Tagged: Hiroki Kuroda

Makin’ Moves

Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.

Ichiro Joins the Yankees

Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.  

Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.

The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.

The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.

To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.

Right on, Dave.

In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.

This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.

Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.

After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.

The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.

Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks

On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.

Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.

Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.

Thank God we live in the year 2012.

Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.

Obviously that’s not the case this year.

Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it.  As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.

There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.

A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.

“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”

Rivalry Renewed

The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.

The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners.  Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA). 

Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.

MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:

Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?

Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.

So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.

Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.

Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.

Some Encouragement from Sandberg

As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.

The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for.  I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).

Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.

After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.     

“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.

“Yes,” I answered.

Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”

I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”

Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”

The Examiner,” I replied.

“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.

 “That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”

I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”

Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.

I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.

Hopefully to a League title.

Yankees Are Swinging, Red Sox Must Rise

This week Spiderman once again webbed his way onto the big screen and into our hearts. In just about two weeks’ time, Batman will yet again make everyone say “oooohhhh” and “aaaahhhh” when “The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters.

While Spiderman and Batman will be squaring off against their sworn enemies – the Lizard and Bane, respectively – the Yankees will do battle this weekend against their primary foes, the Boston Red Sox.  The Yanks will travel into enemy territory tomorrow and play four games (including a doubleheader on Saturday; making up a rainout from April 22) in three days.

The Yankees are standing about as tall as the caped crusader on top of a Gotham City skyscraper at press time; 49-32, in first place, five games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. The Red Sox on the other hand look more like a defeated Joker, at 42-40 in fourth place in the east.

Tomorrow night Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA) will put on his cape and cowl, to do battle with one of New York’s fiercest adversaries, Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA). Kuroda has only faced the Red Sox once in his career – and it was a losing effort – but did not see many of Boston’s current hitters in that game.

However, two hitters Kuroda must look out for are Adrian Gonzalez and Cody Ross. Gonzalez is .261 lifetime off Kuroda with two homers and five RBIs. Ross is just as pesky, as he is .263 in his career with a homer and four RBIs against him.

Beckett has to watch out for Robinson Cano, who currently owns a .302 lifetime BA against him with two homers and 10 RBIs. Curtis Granderson has also punished Beckett in the past, hitting .241 with three home runs and four RBIs.

If they want to escape tomorrow night with a win, the Yanks have to step up. Despite his poor numbers on Cano and Granderson, last year Beckett puzzled the Yankees, going 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA against the Bronx Bombers.

Although it hasn’t been formally announced yet, Phil Hughes (9-6, 4.29 ERA) will throw on his cape and start one of Saturday’s games, coming off his spectacular winning performance on Sunday over the Chicago White Sox. Hughes will likely go head-to-head with Franklin Morales (1-1, 2.50 ERA).

Hughes is in a groove right now, but does not have good career numbers against Boston (2-5, 6.65 ERA).  He must be on the lookout for David Ortiz, who yesterday clubbed his 400th career home run. Two of those 400 came off Hughes, and he’s knocked in seven runs off the 26-year-old righty – all while possessing a lifetime .471 batting average against him.

The Yankees haven’t seen much of Morales, but Russell Martin does have an RBI on him.

Freddy Garcia (2-2, 5.94 ERA), almost playing the role of Robin filling in for Batman – helping fill the rotation void for a hobbled Andy Pettitte and an injured CC Sabathia – is slated to start the other game of the doubleheader.

Last time Garcia toed the rubber in Boston, it wasn’t pretty. At least not to begin with.

The Red Sox put a hurting on him, lighting him up for five runs in just 1.2 innings pitched on April 21. With some super-duper heroics, the Yankee offense bailed him out though, rallying from a huge deficit to beat the Red Sox, 15-9.

Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.42 ERA) started Boston’s losing effort on April 21, and will probably face Garcia again. Doubront has to beware of Granderson: he homered off Doubront last time and drove in two.

Who knows? Maybe Garcia vs. Doubront II will be another roller coaster ride; one that would put butterflies in the stomach of the Incredible Hulk.

Finally on Sunday night Ivan Nova (9-3, 4.05 ERA) will suit up to take on lefty Jon Lester (5-5, 4.33 ERA). Nova will look to get back in the win column on the road, having suffered his first loss away from Yankee Stadium since June 3, 2011 on Tuesday at the Rays.

No Red Sox hitter has numbers against Nova that jump out, except Dustin Pedroia, who has a .600 BA vs. the 25-year-old righty and two RBIs. Lucky for Nova and the Yanks, Pedroia has been ruled out for this weekend’s series with a thumb injury.

Lester meanwhile needs to be careful with several Yankee hitters. Granderson, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira have each homered off Lester in their respective careers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jayson Nix in the lineup Sunday, as he sports a .333 average against Lester with two homers and five RBIs.

When facing the Yankees Lester must feel like Lex Luthor, trying to beat Superman. But his biggest form of kryptonite has to be the Yankee third baseman.

Alex Rodriguez has three homers lifetime off Boston’s southpaw, with six RBIs. A-Rod has a chance to add to that total and hurt the Red Sox ace even more to close out the series.

Like Spiderman, the Yankees are swinging. But the Red Sox need to be more like Batman – and rise – if they wish to keep their postseason hopes and dreams alive.

And this weekend could be their only chance.

If the Yankees were to unleash a Boston Massacre, and sweep these four games in three days, it would put the Red Sox in a position where they would need to do nothing but win after the All-Star break.

The Riot Act

Yesterday night the Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak, beating the Kansas City Royals, 3-2. In typical fashion as of late, the Yanks didn’t make it easy on themselves, putting the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Yankee Universe held its collective breath as Rafael Soriano got Alcides Escobar to ground out, just missing an infield single that would have tied the game.

Yes the Bronx Bombers won, but claimed victory in the ugliest way ever: on a wing and a prayer.

Lately the team has struggled overwhelmingly on offense, getting outscored 36-18 over the last week. The Yankees have lost seven of their last 10, good enough for fourth place in the American League East. Barely keeping their heads above water, the Bronx Broskis are 22-21, just a game above .500.

It’s not as if the other teams are necessarily winning these games. On the contrary, the Yankees are losing them; beating themselves by not cashing in on chances they create. The team seems to fail at every opportunity with runners in scoring position; in fact, in Monday night’s 6-0 loss to the Royals, they went 0-for-13 with RISP.

Plenty of players need to be held accountable for this recent string of sucktitude.

Curtis Granderson

 

It’s pretty unfortunate when arguably the best hitter on the team can be read the riot act.

On Saturday the Yankees trailed the Reds 6-3 entering the ninth inning. They fought back however, pulling to within one run with the tying run on third base and two outs. Curtis Granderson worked the count to 3-0, but made some of the worst decisions a hitter could make as the at-bat progressed.

On 3-0, he swung, fouling the ball off to the right. Still in good shape on 3-1, he check-swung at an inside breaking ball that dipped out of the strike zone, a pitch that would have undoubtedly been called ball four to keep the line moving.

Then, with a full count, Granderson beat the payoff pitch into the dirt, grounding out to first to end the game. Yankees lost 6-5, the resilient magic running out of power at the last minute.

Right after I watched them lose, one thought entered my mind: “In 2009, they would have won this game.” Not only that, but it killed me to see Granderson not take a pitch, being in a hitter’s count for basically the entire at-bat.

Granderson is batting .250 for the year, and his BA with runners in scoring position is just .219. He is still leading the team with 13 home runs for the year but hasn’t homered in a week, cementing the Yankees’ slumping status.

 

Mark Teixeira

The Yankees’ first baseman has been battling some sort of bronchial infection, and he did not start this past weekend’s interleague series vs. the Cincinnati Reds – a series the Yankees lost, two games to one.    

Teixeira has only collected 35 hits in 153 at-bats this year, with five homers and 20 RBIs.

I don’t want to say Teixeira is on the decline, because he’s hit 30 or more home runs every year he’s been in the majors since his rookie year – and even in his rookie year (2003) he hit 26. Yet, if Teixeira isn’t hitting a home run, he only seems to pound the ball into the infield shift for a groundout.

Last night he got lucky, weakly squeaking a hit through the shift for a single.

Right now Teixeira’ batting average is at a miniscule .229, his on-base percentage is just .281 and his slugging percentage is only .386. In key spots, when Teixeira is up, the Yankees have to be cringing.

It’s obvious an adjustment has to be made. Whether it’s his batting stance, his swing, his bronchial ailment, or a mental block, Teixeira has become a hitter that the Yanks can’t depend on at the moment.

 

Russell Martin

There’s an old saying about catchers: if a team has a catcher that can hit, it’s a bonus. For a long time the Yankees had that bonus in Jorge Posada, and it continued for them when they signed Russell Martin.

Lately however, Martin must have forgotten that he is a hitter because he’s on the interstate at .179, with only 19 hits in 106 at-bats. He’s smacked four homers and has driven in 10 runs.

Martin isn’t having the worst offensive season; it could be worse. But like the rest of the team, he is not coming up with hits when chances are created. His groundball percentage is 70% with runners in scoring position for the year.

What also puzzles me is that Martin is known for calling a good game behind the plate, yet when the ace of the staff pitches, he is on the bench. Chris Stewart is CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, and unlike Martin, Stewart poses virtually no offensive threat, whatsoever.

In a nutshell, not only is he almost as useful as a screen door in a submarine at the plate, he can’t catch when the Yankees’ number one pitcher is on the mound.

 

Alex Rodriguez

On Monday night Alex Rodriguez struck out in the ninth inning, getting blasted by a deafening chorus of boos and jeers as he walked back to the dugout. After the game the press questioned him about getting booed at home. Like a true professional however, he owed up to it, saying he deserved it for his lack of production.

What’s scary about A-Rod’s slump is that he has stated his physical condition is fine. Usually when he struggles offensively there is more to it; a lingering injury or some soreness.

But it’s not the case.

He was recently quoted as saying that he’s fine physically, capable of hitting for power. Obviously that statement has not exactly gone well-founded, considering he hasn’t hit a home run since May 6. With RISP, A-Rod is scuffling just as the rest of the team is, with a groundball percentage of roughly 61 and a .154 average.

Not so good for a player who claims to be in perfect health.

 

Hiroki Kuroda

The 37-year-old starter certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had anticipated, as he currently leads the majors in losses with six. His latest defeat came on Monday when he surrendered three earned runs on seven hits to the Royals, striking out four and walking three in 5.1 innings pitched.

Although the stat column for his last start doesn’t sound incredibly poor, Kuroda was absolutely shelled on May 16 in Toronto. The Blue Jays lit him up for seven earned runs on eight hits in just five innings. Kuroda served up three home runs in the loss, and is now 1-3 over his last four starts.

What I can’t understand is his position in the rotation. Clearly he isn’t pitching up to his potential, and it’s costing the Yankees. Maybe a move from the number two slot in the starting five could help him; perhaps Joe Girardi should push him down to the fourth hole and see how it goes.

 Either way, something needs to be done.

 

Phil Hughes

In 2010 Phil Hughes won 18 games, pitching extraordinarily well throughout the first half of the season. After the All-star break he seemed to just fall off the face of the earth; he hasn’t been the same, consistent pitcher since the first half of ’10.

Lately Hughes has been making a case to change that, winning three of his last five games – but those three wins on his ledger are deceptive.

Hughes beat the Seattle Mariners on May 12, a team that has been no-hit this year. He then followed it by beating the Royals, a team eight games below .500, twice. In between he was beaten by the Blue Jays and also lost to the Orioles – two of the three teams in front of the Yankees in the East.

Last night Hughes gave up a home run to Jeff Francoeur and is now the first pitcher since Runelvys Hernandez (2006) to give up at least one homer in each of his first nine starts of the season.

Possibly Hughes’s biggest Achilles Heel has been his pitch count. I lost track last night of how many hitters fouled off his pitches, but I do know that he was up over 70 in the fifth inning. It’s pretty much the story of his every start: the opposing hitters just put good swings on his flat, straight fastball and his pitch count steadily climbs.

Now that Hughes is on a bit of a good streak, I think this is the perfect opportunity for the Yankees to see what they might be able to get for him on the trade block. For awhile now, I’ve heard a lot of chatter about how his value is down and nobody would want him.

But since he’s pitching well at the moment – and he isn’t even signed for next year – I say the Yankees should cut their losses and say goodbye to him. As nicely as Hughes is pitching now, I don’t expect it to continue late in the season against teams like the Rangers, Tigers, and Rays.

Odds are his arm will tire, as it has these past two years, and he will crack down the stretch.

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There are so many other players that deserve to be called out.

Dewayne Wise has only collected three hits in 23 at-bats, and yet is in the starting lineup.

Nick Swisher is batting .239 right now.

Robinson Cano had 31 RBIs on May 23 last year. He has 17 on May 23 this year (barring any RBIs in tonight’s game).

CC Sabathia has lost his last two starts.

Ivan Nova’s ERA is 5.69.

The bullpen is about as makeshift as ever without Mariano Rivera and backup closer David Robertson, not to mention third string closer Rafael Soriano came dangerously close to blowing the save last night.

The whole team is contributing to this mess.

Some serious changes need to be made if the Yankees want to pull this sinking ship from the depths of the ocean that is the AL East. Because the way they’ve been playing, it’s crazy to even put the words “World Series” and “Yankees” in the same sentence.

After one of the recent losses, Derek Jeter made a declaration:

“I don’t see anybody popping champagne in May.”

While the Captain is right, he should heed that currently there are a lot of teams better than his at this point in the season. If the Yankees, for whatever reason, don’t make the playoffs, it will be the second time in Jeter’s career (2008) he won’t be popping champagne.  

And for the first time in his career the Captain will be eating crow.

Home Opener Thrills and Chills

F-18 Navy Hornets, gigantic American flags, player introductions, the Mayor and…

Kermit the Frog!

All the wonderful elements of the Yankees’ home opener this afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What sweetened the whole deal? A 5-0 shutout of the Halos behind a brilliant outing from new Yankee Hiroki Kuroda.

The Japanese-born starter twirled an absolute gem, tossing eight-plus innings while not allowing a run. Kuroda allowed just five hits, walked two, and struck out six.

Talk about a fine way to introduce yourself to the Yankee faithful.

Kuroda probably would have finished the game had he not given up a leadoff infield single to Bobby Abreu in the top of the ninth, but he was at 109 pitches, therefore gave way to David Robertson.

Robertson got Albert Pujols to ground into a 6-4-3 double play before fanning Kendrys Morales for the final out.

Kuroda and Robertson were backed by a solid amount of run support, started by a bases-clearing double off the bat of Nick Swisher in the bottom of the first. The two-base hit plated Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira.

Up 3-0 in the bottom of the third, Rodriguez added a run with one swing. The slugging third baseman crushed a leadoff home run deep to centerfield, a shot that landed in the netting above Monument Park. With that homer, A-Rod tied his former Seattle Mariner teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. for fifth place on the all-time home runs list with 630 career round-trippers.

Curtis Granderson put the icing on the cake with a screaming line drive bullet home run over the right field wall in the fifth. Granderson’s solo blast gave the Yanks all the offense they needed to put the Angels away and boost their win streak to four.

Analysis:

Hiroki Kuroda

The Yankees couldn’t have asked for more out of their number two starter. The bullpen had thrown 11.1 innings in the final two games the Bombers played in Baltimore, and after an off-day yesterday, the relief corps basically received another day of rest.

Length was key, and Kuroda gave the Yanks more than enough.

It was a nice rebound start for Kuroda, having given up six runs in 5.2 innings in Tampa Bay last Saturday. He used his fastball to his advantage and his slider was dancing all over the strike zone.

Not even the mighty Albert Pujols could figure Kuroda out.

He didn’t utilize his split finger much, but he didn’t need to; he neutralized the strong hitters like Pujols and Morales without giving an inch.

In Japan, the best pitcher on the staff wears the number 18. Kuroda chose to wear number 18 upon his arrival in the Bronx and today he earned the right to wear that number. A crackling fastball, a moving slider, six K’s against a deep Angels’ lineup, and a win – that’s enough to sell me on him.

Now at 1-1 on the year, he will look for his next win Wednesday at home vs. the Minnesota Twins.

Alex Rodriguez

Manager Joe Girardi chose to bat Alex Rodriguez third in the lineup today. Having only collected three hits in the first five games of the season without knocking in a run or hitting a homer, it was clear A-Rod needed to move from the cleanup spot on account of lack of production.

All that changed today. The move clearly had an impact.

A-Rod went 3-for-4 this afternoon and belted his first home run of the year, a bomb that landed in Monument Park – not a cheap homer.

With the home run, Rodriguez tied his old buddy Ken Griffey, Jr. for fifth place on baseball’s all-time home runs list. It was A-Rod’s 630th career homer. He also raised his batting average from .174 to .259.

That’s the beauty of baseball: one day can turn everything around.

Nick Swisher

The Yankee right fielder is becoming a valuable asset to the team in the early-going. Nick Swisher has reached base in every game this season. He’s hit safely in six games and in the one game he didn’t reach base by way of a hit, he drew two walks.

Last Saturday against the Rays, it looked as though the Yankees were done in the ninth when Swisher stepped up to the plate. He proceeded to cream the ball for a home run to keep the Yankees alive, although they eventually lost 8-6.

In the series finale at Camden Yards vs. the Orioles, Swisher came up huge with what proved to be the game-winning home run, a two-run blast that gave the Bombers a 6-4 lead they held onto for the victory.

Today Swisher had the huge double in the first to clear the bases and give the Yankees an early lead and a ton of momentum.

So far this year Swisher has two homers, nine RBIs, has seven hits, has drawn five walks, and has scored three runs.

If there is a Yankee hero at this moment, it’s Swisher. Right now, he can do no wrong.

Honorary First Pitch

A special dignitary tossed out the honorary first pitch this afternoon: recently-retired catcher Jorge Posada. The Yankees stood behind the mound out of respect to their former teammate and watched as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

There was a lot of speculation as to what was going to transpire during this particular part of the Opening Day festivities. I had heard a rumor Posada was going to go to the mound, then one of his teammates would switch with him – and he would actually catch the honorary pitch rather than throw it, because that’s what he is most known for in Yankee lore.

But that didn’t happen.

While his teammates and family watched, Posada threw the first pitch to his dad who stood behind the plate to catch it. Following the first pitch, Posada emotionally hugged each of his Yankee friends.

It was a touching moment and Posada received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd.

Overall

It was a promising win for the Yankees. The Angels are the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers and with the additions of Pujols and starter C.J. Wilson (who the Yankees will get a look at tomorrow afternoon) they only got stronger; more difficult to beat.

But they got beat today – stifled by a lights-out performance from Kuroda.

Curtis Granderson’s bullet home run marked the second year in a row he has gone yard in the Yankees’ home opener. He homered last year in the Yanks’ win over the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes toes the rubber tomorrow against the Angels, gunning for win number one on the year. Hughes threw the ball well in his first start on Sunday in Tampa Bay, but came up just short.

He will look to pick up his first win and roll the Yankees’ win streak over to five games.

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On a side note, is anyone else growing tired of the promos for the new “3 Stooges” movie?

If the three stooges walked up to me and paid me $50 to see this abomination, I would hand them a $100 bill and simply say, “Let’s pretend this never happened.”

I understand it’s totally irrelevant to the Yankees, but the TV spot kept popping up during YES’ broadcast of the game this afternoon. I just know a bad movie when I see one – and I won’t be seeing the “3 Stooges.”

I’m Not OK with It

On Feb. 4, 2011 veteran starting pitcher Andy Pettitte announced his retirement from baseball. The crafty southpaw sat in front of an audience of his peers and teammates, emotionally declaring he was done with baseball at the age of 38. Pettitte last pitched in 2010, making 21 starts for the Yanks and finishing the year with a record of 11-3 attached to a respectable 3.28 ERA.

As a player, Pettitte has accomplished nearly everything one can accomplish. He owns five World Series rings, and has been on pennant-winning teams eight times – seven trips to the fall classic with New York, and one with Houston. He is a three-time All-Star, and even earned the honor of the 2001 ALCS MVP.

Pettitte has also shown that he can get it done on the big stage with 19 wins in the postseason under his belt. His 19 victories make him the winningest pitcher in playoff history.

Really the only accolade Pettitte never captured was the Cy Young Award, and he could have easily won it several times. In fact, in 1996 he was the runner-up to Pat Hentgen. In 2003 Pettitte won 21 games which put him in the running for the Cy, but ultimately he lost out to 22-game winner Roy Halladay.

It was nice to see Pettitte bow out of the game gracefully last winter. Although I was disappointed to see him hang up his spikes, I was happy to see him give it up on his own terms. His teammates, the Yankee organization, and the fans all seemed fine with his decision.

Throughout 2011 Pettitte was asked several times if he would come out of retirement, and whenever he was asked, he remained adamant that he was staying retired. And for that, I respected him. I truly admire when players retire – and stay retired.

And yesterday, all of that changed. My respect, my admiration…all gone.

Jack Curry of the YES Network (That’s right Jack Curry, and no one else) broke the news that Pettitte, who had been in Yankee camp serving as a special instructor, is planning on coming out of retirement. He was offered a one-year minor league deal by the Yankees worth $2.5 million.

According to sources Pettitte threw a discreet bullpen session in front of the Yankee brass on Tuesday morning, and they liked what they saw. Both sides were interested and just like that number 46 is coming back. Yankee fans everywhere are ecstatic to see Pettitte return to the team, granted he has to fight for a spot in the rotation.

But unlike most Yankee fans, I’m not too happy about it.

If it’s one thing that I absolutely cannot stand in sports, it is players who make a big fuss about retiring, hold pressers, become overwrought with emotion, and declare that, no matter what, they are done with the game – only for them to come back and play, for whatever reason.

Following the 2003 season Roger Clemens announced his retirement from baseball. The Yankees sent him off with a Hummer and congratulated him on a wonderful, Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Clemens then hopped in his new Hummer and drove it all the way to Houston, where he pitched for three seasons. Come to think of it, Clemens announced his retirement for the second time following the first annual World Baseball Classic in 2006. Of course that was before he re-joined the Astros midway through ’06 and the Yankees in the middle of 2007.

I hated that. It irked me to see Clemens flip-flop so many times. And considering how close Clemens and Pettitte were during their respective tenures on the Yankees and Astros, I couldn’t help but make the comparison in the case of Pettitte coming out of retirement yesterday.

To Pettitte’s credit, he is taking far less money than Clemens did back in ’07. The Rocket was getting paid somewhere around a $million a game, whereas Pettitte will only make $2.5 mil overall – so in that regard, it’s a little different.

But it doesn’t change the fact that he retired and should have stayed retired. Whenever players play the “I’m retired, I’m not retired” card, I lose respect for them. If Pettitte wanted to remain involved within the Yankee community, he could have just as easily grabbed a blazer and a microphone and gone to the YES booth with his former teammates David Cone, Paul O’Neill, and John Flaherty.

Or better yet, he could have sought a job as a pitching coach. Obviously Larry Rothschild is occupying the job at the big league level, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have gone out for a job coaching one of the minor league teams and worked his way up.

What also doesn’t make sense to me is that the Yankees are already at a surplus as far as starting pitching goes. The Bombers have six arms fighting for five rotation spots. Manager Joe Girardi has already said only two hurlers have guaranteed jobs: CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and Michael Pineda are currently battling for the final three rotation spots and now the competition just got stiffer. All because Pettitte just couldn’t stay retired.

Something else that confuses me is his problems staying healthy, dating back to the last season he pitched. On July 18, 2010 Pettitte made a start against the Tampa Bay Rays, and came out after just 2.1 innings of work. He hobbled off the mound, sustaining a groin injury. Pettitte didn’t make another start until Sept. 19, exactly two months and a day later.

In an interview yesterday, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman admitted he is “concerned about Pettitte’s lower half,” and even Pettitte himself said he has to “get the lower half in shape.”

With that in mind, why even bother trying to make a comeback?  He’s only a year older, what makes him think his problems concerning his lower extremities are going to be solved? The last time he pitched his season was basically injury-ravaged. So why would he test himself, risking those types of injuries again?

Now to be fair, Pettitte hasn’t made the team yet. In all likelihood he’ll throw in extended spring training and won’t join the team until the end of April or May, or maybe even later. It all depends on how well he is pitching and how long it takes him to get ready for the regular season.

However in that respect, it’s almost another way he’s comparable to Clemens; coming out of retirement and not joining the team until after the season starts.

The bottom line is: I dislike the signing and I have lost an amount of respect for Pettitte. A lot of Yankee fans are probably going to disagree with me, and that’s fine; they don’t have to agree with me. I fully understand I am in the tiny majority of fans who think his decision to come out of retirement is not the right move.

I have a feeling the next baseball conversation I have with anyone, I’m going to take a lot of heat for my stance on this issue. But I’m not going to budge. Even if Pettitte goes on to have a remarkable season – and I hope he does, for the Yankees’ sake – the fact that he went back on his retirement will never sit well with me.

Blockbuster Friday

I was driving home from covering a high school basketball game tonight and I felt like the General Manager of a baseball team – or maybe more accurately a Yankees beat writer. My good friend Brian text messaged me, breaking the big news. I immediately called him, and we began discussing the moves and the circumstances surrounding the transactions the Yankees made.

Just when we all thought this off-season for the Yankees was dead, tonight happened. A pulse; some life in the dead of winter. The Yankees made a huge trade, swapping rookie catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and reliever Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for flame-throwing, right-handed starter Michael Pineda and Single-A righty Jose Campos.

You’d think that would be enough for one night, but the Yankees weren’t done.

Along with swapping Montero for Pineda, they deepened their rotation with the signing of Free Agent starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who had been with the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008.

Just like that, the Yankees have some pitching depth.

Pineda has the potential to serve the Yanks as a viable number two starter behind CC Sabathia – a role A.J. Burnett has failed to live up to these past two seasons. Kuroda can help fill the middle and back end of the rotation, along with Burnett, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia.

Obviously with seven starters, the Yankees’ hurlers will be seriously duking it out in Spring Training for a spot in the suddenly-populated rotation. There were some rumblings after the Pineda deal was finalized that Hughes could be on the block, yet nothing is confirmed or set in stone. But trading away one of the excess starters is another story for another day; a bridge that can be crossed when the Yankees get to it.

Right now let’s look at what the Yankees gained and what they gave up.

Pineda was an All-Star in his first MLB season last year, finishing 2011 with a record of 9-10 and a 3.74 ERA. The 22-year-old (23-year-old on Wednesday, Jan. 18) logged 171 innings and struck out 173 batters over that span. He gave up 133 hits and walked 55 of the 696 batters he faced.

Pineda finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – behind his new teammate Nova, who came in fourth place in the voting.

His numbers were acceptable for a rookie last year and for a 22-year-old kid to be handed the number two spot in the Seattle rotation behind Felix Hernandez – a rotation that didn’t exactly receive a great amount of run support – and flourish the way he did was nothing short of remarkable.

Although his overall numbers were stellar (all things considered) his line against the American League East teams kind of turns me off. Pineda had a 4.73 ERA in nine starts against AL East opponents. It almost goes without saying that as a Yankee starter, he will be expected to be able to beat the Boston Red Sox.

Case in point: July 24, 2011 vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Pineda allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out four batters and walked one, as the Red Sox topped the Mariners, 12-8. Five of Pineda’s seven runs surrendered came in the first inning; pounded from the get-go.

Looking at that example doesn’t make me feel great about the trade.

I think the best thing the Yankees can do is let Pineda be himself; stretch him out and allow him to throw as many innings as he did last year, if not more.

What they can’t do is put him on an innings limit, given his age, and turn him into another version of Joba Chamberlain. I would also hope the Yankees learned the first time, and will choose to either permanently place him in the bullpen or in the rotation without switching him in and out.

Please. No “Pineda Rules.”

Considering what they gave up, I’m going out on a limb, but thinking the rotation is where we’ll be seeing Pineda.

While it remains to be seen how he fairs in Spring Training (let alone in the Bronx this upcoming year) I know one thing is for sure: whatever they do with him, they need to be careful. Otherwise they’ll end up with another young arm that needs Tommy John surgery. They wanted to avoid Tommy John altogether in Chamberlain’s case, and in the end he wound up needing it anyway.

As far as what they gave up: we barely knew Montero, although we knew the Yankees were preserving him for a long time. The 22-year-old powerhouse was called up in September and put on a little bit of a hitting show in the 18 games he played in ’11.

Montero clubbed four homers in 61 at-bats with four doubles, 12 RBIs, seven walks, nine runs scored, and 20 hits. Overall he notched a .328 batting average and secured a .590 slugging percentage.

For his short time in the show, he has certainly made it count.

Overall, I see this as a trade that could basically be a win for both sides. Seattle gets a power bat and a DH, something they hadn’t exactly possessed these past few years. The Mariners also have to realize they received a player who could be the 2012 Rookie of the Year, if he has a so-called “coming out party” this season.

Montero could do it. I have no doubt in my mind.

In return the Yanks get a potential number two starter, something they’ve had the last two years but haven’t had consistently. Hughes was the Yanks’ number-two man in 2010, but seemed to pitch with a tired arm down the stretch. Plus, we all saw how poorly he pitched in the ALCS vs. Texas.

Nova turned into the number-two starter last year – and let’s not forget that he left the deciding game of the ALDS vs. Detroit with an apparent arm injury. The Yankees needed that consistent second guy, and now they might have him.

And not only do they have a number two starter, they added a middle man: Kuroda.

Since 2008 for the Dodgers the 36-year-old Kuroda is 41-46 with an ERA of 3.45. Last year he tossed 202 innings giving up 77 runs on 196 hits while fanning 161 batters and walking 49. He also recorded 13 wins, a career-high for him in MLB. The Yanks signed him to a one-year contract worth about $10 or $11 million.

He was never an All-Star and he isn’t the flashiest pitcher in the world, but he provides the Yankees with a little bit of depth. If he can give them 10-12 wins from the third, fourth, or even fifth spot in the rotation, they have made a good move.   

There are only two things I see working against him:

1) The fact that he’s pitched his entire career in the National League.

2) The Yankees’ history with Japanese starting pitching.

If Kuroda can adapt to AL hitters, learn to work in and out of trouble – and shed the stereotype Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa left for him – I know he will do fine.

Now that the Yankees have a stacked rotation, essentially they gave away their designated hitter in Montero. It frees up a huge spot in their already-potent lineup and it begs the question: who will DH for the Yankees in 2012?

Andruw Jones?

Eduardo Nunez?

Will they sign Carlos Pena?

Is Johnny Damon coming back to New York?

Was giving away the DH a ploy by Brian Cashman to set up the signing a very powerful Free Agent?

Let the speculation begin…