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Oh Baseball, How We Missed You

April 8, 2011 - John Whittaker
Oh baseball, how I've missed you.

When I was out shoveling the driveway and sidewalk after waking up to six inches of new snow, I thought of you.

When I was freezing my cojones off warming the car up in the middle of January, I thought of you.

When I watched yet another 30 teams in 30 days feature on the Kansas City Royals, I really thought of you.

So, maybe, just possibly, when the games started for real, I overdid it a little.

I've seen four of the six games thanks to the greatest channel ever, the YES Network. So in order to avoid feeling like I wasted 16 hours of my life, here are my thoughts on the first week of the season.

Through a week of games, the Yankees are a solid 4-2, and would be 5-1 if not for a spectacular meltdown by Rafael Soriano on Tuesday against the Twins that spoiled a gem of a performance by C.C. Sabathia.

Overall, not too shabby.

Here's hoping, after a long offseason that I haven't lost my fastball - unlike Phil Hughes.

Concerns

Phil Hughes: I think Hughes may be on the verge of needing to break out the leather jacket and ugly glasses a la Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn in Major League 2, or start using steroids, a la Roger Clemens circa 1999. How does a guy forget to throw a fastball? It's like the guy came up with a changeup and a cut fastball, named them the Mr. Mediocre and Ol' Senior Slappywag and forgot that old Mr. Terminator, the plain, boring 95 mile an hour fastball, is what got him to the big leagues in the first place. It's alright to easily throw 90 or 91 miles an hour, but there are times in a game when you need to turn up the dial and unleash a 95 or 96 mile an hour fastball, especially when your curveball and other pitches aren't generating swings and misses. Hughes is reaching back for the good heater right now and coming up with nothing. That's why he's having so many 8 or 9 pitch at-bats, and that's why he's out of the game in the fifth inning. (Editor's note: Hughes imploded Friday, tossing up a nifty 6-run, 7-hit, 2-inning outing against the Red Sox, including an 8-pitch at-bat and a 7-pitch at-bat in which he wasn't able to put hitters away with two strikes).

The Top Of The Lineup: Derek Jeter is my favorite current Yankee, and I love the speed and aggressiveness that Brett Gardner brings. With that said, the Yankees need better than a .238 average from Jeter (though his .346 on-base percentage isn't the most horrible thing ever) and that tidy .167 average and .250 on-base percentage they got last week from Gardner. When Mark Teixeira is swinging the bat as well as he did last week, imagine the damage he could have done with more runners on in front of him. Jeter seems to be struggling to hit anything with any authority, which makes me wonder if changing stances did little more than clutter his head. As for Gardner, it's simple — work more walks and start beating out some infield ground balls. Brett may be entering Willie Mays Hayes territory — pushups for every fly ball.

Pleasant Surprises

Russell Martin: So far, so good. I hadn't seen Martin play in a couple of years since, as I've gotten older, I really don't like staying up for West Coast baseball games. Martin reminds me of Joe Girardi with a little more pop in his bat. It's a change to have a catcher with some speed. The downsisde of this move is that I still don't see Jorge Posada as a designated hitter. I love Jorge, but he's really streaky with the bat. Last weekend, when he was popping home runs like Barry Bonds' back was popping new bacne, was great. The downside is when Jorge goes through one of his patented 2-20 slumps — there are no points for weak ground balls in this league.

A.J. Burnett: So far, so good after two starts. With the way Hughes is struggling, it's nice to see Burnett doing his job. In both starts, there were periods where he could have unraveled and let a couple of bad pitches mushroom into four or five runs, but he battled through and held a lead. Equally good for Yankees fans is that Burnett's velocity is good — he's throwing in 93-94 in the cold of early April, so expect another couple of miles an hour on the fastball when the weather warms up. He's throwing a decent changeup just enough to keep hitters honest and his control is much better than it was last year. Encouraging, also, is Burnett's 11 strikeouts in 11 innings. He won the second game of the season. Then, he won again Thursday. That's two in a row. If he wins again Tuesday, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before. Sorry, I blacked out there for a second, and apparently Lou Brown hijacked my computer.

The Jury's Still Out

Bartolo "El Burrito Grande" Colon and Freddy Garcia: I just haven't seen enough yet. If Hughes keeps struggling, does Colon step into a rotation spot? Will the Yankees bring back the bullpen car to keep El Biggo Fatto Mexicano from keeling over from a heart attack when he's coming into a game? Here's hoping for a good season from the Round Mound of Career Rebound, because the Yankees look like they're counting on him at this point. Colon hasn't looked terrible, though he did give up four runs to Detroit in relief of Hughes on Sunday. At the very least, he's shown a decent fastball and he has grown up a bit in his ability to make pitches even though he doesn't have the awesome pure stuff he had in Cleveland and early on in Los Angeles. As for Garcia, he hasn't pitched yet since his only start was sleeted out.

The Week Ahead

At Boston on Saturday and Sunday (Ivan Nova and C.C. Sabathia scheduled to pitch), then back home for three-game sets against Baltimore and Texas.

 
 

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Seriously, El Burrito Grande qualifies as a bright spot this year for the Yankees. Anyone who thought that in January should be giving me stock advice.