Darren O’Day isn’t a conventional pitcher. He’s given plenty of quality right-handed hitters a tough time during his big-league career. Still, it was kind of telling that Alex Rodriguez couldn’t catch up to his 85-mph fastball in Thursday’s loss to the Orioles.
A-Rod did get a single and a walk in five plate appearances Thursday. However, Yankees manager Joe Girardi again made the call to pull him with the game on the line. Unlike Wednesday, it didn’t pay off tonight, as Eric Chavez lined out in his place to end the 13-inning marathon. Still, pretty much everyone figures A-Rod would have struck out anyway.
Starting Rodriguez against left-hander Joe Saunders on Thursday was the right move. Now that the Orioles are going back to a righty in Jason Hammel for Game 5, it’s time for Rodriguez to take a seat. His bat is too slow to make him a threat right now, and if he’s capable of guessing fastball and cheating on it, he certainly hasn’t showed it so far.
Chavez should play third base in his place. Chavez hit .298/.365/.543 with 16 homers in 245 at-bats against righties during the regular season. A-Rod hit .256/.326/.391 with 10 homers in 317 at-bats.
Really, as bad as A-Rod has looked, this doesn’t even make for a tough call. Rodriguez is hardly the only Yankee struggling — Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson aren’t getting it done either — but Chavez has been the superior option against righties for months now and with the season on the line, the Yankees can’t afford to be going with their lesser players. It’d do or die, and A-Rod appears long dead.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.