"A Return to Normalcy" is the title of this week's Prospectus AL Hit List — you gotta drop those Warren Harding references while they're still fresh, kids — and while the Yankees topping the list would seem to qualify under that category, the manner in which they've done so is anything but normal:
From Trash to Treasure: The Yankees climb atop the Hit List thanks in large part to three players picked up off the scrap heap during the team's otherwise inauspicious winter. Russell Martin belts two homers to lead a 15-run onslaught against the Orioles; he now has six on the year, as many as all of last season, and more multi-homer games during his short Yankee career than in five years as a Dodger. Freddy Garcia throws 12 scoreless innings across two starts, while Bartolo Colon steps into Phil Hughes' rotation spot and tosses six masterful innings in his first start since July 24, 2009. Including relief work, Colon now has a league-leading 10.0 K/9. Without those two starters, the Yankee rotation would have a higher ERA (5.47) than innings per start (5.38).
It's too early to vindicate Brian Cashman for the Yankees' odd choices this offseason, but thus far, he's looking sharp given the performances of the aforementioned trio. Martin continues to demonstrate the offensive and defensive skills he flashed during his early years as a Dodger, and while Cashman's recent comparison of the backstop to the late, great Thurman Munson sounds a bit over the top, it's not entirely out of left field. Before Joe Torre wore him down to the nub, the young and spry Martin had an incredible on-field presence which given repeated viewings led me to liken him to another Yankee captain, Derek Jeter — a player who exuded confidence and leadership qualities, with a knack for turning up in the right place at the right time. A guy who could win an MVP award if things broke right, not only for his stats but because he looked the part of the grubby field general. Like Munson, Martin looked ready for a scrap when Josh Rupe drilled him in the back late in Saturday's contest.
In any event, it's becoming more clear not only that the Yankees' interest in the catcher dates back much further than this winter, but that they view his signing as a steal, and may ultimately consider him more than just a stopgap between Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero. It's far too early to tell what that means in terms of the organization's depth behind the plate — particularly given Martin's tendency to wear down — but the words coming from Cashman and Girardi (who spoke in glowing terms of Martin during Sunday's Joe Girardi Show) suggest he's playing himself into their longer-term plans.
As for Garcia, I was hoping to provide a detailed breakdown of his start in the manner that I did Colon's, but the relevant PITCHf/x data is for some reason not up yet. In any event, he allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out seven over six innings against the Orioles, a team that's caught in a 2-10 freefall borne largely of offensive ineptitude; they're hitting .229/.286/.363 during that span while scoring 3.3 runs per game. Despite the Chief's soft-tossing repertoire, the Orioles had 12 swings and misses against him, double what Colon netted in his start. Six of his strikeouts were swinging ones, including the two he notched against the final two hitters of his day, Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero (earlier, Guerrero practically chased a curve ball down the rabbit hole).
Garcia needed just 90 pitches to complete those six frames, which not only spoke to his efficiency but — given Seventh Inning Guy Joba Chamberlain's subsequent surrender of a two-run homer to Mark Reynolds — raised the question of whether Girardi should have stuck with him longer, particularly with Rafael Soriano unavailable due to back stiffness. Girardi couldn't have known that Mariano Rivera would blow his second save in a row, ultimately sending the game into extra innings, where the immortal Buddy Carlyle would close things out, but his by-the-numbers management of the bullpen is forcing him to work his A-list relievers harder than he should. Rivera and Chamberlain are both on pace to appear in 99 games, Soriano and David Robertson 81 apiece. The extra off days caused by the schedule and the additional rainouts mitigate that somewhat, but it's an area of concern, particularly with Rivera scuffling and Soriano aching.