Rodriguez is coming along too, although he’s cautious not to push-it. Javier Vazquez is back in the rotation for now and he’ll start Saturday. Finally, our man Cliff Corcoran was at the Stadium last night. Dig what he saw and heard.
Over at the Pinstriped Bible, Jay Jaffe weighs in on Javier Vazquez being skipped a turn:
Like an injured wasp, Javier Vazquez is still able to sting once in awhile, but he’s desperately in need of being relieved of his misery with a rolled-up newspaper, or at the very least swatted to the sidelines. On Saturday, his season reached another low point, as he yielded four runs in three innings against the Mariners, the majors’ lowest-scoring team. While the Yankees nonetheless emerged with a win thanks to strong work from Chad Gaudin and a late offensive burst which produced five unanswered runs, the start marked the third straight time that Vazquez had failed to reach five innings.
Alas, this should surprise exactly no one. After Vazquez allowed 10 baserunners and six runs (three earned) in 5.1 innings during his first start of the month, manager Joe Girardi admitted that his velocity was down, while pitching coach Dave Eiland conceded, “He has a little dead arm,” which isn’t as serious as it sounds. “Dead arm” is a term for muscular fatigue, a warning sign from the body but something which will improve with rest, rather than a structural problem with ligaments or cartilage which would require intervention.
It started ugly but ended, if not pretty, than well enough for the Yanks today in the Bronx as they beat the Mariners, 9-5. Ichiro! led off the game with a home run against Javier Vazquez and then Russell Branyon became the first man to hit a home run into the right field upper deck at the new Yankee Stadium (Branyon is also the only player to hit the Mohegan Sun bar in center). The Yanks scored four in the bottom of the first (two-run single by Robinson Cano and a two-run dinger by Jorge Posada) but Vazquez gave it back and didn’t last long–three innings. This after not making it into the fifth in his previous two starts.
Right now, it’s CC Sabathia and pray for the Score Truck…
Jason Vargas, meanwhile, retired fifteen straight Yankees after the tough first inning. The score remained tied at four until the bottom of the sixth when Eduardo Nunez got his first big league hit–punching a high change-up, well out of the strike zone, through the hole in the right side of the infield for an RBI single. The ball came back to the infield and was passed over to the Yankee dugout. On its way, Nunez, briefly held it. He was standing on first, smiling. He kissed the ball, smiled some more and tossed the ball to Gene Monahan, the Yankee trainer, for safe keeping.
The Yanks added a couple of more runs, then another one in the ninth on their way to the win. Mariano Rivera, that bum, that zero, that dog, allowed a run in the ninth raising his season ERA to 1.18 (bum!). Otherwise, the Yankee bullpen was terrific, especially Chad Gaudin, who pitched three scoreless innings.
A nice win for the Yanks, though another rotten outing for Vazquez does nothing to help the digestion. On top of that, Alex Rodriguez is headed to the DL. “We’re going to play it safe,” Joe Girardi said after the game. “We don’t think he’s any worse than the time before.”
Right-handed pitcher Ivan Nova will take his place on the active roster. Nova will make his first major league start on Monday.
* * * *
Elsewhere, around the majors, Cliff Lee got beaten about the face and neck again today, this time by the Orioles (eight runs in 5.2 innings). The Red Sox and Jays play at 7, the Rays are in Oakland again later tonight.
[Picture by Bags]
Open skies! Pour forth your cleansing draught. Purify this field, this team, this season. Wash away age and rust. Leave gleaming life where spread decay and rot. And quietly, gently carry away the dead in your bubbling floodwaters. Give us the promise of a new day, with blazing sun, clean slate and the hope of…
What’s that? It stopped raining? Oh crap, they kept playing.
Javy Vazquez discharged pus for 105 pitches through four innings and made Sergio Mitre’s appearance a welcome sight. Until the ninth, the Yanks best offense was either a dropped pop-up or Francisco Cervelli’s feeble attempt to drive in the tying runs in the seventh (Granderson did have three hits, but batting in front Cervelli nullifies anything but a home run)
Just as Cervelli was failing in the seventh, Tampa was mounting a gutsy, late-inning comeback against Cliff Lee, the blazing sun, to settle the Rays into a first place tie in the AL East. They needn’t feel claustrophobic sharing the penthouse, the Yanks won’t be staying there long playing like this.
The ninth inning deserves its own paragraph. After Miguel Cabrera padded the lead to a really daunting 3-0, Valverde completely lost the strike zone and walked Cano, Cervelli and Gardner (none of them even took the bat off their shoulders) around one of Granderson’s singles. Derek Jeter’s season-long battle with his strike-zone judgment and weak ground balls reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. Instead of simply not swinging, he flailed at a 2-1 pitch out of the zone that would have made the count 3-1, and then tapped weakly into a game ending double play (amazing turn by Carlos Guillen) after the count ran full. By simply not swinging, I bet he would have walked and given the Yanks a real shot an undeserved victory.
Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher left the game with injuries. It seems the Yankees are really going to attempt to win the World Series with only a couple of guys having decent seasons. Color me skeptical. In losing to the reeling Tigers 3-1, they looked like a tired, broken-down mess.
After a herky-jerky motion Max Scherzer issues sick stuff from odd angles, so given the current state of the Yankee offense, he presented an insurmountable challenge. So much so that I was happy to see Curtis Granderson get a hit early, dispelling the very real chance of being no-hit. They looked slightly more comfortable against the bullpen, though they couldn’t break through until Valverde walked the park. As it was, that’s back-to-back games with eight total hits and one run. I ask that I be relieved of recapping duties until the Yankees produce a double-digit victory.
Well, I’ve had a gnawing feeling about this weekend for a few days now. The Red Sox lose Kevin Youkilis for the season, the team is reeling, trailing the Yanks by six games coming into the series, and yet, all these signs did nothing to soothe me. In fact, they only encouraged my irritation. Which is how it goes for the true baseball neurotic, doesn’t matter that I root for the Yankees, doesn’t matter that they’ve got the best record in the baseball. Nuts is Knuts and I plead guilty.
Right on cue, Javier Vazquez came up small, serving up a 3-2 cookie to David Ortiz in the first inning that Ortiz promptly deposited over the center field fence. In the second, Vazquez and Francisco Cervelli let a harmless pop-up drop (Cervelli dropped it but Vazquez didn’t help matters any–they looked like a Benny Hill routine minus the laughs). Then Vazquez walked the ninth place hitter and the struggling Jacoby Ellsbury and when the smoke cleared the Sox had scored three more runs.
And Yankee Stadium was virtually silent–a mausoleum.
Mark Teixiera stayed back and waited on a curve ball in the bottom of the first and hit a two-run home run. After that, Clay Buchholz settled into a groove. Thanks to a throwing error by Marco Scutaro, the Yanks put runners on first and second with nobody out in the bottom of the fourth. Curtis Granderson, whose entire season appears to be fouling good pitches off and then bouncing out to second or popping out to center, smacked a line drive, hit in on the screws, right at Mike Lowell at first. Double play.
Alex Rodriguez fisted an RBI single to left the following inning, pulling the Yanks to within one run, but Vazquez, again, seemingly on cue, gave up a two-run home run to Ryan Kalish, who will later drink his first beer and pop his cherry with a 12th Avenue Jackie.
Vazquez pitched good enough to lose; Buchholz, good enough to win. Yankee fans sat on their hands. With AJ “Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline” Burnett and Dustin Mosley set to pitch two of the next three games, CC Sabathia cannot afford to lose tomorrow. This could be a long, frustrating weekend at the bright, shinny mallpark in the Bronx.
Final Score: Red Sox 6, Yanks 3. The Sox now trail the Yanks by five games.
The good news? I get to feel righteous about being right, at least for one night. Wait, that’s not good news. The Rays lost, right, that was the good news.
Back tomorrow for more fun–especially since the game will be televised on FOX. Get ready for another four-and-a-half-hour affair to remember.
Been a couple of exciting, well-played games by the Yanks and Rays, huh? Phil Hughes made one mistake on Friday night and it cost the Yanks the game. They bounced back tonight, however, and served the Rays a dose of their own medicine. The Yanks rallied down 3-1, and 4-3. A trio of homers did it–a two run bomb by Mark Teixiera, solo shot by Nick Swisher and the game-winner, a long, soaring home run by Robinson Cano.
Final score: Yanks 5, Rays 4.
Javier Vazquez and Matt Garza both competed; neither was great. Matt Joyce hit another long home run, and duly admired the fruits of his labor. Carl Crawford collected the 400th stolen base of his career. But Boone Loogan and Dave Robertson were terrific in relief, and kept the game close for New York. And Mariano did like he do in the ninth after Cano’s homer gave the Yanks the lead in the bottom of the eighth.
Alex Rodriguez had a tough night, striking out, popping up, and laughed at himself when he spoke to reporters after the game. He had some more pitches to drive, put some good swings on them, and had nothing to show for it.
Lance Berkman didn’t look relaxed either but then again, the Yanks only had six hits all night, three by Cano.
The Yanks lead in the AL stands at two. No matter what happens tomorrow, they’ll leave town in first.
[Photo Credit: Mike Carlson, AP,
The Cleveland Indians, stuck in last place in the AL Central, one game behind the Kansas City Royals, inspire such excitement that the following exchange took place during the YES telecast in the top of the fifth inning:
KEN SINGLETON (To John Flaherty): “Take a look a the light towers here. … Look at ‘em! Don’t they look like toothbrushes?”
FLAHERTY (after a long pause): “You know, I see it more looking at the shot on TV. I was looking out there and I didn’t get that feel.”
Oh yeah, exciting stuff. Never mind the fact Singleton had a point: the light towers at Progressive Field do resemble the shape of a flat-headed toothbrush.
Amid the stimulating intellectual chatter, a baseball game did occur, albeit a largely nondescript one save for the eighth inning. In the top half, with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and making Jake Westbrook look like he should be pitching for a contending team before the end of the week, Jorge Posada led off, battling back from an 0-2 count and singled to left. It was only the Yankees’ third hit of the night. Curtis Granderson followed by drilling a sinker that didn’t sink deep into the right-field seats to put the Yankees on top. The 8, 9 and 1 hitters — Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter — went quietly to hand the lead to Javier Vazquez.
Vazquez had pitched reasonably well through seven innings. Yes, Vazquez benefited from an impatient Indians lineup that swung at anything near the strike zone, which kept his pitch count low, but he threw strikes and when he put runners on base, he did a fine job pitching out of jams and minimizing damage. It was one of those outings that had “hard luck loser” written all over it until the Granderson bomb. Vazquez faltered when handed the lead, though, walking leadoff man Michael Brantley. The hiccup prompted Joe Girardi to bring in David Robertson, who succeeded in his audition for “the 8th inning guy.” Robertson threw a first-pitch ball to Asdrubal Cabrera, but overpowered him with fastballs thereafter. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Cabrera bounced one to short that seemed to handcuff Jeter, who uncomfortably backhanded the ball but quickly fired to Robinson Canó at second. Canó’s quick turn and rocket toss to Mark Teixeira completed the double play and eased tensions. That was until Joe Girardi emerged from the dugout to take the ball from Robertson and hand it to Boone LOOGY. LOOGY did his job, though, striking out Shin Soo Choo to set up the inevitable with Mariano Rivera.
As Yankee fans, we truly are spoiled. Even when Rivera allows a leadoff hit and that runner advances to scoring position, rarely is there a doubt that he’ll pitch out of the jam. Three broken-bat groundouts later, game over.
The Yankees needed this one because Rays won’t go away. They blanked the Detroit Tigers 5-0 paced by Matt Garza finally putting Tampa on the correct side of a no-hitter. The lead is still three games and hasn’t wavered from that number since July 18, when the Yankees took two of three in the Bronx. The Yankees and Rays are the only two teams in MLB with 60 wins and run differentials of more than 100 (the Yanks are at +129, the Rays are +120). Clearly, they’re the two best teams in the game and they’re both treating games at the end of July as if they were being played in mid-September with a playoff spot and seeding on the line.
THE UMPIRES STRIKE BACK
On June 2, Jim Joyce gave Jason Donald a gift call in Detroit and in the process, took a perfect game away from Armando Galarraga. Tonight, second-base umpire Dale Scott gifted two calls to the Indians in consecutive innings. In the top of the fourth, with one out and Mark Teixeira on first base, Alex Rodriguez hit a sinking liner to left field that Trevor Crowe appeared to have trapped. It was ruled a catch, he quickly threw the ball to the infield, where Donald promptly tagged Teixeira to complete the double play. Teixeira, A-Rod, and Joe Girardi protested the call. In real speed, it looked like a trap, and the slow-motion replay confirmed it. The biggest clue was that Crowe slowed up as the ball continued to sink, and then squared up to field the ball like an infielder. If Crowe intended to catch that ball on the fly, he’d have charged it.
In the top of the fifth, with one out and Posada on first, Granderson hit a long line drive to right that caromed off the top of the wall. Choo played the ricochet perfectly, barehanding the ball off the wall and hurling a seed to second base. The throw beat Granderson by about a step, but Granderson’s slide looked to have beaten the tag from the shortstop, Cabrera. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t believe the thought that if the throw beats the runner, the runner will automatically be out.
At least neither blown call changed the complexion of the game.
Yanks go for the quick sweep of the Twins. Minnie won the last game in the New York series and now try to save face at home. Nice-looking new ball park out there, too. There were some gorgeous shots of the sunset and the moon against the city skyline on the YES broadcast last night.
We’ll see if Javy’s finger is a problem. Or anything else for that matter. But he’s had a couple of decent starts. Hope he builds on it.
Be nice to have have the Score Truck show up and take ‘em back home to the BX in style.
Whadda ya say, boys?
[Picture by Bags]
Yesterday, Jay Jaffe, took a detailed look at Vazquez over at BP:
Taking a more dramatic route, if not necessarily a smarter one, the Yanks could also start Sergio Mitre in Vazquez’s stead, though it’s tough to imagine Mitre’s lone supporter (Girardi) subjecting a pitcher with a career ERA of 5.48 to such brutality even given Boston’s recent struggles. More elaborate solutions are unlikely, at least at this juncture, given that the Yankees have few places to stash an $11.5-million pitcher in a funk. In years past, struggling pitchers like Jeff Weaver or Jose Contreras have been sent to the team’s spring training facility to work with pitching guru Billy Connors, taking the so-called “Tampa Cure.” But that would require a DL stint, and thus far, nobody has suggested Vazquez is injured. Short of a serious injury which could shelve the struggling starter for awhile, the one thing the Yankees almost certainly won’t do is haul Chamberlain back to the rotation, particularly given the concerns they have about their set-up corps, with Chan Ho Park lost to a hamstring injury and David Robertson and Damaso Marte just lost, period.
So the Yankees and their fans will have to endure Vazquez for the foreseeable future. Which shouldn’t be so hard, given that they sit at 16-8, with the second-best record in the AL, and that despite the weight of his personal history in the Bronx and in the league, Vazquez’s current rough patch still amounts to only five starts. In recent years, upstanding hurlers such as Sabathia, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Justin Verlander have overcome similarly ugly season-opening patches to wind up ranking among the majors’ top pitchers, and a change in Vazquez’s fortunes may only be a mechanical tweak or two away.
Even with his patchy situational stats, it’s simply too early to resort to panic over a pitcher not expected to carry the team, one whose overall track record is as long and as solid as Vazquez’s is. Expect Cashman, Girardi, and company to resist the temptation to resort to more drastic measures—firing squad, stoning, trepanning, or Clockwork Orange-style loops of the 2004 ALCS—while riding out the storm for a while longer.
[photo credit: YOM]
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.
Javier Vazquez’s second turn in New York is going about as well as the last portion of his first. In other words, like the Brazilian soccer star, Kaká.
The 1-3 record and 9.00 ERA would be remotely permissible if Vazquez showed a certain level of aggression on the mound. He was booed in his first start at Yankee Stadium. We remember Game 7 in 2004 and much of the second half. We remember “Home Run Javy” and that 18 of the 33 home runs he allowed that year came with two strikes. And contrary to popular belief, there are many of us who remember that he completed at least six innings in all but three of his starts prior to July 1 of that year, and that he made the All-Star team.
But the lasting memory is that Johnny Damon grand slam in Game 7 that sealed the 3-0 ALCS choke. Following another debacle in Anaheim that saw him cough up a 3-0 lead and use his fastball sparingly over 3 2/3 innings, Vazquez was this week’s piñata. Craig Carton defended Yankee fans’ right to boo him when some got on the soap box and decried fan behavior (Hell, I booed him from my living room on Sunday). Mike Francesa said that Vazquez is “caught in a situation where he has to convince Yankee fans to believe in him, that he has the guts to succeed here, and that’s not a place you want to be in New York.” He also mentioned that Vazquez “expected to be booed” on Saturday.
The Onion, in its merciless way, included Vazquez in its lampoon of the “True Yankees” myth:
“To have Javier Vazquez don the same pinstripes as Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada is…well, it’s unthinkable,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as Curtis Granderson modeled the sterile, black-and-white uniform with a large, boxy, non-interlocking “NY” stitched across the front of the chest. “The untrue Yankees will wear a blank, unfitted ball cap until they have their big Yankee moment. They’ll wear their last names on the backs of their lesser uniforms as a badge of shame.”
So, I thought I’d do a thing where, every so often at the end of a home stand or road trip, I’d pop in to take a look at how things are going for the Yankees. Call it “Howzit Goin’?,” make it a casual, quick-hit look at the team. Figured it would give me an opportunity to address what’s going right and wrong for the Bombers at that particular point in time. So here’s my first attempt, but I have a problem: everything’s going right.
What’s there to say? The Yankees have won their first four series of the season for the first time since 1926, doing it against their two primary division rivals (believed to be the best teams in the league if not the majors other than the Yankees themselves), as well as my pick to repeat as the AL West champs and one of their primary rivals. They open a new road trip tonight on a four-game winning streak having gone 5-1 on their just-completed homestand and 9-2 since their Opening Day loss to the Red Sox in Boston. Overall they’re 9-3, a record better than all but one team in the American League, that being the 10-3 Tampa Bay Rays, whom the Yankees took two of three from in Tampa the weekend before last.
The Yankees’ three losses break down this way: On Opening Day in Boston, they took and early 5-1 lead on the Red Sox, but CC Sabathia and the bullpen gave the lead back and then some, resulting in a 9-7 loss. In their first game in Tampa, the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth, but Javier Vazquez, making his regular season debut, fell apart immediately after, giving up eight runs in an eventual 9-3 loss. In Vazquez’s next start, against the Angels in the Bronx, he again took a loss, but in that game, the Yankee offense was stymied by Joel Piñeiro and was unable to give Vazquez a lead. Trailing 2-1 after five, Vazquez gave up two more runs in the top of the sixth which sealed the Angels’ eventual 5-3 win (note that two of those three Yankee runs came against the Angel bullpen).
That last loss was the only one that could really be pinned on the offense, which leads the league with 5.75 runs scored per game and has yet to score fewer than three runs a single game this season. John Lackey actually had the best starting performance against the Yankees in the early going, holding them scoreless for six innings, but Andy Pettitte kept the Red Sox in check in that game and Lackey’s bullpen quickly blew his slim one-run lead and ultimately the game in ten innings (the Yankees’ only extra-inning game thus far). In addition to Piñeiro and Lackey, the Rays’ David Price, who beat Vazquez in his first start, was impressive, but did give up both an early lead and three runs on seven hits and three walks in total.
Due to the vagaries of the holiday schedules, I’ve yet to comment publicly on the Yankees’ last major acquisition of the winter: the Javier Vazquez trade. So we’ll file this in the category of “better late than never.” On the one hand, I have to confess I’m not Vazquez’ biggest fan. His career has largely been a disappointment, based on the context of the ability he flashed as a young Montreal Expo seven or eight years ago. He’s had only two dominant seasons in his career—2003 and this past season—which isn’t sufficient for the kind of stuff he’s always had. He’s had a good career, no question, just not the kind of career that matches the talent of his right arm.
With that criticism out of the way, I cannot legitimately complain about the trade that brought him back to the Bronx. The Yankees simply did not give up that much to acquire a capable right-hander who would be a legitimate No. 2 starter on many staffs. Melky Cabrera is a serviceable ballplayer who will never be a star, Mike Dunn is a minor league pitching prospect who cannot start, and Arodys Vizcaino is a 19-year-old right-hander who has never pitched above the pitching-minded NY-Penn League. (As a frequent visitor to Oneonta and Utica, I’ve seen too many kid pitchers dominate this league before flaming out in tougher hitting environments.) Of the three, the only player that caused the Yankees any pain in surrendering was Vizcaino, but there is still so much distance—and so much uncertainty—between where he is now and his anticipated arrival in the major leagues.
For me, the key to the trade was acquiring Vazquez without having to surrender Nick Swisher, whose contract was probably too rich for Atlanta’s thinning bloodstream. Giving up Swisher in this deal would have been a mistake; his regular season power, his versatility, and his infusion of enthusiasm have been forgotten too quickly by too many media types who only want to dwell on the postseason or some ridiculous notion of staid and serious Yankee professionalism. Would the Yankees really have been comfortable opening the season with an outfield of Brett Gardner (left field), Curtis Granderson (center field), and Cabrera (right field)—and Rule 5 pickup Jamie Hoffmann in reserve? I wouldn’t.
I always thought Javier Vazquez got a raw deal in his one season as a Yankee. When he was traded, I wrote on my old blog that “the Yankees were giving up on a 29-year-old pitcher who had pitched like an ace for four and a half seasons because of a mere three months of poor pitching.” That his results with the Diamondbacks and the White Sox the next two seasons were underwhelming soothed my ire, but I still viewed him as a missed opportunity right up until the Yankees reacquired him from the Braves yesterday.
To be fair, Vazquez isn’t an ace, which was part of the problem in 2004. In his final four season with the Expos, Vazquez posted a 3.65 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 3.91 K/BB, numbers that, coming from a 26-year-old pitcher, looked like the early work of a developing ace, which is exactly what Vazquez was acquired to be, arriving in the Bronx in the wake of the departures of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells. In the first half of the 2004 season, Vazquez came close, going 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 2.97 K/BB, enough for him to make his first All-Star Team.
Then Vazquez’s shoulder began to ache (though he wouldn’t admit it until years later), and his season went off the rails. In the second half, he posted a 6.92 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and lost another strikeout per nine off his K rate while giving up 14 home runs in as many starts, or 1.6 HR/9, enough to earn him the derogatory nickname “Home Run Javy.” Things didn’t get better in his ALDS start against the Twins as he put the Yankees in a 5-1 hole that they nonetheless climbed out of thanks to Ruben Sierra’s game-tying homer in the eighth and Alex Rodriguez’s self-made run in the 11th inning. At that point, Joe Torre, who had put Vazquez on the All-Star team just three months earlier, pulled him from the ALCS rotation. Vazquez pitched in relief of Kevin Brown twice in that series, both times without much success. In the latter instance, he was brought into Game Seven with the bases loaded and gave up a first-pitch grand slam to Johnny Damon that drove the final nail in the 2004 Yankees’ coffin.
Leading up the trading deadline that season, the big rumor was that the Yankees were going to trade for Randy Johnson, but the Diamondbacks wanted Vazquez and the Yankees refused. After that brutal second half, the Yankees softened on their stance. In what might have been the last big player transaction motivated by George Steinbrenner, Vazquez was traded to Arizona with lefty Brad Halsey and catching prospect Dioner Navarro for Johnson.
The irony was that, over the next two seasons, Johnson and Vazquez were nearly identical in terms of results. Dig:
Johnson: 100 ERA+, 8.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 430 2/3 IP
Vazquez: 99 ERA+, 8.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 418 1/3 IP
Neither was an ace. Both maintained their good stuff, but a showed propensity to give up the long ball and a frustrating inconsistency. Vazquez spent the second of those two seasons as a member of the White Sox, having been obtained by the defending World Champions for past and future Yankee pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino (whom the Yankees acquired when they dealt Johnson back to the desert), and center field prospect Chris Young.
Vazquez shaved a run off his ERA in his second season in Chicago without a meaningful change in his overall performance, then gave most of that back in his third and final season on the South Side, after which he was dealt to the Braves with LOOGY Boone Logan for a quartet of prospects led by slugging catcher Tyler Flowers. The return to the weaker, non-DH league worked expected wonders for Vazquez as he posted career bests in ERA, WHIP, and his strikeout, homer, walk, and hit rates, garnering his first-ever Cy Young votes (he finished fourth).
Despite the variations in his results, Vazquez has actually proven to be one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the last decade. Aside from his lone Yankee season, when his struggles led to early exits leaving him at just 198 innings pitched for the year, Vazquez has thrown more than 200 innings every other year this decade and started 32 or more games in each of the last ten seasons, a streak unmatched in the majors. In those ten seasons, he has only twice had a K/9 below 8.0 (2004 again being one of the two exceptions) and has never walked as many as three men per nine innings over the course of a full season. Over those ten seasons, he has posted a 3.98 ERA (113 ERA+) with a 1.22 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.79 K/BB, and a fairly pedestrian 1.1 HR/9. Brought back to the Bronx not as a potential ace, but as an overqualified mid-rotation innings eater, he has a much greater chance of success, both because of the lowered expectations, and because of his additional five years of experience, maturity, and conditioning.
In essence, Vazquez is A.J. Burnett without the injury history or the excessive contract (Javy’s actually entering the final year of an extension he signed with the White Sox that pays him $11.5 million for 2010). Burnett trumps Vazquez in that he’s spent several years in the AL East and is more of a groundball pitcher, but again, Vazquez isn’t being asked to replace Burnett as the number-two. He’s merely being asked to give the Yankees quality starts from the third or fourth spot in the rotation, a task of which he should be perfectly capable.
Now the question is, did the Yankees give up too much for one year of an above-average innings eater with a fly-ball tendency that could be exposed in the new Yankee Stadium? Maybe, but probably not. The players being sent to Atlanta for Vazquez are Melky Cabrera, lefty reliever Mike Dunn, and teenage pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.
Dunn was a fungible bullpen arm, ostensibly replaced by Boone Logan, who was again acquired with Vazquez. Not that Logan is any good. He’s basically a left-handed Kyle Farnsworth, but minus the effective slider and all those pesky strikeouts. Logan has a mid-90s fastball that’s straight and thus very hittable, a curve he rarely uses, and an unimpressive slider. The less we see of Logan in 2010 and beyond the better this trade will look. Fortunately, Logan still has an option remaining and can be stashed at Scranton. As for Dunn, he was nothing special. Besides, when was the last time the Yankees were burned by trading a theoretically promising relief pitcher, particularly one in his mid-20s with alarming minor league walk rates?
The key to the trade will be the future path of Vizcaino, who was just rated as the Yankees’ top pitching prospect by my man Kevin Goldstein over at Baseball Prospectus. Here’s Goldstein’s scouting report:
Vizcaino’s combination of stuff and refinement is rarely found in a teenager. His clean arm action leads to effortless 92-94 mph fastballs that get up to 97 when he reaches back for a bit more, while his smooth mechanics allow him to harness his pitches and pound the strike zone. His power curveball already grades out as big-league average with the projection of becoming a true wipeout offering. . . . Vizcaino’s ceiling tops that of any pitcher in the system, by a significant margin. It will take time, but the skills are there for him to become an All-Star starter.
The trick is that Vizcaino won’t turn 20 until next November and has yet to pitch in a full-season league. I’m not saying he’s not going to fulfill his potential, but he’s so far away that he’s more of a dream than a reality right now. The odds seem just as good that the Yankees traded him at the peak of his value than that he will turn into the pitcher he’s projected to be. Still, there’s a legitimate risk that the Yankees just gave up a young home grown ace for a year of Javy Vazquez.
I checked in with the baseball journalist Pat Jordan yesterday. Pat lives in Florida with his wife and their dogs. I wondered how theyíve been holding up under all the brutal weather. Pat replied, “Susie and I and the dogs drank a our way through Frances and are going to drink our way through Ivan. The shutters have been up for two weeks now and it’s like living in a cage. Still, a small price to pay for Paradise.” Jordan is a huge fan of Miami football and is still riding high since the Caines beat Florida State last weekend. I can hardly relate since Iím not a college football guy. Instead, I pressed him for his take on whatís wrong with Javier Vazquez. As usual, Pat, a former pitching prospect for Braves, pulled no punches.
Pat Jordan: Vazquez is throwing across his body, like many left-handers do. He’s following through towards third base and not first base. When a righty follows through, his left leg and left shoulder should be pulling toward a left-handed batter, which generates power with his right arm. When a righty follows through towards a right-handed batter, all his power is spent and he’s just flinging the ball with his arm.
BB: Three starts ago Jim Kaat spoke about balance on the broadcast. He said one simple exercise for a pitcher is for him to look at himself in the mirror and balance himself on his back leg for as long as possible. YES then showed a replay of Vazquez who looked like he was leaning about a foot forward off the mound. Are these kind of mechanical problems a result of anything mental? For instance, is Vazquez trying too hard and therefore rushing himself?
Jordan: Kaat is absolutely right. If a pitcher has proper balance he can stand in that one-legged Flamingo pose all day. Vazquez, can’t because his body is already leaning toward third base or a right handed batter, and he’s rushing to throw the ball before he falls to his right. It took me months when I was coming back to pitch at 56 to be able to stand on one leg without wobbling. Your weight has to be perpendicular, going down from head to toe. If your weight is off, like Vazquezís is, leaning to his right, you can’t sustain your motion and you rush your pitch. These problems are not mental, simple to correct. I’ve done it with l4 year old kids. It’s not a case of trying to hard it’s just bad mechanics obvious to anyone except the Yankee brain trust.
BB: Also, I’ve noticed that Vazquez just can’t put guys away. It seems that he gets hurt–especially with the long ball–when he’s ahead on the count, 0-2, 1-2. Is that a case of him trying to make a perfect pitch or what?
Jordan: The reason Vazquez gets hurt 0-2 is cause he can’t generate best stuff by pulling his upper body to his left, where his shoulder, not arm, generates speed. It’s the shoulder where the power comes from. No one throws hard who uses only the arm. Go look at old photos of Koufax in his motion. As a let, his right shoulder is pulled far to his right and almost touching the ground, which, in turn, elevates his left arm and gives it speed. But what the fuck do I know? I’m only a half-ass writer.
BB: How much influence does Mel Stottlemyre have on his pitching staff? As much of a Yankee icon as Stottlemyre is, heís been criticized for not getting the most out of his pitchers.
Jordan: There, my diagnosis. I could do a better job than Stottlemeyre. If he’s such a great pitching coach why do the Yankees send their troubled pitchers to Tampa to work with Billy Connors? The only reason Bill Connors is not the Yanks pitching coach is because he’s too fat, not the proper Yankee image. Iíve forgotten more about pitching that Stottlemeyre will ever know. I was the one who wanted to raise Weaver’s arm motion about 30 degrees so his fastball would sink more to lefties. The Dodgers did it and he’s having a good year. Why didn’t the Yankees do it? Cause they’re lazy. They buy guys and let them play. The have no concept of teaching or refining talent. They’re stagnating. Torre could let the Paul OíNeill guys just play because they were smart and corrected their flaws themselves. These guys are clueless, and need help. But again, what the fuck do I know?