The Yankees' internal conversation about how to slow down the Angels' running game in this postseason started a little while back -- before spring training, actually. Staff members talked about different ideas, Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland recalled Thursday morning, as he stood with his arms folded in the west end of the clubhouse.
"Our thinking was, 'Why don't we start preparing for them now, rather than waiting two days before [a playoff series]?'" Eiland said.
This one has been on the Yanks' mind for a while, no? To keep reading about their thought process -- and to find out the name of an unlikely manager candidate who may well land a prime gig -- you must be an ESPN Insider.
There was discussion before the training camp began about making sure the outfielders would hustle to run down hits and get the ball to the cutoff man as quickly as possible, and there was talk about what the catchers had to do. They talked also about what the pitchers needed to do.
The more that Eiland recalled about the strategy session, the more he sounded like an NFL coordinator discussing the importance of disguising defenses. In short, the Yankees believe that the pitchers must not become predictable in what they are doing on the mound, because the Angels' baserunners will pick up tendencies and exploit them.
"We worked a lot on quickening our deliveries to the plate," Eiland said, "and a lot of work in pickoff moves and pickoff plays. Because obviously, we knew that if we wanted to get where we are going, we're going to have to go through these guys."
The Angels will probably see the Yankees' pitchers throw to first base intermittently -- or stagger their delivery times toward the plate, or maybe just hold the ball. Anything to take a step away from the Angels' baserunners, who swiped 17 in 10 games against New York this season. Anything to slow a team that is notorious for putting pressure on opposing pitchers, catchers and managers by charging around the bases aggressively and compelling their rivals to make mistakes.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi doesn't want his pitchers preoccupied with the Angels' runners, such as Chone Figgins; rather, he wants his pitchers to focus on the hitters. Part of how the Yankees will do this is to combat the Angels' running game from the bench. The decisions on pitchouts and pickoffs will come through the catcher, so mostly the pitchers will be just following orders, like plow horses.
Many of them have already made adjustments through the years to combat opposing baserunners. CC Sabathia starts Game 1 tonight, and with runners on base, he often throws with a slide step -- in striding toward the plate in his delivery, he barely lifts his right foot off the ground. He used to throw with a more conventional delivery with runners on base, and this gave more time for baserunners to try to steal against him, but he made the change in 2005 after speaking with teammate Terry Mulholland, who was one of the best pitchers at slowing down opposing runners.
Sabathia allowed 68 stolen bases in 107 attempts in the first four years of his career, but in the last four seasons, he has allowed just 49 in 74 attempts.
"The slide-step is something that's helped me out a lot lately in my career," he said. "But it's tough when you have Figgins over there and he's jumping around, and [Erick] Aybar and those guys, it's tough. It's easy to make a bad pitch or hang a pitch to one of the guys in the middle of the lineup."
Chad Gaudin, who will be in the bullpen for tonight's game and is a candidate to start for the Yankees later in the series, used to have a delivery time to home plate of 1.6 seconds, which is painfully slow. While pitching with Oakland in 2007, Gaudin was told flatly that he needed to quicken his delivery in order to give his catcher a better chance to throw out the opposing runners.
Rather than wait until the following spring training to make the necessary change, Gaudin stood in front of a mirror in the team hotel in Kansas City for two hours and altered his delivery, eliminating extraneous movement while maintaining the necessary mechanics to throw the ball properly. Almost immediately, Gaudin managed to reduce his time to home plate to 1.2 seconds, and he has come to believe that if he simply does his job in streamlining his delivery to home, it will be difficult for runners to steal against him.
A.J. Burnett, the Yankees' Game 2 starter, is tall and angular in his delivery and takes more time to unload the ball, but he has gotten more proficient at slowing opposing base stealers. In 2007, runners went 31-for-31 in stolen-base attempts against Burnett; this year, they went 23-of-35. Andy Pettitte, the Game 3 starter, has always been able to slow the running game with his exceptional pickoff move, but he is vulnerable against runners trying to swipe third. This year, he allowed 14 stolen bases.
The battle that the Yankees began preparing for back in February will begin in earnest tonight.
• Thought this was interesting: Girardi noted that the Yankees have an option in the new Yankee Stadium that they didn't have in the old one -- if there is a lengthy rain delay (it's expected to rain and feel like 26 degrees in the Bronx), they could keep a starting pitcher in play longer by having him simulate innings inside the massive batting cages in the new park. Girardi mentioned, generally, that he thought a delay of more than 45 minutes would probably cause him to consider pulling the pitcher who had been on the mound.
• It's fairly clear that the Yankees are going to start Brett Gardner in at least a couple of games in the upcoming series.
External Angels vs. Yankees thoughts
The Angels are confident about facing the Yankees, writes Mike DiGiovanna. The Yankees saved money and stayed as favorites, writes Mark Whicker. Managing against Mike Scioscia will be Joe Girardi's toughest test to date, writes Filip Bondy. Derek Jeter hopes he doesn't have to say "not this team" again, writes Ken Davidoff. The Yankees and Angels are getting ready for the rain, writes Tyler Kepner.
Phillies vs. Dodgers
For four innings, Clayton Kershaw was as good as you can be, with his velocity ranging from a 73 mph curveball to a 97 mph fastball, and he threw strikes with all of his pitches. In the fifth inning, he reminded us that he's not much older than one of the Jonas Brothers -- once Kershaw started to lose control of the inning, he just couldn't get it back. He seemed overcome by the adrenaline of the moment, as most pitchers his age would be, working faster and faster and struggling to compose himself once he began to lose the strike zone.
Raul Ibanez was the first left-handed batter to slam a homer off George Sherrill this year. Sherrill was beaten in a big spot, writes Ben Bolch. Ibanez is playing as if he's been there before, writes Phil Sheridan.
The Phillies' bullpen will determine the outcome of this series, and in Game 1, it got the job done, writes Bob Ford. Cole Hamels frittered away a lead, writes Phil Sheridan. Ryan Howard is California cool, writes Sam Donnellon.
Hamels had a weird night, as Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Information shows:
"Cole Hamels doesn't get a 'Why Cole Hamels Won' from me because frankly, he should have lost. Eight hits, three for extras bases (two in the seats) and a 6.75 ERA shouldn't have gotten it done. Hamels' erratic command of his fastball appeared to quickly derail his night. He began the game with 10 consecutive fastballs and finished with eight more consecutive heaters. He went fastball-changeup the entire night, as he threw only five total curveballs (only one for a strike). With the exception of the third inning, Hamels allowed at least one extra-base hit in innings in which he threw less than two-thirds of his fastballs for strikes."
Mysterious pitch selection also didn't help Hamels' efforts. After retiring Manny Ramirez in both of his first two plate appearances almost entirely on fastballs (12 of 15 pitches Manny saw in his first two ABs were fastballs), Hamels surprisingly altered his game plan for Manny's third at-bat. Hamels threw him three consecutive changeups, the third of which landed in the left-center bleachers.
• In the 1929 World Series, Philadelphia manager Connie Mack could have chosen Lefty Grove to start Game 1, or he could have picked George Earnshaw or Rube Walberg. But Mack surprised everybody when he called on Howard Ehmke, a 35-year-old pitcher who was almost at the end of his career. Ehmke had started just eight games during the 1929 regular season, but as the story goes, Ehmke went to Mack and told him that he felt that he had one more good game left in his arm. Near the end of that year, Mack had sent Ehmke to personally and clandestinely scout the Chicago Cubs as they wrapped up the National League title. Mack's decision was famously justified when Ehmke threw a complete game and set a World Series record with 13 strikeouts.
This is how Charlie Manuel's decision to start Pedro Martinez in Game 2 today feels, like Howard Ehmke II. Manuel could have started J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton, but instead he goes with a veteran who started only a handful of games during the regular season -- and most of the young Dodgers hitters really don't know Martinez, because his last start against L.A. was in June 2006. The core group of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney has fewer than 10 career at-bats combined against the 37-year-old Martinez; even Manny Ramirez has only one regular-season at-bat against Pedro.
• Mark Simon of ESPN Research kicks in some background on John Lackey's history against Alex Rodriguez.
Since the start of the 2005 postseason, Alex Rodriguez is 1-for-25 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks against John Lackey. The theory as to why that is: Lackey is very good at making Alex Rodriguez uncomfortable in the batter's box because he pitches him inside a lot. Evidence to back that up:
In this time span, Inside Edge charts Lackey as throwing Rodriguez 86 fastballs. The three most popular locations:
• Down and away, and out of the strike zone (14 pitches)
• Inside corner, waist-high (13 pitches)
• Up and in, out of the strike zone (12 pitches)
In all, 40 of Lackey's 86 fastballs (46.5 percent) have either been on the inside corner or have missed inside.
Also worth noting: Nearly half of Lackey's non-fastballs (26 of 60, or 43 percent) were low and away, off the plate.
Including postseason stats, 32 batters have had at least 35 plate appearances against John Lackey. Here's the best and worst, minimum 35 plate appearances (including postseason). Note the presence of Yankees on both lists:
The Angels know that throwing high and tight can unsettle Rodriguez, writes John Harper.
• Meanwhile, there is chaos in the Dodgers' owners box, writes Ray Ratto, who thinks the franchise could be hurt by the separation of powers. Both McCourts are claiming ownership. Both McCourts showed up for Game 1, Billy Witz reports; read between the lines in this story.
• Chris Singleton, my colleague at ESPN, sent along this item about a managing prospect:
Already into an off season with several managing opportunities available, this seems to be a great opportunity for some up and comers. There's one guy that I hope gets the call. He's paid his dues. He's had success. His name is Ron Wotus.
The bench coach for the San Francisco Giants for the past 11 seasons, Wotus has been alongside three very successful managers in Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou, and Bruce Bochy. Learning from their success and admitted mistakes, Wotus is very confident that he is prepared and equipped to lead a club at the Major League level.
"Working alongside of Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou, and Bruce Bochy has allowed me to formulate and test my beliefs for this game and clearly has defined for me what approaches work best," said Wotus, 48. "Motivational abilities, tactical expertise, evaluators, winners -- everyone recognizes Dusty, Felipe, and Bruce for these things. 'But, in the end, players win championships, and there is a lot that goes into getting the most out of your team. In the end communication, handling situations and managing people to ensure they are prepared and motivated are critical to success."
Wotus experienced that kind of success over a seven-year managing career in the minor leagues in the San Francisco Giants organization prior to joining the big league staff. His teams won championship in Class AA and AAA. Former Giants and Red Sox player Bill Mueller played on both of those championship teams for Wotus and also was coached by him in San Francisco.
"No doubt I feel like he's definitely ready for that kind of opportunity," said Mueller, a special assistant to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. "He's an intelligent baseball man, he's improved his communication over the years, and he pays attention to detail."
Hopefully this winter, big league clubs pay attention to the resume of Ron Wotus and give a good baseball man an opportunity.