Wednesday, August 03, 2005

2.0 IP, 5 ER, 5 BB, 78 Pitches

Thanks, Al. I go around, even after your mediocre at best starts following the Boston game, and defend you. I tell everyone that we made a great move by bringing you in; that you were having intangible problems down in Florida that caused you to statistically be the worst pitcher in baseball. And you did well, Al, by pitching your best game of the season in a tight spot for a team with a struggling (and that’s being generous) pitching staff.

But then you went out and had a shaky start (at best) against the Angels, a short but productive start vs. the Twinkies (which we lost, consarnit), and then last night’s game, where you had a harder time finding the plate than Kate Moss. What gives?

Signing Leiter was a breath of fresh air because 1) he came over for pennies, 2) he’s experienced, 3) he’s another left-handed starter, which we haven’t exactly had an abundance of in the recent past. And regardless of his poor performance in Florida this year, he’s still Al Leiter, and he did come over at a time when we were hurting for someone.

But now Leiter suffers from one of two ailments. Either he is lacking the confidence to throw strikes or he just lacks the ability to throw them. But regardless of the rationalization, Leiter’s deficiency is amplified a hundred times by this Yankees team. Allow me to explain.

Leiter leads the majors in pitches per plate appearance (thanks, SportsCenter). This will translate into an inordinate number of walks. And with runners on base, Leiter is under more pressure to throw strikes. But, as we’ve established, he just has trouble doing that. Hitters are catching on to this, and are taking more and more pitches. Even if they take a strike, hitters know that another strike may not come for the rest of the at bat. So then Leiter either puts the guy on for free, or he lays a meatball over the plate and the guy goes Ronnie Belliard on it.

So is Leiter running on fumes? At 39 years of age, it’s an obvious possibility – we’re seeing much of the same with Randy Johnson (his decline, not the complete lack of control). But remember, Leiter posted a 3.21 ERA last year, which makes this situation even more perplexing.

I’ve been backing the guy since he was released by the Marlins, and I’m going to continue to stand behind him. However, the guy shouldn’t get a start beyond his next one if these problems continue. So yes, I advocate starting the guy one more time, especially with the pitching staff as thin as it is. Hopefully Pavano will be ready to return after Leiter’s next start, so the Yankees can better assess the situation at that point.

But just as Leiter’s performance caused inanimate objects to be abused, Scott Proctor’s performance may have saved many a couch from being stabbed. In fact, I’m even granting him some amnesty, considering I called him worse than the much hated (by me) Jaret Wright. He pitched four solid innings, which is certainly impressive for a guy who normally can’t work one effectively. His only gaffe was a solo homer, which I always believe is an acceptable aberration. Hey, it’s one bad pitch, and it was to Victor Martinez. All is forgiven.

Of course, after an uncharacteristic performance by Proctor, speculation is going to be, “is this a sign of things to come, or just a pleasant surprise on a night we needed it?” Unfortunately, I just don’t see this continuing. I appreciate Proctor’s 97 m.p.h. heater, but as has been duly noted, it’s as straight as an arrow. Without ample movement on his pitches, he’s just not going to find consistent success. Normally, a pitching coach would help a relative youngster out with such troubles, but when your pitching coach is Mel…

Another positive sign is another scoreless inning by Felix Rodriguez. Slowly, he’s going to earn Joe’s trust, and will certainly bolster the back end of this bullpen by the end of the season. Sure, he’s going to allow runs here and there, but that’s acceptable. Can we really expect him to be Mo-esque every time out? But if he can pitch the way Tanyon pitched earlier in the year, Joe will have four guys he can trust. All the sudden, the bullpen is looking a bit stronger.

Next up: Alan Embree. He’ll surely get in the game at least once between now and Sunday, and we’ll have a better chance to assess his ability to contribute. But, for Embree to add to this pitching staff, Mel and Joe have to put his performances into perspective. The guy is able to get one, maybe two outs at a time, so he should be used like Graeme Lloyd in ’96. Throw him more than an inning, though, and the result is typically runs for the opponents. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Pressure is on Moose right now; we don’t want to drop two of three (or ::gulp:: get swept) to start this 16-game, five team stretch. Quick note to Mussina: eating up innings would be wonderful right now. Proctor won’t be available for the next few days, and we all know that Gordon just can’t work three days in a row now. Seven, eight strong and Joe can turn the game over to Sturtze and/or Mo. One can only hope.