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July 26, 2005

That was what we paid for
by SG

Randy Johnson's disappointing tenure in pinstripes has been well-chronicled, both here and in other, more prestigious places. Coming off a season where he struck out 290 batters and pitched to a 2.60 ERA, Yankee fans were looking forward to having a true ace to front the pitching staff.

Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for the rest of the league, Johnson has been inconsistent all year. He's had flashes of brilliance, and flashes of Run Fairyness. He entered tonight's game with a 4.18 ERA, having allowed more hits than innings pitched and 3 more HR in 100 fewer innings than last year.

Tonight, the Johnson the Yankees traded for showed up. After grazing Shannon Stewart to start the game, Johnson retired 16 straight hitters, and flirted with a no-hitter, before allowing a sharp single to Juan Castro. Johnson did not have particularly great stuff tonight, topping out around 90 mph with his fastball, and throwing his slider in the 81-82 mph range for the most part. However, he took advantage of very good command and an aggressive Twins team and pitched a gem for 8 innings, allowing no runs, only 2 hits, and fanning 11. He did a masterful job of pitching high and low and keeping the Twins' hitters off balance. Torre pulled him after 97 pitches. Although I'd have liked to see him go for a shutout, with his back issue in his last start I didn't mind him being pulled. Flash Gordon probably didn't need to come in, but he looked pretty sharp, so I guess his tendinitis issues are past him. Still, it was pointless to use him in that spot, and the type of thing that Joe Torre gets a free pass on far too often. You pitch Wayne Franklin with a 1-0 lead in the 8th inning, then use your second best reliever with a 4-0 lead in the 9th? WTF is that?

I took encouragement from the fact that Johnson was able to pitch well despite not having overpowering stuff tonight. If Johnson is able to make adjustments like he did tonight when he isn't throwing 97 mph, then he can anchor this staff down the stretch. He was never in trouble, and the Yankees were able to scratch out four runs and win the game rather handily. The Yankees need a dominant Johnson, not just for the wins he can provide, but to rest a bullpen that is top heavy and in danger of being overworked at any time.

There's been some speculation on this very blog about trading Eric Duncan for a bullpen arm like Eddie Guardado, which would be foolish and short-sighted. With two months left in the season, you're going to get at most 30 innings out of the reliever, and with Sturtze, Gordon, and Mariano, they're going to be fairly low leverage innings. Duncan for a middle reliever could end up being a Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen trade. Really, I kind of hope the team just stands pat, and either makes or misses it on the strength of what they have on hand.

The rotation is still hurting, with the news that Kevin Brown will miss his next start, and Carl Pavano's rehab being pushed back. Aaron Small should get Brown's start, and right now it is looking like Tanyon Sturtze 2.0 will get the start on Saturday, although that could change. Just keep Tim Redding and Darrell May off the mound, please.

This homestand will be a big chance for the Yankees to dictate their season. A good series against the Twins, who will likely be one of their biggest competitors for the wild card if they are unable to win the division, will pay big dividends down the stretch.

This is a Yankee blog, but we all tend to keep an eye on the Red Sox. Matt Clement got hit by a line drive off Carl Crawford tonight, and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. Initial reports are encouraging, and I hope for a speedy recovery for Clement. I want nothing more than for the Yankees to beat the Red Sox for the AL East crown, but I wouldn't want something like this to be part of the reason. Carl Pavano recovered ok from getting hit against Baltimore, I wish the same for Clement.