The Early-Season Blame Game

Is it too early in the season to get on tilt? I don’t think so.

Up until Joe Girardi took out Phil Hughes with two outs in the sixth inning, I was feeling good. Then Boone Logan (who wasn’t good enough to make the team out of spring training but was now being asked to pitch in a one-run game) was called upon to be the “lefty specialist” for the day and retire Luke Scott. Six pitches later, Scott was on first base, and four hitters and a pitching change later and the Orioles had put three runs on the board and suddenly led 4-2. Phil Hughes’ gutsy 5 2/3 inning of work over about two hours was erased in about two minutes.

That’s how things have gone for the Yankees over the last five games. Joe Girardi has been putting out fires with gasoline, and any button he pushes seems to be the wrong one. The Yankees are supposed to get into other teams’ bullpens and put up crooked numbers, not the other way around.

So why has the bullpen become a minefield to Mariano? Maybe it’s the Baseballs Gods making up for Joe Girardi getting three innings of one-hit relief from Chan Ho Park at Fenway Park in the third game of the season. Because let’s be honest, nearly every out in those three innings was a home run. The bullpen has reverted back to its old ways and the only guy I currently trust to get the job done is Mariano, and he never gets to pitch. I feel like the only time I have seen Mariano Rivera this season was when the President Obama acknowledged him on Monday.

Before Tuesday’s game in Baltimore the Yankees were 12-6. Now they are 12-7, which isn’t all that different except they have lost four of five. The Orioles had to win a home game at some point this season, and Kevin Millwood is good veteran pitcher, so I can understand only getting two runs off him in the first 5 2/3 innings. But to not score again until the ninth when the Orioles brought in a recent Triple-A call-up to audition to be their closer? That’s hard to digest. And what makes it even harder is that the Yankees had the heart of their order up against Jim Johnson in the eighth inning, and all they got was a single from Robinson Cano, the only guy who seems to be hitting during this team-wide slide.

This is Jim Johnson we’re talking about. JIM JOHNSON! Aside from Chris Ray and Arthur Rhodes, there is no reliever I like to see coming into a game more than Jim Johnson. Jim Johnson means runs and a lot of them. There are two things I do when Jim Johnson enters a game: (1) Laugh and (2) Get comfortable for what is sure to be a 20-minute inning and a possible bat-around inning. But Johnson retired Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada to work around the Cano single in what was easily the best inning of his career.

When the Yankees were 11-3 everyone was getting a kick out of the fact that the team was winning every game despite the fact that Nick Johnson and Mark Teixeira weren’t hitting and that Javier Vazquez wasn’t pitching. But at some point the players carrying the club were going to slide as well, and you just hoped by then the already slumping players would be out of their funks. Well, that hasn’t happened.

This isn’t an attempt a reverse jinx. At least I don’t think it is. Considering my reverse jinx of Javier Vazquez got him a win in Oakland and then a beatdown in Anaheim and a public beating from Curt Schilling, and my reverse jinx of Nick Johnson got him his first in 18 at-bats and then a place on the bench with a bad back, I think it’s time to stay away from the reverse jinxes for a little. But we’re 19 games into the season and the Yankees are enduring their first slide of the season, so while it might be time to move away from the reverse jinxes, it’s a good time to start pointing fingers.

Javier Vazquez
The Yankees have lost seven games. Javier has lost three of those. He is single-handedly responsible for 43 percent of the Yankees’ losses. So yeah, I’d say it’s OK to point a finger at him. The only thing keeping me from turning my back on Javier is that Curt Schilling had to go run his mouth about Vazquez’s performance. I was pulling for Vazquez to do well before, now I am going to try to will him to do well in spite of Schilling. Vazquez has a big start on Friday night at home, coming off a disastrous loss, facing his old team and his old manager who called him a coward. Right now Ozzie Guillen is smiling and telling the world “I told you so” about Vazquez’s abilities in the American League. Javier has a chance to pull off the trifecta on Friday night: shut up the Yankee Stadium boos, Ozzie and Curt all on the same night.

Nick Johnson
Like the sun coming up in the morning and setting at night, Nick Johnson had a stiff back over the weekend. Yawn… I still believe that sometime in the near future Nick Johnson is going to go off and just start raking at an unbelievable rate. But that’s only because he has no other option but to now. Nick is hitting .135 with one hit in his last 23 at-bats. Yes, he has 10 walks over that time, but he also has scored just two runs in his last 10 games. He came here to be the ultimate No. 2 hitter and table setter, and he has been setting the table to some degree, but now it’s time to swing the bat as well. But some of Nick’s problems are due to …

Mark Teixeira
When Nick Johnson gets on base he usually doesn’t score, and that is because Mark Teixeira likes April as much as I like the Mets. I have been waiting for May just as long as Tex, but come on. At what point does this mega slump become a concern. I’m not going to say I’m concerned just yet since I don’t think there is any way that Tex doesn’t have similar numbers to last year, but I don’t think I can pick on Nick Johnson for not hitting and not include Tex. I sit up at night and pray that these hard-hit outs and walks are a sign that he is coming out of his funk. We all know he is a bona fide slow starter and eventually will play to the back of his baseball card, and if you didn’t know that, Michael Kay will remind you. But if the rest of the team is going to slump, it’s time Tex stepped up. He has had enough time to slump, and it’s time to give someone else a chance.

David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain
Robertson needs to be the most important arm in the bullpen after Mariano and Joba. Actually you could make the case that he needs to be the most important arm after Mariano given Joba’s recent struggles. I am a huge David Robertson fan, and when he was working out of bases-loaded no-out jams in the postseason like David Copperfield or David Blaine, he helped solidify himself in my mind and gain my trust and confidence in big spots. Maybe he hasn’t found his groove yet this season, but Robertson has allowed six runs and 10 hits in five innings. His strikeouts are still there, but Robertson needs to be a guarantee when he comes in because there are too many other question marks in the ‘pen.

We have seen glimpses of Reliever Joba but Starter Joba has been making his fair share of appearances this season as well. I am 100-percent sure that Kendry Morales doesn’t go deep on Friday night if the Joba from the “Joba Mania” days is on the mound. And I know that Hideki Matsui wouldn’t have singled off Joba before Morales came to the plate. Maybe I need to accept the fact that Joba Chamberlain won’t be the Joba Chamberlain from 2007 and the beginning of 2008? But I don’t want to accept that and don’t want to admit it either. All I can do is hope old Joba comes back to us and puts an end to all my worries.