Saturday, August 21, 2010

New York Yankees: Faith in Javier Vazquez in Short Supply

It's starting to look increasingly clear that—now some three quarters into the season—the Yankees have lost their gamble on Javier Vazquez.

The team wagered this offseason that it had acquired the 2009 version of Vazquez, the ace pitcher in Atlanta who was second in the NL in strikeouts and nearly won a Cy Young award, and not the wounded puppy 2004 version of Vazquez, who staggered to the finish line for the Yankees before surrendering perhaps the most infamous home run in franchise history.

It'd be easy to say the Yankees are witnessing the '04 Vazquez at work...but that may not be fair to even that much-maligned model.

That version of Vazquez gave up a very notable home run that landed in the upper deck of old Yankee Stadium. The terrace of the former Stadium hung over the right-field grandstand, making it a place where hitters with even mediocre pop—read: Damon, Johnny—could reach with relative ease.

This new version of Vazquez is still giving up home runs in the Yankee Stadium upper deck, but now we're talking about a new ballpark with a reset upper tank over 430-feet from home plate. No one had ever went up there before Vazquez started throwing his meatballs specials on Saturday afternoon.

They might as well bury Russell Branyan on top of Vazquez one day, because the Mariners slugger now owns the right-hander forever.

Vazquez is in a miserable extended rut for the Yankees, his second such slide of the season. Sunday's three-plus inning outing represented the shortest start of his season and he's now winless in his last four starts with a 6.75 ERA. He hasn't completed seven innings in a start since July 26.

As bad as Vazquez was on Saturday, it could have been worse. The notoriously weak-hitting Mariners were teeing off on a fastball that was barely touching 85 MPH, and Vazquez was fortunate a number of hard hit balls found Yankee defenders.

The right-hander will enter September with the same reputation for being soft that he had when he came to camp in February. But now, the even more disturbing subplot of an apparent erosion of stuff is coming into sharp focus.

This makes for a very tricky situation for a Yankee team without Andy Pettitte and already dealing with the perpetual start-to-start schizophrenia of A.J. Burnett.

Are we witnessing the beginning of a decline for a once-productive pitcher? Or will we see Vazquez take the Pavano route, wilting in New York then succeeding in a market where the lights don't shine so bright?

Either scenario is feasible. Unfortunately, both options are more likely than Vazquez ever becoming the type of pitcher the Yankees believed he should have been.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.