Monday, April 26, 2010

Pick it up Javy!

It's hard to find many things wrong with a 12-6 team, but Javier Vazquez's issues are starting to become worrisome for Yankees fans.

In my last Yankees post I preached patience with Vazquez, who seemed like he needed to get his arm stretched like many starting pitchers early in the season. But after his last start against the Angels, I noticed another trend.

Vazquez is fine the first time through an opponent's order. In his four starts, no team has scored on him through their first nine batters. But it seems like hitters need just that initial at-bat to figure out Vazquez, who has struggled the second and third time through the order, if he even makes it that far.

Against Tampa Bay, it was a five-run fourth inning. In his first start against the Angels, it was leadoff man Erick Aybar and second hitter Bobby Abreu driving in runs in their second at-bats.

Vazquez made it to the 17th batter against a pedestrian Athletics lineup before allowing a home run to Travis Buck (Travis Buck?) and followed that up with another gopher ball the next inning to Kurt Suzuki. And in his most recent start with the Angels, Bobby Abreu's third-inning home run led to a four-run fourth for the struggling Yankees pitcher.

A few starts ago, Vazquez admitted that there are no holes in American League lineups like in the National League. After his most recent start, it's his fastball location that needs work.

After walking a career-low 44 batters in almost 220 innings last season, Vazquez has already issued 11 free passes in 20 innings this season. With the Yanks off to a good start there is little pressure on Vazquez, who was brought to New York to be the team's fourth starter, throw 200-plus innings and win 15 games.

Those goals are still within reach if he can turn things around but if he can't, you will hear plenty of rumblings to send him into long relief and give his innings to current eighth-inning man Joba Chamberlain. Either way, I don't see Vazquez's struggles as a big issue for the Yankees.

Phil Hughes has looked great so far and has not been afraid to challenge hitters with his excellent stuff. He could easily replace Vazquez and step into the fourth starter's role if needed, and maybe Javy should look at what Hughes has been able to do so far.

Either way, the Yankees playoff rotation is unlikely to include Vazquez unless he catches fire late in the season. If he struggles all year, all the Yanks lost was a fan favorite in Melky Cabrera, who also happens to be just a slightly above-average outfielder. Low-risk, high-reward. Too bad all we've seen so far is the risk.

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