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Mariano Rivera pitching hurt is still better than nearly anyone else healthy. That said, Rivera’s injuries bear watching very closely because there is no more valuable piece to the Yankee puzzle than The Great Mariano.
On the positive side, it’s not a disabling injury, not yet anyway. He’s continued to pitch through both ailments. The oblique injury that Rivera was nursing in early May, he says hasn’t really gotten better. However, Rivera recently ran off an 18-inning scoreless streak between May 25th and July 2nd. While it may bother him, the oblique problem is on his left side, not his arm side…and that appears to be something he can manage.
The right knee issue is a different story. Rivera says it first bothered him while shagging in the outfield in Los Angeles two weeks ago. The sample size is not that big since then, but he threw 2 innings against the Dodgers in the Sunday night finale of that series and has pitched 4 times since then, giving up 1 run in a blown save last Sunday vs. Toronto. He came back Monday night and picked up an easy save on 10 pitches.
It is important to note here that Joe Girardi said Tuesday night that at no time during this period of nagging injury has Rivera been left unavailable for a game. That would tend to play down the seriousness of any ailment.
But if Rivera’s push-off knee is affected on every pitch, how long before this becomes more serious? Can one wrong move cause a tear that puts him out for the season? That would be the Yanks undoing, because we have all seen that Joba Chamberlain is not yet ready to be “the next Mariano.” Frankly, who is?
This is a very uncomfortable feeling if you’re a Yankee fan. No sugar coating this—the unknown nature of this injury to Rivera is as scary as it can get for the Yankees. And how he responds over the next two weeks will have a great impact on what the Yankees do by the July 31st trading deadline. Rivera could come through this just fine. But if he doesn’t the Yanks will be hanging on the edge of their seats in the 9th inning just like every other team in baseball. And that’s not a good feeling.
Let’s be clear about this…the Yankees aren’t sending Rivera out there recklessly endangering his health and their playoff hopes. The fact that he’s out there pitching tells you something. They must be confident beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s okay to pitch.
But stay tuned…this might turn into a very scary ride.
*Javier Vazquez has quietly become the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting. In his last 9 starts beginning on May 21st against the Mets at Citi Field through Monday night in Oakland, Vazquez is 6-3, 3.12 ERA, opponents batting .189.
The season is the season, and you don’t throw away the first month because it all counts. But for those who thought Vazquez was dead weight on this team, he’s proven you wrong. His record is an even 7-7 now, and three of his losses have been games in which the Yankees were shut out.
There are plenty of people out there who won’t give Vazquez his due until he wins a game in October, and I get that. But Vazquez has been every bit as good as CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte for nearly two months now and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.
*Phil Hughes has struggled recently. Thanks to consistently high run support, the Yanks have won 4 of his last 5 starts, despite Hughes carrying a 6.53 ERA and a .311 opponent’s batting average over that stretch.
No doubt Hughes was due for a little rut after his spectacular start to the season. Poor location has caused him to cough up 7 HR in his last four starts, after giving up only 4 HR in his first eleven starts. This is something he will bounce back from, of that I’m confident. But here’s the part that does concern me…
The last time Hughes was a healthy full-time starter was 2006 when he threw 146 innings between A-Tampa and AA-Trenton. But as Hughes breezed through the season his innings were piling up and he was limited in many of his starts during the second half to only 5 innings, including a few times when he hadn’t even given up a hit.
What concerns me here is not that Hughes will start to reach an innings limit, but that Hughes has not pitched 6 or 7 innings of quality baseball in August or September of a pennant race at any point in his career. Hughes will be totaling innings he’s never seen, but more importantly for me he’ll be asked to pitch deeper into games, deeper into a season for the first time.
Hughes is a big strong kid and is proving to be worth the gamble the Yankees took in not trading him away earlier in his career. He’s been very fun to watch pitch and his development has been one of the first-half highlights for the Yankees.
But I’m curious to see if Hughes hits a wall in the second half and how well he bounces back.