Thursday, April 15, 2010

Game 9: Four Sticks

As the Yankees attempt to take their third straight rubber match to begin the season, both teams send young starting pitchers to the mound to make their season debuts, albeit a little bit late.

After beginning the season on the 15 day DL with a left shoulder issue, Scott Kazmir takes the ball for the Angels tonight. The 26 year old lefty had a rough go in his time with Tampa Bay last year, amassing a 5.92 ERA in 20 starts and spending almost a month on the DL with a quadriceps injury before being traded to Anaheim at the wavier trade deadline. Kazmir saw his strikeout rate dip below one per inning for the first time since his rookie season in '09 as his hit rate jumped over that 9/9IP mark for the first time in his career.

In six regular season starts with the Angels, Kazmir pitched 36 innings and gave up just 7 ER, good for a 1.73 ERA. It would appear that he found his groove out in California but judging by xFIP, the two parts of the season were virtually indistinguishable. Kazmir made three appearances in the postseason (including a start and a relief appearance against the Yankees) and didn't fare well, allowing 9 ER in 10 2/3 innings.

Given that Kazmir is due $20M over the next two years, the Angels took on significant risk when they acquired him and the early season trip to the DL isn't a good sign considering he's battled shoulder issues before. If he can stay healthy, though, Kazmir has proven he is a valuable commodity in the past. He has also had quite a few of the Yankees' numbers, Derek Jeter in particular, so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues.

For the Yankees, Phil Hughes makes his much-anticipated 2010 debut. Although he's still only 23 years old, this will be the fourth season in a row that Phil has been given a chance to start a game in April.

Back in 2007, he went on 4/28 against Toronto before the infamous hamstring injury in Texas on May 1st. In 2008, he had a 9.00 ERA after 6 April outings and was placed on the DL, supposedly with a broken rib and some other ailments although many suspected that it was just a case of "bad pitcheritis". Last year he was called up from the minors after Chien-Ming Wang came down with that same ailment to make another April 28th start and stayed in the rotation for a total of 7 games before being relocated to the bullpen in early June.

It was his performance as a reliever last year that has been the most encouraging sign of his young Major League career. In 41 appearances spanning 51.1 innings, Hughes tallied a 1.40 ERA and held opponents to an anemic .456 OPS against, allowing just 5 extra base hits. Starting is going to be a different sort of challenge for him, but Hughes says he feels much more ready than he has in the past.

After being awarded the 5th starter's job in Tampa in March, Hughes made two starts in extended Spring Training attempting to refine his pitching arsenal while the team played the Red Sox and Rays. Now he's back with the club and about to be given his fourth shot to become a full time member of the starting rotation. Let's hope he sticks there this time around.

Oh, Baby, the river's red, Oh, Baby, in my head.
There's a funny feelin' goin' on, I don't think I can hold out long.

There's a lot going on here. Nick Johnson is on the bench (just a regular day off), and Nick Swisher moves up to take his place in the two hole. Marcus Thames will DH as Randy Winn plays left field (his first start of the season), which is clearly the better choice defensively. In between those two in the bottom third of the lineup, Curtis Granderson occupies the 8th spot, one position higher than he's batted against the other lefties the Yankees have faced.
Jeter SS
Swisher RF
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Cano 2B
Posada C
Thames DH
Granderson CF
Winn LF
Erick Aybar SS
Bobby Abreu RF
Torii Hunter CF
Hideki Matsui DH
Kendry Morales 1B
Howie Kendrick 2B
Mike Napoli 2B
Brandon Wood 3B
Reggie Willits LF

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