Saturday, September 10, 2011

Yankees news: Coffee's for closers

Years before Alec Baldwin earned loads of money playing a slightly amped-up version of himself on 30 Rock, he delivered one of the great monologues in movie history in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross.

In the role of bastard sales strategist Blake, Baldwin completely destroys a roomful of salesman in an attempt to "motivate" the crew. When Jack Lemmon's character gets up during the beginning of Blake's rant to pour himself a cup of coffee, Blake barks, "Put that coffee down. Coffee's for closers only."

Great movie and I implore you to watch the scene here. As for the Yankees, there should be no coffee-drinking in their clubhouse today. Because the Yankees can't seem to close of late.

Three days. Three cities. Three wins for the opposition in their final at-bat. There's a special place in hell for a stretch of losses like this, made all the more regrettable as the Red Sox continue to stumble.

The comment section last night featured a lot of chatter about Joe Girardi blowing the game with his use of Aaron Laffey and Luis Ayala in the ninth, but I don't get that. Girardi knows the playoffs are less than a month away and he knows the Yankees will be in them.

Pitching David Robertson a second inning there simply isn't worth it. The team continues to tread lightly with Rafael Soriano. Boone Logan says he has dead arm. Bringing in Mariano Rivera? They haven't gone off script in 15 years, no reason to start now.

The Yankees blew the 2004 ALCS for a lot of reasons, but right near the top of that list was a gassed bullpen that Joe Torre murdered by overuse. Girardi, a YES broadcaster that doomed season, probably took note.

Onto the links ...

Dan Hanzus is a regular contributor to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at dhanzus@gmail or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yankees can't help Colon in Angels opener

Bartolo Colon deserved a better fate on Friday night, but then again, we've said that about Colon many times this season.

The right-hander allowed just one-run over seven innings against his former club, but the Yankees' offense couldn't solve Jered Weaver in a 2-1 loss at Angel Stadium.

It marked the third straight loss for New York, with the opponent scoring the game-winning run in the final frame of each game. This has happened over three consecutive days in three different cities, by the way. The Red Sox lost again — limiting the damage here — but something tells me the Yankees might kick themselves for how the last few days played out.

Colon wasn't the only Yankees bright spot. Jesus Montero flashed his considerable power again, giving New York its only lead with a solo shot off Weaver in the third inning. It's a small sample, but you can't help but get excited with what Montero has shown thus far: .350 average, three homers and six RBI in just 20 at-bats. That's a nice start.

Nice start for Montero, poor finish for the Yankees bullpen on Friday. The game was decided in the ninth when two Yankees relievers couldn't get the job done. First up was Aaron Laffey, who opened the inning by allowing a single to Alberto Callaspo. Exit Laffey, enter Luis Ayala. The right-hander suffered the indignity of giving up a single to Vernon Wells (.216 heading into the at-bat), putting runners on the corners with no outs. Ayala then hit Peter Bourjos with a pitch, setting the stage for Maicer Izturis, who skied out to center, picking up an easy sacrifice fly in the process. Ballgame over, Yankees lose.

Weaver was his typical ace self, allowing just one run on three hits over eight innings, striking out 11. The Yankees only stayed in the game because Colon nearly matched Weaver out for out. Colon's only real mistake came in the fifth, when he surrendered a two-out opposite field RBI single to Howie Kendrick.

The game's other big play came in the top of the ninth. With one out, Alex Rodriguez worked a walk off Angels closer Jordan Walden, fighting back after falling behind in the count, 1-2. A-Rod exited for pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez. Baserunners had been successful stealing on Walden in 12 of 13 attempts this year, but Mike Scioscia called a pitch-out at the right time, the end result an inning-busting caught-stealing.

The Yankees turn to CC Sabathia to end their losing streak on Saturday night. Things won't get any easier for the offense, which must next deal with Dan Haren.

Stray observations

  • The Yankees are reportedly concerned with the status of Nick Swisher's elbow. Swishalicious is feeling a sharp pain in the area. Obviously, losing Swisher for an extended amount of time will hurt this team badly. I just have my fingers crossed that we're not talking about a "TJ" situation here.
  • Curtis Granderson went 0-for-4 and is now hitting .268. He's going to have to hike up that average 10 points or so to stay in MVP contention. Batting average ain't dead for everybody.
  • Bobby Abreu is aging worse than the homecoming queen at your 10-year high school reunion.
  • Colon hasn't won on the road since July 2.
  • Is it just me, or does every Yankees pitcher wearing No. 22 remind you of Jimmy Key? The man left his mark, no doubt.
  • Ayala didn't get the job done tonight, but I'm going to give him a pass. He entered the game with a 1.48 ERA in 48 2/3 innings pitched. Who could've seen that coming?

Dan Hanzus is a regular contributor to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Derek Jeter's last laugh

In the fading twilight of Don Mattingly's career, every contribution by the erstwhile Hit Man was cause for celebration in the Bronx.

Mattingly was adored by Yankees fans in a way that was almost familial. He wasn't just loved, he was protected. A bad back had robbed the captain of the torque necessary to be a productive offensive player, but on the days Mattingly did find the short porch in right, a standing ovation was always in order.

There was no getting around the fact that Mattingly had no business being an everyday player by the end of his run in New York. In his last two seasons, Mattingly hit 13 homers in 830 at-bats. His OPS was a Joey Cora-like .754 in 1995, his final year before retirement.

Mattingly took heat for his lack of production, but the old media model was still in place, limiting the vitriol. WFAN's Chris Russo was outspoken in his criticism, and George Steinbrenner was accused by Mattingly himself of planting negative stories with the help of Bill Madden, columnist for the Daily News.

But with no Internet and the nasty snark streak that it helped create, Mattingly's final years played out with an air of dignity that could never happen today.

Just ask Derek Jeter. The current Yankees captain rivals Mattingly in fan adoration levels, but Jeter has faced scrutiny that Mattingly never could've imagined. Even when Jeter was in his prime, he was described by some as grossly overrated. As he's grown older, the sniping has increased considerably — first about his range at shortstop and later about his ability at the plate.

Last winter was open season on Jeter, as his ugly contract situation combined with an underwhelming 2010 campaign made for a turkey shoot. Things didn't get better as he staggered toward 3,000 hits this spring. Kevin Long's new swing model was unceremoniously scrapped (a black mark for the venerable "Cage Rat") and Jeter scuffled in April, May and June, hitting .250, .274 and .239, respectively.

In June, a calf injury sent him to the disabled list on the precipice of 3,000 and suddenly Jeter was literally limping toward the milestone. Jokes about the big hit being a misplayed infield chopper were commonplace. Derek Jeter, the great and dignified Yankee, was washed up ... and a lot of people seemed to be enjoying it.

Of course, Jeter has since altered that narrative. The shortstop put his swing back together, and is hitting .343 with three homers, 34 RBIs, 33 runs and eight stolen bases in the 51 games since his return to the lineup. His breakup with Minka Kelly may be the only blemish on an otherwise sterling summer.

Predictably, you've heard less about Jeter's revival than his supposed downfall. I suspect this bothers me more than him, however. Jeter's unflappable nature was on full display in the HBO documentary about his quest for 3,000. This was a guy with his career at a crossroads, who was being questioned on a near-daily basis about whether he was still a player, and he never blinked.

The doc was a fascinating look into Jeter's life while also distilling the core brilliance of his mastery of the media. Even when you think you're in, you're not. Jeter never lets us see him sweat. The emperor always keeps his clothes.

And that's why we can only speculate this morning about Jeter's satisfaction with how this 2011 season has played out. He won't gloat now, just as he wouldn't pout then. He is the finest example of how a professional athlete in New York — or any market — should carry himself. Just as Mattingly was a generation before.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's good to have a Frankie

If you've followed the career arc of Francisco Cervelli even a little, you knew hitting a ball over the Green Monster during a pennant race was going to conjure up emotions he'd have zero ability to harness.

Cervelli, the Yankees' fiery Venezuelan reserve catcher, is like the unpredictable cousin you reluctantly bring to a work friend's party. You spend the next four hours praying he doesn't say or do something to put someone off, and when he inevitably does, you can't even get mad at him. It's just Frankie being Frankie.

Cervelli is a fringe player in every respect, and with Jesus Montero knocking loudly at the door, he may not be long for Yankee Universe. Hell, the team nearly traded him to the Pirates last month in a deal that would've brought back Brad Lincoln, a young right-handed reliever with a career ERA of 5.66. This tells you a lot in terms of where the catcher stands in his own organization.

But Cervelli has value to this Yankees team that goes beyond his middling talent level. When Cervelli steps on the field, he brings with him an attitude that's downright refreshing after two decades of buttoned-up Yankees baseball. It's always good to have that one guy who has the innate ability to piss off the opposing team and its fanbase. It makes rooting for your team more fun.

David Ortiz has made a career of taunting the Yankees and their fans with slow trots, pointing, bat flips, and all the general buffoonery that's come to define the Big Papi Experience. When he finally got drilled by a fastball following a particularly egregious home run celebration in July, Ortiz himself pointed out that the plunking was the direct result of a media blitz designed to put him in his place.

Ortiz is a pest, which coincidentally is the term NESN announcer Jerry Remy uses to describe Cervelli. He lived up to that name Tuesday night after an exaggerated slap of his hands as he touched home plate following his homer.

The slap was right under the nose of Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and it didn't go unnoticed by the always-personable John Lackey, who drilled Cervelli in the back his next time up. The benches cleared and both sides were warned.

"I don’t remember (what was said)," Cervelli said about the fallout of his HBP, according to LoHud. "A lot of Spanish. At that moment, I forgot my English. But it’s part of the game, I’ve got a lot of energy."

That he does, and it seems to be infectious. When Saltalamacchia reached on a disputed hit by pitch in the ninth inning, Girardi nearly blew the third-base umpire away with an angry tirade that got him tossed. It's good to see these things, and you wonder how much our crazy cousin has to do with it.

When asked about his signature fist pumps after Boone Logan's huge strikeout of Darnell McDonald in the seventh inning, Cervelli provided a brief answer that seemed to sum up his entire existence in four syllables.

"That’s Cervelli."

That's a third-person reference, people! He may not play like Rickey Henderson, but Cervelli's value is greater than the sum of his parts.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Allan James brings the pain

A.J. Burnett has been so terrible for so long that it's easy to lose perspective on how wretched things have become.

If you recall, Burnett had perhaps the worst statistical season for a pitcher in the history of the franchise in 2010 (certainly the worst for a pitcher in his tax bracket). His 10-15, 5.26 abortion essentially assassinated New York's hopes of defending its title. This was supposed to be the No. 2 starter, an ace to handcuff with CC Sabathia. It can't be overstated how unacceptable his performance was.

This year — almost impossibly — he's been worse. After Friday night's wipeout by the awful Orioles, Burnett's record is 9-11 with a 5.31 ERA. To track down Burnett's last quality start (at least six innings, three or less earned runs), you have to trek all the way back to June 29 against the Brewers.

Burnett has just seven quality starts in 27 attempts this season, meaning he's been paid $2.36 million for every quality start if you choose to twist stats and money like a jerk (which, of course, I will). I'll remember this stat for rage purposes today when I'm robbing my local convenience store to pay rent.

This isn't Moneyball. This is Money-bawl-your-eyes-out.

By spring training, we were told to expect a new Allan James Burnett. As the story goes, A.J. had bought into the philosophies of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and was attacking the zone in a way he could not or would not do the previous season.

"There's still one out of every handful, but the difference is that I'm not thinking about it," Burnett said after a strong spring training outing against the Phillies on March 8. "I'm not wondering why that one out of every five or one out of every three happens. It's just, 'Get the ball and go.' Get the ball, trust yourself and make a pitch. I missed, so get up there and do it again."

It seems ridiculous that beat writers could hold a recording device in front of Burnett's face without cracking up now, but they weren't the only ones with a straight face. Joe Girardi was all in on the new A.J.

"Maybe in a way, A.J. feels like it's a fresh start," the manager said after that March start. "He's got a different pitching coach and a different catcher, so it's almost like going to a new team even though he knows it's not. The important thing is building those relationships."

Ah yes, the new catcher. In case you forgot, many of Burnett's past struggles were laid at the feet of Jorge Posada, the cranky old backstop who wasn't worth a damn anymore. Seems pretty silly, and more than a tad unfair now, doesn't it?

Girardi has developed a patience in Burnett that's not unlike the father who refuses to accept the fact that his son is a mess-up. He may be 34, still living on the couch, and unable to hold a job or girlfriend, but the old man sees the promise buried within.

I suppose this can be seen as a positive trait in a manager, especially in a town as reactionary as New York. But just like the dad who repeatedly defends the loser son, you can only stick your neck out so long before it's you who looks like a fool.

I thought about that during Girardi's postgame presser on Friday night.

"I’m frustrated for him," Girardi said. "You don’t want to see anyone struggle in this game. This game is hard. It’s tough to go through months like this, whether you’re a pitcher or a position player and you’re struggling and hitting .150 for the month. It’s tough; you’re frustrated for him. You want him to turn it around."

Due to Michael Bay-movie weather conditions that will necessitate doubleheaders, Girardi said the Yankees will stick to a six-man rotation that has Burnett scheduled to be on the hill Friday at Fenway Park. There's always the chance the Burnett the Yankees thought they were signing in 2008 shows up, the same Burnett who set the Yankees on the course for a championship with his clutch performance in Game 2 of the World Series in 2009.

But what's far more likely is another turkey shoot in Boston. Burnett will weave through an inning, perhaps two, maybe even three, before the combination of faulty temperament and an inability to harness his physical ability leads to a meltdown. Dustin Pedroia ill cap a five-run inning with a three-run homer over the Green Monster and Girardi will take the ball from Burnett, who will stalk off the mound with that mix of dejection and anger that we've become so accustomed to.

After the game, Burnett will say he has to get things right and Girardi will say he feels for his pitcher and believes he will get through this. Lather and wash. Rinse and repeat.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Burnett benefiting from lowered expectations

The Yankees did what the Yankees do on Wednesday night — they hit homers, scored a ton of runs and covered up whatever shortcomings stood between the team and victory.

In a game where the lineup crossed the plate 18 times and the bullpen allowed one hit in 4 2/3 innings, it doesn't take a genius to figure out whose slack needed to picked up at U.S. Cellular Field.

A.J. Burnett has spent the 2011 season living under the radar. This is hard for any supposed No. 2 pitcher to do, let alone a No. 2 pitcher who gets paid by the New York Yankees. I guess this happens when you're coming off one of the worst statistical seasons in franchise history. In 2010, Burnett lost 15 games with an ERA well north of 5.00. His meatball to Bengie Molina in Game 4 of the ALCS all but sealed New York's hopes of a repeat.

Saying Burnett merely struggled is like saying the Ryan Reynolds-Jason Bateman body-switch movie only slightly lowered the artistic bar in Hollywood.

The result of such suckitude has been a serious temperance in expectations. Gone is the hope that a pitcher being paid $82 million could be a second ace. Yankees fans just hope he can get through a season without one of those 0-5 months that beat up bullpens and obliterate momentum.

Of course, Burnett doesn't deserve the slack he gets. Wednesday night provided us the perfect summation of everything that's wrong with the right-hander. From the first White Sox batter, it was clear Burnett had no stuff. He couldn't located his fastball and every curve amounted to a cement mixer. As CC Sabathia proves often, lacking your full artillery is no excuse for a bad night. Sabathia routinely pitches deep into games without his best stuff, as evident by his start that opened this series.

This is a concept that Burnett cannot or will not wrap his head around. To Burnett, bad stuff equals bad start and the hope things are better in five days. Burnett seemed resigned to this Wednesday, not showing an ounce of competitiveness until there was one out in the fifth.

That's when Joe Girardi came to get the pitcher who couldn't find a way to qualify for a win despite a 13-1 lead. It was 13-7 when he exited with runners on second and third. Burnett pushed the ball into Girardi's hand and stalked off the mound before the manager could even get to him. The YES camera followed him to the dugout, catching him as he ripped off his jersey and disappeared from view.

His final line told the story: 4.1 IP, 13 H, 7 ER, 3 K, 0 BB.

Despite all the chatter about six starters for five spots and Phil Hughes pitching for his job, Burnett remains teflon, completely safe despite subpar production. Burnett's job security was evident in a postgame presser where he seemed completely at ease despite the storm cloud that should be overhead.

“I get to go in five days,” Burnett said. “That’s about it. It was one of them days, man.”

Girardi defended his starter after the game, brushing off Burnett's aggro walk from the mound while pumping up the right-hander's body of work this season.

“He’s starting on Wednesday,” Girardi said. “His numbers aren’t that bad. If you look at the numbers of Hughes, I mean, Hughesy made one good start. We look at the whole year, and A.J.’s been decent for us.”

That's where we're at. The Yankees manager is covering for his No. 2 pitcher by pointing out the failures of his No. 3. It turns out that Burnett's 2010 season didn't stay there. The ripples of those 35 starts have carried over. The bar is near the ground now, warping the perspective of what should be expected from the "ace" behind the ace.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yankees news: The CC's a Beast edition

The buzz following last night's game was all about CC Sabathia, who took a perfect game into the seventh inning in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the hapless Mariners. Carsten Charles finished with 14 strikeouts, setting a career high.

"He's always got Sabathia stuff. But today, that was by far the best I've ever seen him pitch," said Brendan Ryan, who broke up the perfecto with a single in the seventh. "I almost feel disrespectful saying that, because we all know what he's capable of. But when you're locating the fastball and the way he's throwing that slider, stealing strikes with curveballs here and there, he's absolutely filthy."

  • Joe Girardi spoke about his decision to bring Sabathia back out after two separate rain delays.
  • Tom Verducci reminisced about the 1998 Yankees in's "The Best Team I Ever Covered" series. A choice snippet from the piece says it all:

    "The '98 Yankees had such great chemistry that when Dale Sveum was released in August, he volunteered to stick around as a bullpen catcher rather than go home to his wife and kids."

To be fair, Dale could've really disliked his family. Just sayin'.
  • With each dominant Sabathia outing, his price tag goes up, up,up. The opt-out is a formality now.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.