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Some things I think I think:
If the Gwinnett Braves earn the International League wild-card playoff berth this weekend, they probably wonâ€™t have ace pitcher Julio Teheran available for their first-round series against Pawtucket. The Atlanta Braves reportedly will use their top minor league prospect next Thursday in a doubleheader against the New York Mets.
Teheran, still only 20 years old, is 15-3 with a 2.55 earned run average for Gwinnett. That includes his start Thursday night when he gave up six runs in three innings during a 9-4 loss to Norfolk. The righthanderâ€™s pitching motion, his command and repertoire of pitches has drawn premature comparisons to the great Pedro Martinez. Teheran, like Martinez, is a native of the Dominican Republic. He is 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, which makes him three inches taller â€“ at least â€“ than Pedro.
Donâ€™t feel badly for Gwinnett, which was tied for the wild-card lead with Lehigh Valley heading into Friday nightâ€™s action. Every Class AAA playoff contender is at the mercy of its big league parent once rosters expand on Sept. 1. The PawSox could lose slugger Ryan Lavarnway at any moment. Theyâ€™ve already lost lefthanded pitcher Felix Doubront to Boston.
The PawSox have proven resilient against all kinds of player moves this season, continuing to win games while Boston plucks spare parts from its Class AAA roster. No doubt Pawtucket is leaking oil this past week but manager Arnie Beyelerâ€™s club built up enough of a cushion to hang on to first place while Lehigh Valley lost four games in a row this week, three of them to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Speaking of Scranton, the Yankees will send top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos to the McCoy Stadium mound tonight. Banuelos, like Teheran, is 20 years old. He spent most of this season at Class AA Trenton before coming up to Scranton last month. The 5-foot-11 lefty is 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA. He one-hit Pawtucket in a seven-inning game last Monday.
Former Pawtucket resident Mason Williams, also 20, has been slumping for a few days and seen his average for the Class A Staten Island Yankees drop to .346. Staten Island has three games left in its regular season and then will participate in the New York/Penn League playoffs next week.
The thing about 20-year-old professional players is that many of them hit a wall during the long baseball summer. Teheran has thrown 144 innings for Gwinnett this season and nine more in two spot starts for Atlanta earlier in the season.
Banuelos has tossed 128 innings so far in 2011 and should finish with around 135. The Yankees could send him to the Arizona Fall League for 20 or 30 more innings. If he makes the Yankeesâ€™ big league rotation next spring, Banuelos could toss around 165 innings before the so-called â€śVerducci Ruleâ€ť kicks in. Thatâ€™s the one that says young pitchers should not increase their innings load by more than 30 in each season.
Mason Williams will play close to 100 games for Staten Island, which competes in the short-season New York/Penn League that doesnâ€™t begin until late June. Williams probably played close to 100 games as a high school/AAU player based in Florida. In 2011, he went to spring training in March, stayed in Tampa for two months doing drills and playing inter-squad games, and then moved up to Staten Island in late June. Thatâ€™s a long season.
This weekâ€™s Yankees-Red Sox series at Fenway Park didnâ€™t tell us much. We already knew both lineups will drain the blood out of starting pitchers. CC Sabathia threw 128 pitches in six innings in Tuesdayâ€™s opener. Jon Lester tossed 44 pitches just to get out of the first inning on Thursday and left after five innings and 114 pitches.
Josh Beckett was the only starter who looked like himself, and even he gave up five runs over seven innings, four of them in the sixth frame. But Beckett came back out and threw a 1-2-3 seventh after his offense regained the lead for him. Thatâ€™s what aces do and thatâ€™s why Beckett will start Game 1 of the ALDS for Boston.
The Red Sox knocked Phil Hughes back into the Yankeesâ€™ bullpen during the middle game of the series. Which may be a good thing for the Yankees, who need to do better than Cory Wade as first guy out of the pen.
New Yorkâ€™s hitters showed they could make Lester work by fouling off an uncommon amount of pitches. Veteran Andruw Jones saw an incredible 36 pitches in four ABs while drawing three walks. His last AB (against Alfredo Aceves) lasted 14 pitches and set the stage for New Yorkâ€™s game-winning rally.
Critics and even umpires like Joe West have complained about the length of Yankee-Red Sox games. Donâ€™t they know itâ€™s the length of at-bats that extends these games? The success of both teams comes from acquiring or developing players who work the count and practice plate discipline. Umpires could shorten the at-bats by expanding the strike zone but then they would have to answer to the laser-beam strike zone advocates, including their own bosses at MLB headquarters.
Every team seems to have two or three hitters who work the count. The Yankees and Red Sox have seven or eight. Just take a look at the games this weekend. The Red Sox host Texas, whose hitters are hacking at everything they see. Yanks host Blue Jays. Same thing. These games will be an hour shorter than Thursday nightâ€™s Yankees-Red Sox contest that lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes.
True baseball fans donâ€™t care how long a game lasts, not when itâ€™s Yankees-Red Sox. I would say the same thing if it were the Phillies and Brewers or Braves doing the same thing. But they donâ€™t play the game the same way in the National League. Not having a DH saves them 15 minutes a game.
The easiest way to shorten Yankee-Red Sox games is for pitchers to throw strikes inside the tiny little area between the belly-button and knees that passes for a strike zone these days.
If MLB officials really want to shorten games, they would go back to the old strike zone â€“ from the letters to the knees. That strike zone was eliminated 40 years ago when pitchers dominated the game. And itâ€™s not coming back.