Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

Blueprint comes alive

This is what Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik envisioned the past off-season when he acquired Cliff Lee from the Phillies in the three-team deal that also involved the Blue Jays and Roy Halladay. Lee would team with Felix Hernandez for a lefty-righty, 1-2 punch in the rotation that would thrust Seattle back into contention in the American League West.

It hasn’t exactly turned out that way, although the Mariners’ fall into last place has been due mostly to an anemic offense. Seattle bats have come alive the past two nights against Yankees pitching. The Mariners had 12 hits the previous night and followed that with a four-homer game in a 7-0 rout, the first complete-game shutout against the Yankees in the new Yankee Stadium.

Javier Vazquez gave up solo shots to Milton Bradley and Michael Saunders and yielded a run in the third after hitting Russ Branyan with a pitch with two out. Bradley beat out a hit to third base, and Jose Lopez singled to drive in Branyan.

Vazquez worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with a strikeout of Ryan Langerhans, a late replacement for ailing center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, and had three perfect innings. It was a decent if unspectacular performance from Javy, what is known as a quality start (three runs, six innings), but not a start that could match Hernandez, who is merely 6-5 despite a 3.03 ERA because of lousy run support.

The Seattle righthander was so dominant that Yankees fans cheered when Ramiro Pena, a ninth-inning substitute for Derek Jeter, worked out a walk to become their first base runner after 12 consecutive outs. The Yankees had not lost back-to-back complete games to opposing pitchers in 10 years, by Toronto’s Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar.

“That’s as good as we have seen from a pitcher all year,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He was throwing his sinker 93 miles an hour with a great changeup and curve.”

The killer blows came after Vazquez left the game. Damaso Marte gave up a two-run home run to Branyan after Chone Figgins had singled in a nine-pitch at-bat with one out and stole second. Branyan was sitting on Marte’s slider. He let a 2-1 fastball go over the heart of the plate for strike two, but Marte came back with a slider on 2-2, and the ball ended up in the Yankees’ bullpen beyond the fence in right-center.

Saunders hit another homer in the eighth off Chad Gaudin, although second baseman Robinson Cano had a hand in extending the inning. On a foul pop down the right field line by Rob Johnson, Cano called off first baseman Mark Teixeira and reached for the ball, but it tipped off his glove. Official scorer Howie Karpin ruled no play rather than charging Cano with an error.

No play or not, Johnson remained at the plate and eventually walked and scored on Saunders’ blast to right. It was a terrific game all around for Saunders, who made an excellent, leaping catch on the dead run in left field in the first inning to rob Cano of a potential, run-scoring extra-base hit.

“That was about the end of our chances,” Girardi noted.

It was a tough defensive night for second basemen. Figgins lost two fly balls in the moon, I guess, one of which was one of the two hits the Yankees got off Hernandez, a double in the fifth by Colin Curtis. Francisco Cervelli followed with a fly to shallow right-center that Figgins didn’t see, either, but right fielder Ichiro Suzuki did and caught it.

A lot of balls hit by the Yankees are landing in fielders’ gloves. Teixeira has an 11-game hitting streak but with only 12 hits in 44 at-bats (.273). Cano is eight for his last 33 (.242). Francisco Cervelli is 0-for-13 and 1-for-17. Kevin Russo is 4-for-31 (.129). Jorge Posada is batting .195 in 24 games since coming off the disabled list. Alex Rodriguez is hitless in his past 18 at-bats at Yankee Stadium, dropping his season average at home from .351 to .295.

Who would have thought the Mariners would put the Yankees in a funk? Maybe only Jack Zduriencik.

Bench press

Jorge Posada was the Yankees’ designated hitter Wednesday night for the second consecutive game. Do not be alarmed. There is nothing wrong physically with Posada, who was disabled for three weeks last month due to a hairline fracture in his right foot.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi assures us that Posada is healthy. The fact is the state of the Yankees’ bench is such that Posada is the best option at DH. Think about it; if Girardi didn’t use Posada, who would be his best alternate? Right. Francisco Cervelli. So it makes sense to have Cervelli catch and Posada DH.

Girardi likes the idea of a floating DH. It allows him to give at-bats to players when they need time off the field. It’s a good “day off” for aging players such as Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter (don’t tell them I wrote that). At this point, the Yankees’ bench is populated with young players getting their first real taste of the big leagues in Chad Huffman, Colin Curtis and Kevin Russo as well as second-year utilityman Ramiro Pena. Combined, they are batting .161 with no home runs and 18 RBI in 137 at-bats.

As enticing as Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee is as a trade target, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will likely be looking more for bench help as the July 31 trade deadline looms. Marcus Thames was scheduled to be in the lineup for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Wednesday, and the Yankees are hopeful to have him back soon.

Speaking of Lee, his route-going performance Tuesday night marked the first time in a regular-season game at the new Yankee Stadium that an opposing pitcher recorded a complete-game victory. The only other time it happened at the new Stadium was in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, also by Lee, then pitching for the Phillies. Tuesday night, Lee became the first lefthander to pitch a complete-game victory in the Bronx since the Red Sox’ Jon Lester July 3, 2008.

Lee also became the first major league pitcher to go the distance in three consecutive starts since former Indians teammate and fellow Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia did it for the Brewers July 13-23, 2008. Lee and CC had dinner together Monday night. Lee is a free agent at season’s end the way Sabathia was after the ’08 season. Could these teammates of the past become teammates of the future?

 

Hughes rules lose

Were the Yankees the victims of the “Hughes Rules” Tuesday night? Maybe. The Yankees’ idea of skipping Phil Hughes a turn in the rotation was designed to conserve innings and not overtax his arm, following a theory that a young pitcher should not throw more than 30 innings than his previous high workload per year.

To have Hughes able to pitch in significant games in September, the Yankees will need to hold him out of the rotation on occasion or limit his innings in starts because they want to avoid his pitching more than 175 to 180 innings. Rest does not hurt a pitcher, but it can interrupt his rhythm. Hughes appeared rusty Tuesday night and lost to a Seattle club with the worst offense in the league.

It didn’t help that it came against Mariners lefthander Cliff Lee, who showed that he hasn’t forgotten how to handle the Yankees. The 2008 Cy Young Award winner won both of the Phillies’ victories over the Yankees in the World Series last year and was every bit as effective this time with his fifth complete game in 12 starts.

Lee held the Yankees to two runs on Nick Swisher home runs until the ninth when the Yankees tried to stage  their second straight last-inning rally. They pushed across two runs, but 7-4 was as close as the Yankees could get.

A bevy of scouts were on hand at Yankee Stadium to watch Lee, who could be trade bait next month. He recorded his third consecutive complete game in 2 hours, 30 minutes, which must have delighted plate umpire Joe West. Lee was slightly off his game. He actually walked a batter. The free pass to Jorge Posada in the second was only the fifth walk yielded this year by Lee and ended a stretch of 38 innings and 144 batters without a base on balls.

Hughes’ velocity was noticeably low, his fastball topping off at 91 mph as he failed to show off that occasionally 95-mph heat. He gave back the 1-0, first-inning lead provided by the first of Swisher’s bombs in the second as .206-hitting 9-hole batter Michael Saunders doubled and scored on a single by Ichiro Suzuki.

The Mariners took the lead in the fourth on Franklin Gutierrez’s seventh home run. Seattle scored in five straight innings against Hughes, who lost for the first time in six starts and the first time in eight starts at Yankee Stadium. He had season highs in runs allowed (7), earned runs allowed (6) and hits (10) and watched his ERA swell to 3.58. Hughes’ ERA at the Stadium is 4.38; he is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA on the road.

Seattle entered the game with a .239 team batting average and was averaging 3.4 runs per game (conversely, the Yankees were averaging 5.5 runs per game), but banged out 12 hits with every member of the lineup contributing. Catcher Rob Johnson, a .208 hitter, had two doubles and two RBI.

Except for Swisher, the Yankees did nothing against Lee until the ninth. The threat ended with a runner on second as Curtis Granderson, who had two earlier hits off Lee, and Chad Huffman both popped out. The Yankees are unlikely to get involved in the Lee sweepstakes but will surely pay close attention. His destination could have consequences for them come post-season time, particularly if he should end up in Minnesota.
 

Michael R. Teevan
12.00

Series rematch? Not quite

No Hideki Matsui. No Johnny Damon. No Cliff Lee. No Pedro Martinez. No Jimmy Rollins.

You couldn’t write an account of the 2009 World Series without mentioning all of those guys prominently. So what’s all this stuff about the inter-league series between the Yankees and the Phillies at the Stadium the next three nights being a World Series rematch? The Phillies aren’t even in first place in the National League East while the Yankees are tied with the Rays for first in the American League East.

Rollins is still with the Phillies but is on the disabled list due to a strained right calf and won’t play in the series. Matsui, Damon and Lee are all wearing different uniforms, and Martinez is probably waiting to get one of those mid-season calls like he did last year from Philadelphia.

There is a sense of déjà vu with the Yankees because their starting pitchers for the series are CC Sabathia Tuesday night, A.J. Burnett Wednesday night and Andy Pettitte Thursday night, the three starters they used exclusively throughout last year’s post-season. The Yanks’ lineup Tuesday night will not include Alex Rodriguez, who had a home run and six RBI in the World Series as part of a 2009 post-season in which he batted .365 with six homers and 18 RBI in 15 games. A-Rod has tendinitis in his right hip flexor. He is available as a pinch hitter Tuesday night and may return to third base Wednesday night.

Replacing Rodriguez in the cleanup spot has been Robinson Cano, who hit his 100th career home run Sunday against the Astros. Robbie is only the third second baseman in club history to reach that plateau. The others (minimum 50 percent of games played at the position) are Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri (169) and Joe Gordon (153).

The Phils and Yanks also have the top two pitching tandems with the most combined career pitching victories. The Phillies’ Roy Halladay and Jamie Moyer have 420; the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez are next with 383. Pettitte and Moyer will oppose each other in the series finale Thursday night.

There was talk last week that a Phillies rainout made it possible for Halladay, 18-6 in his career against the Yankees, to pitch in this series. Not so. While it is true that last Wednesday night’s rainout at Citizens Bank Park against the Marlins pushed “Doc” back to Thursday, he would have started Tuesday night against the Yankees anyway because Monday was an open date for the Phillies.

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