Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Coke-Aceves Redux

Last year, I was pretty high on two pitchers who made their major league debuts for the Yankees in 2008. In fact, I wrote five posts tracking the progress of Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves during the final month of the season, because that was basically all there was to get excited about. Following their strong debuts, I had high hopes for both of them, especially Coke.

This year didn't start out quite the way I envisioned. Coke gave up more runs on opening day—two in 1 2/3 IP—than he did in the 14 2/3 innings he pitched last year. Whatever chance Aceves had to begin the year in the rotation all but vanished when the Yankees signed free agents C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Instead, he started the season at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and spent the entire first month there.

Coke's struggles lasted through the season's first two months, as he ended May with a 4.79 ERA, allowing 16 hits, nine walks and five home runs in 20 2/3 innings. From June 1 on, though, he's been just as good as the brief glimpse we saw of him last year, giving up just one earned run on five hits and four walks, while striking out 16, in 15 2/3 innings. For the year, Coke has an ERA of 2.97, a WHIP of 0.94, seven holds and one save, and has held opposing batters to a .172 average. He has ably stepped into the role of the Yankees' top lefthander out of the bullpen, and has been just as effective against right-handed hitters as he's been against lefties.

Of course, as I'm wrapping up writing this, Coke has surrendered a solo homer to Joe Mauer in the bottom of the 7th of tonight's game against the Twins, cutting the Yankees' lead to 4-3.

Aceves was recalled from the minors on May 4 and has served as the utility man out of the Yanks' bullpen since. He's made 21 relief appearances, going two or more innings 12 times, and three or more on four occasions. Aceves is 5-1 with one save and three holds, and has allowed just 37 baserunners (30 hits and seven walks) while striking out 34, in 40 IP. Further proving his versatility, he gets the call tomorrow in his first start of the season, filling in for the injured Chien-Ming Wang.

Both Coke and Aceves still qualify as rookies this year, as do three other players—Brett Gardner, Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli—who have earned significant playing time in the first half of the 2009 Yankees season, although only Pena is the only one to make his major league debut this year. So, while there still may be a "rookie watch," it won't be quite the same as last year's tracking of several players getting their first ever taste of major league competition.

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