Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Game 93: Solsbury Hill

The path that leads to playing Major League Baseball can be quite winding and treacherous, as both of tonight's starting pitchers (and former Cubs prospects) could probably tell you, although for very different reasons.

Despite being one year younger than Rich Hill, Sergio Mitre reached the Major Leagues two years earlier. Mitre enrolled in San Diego City College in 1999 and was taken in the 7th round of the 2001 Draft by the Cubs. He was the second player in the organization to reach the Big Leagues out of that draft, behind only the highly touted Mark Prior. He made two starts and a relief appearance in 2003, after being called up from Double-A West Tennessee and actually began the 2004 season on the 25 man roster before being sent down to Triple-A Iowa.

Hill, meanwhile, attended the University of Michigan and was chosen in the 4th round of the 2002 Draft, also by the Cubbies. A left-hander born in the Boston area, Hill was always known for his devastating curveball and gaudy strikeout rates, boasting double digit K/9 ratios at every level of minor league ball before being called up to the Bigs in 2005.

The two pitchers were briefly teammates on the '05 Iowa Cubs, when Mitre was being shuttled between Chicago and the farm team to fill in gaps in the rotation and Hill was a highly regarded prospect, striking out 190 batters in 130 2/3 innings between A, AA and AAA that year.

The following offseason, Mitre was part of a package sent to the Marlins, along with Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto, in exchange Juan Pierre who had only one year left on his contract. Mitre made decent contributions to the Marlins, but both Nolasco and Pinto have outperformed expectations and became solid contributors at various times.

Hill spent the 2006 season between AAA and the Majors, throwing 95 innings to a 4.17 ERA, but seemed to truly break out in '07. Over 195 innings, he struck out 183 and had a WHIP of 1.195, compiling an 11-8 record. He began the 2008 season with the team, but after walking 18 batters in 19 2/3 innings, he was sent back to Iowa. Rich never made another appearance with the Cubs and was finally traded to Baltimore last offseason for the ever ubiquitous "player to be named later".

Mitre's issues can be traced back to one major injury, which lead to Tommy John surgery last year, after which he was released by the Marlins. On the other hand, Hill blames his struggles on a host of smaller things:
It's been incredibly frustrating. It just seems like I had all of my injuries all at once and there were little things. There were no tears or problems that required back surgery but just little things that messed with my delivery and my mechanics. I've also made some adjustments.
Mitre had his surgery just over one year ago, but has seemingly made a quick recovery. He's needed only 9 starts to ascend from Trenton to the Bronx. The sinkerballer issues few walks and doesn't collect many strikeouts either, but has had better results than ever since coming aboard with the Yanks.

The same can't be said for Hill, who has had a rough go thus far with the O's. He's walked 33 while striking out 43 in 52 1/3 innings (11 starts) leading to an ugly 7.22 ERA. His most recent start was solid, however, lasting 6 innings, giving up two runs and walking only one batter. Hill has never faced anyone in the current Yankee line-up.

Mitre hasn't pitched in the Big Leagues since 2007, and has never faced the Orioles. So it would seem like a good opportunity for each climb the hill and get a fresh start.

To keeping silence I resigned,
My friends would think I was a nut,
Turning water into wine,
Open doors would soon be shut.

So I went from day to day,
Though my life was in a rut,
'til I thought of what I'd say,
Which connection I should cut.

Wang's Nightmare Continues

Yesterday, Chien-Ming Wang was scheduled to play catch for the first time since leaving his July 4th start with a sore shoulder. His throwing session was cut short due to pain, either in his biceps or shoulder depending upon whose account you're reading. He's now shut down until at least Friday.

This is just the latest in a series of professional misfortunes for Wang, starting with his torn lis franc ligament in Houston last June. Then came the less-than-ideal off-season rehabilitation instructions from the Yankees. After a shaky spring training, Wang opened the season with three historically awful starts. The Yanks found questionable cause to place him on the DL, then completely, totally, and utterly botched his rehab assignment, recalling him in a panic after Joba Chamberlain lasted just two thirds of an inning in his May 21st start, after taking a liner off the leg.

From there, Wang wallowed in mop-up man limbo for two weeks, not effective enough to justify giving him regular work and not working regularly enough to pitch himself back into effectiveness. Placed back into the rotation on June 4th with neither the stamina nor the confidence to do the job properly, Wang turned in six starts that ranged from bad to lackluster, going 1-3 and lowering his ERA to 9.64.

As I said after his shoulder injury, anything the Yanks get from CMW this year has to be considered gravy now. 2009 is a lost cause for him. Even Mr. Optimistic himself seems doubtful of Wang contributing this year, and that may be more telling than any medical report or release point analysis.

Just before the one year anniversary of his initial injury, Jay pondered if that 2008 Fathers' Day game marked the peak of CMW's career. At the time I part thought and mostly hoped that it was premature to even consider that. Now, I think there may be more merit to it.

Sergio Mitre, a fellow sinkerballer, gets his first start for the Yanks tonight. After yesterday's developments, he may find himself in that role for the forseeeable future. Then again, with the non-waiver deadline just 10 days away, he may not be there for long. Who knows. But Wang's latest setback only creates more questions, both for his future and for the state of the Yankee rotation.

The Undoucheification Of The New Stadium Has Begun

Via our pal Ross from New Stadium Insider, who was at the game last night, comes the news that the Peter Max Art Gallery has been removed from the Field Level of the New Yankee Stadium in favor of a New York Yankees Women's Team Store. Soooo, people don't buy art work when they go to baseball games? Could a store that caters to the ladies with enough disposable income to be sitting in seats that cost hundreds of dollars might be a little more profitable? Shocking!

I wrote a post earlier on in the season about the divide between the Field Level and the rest of the Stadium and dropped a photo of the Peter Max gallery to illustrate how far over the top it the Yanks have gone.

It's good news that they've responded so quickly to their obvious misstep and hopefully they'll be willing to change some other unpopular things that don't have such a direct connection to the bottom line.

November 2010... FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!!!1!

If you watched last night's game from the beginning on YES, then you probably experienced the excruciating half inning sit-ins by Rich Ellerson and Charlie Weis. The head coaches of the Army and Notre Dame football teams were there to promote the meeting between the two powerhouses of modern college football in November 2010, verbally excrete as many cliches as possible and slowly lull anyone watching the broadcast to sleep before three outs were recorded.

I have mixed feelings about having football games played in the New Yankee Stadium to begin with. The reason that they played football there in the past was out of necessity, since there wasn't a football stadium in the area. However, now there most certainly is, and by the 2010 season, there's going to be a brand new one in the Meadowlands (where Notre Dame already has plans to play Navy that year). It's yet another example of Lon Trost & Co. making misguided, nostalgic attempts to celebrate the history of the Old Stadium. You can acknowledge the past with out reliving it, Lon. This is a brand new billion dollar baseball stadium, they can play football in the brand new billion dollar football stadium across the river.

These guest visits were another issue all together. It was little more than self-congratulatory back slapping for the Yankees and the YES Network and served no purpose to the fans who tuned in to, you know, watch a baseball game. Why distract from a sporting event that's actually unfolding right in front of our eyes? They did nothing but promote an event that isn't going to happen for 16 months and figures to be totally lopsided, unwatchably boring or both when it's finally played. Save the date, folks!

There was already a press conference about the football game. Isn't that enough? Let's be realistic, no one is making plans for the game yet. Yes, it raised the awareness. But we are going to be battered over the head with promotions for the next year and third and most people aren't going to decide until that day or possibly during that game if they are going to watch it.

Especially after the amount of innings spent ignoring the action on the field with visitors in the booth yesterday, you'd think that YES would have refrained from doing two more today. Instead we got to hear Ellerson talk about his team's practice schedule and Weis go on about how he always wanted to be a Yankee announcer in the most lifeless drone ever heard in a broadcast booth. I can't imagine why that didn't work out for you Charlie.

Enough with the guests. We just want to watch the game.

Three Two To Ones

For the third day in a row the Yankees won a game by the score of 2-1. They are the first games of the year the Yanks have won while scoring two or fewer runs and they'd only notched two victories while scoring 3 runs or fewer before the All-Star Break. The odds of matching up a great pitching performance like the one put together by Andy Pettitte and the bullpen tonight to cover a weak offensive output are slim, and during the first few innings, it looked like the match-up was headed in an entirely different direction.

The first batter of the game, Brian Roberts, lofted a deep fly ball into the left field corner which barely stayed in the park. Up next, Nick Markakis blasted one into the home bullpen to make the score 1-0. The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first, but David Hernandez won a 9 pitch battle with Robinson Cano to end the inning. They got on the board soon thereafter, though, with a solo shot by Eric Hinkse in the bottom of the second.

Despite the exciting start, the offenses stalled out.

Both Pettitte and Hernandez found their stride and cruised through the middle innings. Allowing three hits and three walks, Herdandez went six frames but threw 103 pitches, due in part to the 35 it took him to get out of the first. Pettitte gave up 6 hits, but compensated with two double plays and a season-high 8 strikeouts. He left mess in the 8th inning for Phil Coke to clean up, though.

With one out and men on second and third, Nick Markakis lined Coke's first pitch to Mark Teixeira, who fired an off balance throw to Jose Molina with Caesar Izturus heading towards the plate. Molina grabbed the throw across this body, and swept a tag towards the plate, just barely in front of the runner. The ball was nearly falling out of his glove, but he trapped it against the ground as Izturus' foot nearly knocked it out. Brain Roberts advanced to third on the play.

Facing Adam Jones, Coke uncorked a wild pitch past Molina, but the veteran catcher quickly tracked and down and fired to Coke covering the plate, who tagged Roberts on an extra wide slide towards home. Two pitches, two fantastic defensive plays, and the lead was preserved.

With it apparent that both Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes were likely unavailable, it wasn't clear who Girardi would call on to get big outs in the game. After Coke may or may not have hit Adam Jones with a pitch and got Aubrey Huff to fly out to center, our boy Alf was summoned from the 'pen to keep the game tied. Aceves got Melvin Mora to fly out to center and intentionally walked Luke Scott, before rookie Nolan Riemold flied to left for the third out.

A-Rod had the first chance to end the game in the bottom of the 9th, but he hit a flare right at Brain Roberts who had him played nearly straight away, behind second base. Hideki Matsui was next up. He took the first two pitches for balls, fouled the next three off and took the sixth one to the right field bleachers for a walk off HR.

It was the Yankees' 9th such victory this year (and 8th subsequent pie in the face - see comments) and it moved them to 15-11 in one run games. It's thanks to games like this that the Yanks continue to outperform their run differential and are now tied for first place in the AL East for the fifth separate time this season despite having gone just 16-17 within the division.