Pat Borzi has a post over at Bats about Joba Chamberlain’s Yankee future…as a reliever.
One advantage of today’s game being canceled is that it gives me room to share this roundtable discussion about the fifth-starter competition and spring training competitions in general that Jay Jaffe and I participated in over at Steven Goldman’s Pinstriped Bible on YES. A quick sample:
Cliff: . . . what Girardi is looking for (I assume and hope) is execution of pitches, game planning, the ability to set-up hitters, work out of jams, miss bats, avoid hard contact, turn lineups over, etc. This is the one time of year when I agree with those who diminish the importance of statistics. The sample is indeed too small, thus one bad outing, due to the after-effects of the flu or fatigue toward the end of an outing in which the pitcher in question is extending his pitch count, can ruin an ERA. Also, as Girardi has said, the first couple of spring starts are really tune-ups in which starters don’t use all of their pitches and are just trying to build arm strength and get a feel for things. So for Hughes and Chamberlain, as well, the charge is to execute in a high-pressure situation, to show what they can do, but I don’t think that necessarily means the pitcher with the better ERA is going to get the job. If Joba continues to struggle but suddenly finds it in his last two spring starts and looks like the guy from 2007 again, I think the job will be, and should be, his.
Read the rest here.
A month into spring training has yielded little in terms of newsworthy occurrences in Yankee camp.
The team announced it would not discuss or negotiate contract extensions for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, or manager Joe Girardi until after the season, which is consistent with recent club policy. Nick Johnson missed time with back stiffness (uh-oh), but then rejoined the lineup (phew!). Indications, per Girardi, are that Johnson will bat second and that speed isn’t important, since Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are hitting behind him. That means Curtis Granderson, who Girardi hinted would be the team’s starting center fielder, will likely bat seventh or eighth, depending on Nick Swisher’s exploits. Granderson in center, coupled with Brett Gardner’s wet-noodle bat, means Randy Winn, um, win(n)s the left field job.
That brings us to the first of three major subsections of this week’s column.
There’s not a lot of intrigue in Yankee camp this year. The team arrives as defending champions and, as I wrote in my campers post, the 25-man roster is fairly predictable given the players in camp. Joe Girardi does have to work out how he’s going to distribute playing time in left and center field and decide on a basic batting order, but the roles of the players involved aren’t likely to change much no matter what he decides. The only significant suspense March holds for Yankee fans, save wondering if Nick Johnson can survive the month with all of his bones and ligaments intact, is in the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Fifth-starter battles are typically slap fights among assorted marginal minor leaguers and veteran retreads, but the battle in Yankee camp this spring pits the organization’s top two young arms against one another in a four-week competition that could have significant repercussions for the futures of both pitchers.
That would be a lot more exciting if there wasn’t as much fan fatigue over Joba Chamberlain’s pitching role as there is over Brett Farve’s flirtations with retirement, but it’s important to note that, for all of the debates, role changes, rule changes, and innings limits, the Yankees have Chamberlain exactly where they want him this spring, coming off a season of 160 innings pitched and ready to spend a full season in the rotation without having a cap placed on his innings pitched. For that reason, I believe that the Yankees are looking at the fifth starter’s job as Chamberlain’s to lose, though they’d ever admit it. Chamberlain is nine months older that Hughes and a season ahead of Hughes in terms of his innings progress (Hughes threw 111 2/3 innings between the minors, majors, and postseason last year; Chamberlain threw 100 1/3 in 2008). If Chamberlain claims the fifth-starter job this year, and the Yankees can find Hughes 150-odd innings, Hughes can follow Chamberlain into the rotation as a full-fledged starter in 2010 on the heals of the free agency of both Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez. If that happens, the Yankees will have established both young studs in the rotation before their 25th birthdays. They’re thisclose.
There are just two problems. First, Chamberlain got his innings to the right place last year, but his head and stuff seemed to go in the opposite direction. Second, getting Hughes 150 innings this year with Chamberlain eating up close to 200 in the rotation could prove to be as challenging as limiting Chamberlain to 160 last year.
Taking the latter first, the flip-side of the fifth-starter battle is the assumption that the loser will move back in to the eighth-inning role that both young pitchers have excelled at in recent seasons. In his 50 career major league relief appearances during the regular season, Chamberlain has posted a 1.50 ERA and struck out 11.9 men per nine innings while holding opposing hitters to a .182/.255/.257 line. Hughes, in 44 regular season relief appearances, all from last year, posted a 1.40 ERA and 11.4 K/9 while opposing batters hit .172/.228/.228. That sort of late-game dominance is hard to resist (thus the endless Joba debates), but both pitchers would be more valuable throwing 200 innings a year than 60, and given the impending free agency of Pettitte and Vazquez not to mention A.J. Burnett’s injury history, the Yankees have to resist slotting the loser of this spring’s competition into that role to such a degree that they’re unwilling to stretch him back out during the season, as they were with Hughes last year. Doing so would reset the clock on that pitcher’s journey toward the rotation and thus could severely damage his career path.
Alex Belth said it perfectly. Spring seems eons away here in New York. Especially since we haven’t seen grass here in two weeks — longer if you live in Pennsylvania and further south in the mid-Atlantic region.
But pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training brings vitality to the discussions had in the local media marketplace and here in the blogosphere over the past three months. The Yankees have an unofficial count — if you pay attention to talk radio and are on top of the beat — of three questions:
1) Who will be the fifth starter?
2) Which young gun will be in the bullpen, Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes?
3) What will the batting order look like?
Taking these questions individually, the answer to the first questions will likely answer the second. Sunday afternoon, Sweeny Murti and Ed Coleman had Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland on WFAN and asked him point blank about taking the reins off of Joba, and whether that would give him an edge heading into spring workouts. Eiland said Chamberlain and Hughes are on equal footing in terms of the competition for the fifth starter, along with Chad Gaudin, Sergio Meat-Tray, and Alfredo Aceves.
The most sensible option outside of Chamberlain and Hughes, it seems, based on the numbers, is Gaudin. He didn’t post Aaron Small 2005 numbers by any means, but as Joba insurance, he was serviceable, allowing less than a hit per inning, 7.3 K/9, and a 125 ERA+. Not great, but not bad. Just what you expect from a fifth starter. But when you think of the dropoff from Javier Vazquez to Chad Gaudin, yikes.
Eiland said on Sunday in that WFAN interview that Hughes would be on an innings limit this year, but not with the same level of stringency as Joba Version 2K9. If that’s the case — just speculating here — the ideal situation is to have Joba in the fifth slot and Hughes in the bullpen. This wouldn’t be as difficult a decision if both twentysomethings hadn’t done so much to inspire confidence that either is better suited to be the last piece in the bridge to Mariano Rivera, or even Mo’s heir apparent.
Re: the batting order, there’s a consensus among the pundits on the following spots:
The issue becomes who bats second: Curtis Granderson or Nick Johnson? And really, it’s a toss-up. Based on Johnson’s on-base percentage (.402 career OBP to Granderson’s .344 career OBP, Johnson has the edge. But despite Granderson’s propensity to strike out, his speed may allow him to see ample time in the two-hole. Granderson has grounded into just 18 double plays in his career, while Johnson grounded into 15 last season alone. Nick Swisher could even slide in, given the number of pitches he sees per at-bat. Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada could flip-flop at 5 and 6.
None of this is news. Given the way the Yankees entered camp last year, when we were discussing the merits of Selena Roberts’ book, Alex Rodriguez’s sincerity, whether CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett had what it takes to thrive in New York, and overall, what it would take for the Yankees to make the playoffs, let alone win a World Series, maybe that’s a good thing. The only off-field issues left to talk about are the contracts of Girardi, Rivera, and Jeter, and those likely won’t be negotiated until after the season. Rivera may retire. But we have eight months to go before that speculation becomes more rampant.
For now, as Girardi said in his 30-minute powwow Wednesday, “It’s nice to be talking about baseball.”
And while we look out the window and see a wall of white with no threat of a thaw, it certainly is.
This week, the Yankees secured a postseason spot, so they won’t be casual observers for a second consecutive October. It’s only right to want to project various playoff scenarios – who they will play, who will pitch, which division series they’ll choose, etc. – because with a week left in the regular season, there’s not much else to talk about.
That is … unless you follow the Yankees regularly and are tuned into the Joba Chamberlain situation. Despite the Nebraskan’s 6-inning, 86-pitch quality start last night, The Joba Situation is no longer at mission critical, but is still serious. Put it this way: there’s no reason to call “The Wolf.”
The commentary and range of quotes coming out of Seattle on Sunday were contradictory. On one hand, there was Joba, Clemens-like in denial that he had good stuff despite being shelled for seven runs int here innings. On another, there was the elephant in the room: the Rules that had the Yankees “building him up” to go six innings, so as not to exceed the limit of 165 innings set for him. Somewhere, Jim Kaat is railing this philosophy and not even icing his shoulder.
Looking at quotes from Joe Girardi and judging from the pundits’ assessment of the Yankees’ view, Joba was put to the coals. The “we want to see what you’re made of” rhetoric seemed to be coming a little late to have any kind of effectiveness. The tone, at least the way I perceived it, was a cover-your-butt for potentially mishandling him. The situation could have been avoided in two ways: 1) the Yankees could have kept him in the bullpen as the lead set-up man and eventual successor to Mariano Rivera, or 2) since making him a starter, unleash him the way Nolan Ryan is managing his young guns in Texas. In other words, let the opponent dictate when your starting pitcher should be removed from the game.
Prior to Friday night, the argument could have been made that Joba was put in a no-win situation, both literally and figuratively. He had either an inning limit or a strict pitch count, so there was no margin for error. Either way, if he was pitching well, he couldn’t lobby to stay in the game if he performed at an ace-caliber level. Jorge Posada’s quote following last Sunday’s debacle in Seattle, was telling, considering the source:
“It’s tough to pitch like that. It’s tough to pitch when you don’t know what’s going on … It’s just tough to pitch like that.”
Joe Girardi had a different take.
“I don’t think he can make that an excuse,” Girardi told the media. “You’re still getting the baseball and you still have a job to do.”
Could Joba have pitched better under those circumstances and restored confidence in the organization and the fan base? Absolutely. But he didn’t, and in so doing, put himself in a position where he was pitching for his future. Girardi made that clear in his pre-game press conference when he said – four times, per Daily News columnist John Harper – that he needed to “see Joba compete” and that there were “no guarantees” as far as Joba’s place on the playoff roster. Calling an athlete’s competitive fire into question is akin to emasculating him. That added more gas to a fire that was already smoldering.
What’s amazing about the Joba situation is that since the current rules were put into place (prior to the August 16th start at Seattle), the Yankees only went 3-4 . Save for the two forgettable outings in Seattle and the Toronto game where he pitched OK but Roy Halladay nearly no-hit the Yankees, they saved face.
So now what? We’re left with more questions, because we’ve seen this type of effort from Joba before. So much has been made about how the Yankees have managed Joba this season that after a while it all sounds like a test from the Emergency Alert System. That’s not to say every opinion offered has been bogus. ESPN Radio’s Don LaGreca made an interesting point Friday, when he noted that this type of procurement of pitchers is rampant among Major League teams, except it’s not seen at the top level. The only comparable example in the Majors, LaGreca said, was the Rays’ careful handling of David Price and the debate whether he should be a starter or a closer, based on his postseason success in 2008.
For now, Joba is a starting pitcher and regardless of what the organization is telling the media, he’s a better option than Chad “I can give you four innings of great stuff but then I’m going to implode” Gaudin. Banter colleague Cliff Corcoran nailed it in his game recap when he wrote:
“He … should be allowed to pitch without limits against the Royals in preparation for potential playoff work. His performance in that game could determine a lot, including which ALDS schedule the Yankees choose. If he’s similarly effective, the Yankees might prefer to let Joba start an ALDS game in order to keep him in the groove.”
We’ll see …
The Yankees are clearly using their final 20 games to figure out who will make their 25-man roster for the ALDS. That’s why minor league journeyman speedster Freddy Guzman is on the major league roster and why relievers such as Brian Bruney are getting game opportunities that otherwise seem unearned given their overall performance.
There are still some questions that need to be answered, chief among them whether or not David Robertson will be available and effective by season’s end, but prompted by Joe Girardi’s use of Bruney and Jonathan Alabaladejo last night and Brian Cashman’s comments about Joba Chamberlain (coming up), I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.
First, here are Cashman’s comments on Joba via Pete Caldera’s blog:
He needs to declare himself. He’s no different than anyone else. Everybody loves his tenacity,but we’re going to take the best 10 guys. There’s no assumptions there. He’s put himself in a position where the manager has to make a decision that there’s not one guy ahead of him that he needs to give the ball to. He might not realize it, but he’s in competition with any number of guys to take the ball.
Also relevant to Joba’s situation is the fact that the Yankees, assuming they finish with the best record in the league, will be able to chose which of the two ALDS schedules they’ll play. One would require a normal four starters, but the other includes and extra off-day and would allow them to use just three starters in the first round. Given how Chamberlain has pitched of late, I’m guessing they’ll go with the three-starter scenario.
While I would understand the team trying to send a message to Joba by leaving him off the ALDS roster (while simultaneously allowing him to pitch simulated games to stay ready for the ALCS), I’d be surprised to see them pass up the chance to use him out of the bullpen in the ALDS.
Cashman’s quote indicates that the Yankees will bring just ten pitchers to the ALDS, which should result in something like this:
L – CC Sabathia
L – Andy Pettitte
R – A.J. Burnett
R – Mariano Rivera
R – Phil Hughes
L – Phil Coke
R – Alfredo Aceves
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Damaso Marte
R – Chad Gaudin
Marte has allowed a run in just one of his eight appearances since returning from the DL. In those eight appearances, he hasn’t allowed any of his ten inherited runners to score, hasn’t allowed a home run, and has struck out six in 5 1/3 innings against two walks. Gaudin, whose start tonight could significantly reinforce or undermine his chances for making the postseason roster, has a 3.68 ERA as a Yankee and can be an effective long-man in case of an early exit by a starter, a deep extra-inning game, or can eat innings in a blowout.
Note that David Robertson is currently rehabbing a sore elbow and was last seen playing catch at 60 feet. If he’s able to return effectively during before the season ends, he could bounce Marte, Gaudin, or even Chamberlain from the roster.
So, if the Yankees are only taking ten pitchers, who are their 15 position players? First the starting nine:
1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Robinson Cano
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – Alex Rodriguez
C – Jorge Posada
RF – Nick Swisher
CF – Melky Cabrera
LF – Johnny Damon
DH – Hideki Matsui
Then the top bench guys:
CF – Brett Gardner
OF – Eric Hinske
UT – Jerry Hairston Jr.
C – Jose Molina
That leaves two spots, which is where you might find a third catcher (Francisco Cervelli) a bonus speed-and-defense player (Freddy Guzman), or an extra infielder (Ramiro Peña). Given the lack of opportunities given to Shelly Duncan since his recall, I don’t think he’s being considered as a right-handed pinch-hitting option. By that same token, Guzman has only appeared in two games thus far, suggesting that he’s not being seriously considered either. It could be that one of those spots goes to a healthy Robertson, giving the Yankees 11 pitchers and an eight-man bullpen in the ALDS.
There are 11 games left on the Yankees’ regular season schedule, including tonight’s. That’s enough time for those last two bench players to make themselves known or for certain relievers to pitch themselves on or off the roster. Alabaladejo and Bruney did themselves no favors last night. We’ll see if Gaudin can do better tonight.
Here’s what I wrote prior to Joba Chamberlain’s last start of the first half:
Joba Chamberlain . . . got an ego check his last time out when he allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. Joba’s been a bit obstinate about his performances thus far this season, often giving too much credit to the opposing lineup as well as to his own ability to make good pitches, when in reality he’s been inefficient, nibbly, and his velocity has lacked consistency. He’s still been valuable, but his lack of progress is becoming disturbing. Part of me almost wants him to get his ass handed to him tonight so he has to ugly outings staring him in the face through the All-Star break. The hope being that might put a crack in some of his delusions.
Joba did indeed get smacked around in that start against the Angels, allowing five runs on nine hits in just 4 1/3 innings while using up 94 pitches, and it seems those two starts did indeed give him something to think about during the break. Since play has resumed, Chamberlain has been the pitcher those of us who argued for his restoration to the rotation envisioned. He’s an ace, a dominating horse who is only getting better each time out. Dig these three lines:
6 1/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 8 K, 107 pitches
7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 100 pitches
8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 101 pitches
Two runs on six hits in 21 1/3 innings? That’s sick, and surely a little bit lucky, but there’s no denying that Joba Chamberlain has finally arrived.
That last line is what he did to the third-best offense in the league in Wednesday night’s rubber game against the Rays. Joba was quite simply mowing them down. With his new no-nonsense approach, he was getting the ball and getting set on the mound so quickly that even Jorge Posada was trying to slow him down. He retired the first eight men he faced, and after Posada threw out Jason Bartlett with two outs in the third (thanks to a great jump, catch, and tag by Robinson Cano) he faced the minimum through 4 1/3. He walked two in the fifth, but stranded them both and didn’t walk another batter in the entire game. The only hits he allowed were a pair of singles to Bartlett and an infield single off his own glove in the sixth. He had his fastball clocking in around 94 miles per hour and great movement on his slider and curve. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The Yankees, meanwhile, picked away at Matt Garza. Derek Jeter led off the game with a triple on a ball misplayed in the right-field corner by Gabe Gross then scored when Mark Teixeira singled through three drawn-in infielders on the right-side. In the fourth, Alex Rodriguez singled, moved to third on a Hideki Matsui double, and scored on a Robinson Cano groundout. Cano then blasted a homer in the sixth after fouling a ball off his shin. With sidearming lefty Brian Shouse on in the eighth, Bartlett threw away a grounder by Matsui, putting Hideki on second, from where Posada was able to drive in pinch-runner Cody Ransom with a single to make it 4-0. Melky Cabrera and Mark Teixeira then added solo homers off Dan Wheeler in the ninth.
The Yankees nearly needed all of those runs as Brian Bruney, in to finish off a 6-0 game, gave up a triple and a homer to his first two batters (Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria). After getting Ben Zobrist to pop out, he then gave up a double to Carlos Peña. Before Bruney could pitch for the cycle, Joe Girardi brough in Mariano Rivera to lock down the series against a division rival. Rivera walked Gabe Gross, but struck out Pat Burrell and Michel Hernandez around him to secure the 6-2 win and the 3-2 series victory. With the win, the Yankees gained a game over the Red Sox, who lost to the A’s, and tied Joe Torre’s Dodgers for the best record in baseball.
Bruney’s showing was the one sour note on the night. If Bruney can’t step up, it’s going to be that much harder for the Yankees to feel comfortable moving Phil Hughes back into the rotation, if they’re even considering such a move at all. Meanwhile, Joba’s next start lines up with the Yankees’ off-day on Monday. Given the fact that his longer outings have him racing toward his innings limit, would the Yankees consider skipping him in Toronto? He’ll get to pitch in the weekend series against the Red Sox either way. If so, they could skip him again on August 24 in lieu of starting him against the Rangers at home on the 25th.
The first-half meme on Joba Chamberlain was “he’s hiding an injury.” Though he wasn’t getting rocked, his velocity was down, as was his energy, and he was pitching tentatively, bearing little resemblance to the cocksure fireballer with the wicked slider we’d all come to know and love since his arrival in late 2007. Now, after his second dominant start in as many turns since the All-Star break, the new meme is “he went home to Nebraska and got his head on straight.”
I like the image; Joba in his Smallville version of the Fortress of Solitude using the green crystal to rediscover his purpose. I like the results too. Friday night, that meant seven-innings of two-hit ball on just 100 pitches with mid-90s velocity throughout.
The A’s got a run off Joba in the first on a one-out double by Orlando Cabrera, a stolen base, and a sac fly, but that was it. He retired nine in a row in the middle of the game before suddenly losing the strike zone and walking two with one out in the fifth and moving the runners up on a wild pitch. Uh oh? Oh no. Joba got both Mark Ellis and Eric Patterson swinging on vintage Chamberlain sliders and delivered a raucus fist pump in celebration of stranding the runners with what was then a slim 2-1 lead. He then came back out and retired the next six men he faced.
Despite the 8-1 final, the game was actually a pitchers duel for most of its length. The A’s rookie lefty Brett Anderson struck out the side in the first and retired the first six men he faced before Robinson Cano reached on an infield single in the third. A Melky Cabrera double, Derek Jeter single, and an RBI fielders choice by Johnny Damon gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in that inning. That last came when Damon hit a dribbler that A’s first baseman Daric Barton nearly turned into a 3-6-1 double play, but Anderson is astonishingly slow when it comes to covering first. Because Barton had to come so far in to field the ball, no one was at first base to recieve Orlando Cabrera’s pivot throw, which wound up hitting Damon in the wallet as he crossed the bag, preventing an error.
The Yanks added another run in the fifth on a leadoff walk to Nick Swisher, an infield single by Cabrera and a pair of productive fielders choices, and another in the sixth on a leadoff double by Alex Rodriguez and a pair of productive groundouts.
Mariano Rivera was warming up with the Yankees leading 4-1 in the bottom of the eighth, but the Yankees dropped a four-spot on Yalie lefty Craig Breslow and Dominican righty Santiago Casilla, giving David Robertson a rare chance to both pitch (his last appearance came on July 11 in Anaheim) and pitch with a lead (just six of his previous 24 relief appearances saw him enter a game with a lead). Unfortunately for Robertson, he coughed up a couple of runs on a Scott Hairston single, a Kurt Suzuki double, a throwing error by Melky that allowed Suzuki to reach third, and a wild pitch.
No matter, Yanks win 8-3 and are 8-0 since the break.
Meanwhile, here’s Joba’s line in his two second-half starts:
13 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 6 BB, 14 K; 2-0, 1.32 ERA, 0.80 WHIP
After the game, Joba said he was “just going back to having fun and just doing what got you here.” Amen, brother.
The past 10 days have seen an immense range of stories leapfrog to the forefront of New York sports fans’ collective consciousness. In no particular order, with some analysis and commentary mixed in…
• The Yankees slashed prices for the primo seats, an altruistic move that still leaves many of us thinking, “You know, you have your own network, and it’s on my cable system. I’ll contribute to your bottom line that way and I won’t feel like I got stabbed in the wallet.”
• Alex Rodriguez did everything necessary in extended spring training and returned to the lineup Friday. He punctuated the return with a home run on the first pitch he saw, thus fulfilling his job as the media-anointed savior of the team’s season. He proceeded to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts in the remainder of the series, and perhaps fearing aggravating the hip injury, didn’t hustle down the line to run out a ground ball, thus reclaiming his role as the team’s most prominent punching bag.
• The Yankees lost two straight to the Red Sox at home and have lost the first five meetings of the season. (Sound the alarms! Head for the hills! There’s no way the Yankees can win the division without beating the Red Sox! Except that they can, and they have. In 2004, the Yankees went 1-6 in their first seven games against the BoSox, ended up losing the season series 8-11 and still finished 101-61 to win the American League East by three games.)
• Joba Chamberlain 1: His mother was arrested for allegedly selling crystal meth to an undercover officer. Following Chamberlain’s own brushes with the law during the offseason, it stood to reason that the tabloids attacked this story like starving coyotes. It’s remarkable that he was able to pitch at all given the negative attention he received.
• Joba Chamberlain 2: Flash back to Aug. 13, 2007. Chamberlain struck out Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff in a crucial late-inning at-bat to end the inning and in the heat of the moment pumped his fist in exultation. Yesterday, following a three-run home run in the first inning that gave the O’s a 3-1 lead, Huff mocked Chamberlain’s emotional outburst with his own fist pump, first while rounding first base, and again when crossing home plate. Apparently, Mr. Huff holds grudges. Thanks to the New York Daily News’s headline, “MOCKING BIRD” with a photo of the home-plate celebration, this story will have wings when Baltimore comes to the Bronx next week. Even better, as it currently stands, Chamberlain is due to start in the series finale on Thursday the 21st. Get ready for a rash of redux stories leading up to that game.
• Mariano Rivera surrendered back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career last Wednesday night, a clear signal that something is wrong. Maybe.
• The team as a whole. The Yankees are 15-16 through 31 games, and some rabid fans (the “Spoiled Set,” as Michael Kay likes to call them; the group of fans between ages 18-30 that only knows first-place finishes for the Yankees) are calling for Joe Girardi’s head. As in the above note on the Red Sox, some context is required. The Yankees’ records through 31 games this decade:
2000: 22-9 (finished 87-74, won AL East)
2001: 18-13 (finished 95-65, won AL East)
2002: 18-13 (finished 103-58, won AL East)
2003: 23-8 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2004: 18-13 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2005: 12-19 (finished 95-67, won AL East)
2006: 19-12 (finished 97-65, won AL East)
2007: 15-16 (finished 94-68, won AL Wild Card)
2008: 15-16 (finished 89-73, missed playoffs)
2009: 15-16 (finish TBD)
No one is going to make excuses for the team with the billion dollar stadium and the highest payroll, least of all your trusted scribes here at the Banter. Looking at the last three years — including 2009 — it should be noted that similar issues of injury, age, and woes throughout the pitching staff have befallen the Yankees.
A lot happened in last night’s game between the Yankees and Rangers in Arlington, but the most significant came in the fifth inning. Joba Chamberlain entered the fifth with a 4-2 lead having thrown 67 pitches, struck out four, and walked just one. The two runs he allowed came in the previous inning, when David Murphy homered on a hanging slider following a walk to Marlon Byrd. The home run was one of six in the game, all of which went to right field or right-center on a hot Texas night on which the wind was blowing in over left field and out over right. Murphy’s home run was also the first Chamberlain had allowed in four starts, and just the second he’d allowed in ten turns.
Rangers third baseman Ramon Vazquez singled on Chamberlain’s first pitch of the fifth inning. Ian Kinsler then worked the count full. Chamberlain’s 3-2 pitch was a slider low and away. Kinsler checked his swing and drilled the pitch straight down into the dirt in front of home plate. The ball bounced once, then rolled forward just enough to enter fair territory. Ivan Rodriguez pounced on the ball and fired it to second base, where Robinson Cano turned an apparent double play.
Kinsler didn’t run the ball out, but he had a good reason. On it’s once bounce, the ball had hit him in the left thigh while he still had part of his left foot in the batters box. Thus, instead of a double play, the ball was ruled foul. Chamberlain’s next pitch was a fastball in the dirt that walked Kinsler and, after Gerald Laird lined out into the wind in left, Michael Young hit a three-run homer to right give the Rangers a 5-4 lead and make them the first major league team ever to score more than three runs off Joba Chamberlain in a single game, and the first team ever to hit multiple home runs off Chamberlain in his major league career.
That wasn’t the most significant event of the fifth inning, however. Rather, after a subsequent strikeout of Josh Hamilton and a single by Marlon Byrd, Chamberlain was removed from the game with what has thus far only been identified as a stiff right shoulder.
The sight of the Yankees’ young ace rubbing his shoulder during a mound conference with his manager and team trainer Steve Donahue likely sent many Yankee fans into a panic. Thus far all we know is what Chamberlain and Girardi said after the game.