Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Game 46: T for Texas

Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee
Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee
Give me a T for Thelma, woman made a fool out of me.

One of the unique things about Lynyrd Skynyrd was their three guitar line-up. Initially it was Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, and Ed King. When King departed in 1975, one of the band's back-up singers, Cassie Gaines, recommended her younger brother as a replacement. Steve Gaines first played with Skynyrd on May 11, 1976. The 26 year-old was brought into the band, and just three months later they gave the above performance of Jimmie Rodgers' Blue Yodel No. 1, or T for Texas as they called it, in front of 120,000 people at Knebworth Fair. Gaines is the tall bearded fella standing to Ronnie Van Zant's left, playing a black Les Paul.

Steve Gaines was a revelation and a revitalization for Skynyrd. Despite his relative youth, Gaines was at ease amongst the road-weathered band, routinely outplaying Collins and Rossington. He began co-writing with Van Zant for material to be on the Street Survivors album and Van Zant even let him take lead vocals on one of the tracks. To my ears, the Gaines material on Street Survivors represents the finest work on the album, if not Skynyrd's whole catalog. He was a prodigy, and Van Zant predicted a very bright future for the young guitarist.

Then came the plane crash. And just like that, at 28 years old, Gaines was dead, as was his sister, Van Zant, and Skynyrd's assistant tour manager. There's no telling what the artist could have gone on to had he been lucky enough to survive.

Talent and potential are funny things like that. As a fan of music or sports, you can see certain people that just seem to have "it", and it's one of the true pleasures of being a fan to watch that talent displayed and to see that potential fulfilled. On the flip side, as A Bronx Tale taught us, there's perhaps nothing more disappointing or saddening than seeing potential go unfulfilled, to see talent wasted or snuffed out.

Just as Skynyrd featured three guitarists, the Yankees have featured three young starting pitchers in recent years, all of whom have sufficient talent and potential to excite the fan base. One, Ian Kennedy, had a disappointing 2008 and it now appears that his 2009 is lost thanks to an aneurysm. A second, Phil Hughes, spun a gem yesterday, and a third, Joba Chamberlain takes to the hill tonight.

This is the Yankees only trip to Texas this year, and I'm sure they're happy about that. Chien-Ming Wang suffered his lis franc injury in Houston last year and has not yet displayed anything close to his pre-injury form. Meanwhile, up in Arlington the Yankees have seen the two crown jewels of their young arms suffer injuries in each of the last two years. In 2007 it was a pulled hamstring for Phil Hughes, derailing his no hit bid. Last year, it was a shoulder injury to Joba Chamberlain, suffered in the same game that may have begun the demise of Damaso Marte as well.

It was an unfortunate injury for Chamberlain. That game would mark the 12th and final start of 2008 for him. Despite a relatively poor performance that night, his numbers as a starter for the year were outstanding: 3-1, 2.76 ERA over 65.1 IP, 1.30 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, and 2.96 K/BB while opposing batters hit only .245/.319/.322 against him. That my friends, is scary good for anyone, let alone a 22 year-old rookie. If you want to talk about wasted talent, just kick up the old "Joba to the bullpen" argument.

Hughes exacted some measure of redemption yesterday in his return to Texas, turning in his second impressive start in row with eight innings of shutout ball, allowing just four base runners while fanning six. Chamberlain looks to follow suit tonight in his first Texas appearance since his injury last year and his first start since taking a liner off the shin last Thursday.

I for one look forward to watching these two young pitching prodigies fulfill their potential and display their talent in the Yankee rotation for several years to come.

Has Anyone Seen This Man?

When Damaso Marte was placed on the DL on May 3rd with left shoulder tendinitis/ inflammation, he had only pitched 5.1 innings in the first month of the season, allowed 14 baserunners and 9 earned runs.  Entering 2009, he was considered one of the Yankees best options for the 8th inning, but now he has faded into the oblivion of the disabled list. It's been over three weeks since he's been placed on the DL and the latest updates I could find were that he's started a throwing program (on level ground) but there is no timetable for his return.

Since coming to the Yankees as part of the Xavier Nady deal, Marte has not been good. At all. In 32 games in pinstripes (23.1 innings) his ERA stands at 7.60 and he has a WHIP of 1.521. Much was made of the one outing in Texas on August 4th last year where Joe Girardi left in him for 42 pitches, a total he had reached only one other time since April 20th, 2002. That's all well and good, but he had the entire offseason to recover and as documented above, was terrible to begin this year. 

Perhaps the Yankees are taking their time with Marte's return because he is less than two months into the 3 year/$12M contract they gave him this offseason. By the time the free agent market collapsed, it looked like a pretty bad deal. Now that he has been ineffective/totally absent for the first seven weeks of the season, it's starting to look worse.

Despite the epic suckitude Marte has displayed with the Yankees, he still has a career ERA of 3.43. He's 34 years old, so perhaps injuries are catching up to him and his best baseball is him. However, the Yankees could really use to stability at the back end of their bullpen and unfortunately, barring a trade, Marte still represents one of their best options.

Yankee Rehab

As we collectively shake off the rust from a three day weekend and the unofficial start of summer, several Yankees are now shaking off the rust down in Tampa.

Jorge Posada, Jose Molina, Xavier Nady, and Cody Ransom all went to Tampa Sunday to continue their injury rehab.

The AP reports that Posada could be in Extended Spring Training games this week, Nady could DH in minor league games in the next couple days, and Molina may be ready by week's end.

The return of either catcher will help the Yankees, allowing them to DFA the worthless Kevin Cash, who despite having a three hit day yesterday is still batting just .182. Getting rid of Cash will open up a 40 man roster spot as well and the Yankees would be wise to add Shelley Duncan, Todd Linden, or John Rodriguez so they that they have another bat at their disposal on the 40 man. Cash will assuredly clear waivers and will likely wind up back with Scranton.

Posada was having a tremendous season before injuring his hamtstring, hitting .312/.402/.584 and his return will deepen the line-up and make the bottom third of the order slightly less of a black hole.

Nady's return will create an interesting roster situation as both he and Matsui will be relegated to designated and pinch hitting duty. The original plan was to hold Matsui out of the field until the Yankees visit an NL park, but his surgically repaired knees have given him trouble this year. Matsui has grown progressively worse in the field over the past several years and probably shouldn't see the outfield in anything other than an emergency situation. Still, having one or two bats of that quality available on the bench will be a luxury the Yankees have not enjoyed this year.

Ransom is on the 60 day DL and not eligible to return for another month. Given his poor play prior to his injury and the emergence of Ramiro Pena as a viable infield option I'm not so sure we'll see Cody Ransom in pinstripes again.