Tagged: Matt Thornton

The loss by the Yankees to the Indians on Thursday added insult to injury

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

The Yankees lost 9-3 to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night at Progressive Field. The Yankees were on track to win the game with a 3-0 lead in the top of the seventh after scoring two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth, but the previously reliable bullpen allowed nine runs combined in the seventh and eighth.

David Phelps, who had only allowed three runs combined in his previous two starts, continued his improved pitching as he only allowed two runs in six innings pitched. However, it could have been zero runs in six innings if Matt Thornton would have prevented Phelps’s two inherited runners from scoring in the seventh. Thornton hadn’t allowed a run in his previous nine appearances, but his ineffective pitching led to a loss for the Yankees.

Manager Joe Girardi was impressed by how Phelps pitched and was disappointed that they couldn’t get the win for him. “He threw pretty well,” Girardi said. “It is unfortunate that we were not able to win the game for him. He has been really good. He has been on a little bit of a roll for us, which is important.

Phelps gave up a single to Chris Dickerson and Roberto Perez’s first career hit in his first game before being taken out of the game. Thornton allowed those two runners to score and allowed two runs of his own as Asdrubal Cabrera hit a triple to right that scored three runs and Michael Brantley hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Cabrera.

Perez also hit his first major league home run in the eighth inning. His two-run blast off of rarely used reliever Jim Miller to made the score 6-3. The Indians would score three more runs in the frame off of Miller, highlighted by a 394-foot two-run homer by Carlos Santana.

Girardi could have left Phelps in longer, but Phelps had thrown 103 pitches after allowing those two consecutive singles. The Yankees struggles with runners in scoring position continued as they were only 1-5 in those situations. In the first inning, Francisco Cervelli, who has hit well with the bases loaded in his career, struck out with the bases loaded and two outs.

Yangervis Solarte, who was recalled from AAA Scranton before the game since Carlos Beltran was put on the 7-day concussion disabled list, had a single to left to score Cervelli for the team’s only hit with RISP. The Yankees scored their other two runs off of a two-run homer by rookie Zelous Wheeler. This was his second homer in his first 18 at-bats since being brought up from AAA Scranton.

Derek Jeter, who was 2-4 in the game, now has 1,000 career multi-hit games. It is yet another milestone in his Hall of Fame career.

Masahiro Tanaka will now be out for at least six weeks with a partial tear of his UCL. He will have a PRP injection in the coming days, and Brian Cashman said that Tommy John surgery could be an option. This very much hurts the rotation as he has been by far the team’s best starter so far. Cashman has said that they will try to improve the team before the trade deadline, which means that he will likely add another starter since 80 percent of the rotation to begin the season is on the disabled list.

They loss meant that they split the series with the Indians, with the Yankees winning the first and third game and the Indians winning the second and fourth. The Yankees bullpen had a 1.75 ERA in their previous 16 games, and part of the reason the bullpen gave up so many runs last night was because the most reliable options were not available as a result of Wednesday’s 14 inning game. The team is now four games behind the Baltimore Orioles before they start a three-game series in Baltimore on Friday.

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Davis’s sac fly in the ninth off of Shawn Kelley overshadowed Tanaka’s solid first start at Yankee Stadium

Shawn Kelley pitching for the Yankees last season.

Shawn Kelley pitching for the Yankees last season.

Shawn Kelley‘s two earned runs in the ninth inning came after Masahiro Tanaka’s seven strong innings in his first start at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees lost 5-4  as result of going 1-6 with runners in scoring position and grounding into two double plays.

The Yankees continued their pattern of not hitting well with runners in scoring position to begin the season. With the offense that the Yankees have, even though Mark Teixeira is injured, they should be able to win games when the starter allows three runs. However, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury both went 0-4, McCann grounded into a double play and Yangervis Solarte’s double play ended the game.

In the second inning, Carlos Beltran hit his first homer as a Yankee, and after Miguel Gonzalez retired McCann and Alfonso Soriano, Kelly Johnson hit his second homer as a Yankee, to make the score 3-2. The Yankees scored a run in the fourth, but based on Beltran hitting a double to right to leadoff the inning, they should have scored at least two. There were no hits after the double, and Beltran scored as a result of a groundout to the shortstop by Soriano.

Once again, in the eighth inning, Brett Gardner hit a double to leadoff the inning, but the Yankees were unable get a hit to drive him home. After Gardner was sacrificed to third by Derek Jeter, McCann and Ellsbury both were not able to get a clutch hit.

Tanaka gave the Yankees all they could have asked for in his pressure-filled first start at home. After allowing a three-run homer to Jonathan Schoop in the second, Tanaka only allowed three hits in the next five innings. In seven innings pitched, the 25-year-old had an impressive 10 strikeouts, seven hits and only one walk. It is a positive sign that Tanaka was able to rebound from a rocky beginning of the game in front of the home fans just like he did in Toronto.

Kelley, who is the closer with David Robertson on the 15-day disabled list, allowed two runs and four hits in the ninth. He came in with the score tied at three, but in the non-save situation, Chris Davis’s sacrifice fly that scored Schoop ended up being the game winner.

The Yankees scored a run in the ninth off of a sac fly, but they had a chance to tie or win the game, but Solarte, who has been a revelation so far, could not come through with a clutch hit when the team needed one.

It would make sense to have Matt Thornton pitch in the ninth inning with Robertson out because Thornton has experience closing games. He had a combined 23 saves in his tenure with the Chicago White Sox, and Kelley has rarely pitched in the eighth or ninth inning previously in his career.

The bullpen for the Yankees has potential this season

Dellin Betances pitching for the Yankees.

Dellin Betances pitching for the Yankees.

The bullpen for the Yankees will look much different in 2014 than it did in 2013. They will be without Mariano Rivera, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain and David Huff. David “Houdini” Robertson will also be in a different role as he will be the closer this season after pitching in the eighth inning in 2013 as Rivera’s set-up man.

Mariano Rivera, who has 652 saves, has retired as the best closer in Major League history. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Boone Logan, who was a reliable lefty pitcher for the Yankees for four seasons, signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies. Joba Chamberlain signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Tigers after seven seasons as a starting and relief pitcher with mixed results. He was very successful as a relief pitcher (Joba Rules) early in his career helping the team get to the playoffs, then mostly struggled as a starter and then his return to the bullpen included a dispute with Rivera. David Huff, who did not add much as a reliever last season, was traded to the San Francisco Giants for cash considerations in January.

The Yankees will be counting on David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne, and Dellin Betances even more this season. David Phelps and Adam Warren could return to the bullpen as well. They have brought in Matt Thornton to essentially replace Logan as the primary lefty in the bullpen. Left-hander Cesar Cabral could replace Warren or Phelps.

Robertson is ready to handle the pressure of being the closer as he has pitched well as the primary eighth inning pitcher for the last three seasons. He had a 1.08 ERA in 2011, 2.67 ERA in 2012 and a 2.04 ERA last season. He has repeatedly proven that he can get a big strikeout or grounder to strand runners that are in scoring position. Robertson has a very effective curveball that he uses when he needs to get an out. All of the advice that Robertson has received from Rivera should help him adjust to the pressure of the ninth inning.

The eighth inning is currently  up for grabs. Kelley appears to have the inside track based on how he pitched last season in the seventh. He had a 4.39 ERA last season, but that is a result of not pitching well in September. This was likely because he pitched in 57 games, while his previous high was 47 games with the Seattle Mariners. His ERA was consistently in the mid 3’s in July and August. His ability to record strikeouts is an asset as he had 71 in only 53.1 innings.

Thornton, who signed a two-year contract for $7 million after pitching last season with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox, had a 3.74 ERA in 2013. The lefty pitched a lot better against lefties (.235 batting average against) than righties (.333 batting average against) last season. His first two seasons were for the Mariners in 2004 and 2005, but he truly established himself as a solid relief pitcher in his seven full season with the White Sox. His ERA was below 3.00 from 2008-2010, and he even picked up eight saves in 2010. For the Yankees, he could close in an emergency, come in to get a lefty out in a key situation and even come in to pitch the whole inning.

Another pitcher that has the potential to be a key member of the bullpen based upon his performance last season is Claiborne, who is entering his second season. He finished his rookie campaign with a 4.11 ERA, 42 strikeouts in 50.1 innings and four holds. The righty from Dallas who was called up on May 5 did not allow any runs in his first seven appearances, and had an outstanding 1.46 ERA after his 20th game. He was on track for finishing with an ERA below 3, but struggled in September like Kelley did.

Betances, who is a towering 6’8″ righty who grew up in the Lower East Side and went to Grand Street Campus High in Brooklyn, pitched very well last season in AAA in relief. He had been a one of the team’s best prospects as a starter along with Manny Banuelos and Andrew Brackman a few years ago, but the decision was made in the middle of the summer that he would have more value in the bullpen as a result of his struggles with control. In 10 games before being called up to the Yankees at the end of August Betances pitched a total of 19.1 innings and only allowed one run (0.47 ERA).

He is able to use his intimidating presence to his advantage out of the bullpen. So far in spring training he has converted 6 and 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. His started using a slurve, which is a mixture between a slider and curveball, in 2012 after mechanical issues with his curve and has been able to use it very effectively during the spring. He has been able to control his 95 MPH fastball so far, and he needs to continue doing that.

Betances is a dark-horse, but if he continues pitching the way he has been, he could prove to be a valuable relief pitcher in the seventh or eighth inning. He is great stuff and has been commanding his pitches, so it seems like he could start the season in the seventh for the Yankees, even though a he can still be sent to AAA without being released.

Betances grew up a Yankees fan and attended David Wells’s perfect game in the bleachers, so it would be fitting if he is able to be a key pitcher out of the bullpen for the Bronx Bombers. He is unproven pitching in the seventh or eighth inning, but based on his numbers so far as a reliever and the effectiveness of his pitches, he has the possibility of being a better option than Kelley in May or June.

Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton can be important pieces for the 2014 Yankees

Matt Thornton on photo day in 2011.

Matt Thornton on photo day in 2011.

On Tuesday, December 17, the Yankees made two signings in Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton that have the potential to fill areas of need. The Yankees have agreed to a low risk high reward $2 million, one-year deal with Roberts, who is going into his 14th season.

Since the Yankees lost the ineffective Joba Chamberlain to the Detroit Tigers and the reliable Boone Logan to a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies, the Yankees needed to acquire another arm for their bullpen. They signed Matt Thornton to a  two-year, $7 million contract that was first reported by Jack Curry. Thornton is the second player that the Yankees have signed this offseason who has previously played for the Boston Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury, their new $153 million center fielder, played the first seven seasons of his career in Boston.

Thornton is coming off a season where he had a 3.74 ERA while appearing in 40 games for the Chicago White Sox and 20 games for the Red Sox. He had his highest ERA and WHIP since (3.74/1.43) his outlier season of 2007 when he had a 4.79 ERA and 1.50 WHIP at age 30 (Walks and Hits divided by Innings Pitched). Thornton, from 2008-2010, while playing for the White Sox never had an ERA above 2.74 or a WHIP above 1.07. He has also averaged better than a strikeout per inning for his career as he has 582 strikeouts in 568.1 innings.

The 37-year-old lefty from Michigan is showing signs of declining with age based on his 2013 season, but when you compare his stats from last year to Logan’s he is not really that much of a downgrade. Logan had a 3.23 ERA in 39 innings with 50 strikeouts and Thornton who pitched better in the second half last season with Boston had a 3.74 ERA in 43.1 innings and 30 strikeouts. However, Thornton is much more deserving of his 3.5 million annual salary than Logan is with his 5.5 million annual salary.

If Thornton could pitch like he did in 2012, when he had a 3.46 ERA, pitched 65 innings in 74 games while striking out 53 batters and only walking 17, then he would be a steal. He will be the primary lefty in the bullpen. Another potentially useful lefty that the Yankees have is Ceasar Cabral. The Yankees could use one more reliever with the ability to close since right now, in addition to Thornton, they have Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne and Cabral to combine with David Robertson in the bullpen.

In regards to Brian Roberts, the whole story with him is if he can stay healthy. He has spent his whole career as a productive second basemen for the Baltimore Orioles, when not on the disabled list. In the past four seasons, he has only played in a combined 192 games. Between 2010 and 2013, Roberts missed a substantial amount of games due to an abdominal strain, a concussion, recovery from the concussion the following season, right hip surgery and right hamstring surgery. However, in 2009, which was his last healthy season, he had a .283 average, 56 doubles, 16 homers, 79 Runs Batted In and 30 steals. Those are great numbers that prove that he can help a team in a variety of ways.

If Roberts can stay healthy he would form a formidable second base combination with Kelly Johnson, who was signed a few weeks ago. Johnson has hit 16 homers in each of the last two seasons, but is not known for being nearly as reliable defensively as Roberts is. Roberts is known for being a defensive player and an offensive catalyst. He played well to conclude the 2013 campaign since in his final 22 at-bats he hit .364 with two homers and five runs scored.

A benefit to signing Roberts and Thornton to relatively cheap contracts, and not getting one of the more expensive second basemen like Omar Infante, is that the Yankees will have more money available to potentially sign Masahiro Tanaka.

Multiple Japanese newspapers are now reporting that Tanaka will not actually be posted. The Rakuten Golden Eagles, who own his rights until 2015, are now not going to permit major league teams to bid for him. The Yankees will likely now become more interested in Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. They haven’t been interest in them so far based on the salaries that they would command. They could still trade Brett Gardner, even though they have said they don’t want to trade Gardner, or Ichiro Suzuki for a starting pitcher.

Brian Roberts in 2008.

Brian Roberts in 2008.