Tagged: Josh Beckett

Pettitte’s Return A Special Day In Yankees’ History

Retirement is a one-way trip to insignificance.
George Burns


When I first heard the news Andy Pettitte had decided to come out of retirement to pitch for the Yankees this season I thought it was a hoax. When Andy walked away from a $12 million contract offer after the 2010 season I thought the next time we would see him pitch was in an Old-Timer’s game at Yankee Stadium. But now that I know he did, indeed, sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract on Friday, I could not wipe the smile off my face.

The immediate thought is what manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are going to do to sort out a sudden glut of seven starting pitchers with only five spots available. As it is without Pettitte in the mix, you have Ivan Nova (16 wins), Michael Pineda (promising sophomore right-hander), Freddy Garcia (crafty veteran) and Phil Hughes (18 wins in 2010) vying for the three spots behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

It is a good thing the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and Mike Mussina has not planned a comeback or it could be a real mess.

But Pettitte obviously will need time to get into “game shape” and build his arm strength for the 2012 season and he will not be able to start with the Yankees by Opening Day. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman estimated it might take about seven weeks.

So at age 39, Pettitte will embark on an extended spring training and then he will likely venture to Triple-A Empire State (formerly Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) for a series of starts until the Yankees decide he is ready to join the Yankees. That could be mid-May or later.

So Girardi’s immediate plan is to just sort out the six starters he has now and wait to see what happens with Pettitte later.

If the decision were mine to make now I would give Nova a spot because he earned it with the 16 games he won as a rookie last season. He also has a very high upside in potential and the Yankees could use a young pitcher in their rotation.

Pineda deserves a spot based on his great showing last season but there is a big problem: His velocity on the fastball is down and the Yankees are concerned though they are not voicing it publicly. Perhaps the Yankees open the season allowing Pineda to try to recapture it in the major leagues, as they did with Hughes last season.

But they would be able to place him on the disabled list or just send him to Empire State to build arm strength at some point. It is a possibility.

Hughes looks like he is back from his arm woes. He threw four shutout innings on Friday and in his previous start at Ft. Myers, FL., against the Twins he was registering 92 miles per hour on the radar gun.

If Hughes wins the No. 5 spot, then Garcia would be in the bullpen ready to fill in if Pineda struggles or there is an injury.

Garcia’s stuff translates well to the bullpen because he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well. A team could do worse that to have a pitcher who was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in the bullpen.

As for when Pettitte is ready to join the 25-man roster, that is one of those “cross the bridge when we get it to it” deals for Girardi. A lot can happen in a 162-game schedule with injuries and ineffectiveness. As to who do you bump from the rotation for Pettitte, i have no idea how to answer that question now.

But what I do know is that this turn of events is very bad news for the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Red Sox have three very good starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), a big question mark (Daniel Bard) and a fifth starter to be selected out of a grab bags of misfits and free-agent sludge.

The Rays thought the y had the best rotation in the division with the likes of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie lefty Matt Moore. To tell you the truth they still could. However, the addition of Pettitte makes the difference between the two staffs somewhat insignificant.

Think of what Pettitte was able to do in 2010.

He was 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA and he was headed for a great season when a groin injury shelved him during the home stretch of the pennant race. In his two starts in the postseason Pettitte was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Then he walked away thinking his calling was at home with his family.

But coming to training camp this spring as a guest instructor apparently got Andy to thinking there was still something left in the tank. Of course, we all saw that. It wasn’t like Andy’s record was 4-14 with a 5.42 ERA and we all knew we could stick a fork in him because he was done.

No, Andy walked away when he was still one of the better left-handers in the American League and he is still the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), starts (42) and innings pitched (263). Pettitte is also third on the Yankees all-time win list (203) behind Hall-of-Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

What better way to spend a summer for Andy than joining Derek Jeter to get an up close and personal view of what could be fellow “Core Four” veteran Mariano Rivera in what could be his last season?

This is an historic and monumental day in Yankee history. One of the most successful pitchers from their golden era (1996 through 2000) is coming back to don No. 46 and reprrise that famous steel-eyed glare over the glove Pettitte made famous.

Yep, the Pettitte family’s temporary loss of their beloved father is certainly Yankee Universe’s gain. Welcome back, Andy!

 

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2012 Looks Like More Trouble For ‘Red Flops’

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 4 – BOSTON RED SOX

A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011” the term seems apropos.

On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.

Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.

There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?

Well, it does not look good.

STARTERS

The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.

So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.

Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.

If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.

Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.

Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.

The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.

Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”

But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.

Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.

With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.

But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.

Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.

Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.

For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.

The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.

None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.

This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?

BULLPEN

The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.

But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.

There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.

The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.

Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.

Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.

The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.

The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.

This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.

Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.

STARTING LINEUP

The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.

Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.

The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.

To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.

The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.

Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.

More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.

The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.

The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.

The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.

Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.

The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.

Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.

That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.

The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.

BENCH

The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.

The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.

The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.

This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.

ANALYSIS

The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.

The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.

This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.

The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.

With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.

I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.

Just call them the Red Flops.

 

A.J. Could Have Had It All But Left Yanks Wanting

“We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
And you played it
To the beat”

– Lyrics to “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele

It is ironic that on the same weekend Adele was the recipient of six Grammys based largely on her single “Rolliong In The Deep” that the “broken-hearted” Yankees are trying so desperately to part ways with a right-handed pitcher who has repeatedly disappointed them.

Allan James Burnett has been both at the epicenter of the Yankees’ success the past three seasons and he also has been part of the team’s struggles to get to their 28th world championship. There have been lots of good times: The second game of the World Series against the Phillies, the games in which Burnett appeared to be a father tossing nasty breaking pitches to mere kids flailing at air and, of course, those walk-off victory pies he delivered to the face of the game’s hero.

Then there was the games in which bad luck seem to attach itself to Bunrett like a stubborn barnacle on a proud fishing vessel. Things would unravel at a moment’s notice. Two dominating strikeouts would be followed by a walk, a wild pitch, a bunt single, a double in the gap, a stolen base, another wild pitch and then a home run.

That was what fans termed “Bad A.J.” It was used as a term to differentiate from the dominating pitcher the Yankees thought they signed to a five-year, $82 million free-agent contract in 2009 after he was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees tolerated a bit of “Bad A.J.” in 2009 because he was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in a season the Yankees won a championship. Burnett, along with ace CC Sabathia and left-hander Andy Pettitte were a huge reason why the Yankees blitzed through the Twins, Angels and outplayed the Phillies in six games to win the 2009 World Series.

Since then, the Yankees have failed to make it back to the World Series. The starting pitching was targeted as a huge reason why. And, unfortunately for Burnett, he was being trotted out by the prosecution as Exhibit A, whether it was true or not. He was underperforming for a pitcher making the kind of money he was being paid.

Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was hired for the 2011 season with the expressed No. 1 task of “fixing” A.J.

Rothshild tinkered and toiled with A.J. without completely changing his style as a strikeout pitcher with a career strikeout rate of 8.2 per inning. Early it seemed to be paying dividends. Besides that old nemesis Jorge Posada, who Burnett seemed to lay a lot of his troubles upon, was not catching anymore.

However, by the end of the 2011 season, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. For all the tinkering Burnett seemed to be right back where he was in 2010.

Then came the whispers that Burnett later confirmed as true. Burnett at age 35 was losing velocity on his fastball. That allowed hitters to get a bit more comfortable in the box on him. Pitches that hitters used to wave at were now getting hit solidly. Burnett told reporters he would have to learn to pitch inside more.

General manager Brian Cashman had to look at all this with a bit of sadness. It was, after all, Cashman’s idea to sign Burnett to that five-year deal. But Cashman had to admit that if the Yankees were to compete in the hitting-rich American League East they needed to improve the Yankees’ rotation in 2012.

The Rays advanced to the playoffs largely on the basis of their pitching. The Red Sox, despite their swoon in 2011, still have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Blue Jays have lefty Ricky Romero and righty Brandon Morrow. The Orioles have  . . . well they have nice looking uniforms for their pitchers.

So Cashman moved this winter to acquire right-hander Michael Pineda, who was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA as a rookie for the offensively weak Seattle Mariners. He then signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda, who was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers. Those moves left Burnett out in the cold. He was now expected to compete this spring with 25-year-old Phil Hughes and 35-year-old Freddy Garcia for the No. 5 spot.

Cashman said at the time that he “had not given up on Burnett.”

But after an ugly incident in a game against the Twins on Aug. 20 at Target Field in which Burnett was removed in the second inning after having been hammered for seven runs on five hits and three walks pretty much sealed his fate with the Yankees. As Burnett left the mound he turned and the cameras caught him saying, “This is bulls—” to manager Joe Girardi. Girardi claimed not to have heard it.

But Burnett later compounded it by walking directly into the clubhouse. Girardi, who has a rule that starters may not leave the dugout until the runners they left on score or the inning is over, went straight into the clubhouse and ordered Burnett back into the dugout. The angry Burnett did return but he quickly left immediately as a reliever allowed Bunrett’s seventh and final run to score.

A.J. finally burned a big bridge and it is the reason the Yankees are trying so hard to unload the two years and $33 million left on his contract.

Yep, Adele is right. We could have had it all, A.J.

But now Burnett needs to go. The Yankees know it. The fans know it. Now even Burnett’s agent knows it.

“He is getting ready to go to spring training, whether it’s with the Yankees, Pittsburgh or anyone else,” his agent, Darek Braunecker, told the New York Daily News. “A.J. understands this is a business and will do what he has to do. He’s healthy and he’s looking forward to pitching for somebody.”

TRADE UPDATE

Today the Yankees made it clear to the Pittsburgh Pirates that they will not accept just a portion of the $33 million left on Burnett’s contract. They want prospects also.

Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger reported on Monday that the Yankees are willing to assume a large portion of the money Burnett is owed as a condition of the trade. But they also refuse to move Burnett unless they receive players back in the deal, a person close to the negotiations said.

“(The Yankees) have to get players back,” the person with knowledge said on Sunday. “Not a give away.”

So the teams are locked into talks concerning the players the Yankees should receive as well as how much money the Pirates are willing to contribute to Burnett’s salary.

According to various sources, the Yankees have had discussions about Burnett with four teams, including the Pirates. One of the teams is on Burnett’s no-trade list of 10 teams. Reportedly that team likely will not be part of a deal because Burnett would invoke his no-trade clause to block it.

The Pirates, Carig reported, remain the frontrunners. Though the teams are still talking it appears no deal is imminent.

Meanwhile, Yankee fans have heir fingers crossed that some sort of accommodation between the Yankees and Pirates can be reached. They are ready to turn the page on Burnett and they want Cashman to sign a free-agent DH because the team needs some salary room in order to do that.

With Burnett gone and Pirates helping pay some of that contract the Yankees possibly could afford to sign a Johnny Damon or a Hideki Matsui.

Then all those memories of “Bad A.J.” will fade slowly away.

STAY TUNED

 

Red Sox May Be Baseball’s Version Of The Titanic

TAMPA BAY RAYS 16, BOSTON RED SOX 5
Daisuke Matsuzaka gives up seven runs on eight hits and two walks in only two innings on Monday night. The Rays added five runs off Tim Wakefield and then battered former teammate Dan Wheeler for four more.
The Rays, who entered the game having scored only 20 runs all season nearly matched the total in one night feasting off Red Sox pitching.
The Red Sox are now 2-8. 
This is the team to beat for the American League East title? This is the A.L. champions? Excuse me, I don’t think so.
I have been hearing all this “You can’t judge a team by the way they play in April” talk and “It’s only been 10 games.” But the fact is this Red Sox team is hip deep in flaws and not all of them can or will be addressed in time to right the ship.
For one, the starting pitching is a shambles. Jon Lester is OK and Josh Beckett proved he is capable of pitching better this season but the rest is a disaster area. If you combine the three other pitchers’ totals for the season you have 25 2/3 innings, 44 hits, 14 walks and 34 earned runs.
That is an ERA of 11.92. You can have a lineup full of Carl Crawfords and Adrian Gonzalezes and still not have an offense that can overcome that degree of bad pitching.
Yet the Red Sox are stuck with the big contracts of Matsuzaka and John Lackey and they just signed Clay Buchholz to a huge extension. So looking for some improvement is a lot like bringing a knife to a gunfight and hoping all their guns jam.
Red Sox Nation, never short of quick fixes to their ailing ballclub, have weighed in with a lot of advice: Get rid of Mice-K, fire new pitching coach Curt Young and start Alfredo Aceves. But the Red Sox braintrust knows that their options are really limited.
When you pay top dollar for a Japanese pitcher as they did with Matsuzaka, you want return on investment. The fact is, the Red Sox got nothing but inconsistency out of what they thought was a star pitcher.
Theo Epstein, the executive vice president, general manager and legend in his own mind, should have donned his gorilla suit and high-tailed it after this fiasco. But now that the Red Sox have committed the dollars they are not going to give up on “Homer-san” any time too soon.
They let it be known all winter and this spring that Matsuzaka was available in trade but scouts from the other teams looked at what they were being offered and just laughed. No one wanted him and those that might have contemplated a deal might as well have thought of hari-kiri. Matsuzaka is just pure poison now.
His comments about the Red Sox medical staff and his own penchant to “do it his way” make him a very unattractive acquisition. Sure, they can bite the bullet and release him. But they are still obligated to pay the man. So the Sox are going to try “fix” him before they ever decide to admit they made a mistake in overpaying this stiff.
You ever wonder why the Yankees may no real effort to sign Lackey when he became a free agent?
You are seeing it now. Lackey has been, and always will be, kind of Joe Blanton-type of pitcher. Fierce competitor, yes. But he also is lacking a few bullets in the chamber.  
Look at Lackey’s career numbers and he never struck 200 batters. He also never was among the discussion of the best pitchers in baseball. He just was a tough and gritty pitcher who gave you max effort every time out.
Now that the age has slipped into the 30s and the innings have piled up, what Lackey can give is eroding with every inning. He can’t throw balls past hitters anymore so he has to trick them. But the hitters are catching up with the tricks.
Red Sox Nation can say “put him in the bullpen” or “release his butt.” But the fact is the Red Sox are committed to Lackey for the long term — emphasis on the word long. They signed him to a four-year deal and he is only in his second year.
Nope. John Lackey is not going anywhere but to the mound every fifth day for the Red Sox whether he gets his brains beat in or not. Thinking anything else is like wishing that it ain’t so.
So the Red Sox have to fix Matsuzaka and Lackey before the season really has started.
Then there is Buchholz, who last season was 17-7 with the league’s best ERA for a starter. You just pencil those good numbers in for 2010, huh? Not really.
Pitchers have to prove themselves every season. In 2008, Buchholz was 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA. In 2009, he was 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA. So which pitcher is Buchholz? Is he the guy with the 6.75 ERA or the guy with the 2.33 ERA in 2010?
Maybe you split the difference and get a pitcher who is the 4.21 ERA guy. Right now, his ERA is 7.20 so he has a ways to go to repairing the damage of his first two starts.
All this falls on Curt Young, who replaced John Farrell. Farrell had an established rapport with all these pitchers and now Young is trying to do the same. That takes time and sometimes it can be hard to unlock what is in the mind of a starter.
Young is an excellent pitching coach but he just is not the same guy as Farrell. He has different ways of saying things and doing things. The pitchers will have to adapt to him rather than the other way around. That takes time.
But one is a lead-pipe cinch: The Red Sox are not firing Young. That would not be fair.
So what if the losing continues? What happens if Lackey, Matsuzaka and Buchholz keep getting their brains beat in before the Fenway faithful take their first bite of their hot dogs? Well, I shudder to think of what will happen.
It certainly will get pretty ugly if this continues into May.
One thing is for certain. There is no way that Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee are showing up in Red Sox uniforms. Pedro and Curt Schilling are not coming out of retirement. Even if they did, the Sox would be better off with what they have.
So sometimes in building the perfect ship you end up with some rusty parts you did not see when you were in construction. That may be Theo’s biggest oversight this offseason. The shiny bright new toys obscured what lay underneath.
It was the same way the Titatnic was built and we all know what happened there. The only question now is are there enough lifeboats to get Red Sox Nation off this ship before it hits the bottom of the Atlantic.

Arlington Annihilation Has Red Sox Licking Their Wounds

I want to thank the Texas Rangers.
In the Opening Series of the 2011 season the Rangers proved my point about the weakness in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation. The Rangers outscored the Red Sox 26-11 this weekend in what can now be called the Arlington Annihilation.
Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz combined to give up 18 earned runs on 21 hits and five walks in only 15 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 10.57 and walks plus hits to innings pitched ratio (WHIP) of 1.70.
So the Red Sox front office might want to hold off on printing those World Series tickets for a few months. General manager Theo Epstein might want to stop drafting that Executive of the Year acceptance speech.
It looks a little bleak in Beantown this weekend.
And the funny thing is their two weakest links in the rotation — Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka — have not even thrown a pitch yet. 
Just before Opening Day I wrote a post on this blog on how I felt that there was no real dominant starting rotation in the American League East. I basically pointed out that the Red Sox and the Yankees both had some major question marks to deal with in 2011.
As expected, I heard from some my dear friends in Red Sox Nation who felt compelled to put me in my place. You do not dare throw shades of gray over their rose-colored glasses. I mean, after all, they have Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Just declare the season over and give the Red Sox the championship trophy now.
Why bother playing out the inevitable, right?
But this weekend really proved my point. The Red Sox have no difficulty handling themselves when they are playing within the East. They do just fine there. 
They struggle to beat the teams they should beat outside the division. So they occasionally get swept in Kansas City and Seattle. Jonathan Papelbon blows his customary eight saves a year and the next thing you know the Red Sox are a wild card.
Manager Terry Francona has been preaching this to his team for years and the Red Sox have a hard time rectifying the problem. Now that the Rangers have left the Red Sox starting staff in tatters they might listen to Francona and heed his advice.
I am not going to say the Yankees have the better pitching staff. Their starters do have weaknesses that can be exploited. At the same time, I think the same thing about the Red Sox starters.
Lester is habitually slow starter. Lackey is proving that he’s gotten by more on his guile and competitiveness than he did on actual talent. Buchholz shows promise but needs to follow it up with another good season.
Beckett is coming off a serious back injury and those kind of injuries do not really go away. You have to monitor them and constantly keep an eye on them. After a very poor spring training, Beckett has a lot to prove in 2011.
At age 30, is Beckett finally paying for throwing all those innings for the Marlins at a young age? Will he get his velocity back? Can his back hold up to 200 innings?
Dice-K is an enigma wrapped within a anomaly. Japanese pitchers are used to a different routine and different way of doing things. Matsuzaka has had hard time letting go of how he wants to do things.
He insists on pitching backwards. He will walk the bases loaded before he will throw a fastball to challenge a hitter. It is mind-numbing to watch. Francona would have lost all his hair if he had any to lose.
The Red Sox simply do not know what to expect from their Japanese “star.” Maybe comet would be a better term. It certainly looks likes the tail of the comet is indicating a flame-out.
Add to all this the loss of pitching coach John Farrell, who decided to try his hand at managing the Toronto Blue Jays. Curt Young is not a bad replacement but Farrell had a close relationship with these starters.
Young has his work cut out for him working with these egos and finding the keys to open the  lock on each ones soul may be a daunting task. Especially prima donnas like Beckett and Papelbon.
The Red Sox now take their bruised egos off to Cleveland. There they might find an inferior team to beat up on before the begin their home schedule against the so-called Evil Empire. But these pitching woes are not going to disappear with a wave a magic wand or Red Sox Nation merely wishing it so.
It is going to take time and effort to make things better. Maybe now the Red Sox will understand that their opponents are not going to just let them win. They will have to win it for themselves.
The fact that the Yankees have a superior offense, defense, bullpen and bench is a troubling factor they will have to deal with. But they can compete and they will. They just have stop reading the papers and blogs that are telling them they are great.
They have to get on the field and prove it. So far, they have won nothing. And they will win nothing unless they put in the effort.

Moseley, Subbing For Ailing Burnett, Shuts Down  Bosox

GAME 110
YANKEES 7, RED SOX 2

“Stepping up” is a popular word in today’s baseball lexicon. It simply means coming through with a great effort when a teammate is unable to play.
On Saturday, Ramiro Pena drove in two runs subbing for an injured Alex Rodriguez. On Sunday night it was Dustin Moseley pitching six-plus innings in place of injured starter A.J. Burnett as the New York Yankees “stepped up” to defeat the Boston Red Sox.
Moseley (2-1), who was scheduled to pitch Monday, was called upon to pitch a day early because Burnett was bothered by back spasms. After throwing 6 1/3 innings of two-run and six-hit baseball on short notice, Moseley earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 49,096 at Yankee Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was running up the pitch count and wearing down Moseley’s more decorated opponent, Josh Beckett (3-2).
Derek Jeter led the assault with a two-out RBI single in the second inning and a two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning that finally chased Beckett from the contest. Beckett was shelled for seven runs on 11 hits and two walks in just 4 2/3 innings.
A pair of errors by second baseman Bill Hall and catcher Kevin Cash did not help Beckett’s cause either.
With the victory, the Yankees struck another serious blow to the hopes of the Red Sox to get back into the race for the top spot in the American League East. With their 69-41 record the Yankees are now seven games in front of the third-place Red Sox.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who were completely shut down and dismantled by Brandon Morrow’s 8 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball and 17 strikeouts, dropped their fifth straight game and now are 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in second place.
The best the Red Sox can now hope for is win on Monday to tie the four-game series and leave the Bronx the same six games behind the Yankees when they arrived.
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • The 28-year-old Texarkana, AR, native Moseley pitched a gem of a game in front of a national television audience. Using his sinking fastball and working both sides of the plate, Moseley gave up only six hits and two walks and contributed three excellent plays in the field to hold the Red Sox at bay. Moseley only gave up a solo home run to Hall to open the fifth inning and a leadoff double by Adrian Beltre in the seventh was cashed in for a run on an infield single by pinch-hitter Mike Lowell off reliever Joba Chamberlain.
  • Jeter’s RBI single in the second inning was the 2,784th hit of his career, which moved him into sole possession of 39th place on baseball’s all-time hit list, passing the legendary Babe Ruth. The crowd gave Jeter a huge ovation and he tipped his helmet to acknowledge the crowd. Jeter ended the day going 2-for-5 with three RBIs.
  • Lance Berkman finally got the Yankee Stadium boo birds off him with a 3-for-4 night, including two doubles. He scored two runs and drove in another. He began the day hitting .091 with the Yankees since he was acquired from the Astros at the trade deadline.
  • Mark Teixeira, who entered the game homerless in 31 at-bats against Beckett, hit his team-leading 25th home run of the season off the right-hander to lead off the fifth inning. It was a titanic blast that landed into the second deck of the right-field bleachers over the Modell’s sign.
THE NEGATIVES

  • Moseley looked to be faltering in the fourth inning after he gave up a two-out single to Victor Martinez with the score only 2-0. Moseley then walked J.D. Drew and Beltre in succession to load the bases. But he recovered by inducing an inning-ending groundout to Teixeira by rookie Ryan Kalish to end what could have been a big inning.
  • Jorge Posada’s troubles at the plate continue. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he failed to get a ball out of the infield. In his last 12 games, Posada is 7-for-41 (.171) with no home runs and one RBI. His season average fell to .257.
  • Curtis Granderson did walk and score a run in the fifth but finished the game 0-for-3 and his average fell back to .243.
  • Chamberlain, who has lost his setup role in the bullpen, was a bit shaky again. He faced three batters in the seventh inning and allowed an infield single to Cash that scored Beltre and — after retiring Jacoby Ellsbury on a foul fly ball — he walked Marco Scutaro to load the bases with David Ortiz coming to the plate and a 7-2 lead. Manager Joe Girardi pulled Chamberlain in favor of left-hander Boone Logan, who retired Ortiz on a grounder to Robinson Cano to end the threat.
DIAMOND NOTES

Alex Rodriguez was able to return to the lineup despite being struck on the shin by a ball off the bat of Berkman during batting practice on Saturday and being scratched from the game. Rodriguez was 1-for-3 with a walk, scored a run and the sixth inning he stole the 300th base of his career. He was removed from the game in the ninth inning due to stiffness in his shin. With the stolen base, Rodriguez joins Barry Bonds and Willie Mays as the only three players in baseball history to hit 600 or more home runs and steal 300 or more bases.  . . .  Burnett felt back spasms on Saturday while he was completing flat-ground tossing at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees decided to move Moseley up to pitch on Sunday and Phil Hughes to pitch on Monday against the Red Sox. Girardi said Burnett felt better on Sunday and he is scheduled to pitch Tuesday on the road against the Texas Rangers.
THE NEXT GAME

The Yankees have now put the rival Red Sox into almost a must-win situation on Monday after clinching at least a tie in their four-game series on Sunday.
The Yankees will call on right-hander Phil Hughes (13-4, 3.96 ERA) to win the series. Hughes limited the Blue Jays to one run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings in a Yankees’ victory. However, in three of his past four starts Hughes has failed to make it to the sixth inning. In his career, Hughes is 1-2 with a 6.48 ERA against the Red Sox.
The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Jon Lester (11-7, 3.07 ERA), who has lost a career-high four straight games. His ERA is 5.06 since the All-Star break. He is 5-3 with a 3.00 ERA on the road. He is 4-1 with 4.01 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

Beckett Unravels In Sixth As Yanks, Hughes Cruise 10-3

GAME 28
YANKEES 10, RED SOX 3

By the time Josh Beckett walked off the Fenway Park mound in the sixth inning he had gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in one short inning.
When his night was through he had set a record for most strikeouts in a start against the Yankees while at the same time surrendering nine earned runs — six of them in the sixth inning.
The New York Yankees took advantage of the unraveling of Beckett and cruised to a 10-3 victory over the Red Sox on Friday behind the mature beyond his years pitching of Phil Hughes.
Hughes (4-0) outdueled the so-called Boston ace by giving up two runs on seven hits and a walk in seven innings and remain undefeated on the season. He kept the Red Sox off-balance at the plate all night and finished with seven strikeouts.
Beckett (1-1) pitched four innings in the game in which he had given up just a single and struck out six batters. But the other 1 1/3 innings he gave up eights hits, three walks, hit two batters and was victimized for nine earned runs. His ERA this season after six starts is now 7.46.
So much for the Red Sox Nation claim that their heartthrobs have the best rotation in baseball. If Beckett is their best they are in big trouble, judging by his meltdown in the sixth inning.
The victory for the Yankees gave them a record of 20-8 and they are 1 1/2 games in back of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox, who came into the game hoping to get back into the A.L. East race, fell to 15-15 and 7 1/2 games out of first place and fourth in the division.
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • Hughes was in command all night and showed no signs of being intimidated by the Red Sox, unlike his mound opponent Beckett, who did not handle adversity very well. Hughes’ ERA did rise from 1.44 to 1.69 but I do not think Hughes cares since he outdueled Beckett and sent a message that he is to be reckoned with in future games in this rivalry.
  • Nick Swisher started the unraveling of Beckett in the fourth inning. After a one-out walk to Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez singled and Robinson Cano struck out. But Swisher battled Beckett back from an 0-2 count to 2-2 and deposited a hanging breaking ball in the deepest part of center-field over the wall for his sixth home run of the season. He now has 20 RBIs on the season.
  • Francisco Cervelli, starting his third straight game in place of the injured Jorge Posada, was 2-for-3 with a two singles, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. The RBI really seemed to particularly unnerve Beckett. With one out and Rodriguez and pinch-runner Ramiro Pena moving up to third and second, respectively, on a passed ball, the Red Sox chose to intentionally walk Bret Gardner to pitch to Cervelli. Cervelli had been pitched inside his last at-bat after he stepped out on Beckett. Cervelli did it again in the sixth and Beckett’s inside pitch nearly hit him. However, it came on a 3-2 pitch and Cervelli got an RBI for walking with the bases loaded. Beckett’s descent from there was precipitous.
  • Randy Winn, playing in his second game as the platoon left-fielder, contributed two hits, including a big single to left in the sixth after Cervelli’s walk. Winn’s RBI made the score 5-1.
  • Derek Jeter kept his cool and the Yankees did too after Jeter was struck on the back with the first pitch from a visibly angry Beckett after Winn’s single. Jeter drove in his team-leading 22nd run the hard way.
  • Marcus Thames, pressed into service when Nick Johnson was injured, continued Beckett’s nightmare sixth with an infield single to shortstop Marco Scutaro. It drove in another run and made the score 7-1.
  • Teixeira came up with the frosting hit that sent Beckett out of the game for good with his single to right to score Winn and the make the game a laugher at 8-1. Rodriguez would add a sacrifice fly off reliever Hideki Okajima to plate the ninth run charged to Beckett — the sixth run of the inning.
THE NEGATIVES

  • David Robertson came in to the game with a 10-2 lead in the eighth inning to work on his mechanics. Though he did strike out Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz in his inning of work, he also walked seldom-used bench player Jonathan Van Every and Kevin Youkilis. Those walks set up an RBI single by Adrian Beltre. Robertson did pitch better but he still needs to work on getting control of his pitches.
  • Strikeouts early killed the Yankees. Jeter, Swisher and Cano each struck out twice. Beckett’s other two victims were Johnson and Teixeira. 
  • The Yankees were not real aggressive on the bases. Of course, with the barrage of hits, Beckett’s walks, a wild pitch, two hit batters and a Jason Varitek passed ball they really did not have to be that aggressive with the running game.
DIAMOND NOTES

The Yankees had two starters leave the game with injuries. Johnson left the game in the fifth inning with soreness in his right wrist. It appears that Johnson, who has had a litany of injuries over the course of his career, is headed to the 15-day disabled list. He is flying back to New York for an MRI. In the sixth inning, Cano was struck on the left knee by one of the many errant missiles thrown by Beckett. Cano left the game is not likely to be in the lineup on Saturday. He is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  The Yankees also announced that Andy Pettitte will not pitch in his scheduled start against the Tigers in Detroit on Tuesday. The Yankees are being cautious because Pettitte left his last start against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium with a mild inflammation in his left elbow. Sergio Mitre will start Monday and Javier Vazquez will pitch on Tuesday, the Yankees announced.  . . .  Jorge Posada took batting practice and did some light jogging but manager Joe Girardi said he would hold the veteran catcher out of the lineup for another day. Posada likely will be in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game.  . . .  The Yankees were short one position player Friday night because of their decision to recall right-hander Romulo Sanchez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and send down outfielder Greg Golson. Sanchez, a right-hander, was 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA at Scranton.  . . .  Chan Ho Park, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring, threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session in Tampa, FL on Friday. He will pitch another session on Sunday.
THE NEXT GAME

With the Red Sox hopes of a sweep of the weekend series dashed by Hughes, the Yankees will have a chance to really place a another nail in their May coffin with a victory on Saturday afternoon. The Yankees will have a good chance of doing it with their ace CC Sabathia (4-1, 2.74 ERA) on the mound. 
Sabathia pitched eight innings of six-hit, one-run baseball in his last start on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles. In was his fourth win in his last five starts. Sabathia is 5-5 with a 6.62 ERA in 12 career starts against the Red Sox.
The Red Sox will counter with No. 5 starter Clay Buchholz (3-2, 2.97 ERA). Buchholz labored and was tagged in his last start for four runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings but he got credit for the victory against the Los Angeles Angels because the Red Sox scored 17 runs. Buchholz is 0-1 with a gaudy 5.74 ERA in three career starts against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 3:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally on FOX.