The Return of Javier Vazquez

Beleaguered starter faces the Tigers Tuesday

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, May 11, 2010  |  Updated 5:15 PM EDT
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The Return of Javier Vazquez

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Assuming the rain clears up over Comerica Park, Javier Vazquez will be on the mound to provide the next scene in a sequel that's been more "Speed 2" than Grover Cleveland.

Cleveland's second term isn't a particularly memorable one as far as presidential administrations go, but Yankees fans would surely take that over the mess that was the Keanu Reeves-less attempt to take the fun and games of the bus and put them on water. Just as you know that there's trouble ahead when the biggest star of the first movie chooses to sit out the second edition, you'll know early on if Javy is serving up another stink bomb in Motown.

Watch the fastball for your answer. Vazquez has dropped from 91 mph in 2009 to a shade under 89 this season. That's a significant drop, one that probably explains a lot about why he's falling behind in so many counts in his starts this season. If he can't generate swings and misses with his fastball, he's going to be less inclined to throw it over the plate. That leads to more hitter's counts when Vazquez has no choice but to groove the fastball to batters who are eagerly awaiting it. 

That leads to runners on base and Vazquez has been awful this year when pitching in those situations. When he finds himself in those situations, it's natural that he is going to be even more careful about placing his pitches away from spots where great damage can be done. But, as we learned above, that means hitter's counts, meaty fastballs and more of what we've seen this year.

Fixing the velocity could be mechanical or it could mean that Vazquez needs to vary his approach to avoid allowing hitters to sit back on fastballs he's forced to throw. That's surely been a big part of what the team has been working on with him since his last start, which feels like it was a lot more than 10 days ago.

The nice part of having broken from the gate so well is that the Yankees can afford to give Vazquez a chance to find himself, although you wonder if the fans and media are going to play along. There's a nagging feeling around town that people are rooting for Vazquez to fail, because of both lingering resentment for 2004 and lingering distaste for the moves the Yankees made in general this winter. Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson both got hurt and neither played particularly well when they were healthy and Vazquez has already been a lightning rod for critcism.

It's a bit odd that those feelings persist amid such a strong start. Perhaps Cashman and company underrated the bond formed between last year's Yankees and their fans or perhaps these are simply the shackles of high expectations. Now we've reached a point where there's so much bad feeling for Vazquez that it seems as if his continued struggles would be met with smiles and knowing nods that we were right all along.  

Whatever the reason for the animus, things will only get worse if he spits the bit against the Tigers.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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