Walks a chronic issue for Yanks' pitchers
Homer-friendly Stadium may factor into staff's loss of control
NEW YORK -- Ball four has been a consistent topic of conversation among the Yankees recently, and management is continuing to search for reasons why its pitchers are not attacking the zone.
The Yankees ranked second in the American League and fifth in the Majors with 246 walks issued entering play on Sunday, a luxury they cannot afford considering their home park has played much smaller than its predecessor.
"Walks are a big problem, and it's been a big problem for us this year," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's not like we have a staff that's a real control staff, top to bottom, but we're better than this. It's a concern."
With 85 home runs allowed in 556 2/3 innings pitched, Yankees hurlers have averaged 1.4 home runs allowed per nine innings, tying them with the Phillies and Orioles for the most in the big leagues.
"I am concerned about it, and it's something that we need to change," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We talk about it all the time, about pounding the zone. We'll continue to talk about it. You can't walk people. The way this ballpark has played a lot of nights, you'd better not walk people."
The Yankee Stadium effect is a factor, as the ballpark has seen at least one home run hit in all 31 of its games this season.
Cashman acknowledged that might be a reason for the wildness, as pitchers may try to shy away from contact, knowing that any deep fly ball is a contender to leave the yard.
"It could be," Cashman said. "They might be trying to be too fine because of that. But you've got to get past that."
The amount of home runs hit so far at Yankee Stadium is not the only reason, though, and some of the pitchers are hard-pressed to explain it.
"We've been walking guys at all ballparks," Yankees hurler Phil Hughes said. "The home runs here are a good media story, but I don't really think it really enters into our heads too much when we're out there pitching. The thing about our struggles is that it's happened in any ballpark."
Cashman noted that the Yankees have several players on their roster who have track records of sacrificing control for strikeouts, using Brian Bruney, Joba Chamberlain and Jose Veras as examples.
"We've got a strikeout staff that should trust their stuff more than maybe they do," Cashman said.
The Yankees have one of the best in that department, as closer Mariano Rivera entered play Sunday with a 10.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But the rest of the staff hasn't followed that lead.
"The name of the game of pitching is get ahead and throw strikes, and sometimes you're going to go through struggles with commanding the baseball," Hughes said. "It seems like the last few times out, we've had some problems with that. There's no doubt guys on the staff know how to strikes. Obviously, that's why they're here. It's just one of those things."
But even as the Yankees enjoy the second-most strikeouts in the AL, they had an up-close view of the benefits of challenging hitters on Saturday, as unheralded right-hander Fernando Nieve limited them to two runs over 6 2/3 innings.
"Look at what Nieve did last night -- that's exactly what he did," Girardi said. "He attacked the zone, and you look up and he's through six [innings] and he's only given up two hits."
Lately, it seems, the Yankees haven't had much luck doing the same.
"That needs to change, or we're going to have days like yesterday and the day before, where it's tough to win ballgames," Girardi said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.