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June 16, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

In the bottom of the fifth inning last night, after the Yankees had put up two runs to take a 3-0 lead, Jose Contreras got into trouble. Two batters into the inning, Jose had given up two runs--a single to Juan Brito and a home run to pinch-hitter Andy Green.

It was at this point that Contreras would usually implode; he'd fall behind hitters, and either walk them or give them fat pitches to hit. Sure enough, he quickly went 2-0 on Scott Hairston.

But he didn't implode. He came back to strike out Hairston, retired Steve Finley, and struck out Doug Devore to end the inning. It wasn't one of those situations where he dominated the rest of the game--he gave up a single and a walk to his next five batters--but he didn't fall apart. It wasn't a great start, but it was a good start. And on the day the Yankees placed Kevin Brown on the Disabled List, it couldn't have been more important.

With Brown on the DL, and Mussina possibly headed there, too, the Yankees are relying on Tanyon Sturtze to not completely put them out of the game tonight. Casey Fossum has struggled this season, but is coming off on an excellent start in Baltimore. The Yankees should be able to put some runs up against him, but they can't depend on it, and they'll probably need five or six innings out of Sturtze without more than four runs.

To start on Saturday, the Yankees are freeing Brad Halsey, just as the movement was getting started. I haven't talked about Halsey at all, but here is his career line:
Year   Age Level  W  L   ERA    IP HR BB  SO K/9 BB/9 HR/9 qDIPS

2002 21 A 6 1 1.93 56.0 0 17 53 8.5 2.7 0.0 2.36
2003 22 A 10 4 3.43 84.0 3 14 56 6.0 1.5 0.3 2.96
2003 22 AA 7 5 4.93 91.1 4 22 78 7.7 2.2 0.4 2.94
2004 23 AAA 6 2 2.52 82.0 2 19 51 5.6 2.1 0.2 3.07
Career 29 12 3.36 313.1 9 72 238 6.8 2.1 0.3 2.88

Those are some outstanding numbers, and while the low strikeout rate makes you think he probably won't be anywhere near that good in the majors, the low walk rate and infinitesimally small rate of home runs allowed give me optimism that he can be a solid pitcher, if not as a starter, then as a lefty reliever. Halsey may earn himself a permanent job on Saturday, if he can pitch well. If he doesn't, at least it's a FOX game, so we won't have to hear Kay calling him "Bull" or "Admiral".

Though the Yankees are moving past the most challenging part of the schedule, these next two weeks are going to be a huge test. Brown is out, and Mussina might follow him. They've completely reversed the gap between them and Boston--now leading by 4½ when they had once trailed by that margin--but with Nomar back and Nixon coming back today, Boston may go on a roll, and gain ground before the big series at the end of the month. If the Yankees can hold their ground until Mussina and Brown are back, they'll have had two good weeks, and if they can gain ground, then they've strapped themselves firmly in the driver's seat, and will probably lead the division for most, if not all of the summer--and maybe all the way to the finish.