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August 7, 2005

by SG

I didn't think he had it in him, but Al Leiter managed to stave off the end of his Yankee tenure with 5.2 shutout innings against Toronto today. He needed 102 pitches, of which only half were strikes, and it wasn't pretty, but he got the job done. Leiter's start and the hitting of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jason Giambi gave the Yankees an important win to end their 6 game road trip 3-3.

There are some good things happening right now, as Derek Jeter appears to have rediscovered his hitting and is getting on base at a good clip. Robinson Cano has scuffled a bit of late, and I think it may be time to consider a lineup shift, not just to help Cano but to get Giambi's bat up higher in the order where he can produce more runs. In my mind, the ideal lineup would be:

Jeter, SS
Matsui, LF
Sheffield, RF
Giambi, 1B or DH
Rodriguez, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Williams DH
Kevin Thompson CF

Kevin Thompson is a 25 year old who was recently promoted to AAA. He's supposed to be a good defensive OF with very good speed and a good batting eye. He's not likely to ever be a star, but he could be a useful player if he gets a chance.

This lineup would stagger the Yankees lefty and righty hitters, and keep Sheffield in the third slot where he is most comfortable. Giambi's OBP would be more valuable in front of the team's best power hitter, and since Rodriguez and Cano don't run much he wouldn't "clog the bases" as some seem to think he does. More importantly, it gives the Yankees' best hitter more plate appearances.

After Leiter was pulled, Alan Embree followed his second consecutive effective outing in a row, giving hope that he may end up being a useful addition. The Yankees are going to need some help, as Tanyon Sturtze appears to have followed the Paul Quantrill overwork path to ineffectiveness.

Sturtze has primarily been a mediocre starter in his major league career with a career 5.23 ERA entering this season. A new cutter and a new role seemed to redefine his career, but the fact that the Yankees play a lot of close games and the fact that Joe Torre refuses to trust most of his bullpen has forced him to pitch in 44 games already this season, and it's starting to show now. He's lost command and velocity, and since his spot start against Baltimore on July 4 he's walked 8 in 17.2 innings, after walking only 5 in his first 43.2 innings of the season. Part of it is likely regression, but you have to wonder if he's been overworked. It hasn't helped things that the Yankees seem to play a ton of close games, but the fact that Mariano Rivera had to come in to get the last out of Friday and Sunday's game despite 4 run leads in both games is nonsensical. Granted, he only threw a couple of pitches, but warming up and coming in is not stress-free.

Torre needs to start trusting Felix Rodriguez and Scott Proctor in meaningful situations. Today's game would have been a fine time to give Rodriguez a chance to pitch, but instead it was more of Sturtze and Gordon with a big lead. Put it this way, if Torre felt the lead was not safe, why did he sub Sheffield out for Bubba Crosby in the 8th inning when Sheffield was due to lead off the 9th?

The Yankee rotation got more bad news with the story that Carl Pavano will be skipping his next rehab start to visit Dr. James Andrews. ''It's not good,'' manager Joe Torre said. ''He just felt his shoulder didn't feel right.''

Also, Randy Johnson may miss his next start due to back spasms. ''He's really uncomfortable,'' manager Joe Torre said today. ''If it was like this yesterday, he wouldn't have pitched.''

Get ready for Hideo Nomo in pinstripes.

I really don't know how this team will stay in the playoff race if they don't get Pavano back. Even if Jaret Wright comes back, given his prior performance what can we reasonably expect from him? Kevin Brown's career looks over, and Johnson having back problems is a bit troubling, although it may explain his inconsistency and struggles this season. Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small have both been outstanding so far, but odds are against both of them continuing to be successful.

The Yankees will head home now to begin a 3 game series with the best Sox in baseball. Fortunately for them, they will miss Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland, instead getting El Duque, Jose "The Big Enigma" Contreras, and Freddy Garcia. It will be strange to see El Duque pitching against the Yankees, but it would seem like the Yankees will be a difficult matchup for him due to their patience at the plate. Contreras could pitch a no-hitter or get knocked out in the third. Garcia's a solid pitcher who thrives in day games, so that will be a tough matchup.