Since stomping the Mets 9-0 in the second game of last Friday's doubleheader, the Yankees have scored just seven runs in four games. Tonight they look to break the slump and avoid a sweep against Rangers rookie Luis Mendoza.
Mendoza hasn't allowed a run since April, but he also hasn't made a major league start since April, when he posted a 9.31 ERA in three starts, all of them Ranger losses. Mendoza spent most of May on the DL due to inflammation in his pitching shoulder and has made three scoreless appearances out of the Texas bullpen since being recalled from his rehab assignment in mid-June. The 24-year-old Mendoza has made six starts in his brief major league career and never seen the sixth inning in any of them. He's also never faced the Yankees.
Opposing Mendoza is former Ranger Sidney Ponson. The Yankees signed Ponson on the day I left for my recent vacation and I was still away when they called him up to pitch against the Mets, so I didn't have an opportunity to register my disgust at the return of the player who very nearly made my list of my least favorite Yankees of the past 25 years based on his 16 1/3 innings as a Yankee in 2006.
Ponson had three quality starts in ten tries as a Ranger earlier this season, with all but two of his starts for Texas coming in May. When the Rangers released him for bad behavior that reportedly included making a scene at a hotel bar and fighting with manager Ron Washington, Ponson had a 105 ERA+, which marked the first time he'd been anything close to league average or above since 2003.
Ponson pitched six scoreless innings against the Mets in his Yankee debut this season, and could have another solid outing if facing the team that released him increases his focus tonight, but he is not a long-term solution. He is a stop-gap as the team waits for a variety of young pitchers to overcome injury, setbacks, and inexperience. That said, I'd rather have Dan Giese in the roation right now. Giese has had just two poor starts in 12 tries between triple-A and the majors this year. I'd also rather give Jeff Karstens, who is finally healthy and pitching well for Scranton (1.88 ERA in June, 3.67 K/BB on the season), or Jeff Marquez, who has rediscovered his ability to get ground balls and posted a 1.89 ERA in June for Scranton, or fast-moving Dan McCutchen (3.88 K/BB in Scranton) a shot to prove themselves in the rotation rather than have to endure watching the Fat Ponson Toad work his black magic. It pains me that we're back in this spot two years later. Three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation may have hit the DL, but that's still no excuse for employing Sidney Ponson.
Word of warning: in his last stint as a Yankee, Ponson pitched the Yankees to a win in his first start, allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings. He was then lit up in his next outing (six runs in 2 1/3 innings) as he went on to post a 13.97 in his final four games of the season. The Yankees released him after those five appearances and he spent the rest of the season out of work. I repeat: Sidney Ponson is bad.
Melky Cabrera gets the night off tonight, so Brett Gardner will make his debut as the Yankee center fielder. He's batting ninth. Jason Giambi will DH with Wilson Betemit, who is likely to be a permanent fixture in the lineup in Hideki Matsui's absence unless Gardner starts getting on base and forces Johnny Damon to DH, at first base.