Results tagged ‘ Dave Eiland ’

In Wake Of Late Slide Yankees Ready For 2011 Arms Race

The 2010 Yankees season ended abruptly in Arlington, TX, with a starting pitching staff left in tatters and there will be work to do on it before the 2011 season begins.
At least one big mystery has been solved. Those of you wondering why CC Sabathia was not his usual self in the playoffs can blame a meniscus tear in his right knee, which was repaired on Friday.
Sabathia’s 21-7 record an 3.18 ERA may be worthy of his second Cy Young Award and he did not lose any of his three postseason starts. However, he allowed 10 earned runs and 22 hits in 16 innings and he did not look anything like the shutdown ace he has been for the Yankees the past two seasons.
Behind Sabathia it is no secret the Yankees would like to add a quality starter and Texas left-hander Cliff Lee will be at the top of the shopping list this winter. The Yankees can pretty much open the vault to bid for his services.
The question is: Will Lee sign?
Having his old Indians’ pal Sabathia will be a great help in getting Lee on board if the money is right.
The Yankees also would love to have Andy Pettitte come back. It was his groin injury, suffered on July 18 against the Rays, that exposed the weak underbelly of the Yankees rotation the rest of the season.
Though Pettitte was able to return in late September and though he pitched the best of all of the starters in the postseason, the starting pitching staff collapsed down the stretch and cost the Yankees the American League East title.
But the Yankees would love to have Pettitte back simply because he pitched his best baseball in years when he was healthy. At the time of his injury, Pettitte was 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA and he made the All-Star team.
The question is will Andy give it one more go at age 38? The Yankees hope the answer is yes.
Phil Hughes, 24, emerged as a potential ace for the future. Winning the No. 5 spot in spring training, Hughes was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. But it hardly was as easy as it looked. Hughes was 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and made the All-Star team in the first half.
However, he was only 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in the second half. He also pitched poorly in both of his starts in the American League Championship Series. Hughes was bolstered by great run support. He led all major-league pitchers with 7.45 runs per nine innings.
Hughes needs to develop a swing-and-miss pitch that will keep opposing hitters from fouling off his good fastball and running up his pitch counts. But the Yankees still believe that Hughes can become an excellent pitcher now that he will be able to pitch without any restrictions on his innings pitched.
If the Yankees can look to any players that may have cost them a championship season, look no further than Exhibit A: A.J. Burnett and Exhibit B: Javier Vazquez.
Burnett was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Blue Jays in 2008, which earned him a rich four-year deal with the Yankees. In 2009, Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and he was coming off a strong showing in the postseason.
But 2010 was anything but strong. Burnett has always been a poster child for inconsistency but the Yankees were shocked by how bad Burnett was in 2010.
He was 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA in the first two months. In July, he was 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA. But in the other months, Burnett was 1-12 with a 7.85 ERA. No amount of offense can overcome pitching that bad.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they are stuck with Burnett and his huge contract for two more seasons. The Yankees can only hope that pitching coach Dave Eiland can find him a consistent release point in his delivery and shorten the lengths of inconsistency.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Vazquez is a goner. Much like Burnett, Vazquez would pitch poorly for a while, then rebound, only to pitch poorly again. He was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and he spent most of late August and September in the bullpen.
Vazquez, 34, lost zip on his fastball and his breaking stuff was just too easy for hitters to crush. So the Yankees are not going to bring him back in 2011.
Though Vazquez was a disappointment after his 15-10 season in 2009 with the Braves, Brian Cashman must take the blame for this deal. Vazquez and left-hander Boone Logan came over from the Braves and the Yankees shipped Melky Cabrera and promising left-hand reliever Michael Dunn to the Braves.
The Yankees passed on free agent John Lackey, allowing the right-hander to sign with the Red Sox. Lackey was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. Somehow the difference between the salary Lackey earned and the money paid to Vazquez does not seem so great when kept in context of how Vazquez was a major reason the 2010 Yankees did not advance to the World Series.
The Yankees do have some hope on the horizon in 23-year-old Ivan Nova. Nova was summoned as a replacement starter in late August and was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts. The only question for Nova is if his stuff can translate into getting through a batting order three times as a starter.
If the answer is no, Nova could be a candidate for short relief because the Yankees love his composure and competitiveness on the mound. His poise really impressed manager Joe Girardi.
The Yankees also have a contingency plan if Lee somehow escapes them. They may be able to convince the Kansas City Royals to trade Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. The 27-year-old right-hander might be on the market if the Royals can get some prospects to rebuild their team for him.
Of course, the asking price might include catcher Jesus Montero, Nova and reliever Joba Chamberlain. But if the Yankees believe Greinke can get them back to the World Series they may be willing to make the deal.
Greinke is coming off a bad season. He was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. But there is no doubt he would benefit greatly from the Yankees’ offense because the Royals were unable to support him with many runs in the past two seasons.
It would appear that Cashman will be on the hot seat again this winter. His job is repair this rotation with the best arms he can find. 
The Yankees’ hopes for 2011 pretty much hang in the balance.

Mo’s Health, Joba’s Improvement Keys To Yankees’ Bullpen

It is the halfway point of the season for the New York Yankees and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time to had out grades for the first term. Some of our Yankees were scholars and some need some remedial work. But with the best record in baseball the Yankees already have a great grade as a team. The funny thing is that they have not really pushed themselves and there is still potential to be even better in the second half. Let’s start evaluating the positions and players.


BULLPEN

Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Chan Ho Park
Chad Gaudin
Dustin Moseley

Other contributors: Alfredo Aceves, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova, Romulo Sanchez and Mark Melancon

Based on what they did in 2009 and the fact that Joba Chamberlain was back in the bullpen where he belonged, the New York Yankees’ relief corps looked strong heading into the 2010 season.
The fact the Yankees are currently in first place in the American League East and they have the best record in baseball at the All-Star break means that the bullpen can’t be really that bad.
Howver, it has been less than stellar in the first half, despite the fact that at age 40 Mariano Rivera is having another Hall of Fame season: a 2-1 record with a 1.05 ERA and 20 saves in 22 chances.
The fact that the starters have been pitching so deep into games and the bullpen has been used less frequently in 2010, the problem has not been Rivera. It has been getting the ball to Rivera that has been the problem.
One indication of the ineffectiveness of the bullpen is the won-loss record of the bullpen this season which is 8-10. Another indication is the ERAs of the current roster:
Chamberlain 5.79
Robertson 5.46
Park 6.18
Gaudin 6.75
Marte 4.08
Moseley 3.00
This is a far cry from what the bullpen contributed in 2009 and there are many reasons why this has occurred.
No. 1, the fact that the starters have gone so deep has meant much less work from this group than last season. In 2009, Chamberlain’s struggles to last past five innings as a starter and Chien-Ming Wang’s poor start and injuries meant the bullpen was used and used again and again,
This season, there have been fewer starts of five innings or less by the rotation: 16 in 2010. That sometimes means days of inactivity and it is hard to get into a rhythm. But that is not the only reason.
The Yankees are also without to key contributors to their bullpen, Alfred Aceves and Sergio Mitre. Aceves is the Swiss Army knife of the Yankees’ bullpen. He can fill any role and last season he was 10-1 with a 3.54 ERA with one save.
This season Aceves is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and one save in 10 appearances but his season is in doubt because of a bulging disc in his lower back that has landed him on the disabled list since May 9.
His latest attempt to throw had to be shut down because of pain in the back and the Yankees, who are trying to avoid back surgery, are currently weighing their options. If manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland were counting on having Aceves back soon, they will be waiting a long time.
Mitre, the team’s long man, has also been missed. Mitre has been on the disabled list since June 5 due to an oblique strain suffered when he was taking batting practice to prepare for interleague play.
Mitre is 0-1 with a 2.88 ERA and has been excellent in 12 appearances, which includes two spot starts. The Yankees should be getting Mitre back soon after the second half starts.
Marte has been solid and consistent. He has a 4.08 in 30 appearances and 17 2/3 innings. But he has been doing the job he has been asked to do: lefties are htting .146 off him this season.
Marte usually has been getting into trouble when he is wild (11 walks) or when he is asked to pitch more than one or two batters.
The biggest disappointments have been Park, Robertson and Chamberlain. The ERAs are one indication of their ineffectiveness. But look also at their records:
Chamberlain 1-4
Robertson 1-3
Park 1-1
This group has lost eight of the 10 games the bullpen has lost this season. In defense of Park, though, he lost an early game to the Red Sox in the first series of the season and then spent a month on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain.
His issues seem to be centered around when he is asked to pitch multiple innings. He also been pitching much better of late. He has a 3.38 ERA for this month and he seems to be regaining some of 95 mph velocity.
Robertson had most his problems early in the season. In his first 10 outings, Robertson was 1-1 with a 13.50 ERA. He has only been scored upon in three of his next 21 outings, though he did hiccup and give up four runs in 1 1/3 innings on July 2 at home to Toronto.
But Robertson looks to be solid heading into the second half.
Not so for Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain has been the biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ bullpen. A failed starter, Chamberlain looked to resume the eighth-inning set-up role with which he was so successful as a rookie in 2007.
The inconsistency he has shown this season has been a major concern and it culminated in a a horrendous one-inning outing in Seattle on July 10 in which he gave up two hits, threw a wild pitch and was forced to intentionally walk a batter before giving up a grand slam home run that erased a 1-0 lead Javier Vazquez had handed him.
Though Girardi maintains Chamberlain is his eighth-inning guy, there is no sense in having a bridge to Rivera that is going to blow up. 
Perhaps the pursuit of Cliff Lee may be part of this issue. The rumor was if the Yankees had acquired Lee the Yankees would have traded Vazquez for a hitter they might need.
But maybe the Yankees could have shifted Hughes back to the bullpen because he has pitched 101 of his 180 allotted innings as a starter this season. The addition of Hughes, while disappointing to Hughes himself, might solve the inconsistency problem in the eighth inning and allow Chamberlain to develop as a seventh-inning reliever instead.
Who knows? But now there are rumors the Yankees are pursuing Ted Lilly of the Chicago Cubs so the
idea to switch Hughes back to the bullpen is not a moot point yet.
In the absence of Hughes, Chamberlain is going to have to improve if the Yankees hope to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox in the second half. Losing games in the eighth inning is painful and really hurts the team.
We will see how the bullpen plays out but the pressure is definitely on Chamberlain going forward.
Here are the grades for the first half:
Rivera A+
Chamberlain C-
Park I (Incomplete)
Robertson C+
Marte B
Gaudin C
Moseley I (Incomplete)
OVERALL BULLPEN GRADE: C

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Hughes could be placed in the bullpen long before the postseason starts. If that happens, he will most certainly resume his role as Rivera’s bridge as he was in 2009.
Chamberlain and Park need to improve their consistency. Robertson needs to continue the steady progress he has shown since April. It would be a great boost to the bullpen to get a healthy Aceves back but I do think the Yankees believe they will be getting him back anytime soon.
In the meantime, Mitre’s return will help and Marte must continue to get the tough lefties out. 
There is some concern about Rivera, too. His exit from the All-Star team was a surprise because he not only mentioned the discomfort in left side that shelved him for a week. Rivera also mentioned a sore right knee. Anytime a 40-year-old closer is talking injuries to keep him out of an All-Star game, it does sound alarm bells.
Could the trade for Lilly be all about shifting Hughes to the bullpen to replace Rivera if he goes down? We don’t know but it bears watching. The Yankees need Rivera as much as humans need oxygen. All hopes for a championship live or die with the best closer in the history of the game.

Sunday’s Washout Makes It Tougher To Select No. 5 Starter

TAMPA – It is impossible to decide what has been a bigger headache for Yankees manager Joe Girardi: The battle for the No. 5 spot or the weather in Florida.
On Sunday, both of those problems collided.
Torrential rains in the Tampa area forced the cancellation of Sunday’s Grapefruit League game between the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. You could see the frustration on Girardi’s face as he chatted with the media.
The problem now is how to get his pitchers enough work to keep them on schedule. Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland finally came up with a plan to get all of his pitchers work on Monday and keep them on track.
The Yankees will play an intrasquad game on Monday morning. Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Damaso Marte will pitch for one squad and Joba Chamberlain, Chan Ho Park and David Robertson will pitch for the other squad.
Girardi has been staring in the face of a tough five-man battle for the No. 5 starter spot all spring long. Pitchers have risen and fallen — and, in the case of Chamberlain, they have risen again. The three rainouts this spring have not made the decision any easier.
“In the big scope of things you’re not going to say the rain affected you. But right now it is a little pain in the rear,” Girardi told reporters after the cancellation.
There is a larger issue at stake also. The decision about the No. 5 spot also affects the composition of the eight-man bullpen. At this point, the four candidates who do not get the No. 5 starter’s role will have to compete with lefty Boone Logan (or even lefty Royce Ring) for only for four spots left in the bullpen. (It would be safe in saying that Rivera, Marte, Park and Robertson are locks to make the staff, barring injury).
That means the loser’s in the No. 5 battle and the losers of the bullpen battle face either reassignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, a possible trade or release. With time running out and rain shortening the opportunities to make a case, these pitchers begin the new week with a lot of pressure on them.
THE NO. 5 RACE

Insiders have said that Phil Hughes is currently in the lead for the No. 5 job. But he has one big hurdle to climb on Monday afternoon when he will pitch against the Phillies. In his three appearances he has pitched 8 2/3 innings. He has given up seven hits and two walks and his ERA is 2.08. Eiland has been impressed with the way Hughes is utilizing his newly learned change-up, a pitch that can keep hitters off his fastball.
Sergio Mitre entered the competition viewed as a longshot based on how poorly he pitched coming off Tommy John surgery last season. But he has been a different pitcher this spring. In 14 innings, over four appearances, he has given up just five runs on nine hits and three walks. But here is the shocking statistic: Mitre leads the team in strikeouts with 14.
Alfredo Aceves actually had a shot to unseat Hughes when he started against the Houston Astros on Saturday with a 0.90 ERA. But after three really good innings, Aceves was touched for five runs (four earned) in the next two innings. His ERA shot up to 3.77. But he is by no means out the race. He has only given up eight hits and one walk in 14 1/3 innings.
Chamberlain looked to be out of the race entirely until he pitched so well against the Phillies his last time out. His stats still look ugly: 6 2/3 innings, 10 hits, 12 earned runs, seven walks and five strikeouts and an ERA of 16.50. But Girardi is going to give his big right-hander an opportunity on Monday to show more progress. Chamberlain likely has the most pressure going into tomorrow’s intrasquad game.
Chad Gaudin pitched well in his first outing. Since then he has gotten steadily worse. He is 0-3 in his last three appearances and he now has given up nine runs on 16 hits and five walks. His ERA has ballooned to 8.68. Gaudin would need a miracle to win the job and now has to be concerned that his opportunity to even make the staff is being hurt by Aceves, the emergence of Mitre and the way lefty relievers Logan and Ring have pitched this spring.
Could the Yankees head north with Mitre as a No. 5 starter, Hughes and Chamberlain in the bullpen and Aceves and Gaudin traded, released or in Tripe-A? That could happen. 
That is why Girardi is hoping for clear skies Monday. That will help him sort out the toughest call he may have to make. He hopes to announce a decision by Thursday or Friday.
THE NEXT GAME

The Yankees will jump on the buses to roll over to Clearwater, FL, to take on the Philadelphia Phillies. A.J. Burnett, who was scheduled to pitch Sunday, will start for the Yankees. He will be followed by Hughes. The Phillies will start left-hander Cole Hamels.
Game-time is 1:05 p.m. EDT and it will be broadcast live on ESPN.

Aceves Likely Leads Battle For Last Bullpen Spot


As the exhibition season opens March 3 against the Pirates, the New York Yankees will have few spots available on the 25-man roster but there will be a number of important battles for jobs. There is a big battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, a contest for a starting outfield spot (left or center), some fights for bullpen spots and a real donnybrook for bench spots. Let’s look at them and handicap how they might go this spring.

BATTLE NO. 3 – BATTLE FOR THE BULLPEN

The locks to make the bullpen out of spring training (barring injury) are Mariano Rivera, the loser of the Joba Chamberlain-Phil Hughes battle for the No. 5 spot, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park and Chad Gaudin (if he does not win the No. 5 spot).

Likely to make the bullpen is David Robertson.

That leaves one bullpen spot and a fight between Boone Logan, Alfredo Aceves, Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaledejo. Edwar Ramirez was designated for assignment on Sunday and he likely will be released.

Boone Logan enters spring training with one advantage over the other relief pitchers he is battling for a bullpen spot: He is left-handed. Manager Joe Girardi might see Logan as a replacement for Phil Coke, who was traded to the Tigers in the Curtis Granderson deal.
Logan, 25, has not distinguished himself as he enters his fifth major-league season. He has a career record of 5-5 with a 5.78 ERA and a lofty 1.69 WHIP. After three seasons with the White Sox, Logan was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in 17 appearances with the Atlanta Braves.
Logan was part of the deal that brought Javier Vazquez over from the Braves and he has a tall order in replacing Coke as the team’s second left-hander. Coke was tabbed early last spring as a lock for the bullpen and he and Rivera were the only two members of the pen to remain in the bullpen the entire season.
Logan will have to prove than he can command the strike zone because he historically has given up more hits than innings pitched. Walks make that situation worse. So the Yankees will keep an eye on Logan all spring.
It is simple for Logan: Throw strikes and he makes the team. If not he gets his ticket to Triple A punched.
Aceves is also a candidate for the No. 5 starting job, but it would seem that Chamberlain and Hughes have the inside track for that spot. He also would be a candidate for a long relief job out of the bullpen but Gaudin seems to have a hold on that role.
So Aceves might be fighting for a spot, period. The acquisition of Chan Ho Park also makes that possibility tenuous at best. But Aceves has some credentials with which Logan can’t compete.
Aceves, 27, was 10-1 with a 3.54 ERA and an excellent 1.01 WHIP in 2009. Though primarily a starter when the Yankees signed him out of the Mexican League, Aceves proved valuable in the bullpen as a pitcher capable of throwing two or more innings. He also showed a great ability to throw strikes and keep hitters off balance with his assortment of breaking pitches.
If the Yankees decide Logan is too inconsistent this spring, Aceves is in great position to gain the final spot in the bullpen. But he knows he will have to pitch well to earn it.
The Yankees also have the veteran Albaladejo and the youngster Melancon.
Albaladejo, 27, has something going for him that none of the other bullpen candidates do: He has made the Yankees Opening Day roster the past two seasons. 
Last season the Yankees were looking for a long reliever out of Aceves, Brett Tomko and Dan Giese. Instead, Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland opted to send Aceves and Tomko to the minors and release Giese in order to keep Albaladejo.
Albaladejo, a sinkerball specialist, spent the season bouncing back and forth from the Yankees and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. He ended up with a 5-1 record and a 5.24 ERA. Because of the development of Robertson and Aceves’ smooth transition to the bullpen, Albaladejo’s chances are not good unless he can get his sinker working again this spring.
Melancon, 25, is still a work in progress, Once thought to be the heir apparent to the great Rivera, Melancon has struggled to establish himself as a reliever because of a lack of command of the strike zone. 
Though Melancon only gave up 13 hits in 16 1/3 innings last season, he walked 10 batters and relievers who walk too many batters usually do not fare well in the major leagues. So Melancon must prove to the Yankees that he has mastered the strike zone to advance past the other candidates this spring.
Robertson’s development as a strikeout pitcher with less velocity has also been both a blessing and a curse to Melancon. On one hand, Robertson’s rise has blocked Melancon’s path to the majors. But on the other hand, Melancon is still only 25 and he will be given every chance to develop.
At the moment, Melancon is a longshot to make the team this spring. But he does bear watching because the Yankees love his fastball.
Starting pitcher candidate Sergio Mitre also could land a spot in the bullpen should he lose out in his battle with Hughes, Chamberlain, Gaudin and Aceves. However, it is more likely that he also could end up like Giese and be released by the end of spring training. 
Mitre, 29, did not win many fans by going 3-3 with a 6.79 ERA in nine starts and three relief stints last season. However, he is coming off Tommy John surgery and the Yankees hope he can get his sinker working again in 2010.
If I were handicapping this battle, my money would be on Aceves this spring. Though Logan offers a second option as a left-hander, Aceves has proven to be the better pitcher at this point and I would not bet against him making the team this spring.
If Aceves wins the job, Logan, Albaladejo and Melancon will likely be sent to Triple A and be available to the Yankees in case a reliever is injured or ineffective. This will give the Yankees some creditable depth in their bullpen this season.
The Yankees seven-man bullpen would include the legend Rivera along with strikeout pitchers in Chamberlain or Hughes and Robertson. It also would include crafty veterans in Marte and Park along with long men Gaudin and Aceves.
At the beginning of last season, pundits claimed the Yankees bullpen was “weak” and that it paled in comparison with the bullpen of the Boston Red Sox. After the writers finished digesting their words they had to eat, the Yankees ended up with a bullpen that lost very few games and won an unbelievable amount of games because the Yankees rallied late so often.
This season’s bullpen figures to be just as strong or better. For one, the Yankees have four starters who routinely pitch 200 innings a season: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Vazquez. That means the bullpen should be needed less. 
Also, should Phil Hughes win the No. 5 spot he might have to be shifted to the bullpen later in the season to keep within about 140 innings. That would mean Gaudin or Aceves would shift to the No. 5 spot and the Yankees would have a bullpen boasting Rivera, Chamberlain and Hughes!
That is scary stuff for American League teams who might be looking to rally to beat the Yankees late in games.
I do not think the pundits will be so quick to dismiss the Yankees’ bullpen this sea
son. They may end up with indigestion again.
NEXT: BATTLE NO. 4 – THE BENCH SPOTS


Joba, Hughes Armed in Pitched Battle for No. 5 Spot



As the exhibition season opens March 3 against the Pirates, the New York Yankees will have few spots available on the 25-man roster but there will be a number of important battles for jobs. There is a big battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, a contest for a starting outfield spot (left or center), some fights for bullpen spots and a real donnybrook for bench spots. Let’s look at them and handicap how they might go this spring.

BATTLE NO. 1 – No. 5 Spot in Rotation

The candidates are Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre.

Manager Joe Girardi insists that Aceves, Gaudin and Mitre will be given a chance to win this spot but most Yankee insiders believe he is just being politically correct. The real battle for the fifth spot likely will come down to Chamberlain and Hughes.
Chamberlain, 24, has started 43 games for the Yankees and has the advantage of knowing that the so-called “Joba Rules” are over. Chamberlain can pitch 200 innings this season since he pitched 157 innings last season.
However, Chamberlain did not pitch well as a starter in 2009. He was 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA and a horrifying high WHIP of 1.54. When the Yankees made the postseason Chamberlain was shifted to the bullpen and the Yankees completed their world championship run with just three starters.
Chamberlain, however, showed flashes of his former brilliance and velocity in the setup role, completing the postseason with a 1-0 record, a 2.84 ERA and seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of work in 10 appearances.
This led some Yankee insiders to conclude that Chamberlain may be of more value to the Yankees as a reliever than a starter. The trade for right-hander Javier Vazquez from the Atlanta Braves may actually be a huge signal of how this battle will go. Until the trade was made, Hughes and Chamberlain were both slated as starters.
Now only one of the two will get the job.
The 23-year-old Hughes, on the other hand, seemed to struggle early as a starter with the Yankees in 2009. In six starts he was 2-2 with a 6.59 ERA. But once he moved into the bullpen he steadily got better and better. In 44 appearances out of the bullpen he sported a 5-1 record with a 1.43 ERA (an ERA even lower than Mariano Rivera’s 1.76) with 65 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. He also had three saves in six opportunities.
But then came the postseason and Hughes fell off markedly. He was 0-1 with a 8.53 ERA and a 2.37 WHIP. For whatever reason, Hughes’ confidence was not there in the postseason and it showed. But Girardi has always insisted that Hughes was a starter.
He will now get the chance to prove that this spring.
One big caveat is that the “Joba Rules” will now apply to him. Including the postseason, Hughes pitched 92 1/3 innings last season and so the Yankees would like to limit him to about 142 innings this season.
That means if he wins the No. 5 spot he likely will not finish the season in the rotation or will be limited to three- and four-innings starts like Chamberlain was limited to in 2009. Or the Yankees could call on a spot starter like Chad Gaudin to take over as the No. 5 starter at the All-Star break and Hughes would join Chamberlain in the bullpen the rest of the way.
It is an intriguing thought considering the Yankee bullpen would be loaded with strikeout pitchers like Rivera, Chamberlain, Hughes and David Robertson. That would be really scary to American League teams.
Gaudin is a longshot to win the competition but nevertheless has shown some ability as a starter in the past. As a full-time starter with Oakland in 2007, Gaudin was 11-13 with a 4.42 ERA. He struggled, however, as a starter with the San Diego Padres in 2009. He was 4-10 with a 5.13 ERA when the Yankees acquired him in August.
But pitching coach Dave Eiland worked with Gaudin and Gaudin responded with a 2-0 record and 3.43 ERA in 11 appearances, including six spot starts, with the Yankees. Gaudin, 26, has proven to be valuable as a swingman throughout his career. That is why it looks like he won’t win the No. 5 job but will be a top candidate for the long relief spot in the bullpen.
Should Hughes win the No. 5 spot, he could easily slide into the rotation as a starter to replace Hughes. So Gaudin enters this spring with a lot of inherent value to the Yankees.
Alfredo Aceves, 27, moved quickly through the Yankees minor-league system as a starter after he was signed from out of Mexico. Aceves even was a candidate for starting rotation spot after his 1-0 record with a 2.40 ERA in six appearances in 2008.
However, with the Yankees locked into five starters last spring, Aceves was merely considered as a long reliever and he did not make the team out of spring training. But after pitchers like Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez faltered and Brain Bruney and Damaso Marte were injured, Aceves quickly earned a spot in the bullpen last season.
Because the Yankees showed an ability as a come-from-behind offense, Aceves was the benefactor, leading all major-league relievers with a 10-1 record and 3.54 ERA. If it not for a tired arm that plagued him in July and August he would have had a considerably lower ERA. 
Aceves has virtually no chance of winning the No. 5 spot but he could factor into the bullpen mix. Although he is not a strikeout pitcher, Aceves shows exceptional ability of mixing his pitches and keeping hitters off balance with his off-speed stuff. 
Though the signing of Chan Ho Park as free agent will make it tougher on Aceves to make the team, Girardi seemed to trust him and Aceves is capable of pitching more than two innings, if needed. 
If he does not make the team out of spring training he could be sent back to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre to work as a starter there. That would make him valuable as a possible replacement as a starter or reliever as the season moves along.
Mitre, 29, has a very tall order ahead of him. After a so-so 2007 season with the Florida Marlins (5-8 with a 4.65 ERA), Mitre missed the entire 2008 season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
He came back earlier than expected and was signed by the Yankees on the recommendation of Girardi, his former manager with Florida. But Mitre underwhelmed in his nine starts and finished the season with a 3-3 mark and a bloated 6.79 ERA. 
His trademark sinker was inconsistent and teams feasted on his mediocre fastball. Last season, Mitre could blame the fact he was still recovering from the surgery. But this spring there will be no such excuses.
Mitre is going to have to really impress the Yankees to even make the team. He has virtually no realistic chance at the No. 5 job. The best he could hope for is to make the team as a long reliever, and it would seem that Gaudin and Aceves have the better chance to fit there.
So Mitre’s best hope is pitch his hindquarters off to force the Yankees to keep him as a starter in Triple A. The real likelihood is he will be released much like the team did with Dan Giese the previous spring.
NEXT POST: BATTLE NO. 2 OUTFIELD (Brett Gardner vs. Randy Winn)



Yankees Built Great Bullpen As Season Progressed

THE BULLPEN

Closer: Mariano Rivera
Set-Up Man: Phil Hughes
Lefthander: Phil Coke
Righthander: Brian Bruney
Long Man: Alfredo Aceves

Contributors:

David Robertson
Chad Gaudin
Jonathan Albaladejo
Damaso Marte
Edwar Ramirez
Mark Melancon
Brett Tomko
Jose Veras
Steven Jackson
Anthony Claggett

In the first half of the season, the New York Yankees bullpen was very much a work in progress. By the end of the season it was a major strength of the team.
Give some credit for that to pitching coach Dave Eiland and manager Joe Girardi.
Spring training opened with many doubts about the Yankees’ bullpen. There were concerns about the offseason shoulder surgery on Mariano Rivera. There were doubts the Yankees had anyone who could get the ball to Rivera in the ninth. There also were questions on why no major moves were made when the bullpen failed so badly in 2008.
The Yankees broke camp with seven relievers: Rivera, Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Damaso Marte and Jonathan Albaladejo. Girardi had an audition for a long reliever in the spring between Dan Giese, Brett Tomko and Alfredo Aceves but chose Albaladejo for the second season in a row as his final addition to the 2009 pen. The team released Giese and Aceves and Tomko were sent to Triple A.
But April was not kind to this group. 
The Yankees starting rotation did not pitch real well as a group and the team’s offense was missing Alex Rodriguez recovering from hip surgery. Still, the bullpen was contributing to that 13-15 record the Yankees had on May 8 when Rodriguez returned.
Six of the team’s 15 losses were attributable to the bullpen. Phil Coke lost two and Albaladejo, Veras, Marte and Rivera each lost one. 
Eiland and Girardi decided that the bullpen could be better and they started looking for replacements for some of the original seven down on the farm.
Bruney, who looked to be the chosen one as the bridge to Rivera, pitched brilliantly in April until he started having issues with his right elbow. He was placed on the disabled list.
Marte, who had come up with shoulder problems after pitching in the World Baseball Classic, proved that he was not completely recovered from the injury and he was placed on the disabled list also a day after Bruney.
Eiland and Girardi opted for young righthander David Robertson and former starter Alfredo Aceves as bullpen replacements for Bruney and Marte. Tomko was later called up and replaced Robertson in the mix.
But in May, the Yankees continued to have problems with some members of the bullpen. The Yankees chose to option Ramirez back to Triple A on May 19 when Bruney was activated. But Bruney lasted only one appearance before he went back on the disabled list on May 26 and Robertson was recalled again.
On June 16, the Yankees finally decided to designate Veras for assignment for his recurring problems with finding the strike zone. Yankee fans who taken to booing Veras as much as former reliever Kyle Farnsworth, were pleased by the move. Bruney was activated again to replace Veras on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Yankees had called up Phil Hughes to replace Chien-Ming Wang as a starter in the rotation and he did start seven games from April 28 through May 31 with some spotty success. He was 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA.
Wang returned to the rotation and Hughes was shifted to the bullpen — temporarily. The idea was to keep Hughes around just in case Wang needed help out of the bullpen as he built up his arm strength.
But Wang instead landed back on the DL and this time it would be for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. However, rather then use Hughes as a starter, the Yankees decided to keep him there.
It was a great move too because Hughes became the bridge to Rivera that Bruney could not be after his elbow injury. Many Yankee fans circle May 8 when Rodriguez returned as the third baseman for the Yankees climb back into contention in the American League East race.
But you also may want to circle July 3. That is the first time Hughes was used in the eighth inning as the bridge to Rivera. He has had that role ever since and the Yankees bullpen has been sensational from June through September.
The Yankees ran off a 23-8 record from May 8 to June 6 and the bullpen lost only four of those games: Tomko, Aceves, Coke and Rivera.
But from June 6 on, the Yankees bullpen was nearly flawless. From that date on June 6 through July 10 the Yankees were 23-15. The bullpen lost only two of those games.
Tomko and young righthander Mark Melancon came in to pitch early and ended up taking the loss in those games.
The new bullpen cast of Tomko, Robertson, Aceves and Hughes added to holdovers Bruney, Coke and Rivera was proving to be effective. But Bruney did struggle to regain his form after his two stints on the disabled list.
Brian Cashman also made his worst decision of 2009 on July 21. He designated Tomko for assignment and decided to go along with Girardi’s choice and allow Sergio Mitre to become the replacement for Wang after the All-Star break. Mitre failed miserably as a fifth starter and Tomko recorded a 4-1 record with a  2.95 ERA for Oakland. Oops!
But the bullpen came on strong after the All-Star break. The team was 51-37 at the break and was 52-22 after the break. The bullpen lost only five of those 22 games:
Hughes lost one on July 30 and Robertson lost another the next night. Marte lost a game on Sept. 11 and another on Sept. 30. Rivera lost one on Sept 18 to the Mariners on Ichiro’s two-run blast in the ninth to end his consecutive saves streak at career-best 36 straight.
That was it. 
Look at the won-loss records of those in the bullpen:
Aceves 10-1
Hughes 5-1
Albaladejo 5-1
Bruney 5-0
Coke 4-3
Rivera 3-3
Robertson 2-1
Marte 1-3
Melancon 0-1
They combined for a record of 35-13 for a .729 wining percentage. The high number decisions was due to some early departures by Yankee starters and the Yankees’ penchant for coming back to win games late. The team had 15 walkoff wins this season and they also lead the league in come-from-behind victories.
The bullpen was a large part of the reason why.
Rivera led the way with a 1.76 ERA and 44 saves in 46 tries.
But, Hughes actually was even better with a 1.40 ERA out of the bullpen with 65 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings.
Aceves’ 3.54 ERA is deceiving because he gave up nine runs over six innings in three consecutive appearances in August when he was experiencing fatigue in his arm. He also gave up  three earned runs in 3 1/3 innings in a spot start July 9.
But in his 42 relief appearances this season, Aceves held the opposition scoreless in 25 of them. He gave up only one run in another eight games. So Aceves certainly earned Girardi’s trust as long r
eliever this season.
Coke was also better than his 4.50 ERA might indicate. Coke did pitch poorly in April with his ERA for the month reaching 5.73. But on July 4 Coke had lowered his season ERA to a season low 2.97.
But on July 11, Coke gave four runs in a relief appearance against the Angels in Anaheim and  on Aug. 1 he was roughed up for six runs by the White Sox in Chicago. Between those two outings, Coke’s ERA jumped back to 4.98.
In his last 23 appearances of the season he was scored upon in only three and all of those were in August. 
Bruney also has shown improvement since his ERA ballooned to 6.16 on July 29. In August and September combined, Bruney pitched in 21 games and 20 innings with an ERA of 1.80 and 13 strikeouts. He has also walked 13 batters in those 20 innings, which is still a concern. But Girardi thinks Bruney can contribute and he may earn a postseason spot in the bullpen.
Robertson was headed for true stardom this season before a balky elbow in September shelved him until the final week of the season. Robertson drew raves because of his ability to strike out batters despite not having a mid-90s fastball. 
In just 43 2/3 innings pitched this season, Robertson has fanned 63 batters, a rate higher than Hughes and Rivera. He also has showed he can hold a lead in the middle innings.  He was unscored upon in 32 of 45 appearances and in his final 17 appearances he did not give up a run in 14 of those.
If Robertson’s two appearances in the final series against the Tampa Bay Rays shows Eiland and Girardi he is healthy he could supplant Bruney on the postseason roster.
Marte likely will make the roster simply because he adds another lefthander to the bullpen besides Coke. Marte is 1-3 with a 9.45 ERA. But to be fair, Marte did pitch most of the early season with a bad shoulder and spent most of the rest of the season trying to rehab it.
If you throw out a dreadful four-run pounding in 1/3 of an inning at home against the Orioles on Sept. 11, Marte actually had a 1.17 ERA from Aug. 21 until the end of the season and he was effective against lefthanded hitters.
In the first half of the 2009 season, I gave this bullpen a overall grade of C+ because of the struggles of Veras and Ramirez and injuries to Marte and Bruney.
But with the ascension from the minors of Aceves and Robertson and the addition of Hughes and the recovery of Marte and Bruney, the bullpen — including Coke and the always sensational Rivera — just kept getting better and better as the season wore on.
This corps kept the Yankees in games so they could come back and they rarely lost leads in the late innings and allowed the Yankees to hold the leads that they did earn. So you have to give this bullpen an A+ for the second half of the season.
I would give it an overall grade of B+ only because of the early problems that later were worked out and the uncertainty about Bruney and Marte heading into the playoffs. 
But one thing is for sure. The Twins will not like facing this bullpen anyway. Adding Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen mix only makes it that much deeper for the American League Division Series. This bullpen is simply the backbone of this team right now.
MID-SEASON BULLPEN GRADE: A+
OVERALL BULLPEN GRADE: B+



Was Wang’s Start Well Grounded?

NATIONALS 3, YANKEES 2

Joe Girardi threw down the gauntlet. The question is did Chien-Ming Wang throw enough pitches down on Wednesday night to save his job.

Ironically, Wang’s mound opponent John Lannan kept enough pitches down to induce even more ground outs from the Yankees to hold on for a 3-2 victory for the worst team in baseball. Their record is now 17-45.
All Yankee eyes, however, were trained early on former ace sinkerball specialist Wang. After winning 19 games in both 2006 and 2007, Wang suffered a lisfranc sprain in his right foot last May, when he was sporting a gaudy 8-2 record.
The Yankees, counting on him to assume the No. 3 spot in the Yankees retooled 2009 rotation, could not have foreseen that Wang’s foot troubles would still be putting him on shaky footing at this juncture of the season.
He entered Wednesday with an ERA over 14. He had been blasted for 23 earned runs in just six innings spanning his first three starts. Placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Yankees medical staff determined that Wang’s foot problems caused him not work out his lower body enough in the offseason, leaving Wang with weakness in his hip muscles. That contributed to an altered delivery and Wang’s pitches did not sink.
After working the hip muscles back into shape, Wang began a minor-league rehab stint that brought him off the disabled list — but not back into the Yankees rotation. Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland wanted Wang to work out of the bullpen before they granted him a rotation spot.
Wang responded with three excellent relief stints. He pitched 8 innings, gave up 9 hits and just two runs. Wang walked only two and struck out seven — enough to convince Girardi that Wang was ready to replace Phil Hughes in the starting rotation.
But after three starts, Wang is 0-2 with an ERA of 8.76. Yet, after Wednesday night’s performance, the Yankees are cautiously optimistic that Wang may be on the way back.
On closer examination his 91-pitch five-inning stint was not as bad as the six hits, two walks and three runs he surrendered. For a more positive view you have to look at Wang’s outs.
Of the 15 outs Wang recorded, 10 were ground-ball outs. Two outs were fly outs but only one of those left the infield. He struck out the others. His catcher, Jorge Posada, was very encouraged. He told MLB.com: “I thought he threw strikes with all of his pitches and looked a lot better in the strike zone. I thought he used both sides of the plate and was a lot better. Coming out of the things he did, I’m very positive.”

Wang, however, got no support from the offense. Once again, a young pitcher the Yankees had not seen before dazzled them with 88 mile-per-hour fastballs and even slower sliders and changeups. Lannan (4-5) completed 8 1/3 innings, giving up just four hits, one walk and striking out four batters. 
Other than home runs by Robinson Cano in the fifth and Johnny Damon in the ninth, Lannan actually killed more Yankee Stadium infield dirt worms than Wang. He recorded 15 ground ball outs. He only allowed four flyball outs to the outfield in a totally dominating display of pitching artistry.
Alex Rodriguez summed it up to MLB.com: “It’s the first time we’ve seen him. He threw the ball in and out very well, changed speeds, threw strikes and didn’t walk anybody. If you throw strikes against us, you’ve got a chance.”
The Yankees actually mounted a heroic comeback attempt in the ninth inning. Johnny Damon greeted Lannan with a line-drive home run into the first row of “Damon’s deck” in right for his 14th home run. That made the score 3-2. 
After Nick Swisher flied out to left, Mark Teixeira sliced a single into left field. Girardi went to his bench to summon Brett Gardner to pinch-run. Nationals Manager Manny Acta then went to his bullpen to summon closer Mike McDougal, who has not recorded a single save since being named the team’s closer three weeks ago. Of course, there have not been any save opportunities accorded him.
Alex Rodriguez strode to the plate with a chance to save the Yankees night. Gardner increased those chances by stealing second and third base during the at-bat. The steals meant that A-Rod would only need to hit a fly ball of some length, a base hit or slow grounder to score Gardner with the tying run.
But McDougal, calculating those odds, decided to pitch around A-Rod and walked him to set up a potential double play. That, however, was also a potentially risky gambit given Cano was  on deck.
Cano was 4-for-4 against the Nationals last night with 2 RBIs, including a double that gave the Yankees a lead they did not relinquish. McDougal dug in on the mound. But so did Cano in the batter’s box.
The first eight pitches was an epic battle with Cano fouling off tailing fastball after tailing fastball. McDougal, looking for the double play, kept the pressure on by unleashing all 97 mph in his arsenal.
Cano only needed to make good contact and stay out of the double play. But, on pitch nine that is exactly what he did. He rolled a two-hopper to shortstop Cristian Guzman, who relayed to second baseman Anderson Hernandez for one and Hernandez fired to first baseman Nick Johnson for the back-breaking final out.
Gardner’s efforts were left unrewarded and the Yankees for once failed in their typical late-inning rally.
But, looking for the silver lining, Wang may be on his way back and the Yankees pitching staff may be taking shape. 
CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Wang seem set now as Girardi told MLB.com about his thoughts on Wang: “We wanted to see some good things out of him, and I think we did tonight. Hopefully, it’s good for him. From the naked eye, I saw some pretty good pitches, and the ground-ball outs are a real good sign.”

The onus now shifts to Joba Chamberlain, who pitched only four innings in his last start. Perhaps Phil Hughes may replace Chamberlain (3-1, 3.84 ERA) if he continues to have problems with his command and pitch count.
He will take the mound tomorrow against another pitcher the Yankees have never faced, Craig Stammen, who
is 0-2 with a 5.86 ERA.
Gametime is 1:05 p.m. EDT.

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