Tuesday, April 30, 2013


 Ya think???

Vidal Nuno, A Man Of Many (Potential) Roles

(Welcome to the show, guy.  Courtesy of the AP)

The lone bright spot in last night's absolute stink pot of a game was the Major League debut of Vidal Nuno.  After being released from the Cleveland Indians' A-ball affiliate following the 2010 season, Nuno has worked himself up through five levels of the Yankee MiL system in just a little over two seasons and put himself in a position to capitalize on an opportunity when Ivan Nova went on the DL.  While so many people focus on what Nuno isn't when labeling him an automatic non-prospect, I put more stock into what he is when I evaluated him and included him in this year's AB4AR Top 30 (30th spot).  He might not be big, he might not throw hard, and he might not have devastating offspeed stuff, but he's still before his prime at age 25, he throws strikes, he has outstanding command, and his offspeed stuff is just good enough to strike a fair amount of batters out.  As a lefty, that's not a bad skill set to possess.

Nuno's greatest quality, at least as it relates to the current Yankee roster, might be his flexibility.  That ability to pitch in multiple scenarios, paired with the aforementioned left-handedness, could make Nuno a very versatile bullpen piece for Joe to use as he sees fit.

Youkilis' MRI Comes Back Clean, DL Stint Still Likely (UPDATED)

The good news is that the MRI on Kevin Youkilis' back came back clean yesterday, so at least there's no serious damage to it that could cause it to be a definite lingering issue.  The bad news is that the team still elected to give him an epidural today, and chances are he's still going to end up on the 15-day DL.

I imagine the hope is that the DL stint and epidural will be enough to get Youkilis' back back to 100%, but if he's getting an epidural after the MRI didn't show anything, that's a big red flag for me and leads me to believe that his back WILL continue to be a lingering issue moving forward.  With his back clearly not good enough to play right now, it makes the decision to put Youkilis back in the lineup on Saturday look really bad.  Now instead of backdating his DL stint to last week when he first went out of the lineup, it will have to start from Saturday.  Don't know what Joe was thinking there.

** UPDATE 2:14 PM- The Yankees announced earlier that Youkilis will indeed take a trip to the 15-day DL to rest his ailing back.  Corban Joseph has been called up to take his place on the active roster. **

Game 25 Wrap-Up: HOU 9 NYY 1

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

You couldn't have scripted a better situation for the Yankees to continue their winning streak coming into last night.  Worst team in baseball as the opponent, playing at home, and Andy Pettitte and his giant bag of "crafty veteran" tricks on the mound to school the glorified Quad-A Houston Astros lineup.  You hate to get cocky, but that's a slam dunk.

Game Notes:

- Unless, of course, you just flat don't show up the way the Yankees didn't show up through 4 innings.  It started when Andy gave up 3 1st-inning runs after getting 2 outs and 6 pitches and it never stopped.

- The lineup managed just 1 hit and 2 GIDPs in the first 3 innings and barely made Houston starter Lucas Harrell work, as he needed just 37 pitches to groundball them to death.

- Pettitte just never found anything in the next few innings, continuing to miss up with cutters and sliders and giving up a lot of hard contact.  Mercifully, his night ended with 1 out in the 4th after 7 ER and 10 hits.  Strange to see him pitch that shitty against such an inferior opponent.

- It didn't get better for the offense.  They grounded into 2 more DPs in the 4th and 7th innings, but at least they managed to push a run across in the 6th on a Vernon Wells single to not get blanked.

- Adam Warren was pretty terrible in relief of Pettitte, and he gave way to the recently called up Vidal Nuno.  It was just mop-up duty, but Nuno looked pretty good in his 3 innings of work, allowing 0 runs on 4 hits and striking out 2.

- Just an awful night all around, the kind of game you have to wash off of yourself in the shower.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cano Holding His Own Against Left-Handed Pitching

(Gone.  Courtesy of MLB.com)

In a situation where he was going to be more important than ever, Robinson Cano has done everything the Yankees have needed him to do so far this season.  He's hitting .316/.374/.612 (.417 wOBA) in 107 plate appearances, with a team-leading 7 HR, 17 R scored, 17 RBI, and 1.3 fWAR.  He hasn't made an error in the field, he hasn't missed a game or even an at-bat due to injury, sickness, or whatever, and he's looked every bit worth the 9-figure salary he's sure to get at some point.  There are plenty of other kudos to hand out to other players on the team for the job they've done, but it's more than fair to say that without Cano this team would not be off to the 15-9 start it is.

Before the season, I dissected Cano's poor 2012 performance against left-handed pitching, a statistical anomaly never seen before and a potential cause for concern about Cano's expected offensive productivity moving forward.  He hasn't completely put the issue to bed, but Cano has done enough early on to at least make me believe he's putting last year's issues in the rearview.

Thoughts On Nova's Injury

(Courtesy of Reuters)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Despite coming away with a 4-game sweep of the Blue Jays, this past weekend was another costly one for the Yankees.  In the span of just a few innings and probably less than an hour of real time, they lost both halves of their starting battery on Friday night, losing Francisco Cervelli to a fractured right hand and Ivan Nova to what was officially diagnosed as right triceps inflammation.  I already spent some time on Saturday discussing Cervelli's injury and its implications, and I do believe that will be the greater loss for the Yankees , but there's plenty to consider with respect to Nova's injury as well.  Now that we know exactly what the injury is and that he won't be spending any time under a knife to deal with it, this seems like a good time to discuss.

Yanks Reportedly Scrapping The 2014 Payroll Plan (Again)

By now, you've all probably heard this latest rumor about the Yankees doing away with their $189 million payroll plan for next season.  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports released a story last Thursday, citing multiple sources, about the Yankee front office deciding that the plan for 2014 was "unlikely and impractical" and doing away with it to return to business as usual.  One quote from a "team official" was especially telling:

"It was a good idea to try, but deep down, we all pretty much knew it wasn't going to happen."

While the reasoning and logic referenced by Passan in the article is all sound, and the Yankees' ability to toe both the "fiscally responsible" and "championship-caliber team" lines is greatly questioned, I'm taking the same approach I took when Wally Matthews posted a similar story months back and waiting until the Yankees act in a way that's consistent with these reports before accepting them as gospel.  As with Matthews' story, Passan's piece here seems to be nothing more than educated speculation and connecting dots that may or may not be there.

The bottom line is that everything the Yankees have done (well, almost everything) since announcing their plan to get below the luxury tax threshold in 2014 has been in line with that plan.  All parts of that plan, the logic, the execution, the benefits, etc., can be questioned and it's the job of the media to do that questioning and try to uncover something of substance.  Until they do, however, or until the Yanks take it upon themselves to act in a way that suggests what Passan and Matthews wrote is true, there's no reason to dive headfirst back into the pool of free spending.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Game 24 Wrap-Up: NYY 3 TOR 2

(Courtesy of the AP)

A 4-game sweep of the Blue Jays would have been a great statement for the Yankees to make early.  After the offseason ended, the Jays were generally praised for their aggressiveness in adding players to their team and talked up as the new favorites in the AL East while the Yankees were generally bashed for their inactivity and unwillingness to open their wallets for anything more than cheap plug-ins at every position.  The Yanks have gotten great production from almost all of their acquisitions so far as they've stayed in the hunt in the division while the Jays have not and find themselves firmly entrenched in the cellar.  Just goes to show that you can't predict baseball, Suzyn.

Game Notes:

- Strong start for Phil Hughes, who allowed just 1 hit and struck out 5 through the first 3 innings.  He was attacking with his fastball, mixing his offspeed stuff well, and working quickly from the windup.

- His lineup got him an early run in the bottom of the 2nd.  Only a few pitches after Travis Hafner just missed a HR to deep center, Brennan Boesch stepped in and got just enough of one to right for a solo HR.

- Hughes got burned on some bad luck in the top of the 4th after Jayson Nix let a ball go down the third baseline for a 2-out single and 2 more cheap singles plated a run to tie the game at 1.  He had to throw way more pitches than he should have to get out of the inning.

- The 6th was really the problem area for Hughes.  Despite striking out the side, a leadoff double by Jose Bautista came back to haunt him after a questionable call by Joe to intentionally walk Adam Lind and a poorly-placed fastball to Macier Izturis led to a 2-out RBI double to give Toronto the lead.

- R.A. Dickey, to his credit, shut the Yankees down with his knuckler after the 2nd inning.  He didn't give up another hit after that inning, retiring 12 of 13 through the 6th.

- A Travis Hafner leadoff single in the 7th seemed harmless enough, but then Dickey threw a 1-1 knuckler that didn't move to Lyle Overbay and Overbay parked it in the Yankee bullpen for a 3-2 lead.  They didn't do much against Dickey, but they made the most of the hits they did get.

- Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera handled the 7th-9th and the sweep was completed.  Four in a row against a divisional rival in four close games.  That's good stuff.

Nova Injury/Roster Move Recap

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

Just a quick update on all the moving parts that resulted from Friday night's injury madness, in case anybody missed anything.

First, Ivan Nova has been put on the 15-day DL with what the team is officially calling "right triceps inflammation."  While sounding painful and causing concern about lingering issues moving forward, this is much better news than something in the elbow, and early indications are that Nova could be ready to pitch again by the end of his 15-day stint.  Whether he gets his rotation spot back when he's ready is a topic for another day.

In his place for now will be David Phelps, who pitched the 4 innings of relief after Nova left on Friday night and is as close to being fully stretched out as he can be.  Vidal Nuno, the crafty left-hander, was called up to take Nova's spot on the 25-man roster and will serve as a sort of lefty swingman in the bullpen.  Derek Jeter was moved to the 60-day DL to free up a 40-man spot for Nuno.  Austin Romine has also officially been added to the 25-man in place of the injured Francisco Cervelli, although there's been no word from the team on when they expect him to play in place of Chris Stewart.

Game 23 Wrap-Up (Abridged Version): NYY 5 TOR 4

- Another good but not great start from CC Sabathia, who gave up 9 hits and 3 ER in 8 innings.  He didn't walk a batter, but struck out only 4.  If you're curious, his fastball was sitting low-90s.

- Big day for Travis Hafner, who got a rare DH start against a LHP.  He hit a 3-run HR in the bottom of the 4th to tie the game at 3, then after a Brett Lawrie HR in the 6th to give the Jays a 1-run lead, Hafner came back with a 2-out RBI triple to score Vernon Wells and give New York the lead it would not surrender.

- First game back in over a week for Kevin Youkilis, who went 0-3 with a BB, R scored, and a K.

- D-Rob and Mo were unavailable after pitching in consecutive games, so Joba got the ball for the save and he pitched around 2 hits in the 9th to preserve the win and set the Yankees up for the sweep today.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Thoughts On Cervelli's Injury

(Looks like he knew almost immediately.  Courtesy of the AP)

Concerns about the Yankees' catching contingent were constant this offseason after the team surprisingly allowed Russell Martin to walk.  The crew left behind, headlined by Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, wasn't particularly deep or especially talented, at least based on career numbers.  The focus was always on how the 2-headed monster of Stewvelli would be able to replace the lost production of Martin, and never what the Yankees might have to do if one of them got hurt, which is surprising given the physical beating a catchers take.  Last night the team and the entire Yankosphere got slapped in the face with that reality when Cervelli left the game with a broken right hand.  He's scheduled for surgery today and will miss at least 6 weeks, leaving Stewart as the lone Major League catcher still standing and the Yankees with another injury obstacle to overcome.  After the jump, some thoughts on the injury and its impact.

Game 22 Wrap-Up: NYY 6 TOR 4

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Yankees picked up another 5-3 win over the Blue Jays last night, but that story takes an obvious backseat to the damaging injury news to come out of the game.  Just 5 pitches into the first AB of the game, Francisco Cervelli took a foul ball right off his right hand, causing him to leave the game and get X-rays that eventually revealed a broken bone in the hand.  While the Twittersphere was still putting the pieces together on that story, Ivan Nova suffered an injury of his own in the top of the 3rd inning.  It first appeared to be a leg issue, but was later confirmed to be a problem with his right elbow/triceps area.  While it's always good to get the W, the injuries to last night's battery put a serious damper on the game.

Game Notes:

- Nova's performance was frustratingly familiar early.  He struck out the first 2 batters he faced, but was inconsistent with his command and gave up a solo HR to Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the 2nd inning.

- It got a lot worse the next inning without Nova even allowing a run.  He followed through funny on a pitch and was removed from the game almost immediately with an elbow injury.  Nova had been the weak rotation link, but the last thing the Yanks needed was more injuries.  And this was after Cervelli left in the 1st.

- Hit with another obstacle, the offense did their part to overcome the losses and patiently scrapped out 4 runs from the 2nd-4th innings, highlighted by a Lyle Overbay RBI triple in the 4th, to take a 4-3 lead.

- David Phelps got the call after Nova left and came in cold from the bullpen.  Given the circumstances, it would have been understandable if Phelps struggled again.  He pleasantly surprised by allowing just 1 run in 4 innings of work while striking out 9.

- When the Jays tried to chip away with runs in the 6th and 8th innings, the Yanks responded with big insurance runs.  Robinson Cano came around to score on a passed ball after leading off the 7th with a double, and Brett Gardner pumped a solo HR into the right-center field bleachers in the 8th.

- Just like the night before, Joe went Joba-D-Rob-Mo for the final 3 frames and they got it done.  Robertson gave up a solo HR to Jose Bautista and Mo loaded the bases, but overall it was more good work from these guys.

Friday, April 26, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Everybody And Their Mother Leaving Tonight's Game With Injuries

Well this hasn't been a very fun night for the Yankees, and the game isn't even 3 innings old yet.  After first losing Francisco Cervelli to an injury to his right hand on the 5th pitch of the game in the top of the 1st, they've also just lost Ivan Nova to an apparent leg injury after he pulled up awkwardly delivering a pitch.

No official word yet on either player, although Sweeny Murti is hearing whispers of a fracture for Cervelli's hand and Donnie Collins reported that Austin Romine left the Triple-A RailRiders game mid-inning quickly after Cervelli left the big league game.  Neither of those things are good signs, and chances are Cervelli is going to miss a significant chunk of time.  More on both of these stories as it becomes available.

** UPDATE 7:44 PM- Via Meredith Marakovits, Cervelli has a fractured right hand that will require surgery and Nova left with pain in his elbow.  Not good news for either guy. **

** UPDATE 7:47 PM- Via the whole beat writer contingent, Cervelli is expected to miss at least 6 weeks; MRI on Nova's right elbow scheduled for tonight. **

** UPDATE 8:12 AM 4/27- Cervelli's hand surgery is scheduled for today, Romine has been confirmed as the call up to replace him and should be on the roster and in the dugout today, and while Nova's MRI results still aren't known, it's been reported that he was complaining of tightness in his triceps area.  Should find out more today. **

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 4/26/13

Shorter than usual linkaround this week thanks to more than a few early nights in bed.  The kid's tired, people.  Burning the wick at both ends and trying to keep up with a regular season writing schedule can do that to ya.  But what this Palooza lacks in quantity, it definitely makes up for in quality.  Now onto the links!

- On Tuesday, William Juliano of The Captain's Blog looked at Joe's early lineup juggling and how it stacks up historically to some of the other instances of high lineup tinkering in team history.

- Dan Hickey of Bronx Pinstripes had a little fun with weird names and put together the all-time best name team in Yankee history.

- On Wednesday, Derek Albin of Pinstripe Pundits pointed out another trend in Phil Hughes' pitching breakdowns that could explain his recent turnaround.  Fastballs for strikes and offspeed for out pitches, who knew?!

- Greg Corcoran of Bronx Baseball Daily interviewed Low-A prospect Greg Bird, who's making the transition from catcher to full-time first baseman this season.  Bird was on the list of guys who just missed the cut for this year's AB4AR Top 30.

- Martin Riggs of NoMaas displayed some statistical trends in groovy chart form to attempt to further temper the growing concerns about CC Sabathia's fastball velocity.

- On Thursday, Mike Axisa of RAB found some troubling offensive trends in the team's recent 6-game road trip, trends that fit the original description of this "weak" lineup.

- El duque of It Is High... made an astute observation about Ichiro's unwillingness to take walks and the crippling effect it's having on his offensive value.

- Mike Eder of IIATMS/TYA looked at Ichiro's poor start another way, from the bat speed standpoint, to see if that was part of the problem.  A slow bat-no take combination would not be fun next season.

- On Friday, Jason Cohen of Pinstriped Bible examined Eduardo Nunez's dreadful start to the season.  Nunez needs to get it going now that Jeter is out 'til the ASB.

- Bryan Van Dusen of The Greedy Pinstripes commented on the latest rumors about the abandonment of the austerity plan and what the causes might be.

This week's Friday Jam is one of the better Metallica cover performances IMHO, "Stone Cold Crazy."  I was pretty close to losing it yesterday afternoon after an especially shitty week at the office, and after relaxing and cooling off at our weekly post-work basketball game this was the song playing on the radio when I got in my car.  Made me laugh.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

What Was The Deal With That Jeter Press Conference Yesterday?

Let me preface this by reminding everyone that Derek Jeter is my hands down favorite baseball player of all time and the reason I started becoming a real Yankee fan.  But what the hell was up with that press conference before yesterday's game?  Did that not make any sense to anybody else?  It was like he felt he had to come out and clear the air about this whole ankle re-break setback, but I really haven't noticed any kind of media speculation about his current status.  We've known what we've known - that there's a crack in the bone, doctors say it doesn't need surgery and should completely heal, and Jeter should be back after the All-Star Break - since the story first broke and nothing has changed since then.  There was no air that needed clearing.

And of course Jeter was his typical self, promising the fans that he'd be back and saying he expected to play to his usual level when he did come back.  He was quick to dismiss any suggestion that the injury or his age would diminish his productivity and reiterated that he doesn't like to and won't be addressing his injuries when he returns.  So, if I understand this correctly, Derek Jeter, the player who hates talking to the media about his injuries, called a press conference to talk to the media about his injury to tell everybody what they already knew and/or assumed about his injury.  That's basically all yesterday was, right?

P.S.- No MLB TV package, Derek?  Come on, bro.  That's MY go-to excuse.

On Joe's Recent Lack Of Pinch Hitting Logic

(Come on, Joe.  You're better than that.  Courtesy of the AP)

As a blogger and a Yankee fan who's had to warm up to Joe Girardi and his management style over the years, I have to say that I think he's done a fantastic job through the first 21 games this season.  Put into an even tougher position with the lineup than the one he ended the 2012 postseason in, Joe has been proactive and creative in his approach to building the lineup each day, even if it hasn't always lead to positive results.  He's also been good about using his bullpen and not over/underworking any of his important pitchers.  The team's unexpected (in my eyes at least) 12-9 start is just as much a testament to the job Joe has done as it is to the performances of the players on the roster.  That's why I hate to have to pick nits and beat him up a little here, but there have been two recent decisions to not pinch hit late in games in situations that were screaming for it that left me wondering what Joe was thinking.

Game 21 Wrap-Up: NYY 5 TOR 3

(You won't like John Gibbons when he's angry.  Courtesy of the AP)

After a quick 3-3 AL East road trip, the Yankees returned home last night to host one of their recent road opponents, the Toronto Blue Jays.  And after getting schooled by a righty their last night in Tampa, they were once again facing a lefty and a familiar one in Mark Buehrle.  Life's never easy in the AL East and it wasn't easy last night with Hiroki Kuroda on the mound, who looked very shaky in his first few innings.  But surprise, surprise, the offense (surprisingly) woke up just enough against a lefty to get the job done.

Game Notes:

- Shaky might be an understatement for Kuroda early.  He was leaving a lot of pitches up and wasn't commanding his offspeed stuff.  He gave up 4 hits in the 1st, 2 in the 2nd, and 3 runs on HR by Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie.

- That deficit didn't last long, though, thanks to a return of the Yankee power bats.  Vernon Wells clubbed a solo HR to center in the bottom of the 2nd, Robinson Cano smashed a 2-out, 3-run homer to take the lead in the 3rd, and Francisco Cervelli hit a solo shot in the 4th to pad that lead to 5-3.

- As bad as Kuroda looked in the first 2 innings, he got it together quickly after that.  Kuroda got through the next 4 innings scoreless, retiring the last 7 batters he faced and 13 of the last 14.  It wasn't pretty, but 3 runs in 6 innings isn't bad at all.

- The offense was never able to add to that lead, however, leaving multiple runners on base in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings.  Plenty of chances, just never got that one big insurance hit.

- Strange play in the bottom of the 7th, when the umps reversed an out call on a Ben Francisco bunt attempt, saying Encarnacion was bobbling the ball.  Francisco might have been safe anyway, but their was no bobble and that's never a call you see overturned.  John Gibbons came out to argue and predictably (and entertainingly) got run.

- Turns out those insurance runs weren't needed.  Joba and D-Rob handled the 8th without issue and the ageless Mariano Rivera locked down a 1-2-3 9th for the win.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Outfield Platoon Coming Soon

(Ichiro's everyday days could be coming to an end.  Courtesy of Reuters)

With Curtis Granderson getting closer to returning - a report earlier today by Chad Jennings had him now taking indoor BP - the Yankees are approaching the point where they'll have a lot of decisions to make with respect to their outfield construction.  Where will Curtis play in the outfield?  Where will Brett Gardner play in the outfield?  Who's getting bumped to the bench?  Who's getting sent down to Triple-A/DFA'd/outright released?  In that same post, Jennings mentioned (correctly) that it's still a bit premature to bring up some of these ideas now, particularly the one about how right field will be settled since it's an unspoken given that C-Grand and Gardner will be in center and left.  But based on what we've seen so far, the most logical choice, whether they like it or not, might be a Vernon Wells/Ichiro Suzuki platoon.

More (Late) Thursday Morning Musings

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

- Is it just me or is the CC Sabathia velocity thing getting a little overhyped now?  I know it was a concern in his first few starts simply because they were the first few starts back after surgery and after a scaled back ST, but at this point shouldn't everybody just let it go?  CC's outing on Monday wasn't pretty, but it had nothing to do with velocity.  He threw the ball harder in that start than he did in his previous start.  CC's problem on Monday was location.  He missed with a few offspeed pitches up, and he caught more of the plate than he wanted to with a few early-count fastballs.  The previous three starts and the rest of Monday's outing are proof that CC can be effective without throwing 94-96, and he's been making the transition to a more refined offspeed game for over five years now.  His changeup is really good, his slider is really good, and he knows how to mix pitches to both right and left-handed hitters.  He's going to be fine.

More after the jump.

Game 20 Wrap-Up: TB 3 NYY 0

("So if I strike another guy out here, are you guys gonna get a few fucking hits or not?"  Courtesy of the AP)

I don't know about you guys, but I was pretty pumped about the Yankees being in a position to steal a series in which they had to face 2 of the 5 best lefties in all of baseball.  I would have been more pumped about their chances going against a RHP again if the lineup wasn't missing Youkilis and Wells, but with Andy Pettitte on the mound the Bombers were still in good shape.  Andy did his thing and gave the team every opportunity to win, the offense just forgot to show up.

Game Notes:

- And I mean REALLY forgot to show up.  No disrespect to Alex Cobb, I'm sure he's a sweet kid.  But he's just Alex Cobb and the Yankee lineup made him look like Bob Gibson last night.  They put 2 runners on in the top of the 2nd, then got sat down in order the next 4 innings.

- Pettitte was sharp early, working quickly and efficiently around a token baserunner in each of the first 4 innings.  His pitch count was only in the 40s and he demonstrated his command by striking out the side swinging in the bottom of the 3rd on a slider, 4-seamer, and sinker.

- He got into trouble in the 5th, when he hit Jose Molina with a pitch after having him down 0-2 to lead off the inning.  Kelly Johnson singled and the runners advanced after a Brennan Boesch error in right, and just when it looked like Andy was going to escape after 2 Ks he hung a curve to Ben Zobrist for a 2-run double.

- That inning seemed to take a lot out of Andy.  He gave up a first-pitch HR to Sean Rodriguez to start the 6th and labored through that inning to end his night.

- 2 ER in 6 IP is a damn fine showing, it just didn't amount to anything with the no-show offense.  They were also retired in order in the 7th and 8th (making it 18 straight batters) and did nothing with 2 singles in the 9th. I don't care who's out on the mound, that's awful.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

So How Was Phil's Pitch Location Last Night?

(Fierce!  Courtesy of the AP)

After I opened this box last Monday, you knew I wasn't going to let it just be a one-off piece.  Phil Hughes made positive strides in his pitch location last Thursday, and not surprisingly it resulted in his best start of the year to date.  He had another strong start last night, going mano-y-mano with David Price, so it would make sense for his pitch location to be good again, wouldn't it?

So, Ben Francisco, What Would You Say ... You Do Here?

The Yankee offense's struggles against left-handed pitching are long and well-documented.  It's not like this is the first season they've failed to produce against southpaws, it's just that the lack of production this season stands out even more due to the large absence of good right-handed regulars.  There are a litany of reasons one can give as to why the production has been so putrid, all of them perfectly legitimate and easy to understand.  But there's one particular reason that continues to eat away at me.  Basically what it boils down to is the simple fact that Ben Francisco sucks at baseball.

Game 19 Wrap-Up: NYY 4 TB 3

(There's your game-winning run.  Courtesy of Getty Images)

It's been a tough little stretch of games lately against all the left-handers, and the Yankees could have used a win against one last night just to quiet the growing concerns about their ability to compete against lefties.  They didn't have an easy one to face in reigning Al Cy Young winner (who I predicted last year) David Price, and threw an even weaker than usual lineup out there against him without Kevin Youkilis (back) and Francisco Cervelli (Stewart).  But as they've done on one more than occasion already this season, the Yanks managed to do just enough and out smallballed the Rays to steal a big road win.

Game Notes:

- It looked like it was going to be business as usual for Phil Hughes in the bottom of the 1st, and not in a good way.  He gave up a leadoff walk and follow-up double to put runners on second and third with 0 outs, and needed 32 pitches to get out of the inning.  But he did escape with only 1 run allowed, and that was big.

- Big not only because it kept the offense close against Price but also because Hughes was terrific after the 1st.  He really attacked the strike zone with his fastball and allowed just 3 measly singles through the 6th.

- Price was as dominant as you'd expect, although he didn't exactly overwhelm the lineup.  The Yanks got to him on a wild pitch third strike and a pair of singles by Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells in the top of the 4th to tie the game at 1.

- Hughes gave the lead back after a leadoff walk and pair of singles in the bottom of the 7th, but finished the inning with a 3-slider strikeout to complete his second straight good start.

- And the lineup made sure he didn't waste it, scratching the tying run across in the 8th and then taking the lead in the 9th after Joe Maddon elected to leave Price out there.  Cano started with a single, reliever Fernando Rodney walked the bases loaded, and Ichiro came through with a big 2-run single to make it 4-2 Yanks.

- Lotta strange decisions in the 9th, like Maddon sticking with Price, Maddon using his closer to intentionally walk a batter, and Joe not pinch hitting for Chris Stewart with the bases loaded.  Things got even stranger when Mo gave up a first-pitch HR to Evan Longoria in the 9th, but he shut the door there for his 6th save.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Analyzing The Yankees' Early Contact Rates

With the regular season still just three weeks old, offensive sample sizes are still too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.  For a player like Robinson Cano, we can safely assume that his hot start isn't due to BABIP luck and that he'll continue to rake moving forward, but for guys like Lyle Overbay, Francisco Cervelli, and Vernon Wells those assumptions aren't as concrete.  Their tripleslashs right now paint a positive picture, but a more accurate representation of how good they've been can be found in their early contact rates.  Regardless of sample size, contact rates tell the real, simple story of just how well a player is swinging the bat at any given time, regardless of whether those swings result in hits and RBI.  What do the contact rates for some of the Yankee hitters through the first three weeks of the season tell us about them?  Good question.

Pineda Throws Sim Game, Comeback Continues

Michael Pineda's journey back from serious shoulder surgery reached another big milestone yesterday when he threw his first simulated game at the team's MiL complex in Tampa.  Pineda has been throwing BP sessions for a few weeks now, and is slowly working his complete pitch repertoire back into the mix, but yesterday was the first time that he threw in a real serious game-type situation.

Both Bryan Hoch and Chad Jennings had the details on the session and they all sound positive.  Joe was in attendance and said he was, "happy with what I saw," calling Pineda's performance "pretty good" for a first sim game.  Pineda reportedly threw his fastball, changeup, and slider during the outing and while there was no radar gun on him (as there shouldn't be yet) the consensus seemed to be that he threw the ball very well.

There's still a ways to go and Pineda's rehab countdown still hasn't started, so he's got plenty of time to continue to work at the pace deemed best by the team.  But this does represent another important step forward for Pineda, who could become a key mid-season addition if the back end of the rotation continues to struggle.

Game 18 Wrap-Up: TB 5 NYY 1

(Courtesy of the AP)

From one AL East road trip to another, the Yankees made their way to Tampa to start a 3-game series against the awakening Rays last night, and they went in with their ace, CC Sabathia, on the mound.  They needed him too because they were facing another lefty and a good one at that in Matt Moore.  Joe tinkered with the lineup a bit again to try to find a combination that worked, but the late scratch of Kevin Youkilis due to his back tightening up on him again left the lineup even weaker than usual.  The situation couldn't have been better for Moore, and he thoroughly dominated.

Game Notes:

- Not the 1st inning CC wanted.  It was bad when he hung an 0-2 slider to Ryan Roberts for a solo HR.  It was worse when he gave up two straight hits with 2 outs to bring in another run.  And it got even worse when he followed that up by giving up a 2-run bomb to Yunel Escobar.

- Moore plowed through the lineup the first time through the order, then got touched up a bit when Robinson Cano took him deep to break up the no-hitter and shutout in the top of the 4th.

- CC worked around a 2nd-inning leadoff HBP but still didn't seem right in the innings after.  He was flexing his pitching a lot on the mound and in the dugout, and he gave up his second HR to Roberts in the bottom of the 3rd to make it a 5-1 deficit.

- Cano's homer gave the Yanks a little life, but there was really no more offense to speak of against Moore.  He abused the Yankee hitters with his fastball mix and retired the last 8 batters he faced on his way to 8 1-run innings.

- The Yanks had one decent chance in the top of the 6th after a Brett Gardner leadoff walk and Cano 1-out single.  Moore started to look shaky, but regrouped to strike out Vernon Wells and pop up Frankie to end the threat.

- Give CC credit.  He got it together after the poor start, and at least limited the damage to just 5 through 7 innings.  His velocity was actually better than last time, he just got hurt on bad location.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Adjusting To Life Without Jeter

(Courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

The Yankees, their fans, and even Derek Jeter himself have known that his days as the team's starting shortstop were numbered.  That discussion was surely had with Jeter behind closed doors during his last contract negotiation and is more than likely the reason the final year of his deal became an optional one.  That timeline got sped up some when Jeter suffered his season-ending ankle injury last October and now appears to be speeding up again after last week's announcement that Jeter had re-injured his ankle, suffering a crack in the area of the original break that will put him on the shelf until at least the All-Star break.  That revelation fell into the "disappointing but not surprising" category for many of us who questioned Jeter's progress after the initial setback and cortisone shot, and now we, like the Yankees, have to figure out the best way to move forward without The Captain's familiar #2 anywhere on the lineup card.

Vernon Wells, Master Troll

I didn't think there was any way for Vernon Wells to actually turn me into a fan of his, but yesterday, just for a brief moment, he did.  After taking a healthy dose of boos from the still butthurt Toronto crowd for the entirety of the 3-game weekend series and dismissively wanking at them with his 7-15, 2 HR, 4 R, 3 RBI performance at the plate, Wells went the extra mile by making this great leaping catch to rob Toronto of an XBH and turn a double play and then "politely" doffing his cap to the crowd.

Telling an entire fanbase that has a legitimate reason to hate you for the way your career ended in that city, even if they should have gotten over it by now, to go fuck itself like that?  That's good trollin'.  Like I said, I didn't think there was a chance in hell Vernon Wells could make me a fan of anything he did in pinstripes this season, but Vernon, you magnificent bastard, you did it.

(Gif used courtesy of Pinstriped Bible)

Youkilis' Back Also Worth Keeping An Eye On

(Strikeout or back pain?  Only Youkilis knows for sure.  Courtesy of The Boston Globe)

Andy Pettitte returned to the mound Friday night and pitched 7 strong innings, easing concerns about the back issues that caused his last start to be pushed back.  As one back problem seemingly goes away (for now), another took its place in the form of Kevin Youkilis.  Youkilis left Saturday's game early after feeling some tightness in his back, and was a scratch from yesterday afternoon's game for the first time this season.  Joe said he expects Youkilis to be back in the lineup tonight against Tampa, and as expected, Youkilis has talked down the seriousness of the issue since the moment Saturday's game ended.  In the same way that Pettitte's back is still worth keeping on the radar, Youkilis and his back should also be closely monitored over the next few weeks.

Game 17 Wrap-Up: TOR 8 NYY 4

(Courtesy of the AP)

Just as they did in their last series against Arizona, the Yankees found themselves with a chance to take an unexpected sweep against the Blue Jays yesterday.  They also found themselves with Ivan Nova on the mound, which hasn't exactly been a recipe for success in the last year plus.  Nova's questionable back-of-the-rotation mate Phil Hughes got things moving in a positive direction in his last start, and the Yankees would have loved nothing more than to see Nova follow suit.  It didn't happen, and once again neither did the sweep.

Game Notes:

- It was business as usual for Nova in the first 2 innings: inconsistent fastball command, leadoff runners on, ill-timed walks, and cheap runs scored of sacrifice hits as a result.

- The Yanks got a run back in the top of the 3rd in the most unlikely of ways, a Chris Stewart leadoff home run.  Moments like that are rare, like seeing a unicorn in a field of 4-leaf clovers, and this one made it a 2-1 game.

- Nova worked in and out of trouble without allowing any more damage through the 5th inning.  He was actually in line for the win after the Yanks got 2 runs in the 5th on a pair of bases loaded walks and another in the 6th on a Brett Gardner sac fly to knock out Toronto starter Josh Johnson, but then the bottom of the 6th happened.

- Nova gave up a leadoff walk and a double to put 2 on with nobody out to end his day, then watched as Boone Logan and David Phelps combined to give up 4 more runs to give the lead back.  It was truly putrid work from both of those two, and fitting that Nova got the extra runs tacked onto his ledger.

- Joe stuck with Phelps for the next inning and he gave up a 2-run HR to J.P. Arencibia that basically sealed the deal.  A poor starting effort by Nova and an equally poor job of relief work behind him.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Probably Not The Start Ivan Was Looking For

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

Ivan Nova was shaky at best again today, for the third time in his first three starts failing to inspire confidence that he can figure things out and improve on last year's problems.  He hasn't been good by any means, but  how bad has Ivan been in his first three starts?  You decide.

Nova's First 3 Starts in 2013: 14.2 IP, 19 H, 10 ER, 8 BB, 16 K

Nova's First 3 Starts in 2012: 19 IP, 25 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 20 K

Time to start pitching better, Ivan.  Clocks ticking...

Gotta Love Good Pitching

Sabathia Last 3 Starts- 23 IP, 18 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 19 K

Kuroda Last 2 Starts- 16.1 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K

Pettitte 3 Starts- 22.1 IP, 19 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 12 K

It ain't rocket surgery, folks.  You get good starting pitching, you win ballgames.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cool FanGraphs Feature On Heathcott & Austin

If you need a little something to do to kill time before this afternoon's game, go ahead and check out this FanGraphs interview of sorts with Yankee prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin.  David Laurila spoke with both players and their Double-A hitting coach on their respective offensive games, approaches at the plate, and what they're trying to work on, and provided some brief scouting report information on each.

The best part about this is that it's not a typical "Q&A" piece where you just get little snippets of what each player said.  The entire article is basically Heathcott and Austin talking uninterrupted about their games, swings, approaches, and it gives you a really good idea of where each guy is as a player.  The overall theme for Heathcott, from his coach to the scouting report to his own first words, was the need to improve his approach and get more at-bats.  Despite his age, he's low on reps for a Double-A player and he's already missed some time this year with a neck issue.  Austin came across as much more mature in his approach and techniques at the plate, and the constant reference to his multi-field power is very encouraging when thinking about his future as a Major League prospect.

It's not often you get in-depth discussion like this from top MiL prospects like Austin and Heathcott, who were 3rd and 5th respectively in this year's AB4AR Top 30.  Definitely a good read if you're a prospect hugger.

Game 15 Wrap-Up: NYY 9 TOR 4

(So much Pronk.  Courtesy of the AP)

There were obviously far more important things going on in the US when the Yankees and Blue Jays took the field in Canada for the first game of their 3-game weekend series.  But that didn't stop the Bombers from doing their job and it didn't stop them from putting a whooping on the new-look Jays in their first meeting of the season.  They had Andy Pettitte back on the mound after an extended period of time off to recover from some back stiffness, and they had their regular lineup back on the field against right-handed pitcher Brandon Morrow.

Game Notes:

- They didn't waste any time getting to Morrow in the top of the 1st.  A 1-out double-HBP-double sequence from Cano, Youkilis, and Hafner made it 1-0, and Vernon Wells chipped in an RBI groundout for another run.

- The Jays got 1 run back in the bottom half after a leadoff triple and RBI groundout by Melky Cabrera, but Pettitte was money after that, retiring 11 batters in a row through the 5th.  He had a lively 4-seam fastball and a nasty slider going, and struck out 4 in a row at one point.

- He got plenty more help from his offense, starting with a Travis Hafner solo HR in the top of the 3rd and ending with an errant Colby Rasmus throw home that plated 2 more and made it a 5-1 Yankee lead.

- The onslaught continued in the top of the 6th.  Lyle Overbay hit a 1-out solo HR and Francisco Cervelli hit a double to end Morrow's night, and Brett Gardner welcomed Brett Cecil to the game with an RBI triple of his own.  One more RBI groundout tacked on and it was 8-1.

- Jose Bautista crushed a 2-run HR to center in the bottom half to make it 8-3, Pettitte's only really bad mistake of the night, but he still made it through 7+ innings on just 90 pitches, showing no signs of lingering back issues.

- Vernon Wells chipped in a solo shot of his own in the 7th and Shawn Kelley sloppily finished the game for Pettitte.  Good start to the series if you're a Yankee fan.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 4/19/13

I really don't know what to say about the manhunt situation in Boston only to just say that I can't stop watching it.  I started last night, stayed up way later than I should have, and was right back online watching this morning at work.  I actually took a half-day to go back home and continue watching because I really wasn't of any value work-wise just casually faking my way through my job with one eye on my other computer screen.  It's an incredible, strange, and incredibly strange thing to watch play out in real time, like an episode of "24" come to life.  Never seen a multi-faceted law enforcement operation quite like this.  I just hope it ends soon and ends without any more American lives lost.  And now, since I'm trying to keep some kind of normal routine going, onto the links.

- On Monday, Chad Jennings of LoHud broke down the early storylines, both good and bad, and addressed what we still don't know about this team.

- On Tuesday, Dan Barbarisi of The WSJ followed the life of David Aardsma after his Yankee release and gave a really cool look into what happens for players in those situations.

- Mike Ashmore of Thunder Thoughts profiled Trenton OF Neil Medchill, an injury-plagued former quasi-prospect who's been quietly mashing under the Heathcott-Austin-Flores radar.

- Bryan Van Dusen of The Greedy Pinstripes wondered about Ichiro and what's in store for him after his slow start.  Like Bryan, I expect a bounce back, but not a big one.

- Mike Eder of IIATMS/TYA analyzed the small changes to Travis Hafner's swing mechanics that have helped him get off to his hot start.

- On Wednesday, Bryan Hoch of Bombers Beats compiled and presented the collection of at-bat songs for the currently active Yankees.  My rankings: 1) Nix, 2) Francisco, 3) Boesch.

- Martin Riggs of NoMaas noticed an interesting early trend in Brett Gardner's swing rates.

- Chris Mitchell of Pinstripe Pundits mused on Francisco Cervelli's strong start and what it might mean for Cervelli moving forward.

- On Thursday, Mike Axisa of RAB commented on the transitional period that CC Sabathia might be starting to go through.  I'm still holding out hope that his fastball will heat up with the weather, but it does look like CC is starting to lose some of his juice as he moves into his mid-30s.

- Greg Kirkland of Pinstriped Bible praised the Yankees' solid early defensive performance, which is worthwhile praise IMO.  While they'll never be considered a great defensive team, they haven't shot themselves in the foot yet.

- Hunter Farman of Yanks Go Yard listed some other back end rotation options should Nova and Hughes continue to struggle.  Probably a little early to think about that, but it never hurts to be prepared.

- On Friday, el duque of It Is High... asked a pretty simple and intelligent question about Derek Jeter's comeback and the high expectations that came with it.

- Raimundo Ortiz of Bronx Baseball Daily reminded everybody of how valuable Brett Gardner is right now.  Well-rounded piece by Raimundo, and if you still think Gardner and his defense aren't valuable, you're an idiot.

- SG of RLYW compared the production projections for Jeter and Nunez over a full season to see how much the Yankees stand to lose at shortstop while Jeter is out.

For today's Friday Jam, we're going with a little old school Boston.  Just seems right after all that's gone on this week, and I have to think the people of the Boston area are going to need to blow off some steam and relax when this asshole is caught.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

Did Phil Pitch Inside Last Night?

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

After his downright disastrous start last Saturday, I took a venture into the PITCHf/x realm on Monday and determined that, for whatever reason, Phil Hughes was not pitching inside to hitters.  He really hadn't shown stellar command of his 4-seamer in either of his first two starts, and the fact that he was working away and missing away made it much easier for hitters to look for a certain pitch in a certain area and tee off on it.  Having done that analysis just a few days ago, I couldn't very well sit by and let his start last night go un-analyzed.  So let's play another round of America's newest favorite Yankee-related game, "Did Phil Pitch Inside Last Night?"

Game 14 Wrap-Up: ARI 6 NYY 2

(D'oh!!  Courtesy of Getty Images)

If you would have asked me before the first game of the season, I don't think I would have said I ever expected to see a 7-1 stretch of ball from this squad, especially not with how slow and lifeless they looked to start the season.  But lo and behold, here we are, with the Yanks in that position and doing exactly what they need to do while their injured heal.  They've had better starting pitching, a red hot Robbie Cano, a solid collective offensive performance from the rest of the lineup, and relatively clean defense.  They had a series sweep on the line against the Diamondbacks last night, and Phil Hughes was tasked with making it happen.

Game Notes:

- Hughes got off to a great start, giving up just one single in the 1st and retiring the 2nd in order with 2 swinging strikeouts.  He was mixing pitches and he looked comfortable.

- As he's apt to do, though, Hughes gave up a leadoff HR in the top of the 3rd on a thigh-high 1st-pitch fastball down the middle.  He recovered to get out of the inning and the next 2 unscathed, and worked around runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out to do it in the 5th.

- The offense wasn't showing much early against Patrick Corbin.  They got a few walks here and a single there, but he had sat down 7 in a row and kept the Bombers scoreless through 5.

- The bad pitch bug came back to bite Phil in the top of the 6th on an atrocious 1-1 fastball.  It really was an unforgivable pitch and Martin Prado made him pay for a 2-0 D-backs lead.  Hughes bounced back again to finish that inning and go 1-2-3 in the 7th for what was, all in all, a good start.

- Robinson Cano got the Yanks back in the game with his 5th homer of the young season in the bottom of the 6th, but he couldn't come through with the bases loaded and 1 out in the 8th, instead striking out on a pitch that hit him.  Kevin Youkilis struck out too and the Yanks went to the 9th down 1.

- And there waiting to save them was Francisco Cervelli.  With 1 out in the 9th, Frankie stepped in and hit a 1-2 pitch over the plate into the left field seats to tie the game at 2.

- The game went to extras, where the Yankees were unable to come up with anything.  D-Rob handled the 10th and gave the ball to David Phelps, who wiggled out of trouble in the 11th but gave up 4 in the 12th for the loss.  Just didn't seem to have his best stuff.  Oh well.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Jeter's Ankle Re-Injured

This has all happened very quickly in the last half hour or so, but it was reported earlier by multiple Yankee beat writers that Derek Jeter returned to Charlotte today for an "unscheduled visit" with the surgeon who performed his ankle surgery last year.  A quick press conference was set up by Cash to update everyone ont he results of that visit, and via Bryan Hoch, a CT scan on the ankle revealed a "small crack" in the part of the ankle that was originally injured.

This is obviously not good news for Jeter, who has been more or less spinning his tires trying to work his way back after suffering a setback late in spring camp.  No word yet on how much longer this sets Jeter's return schedule back.. More on this story as it becomes available.

** UPDATE 3:37 PM- Via Mark Feinsand, Jeter's doctor told Cash that 95% of people who suffer this injury come back "just fine."  I guess that's a little bit of good news. **

** UPDATE 3:39 PM- Via Andrew Marchand, Cash said Jeter is expected to be out until "at least after the All-Star break.  Bummer. **

Anatomy Of An Unexpected Comeback

Things weren't looking good for the boys last night.  They were down 3-0 heading into the bottom of the 7th inning and hadn't shown many signs of offensive life against Arizona starter Wade Miley.  He had cruised through 6 innings of work on just 77 pitches, the kind of efficiency that few Yankee starters have had this season, mainly on the strength of his 2-seamer.  The Yankee lineup played into Miley's game plan by swinging early in a lot of at-bats, and the fact that Miley hadn't had to go to his curveball and changeup much didn't bode well for the Bombers as they opened the bottom of the 7th with the weakest part of their lineup.  But as the old saying goes, that's why they play the game and the game the Yankees played in that half inning was the kind of smart, clutch, winning baseball that they were unable to play in so many close games last season.

Brett Gardner Still Doesn't Have A Stolen Base This Year

Really, he doesn't.  And I'm not trying to imply that it's a bad thing.  Gardner has come up with some big hits early on, he's popped 2 HR, and he's starting to boost that tripleslash up to a respectable leadoff man level.  I just find it incredible that the fastest guy on the team and one of the top base stealing threats in all of baseball doesn't have a single one in 13 games.  For all the talk about how the Yankees were going to have to play small ball and run more this season to manufacture runs, they have just 3 SB as a team right now, one of them by Chris Stewart.  That's right, THE Chris Stewart is currently the team leader in SB and Brett Gardner is not.  Inconceivable!

Run, Brett.  Run!

Game 13 Wrap-Up: NYY 4 ARI 3

(PROOOOOOOONK!!!!  Courtesy of the AP)

It was back to the lefties for the Yankees last night, yay!!(not yay)!  NL ROY runner-up Wade Miley was on the mound for the D-backs and Joe countered with an only slightly modified version of his last "vs. LHP" lineup.  He had Vernon Wells in the 2-spot again, Ben Francisco 5th at DH, and Brennan Boesch in right field.  He also had the hot-out-of-the-gate Francisco Cervelli hitting 6th ahead of Boesch.  The Yankees also had their own lefty on the mound to counter Miley, the same lefty who'd allowed just 1 ER over 15 IP in his last two starts.

Game Notes:

- Unfortunately for the Yanks, CC Sabathia was not nearly as sharp to start as he was in those two outings.  He struggled to throw his fastball for strikes in the top of the 1st, and left a couple of changeups up, one of which Paul Goldschmidt hit for a 2-run HR.

- CC settled down after that rough 1st, retiring 9 of the next 10 batters he faced to get through the 4th inning.  He was getting a few more outs in the air than usual, but his slider and changeup were working.

- Miley was absolutely brilliant through 6 innings, giving up just 2 hits and a walk and keeping the Yankee hitters on their toes.  He was at just 77 pitches after 6, and looked ready to go the distance.

- CC gave up another run on a leadoff triple and a sac fly in the 5th and that was all Arizona would get as he went 8 strong for the second straight start.  His last 2 innings might have been his best of the game.

- The stage was set for a comeback, and a comeback the Yankees got in the bottom of the 7th, once again with 2 outs.  Boesch doubled to put runners on 2nd and 3rd, Eduardo Nunez drew a walk to load the bases, Jayson Nix drew one to force in a run and chase Miley from the game, and Brett Gardner came through with  a HUGE 2-run single off lefty Tony Sipp to complete the comeback and tie the game at 3.

- After the bottom of the order did the heavy lifting in the 7th, Travis Hafner gave New York the lead with a 2-out, pinch hit solo HR.  Brilliant use of the bench by Joe pays off in a big spot and Mo shuts it down for the save.