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Back to the Grind

Credit Joe Girardi for coming clean in a way that was uncomfortable to watch in the aftermath of Sunday’s non-intentional walk to Kendry Morales. The good news for Girardi’s conscience is that the blast didn’t lose the game, it simply put it out of reach. The question is why he second-guessed his decision in the first place. Marte used to be the kind of lefty who could do more than spot work, but that doesn’t seem to be the case after his injuries. Morales, a switch-hitter, is a better hitter from the left side than the right, and normally you would want to turn him around. The forgoing should be inoperative when turning him around means letting him face a lefty who is no longer prepared to retire right-handed hitters regardless of their overall bias. That bias, by the way, doesn’t represent a Melky Cabrera-sized weakness: last year, Morales hit .296/.324/.481 against southpaws, which makes him far from an easy out from the right side.

As pained as Girardi looked in the aftermath of the decision, you can bet he learned something important about Marte, who, despite whatever his baseball card says about his work in Chicago and Pittsburgh, regardless of last year’s World Series, is now 35 and is 2-6 with an ERA of 7.00 in a Yankees uniform. What will always frustrate me is that the Yankees gave away the shank of Marte’s career for the execrable Enrique Wilson (you can argue about whether this was foreseeable or not), but that day is done and there’s no getting it back.

Now .238/.273/.333 in 23 plate appearances. Still doing better than last year, still doing worse than almost any right-handed hitter would do in his stead. Then again, he’s not hitting anyone just now, having gone 1-for-18 over his last week’s worth of games.

In 17 games he’s hit .153/.254/.186. A lot of hitters have had a difficult April, so no reason to get carried away -- just ask Mark Teixeira.

Austin Jackson has had a strong opening to the season, batting .316/.372/.468 in 18 games. He picked up his first home run Sunday. It’s not going to last -- he’s benefitting from something between good luck and a swing so accurate it can’t possibly last. Jackson is making very poor contact, leading the AL in strikeouts and whiffing at a rate that would work out to over 220 strikeouts in 600 at-bats. Simultaneously, he’s hitting .500 on balls in play, which is to say that half of everything he actually makes contact with falls in. The reason for that, in turn, is a line-drive rate of 33 percent. The line drive rate for all batters this year is about 18 percent. Last year it was 19 percent. We have no way of knowing what the average line-drive rate was in, say, 1912, but I very much doubt even Ty Cobb hit one-third of balls solidly over a full season. As such, don’t put Jackson down for Rookie of the Year just yet…

It’s too early to read too much into the stats, but remember when I said that Comerica would really damage Johnny Damon? One of the reasons he looks so good right now is that he’s played two-thirds of his games on the road, where he’s hitting .354. In six games in Detroit he’s 4-for-17, or .235.

As Phil Hughes rested over the weekend, several of his contemporaries, including two former Yankees, joined him in pitching well. In Arizona, Ian Kennedy had his second consecutive strong start, holding the imposing Phillies lineup to four hits and two runs over eight innings, walking one and striking out four. Tyler Clippard pitched three perfect innings in two games over the weekend for the Nationals against the Dodgers, bringing his total for the season to one run in 14.2 innings. In 50 games since the start of last season, he has an ERA of 2.28 in 75 innings, allowing just 42 hits(!) and striking out 86.

In the non-Yankees division, David Price pitched a shutout against the Blue Jays, bringing his record to 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA. The former first-round pick would seem to be blossoming. At one point last year I was asked on a radio show if Price, who finished 2009 with a record of 10-7 and an ERA of 4.42, should be considered a bust. My answer was no, that he was a 23-year-old power lefty and pitchers of that description usually need some time to find their control. More broadly, just about all young pitchers need time to figure out what works for them in the Majors. You’d like every tyro hurler to be Dwight Gooden ’84, but debuts like Gooden’s are the exception, not the rule. Debuts half as good as Gooden’s are the exception.

The Yankees have traditionally not believed in waiting for young pitchers to figure things out. This is not a phenomenon of the Steinbrenner era, but for the franchise’s entire history, one of the main reasons why just two pitchers (Andy Pettitte will soon be the third) have won over 200 games in pinstripes -- many of the team’s best hurlers have been veterans imported mid-career (of the 16 pitchers with the most wins in franchise history, eight reached the Majors with other teams). You can’t argue with the results, at least for most of the team’s history; in recent decades, this lack of patience has become less rewarding due to the scarcity of quality pitchers available in trade or on the free agent market. Brian Cashman has recognized this (call it The Pavano Awakening), which is one of the reasons the Yankees have tried to handle Hughes and Joba Chamberlain with such delicacy -- they’re like first-time parents trying to keep the newborn away from drafts, germs, electrical sockets, dogs, people, nihilistic thoughts, etc.

Chamberlain and Hughes can also throw a baseball through a brick wall, which incentivizes patience. This cannot be said for Clippard and Kennedy, command pitchers who struggled with that element of their games in their Yankee auditions. No one looks forward to seeing a pitcher who survives on location walk the ballpark, which helps explain how quickly the two were punted to the National League. Yet, it is also true that with these pitchers that you cannot get the good without wading through the bad, and both had Minor League records that suggested that despite so-so fastballs they could pitch well in the Majors.

The foregoing is not intended to be a criticism of the Yankees’ approach, or perhaps not a strong one at any rate. The Yankees have huge, understandable disincentives when it comes to patience -- "win now" is not just a philosophy, but also a revenue model. Still, there is a fine line to be walked, because the day will come when the Yankees need those pitchers. There’s not always a veteran fireballer around when you need one.

Once again, I want to thank all of you who wrote or posted a comment in support of me and my father, who came very close to leaving us last week. He is still in the hospital, but I am hopeful that he will be released soon so he can begin the long path to getting back to where he was before all of this happened. I’d like to think I will be able to get back on something like a regular posting schedule, or as regular as I get, this week. Thanks to some colleaguesWholesome Reading has new posts, and I hope to get a new Dead Player of the Day up late this evening. I deeply appreciate your patience at what has been a trying and frightening time for me and my family.