Today the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 in Tampa, leaving only three more Grapefruit League games left on the schedule before they start playing for real on Thursday. The highlight of the afternoon was a towering, two-run homer off the bat of Alex Rodriguez that flew over the batter’s eye in centerfield, his sixth round-tripper of the spring.
A few decisions and moves were made recently, most notably the trade of Sergio Mitre, the signing of Kevin Millwood, and the naming of the fourth and fifth starting pitchers.
Yesterday Mitre was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. In this afternoon’s win over the Bucs, Dickerson made his Yankee debut and put on quite a hitting show. The 28 year-old pounded out three hits (including a double) in three at-bats while knocking in a run.
Unfortunately Dickerson was forced to leave the game with an apparent hamstring injury after notching his third hit. As of this point, the Yankee medical staff can only diagnose his injury as “spasms and cramping.”
Tough luck for the kid to go down – especially following such an impressive debut. What’s more, it hurts the Yankees, being that Curtis Granderson is not yet confirmed to be playing on Opening Day in light of his oblique injury. Yesterday Granderson did some running and agility drills, as he hopes to avoid beginning the 2011 season on the disabled list.
Millwood, 36, was signed just yesterday. He owned the worst record in baseball last year, going 4-16 for the Baltimore Orioles with a 5.10 ERA. However, he has been a dominant pitcher in the past, leading the league with the lowest ERA in 2005 (2.86), making the All-Star team in 1999, and finishing third in the N.L. Cy Young voting in 1999 as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
Even though he has proven himself in the past, he hasn’t proven anything yet. He will probably have to go through extended Spring Training and wouldn’t make the team unless he flourishes, another pitcher struggles, or another pitcher gets hurt.
Along with the trade and the signing, it was announced that Ivan Nova will be the Yankees’ number four starter this year, and Freddy Garcia will pitch every fifth day. Bartolo Colon, who many people feel had a better spring than Garcia, will pitch out of the bullpen.
Garcia owned a 5.93 ERA in four spring outings, throwing 13 2/3 innings. Colon held down a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings, giving most people the impression Colon should have won the number five job.
Yankee Manager Joe Girardi maintained that Garcia, 35, was the favorite to win the spot because Colon, 37, hasn’t pitched in a Major League game since 2009. Girardi added that, for his standards, Garcia had a good spring.
Now that we are only six days away from Opening Day, here is how Girardi should build his roster. Only 25 players can be at Yankee Stadium on Thursday and these men (I feel) have earned the honor of making the trek from Tampa to the Bronx.
1) Derek Jeter – SS
2) Alex Rodriguez – 3B
3) Robinson Cano – 2B
4) Mark Teixeira – 1B
5) Jorge Posada – DH
6) Russell Martin – C
7) Brett Gardner – LF
8) Nick Swisher – RF
9) Curtis Granderson* -CF (*if he does not start the season on the DL)
10) Andruw Jones – Fourth Outfielder
11) Eric Chavez – Backup IF/Utility
12) Eduardo Nunez – Backup IF/Utility
13) Jesus Montero – Backup Catcher
14) CC Sabathia – No. 1 Starter
15) A.J. Burnett -No. 2 Starter
16) Phil Hughes – No. 3 Starter
17) Ivan Nova – No. 4 Starter
18) Freddy Garcia – No. 5 Starter
19) Bartolo Colon – Long Relief
20) Mark Prior – Middle/Long Relief (he is interchangeable; can be used for both)
21) Joba Chamberlain – Middle Relief
22) David Robertson – Middle Relief
23) Rafael Soriano – Setup Man
24) Boone Logan* (*Pedro Feliciano will most likely start the season on the DL) – Lefty specialist(s)
25) Mariano Rivera – Closer
Most of these players will be in the Bronx next week and all of them deserve to be. Girardi will probably make a few modifications to my Opening Day roster, but expect to see most of these names called during the pregame ceremony on Thursday.
Mark Prior deserves to be on the roster because of how well he pitched this spring (eight games, 7 2/3 innings pitched, three hits, three runs, one earned run, 1.17 ERA, 11 Ks, and five walks).
He earned the chance to prove himself and could provide the Yanks with some solid middle and/or long relief. I’m not sure if Girardi will send Prior to the Bronx, but if they don’t call him up, at least at some point in the season, they are making a mistake.
If Granderson does start the season on the DL, obviously a spot will be open and it’ll be a toss up. I would expect someone like Justin Maxwell (.206 in Spring Training, but he only had 34 at-bats, three RBIs, and four runs scored) or even Dickerson (if he is healthy, given his injury today) to backup Jones in centerfield. That spot would only be open until Granderson returns, anyway.
Another position in question is the backup catcher role. I feel it is time for Montero to at least gain some experience on the Major League level. Today it was reported that Gustavo Molina could back up Martin at catcher, until Francisco Cervelli returns from his foot injury.
If you ask me though, Montero needs a taste of the big leagues – even if he doesn’t spend the entire season in the show.
Whichever way it goes, in a matter of days, anticipate Girardi giving the official word on who is going to the Bronx and who will be heading to the minors.
On Tuesday the Yankees played the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win. Today the Braves gained a measure of redemption, beating the Yankees 6-2 in an exhibition at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Tied at two heading into the top of the seventh, Yankees’ reliever Steve Garrison imploded. The Braves scratched four runs across the plate to take lead and eventually the game. Brent Clevlen singled to score Diory Hernandez to give Atlanta a 3-2 edge. Matt Young followed with an RBI single which plated Brooks Conrad, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.
Later in the frame Wilkins Castillo grounded out to short, allowing Clevlen to cross the plate. Ed Lucas topped out the huge inning with a single to score Young, giving the Braves six runs in the game.
The Braves scored their initial run in the top of the first on a single by Chipper Jones to score Martin Prado. Jordan Schafer clubbed a solo homer in the second to give the Braves their second run.
The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on a long solo home run over the right field wall off the bat of Jorge Posada. In the bottom of the sixth, Alex Rodriguez grounded to third, which allowed Andruw Jones to score, tying the game at two.
Tommy Hanson made the start for Atlanta and turned in a good outing. He tossed four innings and gave up one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two.
Phil Hughes started for New York. He pitched four innings, and gave up two earned runs on seven hits. He walked one batter and K’d two.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
· First off, thoughts and sympathy go out to all affected by the earthquake in Japan. An 8.9 on the Richter scale? – Now that is serious. Yankee pitcher Kei Igawa was permitted to leave the Minor League training facility in an attempt to contact his loved ones in Japan. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Takashi Saito was also allowed to leave camp, concerned for his relatives back home. We as Americans are left praying and hoping everyone in the Far East will be OK. I can’t help but think of Hideki Matsui, too. I am praying for him and everyone else in Japan. May God be with all of them during this crisis.
· Phil Hughes has a 5.00 ERA this spring. Today he fell behind a few hitters and surrendered a home run, also allowing seven hits and nine total base runners. Was I impressed? Not really. Did he look sharp? Not really. Am I concerned? A little bit. A lot of people jump all over A.J. Burnett’s back for having a poor record and an inflated ERA last season – and rightfully so, Burnett had an off-year.
But what they don’t realize, or seem to remember, is that Hughes pitched to a 4.19 ERA last year (about one run lower than Burnett, who notched a 5.26 ERA) and lost the deciding game of the American League Championship Series. His record last season was 18-8, which is probably why everyone is quick to forgive him. I’m just worried Hughes had a “fluke year” in 2010 and will not be as effective in 2011. His arm seemed to tire towards the end of last year and if it happens again, it could cause some problems for the Yankee rotation.
· Derek Jeter had a hit today and his average is now at .333. It’s good to see the Captain hitting above .300 again and I’m sure he will continue to work on the stride adjustment.
· It was documented that Mark Teixeira is in mid-season form. The slugging first baseman is batting .364 this spring and was 1-for-3 today. The Yanks need a lot of production out of Teixeira this year and right now he is proving that there are no carryover effects of his injuries last year – the hamstring and the broken toe. Traditionally he is a slow starter, but maybe he can leap that hurdle this year and have a big month of April.
· Jorge Posada’s home run today was a BOMB. At 39 years old he is still showing that power he has generally possessed throughout his career. Today he homered from the left side of the plate and the ball would have landed in the second deck at Yankee Stadium, had the game been played there. Although he probably won’t catch at all this year, he might still see some field time. In yesterday’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies, he played first base.
· Regulars Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher did not play. Granderson and Swisher played in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays, as the Yanks were in split squad action. Granderson was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Swisher was also 1-for-3 with an RBI.
· Although Granderson and Swisher both had good days at the plate, the other squad lost to the Jays, 10-3.
· Austin Krum made a diving catch to rob Ed Lucas of a hit in the sixth inning. Highlight-reel worthy catch, if I do say so myself. Joba Chamberlain tipped his cap to Krum – and his line: one inning pitched, no runs, two hits, no walks, and one strikeout. Chamberlain’s spring ERA is now 3.60.
· Rafael Soriano made his second appearance of the spring today. He tossed a perfect fifth inning, striking out Brooks Conrad and Martin Prado while getting Chipper Jones to ground out. Soriano will be the eighth inning setup man and I am really excited for him. He looks as though he will be lights out.
· Soriano will be setting up the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who has yet to throw a pitch in a game this spring. He will however get his first spring action on Sunday, according to the YES Network.
· Ivan Nova started against the Blue Jays today. His line: three innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits, two walks, one K, and he gave up a homer to Jose Bautista. He’s been fairly solid up until now. He can bury one shaky start. He has to come out strong next time to stay in contention for a spot in the rotation.
· Steve Garrison will not make the team. Not after today. But I have a feeling he wasn’t making it anyway. He recorded the loss and basically blew the game against the Braves.
· Jesus Montero went 0-for-3 without a hit today at the Blue Jays. His batting average has dipped below .200 and yes, I am a little worried about that. Especially now that he has a chance to make the team because of Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury.
· Behind the plate for the Braves today was Brian McCann. He threw out Jeter and Justin Maxwell trying to steal. The guy has a great arm.
· Former Yankee Scott Proctor got the win today, even though he blew a save. He is now 1-1 this spring, trying to resurrect a career torn down by arm problems. He has Joe Torre to thank for that. On a side note about Proctor – he really resembles WWE superstar John Cena. It’s uncanny how they look alike.
· The Yankees are now 6-7-2 in Grapefruit League play.
· Tomorrow the Yankees will visit the Washington Nationals. On Sunday they will come back to Tampa to play the Minnesota Twins – which is also the next televised game on the YES Network.
You know it’s Spring Training when you witness what happened in the ninth inning of today’s Yankees vs. Houston Astros exhibition game. Down 5-1 in the ninth, the Yankees capitalized on some sloppy defense by the Astros and won 6-5 on the strength of a walk-off bases-loaded walk drawn by Russell Martin.
Martin scored earlier in the frame on a throwing error by Jiovanni Mier, cutting the lead to 5-2. Then Astros’ pitcher Douglas Arguello, who labored in the ninth, tossed a wild pitch allowing Daniel Brewer to score.
Melky Mesa came up and singled to plate Austin Romine and Jordan Parraz to tie the game at five. In the bottom of the second the Yankees scraped their first run across the plate on a RBI groundout to third by Andruw Jones, which scored Alex Rodriguez.
But the game was secondary. There were bigger pictures to look at coming into today:
Obviously he was the biggest storyline coming into his first start of the spring today. A.J. Burnett had the worst statistical season a Yankee starter has ever had, going 10-15 with an ERA of 5.26 in 2010. In an interview before the game, Burnett said “he can never have another season like he did last year” and “he could throw fastball after fastball to every hitter this year and still do better.”
On Sunday it was documented that Burnett beaned Greg Golson in the head throwing batting practice. Faith may have waivered in Burnett after learning of his HBP to Golson on Sunday, but he quickly renewed his credibility with a good outing today.
Burnett pitched two innings and threw 21 pitches (15 for strikes) while only allowing two hits. He induced five groundball outs and recorded one strikeout. He did not issue a walk.
It was only Burnett’s first appearance of the spring, but there’s no doubt that he looks like a different pitcher. As Ken Singleton described on Saturday, his delivery has been “re-visited.”
Singleton was correct.
Today Burnett’s motion was smooth and he pitched the ball; he didn’t fling it. He didn’t turn his back to the batter as he normally does in his usual delivery. It was smooth and side-to-side, almost like Mariano Rivera’s delivery. He kept his front leg toward home plate and wasn’t swinging it around toward second base in the wind-up.
If today was any indication about the type of season Burnett might have, he just might be able to pull off a turnaround year. Burnett added that he wants to “close people’s mouths” about his ability to win games.
Maybe he can. We’ll have to wait and see.
The Captain only has two hits this spring and has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately. Analysts have been talking about Derek Jeter’s adjustment in his stride. So far he hasn’t shown much of that adjustment and has been frequently grounding out. He did have a hit today, although he grounded out to short and flied out to center.
Jeter himself has stated that his swing and batting stance aren’t going to change. He is simply eliminating the stride with his front leg. Today it looked like he used a bit of a toe-tap, something Bernie Williams used and perfected over the course of his career.
Joe Girardi said that eventually Jeter will get it right and make the adjustment completely. In the manager’s words, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
When it comes to Jeter there is very little to worry about. The Captain will come around. He is 2-for-9 at the plate to this point in the spring.
Notes & Things to Look Out For
Â· The Astros started a kid named Bud Norris (if that isn’t a name meant for someone in Texas, I don’t know what is. Notice the Walker, Texas Ranger reference. Norris!) It was revealed that his actual first name is David, but he got the nickname Bud because he was at a restaurant when he was a kid and his parents ordered Budweiser. He said he wanted a Bud (even though he was too young) and from there they called him Bud.
Â· Relieving A.J. Burnett today was Sergio Mitre. His line: One inning pitched, no runs, one hit, no walks, one K. He is working hard, I’ll give him that.
Â· After Mitre was Joba Chamberlain. He pitched an inning and only gave up a hit while not allowing a run. No walks and no strikeouts for him, but he looks pretty good this far. Like Burnett he still has to prove himself, though.
Â· Russell Martin didn’t even have to record a base hit to be called a winner. In his first game of the spring he had two at-bats, no hits, the game-winning walk, an RBI, and he left two men on base. He didn’t catch behind the plate, as he is still nursing his surgically repaired knee, but he will be back behind the plate eventually.
Â· Mark Teixeira went 1-for-2 with a walk and a double. After he came out of the game he went to the batting cages and got some extra work in. And that’s Tex for you: always looking for improvement and working hard. He is in mid-season form, batting .571 through the first five Spring Training games.
Â· Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner did not start today.
Â· Michael Kay compared centerfielder Justin Maxwell to Alex Rodriguez during the broadcast. Looking at Maxwell’s mannerisms at the plate and his batting stance, I understand where Kay was coming from. He did look like a miniature version of A-Rod. Maxwell drew a walk and recorded a base hit, but he did make the first out of the fifth inning at third base, trying to reach third from first on Jeter’s single. Rookie mistake: never make the first or third out of an inning at third base. I learned that in Little League.
Â· Francisco Cervelli fouled a ball off his left foot during an at-bat today in the second inning. He was noticeably hurt, limping before getting back into the batter’s box. He is likely to miss a couple of days and will probably undergo x-rays.
Â· Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-2 with a walk, a double, and a run scored. He is batting .429 so far this spring.
Â· 2010 Pitcher of the Year David Phelps gave up four runs in the seventh inning after tossing a perfect top of the sixth. All four of the runs he surrendered were unearned.
Â· Hector Noesi (two innings pitched, no runs, one hit, no walks, and two strikeouts) registered the win. As noted, Arguello struggled mightily in the ninth (threw 37 pitches and was charged with five runs ) and as a result took the loss.
Â· The Yankees will play the Tampa Bay Rays in an exhibition tomorrow and then will come back to Steinbrenner Field Friday night to host the Boston Red Sox–which is the next televised game on the YES Network. Bartolo Colon will start Friday vs. Boston’s Clay Buchholz.