Mike Mussina only lasted three innings last night. If not for a tremendous Willie Mays-style catch by Melky Cabrera with the bases loaded and a questionable out call at home on a great throw by Robinson Cano, Mussina might not have made it out of the first. As it was, his final line was 3 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 HR.
After the game, Mussina compared his performance to his previous two stinkers:
The first two games I was trying to pick corners, throw a lot of offspeed pitches, pitch backwards all the time. Today I thought I was going right after people. I threw a lot more fastballs today. I got ahead in counts today. I had a lot of two-strike counts. [Moose threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes last night compared to 64 and 56 percent in his last two starts.] And when they put the ball in play, they just put it in play someplace where we weren't playing defense.
Moose would later return to that excuse, saying that the Tigers only hit three balls hard off him and curiously asserting that his velocity isn't down from when he was pitching well (it is). While it's true that some of those nine hits were seeing-eye ground balls, flares, and flies that dropped just out of the reach of Melky Cabrera and Bobby Abreu, there were still nine of them in three innings, and, again, Moose was saved by his defense in the first inning.
Despite that excuse, Mussina wasn't defiant. If anything, he sounded lost while reflecting on his last three starts:
I really don't feel like I can do much of anything right . . . Probably the last nine innings are the worst nine innings I've pitched in my whole career, in a row. It's tough to take. I don't even know how to describe it because I've never had to deal with it before. . . Right now I let go of [the ball] and I don't feel like anything good is going to happen. It's tough to pitch that way. You can't play the game that way. You feel like you have no control over anything, and that's how I feel right now. Even the sixty feet six inches [from the mound to the plate] doesn't seem like I have a grasp of, and two weeks ago I felt like I could do anything I wanted. And that's how this game is, it'll slap you in the face when you think you've got it. And I felt good about it, and now I don't feel good at all.
And so the question becomes, will Mike Mussina take his next turn against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Peter Abraham thinks it's "unlikely" citing Mussina's 7.59 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season (Moose had one quality start and one disaster in consecutive starts against the Rays in mid-June, the former in Tampa, the latter in the Bronx, but he allowed 13 baserunners and strike out none in six innings in the "quality" start). Mussina had this to say:
If Joe thinks that somebody else can give us a lift or do the job better, then that's up to him. I'm certainly not hoping that somebody else is taking my spot. I want to keep going out there and figure out what's going on, because I can't believe in three starts that I forgot how to pitch after seventeen years. So I hope he has confidence enough in me to keep sending me out there and let me figure this out, but at the same time we've got to win ballgames, and I'll understand if he thinks that we need to do something else.
For his part, Torre said that he and Ron Guidry would talk to Mussina today to determine his status for his next start and that he should have some answers on Mussina's status soon, but did not offer any immediately following the game last night. Torre suggested that what Mussina has to say would greatly influence the decision. Looking at the above quote from Mussina, I could see it going either way. Moose obviously wants to keep going out there, but that he even acknowledged the fact that a change might be best for the ballclub is a huge admission and could signal to Torre and Guidry that a change may indeed be necessary.
As for how that change might be implemented, Mussina's not hurt, so it would take considerable trickery to put him on the DL, which means the Yankees would have to play a man short in the pen in order to add a replacement starter to the roster in the short term. rosters expand on Saturday, so the only difficulty the Yankees might have in adding an extra pitcher is if they want to bring up someone who's not currently on the 40-man. As to who that starter might be, Ian Kennedy has been fantastic since being promoted to triple-A along with Joba Chamberlain, but, like Joba, Kennedy is a first-year pro on a strict innings limit. Joba's supposedly being held to 130 total innings (he's at 97 1/3 right now). Kennedy has already thrown 146 1/3 across three minor league levels. He's also not on the 40-man. I'd be very surprised to see the Yankees push him into the major league rotation at this point in the season, despite his minor league dominance.
Kei Igawa has pitched better for Scranton than he did for the big club, but he hasn't been great (2-2, 4.21 ERA in six starts since his last demotion). Steven White has posted a 3.75 ERA and a 2-2 record in his last six starts for Scranton, but has never pitched in the majors. The last two men in the Scranton rotation are Matt DeSalvo and Jeff Karstens, neither of whom I want to see in the Bronx again this year. To my mind it's between Igawa and White. Igawa would be closer to regular rest on Saturday having last started on Sunday, while White last started on Friday. Also, of the four pitchers I just mentioned, White is the only one who is not on the 40-man roster. So, really, that's the question Torre and Guidry will be asking themselves today: With the season running down and every game crucial to the Yankees' postseason hopes, are they better off hoping that Mike Mussina can find those five miles per hour on his fastball and the break on his curveball that have gone missing in his last three starts, or are they better off hoping that the third time's the charm for Igawa, who went 0-2 with a 5.97 ERA, a 1.71 WHIP, and seven homers in six starts after his last recall from the minors (though the Yankees went 4-2 in those six games)?
As for the rest of last night's game, Justin Verlander was in top form, holding the Yankees to three hits and a pair of walks over seven scoreless innings, and Zach Miner mopped up with a pair of perfect innings. The only Yankee to reach second base was Bobby Abreu with two outs in the first, and the closest the Yankees got to a run all night was a drive by Hideki Matsui that was caught at the top of the right field wall by Ryan Raburn in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Edwar Ramirez allowed a solo home run to Placido Polanco in his lone inning of work, and Sean Henn continued his impression of Oscar the death-dealing cat by appearing in four of the Yankees' five losses on the road trip, topping this one off by allowing nine runs in 2 2/3 innings to set the final score at 16-0. Henn's last six outings have all come in Yankee losses. He posted a 21.60 ERA on the road trip, taking the loss in both extra inning games, and giving up 18 runs in 6 2/3 innings while mopping up in Mussina's two starts. Expect Henn to get farmed out before tonight's game. The only question is whether or not the Yankees finally bring back Chris Britton, or if they'll instead feel the need to replace Henn with either a lefty or a long man, in which case Kei Igawa could make a very different return to the majors than anticipated above.