Monday, April 15, 2013

Lineup Vs. Lefties Still Needs Work

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Despite having two consecutive games rained out in the middle of a major offensive outburst, the Yankees didn't miss too many beats this past weekend against Baltimore, winning the series and continuing the positive trends that we started to see last week.  Their top two starting pitchers each threw their best games to date on Friday and Sunday, combining to allow just 1 ER in 17 IP; they continued to get production from their collection of new guys as their injured lineup core mends; Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis continued to pace the middle of the lineup with patience and power, and even Brett Gardner started to show some signs of life at the plate.

There is still one key area on this team that needs to be addressed, however, and that's the lineup against lefties.  It hasn't gotten much attention lately as the Yankees have faced a long string of right-handed pitchers, but against Wei-Yin Chen last night Joe made wholesale changes to his lineup card to try and generate some more offense and, save for one inning, his changes didn't lead to much.

Hughes' Inability To Pitch Inside Isn't Doing Him Any Favors

(Pretty sure it's not the ball, buddy.  Courtesy of the AP)

For a season that's only two weeks and eleven games old, it's already been an incredibly trying one for Phil Hughes.  After losing a lot of ST time due to another back issue, Hughes returned to the rotation a week ago Saturday and got touched up pretty good by the Tigers.  He made his second start this past Saturday, in place of Andy Pettitte after being skipped over for the top of the rotation after the rain-outs in Cleveland, and turned in an even worse performance, one of the worst outings of his career.

After picking out the flaws in Hughes' approach in 2012, I thought he would be able to turn things around this season if he improved his fastball command and cut down on his early-count fastball usage in favor of his offspeed stuff to keep hitters off balance.  Not only has he failed to do that through his first two starts of this season, he added another frustrating wrinkle to his game on Saturday when he failed to pitch inside effectively to either right or left-handed hitters.

Andy's Back Acting Up, Next Start Pushed Back To Friday

(Courtesy of the AP)

While the inclement weather in Cleveland did allow the Yankees to move back to the top of their starting rotation this weekend, they still ended up having to do some juggling when Andy Pettitte's back started bothering him.  On Friday it was announced that his back had stiffened up on him during his last start and he was pushed back to Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, and then yesterday afternoon Joe announced that Andy will be moved back to Friday of this week to make sure his back has all the time it needs to get right.

For a rotation that started the season with health concerns at the top in CC and the bottom in Phil, this minor setback with Andy comes as a bummer.  He had been the team's best starter through the first two rotation turns, and the importance of keeping older starters like him and Kuroda healthy this season has been repeatedly stated.  It's for that exact reason that this decision by the Yankees is the right one.  The off-day today allows them to push Andy back a few extra days without having to use a 6th starter and without having to juggle any other pitchers around.  Using those few extra days to make sure this back issue stays a minor one is the smart move to keep Andy feeling good and pitching well in the long run.

Game 11 Wrap-Up: NYY 3 BAL 0

(#PowerSwing.  Courtesy of the AP)

The recent offensive turnaround may or may not have been triggered by a long run of games against right-handed pitchers, which gave Joe the opportunity to establish some consistency in his lineup cards.  The offense was held relatively in check in Saturday afternoon's loss and got juggled against lefty Wei-Yin Chen in last night's series finale.  Ben Francisco was back in the DH spot, Brennan Boesch got the start in right field over Ichiro, and Joe put Vernon Wells in the 2-spot in the lineup to bump Robbie and Youkilis back down to their regular spots.  How did it all work out?  Just well enough to win with the way Hiroki was dealing.

Game Notes:

- Both teams were swinging early and often through 2 innings, helping to keep the game scoreless and Hiroki Kuroda's pitch count down.  He was working the sinker and splitter, and looked to have good command of both pitches early.

- Kuroda gave up a hit here and there, but he was fully in control through 5.  He ended the 3rd with a perfectly-induced double play ball and got big strikeouts to finish off the 4th and 5th.

- Boesch was the Yankee offense early, with 2 singles in his first 2 at-bats.  He came around to score on a single and a pair of sac flies by Overbay and Jayson Nix to smallball the first run onto the scoreboard.

- In a classic "who woulda thunk it?" moment, the inning went from a small victory to a big one when Brett Gardner took the first pitch he saw in his 2-out AB and hit it off the upper deck section of the foul pole in right for a 2-run homer and a 3-0 Yankee lead.

- 3 runs was all Kuroda would need as he breezed through the next 2 innings with more sliders and only 1 baserunner, and then worked around a pair of errors in the 8th and 9th to close out his own shutout.

- Mo was up in the 'pen in the 9th but was never needed.  Kuroda deserved to get the chance to finish the game and Joe let him do it.