Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Game 51: Lost Highway

The last home game that Javier Vazquez started took place exactly one month ago. It didn't go well. Facing the manager who validated the belief that many people had already held about Vazquez's inability to pitch under pressure, in front of an increasingly restless home crowd, Javy allowed more runners to reach base (11) than he retired (9). He came out for the fourth inning but went single-homer-walk against the bottom third of the White Sox line up and was pulled after issuing a walk to punchless leadoff man Omar Vizquel.

Since he was removed from the game mid-inning - something that Joe Girardi probably wanted to avoid at all costs - Vazquez handed the ball over and made the long walk from the mound to the dugout while being serenaded with a chorus of Bronx cheers (and probably much worse things that I couldn't make out from watching the game on TV).

Since then, due to some shrewd pitching rotation tinkering and a couple of skipped starts, Vazquez's only other three outings in May came on the road in what are considered to be three of the best six or seven pitcher's parks in the league: Comerica Park, Citi Field and Target Field.

The Yankees claimed to have other reasons for the re-shuffling, but from a distance it seemed as if they were trying to give Javy a chance to build up some confidence without the relentless home crowd breathing down his neck and waiting to vocally object to his failures. And for the most part, the plan went fairly well. He threw seven innings of two run ball in Detroit and six shutout frames against the Mets before injuring his finger on a bunt attempt. However, Vazquez's most recent outing in Minnesota was far less impressive.

Whether or not the bruise on his finger had anything to do with it, Javy was hit hard by the Twinkies. He gave up 11 baserunners and couldn't finish the sixth inning. But I think his performance was actually worse than his line (5.2IP, 5ER, 8H, 3BB, 2K) indicates. Javy got only 4 swinging strikes in 112 pitches while allowing seven line drives and ten fly balls. The Twins were making solid contact over and over again, and Javy was lucky not only that Sergio Mitre got the final three outs of the fourth without allowing any inherited runners to score but also that more of the Twins' balls in play didn't fall for hits. Or that he wasn't pitching in a different ballpark where more of them likely would have ended up as home runs.

It hurts to even think this, but that start reminded me of one of Chien-Ming Wang's last year where the ball just seemed to be breaking right along hitter's swing planes and they could hardly miss.

In my opinion, if you want to be optimistic about Vazquez's chances putting together a strong performance tonight, you have to A) have absolutely no respect for the Orioles, B) convince yourself that the flat, tailing fastballs and hanging breaking pitches in Minnesota were a result of the bruise on the top of his index finger but that has healed up over the long weekend or C) completely disregard that game in Minneapolis all together. I can't bring myself to do any of the three.

Maybe this is just an elaborate, subconscious form of reverse psychology, but I have less confidence in Vazquez heading into tonight than I've had at any point since they reacquired him over the winter. It certainly felt like he made some progress in those two starts against the Tigers and Mets and there is a chance that he shuts down the Orioles, who have scored the fewest runs in the American League by a wide margin. But I can't shake the sneaking feeling that this is going to turn into another ugly scene with a sub-par effort and subsequently rowdy fans.

What I don't think many Yankees fans want to acknowledge is that Vazquez is skating on some very thin ice right now. He's clearly working with a diminished pitching arsenal and has produced all of two quality starts in his eight times out. The Yankees have been nothing but patient with him this far, but tonight he's going to have to make that outing against Minnesota look like it was the anomaly, not the two good ones in Detroit and Queens. He's going to have to put together a strong start at home or else he might not have too many more chances to do so. There are only so many exits left.

Oh the day we met, I went astray,
I started rolling down that lost highway.

I was just a lad, nearly 22,
Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you,
And now I'm lost, too late to pray,
Lord I paid a cost, on the lost highway.
[Song notes: There is a musical, a book and several collections of songs dedicated to the life and times of Hank Williams entitled "The Lost Highway". There was also a shitty movie that came out in 1997 and a terrible Bon Jovi song by the same name, but you didn't think I was going to use that one did you?

Interestingly, "Lost Highway" was not actually Williams' original song. It was first recorded by Leon Payne, most famous for his tune "I Love You Because". Williams' version wasn't popular when it was first released but because he died while on the road in a Cadillac on New Year's Day, 1953, it took on increased significance.

It's a poignant tune regardless of Williams' untimely demise, and like many of his other songs, the combination of his voice and the slide guitar in the background is uniquely evocative. I'm not a country music fan by any stretch but I do thoroughly enjoy a lot of Hank Williams' catalog.]


Matt here with the lineups. Derek Jeter's sore hamstring was enough to force him to leave yesterday's game, but not enough to keep him out of tonight's. With a lefty on the mound Nick Swisher replaces Curtis Granderson in the two spot. Granderson drops to eighth. Brett Gardner gets the night off with Kevin Russo starting in left field. Marcus Thames is the DH and Jorge Posada has not yet been activated, so once again it's Francisco Cervelli behind the plate.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Francisco Cervelli C
Curtis Granderson CF
Kevin Russo LF


  1. The O's Matusz is coming off two poor outings of his own. This may very well turn into a 4-hour slug fest, despite the Orioles' difficulty scoring runs. They always seem to play us tough.

  2. Pitches finding bats--it's amazing how a pitcher who would appear to have good stuff and throw hard with movement nonetheless can't get anyone out. It's that millimeter of difference that separates the hot prospect from the veteran, and that enables those that can harness it--Jamie Moyer, e.g.--to hang around forever.

    Sounds like Javy is missing that extra bit of touch.

  3. Uh, forget what I said. Javy pitched a good game, especially getting out of a 2nd and 3rd, no out situation. Matusz was equally good, but a throwing error by Tejada, which Wigginton should have fielded, cost him the chance for a win. 2:47 and a Yankee victory. I'll take it.

  4. What an interesting game.

    I have no respect for the Orioles, so I won't draw any kind of conclusion whatsoever on the performance of anyone involved. I'll say ''Good job, now do it again'' to Javy and hope our offensive outbreak against a crappy Cleveland team wasn't just a data point. And I'll sulk about Toronto and Oakland blowing leads tonight...