Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yanks win third straight series, seventh of eight post-Break

The Yankees came out of the All-Star Break firing on all cylinders, winning their first eight games and 11 of their first 13. After losing three of four to the White Sox in Chicago, the Yanks have gone back to their winning ways, taking eight of nine against Toronto and Boston, including a seven-game winning streak. Overall, they stand 20-6 since the Midsummer Classic and have gained 8.5 games on the Red Sox, who led the AL East by three games before the break.

The runs came early in the series opener, which Toronto took by a 5-4 score. The Sergio Mitre-Mark Rzepczynski pitching matchup played a large part in that, as Mitre allowed five runs (three earned) in five innings and has yet to allow less than three earned runs in any of his five starts this season. Rzepczynski allowed four earned in three-plus innings, but the Jays bullpen shut down the Yankees after he was pulled, as a fifth-inning Lyle Overbay home run proved to be the decisive blow.

Game two saw the Yankees hit back-to-back home runs for the fourth time in the last eight days. With the Yankees trailing 4-3 heading into the eighth, Hideki Matsui led off the inning with a home run to right field off Jesse Carlson and Jorge Posada followed with one of his own to put New York up 5-4. This came just a day after Robinson Cano and Jerry Hairston Jr. went back-to-back in the first game of the series, while Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira did it twice the week before. The Yankees would add two more runs to give Mariano Rivera a three-run cushion for the save, as Rivera allowed an Edwin Encarnacion solo shot but still picked up his 33rd save of the season.

The Yankees would win the series in walk-off fashion in game three, their 11th win in their final at-bat this season. It seems like every night there's a new hero for this well-balanced offensive juggernaut, and yesterday it was Robinson Cano coming up big in the bottom of the 11th inning. After Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and Posada singled him to second, Cano drove one off the base of the wall in right field to plate Rodriguez with the winning run and give the Yankees a 4-3 victory.

A.J. Burnett faced his former team for the third time this season, allowing 10 hits and three earned runs over six innings, walking two and striking out seven. Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Romero also allowed three runs in six innings, and both bullpens held for the next few innings. Chad Gaudin picked up his first win as a Yankee with two scoreless innings in relief, and will be counted on for greater contributions in the near future.

With Joba Chamberlain closing in on his organization-imposed innings limit, the 23-year-old will make his next start on seven days' rest with Gaudin taking Joba's spot in the rotation on Sunday, pushing the young phenom back to Wednesday against Oakland. Chamberlain, who threw just 112.1 professional innings in 2007 and 100.1 in 2008, is already over 120 innings this season and the Yankees would like to keep that number as low as possible heading to the playoffs. After three great starts after the break, Joba struggled against Boston and Toronto, allowing 11 hits, nine walks and eight earned runs in 11 innings.

The Yankees are right to be cautious with their future ace because of the way he has been handled (read: babied) to this point in his career, especially since he will be a big part of their playoff rotation. Manager Joe Girardi was quoted as saying, "All hands on deck," when asked if Chamberlain would be fully available for use in the postseason

There have been plenty of horror stories of young pitchers being overworked. Last season, the Reds' Edinson Volquez threw 196 major-league innings, more than twice what he had logged over the previous three seasons in the big leagues. After an injury-plagued campaign this year, Volquez will undergo Tommy John surgery. Kerry Wood had Tommy John surgery in 1999 after throwing 166.2 innings as a rookie, and Burnett threw more than 375 innings before his 25th birthday before going under the knife. Francisco Liriano lost the 2007 season to Tommy John after throwing 121 innings at age 23, eerily close to Joba's age and workload this season. And if the Yankees plan on using Joba full-throttle in the playoffs, this is the right move for the next seven weeks.

As for Gaudin, he has had sporadic success as a starter in the past but has been inconsistent. His control issues prevent him from lasting deep into games, as he reached the seventh inning in just six of his 19 starts with San Diego. He posted a 5.13 ERA with the Padres before being acquired by the Yankees, leaving spacious Petco Park for homer-happy Yankee Stadium.

Hopefully a new start will rejuvenate Gaudin, who has 108 strikeouts in 107.1 innings this season. With the Yankees trotting him and Mitre out twice every six games the rest of the way, one of them has to step up if the Yankees are to keep Boston at bay. The Red Sox got back on track taking the first three from the Tigers at Fenway, closing the gap in the division to 5.5 games.


  1. Interesting insights to pitching limits. Out here on Long Island, the general reaction to the Joba rules has been negative. Pundits (Mike Francesica, Joe and Evan midday show) have failed to cite (as you have) recent examples of young talent thwarted by overwork and injury; instead focusing, blindly perhaps, on those pitchers who have thrived under an extensive workload. They are proponents of Nolan Ryan and his old school philosophy of abolishing pitching limits for minor league prospects. Ryan, a work horse in his playing days, considers pitching limits child’s play. And thinks coddling the pitchers only leads to delayed success. I tend to lean this way.
    If Joba is taken out of the rotation, even if his starts are stretched apart, who knows how his arm will rebound to the rigors of playoff baseball. Remember, this year it took him a few months to find his stride. His velocity in the spring and early summer was down, his stuff less electric. Only after the All Star break have we seen the Joba of yesteryear – that dominating blend of brute power and crafty precision. Why stymie his development in the crucial final stretch of the season for fear of injury? Mr. Ryan would not be happy.

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  3. On the surface, this post implies that I am a fan of the way teams treat pitchers in baseball today, however my acceptance of the innings limit on Joba is purely situational.

    Pitchers should not be coddled like they are in the minors, but the money some of these pitchers are making before they even throw a major league pitch is ridiculous and teams feel justified imposing innings limits to "protect their investments."

    If the Nationals ever sign Stephen Strasburg, imagine how careful they are going to be with him. But in the long run teams are preventing some of these guys from fully developing. Then if they are "mishandled" when they hit the big leagues, it turns into a Volquez or Liriano situation. If these pitchers were allowed to lengthen their arms out in the minor leagues, they would be much more prepared to handle the rigors of a 162-game major league season.

    In Joba's case, the damage has already been done. He pitched great on regular rest, but then his next two starts (on different rest) were struggles. The argument boils down to present versus future.

    For Joba's future, this innings limit is a prudent move because of how he has been handled up to this point. His arm has not been sufficiently prepared to handle 162 games and potentially 19 more. If he pitched the rest of this season through on regular rest, would he fatigue by the time playoffs came around?

    On the other hand, if he doesn't throw as often for the final seven weeks of the season and is pushed back into a regular routine come playoff time, will that do more damage to his arm than letting him continue to pitch regularly?