Archive for September 2010

Pettitte rehab complete as Thunder grab Game 1

September 15, 2010

Andy Pettitte adresses the media following his final rehab start with the Thunder Tuesday night vs. Altoona in Game 1 of the ELCS.
(Photo by Mike Ashmore)

This story also appears in
today’s Times of Trenton and at

For everything else you need to know about Pettitte and the ELCS, including video, you already should know to see
Mike Ashmore.

ALTOONA, Pa. – Andy Pettitte was not where he wanted to be last night, both literally and figuratively, but that all should change come Sunday.
With his rehab assignment choices limited this week, Pettitte traveled more than five hours to play a starting role in the Thunder’s 3-2, 10-inning victory over Altoona in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series last night at Blair County Ballpark.
Austin Romine’s two-out, run-scoring single in extra innings scored Austin Krum with the winning run as Trenton, seeking its third EL title in four years, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
After five innings and 67 pitches, then another 10 in the bullpen following his start, alogn with his first real taste of adversity since officially beginning his comeback with four innings against New Hampshire at Waterfront Park Sept. 9, the 38-year-old left-hander is expected to return to the Yankees rotation Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
“Unless they tell me I am not starting I feel it’s time I get in a big league game and get going up there,’’ Pettitte said. “I am going to pitch Sunday in Baltimore, so that will give me three starts (before the playoffs). That will be enough. That’s what I’ve got (left). I am a long way from where I was, but I am working to get back there.’’
Pettitte yielded a solo home run to Altoona leadoff hitter Chase d’Arnaud on just his fourth pitch of the game, and the Western Division champion Curve hit several balls on the nose against the most successful postseason pitcher in Major League history to grab some early momentum.
“It was a flat cutter,’’ Pettitte said of d’Arnaud’s third homer of the playoffs. “I was ahead in the count (1-2) and didn’t bury it. If you don’t bury a cutter and it stays flat on the inner half that’s what happens to it. That’s definitely not the way you want to start the night, but I was glad I was able to give us a decent start to where our guys can hopefully pull the game out.’’
Pettitte allowed six hits and two earned runs with a walk and four strikeouts. He gave up just one run after loading the bases with one out as part of a 21-pitch third inning, then extracted himself from a bases loaded, no out jam in the fifth by inducing a 1-2-3 double play before striking out Curve cleanup hitter Matt Hague to keep the game tied at 2-2.
Andrew Brackman (1-0) relieved Pettitte and delivered five shutout innings in which he gave up just one hit and struck out four.
The 6-foot-10 Brackman also got out of a bases-loaded, one out situation in the eighth inning and was credited with his first playoff win despite seven days rest since his last outing Sept. 7 in New Britain.
In 40 innings this postseason, Thunder pitchers have a 0.67 ERA. Since Aug. 11, Brackman has an ERA of 0.71.
“They did it again … they pitched out of key situations,’’ Romine said of his staff. “You expect Pettitte to do it, but our entire pitching staff is bearing down. To see these young guys evolve and make the pitches they need to make makes you feel good as a catcher.’’
The Thunder smacked 10 hits and had a chance to send Pettitte on his way with a one-run lead, but Krum was thrown out at home plate in the fifth inning on a Romine single to right field _ nearly the identical situation as the 10th inning, just with a much more favorable outcome.
“I felt good,’’ Pettitte said. “I don’t feel like I was quite as sharp as I was (Sept. 9). I was a little more amped up, but the last couple innings were better in terms of mechanics. It was good to get into some trouble that (fifth) inning. I felt like I had to make some pitches.’’
In his two Double-A rehab appearances, Pettitte completed nine innings, gave up 10 hits, two earned runs, walked one, struck out eight and was charged with three wild pitches.
For the Thunder, a 1-0 series lead has served them well since the three-game collapse against Portland in 2006.
Trenton is unbeaten (5-0) in its last five playoff series when taking Game 1.
“Every pitch meant something,’’ Brackman said. “Once the playoff started everyone, and not just the pitchers, focused a little bit more because we want to win a championship. We didn’t play a whole season to just quit at the end.’’


J.B. Cox suspended for dugout incident

September 9, 2010

J.B. Cox

Mark Newman and the Yankees gave J.B. Cox another chance when he quit on the Thunder, the organization and himself last June.
After last night outburst directed at manager Tony Franklin, the once highly-regarded reliever likely is gone from the organization for good.
Cox was placed on the suspended after eyewitnesses in the front row last night confirm an angry Cox get in the face and reportedly chest-bump the 60-year-old Franklin after the skipper hooked him in the eighth inning of a 2-0 victory over New Hampshire in Game 1 of the Eastern League Division Series at Waterfront Park.
Cox got two outs in the eighth, but also allowed a single and a walk. Leaving nothing to chance with a rested bullpen in a huge game, Franklin called on Pat Venditte, then closer Ryan Pope.
Cox was nowhere to be found in the clubhouse after the game, where Franklin was seen meeting almost immediately with Yankees director of player development Pat Roessler.
“It was just words exchanged,” Franklin said prior to Thursday’s thrilling, 1-0 victory in 12 innings. “I took exception to what he said to me. I didn’t think it was very professional and he probably took exception to what I said to him. We just think the best thing to do was to suspend him for the remainder of the season. Those kinds of altercations are ugly. He was very frustrated about coming out of the game, but I had to go get him. I had a decision to make.”
Cox, 26, was 3-0 with a 4.28 ERA in 26 games since returning to the Yankees. The former University of Texas All-American quit on the Thunder last June following a horrendous road trip to Akron and did not return until this summer.
In 2007, and on the verge of a 40-man roster spot, Cox missed the entire season after breaking his hand in a bar fight.
“We took action and we felt this action was needed,” Franklin added. “If his career is over with the Yankees I’d hate for it to end on this note.”
Below is my feature story on Cox that appeared in The Times of Trenton and on July 3, the one in which the right-hander insisted he had turned over a new leaf.

Cox takes the long road back

By John Nalbone

TRENTON– The Yankees had high hopes for James Brent “J.B.” Cox when they used their second round pick in the 2005 draft on the former University of Texas closer.
Five years of injuries, disappointments and at least one very poor decision later, Cox now finds himself closer to retirement than to a job in the Yankees’ bullpen.
After walking away from the game last June following a soul-crushing two-game performance for the Thunder at Akron, Cox returned to a Double-A pitcher’s mound for the first time in over a year Thursday night and earned his first win since August of 2008.
“It’s been an emotional and physical rollercoaster,” Cox said. “It’s one of those deals where it sounds cliché to say, but I went through it and I am in a much better place now mentally. Overall, it’s been tough and I don’t want to do it again, but one thing I can say is I think it has made me a better person.”
The downward spiral for the 26-year-old Cox began when his invitation to big league spring training in 2007 was rescinded after he broke a bone in his pitching hand during a bar fight the previous December.
Elbow surgery followed and Cox ended up missing all of 2007 after going 6-2 with a 1.75 ERA and three saves in 41 appearances for the Thunder in 2006.
In July of that season, Cox appeared in 15 straight games (26 innings) for manager Bill Masse without allowing a run.
That was as good as it would get for the former Longhorns’ All-American, who has seen his former Texas bullpen mate Huston Street go 25-14 with a 2.92 ERA and 130 saves over a six-year big league career that includes the 2005 American League Rookie of the Year Award.
After three years of physical and emotional torment attempting to make it back following the bar room fiasco and subsequent elbow surgery, Cox abruptly packed up his belongings and walked away from the game after allowing four hits, including a grand slam, four runs and four walks in two appearances (one inning) against Akron last June 23-24.
“I’m a grown man,” Cox said. “I can handle going out there and getting lit up if I have my stuff. But I could not handle going out there and feeling almost naked on the mound with no ammo and nothing to compete with. What got to me the most emotionally was not being able to look my teammates in the eye because I could not give them an honest effort. I’d come into the locker room and not want to talk to anybody.
“I didn’t think I was coming back. I thought (2009) was it. After the low point of the back-to-back outings in Akron I made up my mind that this wasn’t for me.
“I thought I was done completely. Obviously things have turned around a little bit since then.”
Cox decided to go back to Texas and finish his degree, but when a friend attempting to recover from Tommy John surgery asked him to play catch, Cox felt something he had not experienced in a very long time.
“That was the first time in several years that I played catch where I didn’t have to think, or care about what the ball did, or what anybody thought that was watching me,” he said.
“I was keeping it simple. From there I started playing catch with (University of Texas pitching coach) Skip Johnson and decided to give it another shot.”
Cox had his agent contact Yankees executive vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman and another opportunity was at hand.
Despite going 0-1 with a 8.59 ERA in five games at Class-A Tampa this spring, Cox was elevated to Double-A Trenton and made a successful return with two scoreless innings and the victory in Thursday’s series opener against Harrisburg at Waterfront Park.
The Thunder led last night’s game 7-1 through five innings behind starter and Eastern League All-Star Lance Pendleton.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you I didn’t have a backup plan,” Cox said of his career path. “I thought I was going the quick route to the majors. The next thing you know you’re hurt and stuff happens. Obviously it’s still a goal to get to the big leagues, but I need to take it day-to-day even if I have a bad outing. I have to take the positives, build on those and capitalize on every opportunity. Whatever happens happens. I just know I am a baseball player and this is what I am supposed to be doing.”

Andy Pettitte will rehab with Thunder Thursday

September 5, 2010

Andy Pettitte is escorted from the mound after injuring his groin against Tampa July 18

TRENTON _ After nearly a month of speculation and setbacks, Andy Pettitte is on his way to Double-A Trenton.
The Yankees left-hander and future Hall of Fame candidate will start Game 2 of the Eastern League Divisional Playoffs for the Thunder Thursday against New Hampshire at Waterfront Park.
Out since July 18 with a strained groin and hip flexor, Pettitte was cleared to throw 60-65 pitchers or four innings for the Thunder following a successful 20-pitch bullpen session prior to today’s 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at the Stadium.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said there is a chance Pettitte will make two minor league starts before returning to the rotation, but Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre also is in the postseason and could serve as Pettitte’s final stop.
“If he gets to 65 pitches (in the first rehab start), then the area of concern the next time is 65 to 80 (pitches,” Girardi said. “So, if he’s at 75, then you know he should be fine all the way up to 75, and then you start to get a little bit worried if he gets fatigued (beyond 75 pitches).”
Dellin Betances will start Game 1 for the Eastern Division champion Thunder (83-59), which wrapped up the regular season today with a 5-2 victory over New Britain.
Adam Warren likely will get pushed back to Game 3 at stadium, and it is not yet known who will be first in relief of Pettitte Thursday.
Manager Tony Franklin, snubbed for EL Manager of the Year honors for the third time in four years despite three division championships and two league titles, is expected to lock in his playoff rotation sometime today.
It was a good news, bad news day for Trenton Monday as the pending arrival of one of the most clutch postseason pitchers in Major League Baseball history was offset by the departure of the club’s hottest hitter.
Outfielder Justin Christian took his 19-game hitting streak to Scranton yesterday, putting yet more pressure on Austin Krum, Dan Brewer, Marcos Vechionacci and Austin Romine to deliver against a New Hampshire team that is 16-7 against the Thunder this season, and that includes a 10-3 mark at Sam Plumeri Sr. Field.
Christian batted .297 with 21 doubles and nine home runs in 87 games. Four of those homers came during the four-game, season-ending homestand against Akron last week.
Taylor Grote will join the Thunder from Single-A Charleston, where the outfielder batted .276 with seven doubles and a pair of home runs.
Pettitte, 38, is 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 18 starts this season.

Brandon Laird is EL MVP; Rookie of the Year

September 2, 2010

Brandon Laird: EL MVP

Portland, Maine (PR) — The Eastern League of Professional Baseball announced today that Thunder third baseman Brandon Laird has won the 2010 Eastern League Valuable Player Award and the 2010 Eastern League Rookie of the Year Award.
Laird appeared in 107 games with the Thunder this season and batted .291 (119-for-409) with 22 doubles, two triples, 23 home runs, 90 RBI, 73 runs scored, a .355 on-base percentage and a .523 slugging percentage in his first career season at the Double-A level. The 22-year old was rewarded for his performance as a member of the Thunder with a promotion to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees of the Triple-A International League on August 2nd. At the time of his promotion, the 6’1”, 215 lb. slugger was leading the league in total bases (214) and RBI (90). He was also ranked among the league leaders in home runs (23-2nd), hits (119-2nd), games (107-2nd), extra-base hits (47-tied 2nd), runs scored (73-4th) and slugging percentage (.523-5th). Laird twice tied the Trenton franchise record for RBI in a game during the season. Laird first tied the mark by driving in seven runs on May 16th in a 13-7 win over Binghamton and later equaled the record with seven RBI in an 11-2 win at Erie on June 24th.
Another highlight for Laird came on May 26th when he became the second player in the history of the Trenton franchise to hit for the cycle, completing his cycle with a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 7-6 win against Erie. That performance helped him take home the Eastern League Player of the Week Award for the week ending May 30th. He also was named the Eastern League Player of the Month for the month of May, was a member of the Eastern Division roster at the 2010 Eastern League All-Star Game and was selected as the third baseman on the recently announced Eastern League All-Star Team.
Laird is the first Thunder player to win the Eastern League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. Two Thunder pitchers, Carl Pavano (1996) and Alan Horne (2007), have won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Award.
Laird is he younger brother of Detroit Tigers catcher Gerald Laird and was selected by the New York Yankees in the 27th round of the 2007 draft out of Cypress College in California.
In the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award New Hampshire outfielder Eric Thames finished second and Bowie outfielder/first baseman Joel Guzman finished third.
Thames also finished second in the voting for the Rookie of the Year Award while Reading first baseman Matt Rizzotti came in third.
The announcement of the winner of the Eastern League Manager of the Year Award will be made on Sunday, September 5th.

“Switch-pitcher’’ Venditte joins Thunder bullpen

September 2, 2010

Pat Venditte (Photo by Mike Ashmore)

TRENTON — The “Venditte Rules’’ have come to Double-A Trenton.
Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte, one of the most talked about players in the minor leagues due to his ability to throw both left- and right-handed, was added to the Thunder bullpen from Class-A Tampa before Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over Akron at Waterfront Park.
“It’s a novelty, no question about it, and it’s a blessing,’’ Thunder manager Tony Franklin said after Venditte and right-hander Adam Olbrychowski arrived from Tampa. “But I’m curious as to whether he’s going to get outs. That’s all that matters to me.’’
Venditte’s unique talent is anything but a novelty when you break down the career statistics of the Yankees 20th round draft pick from 2008.
In 120 career games spanning 172 2/3 innings, all in relief, the 25-year-old Venditte is 9-3 with a 1.62 ERA. This season at Tampa, Venditte allowed just 49 hits and 15 walks in 72 2/3 innings.
So, what took him so long to get here?
“If you look around here there are great pitchers everywhere,’’ said Venditte, who uses a six-finger glove manufactured by Mizuno. “You can’t say enough about the guys that are already here. I’m getting my opportunity now and I am grateful for it.’’
A natural right-hander, Venditte said he was taught to throw from both sides by his father starting at the age of three. The Yankees initially selected the Omaha, Nebraska native in the 45th round of the 2007 draft, but Venditte told them he needed at least another year to develop and instead chose to attend Creighton University.
When pitching from the right side, Venditte comes over the top with a slider, changeup and fastball in the 87-93 mph range.
Venditte’s lefty delivery is side-arm with just a slider and a low-velocity fastball at his disposal.
When he enters a game, Venditte needs to declare to the home plate umpire which arm he intends to use for the first hitter and cannot change in the middle of an at bat.
“The Pat Venditte Rule’’ has been on the books with the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC) since Venditte’s appearance for Staten Island of the N.Y.-Penn. League in June of 2008 and limits the number of times a switch-pitcher and switch-hitter can change sides during an at-bat.
“When a switch-hitter is approaching from the on-deck circle I have to declare to him which way I am going to pitch,’’ Venditte said. “After I do that he decides which way he is going to hit and then neither of us is allowed to switch again during the at bat.’’
Other than Venditte in the modern era, only Greg A. Harris, a veteran of eight major league teams and 703 games from 1981-95, was a switch-pitcher.