The phone call reached the visiting clubhouse at Triple-A Buffalo on Monday morning, and the voice on the other end of the line sounded haggard and tired and soldiering through the day.
Which was to be expected following a trip from Allentown, Pa., coupled with an early rise and quick turnaround in a new locale for a 1 o’clock matinee.
But for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching coach Scott Aldred, that was OK, considering the Yankees’ Triple-A pitching train smoked through Lehigh Valley (Phillies) over the weekend and sounded an unmistakable opening salvo to the 2009 season.
Remember Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes?
With all eyes on the David Price-Matt Wieters battle in Triple-A Durham, the two Yankees pitchers made quite the racket themselves in serving notice that the disappointments of last season will not carry over into a new one.
Matched opposite Lehigh Valley’s Carlos Carrasco, who was pretty good himself, Kennedy punched out 11 in six innings on Friday night. Hughes took the hill on Sunday and, though his stuff didn’t completely wipe out the Lehigh Valley lineup, it was still good enough for six innings and a victory that completed a four-game sweep.
"They both threw pretty well, and pounded the zone," Aldred said. "Ian was very good. He was ahead of every hitter and threw quality strikes."
"Phil had a fastball yesterday and mixed in a few breaking balls," Aldred said. "He’s a typical slow starter in April, but he pitched OK yesterday."
It may have been only the season debuts for both, but Kennedy’s and Hughes’ success cannot be underscored enough in light of their struggles last year under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium.
The pair opened 2008 in the Yankees rotation, but fell out of favor by the end of April. Kennedy was 0-4, 8.17 overall and eventually hit the disabled list because of a strained lat muscle in May. A cameo appearance in August bombed as well. Hughes went 0-4, 9.00 in six April starts, but turned it around in Scranton in the second half and struck out 10 in 12 innings in two September starts for the big league club.
Now here they are on the same staff again, in April, only in Scranton.
Kennedy, who outdueled Carrasco on a night the Phillies righthander struck out four over six scoreless innings, is coming off a nice showing this winter in the Puerto Rican League, where he worked on throwing his curve for strikes.
Asked if he demonstrated that ability on Friday, when Kennedy showed pinpoint control in not allowing a walk and yielding just a run on four hits, Aldred said, "Not yet. Some of them did."
But there’s a reason.
The Yankees late in spring training tweaked the shape to Kennedy’s curveball. While his fastball sat 90-92 mph on Friday, the curve showed nice signs—it’s shorter with a smaller break.
"All of his misses are in one spot right now, which is good," Aldred said. "It’s easily correctable."
Meanwhile, Hughes overcame early struggles—his first 22 pitches weren’t good enough to get outs—before he turned to his curveball.
But five pitches stood out to Aldred—Hughes’ changeup.
"He was a little inconsistent with his breaking pitches. His fastball had life. It plays out harder than it shows on the gun. It’s got a pretty good backstroke and jumps on hitters," Aldred said. "Our focus is to make sure he develops his changeup so when he gets back to New York he has another weapon, especially against lefthanded batters."
Aldred called Hughes’ changeup "all good ones," thanks to the righthander maintaining the same arm speed as he does on throwing the fastball.
"It’s very good," Aldred said. "It’s creating trust with it, and when that comes on, it will snowball over time. That’s what I hope happens."
TRIUNFEL, MORRISON INJURED
Double-A West Tenn (Mariners) third baseman Carlos Triunfel is out, possibly for months, with a broken fibula. We blogged it on Sunday, and will add more either today or Tuesday once the Mariners learn the extent of Triunfel’s left leg. Put it this way—it will cost the 19-year-old plenty of time, so much in fact that farm director Pedro Grifol is already talking about possible assignments to the Arizona Fall League and winter ball.
Friday was also a discouraging one for Double-A Jacksonville (Marlins) first baseman Logan Morrison, who is facing a nearly two-month absence because of a wrist injury.
Asheville lefthander Christian Friedrich started the season off on a high note. The Rockies’ first-round draft pick last year, Friedrich returned to the Tourists, where he finished the season last year.
Fittingly, as it was Easter, the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder filled the scoreboard with goose eggs, shutting out the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox) through six innings.
BA’s Conor Glassey was at the game and reported that Friedrich was sitting 91-93 mph and even touched 95 as he painted the black to end the second inning. He was freezing hitters with his 74-76 mph curveball that he threw for strikes and putting hitters away with a filthy, 81-83 mph slider that was divebombing the back foot of righthanded hitters. He even mixed in a handful of changeups—a pitch Friedrich is working on, as he recently changed his grip. It’s still a circle change, but instead of going with the seams, he’s now laying his fingers across the seams, like a four-seam fastball, which he says is giving him more movement.
Through the six innings, Friedrich allowed one hit, walked two and struck out nine for the win.
The one hit Friedrich did allow was a double to Kannapolis catcher Matt Inouye in the third inning. A groundball down the third base line, it was a play that couldn’t have been called an error, but looked like a play that could have been made.
Overall, Friedrich was pleased with his outing.
"It was good," Friedrich said after his performance. "In the game, I was slipping a little bit in the beginning because there was a big difference between the bullpen and the one out there, so I was just trying to find a way to stay on top and put it on that downhill plane. But, as soon as I got that, I felt like I was getting on top of the ball and everything was working—slider, curveball, changeup even a couple times—so, I couldn’t ask for anything better."
If he keeps this up, the 21-year-old probably won’t be in low Class A for long.
It’s a big season for Double-A Portland (Red Sox) center fielder Josh Reddick, a 2006 17th-round pick out of Middle Georgia JC who is angling for Boston’s 40-man roster.
All he did this past weekend was, let’s see … bang out four hits on Friday, two more on Saturday and another Sunday, with a home run each day, and peppering it all with a couple of doubles and five runs scored.
All this after an 0-for-4 opening night against visiting Connecticut (Giants).
If High Class A Inland Empire (Dodgers) righthander Chris Withrow and his handlers could have scripted a season debut, it might have read something like this: five scoreless innings, six strikeouts, two walks.
Which is exactly what Withrow did on Sunday against Rancho Cucamonga (Angels), signaling that the tender right elbow that wrecked most of his 2008 season is ready for the season ahead. A 2007 first-round pick out of Midland, Texas, Withrow threw just four innings last season, all in August, after nursing that elbow.
OUR FEATURED PRESENTATION
Missed out on the Price-Wieters action Saturday night? Here’s a link to the blogs and postgame story.
ON THE MOVE
Lehigh Valley (Phillies) catcher Lou Marson got an early calllup on Friday, when he flew to Denver to join the Phillies in their series against the Rockies. Phils catcher Carlos Ruiz is suffering a right obligue strain.
ALREADY A NO-NO
The Rangers were our top-ranked organization in our annual talent rankings, and they are already proving the point. Lefthander Martin Perez combined with two relievers to throw the first no-hitter of the season on Saturday night. Perez worked the first four innings of the seven-inning no-hitter (it was the first game of a doubleheader), striking out six and walking three.
Inclement weather in April? That’s preposterous.
Unfortunately, almost no team goes unaffected by early season rains/snow, with Triple-A Oklahoma City’s scheduled Sunday starter, lefthander Derek Holland, and Triple-A Norfolk’s scheduled Sunday guy, righthander Chris Tillman, pushed back to today.
Holland goes at Nashville, Tillman at Charlotte.