- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
BALTIMORE -- Matt Wieters has an excellent reputation as a catcher and a leader, but he and Jason Hammel combined on a pitch selection in Game 1 of the ALDS that had talent evaluators befuddled. The count was 3-2, the hitter was Alex Rodriguez, and Hammel spun a breaking ball that veered out of the strike zone for a walk.
If there had been cameras on the scout section at that moment, you might have seen 20 scouts leaping to their feet screaming: "What are you doing throwing him a slider?"
The broad perception of Rodriguez right now is that he can't hit even an average fastball of 91-92 mph -- unless he guesses right and gets his swing started a little sooner and manages to time the pitch. As one rival scout said, "He's making 91 mph look like 99 mph" with the way he's swinging the bat. The evaluators think that in trying to make up for the inability to catch up to fastballs, Rodriguez is trying to get his bat started sooner, which leaves him more vulnerable to breaking pitches on the outer edge of home plate.
That's the eye test, and as New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi considers what to do with his lineup for Game 3, there is also an ocean of data that reinforces the need for change with Rodriguez.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Rodriguez has missed on 11 of his 23 swings this postseason. He's missed on four of five swings against breaking balls, including the slider Darren O'Day struck him out on during the Yankees' seventh-inning scoring threat. The Orioles have done a nice job working the edges of the plate, throwing 40 of 47 pitches in this series to the inner third (off the inside corner) or the outer third (off the outside corner) of home plate. Rodriguez hit .227 in at-bats that ended with pitches to those edges during the regular season, with a miss rate of 28 percent. That miss rate ranked 12th of the 13 Yankees with the most plate appearances during the regular season, trailing only Curtis Granderson's 31 percent."
Rodriguez looks terrible at the plate, and Nick Swisher's postseason struggles have continued in the first two games in this series -- he's now 1-for-33 with runners in scoring position in the postseason in his career -- and so change is in order.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter is stalking those two in making his decisions, like a lion waiting for the slowest antelopes. The fact that Showalter had left-hander Brian Matusz intentionally walk the left-handed hitting Robinson Cano -- the potential go-ahead run -- to pitch to the switch-hitting Swisher tells you how much respect Showalter has for Cano and also how he feels about his pitcher's chances of getting Swisher out.
Girardi deflected the question about his lineup after Game 2, as he should have, but certainly an alteration is in order. The guess here is that the Yankees' Game 3 lineup will look something different -- maybe even radically different, like this:
SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
Another option would be to start Eric Chavez at third base or DH and hit him in the middle of the order, in the No. 4 or No. 5 spot, with Rodriguez moving to the No. 6 or No. 7 spot.
Most managers are leery of change this time of year, fearing that it signals panic to the players, and generally speaking, Girardi is a status-quo manager given that his roster is loaded with veterans. Girardi and the Yankees' brass will also have to weigh the possibility that moving Rodriguez down in the lineup will have an adverse impact on the veteran, because the move will draw so much attention and create questions that Rodriguez will have to answer.
But Rodriguez really doesn't look good, and whether the changes are small or radical, some switch is needed; the Yankees need to move Cano into the No. 3 spot.
Girardi was asked about whether changing his lineup might make sense, and he responded, "Right now I don't plan on having any changes to our lineup. You look at he squared up two balls tonight. You look at the ball he hit in the first inning, he squared it up. And then he had the other hard single. Right now I don't have any plans to make any changes."
Right now. As in, that moment that Girardi was speaking. It's a manager's prerogative to change his mind.
Camden Yards was packed on Monday night with the largest crowd in the history of the franchise, and the morning news shows here presented decibel readings to demonstrate just how loud it was. The passionate Orioles fans who have been frustrated by the team's play in the past 15 years have come out to support the team.
Among those: Owner Peter Angelos, who made a very rare appearance in the Baltimore clubhouse after Monday's victory. He moved around the clubhouse, greeting players with handshakes, from closer Jim Johnson to center fielder Adam Jones to Matusz, grinning broadly. Johnson presented him a boxed baseball from the day the Orioles clinched their first winning season in 15 years. Angelos good-naturedly joked to the reporters in the room that he wasn't sure how he should take the gesture -- and that if it had come from a member of the press, well, it probably would have been a dig at the team's years of struggle.
It was only the second time that Angelos appeared in the clubhouse this year, the Orioles players said, and in the 17 years I've known him, it was the happiest I can recall seeing him. He has been the target of derision in Baltimore, but seeing the way the players responded to him -- "I think there are misconceptions about him," Johnson said, off to the side -- reminded me of George Steinbrenner in the last decade of his life.
In Steinbrenner's early years, the players couldn't stand him and thought of him as a serious problem. But during the Paul O'Neill-Tino Martinez-Derek Jeter years, the players really responded to him. If the Orioles' success continues, through this fall and into next year, Angelos has a chance for a similar renaissance within his own clubhouse.
From ESPN Stats & Info: In one of the biggest moments of the game, Matusz came on in relief and struck out Swisher with two outs and two on in the seventh inning. Matusz has completely reinvented himself, going from a bad starter to a dominant reliever.
Matusz this season, including postseason (starter/reliever)
K per 9: 6.6/13.5
With runners on, batters are 1-for-21 with 11 K's against Matusz as a reliever. Including the playoffs, this year Matusz has not allowed any of his 16 inherited runners to score after he stranded Ichiro in the seventh inning Monday.
• The Yankees head home with the series at 1-1.
• The questions about Rodriguez's spot in the roster have mounted, writes Bill Pennington. Cano would be better for the 3-hole than Rodriguez, writes John Harper. Buck Showalter is preying on A-Rod and Swisher, writes Joel Sherman.
• Wieters snatched a short-hop throw from second baseman Robert Andino in Game 1 Sunday night before applying the tag on Russell Martin with the deftness of a middle infielder. "I'll actually rely on my hands more than a lot of catchers," said Wieters, who will occasionally go to first base during batting practice to practice taking throws in the dirt.
Wieters changed to a new catcher's mitt about a month ago, and it took about 20 days before he felt the new glove had the degree of softness that he wants.
"The play he made last night on the short hop, a lot of people I'm sure think that's easy," said Showalter. "That's a remarkable play. Fortunately, we get to see something like that every night."
From ESPN Stats & Info: Carlos Beltran recorded his third career multihomer game in the postseason, tied for second in MLB postseason history. However, Beltran is the only player with a multihomer game for three different teams in the postseason. Babe Ruth has the most multihomer postseason games in history with four.
Beltran now has 13 career home runs in 25 postseason games, the most in a player's first 25 postseason games in MLB history. Nelson Cruz has 11. Lou Gehrig, Duke Snider and Troy Glaus are tied for third with nine.
Beltran also currently has the highest career postseason OPS in history at 1.297 (minimum 100 plate appearances). Ruth is second at 1.211 and Gehrig is third at 1.208.
This from ESPN's Stats & Info on Jon Jay's great catch: Baseball Info Solutions tracks "good fielding plays" -- plays that require beyond an ordinary effort (in the eyes of their video-review crew). Jay had the second-most such plays on fly balls and line drives in 2012 with 24 (tied with Mike Trout). Ichiro Suzuki led with 26.
• Oakland needs more production from the middle of its order, writes Joe Stiglich.
• A Detroit reliever says he regrets "The Kiss."
• Catcher Ryan Hanigan has been undervalued, writes Paul Daugherty. Agree with this completely -- Hanigan gets on base, and he does a really great job leading the pitchers and showing them precisely where he wants the ball, something they say they really like. No catcher in the majors is more specific and demonstrative in setting the target.
• Ann Killion has a great story about a lifelong Giants fan who happens to be their shortstop.
• Zito may get his shot at redemption, writes Alex Pavlovic.
• Boston's search for a new manager will begin in earnest in the next few days, and it will start with the Red Sox seeking permission to speak with John Farrell. Brad Ausmus may well be among the other candidates interviewed for the job.
• Rival officials believe that Bobby Valentine's relatively muted response to his firing may be tied to some kind of financial incentive, which is not uncommon in the sport. In other words, people are sometimes paid to not criticize.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Terry Francona's relationship with GM Chris Antonetti and president Mark Shapiro was the reason why he took the Cleveland job, so it's not surprising that he has a clause in his deal that allows him to opt out of the deal if his bosses are fired. Francona says he wants to be part of the solution. Within this notebook, there is word that Sandy Alomar Jr. could be part of Francona's staff.
2. Frank Wren addressed Atlanta's future.
3. Ron Gardenhire didn't want to see changes, but he understood why they were made.
4. The Red Sox could reach out to the Toronto Blue Jays about Farrell as soon as today, and then we'll find out how much Toronto wants to keep him. Columnist Steve Simmons believes Farrell has failed. The Jays hold the cards in this situation, writes Scott Lauber. If the Blue Jays privately are not enamored of Farrell and know he's going to leave after next year anyway, they will make this happen.
5. The Texas GM and manager must figure out a way to use the club's young players, writes Evan Grant.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
1: Hit in nine at-bats for Alex Rodriguez in the ALDS.
4: Home runs for the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS, tied for their second most in a postseason game, trailing only the five they hit against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 2004 NLDS.
12: Runs allowed by the Nationals in Game 2 of the NLDS, a franchise record and the most ever for a Washington-based MLB team.
38: Derek Jeter's age when he became the second-oldest shortstop with a postseason RBI on Monday.
• Tigers announcer Jim Price has stayed tough in his fight against cancer.
And today will be better than yesterday.