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May 18, 2006

Wang Rises to the Occasion
by SG

After a thrilling 14-13 win that was emotionally satisfying, but intellectually concerning, the Yankees came back with a more modest 4-3 victory over the Rangers last night. Fueling the effort was the continuing revival of Chien-Ming Wang.

Wang was maddeningly inconsistent early in the season, with both his mechanics and his results, particularly from the stretch. However, over his last three starts, he's displayed good control (3 BB over 22 inning) and while he's still not striking out many hitters, he's controlling the HR ball to good effect. He has allowed only two HRs in 57 innings this season. His HR+ of 349 is second in the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings, and he has been the second most valuable Yankee pitcher, with ten runs saved above average.

Wang's final line of eight innings and two earned runs allowed is fine, but honestly, he pitched better than that until he got a pitch up to Gary Matthews Jr. in the eighth. Wang was consistently hitting 94 mph with his sinker, and even got up to 95 a few times. The best thing about Wang going eight means that Torre got to resist the urge to use "Everyday" Scott Proctor (thanks to Steve Lombardi, over at Was Watching).

Mariano Rivera, who has been in WWWMW (what's wrong with Mariano Week) to the point where it's WWWMM (what's wrong with Mariano month) looked much better last night. One of Mo's trademarks is breaking lefty hitters bats, something he used to do with regularity but something we have not seen much of this year. Last night, he sawed off Hank Blalock with a nasty cutter on strike one to break his bat in half, which I thought was a good sign that the cutter had that good movement that makes Mo so effective. He did scare us with a long fly ball down the RF line on the next pitch, but then got got Blalock on a checked swing on a 95 mph 4-seamer. I am really not worried about Mo at this point. For all the talk about how hard he is getting hit, he's allowing opposing batters to slug .314 against him. To put that in perspective, remember that Bernie Williams is slugging .327, and no one thinks he's hitting the ball hard.

I thought the game was decided in the fifth (obviously) by Jason Giambi's AB that led to an opposite field double. Kameron Loe was cruising to that point, and had retired the slumping Johnny Damon and then Derek Jeter on three pitches, and was staring at a very easy inning. Giambi took the first three pitches, fouled off two, took another ball, fouled off one more, and then doubled. Alex Rodriguez then reached on an infield single. Jorge Posada followed with another good AB before singling Giambi in, and then Robinson Cano and Bernie also both singled.

While Cano did drive in a run, I'm growing a little concerned about his missing power this season. Last year, Cano had an extra base hit in 9% of his plate appearances. This year, it's down to 6%. While I won't kill him while he's hitting .312, his lack of walks and his missing power makes his average pretty empty right now. I can't help but think there's been a change in his approach, as he's sacrificed power for contact. Last year he struck out in 12% of his plate appearances, this year he is around 9%. The good news is a marginally better walk rate, last year he was at 2.9%, this year he's at 4.1%.

Cano has also been very good defensively until last night, when he made two errors and bobbled a third ball that he was able to recover on. Hopefully that was just a blip.

Joe Torre continues to aggravate me. This time it was not starting Melky Cabrera for no real reason. Cabrera got two hits the night before, and rather than let him play again and follow it up, he benched him to get Bubba Crosby in LF. If he was going for the defensive upgrade, wouldn't it make sense to do it when it wasn't an extreme ground ball pitcher pitching? I think I'd rather see Crosby in CF with Damon DHing if Giambi can play first, given the foot issue that Damon is currently dealing with, or Bernie on the bench instead of Melky.

I'm not even going to say anything about Carl Pavano's latest setback.

Despite Jaret Wright's recent string of not horrible pitching, I'm not expecting much from him on a pseudo-House Money Day today. Maybe I'll be surprised.