Through 6 and a third, AJ Burnett cruised. The Yanks had a 7-0 lead, the win was all but guaranteed, and AJ had top command. The seventh would be his last inning regardless, and there was no reason to expect he couldn't close it out in style, especially against the bottom of the Oriole order. He retired Jones on a grounder to Teixeira, but then things started to go bad. Double to Reynolds. Home run to Weiters. Walk to Andino, the 9th hitter. Home run to Roberts. The hook from Girardi. 7-4. Blech.
Still, this was a quality start. Before the late fireworks, the Orioles only mustered 4 hits and 1 walk. AJ had 5 strikeouts, 8 swinging strikes, and 69 strikes to 53 balls. His excellent command on the season continued unabated. The strikeout-to-walk ratio after three starts is 3.20, which is better than any season-long total in his career.
In a feature on AJ's performance, Wallace Matthews at ESPN plays psychologist (like so many people love to do with AJ) and touches on a few possible keys to his success:
1 - AJ likes Larry Rothschild, the new pitching coach, and they relate better because he keeps it simple. Matthews starts with a subtle dig at Eiland, who we already know isn't AJ's favorite guy:
He has a new pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, who rather than boggle his mind with dissertations on mechanics tells him to just go out and let it fly.
Wednesday night, after walking Matt Wieters in the second inning, Rothschild trotted out to the mound. It was not his idea.
"First time in my career I ever called a pitching coach out," Burnett said. Turns out he was being troubled by the way his heel was landing on the mound and wanted Rothschild to help him correct it.
"Forget about that," Rothschild told him. "Just let it fly."
2 - Ivan Nova, of all people, is helping to keep him loose and control the anger that's hurt AJ in the past.
And he has a most unlikely mentor, the rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, who has taken on the role of stabilizing force in Burnett's clubhouse life.
"Last year, I would get really [ticked] and blow up, but no more of that," Burnett said, referring to his blowup last year after a bad inning against the Rays caused him to smash his hands into the clubhouse door, forcing him to leave the game with an injury.
This year, he's got Nova, a happy-go-lucky type who is as unflappable as Burnett is volatile, to remind him, "Don't get so mad. Don't get so mad."
"Do I have to follow you around everywhere?" Burnett said Nova asked him last night.
"Yeah, maybe you do," Burnett replied.
3 - Russell Martin is making him throw the change-up.
But most of all, there was Martin, who recognized during spring training that Burnett had a third pitch to go along with his live fastball and nasty hook, as Burnett refers to his curveball.
"It took me 12 years to throw a changeup," Burnett said, "and Russ has me throwing it more and more. Tonight, he kept putting it down and I kept throwing it. Lefties, righties, fastball counts, you name it. I think it's going to be a big pitch for me."
For Martin, Burnett's third pitch is a change he can believe in.
"It doesn't have great differential in velocity but it has good action to it. He works it off the same plane as his fastball and the next thing you know it dips, so he gets a lot of groundballs on it," Martin said. "In spring training, I had to keep telling him, it's a good pitch, you got to trust it, you got to trust it. And I think he's starting to figure it out."
Let's take a look at AJ's velocity chart from last night with pitch type:
You can see they count 14 pitches as change-ups (yellow), but in the post-game interview, AJ claims to have thrown 16. The blue dot that represents a "sinker," a pitch that isn't really in AJ's arsenal, was probably a change, as was that 89mph "fastball" grouped with the other change-ups. Let's call it 16 for the sake of argument. That's by far the most AJ has ever thrown in a game (with the exception of an anomalous outing in Florida when he threw 44 to piss off his manager), and according to Brooks' linear weights stats, it was his most effective pitch, just beating out the fastball.
The only real concern with AJ right now is his line-drive rate, which is uncharacteristically high at 25%. We're dealing with a super small sample size, of course, but that number combined with a pretty low .280 BABIP might indicate that he's been a little lucky not to be touched up for more runs so far this season (the basic gist of these two stats: although more batters are hitting line drives, their batting average is lower, which indicates they're hitting it right at people).
As the guys at River Avenue Blues point out, the bullpen was terrific again, with the only mild concern being Rafael Soriano's lack of velocity. He didn't break 90 last night, and he hasn't broken 95 yet this season. Still, he's had five appearances and four of them have been good, so it's just a minor blip on the radar at this point. It shouldn't be forgotten, though, that his one bad start cost us a win. Too many more of those and the lost velocity will bear further examination.
Guess who's leading the majors in wOBA? Guess who's healthy? Guess who's tearing up the league?
He started it off right yesterday with an opposite-field bomb to stake the Yanks to an early 3-0 lead, and he finished the day 2-3 with a walk. That's already his 4th home run of the year (HE'S ON PACE TO HIT 64.8!!!!!), his OBP is a disgusting .474, and he leads the majors with a 1.280 OPS. This is vintage A-God, right here.
-Jorge broke out of his slump with his 4th home run, which seems to be the only kind of hit he gets.
-Grandy (0-3) and Gardy (1-5) are both seriously struggling. Their averages are well below the .200 Mendoza line, and they seem lost at the plate. What's really interesting about Granderson is that opposing pitchers are only throwing him fastballs 44% of the time. He's seeing a majority of junk, which has never been true in his career before (lowest previous fastball % was 54.5). This might be statistical noise due to a small sample, but it also might mean pitchers have learned how to handle him. It makes perfect sense when you see his pitch type values from previous years. He's always best when facing the straight stuff, and this year he's not seeing it.
Gardner, on the other hand, sees 68.3% fastballs, a good indication that opposing teams do not fear his bat. Not even a little.
-Robbie Cano is still finding his form, to some extent. He hit a 2-out double last night, and his average is a strong .317, but his OBP and slugging are still low by his standards. He's not in a full rhythm yet.
-Jeter managed two hits. Gulp.
-Though he's hitting for some power, Teixeira's average is still super low. This is still his best start as a Yankee, though, and his OBP (.364) and OPS (.919) are more than fine. If he follows the upward trajectory of previous seasons, this could be an amazing year.
The Fairness Factor
Let's check in on the umps.
Doug Eddings was being real stingy in the lower left side. It hurt Baltimore more than it hurt us, though things more or less evened out. The Yanks missed out on 6 valid strikes and got the benefit of 4 bad calls. The Os missed 8 valid strikes but got lucky 5 times. Overall, it's +1 for the Yanks, which falls into the "basically even" category.
On the year: -12
Majorly Screwed: 3
Minorly Screwed: 1
Basically Even: 3
Minorly Favored: 2
Majorly Favored: 1
The Annals of Lame
Since I'm in North Carolina, I watch Yankee games on MLB TV. Unfortunately, we're technically in the Baltimore cable jurisdiction, despite the fact that Baltimore is 6 hours away. That would be fine, though, if MASN, the Orioles network, was actually available down here. It's not. So we're blacked out of MLB TV, but we also don't get the normal cable feed. Basically, there's no way to legally watch Yankee-Orioles games. Which is bullshit.
Luckily a pal hooked me up with an online stream, so I wasn't in the dark. Otherwise, it was John Sterling/Suzyn Waldman time. And man, that just ain't sustainable.
Brace yourselves, Yankee fans. It's a Phil Hughes start. The Orioles are offering up Jake Arrieta, who we should batter and bully. But as we saw against the Sox, prolific scoring isn't always enough with Hughes on the hill.
See you tomorrow.