April 27, 2007


Pitching has Yankees in a tailspin (Bob Klapisch, 4/27/07, ESPN.com)

So where does the blame lay? Pick your poison. There's been assembly line of starting pitchers -- nine different ones in 21 games -- none of whom have come close to matching Josh Beckett's 5-0 start. In fact, Yankee starters are averaging just 4.9 innings per appearance, worst in the majors. No wonder the Yankees' bullpen has four relievers on a pace for more than 100 games this year.

No one counted on such a wide gulf between the blueprint and reality. Wang has been hurt, and Pettitte, with just one win to show for his 1.78 ERA, actually has had to pitch out of the bullpen twice, a clear sign of Torre's distress. The manager's decision to use Rivera in the eighth inning last Friday at Fenway also stunned observers.

"Five outs? In April?" one executive asked incredulously. Of course, Torre couldn't have known Rivera would fail so completely. He blew a 5-2 lead and was clocked at just 88 mph, a 5-mph drop-off from his usual velocity. Even more significantly, Rivera's cutter was missing its last-second darting action. That's what really troubles Yankee officials: Rivera's stuff was diminished following three games of inactivity, when the Yankees were sweeping the Indians and the closer was reluctant to take the ball.

Could Rivera be trying to nurse his arm through an injury? The Yankees don't dare think that way, especially since he threw with more authority last Monday against Tampa Bay. Still, if Rivera can't be counted on to dominate (of the nine swings the Red Sox took last Friday, they missed just once) the Yankee dynasty may be closer to collapse than at any time since the early '90s.

Of course, all of this could change quickly. Wang and Pettitte are both capable of beating the Sox and changing the chemistry in the East in the next three days. And it's also possible rookie Phil Hughes could evolve quickly. But long-range issues linger. No one knows if Mike Mussina will regain the 5-mph on his fastball that's so far been missing. At 85 mph, "he hasn't got enough" said one American League scout. Indeed, Mussina's other pitches, particularly his curveball, are all dramatically compromised unless he's throwing harder. The Yankees will find out on Wednesday, when Mussina is scheduled to come off the disabled list.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have all but given up on Carl Pavano, who continues to insist there's a "grabbing" sensation in his right forearm. Pavano's only remaining ally in the organization is general manager Brian Cashman, who's on the hook for the $40 million he's invested in the pitcher. Otherwise, Pavano is an invisible man in the clubhouse. [...]

Of all the mistakes the Yankees' hierarchy has made in recent months -- underbidding on Daisuke Matsuzaka, counting on Pavano to return to the rotation, failing to acquire a run-producer at first base -- the $20 million invested in Igawa through 2011 could turn out to be one of the most costly.

That's no small wound, now that Cashman is trying to run the organization with a business plan.

In other words, it's pretty easy to assign blame: it's down to a series of awful judgments by Mr. Cashman.

Tracy Ringolsby's weekly baseball notes package (TRACY RINGOLSBY, April 26, 2007)

Right-hander Philip Hughes, the Yankees' first-round draft pick in 2004, became the first No. 1 pick to make it to the majors with the Yankees since shortstop Derek Jeter, who was their No. 1 in 1992.

Unable to develop young players of their own, they've bought old ones until it hurts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2007 2:56 PM

Ah, April, the time of the year when Sawx fans over-rate their own team, and under-rate the Yankees. You'd think expectations would adjust after years of the same old predictions, but then Sawx Nation bears about as close a relation to reality as the Democratic party (and come to think of it, there is a big overlap in the two.)

Last year at this time, everyone in the "Nation" thought A-gon was a slick-fielding, good hitting, ss, and that the Sawx had the best fielding infield in history.

Fortunately for the Yanks, all they have to do is win 95 games to take a weak AL East, and they should get that no problem.

And hey, at least it's not like he traded a rookie of the year ss and a talented young pitcher for Josh Beckett. Or, say, a talented reliever and good young catcher for Doug "It was ketchup on the Sawk" Mirabelli.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 27, 2007 3:33 PM

No one's ever accused Alex of being a decent hitter, but he's a terrific fielder. The Sox were clearly the superior team until they got hit by injuries. In particular, replacing Varitek with a hitter instead of a fielder was a mistake. But they get younger and better while the Yanks get older and detriorate. The worry at this point is less that the Yankees will have a bad year this year but that they've set themselves up for a bad stretch because so devoid of young talent.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2007 7:21 PM