Friday, April 27, 2007
The debut of Phil Hughes in the majors… could have gone better. He pitched only 4⅓ innings, gave up four runs, and got the loss.
Holding Hughes to a pitch limit of 90 was pretty much a guarantee that the Yankees weren’t going to give the bullpen any rest tonight, but with slightly better luck, Hughes’ debut might have turned into a dominant performance.
Hughes displayed good control, though he got pinched a little in the strike zone—something you’d generally expect for a rookie. He used the changeup a little too much, I think, but perhaps that was an attempt to show management that he was working on the pitch they wanted him to focus on. And it’s not a bad pitch, but it’s not the pitch he should rely on.
Despite getting squeezed, Hughes walked just one batter, but he gave up seven hits—six singles and a double—that was perhaps a function of not getting calls on the corners. And he also struck out five batters, an indication of how good his stuff is.
What I saw was a pitcher who is ready for The Show, but probably not ready to dominate. But he looks like he could be a good pitcher right now, and I’d like to see the Yankees keep him up—give him Karstens’ spot when Mussina comes back, and Igawa’s spot when Pavano’s back.
All that aside, the bottom line last night was that the Yankees lost. They lost because they were unable to hit A.J. Burnett, who gave up just four singles, though he walked four other batters.
And so the Yanks face Boston tonight with a six-game losing streak, their first since 2005. Interestingly, the last four times they’ve had a 6-game losing streak, they made the playoffs, but two of those times were as a Wild Card, and only once did they win a pennant, and ultimately the World Championship. And that year was 2000, when the losing streak was at the end of the season.
So does this mean that the Yankees are doomed? Hardly. Even a sweep this weekend doesn’t doom them, though it makes the road back incredibly difficult. But this team, if they get solid pitching, is probably more capable than any other of stringing off a double-digit winning streak, that would essentially erase the losing streak—much like the Yankees’ 10-game winning streak brought them back into contention in ‘05.
Problem is, they haven’t gotten that pitching this year. That, and Joe Torre’s inept handling of his relievers is wearing the bullpen out.
But it will get better. While I don’t expect Torre to learn that using four relievers to get five outs is almost as bad as using four pitchers to get 15 outs, the pitching staff that they’ll have going forward is going to be better than what they’ve had so far—especially if Hughes stays and becomes more effective.
But if the pitching doesn’t work out, and the Yankees miss the postseason because of it, who is really to blame? Can blame even be leveled?
Some have wondered why the Yankees didn’t get Matsuzaka. The answer is simple: the Red Sox bid an irrationally high amount to win his negotiating rights, with the intention of either getting him at a bargain rate or at least keeping him in Japan another year. Sure, the Yankees could have bid $55 million, but when they submitted their bid, nobody expected the winner to pay much more than $25 million. $40 million sounded irrational. $51 million was ridiculous.
So why not Zito? Well, Zito’s off to a decent start with San Francisco, but if you take him out of the NL and put him in the AL East, he very likely would be below average, and not going very deep into games at that. Ted Lilly’s having a good start and pitching deep in games for the Cubs, as is Gil Meche for the Royals. Both are performing well above their established level, neither is likely to be anywhere near as good the rest of the way.
What about keeping Randy Johnson? Aside from the fact that Johnson didn’t pitch at all until this week, in that start he went just 5 innings, gave up six runs, and allowed 10 baserunners. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The guys that they would have signed had they been agressive on the free agent market were both too expensive and aren’t likely to be better than what they have this year. They guys that they could have signed who have been good so far are also not likely to keep it up, and and pitching so much better than they could have reasonably expected in the offseason that it’s foolish to criticize them for passing—they would have been criticized for signing them in the first place. And hanging onto Randy Johnson wouldn’t have helped them one bit so far, and isn’t that likely to be a factor for them the rest of the year.
If they flop, they flop. I don’t see how you can look back and say they should have done things differently in the offseason. The bullpen really is good enough, the lineup is more than good enough, and the rotation should be good enough when all is said and done. If they could sign Roger Clemens, that would solve a lot of problems, but at this point, his staying retired looks more likely than their signing him.
The Yanks can survive the worst-case scenario in Boston this weekend. It’s still April. But despite the injuries, they are better right now than they’re playing right now. They could have won all three games in Boston last weekend. The matchups are better for them this weekend. They absolutely, positively, need to take advantage of them.
Oh yeah, and by the way: Mariano Rivera hasn’t pitched since Monday, and only two innings since blowing the save in Oakland twelve days ago. But I’m sure he’ll be really sharp whenever they need to go to him. Yup. Brilliant bullpen management there.
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