Reasons for Yankees' Struggles Beginning to Catch on

Morgan SalvanContributor IApril 21, 2008

As has been the case for previous Aprils, the Yankees' first month of the season has been less than extraordinary. The team is off to a 10-10 start, and has been unable to settle into any type of winning rhythm.

Unlike last April, when Alex Rodriguez exploded out of the gate with a record-setting month, an eventual prelude to his MVP season, the team has no single player carrying them on his back.

Still, the theme of inconsistency remains a constant in the Yankees early-goings. In 2007, it was the pitching staff who became riddled with injuries. In 2008, it is the other side of the battery that has been troubled with health concerns.

The trend began during spring training when a well-regarded Yankees prospect, Francisco Cervelli, was pummeled in a bang-bang play at home plate against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees' farmhand broke his wrist on the play, and the collision served as a catalyst for a rare pre-season brawl between the two teams.

Next on the line of catchers to be injured was Jorge Posada. The 36-year old backstop, a recent recipient of a four-year, $52.4 M contract, was diagnosed with a "dead arm" after a game at Kansas City in which he allowed four bases to be swiped. While Posada has not spent any time on the DL, he has played only one inning in the field since that time, and has served primarily as a DH since the injury.

Because of the injury to Posada, Yankees backup catcher Jose Molina stepped in to play. Jose, the brother to Yadier and Benjie, two other Molina-named catchers in the league, turned out to be a terrific replacement.

During his 10-game stint as the Yankees' starting catcher, Molina hit .364 with seven doubles, a mark which at the time, led the league. Despite his enormous productivity, Molina aggravated his hamstring trying to beat out an infield grounder at Fenway Park.

Molina's injury caused the Yankees to purchase the contract of 33-year old journeyman catcher, Chad Moeller. Moeller, since stepping in, has done a stellar job at the plate hitting .313 with one HR and three RBI, in only 16 ABs.

The Yankees' catchers have not hesitated to swing the bats, but the erratic tempo at which they have been interchanged may explain the Yankees' pitching woes to this point.

It would be unreasonable to claim that having the same catcher behind the plate would drastically alter the Yankees record to this point. That having been said, it's ignorant to think that it hasn't had taken some type of toll on the Yankees rotation.

The lack of cohesiveness in working with the same throwing partner may be the reason that the Yankees' starters have struggled to get into a winning rhythm early on.

While Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte have been reliable, the other Yankee starters simply have not been. Mike Mussina is 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA, Ian Kennedy is 0-1 with a 8.74 ERA, and Phil Hughes is 0-3 with a 8.82 ERA.

Mussina is a free agent after this year, and has worked with Posada primarily for the tenure of his eight-year Yankee career. The other two starters, Kennedy and Hughes, have a combined age of 44, which is less than their teammate's of last year, Roger Clemens. Both are still very inexperienced at the major league level, and like most pitchers, are creatures of habit.

It is difficult to develop the same habits when you work with a new catcher for each of your starts.

Hughes, after last night's loss to Baltimore, now has a losing record for three consecutive starts. This is the first time this has ever happened in his entire professional career.

It remains ambiguous as to when Posada will go back to calling games for the Bombers. But when he does, it will restore some much-needed order for the team. For the sake of the Yankees pitching staff, and their winning percentage alike, hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.