For those of you who don't know, I live and work out in Wisconsin, where a combination of geographic location, available regional TV selections, and lack of money/motivation to pay for an MLB.tv subscription leaves me without access to the YES Network and the bulk of the televised Yankee games. For those of you who do know from reading AB4AR, you're probably tired of hearing that excuse but whatever. A nationally televised Yankee game is always like an early birthday present for me, and yesterday's broadcast on ESPN gave me my first chance to actually SEE this year's version of the Yankees play. It's one thing to analyze and comment on the goings on of the club based on secondhand information like scouting reports and FanGraphs stats; it's another to actually watch players in action and evaluate their performance based on what you see. I jotted more than a few notes down while watching yesterday's home opener. Here are some of my observations.
- Obviously CC Sabathia wasn't very good yesterday, but personally I didn't think he was as bad as his final line made it look. He was inconsistent with his fastball location, and he got in trouble by leaving a few a little higher up than he wanted to in the top of the 2nd. It also didn't help that his velocity wasn't there, sitting mainly 89-91, and the Red Sox hitters were aggressive in their approach against the fastball when they got one in the strike zone. But all of those things are pretty normal for CC in April, and despite the spotty command he still gave up mostly singles. He did throw some good 2-seamers, he threw a couple good backdoor sliders, and he threw a lot of good changeups away to right-handed hitters.
- It wasn't CC's lack of velocity that caught my attention or caused me concern. What did catch my attention was the shift in approach and pitch mix against that stack of righties in Boston's lineup. It was made clear very early on that CC and Frankie were going to attack them with fastballs away and then try to put them away with changeups away. There were noticeably fewer sliders than we're used to seeing from CC with 2 strikes, especially the one down and in that he throws at the back foot of righties. I have to think that after the elbow surgery and decelerated ST program for CC this year, that was a conscious decision made by Joe and/or Larry Rothschild to limit the number of sliders he threw early so as not to put more stress on that elbow. Overall, CC looked very smooth and relaxed in his delivery yesterday, like he really wasn't trying to dial anything up, and the shift from more sliders to more changeups could be a part of the team's plan to keep him reined in early in the season.
- After the down year he had against LHP last season, it didn't come as a surprise to see the Sox put the shift on against Robinson Cano and then pound him away. Jon Lester basically dared him to either try to pull and beat the shift or adjust and go the other way with the outside pitch, and kudos to Robbie for figuring that out early and not being stubborn. That cutter on the outside in the bottom of the 3rd was a tough pitch to hit and he didn't try to do too much with it taking it out to deep left. Were it not for a really nice play by Jackie Bradley, Jr., Robbie would have been looking at a double there. He's going to see a lot more of that this season and he needs to continue to be willing to hit the ball to left to keep opposing teams honest.
- I liked what I saw from Kevin Youkilis yesterday, on both sides of the ball. His new swing mechanics really look like they've brought some speed back to his swing, and he looked like he was seeing the ball well in each of his first 3 ABs. Last year, he probably doesn't even get to that inside fastball that Lester threw him in the bottom of the 4th; this year he got around on it and pulled it down the line for a double. Youkilis also looked smooth at first base and even smoother ranging to his left to make a few nice plays when he moved over to third. He's going to see action at both corners, and he's going to be a fixture in the middle of the batting order, so yesterday was a good start for him in my book.
- I'd have to go back and watch some old game tape to be 100% sure, but Francisco Cervelli looked a lot better behind the plate yesterday than I remember him being. He was quick, he was smooth blocking balls down low, he called a good game, and he did a pretty decent job framing pitches on the outside corner. He also didn't look overmatched at the plate at all, driving in the only Yankee runs with a 2-strike, 2-out single and smartly taking a leadoff walk from a wild Andrew Miller during the team's only other rally in the 7th.
- Tough to make any kind of judgement on Vernon Wells one way or the other. He put a few good swings on balls that he fouled off against Lester but didn't make any significant contact on balls he put in play, and didn't get tested at all in the outfield. Nothing stood out to me that makes me want to say he's still got something left, but 4 ABs is hardly enough to definitively say he's washed up.
- Pretty solid defensive day for the starting left side of the infield. Jayson Nix might have saved a double with a nice scoop and throw for the first out in the top of the 2nd, and definitely saved a run with another good scoop and throw home to nail Ellsbury in the 6th. Eduardo Nunez looked much more settled at shortstop than he has in the past, especially on his throws to first. If he can keep that up and stay calm, he'll be just fine.
- A couple of quick comments on Joe's decision making yesterday, not that I want to turn it into a "questioning the manager" bonanza after just 1 game. I didn't understand the move going to Phelps in the 6th inning. Yeah I know it doesn't affect him for Saturday, he'll still pitch on regular rest. But if he's going to be a starter for now, treat him like a starter. He didn't get a long warmup, didn't look good out on the mound, and Joe had the rest of his regular bullpen available in what was still a close game at the time.
- Speaking of which, when are we going to stop with the intentional walks?? For the second straight year, Joe had his ace intentionally walk a weak hitter on Opening Day to put more runners on base in a game his team was already losing. When you're going to have to scrap and claw for every run you can get offensively, how is that a winning strategy? It was just Jonny Gomes, not Ryan Braun or Giancarlo Stanton. CC was already at his pitch count and clearly emptying the tank in the 5th inning. Let him pitch and let him work out of his jam. That's what he's getting paid the big bucks to do.
- To end on something positive, I did like Joe going to the bench to hit his lefties early in the 6th and not waiting around until later in the game to do it. He gave a little insight into what his strategy is going to be with this replacement-level platoon crew there and that's exactly the strategy he should be using. Runs are always going to be at a premium and he needs to do whatever he has to give his team a better chance to score them. If that means pinch hitting for Ben Francisco in the 5th or 6th inning, so be it.
It was an ugly game yesterday, but it was just one game. Personally, I saw more things that I liked than things I didn't, and I'm not going to start wringing my hands about CC after 1 April start. Let's see how the boys do when they get back out there on Wednesday.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)