Monthly archives: March 2007
That's the Yankees' final spring record after going 0-1-1 against the Tigers in their final two exhibition games. Since the 25-man roster was set in advance of those games (posted again below the fold for those who missed it), I won't bother with my usual game wrap, instead, here are some items of interest from the final two days of Yankee camp:
You're My Boy, Blue
Tom Verducci has a wonderful piece in the current issue of SI about his experience working as an umpire during a spring training game between the Red Sox and Orioles last week. The good folks at SI.com saw fit to posting it on the web. Verducci also has a follow-up column, filled with insights, also at SI.com. The best part of Verducci's experiment is that is illustrates just how difficult umpiring is, and how seriously the men in blue take their profession. It also drives home just how good major league players are.
From the magazine article:
From the on-line column:
My father used to ask me what the hardest position in baseball was. I would say, "Catcher?" He shook his head. "Shortstop?" No. "The umpire." I always thought that was funny coming from my dad, who loved to defy authority. On the other hand, he also had an appreciation for order and rules (maybe he only liked to buck the rules he didn't like). The film director Bernardo Bertolucci used to say he'd never work with a film editor if the editor ever won an award for cutting one of his films. Good editing means that you don't notice it. Same as umpiring: you only notice when they screw up.
Now, I love to curse at umps as much as the next guy, especially the arrogant ones, but after reading Verducci's story, I will remember not only how hard their jobs are, but how well they perform them.
By Bruce Markusen
Willie Horton—Topps Company (1967) No. 465
Willie Horton was a favorite player of mine, despite the fact that he never played for two of “my” teams (the Yankees or the Pittsburgh Pirates). One of the most popular Detroit Tigers of the sixties and seventies, Horton made news three years ago when the
Horton’s community activism stretches all the way back to his playing days—specifically to 1967. That season, Horton achieved legitimate hero status when he left Tiger Stadium immediately after a game and traversed directly into the streets of
Horton’s bravery under fire in 1967 probably didn’t surprise too many of his Tiger teammates, who had come to respect the quiet, rock-solid left fielder for his understated leadership abilities and unwavering professional approach to his work. Horton was one of just a few black players on the Tigers of ’67 and ’68 (along with backup outfielders Gates Brown and Lenny Green, starting pitcher Earl Wilson, and relievers Les Cain and John Wyatt) and the team’s only full-fledged African-American star. His status as the team’s most prominent minority made him extremely popular with black fans throughout
On the field, Horton’s presence loomed just as large as his civic and social involvement. He was one of the most feared hitters of his era, in part because of a sturdy five-foot, 11-inch, 225-pound frame of compact muscle, achieved at a time when few players lifted weights and perhaps none used steroids or other performance-enhancing, bodybuilding supplements. Pound for pound, no one appeared stronger than the robust Horton, whose thick wrists and forearms made him a Bunyanesque figure. A seven-time All-Star during his career, Horton typically hit 25 to 35 home runs a year and put up slugging percentages bordering the .500 neighborhood in an era when pitchers enjoyed most of the “enhancements” that the game provided (an expanding strike zone along with the ingression of larger, full-figured stadiums in Anaheim, Oakland, and Kansas City). Horton’s performance during the famed “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968 remains one of his landmarks; he hit 36 home runs and slugged .543 in a year where most hitters flailed away at far below their normal levels of production. He then hit .304 and scored six runs in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was one of his fielding plays that really turned the Tiger tide during the Series. Never known as a particularly nimble fielder, Horton aggressively charged a ground single to left and then air-launched a one-hop throw to catcher Bill Freehan, who tagged out Lou Brock to stymie a Cardinal rally in the fifth inning of Game Five. The Tigers went on to win the potential elimination game, then claimed the next two matchups to take the Series.
Horton remained the Tigers’ everyday left fielder until 1972, when injuries and a slumping bat restricted Horton to 108 games and led to a time-sharing arrangement with the lefty-swinging Gates Brown. Tigers manager Billy Martin lost so much confidence in Horton that he began to play a catcher, the awkward and immobile Duke Sims, in the outfield during the American League Championship Series, squeezing Willie out of starts in the fourth and fifth games. (Horton, by the way, says that Martin’s insistence on using Sims in the outfield during the playoffs cost the Tigers the pennant that year. Sims went only 1-for-6 in the final two games and committed an error in the decisive fifth game, which the Tigers lost to the A’s, 2-1. In the meantime, Horton appeared only as a pinch-hitter in those two games, delivering one hit in two at-bats. Man, when will managers realize that catchers in the outfield do not work, as seen in the failed examples of Sims, Manny Sanguillen, and Todd Hundley?)
Plagued by a series of injuries, Horton lost the left-field job completely within three years, as the organization decided to capitalize on the relatively new designated hitter rule, which had been put into place in 1973. Horton made a smooth transition to the DH role in 1975, but slumped considerably the following summer. He remained in the role until the early days of the 1977 season, when the over-the-hill Tigers decided to expedite a youth movement by trading Horton to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Steve Foucault, a hefty right-hander who had enjoyed a mixed bag of success but would last only two more seasons in the major leagues.
Legendary for his superstitions, Horton then bounced from team to team, enjoying varying levels of prosperity as a DH with the Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, and Seattle Mariners, while also earning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after his career had been given up for dead. His newfound status as a journeyman prompted a new superstition to be added to his repertoire of rituals, this one involving his equipment. According to the Horton legend, whenever he changed teams he allegedly refused a newly issued helmet from his acquiring team, instead painting the colors and logo of the new team onto his existing headwear. (For those who collected cards in the 1970s, Horton’s 1978 Topps card with the Texas Rangers provides an example of the alleged artwork on his helmet.) During an interview I did with Horton on MLB Radio, I asked Horton if this was true; he confirmed it during our chat while displaying the pride of a skilled painter. True to form, Horton still owns the battered helmet, which appropriately features the old logo and colors of the Mariners—his last major league team.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2007 New York Yankees (almost)
Hot off the ticker from Peter Abraham, Josh Phelps, Wil Nieves, and Sean Henn have won the right-handed first base, backup catcher, and second lefty reliever spots respectively, and Jeff Karstens will open the season on the DL. Thus:
1B Doug Mientkiewicz (L)
R Josh Phelps (1B)
R Carl Pavano
R Mariano Rivera
DL: R Chien-Ming Wang, R - Jeff Karstens
The asterisks on
As for the losers of the spring battles, Andy Phillips has been placed on waivers and could potentially clear and end up back in Scranton. Ron Villone has an option to opt-out if he doesn't make the team, but the Yankees are trying to convince him to accept a triple-A assigment. He's weighing his options. Todd Pratt, who was going to retire if he didn't make the team, has left camp.
Also announced today, Josh Phelps will be the Opening Day first baseman against lefty Scott Kasmir, and Andy Pettitte, not Mike Mussina, will start the second game of the season on Wednesday per the order above.
Yankees 6, Blue Jays 3
L - Bobby Abreu (DH)
Bobby Abreu led off and played the full game to compensate for some of the at-bats he lost to his oblique injury. He went 1 for 3 with a single, a walk, and a strikeout.
Pitchers: Steven Jackson, Ron Villone, Jeff Kennard, Scott Proctor, Kevin Whelan, Colter Bean
Subs: Doug Mientkiewicz (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Andy Phillips (3B), Tim Battle (LF)
Opposition: The Blue Jays' starters save for Vernon Wells.
Big Hits: Solo homers by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3), a two-out shot in the fourth, his team-leading fourth of the spring, Robinson Cano (1 for 3) leading off the seventh, and Derek Jeter (1 for 4) leading off the eighth. A double and a two-RBI single by Kevin Thompson (2 for 3).
Who Pitched Well?: Steven Jackson, who was awful in his original spring stint, acquitted himself well against the Blue Jays' starters, allowing just two runs on five hits and a walk in five innings. Jeff Kennard pitched a perfect sixth inning, stranding an inherited runner. Colter Bean pitched a perfect ninth, stranding two inherited runners.
Who Didn't?: Ron Villone faced one batter in the sixth. That batter singled. Kevin Whelan faced two batters in the ninth. Both of those batters singled.
Ouchies: Jeff Karstens and Chien-Ming Wang will throw bullpens from half-way up the mound tomorrow.
Battles: Joe Torre has said he'd announce the 25-man roster tomorrow. Peter Abraham suggests that Josh Phelps, Wil Nieves and Brian Bruney will be the right-handed first baseman, backup catcher, and last righty reliever, respectively. That just leaves the second lefty reliever (Villone allowing a single to his only batter tonight is yet another data point in Sean Henn's favor), and the fifth starter. With Karstens not throwing his bullpen until tomorrow, one assumes Torre's either already made up his mind there, or that the announcement will come immediately following Karsten's "bully," as Torre likes to call bullpen sessions.
Notes: Cory Lidle's widow and son with throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day. A correction to yesterday's note: Mike Mussina's minor league outing will occur tomorrow, not today, as will Andy Pettitte's, as initially reported.
Cuts: The Kevins were optioned to triple-A after the game, but will remain in major league camp through Saturday.
Also: Mike Myers gave up a pair of runs on four hits in two innings, but also struck out four against the Devil Ray's triple-A campers.
End of the (Family) Affair?
Life after George has just taken a turn. Steinbrenner's daughter, Jennifer field for divorce yesterday, leaving Steve Swindal's future with the club uncertain. Tyler Kepner tackles the story in the Times.
Astros 12, Yankee 2
Darrell Rasner tried to give back the fifth starter's spot, but forgot that there's no one around to give it to . . . or is there?
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Darrell Rasner, Ron Villone, Sean Henn, Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Luis Vizcaino
Subs: Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Carlos Mendoza (3B), Eduardo Nuñez (3B), Wil Nieves (PR/C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Kevin Reese (CF), Josh Phelps (DH)
Opposition: The Astros B-squad.
Big Hits: Doubles by Derek Jeter (1 for 4) and Jason Giambi (1 for 3). Bobby Abreu was 2 for 3 and drove in Jeter in the bottom of the first.
Who Pitched Well?: Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino each threw perfect innings, though Farnsworth had the only strikeout between them.
Who Didn't?: Brian Bruney allowed two runs on three hits in his lone inning of work, though he didn't walk anybody. The big story though was the disaster outings by Darrell Rasner and Ron Villone. Villone faced three men, registered just one strike and gave up a four-pitch walk, a single, and a two-run triple, the last to an A-ball shortstop named Tommy Manzella. Darrell Rasner, meanwhile, gave up a whopping seven runs on nine hits, five of them for extra-bases, and two walks in 4 2/3 innings (Villone was supposed to get that last third, but, fittingly, passed the buck to Sean Henn, who allowed Manzella to score before getting that final out of the fifth). Among the hits allowed by Rasner were three doubles, a triple, and a home run, though all came off the bats of men who will head West with the major league team.
Oopsies: Hideki Matsui flubbed a ball in left.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw 31 pitches in the bullpen yesterday, getting up to full speed and mixing in all of his pitches. He'll throw a minor league game or a simulated game in Tampa today. Jeff Karstens will throw a bullpen today and says he doesn't feel any discomfort in his elbow. The big injury news, however, took place outside of camp. Peter Abraham reports that J.B. Cox, who missed spring training because he broke his pitching hand in a fight, had a ligament in his pitching elbow repaired by Dr. James Andrews earlier this week. He could return to action at the end of the season, but any hope of him serving as a late-season reinforcement in the pen is gone. Abraham also reports that 2006 draftee Mark Melancon, a right-handed reliever out of the University of Arizona, had full-blown Tommy John surgery this winter.
Battles: Given Rasner's poor outing, Jeff Karstens could still break camp with the team as the fifth starter if his bullpen work goes well. The team won't need a fifth starter until a week from Sunday and could give Karstens an inning or two out of the pen early next week as part of his rehab. Meanwhile, Ron Villone remains in play despite all evidence to the contrary. After the game, Joe Torre said that Villone looks exactly like he did a year ago at the end of spring: "If he wasn't here last year, then it would be tough to even consider him, but with what we know about him and know about his makeup and all that stuff, I think you still have to make a decision with that infumation being a part of it." Brian Bruney had a bad outing. Wil Nieves went 0 for 2 with a strikeout. Josh Phelps made out in his only at-bat.
Notes: Mike Mussina will pitch in a minor league game today. The Yankees have called up Steven Jackson and Chase Wright to pitch the major league games in place of Mussina and Pettitte today and tomorrow.
By Emma Span
The day before I left New York to cover spring training, my editor at the Village Voice was abruptly fired. When I got back, I met the new editor for the first time at which point he abruptly fired me, for reasons he declined to explain, other than that I wasn't his "taste". Ah, the thrilling world of print media! I knew I should've gone to law school.
In some ways, though admittedly not most, this is actually a bit of a relief: I could already feel, after only seven months on the job, some of the joy being sucked out of the game. Baseball writing is a grind, with few off days and very little time to relax, and sportswriters are quick to admit they're not fans. (This Joel Sherman post is one of the more recent and, I think, honest examples, but almost any beat writer will echo these sentiments). Nor should they be: they're supposed to be objective, and as Sherman says, his allegiance is to his column. But when you're neutral, a baseball game becomes an exercise in aesthetics and plot points. It can still be a pleasure to watch, but it lacks the visceral emotional pull that draws many of us to sports in the first place.
Seeing the players off the field humanizes them watching Mariano Rivera examine a pair of new sneakers, or Endy Chavez trying and failing to tie a tie, or Farnsworth, Bruney, and Proctor feeding the waterfowl. But the fact is that half the fun of rooting for baseball teams lies with the larger-than-life personalities and storylines. With a game every day, you need heroes and villains, not regular people (incredibly fit and staggeringly wealthy regular people, but you know what I mean) with their mundane complement of merits and flaws.
In many ways I was less disillusioned by the players than I expected to be our culture takes a dim view of professional athletes these days, but almost everyone I talked to was at the very least polite (even when clearly sick of answering questions), and more than a few came across as intelligent and pleasant. But that's not the point. The point is that if you're going to spend three or four hours of your life watching a ball game, you want to cheer for your heroes not the actual human beings, but your idea of them. Melky Cabrera the person seems like a good kid. I got to interview him through a translator this spring, and he spent most of the time smiling warmly and thanking God and Joe Torre - roughly an equal number of times, which I suppose is probably about right. But I still prefer the Melky of the popular imagination who sprang into the city's collective consciousness last year.
Sometimes the real world is kind enough to give your imagination what it wants. One of the knocks against the Yankees in recent years has been that they don't appear to be having much fun. Not a few pundits actually blamed the 2004 ALCS loss on this, though I'd argue that was due more to the Red Sox's pitching, David Ortiz's hitting, and Dave Roberts' legs than any kind of magical positive attitude (FORP Fun Over Replacement Player?). But as a fan, purely as regards entertainment value, it is generally more enjoyable to watch a group of guys who are having a good time themselves. I wouldn't say that "fun-loving" is the precise word to describe those 1990s teams, but they did appear to genuinely like each other.
Last year, the Mets often seemed to have the Yankees beat by miles in that regard, but in Tampa this spring the Bombers looked as if they were catching up. I think partly that's due to the youth influx Cano and Cabrera together are an exuberant presence, even though (or maybe because) I usually can't understand what they're saying. But it's also a deliberate effort: Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, in particular, are making loosening up a priority.
"It's been a slow turn but we're definitely getting it," said Giambi of the lightening clubhouse atmosphere. "When I first came over here it was just a different core of guys, they weren't like that. They were more businesslike, which was great because it was successful for them, as far as winning four world championships I mean they had fun, but they were a little more businesslike. Whereas Johnny and I are a little more-" he paused to find the right word, and succeeded "slapdick."
In the end, playing good baseball will make almost any group likeable. But as both juicy column material, and fodder for cheerfully irrational fandom, I say the more outsized personalities the better -- the kind of personalities who can make an impression from a distance. Cano and Cabrera did this last year, and I believe Giambi can do it again, regardless of what kind of artificial help he may have had in the past. Matsui does it without the benefit of speaking English. And hell, Johnny Damon is the master. We're down to the last vestiges of those 90s teams, if you'll forgive me for referring to one of the greatest closers of all time as a vestige, and the Yankees need to forge a new identity for themselves. I just want it to be an engaging one -- whether I end up watching this season from the press box, the stands, or the futon.
Emma Span is now a freelance writer, apparently, and lives in Brooklyn. She blogs about New York baseball at Eephus Pitch.
Twins 4, Yankees 3
Ron Gardenhire's son won the game in the bottom of the ninth when Chris Basak booted his grounder up the middle with the winning run on second base.
S - Melky Cabrera (LF)
Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Colter Bean, Mike Myers, Scott Proctor, Chris Britton
Subs: Ramiro Peña (SS), Todd Pratt (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Brett Gardner (CF)
Opposition: Most of the Twins starters, but no Joe Mauer.
Big Hits: Solo homers by Bobby Abreu (2 for 2, BB) and Josh Phelps (2 for 4). Phelps is now tied with Giambi and Rodriguez for the camp lead in homers despite having roughly 20 fewer plate appearances than the other two. Abreu, meanwhile, has two homers in just 18 PA. Robinson Cano (2 for 5) picked up his ninth double of the spring.
Who Pitched Well?: Carl Pavano didn't strike anybody out, but he turned in a quality start allowing just six hits and a walk in six innings and getting 14 of his eighteen outs on the ground thanks to four double plays. He needed just 86 pitches to get through those six innings. Mike Myers threw just two pitches and retired his designated batter, Jason Kubel.
Who Didn't?: In to face a series of subs in the ninth, Chris Britton issued a four-pitch walk to Luis Rodriguez with one out. After pinch-runner Jason Tyner stole second with two outs, Britton gave up a game-tying single up the middle to Matt Tolbert, a player on loan from the Twins' minor league camp who wasn't even invited to major league camp this spring. Tolbert moved to second when Kevin Reese's throw from center tailed away from cutoff man Andy Phillips, and came around with the winning run when Toby GardenhireI kid you not, the manager's son, Toby, who also was never officially invited to minor league camphit another ball up the middle that Chris Basak booted. Tolbert and Toby wore numbers in the 90s and didn't even have names on the backs of their jerseys. Embarrassing doesn't cover it.
Oopsies: Chris Basak, playing shortstop, flubbed a grounder to his right on the Yankees' first defensive play of the game. Playing second base, he then flubbed a grounder to his right on the Yankees' final defensive play of the game. Basak has made four errors this spring.
Ouchies: Chien-Ming Wang played catch with Ron Guidry from 60 and 90 feet away, making 45 throws. He hopes to beat the Yankees projected return date. Andy Pettitte reported no ill effects from his bullpen on Monday. Jeff Karstens is wearing a protective sleeve on his pitching arm and taking anti-inflammatories. He could start throwing again tomorrow, but will be careful not to rush back to quickly. Ron Villone was hit in the shin by a comebacker in his minor league outing on Monday, but escaped with just a bruise. Humberto Sanchez (elbow) will start the season in extended spring training.
Battles:: Josh Phelps hit a solo home run in the second and singled in the go-ahead run in the ninth, though he did strike out and hit into a double play in his other two at-bats. Phelps is tied with Robinson Cano for the camp lead in RBIs despite having barely more than half as many plate appearances as Cano. Andy Phillips followed Phelps's home run with a strikeout, then followed that with three more Ks, though he did make some smooth plays in the field. Todd Pratt struck out in his only at-bat. Colter Bean walked the first two men he faced in the seventh, but rallied to post another scoreless inning.
Notes: Twins starter Boof Bonser (who, despite allowing a pair of solo homers, allowed just two other hits and struck out seven in his six innings of work) looks and moves like a right-handed David Wells. Meanwhile, Carl Pavano's gait on his walk from the mound to the dugout is beginning to resemble Joe Torre's in the other direction. Despite Pavano's solid outing, he still hasn't officially been named the Opening Day starter, though he seems like a lock at this point.
Philadelphia, Here We Come
By Allen Barra
Hello. Some of you may know me as Allen Barra. Some of you may know me under my pseudonyms, Norman Mailer--check out The Naked and The Dead, it kicks butt--or Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the black congresswoman from D.C--I'm thinking of giving up that identity as it forces me to do too much writing from the bleachers while watching Nationals games.
I promised Alex Belth that I would do this blog, so here I am. I wanted to call him up this morning and say, "I'm not responsible for the decisions I make when I've been drinking." But then the horrible truth struck me: I don't drink, and I actually made the decision to do this while sober. This has to rank with the worst decisions I ever made in my life, right up there with not returning Angelina Jolie's phone call. So, here I am. I'm not really sure what it is I'm supposed to do.
To be honest, I'm not entirely certain of what a "blog" is. Before I met Alex, I thought a blog was a Danish breakfast treat. Now, after reading Alex, I've discovered it's really a device for baring your soul, like Dostoevsky, only more neurotic.
Yankees 5, Phillies 1
The Yankees plated five of their seven base runners to support some strong pitching and pick up the win.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
That'll be the lineup against right-handed starters when the season opens.
Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Mike Myers, Colter Bean, Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Mariano Rivera
Opposition: The Phillies' starting nine.
Big Hits: A mammoth three-run homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 4) with one out in the first inning. A double by Robinson Cano (1 for 3) in the fifth which was followed by a two-RBI double by Doug Mientkiewicz (1 for 3) (Posada had walked to start the inning). Those were actually the only Yankee hits. The Yanks scored five runs on three hits, three walks and a Jimmy Rollins error.
Who Pitched Well?: Kei Igawa gave up a run on two hits and a walk in the third inning, but allowed just two other baserunners (a Wes Helms double and a walk in the fourth), striking out four in five innings of work. He threw 87 pitches. Igawa has looked better in each start this spring, has a 2.65 spring ERA, and could be the Opening Day starter. That said, the Yankees seem more inclined to hide Igawa from the spotlight for now, despite his big-game reputation in Japan. Expect him to make one more spring start on Saturday then make his regular season debut a week from Friday against the Orioles following Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina and, hopefully, Andy Pettitte in the rotation. Brian Bruney struck out the side looking in the seventh. Colter Bean came on in relief of Mike Myers with a man on third and one out, hit two batters to load the bases, but stranded all three runners. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a walk and a hit that should have been caught by Doug Mientkiewicz for a scoreless eighth. Mariano Rivera pitched around a flared single to shallow left that tipped off the outstretched glove of shortstop Chris Basak for a scoreless ninth. And, yes, he did throw the changeup.
Who Didn't?: Mike Myers came in to face superstar lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Howard is slumping badly and struck out, but Utley greeted Myers with a triple.
Oopsies: Doug Mientkiewicz whiffed on a Chase Utley liner that skipped right in front of him in the eighth.
Ouchies: Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the bullpen before the game and is scheduled to throw again on Wednesday. Pettitte did not throw full speed, but said that he usually doesn't throw at game speed in his bullpen sessions and that the session went "as good as I could expect." Jeff Karstens's tests (including an MRI, a CT scan, and X-rays) came back negative, with doctors suggesting that his stiffness is in his triceps, not his elbow. That's good news, though it doesn't cure the stiffness which could still rob Karstens of the roster spot that he appeared to have won this spring. Chien-Ming Wang will have a catch again today.
Battles: Josh Phelps didn't come to the plate. Ben Davis made out in his only trip. Brian Bruney got the upper hand on Colter Bean in back-to-back innings, though neither allowed a hit or a run. Bean plunked two batters then escaped the bases-loaded jam he helped create. Bruney struck out all three men he faced, looking.
Notes: Ron Villone tossed a scoreless frame against the Phillies' A-ball squad yesterday afternoon. Ex-Yank Matt Smith tore through the heart of the Yankee order retiring Abreu, Rodriguez, Giambi, and Matsui in order, striking out Rodriguez and Matsui. Smith was a small price to pay for Abreu, but I still dig the cut of that kids jib.
Yankee Panky: Spring Training Edition
By Will Weiss
Welcome, Yankee fans, to the first edition of "Yankee Panky" on Bronx Banter. First, special thanks go to BB's Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, for allowing me to riff on two subjects I've studied my entire life: the Yankees and the media.
In this space, we'll address on a weekly basis -- and sometimes more frequently, if the situation merits -- how the team is portrayed in the local and national media. Along the way, we'll review the battle of the back pages in the Daily News, the Post and Newsday, the top storylines of the week, and examine TV and radio coverage as well.
While I will be critiquing the coverage in this space, I will not criticize specific writers or broadcasters. I spent the past five years as senior editor of YESNetwork.com and still call many of the writers and broadcasters on the Yankee beat my colleagues. I'll leave the railing to Phil Mushnick and Bob Raissman, since that's what they get paid to do.
This column will also be an exercise in engaging you as readers and fans to speak up. (This is a place for banter, after all, isn't it?) If the media, from an idealistic standpoint, is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the fans, do they do a good job of serving their audience? What kind of stories do you care about: features that give a sense of humanness and personality to the players, or do you want better game analysis? Do you care more about snappy quotes and the soap opera elements that feed the tabloids, or do you prefer the more intellectual type of coverage presented by the New York Times, Baseball Prospectus and bloggers like Steven Goldman at YES?
We can get to those questions throughout the season. For now, here's my quick recap of the spring, and the backpage count for the week:
Number of times the Yankees led: 1 (Wednesday, 3/21) On this day, the Yankees announced they would not give A-Rod a contract extension, leaving the door open for him to opt out after the season. Since the Yankees have a history of not giving contract extensions before the season, this should not have been a surprise. It should be even less of a surprise given the treatment of Mariano Rivera's contract as he enters what could be his final year as a Yankee.
Top Story, Part 1: A-Rod. From his admission of a cooler relationship with Derek Jeter to the Mike and the Mad Dog interview to the "will he or won't he" be here in 2008 questions, when was enough enough? Why didn't editors sound the dead-horse alert?
On his WEPN radio show, Michael Kay called for Alex Rodriguez to "shut up" and "stop doing interviews." On virtually every stop of the Baseball Prospectus book tour, the contributing authors were asked about A-Rod and, naturally, defended his status as a great player. I hope this year is the year he'll be able to get out of his way both psychologically and verbally and stop caring what people think, but that's not his makeup. The New York papers have played A-Rod to be the anti-Jeter for three years, when really the biggest difference between the two is their relationships with the media. Jeter uses the press to preserve clubhouse matters and an image similar to Nike brethren Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, whereas A-Rod comes across as a little brother in his sibling's shadow, using the media to pine for attention.
As someone who had to assess these situations and decide how to cover the soap opera in a workable way for YES, I can tell you honestly that not long after his game-winning home run against the Braves in late June last year, I wanted the A-Rod stuff to stop. But he has a tendency to keep bringing the stories on himself and making news through his actions. Maybe this is the year he does it in a positive way in New York.
Top Story, Part 2: Carl Pavano. A cause for contempt among Yankee fans and to some extent, teammates (remember Mike Mussina's quote; "He's got to prove to a lot of people he wants to pitch for us."), the pinstriped punchline for the past 18 months has come through the spring healthy and is now being considered for the Opening Day start on April 2 against the Devil Rays at the Stadium. I don't have a problem with the logic or facts of this report, given Chien-Ming Wang's hamstring injury, Andy Pettitte's back spasms and Mussina's desire to keep to a regular schedule. Let him start Opening Day in front of 56,000 fans who can't wait to boo him and see what happens.
Here's my beef: To say that Pavano has redeemed himself among teammates and fans is farfetched. You don't go from "CRASH TEST DUMMY" in September to redemption in March. Just ask A-Rod.
Top Story, Part 3: The Roger Clemens discussion. This would be going on even if Brian Cashman hadn't lured Andy Pettitte back from Houston. Clemens was coy in his YES broadcast booth appearance two weeks ago, which is typical. He's been vague every offseason since 2003. I'm inclined to disbelieve anything that's written or said about Clemens' return one way or another. Like many, I believe he will pitch, either in New York or Boston. The Post's Kevin Kernan went so far as to use his Sunday column to declare that the Yankees should force the issue and sign Clemens before the Red Sox do.
(By the way, the majority of the writers and broadcasters covering this story were there in '03, his last Yankee season. They should know that they're speaking falsehoods when they say he retired. He pulled the Jordan "99 percent" line. He never officially retired. Saying he retired insults anyone who was paying attention. Phew, glad I got that off my chest.)
Story we all saw coming, Part 1: Phil Hughes's lackluster Spring -- the Post's George King called it a "flop" in Sunday's edition leading to questions of his Major League readiness, and whether he'll be able to handle New York.
Story we all saw coming, Part 2: Gary Sheffield popping off at the Yankee organization the first chance he had to meet with the New York media. His comments, however true or untrue they may be, fit the pattern of how he left his previous five teams.
Surprise column: Joel Sherman of the Post criticizing Jeter's skill as a captain in the wake of the first phase of the spring's A-Rod dilemma.
Most underreported story: Granted, he was hurt for much of the Grapefruit League season, but did anyone else notice how much leaner Jason Giambi looked? (I'm glad not too much has been made of the team's lenience regarding Giambi's mullet and scruff. He needs to be grubby.)
What's your take on all this? There's a lot here, so fire away.
Until next week...
Tigers 9, Yankees 5
Paging Darrell Rasner . . .
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Sean Henn, Mike Martinez, Chris Britton, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino, Eric Wordekemper
Subs: Andy Phillips (PR/1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Marcos Vechionacci (3B), Wil Nieves (C), Austin Jackson (RF), Kevin Reese (CF), Kevin Thompson (LF), Josh Phelps (DH)
Opposition: The Tigers' starting nine.
Big Hits: Doubles by Todd Pratt (1 for 3), Jason Giambi (2 for 2, BB), Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3), Doug Mientkiewicz (1 for 3), and minor leaguer Austin Jackson (1 for 2). Pratt's and Rodriguez's were ground-rule doubles, both touched by fans down the left field line.
Who Pitched Well?: Scott Proctor pitched a perfect sixth. Luis Vizcaino pitched a perfect seventh. Minor league reliever Mike Martinez (who is not 7'2" as his Baseball Cube page claims; He may not even be his official height of 6'2"), got Omar Infante to pop out to strand the three runners he inherited from Henn in the fourth. Chris Britton pitched around a pair of singles for a scoreless fifth inning.
Who Didn't?: Jeffrey Karstens had his second straight poor outing, putting his grip on the fifth starter's in question. Karstens lasted just two innings due to elbow stiffness, allowing six runs on six hits and two walks, the big shot being a three-run homer by Gary Sheffield which put the score at 4-0 after just four Tiger batters. In his last two starts, Karstens has allowed ten runs on twelve hits in 6 1/3 innings. Sean Henn's scoreless spring came to an end when he gave up three runs on five hits and three walks over 1 2/3 innings while striking out no one. Henn's line would have been worse had Martinez not come in to get the final out of the fourth after Henn had walked a man to load the bases.
Oopsies: Henn threw two wild pitches, both fastballs in the dirt that Pratt was unable to stop. Alex Rodriguez muffed a humpback liner in the third, tipping it into foul territory, but was not charged with an error. Rodriguez also nearly threw away an inning-ending 5-4 fielder's choice in the second, but was saved by a nice stretch by Robinson Cano. He then made up for his third-inning muff in the fourth by making a great diving stop to his right to turn a would-be double into a 5-3 groundout.
Ouchies: Jeff Karstens left yesterday's game after just two rough innings and 46 pitches because of stiffness in his pitching elbow. Andy Pettitte will throw a bullpen today with the hope of throwing a lighter session on Wednesday and starting Friday's game. Chien-Ming Wang tossed a ball with Ron Guidry for ten minutes yesterday. According to Peter Abraham: "He made 70 throws, most from a distance of 120 feet. And he was throwing from a semi windup and putting some zip on the ball." Abraham quotes Wang as saying "I don't feel anything. Yesterday I felt it when I walked. Today, nothing." (Incidentally, Abraham refers to Wang's injury as a "tear" when it's actually just a strain). Despite these encouraging signs, the Yankees are not adjusting Wang's timetable, instead saying that he's just keeping his arm in shape while his hamstring heals. Jorge Posada missed his second straight game with an illness characterized by a sore throat.
Battles: Sean Henn gave Ron Villone a reprieve and Jeff Karstens opened the door for Darrell Rasner. Chris Britton didn't really look all that sharp and his scoreless inning was likely too little, too late. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps combined to go 0 for 3 with three fly outs, none of them particularly deep. Todd Pratt went 1 for 3 with a double. Wil Nieves went 1 for 2. Pratt's double is the only extra base hit between the two catching candidates. Pratt also has the pair's only walk this spring.
Notes: During the YES broadcast, John Flaherty recalled an embarrassing incident in 2005 when he was facing Tigers' lefty Wil Ledezma and he struck out on a pitch that actually hit him in the back shoulder. Flaherty said that the incident was proof of how out of whack he was at the plate, and perhaps the first indication he had that he was on the verge of retirement. Michael Kay asked if his teammates made fun of him for striking out on a pitch that hit him. Flaherty said that they did indeed, singling out Jeter as a prime offender. The YES camera's then showed Jeter in the dugout and Flaherty said, with more than a little bitterness in his voice: "Derek Jeter knows how to give teammates a hard time when things don't go well." Ouch.
Yankees 4, Blue Jays 4 (10 innings)
The Yanks and Blue Jays played to a tie yesterday, which was no where near the most significant news item out of Yankee camp yesterday. Read on . . .
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Mariano Rivera, Colter Bean, Ben Kozlowski
Subs: Andy Phillips (1B), Angel Chavez (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Chris Basak (3B), Todd Pratt (C), Miguel Cairo (RF), Melky Cabrera (CF), Kevin Reese (LF), Josh Phelps (DH)
Opposition: All but one of the Blue Jays' starters.
Big Hits: A two-run homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3) and a triple by Bobby Abreu (2 for 3). Hideki Matsui was also 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well?: The five Yankee relievers--Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Mariano Rivera, Colter Bean, and Ben Kozlowski--were perfect combining to pitch four hitless, walkless innings while striking out five.
Who Didn't?: It's a bit unfair to list Mike Mussina here. Technically he turned in a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER). But he allowed nine baserunners on seven hits and two walks and struck out just one in those six innings and a fourth run scored thanks to a catcher's interference call. Really, it would be more accurate to list Mussina's first two innings here (all four runs) and his last four scoreless innings in the previous category.
Oopsies: Just that catchers interference by Wil Nieves, which led to a run.
Ouchies:The big news, and this really is big news for a change, is that Chien-Ming Wang's right hamstring will force him to start the season on the disabled list and he could miss most if not all of April as an MRI revealed a Grade 1 strain (the lowest level). Jose Veras had a bone spur removed this past week. He should be out for two to three months. Jorge Posada was a late scratch from yesterday's game with what Joe Torre called "overall discomfort."
Battles: With Wang on the shelf it appears Jeff Karstens will move into the fifth-starter's spot and break camp with the team, though the Yankees might only need to start Karstens once before Wang returns (on April 8 against the Orioles). Wil Nieves and Todd Pratt had identical 0 for 2 with one strikeout days, though Nieves did have that interference call. Raul Chavez was reassigned to minor league camp. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps both went 0 for 1, though Phelps struck out in his at-bat. Brian Bruney and Colter Bean continue to be the top contenders for the last right-handed bullpen spot. Bruney retired all three men he faced on two Ks and a grounder. Bean faced two men and retired them on a strikeout and a fly out.
Cuts: In addition to Raul Chavez, Bronson Sardinha, Angel Chavez, Andy Cannizaro, and Ben Kozlowski were also reassigned to minor league camp. I had forgotten Cannizaro was in camp. I can't remember the last time he got in a game. Meanwhile, with the exception of the rehabbing Humberto Sanchez, Sardinha (who was actually optioned as he's on the 40-man roster) was the last man in camp who didn't have any major league experience. Proof of how impressed the Yankees were by him this spring.
Notes: Bobby Murcer reports that test have shown that he is "entirely clear in regard to the [brain] tumor." Of far less importance, Chien-Ming Wang was on schedule to be the Yankees Opening Day starter, but now that Wang's on the shelf, the Opening Day hurler will be either Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano or Wang's replacement Jeff Karstens. Neither Pettitte nor Mussina is a candidate because Pettitte's return from back spasms (he's expected to start no sooner than Thursday) won't allow him time to get in a warm-up start. Similarly, Mussina's next scheduled turn is Thursday, which would put him on short rest on Opening Day. Torre's a bit concerned about Igawa overthrowing in response to an Opening Day start, and thus Pavano is considered the frontrunner at the moment. Of even less importance, Brian Bruney and Kyle Farnsworth shaved their heads before yesterday's game.
Pirates 3, Yankees 2
Colter Bean's first poor outing of the year landed both him and the Yankees a loss.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Darrell Rasner, Sean Henn, Colter Bean, Luis Vizcaino
Opposition: Most of the Pirates starters, save for batting champ Freddy Sanchez.
Big Hits: Bobby Abreu (1 for 3) doubled and scored in the fourth.
Who Pitched Well?: Rasner struck out five in 4 2/3 innings, walking none. He did however allow seven hits, and a Chris Basak error led to an unearned run. Sean Henn pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings, striking out one. Luis Vizcaino pitched a perfect eighth.
Who Didn't?: Colter Bean had his first stumble of the spring, allowing two runs on three hits in the seventh and taking a loss. Of course, he also struck out two and still hasn't walked anyone.
Oopsies: Chris Basak booted a ball leading to an unearned run. It was his second error of the spring.
Ouchies: Chien-Ming Wang's hamstring cramped up on him during running drills. Wang was not sent for tests, which suggests a cramp is all it was. He reportedly had a hamstring issue during the first week of camp as well. Andy Pettitte stretched a bit and tossed a ball around in lieu of making his scheduled start.
Battles: Both Josh Phelps and Andy Phillips singled in their lone at-bats. Neither Todd Pratt, nor Raul Chavez got a hit in their only at-bats. In fact, adding in Wil Nieves' performance, the Yankee catchers were 0 for 5. That said, Torre has been talking about Nieves' health recently as if it's his job if he's healthy. Sean Henn was perfect. Colter Bean gave up his first runs of the spring.
Notes: Mike Myers allowed an unearned run in two innings in a minor league game yesterday. T.J. Beam was reassigned to minor league camp.
Observations From Cooperstown
The Yankee Rumor MillDoes It Exist Anymore?
I can't remember the last time the Yankees experienced such a quiet spring on the trade rumor front. It stands in direct contrast to a long forgotten season like 1989, when rumors infiltrated the Yankee camp in Ft. Lauderdale almost every day, with a busy front office pulling off spring deals for the likes of Steve "Bye Bye" Balboni, Tom Brookens, and Mel Hall. It seems almost every spring that there's a rumor about the Yankees acquiring a brand-name pitcher, or a center fielder, or an extra arm out of the bullpensomething through the trade route. This year, however, all's silent on the rumor mill. Other than the never-ending talk regarding a possible return of Roger Clemenswhich won't happen until May at the earliest and would not involve an actual tradethere has hardly been any substantive talk of the Yankees making a deal this spring. I guess that's the price you pay for having a talented team with few glaring weaknesses. (And it's not like Balboni, Brookens, and Hall drastically changed the fortunes of the '89 Yankees, who won only 74 games and finished fifth in the AL East.)
With the phone lines remaining quiet, some writers have been busy trying to concoct trades that might make some sense. Others have been contemplating deals that could happen after the season starts. After all, this is a Yankee team that does have flaws, even for all of its frontline talent. The backup catching situation is a mess, first base could be a disaster if Dougie Mink is given too long a leash, and the back end of the rotation looks something less than sturdy. With that in mind, let's assess some moves that either could happen, or at least in theory, would improve Yankee fortunes.
Bullpen help to the Phillies for a spare catcher: Earlier this week, Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested a trade that would make a great deal of sense for the Yankees and a potential trade partner in the National League: Mike Myers to the Phillies for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies need relief pitching like Doug Mientkiewicz needs a corked bat, so Sherman is certainly on the right track. Ruiz, a 28-year-old receiver with solid defensive skills and something more than a lightweight bat, would represent an upgrade over the current backstop brigade of Todd Pratt, Wil Nieves, Raul Chavez, and Ben Davis. Let me add another suggestion to this scenario. If the Phillies don't like Myers, how about sending Ron Villone to Philadelphia for Chris Coste? Already 34, Coste is six years older than Ruiz, but does bring a potentially stronger bat and the versatility to play other positions, including first base and third base. With Rod Barajas around as the starting catcher in Philadelphia, either Coste or Ruiz should be availableat least in theory.
Carl Pavano going nowhere for now: At the beginning of spring training, we heard whispers that the Mariners, Rockies, and Cardinals had interest in Pavano, but the Yankees responded by essentially taking the right-hander off the market. The reason? Brian Cashman realized that the timing wasn't right because Pavano's value remains exceedingly low. (Plus, with recent concerns over Andy Pettitte's back, Pavano might become more necessary in the grand scheme.) Here's what Cashman wants to do: open the season with Pavano, hope that he pitches well over the first month and builds up his trade value, and then re-explore trades that might bring back a backup catcher, or first base help, or a prospect. By then, the Yankees could look more seriously at using Jeff Karstens as a fifth starter, or even give some thought to a recall of Phil Hughes or Ross Ohlendorf.
An Alex Rodriguez blockbuster: An Angels blogger claims that the Yankees have talked to Anaheim about a trade that would put A-Rod on the left coast in exchange for a package of three players: catcher Jose Molina, right-hander Jered Weaver, and minor league righty Dustin Moseley (ah yes, another pitching prospect). Pardon me for doubting, but I suspect that Cashman has had little or no conversation with the Angels regarding A-Rod this spring. Even if he had, this particular package doesn't fit, now that Weaver has been placed on the disabled list and will miss Opening Day. (Plus, the Yankees like Ervin Santana better than Weaver.) The Yankees would also need a third baseman in the deal, necessitating that someone like Chone Figgins be included. Still, I could see a trade like this being discussed sometime after April 1, assuming certain conditions are met. If the Yankees stumble out of the gate badly and A-Rod simultaneously slumps at the plate, rumblings of him exercising his "out" clause will only escalate. Angels owner Arte Moreno absolutely loves Rodriguez, who would be a perfect fit for a Halos team that needs at least one more slugger to team with Vladimir Guerrero. Of course, A-Rod would have to give his consent. He's not ready to do that, but a poor start coupled with continuing showers of Bronx boos could convince A-Rod to cut his losses and move on to the next stage of his career.
Are any of these scenariosa deal with the Phillies, a trade of Pavano, a blockbuster involving A-Rodlikely to happen? Of course not. When it comes to trades, especially in this day of complicated contracts, lack of organizational depth for many teams, and a preponderance of conservative GMs, always bet against a trade happening. But these are the kinds of moves that Cashman should be considering, especially if the Yankees duplicate their slow start of 2005. This team has some pitching and depth concernsand only a fool would consider the Yankees bulletproof, in need of nothing as Opening Day approaches.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.
Reds 8, Yankees 7
The Yanks jack three homers, but can't hold a four-run seventh-inning lead.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Mike Myers, Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Villone, Jason Jones, Brian Bruney, T.J. Beam
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Angel Chavez (3B), Todd Pratt (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Shawn Garrett (LF), Ben Davis (PH), Andy Phillips (PH)
Opposition: Two-thirds of the Reds starters.
Big Hits: A three-run homer by Bobby Abreu (1 for 3) and solo shots by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 4) and Josh Phelps (1 for 2), and doubles by Robinson Cano (2 for 4) and Kevin Reese (1 for 4). Derek Jeter was 2 for 2 with two walks.
Who Pitched Well?: Kyle Farnsworth struck out two of the three men he faced in a perfect sixth inning. Non-invitee Jason Jones retired the only two men he faced to stop the bleeding caused by Ron Villone.
Who Didn't?: Villone allowed three runs on two walks and two hits including an Enrique Cruz triple while only managing to record one out. Brian Bruney struck out the side in the eighth, but also allowed a game-tying run on two hits, one of them an RBI double by Dewayne Wise. Brought into a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, T.J. Beam gave up doubles to the first two batters he faced, the second a game-winner by Edwin Encarnacion. By comparison, Carl Pavano's start (three runs on eight hits and two walks in just 4 1/3 innings) almost looks good . . . almost. Meat did escape a no-outs, bases-loaded jam in the first via a shallow fly out and a double play.
Oopsies: Jason Giambi misjudged a couple of balls hit in the second base hole, retreating to cover the bag rather than attempting to make a play on them.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu played the field for the first time this spring. Andy Pettitte will indeed miss his scheduled start today, but says his back is feeling better.
Battles: Josh Phelps hit a solo homer in two trips. It was his second longball of the spring, tying him with Jorge Posada for second among the Yankee campers. Before the game, Joe Torre said he'd limit Andy Phillips to first base and DH and might even use him in a minor league game to allow him to concentrate on his hitting and said that Todd Pratt is in a similar place in terms of needing to catch up to the rest of the hitters at the plate due to his early heel injury. Pratt walked in his only plate appearance yesterday, the first walk drawn by a backup catcher candidate this spring. Wil Nieves caught Chien-Ming Wang in yesterday's minor league game. Villone, Bruney and Beam combined to blow the game over the final three innings, with Villone and Beam having the worst outings. Villone's spring ERA is now 9.00.
Notes: What Derek Jeter estimated to be about 100 bees interrupted the game in the fifth inning by swarming in the infield and chasing the Yankees off the field. Chien-Ming Wang, Chris Britton and Scott Proctor pitched in a minor league game in Tampa against the Phillies triple-A squad. Wang allowed three runs on five hits and struck out four in six innings. Britton struck out three in two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Proctor allowed just two hits in two scoreless innings. Neither Britton, nor Proctor walked a batter.
Sleeping with the Enemy
I interviewed Curt Schilling last weekend. Our conversation is now up at SI.com. We spoke about his new blog, 38 Pitches, which I think is particularly interesting when Schilling breaks down his pitching performances. Check it out.
Spring Training Status Report
I thought I'd take advantage of the lone off-day in the Yankees' spring schedule to take a look at some of the overall performances we've seen this spring, with the caveat that spring training stats are largely meaningless, of course.
First, here's how the starting nine have performed:
Because of Abreu's injury, Melky Cabrera has lead the team in plate appearances, but struggled mightily, hitting just .200/.216/.220. He has, however, played strong defense at all three infield positions. For the same reason, Kevin Thompson has lead the team in games played, also cycling through all three pastures and hitting a far more robust .296/.367/.556, not that you'd know it with all of the attention heaped upon Bronson Sardinha's .303/.324/.424. The other Kevin, Reese, his hitting just .267/.281/.400.
In the infield, the breakout star has been Chris Basak, who's crushing at a .414/.433/.690 clip and leading the team in slugging. Miguel Cairo is leading the team in stolen bases, a perfect five-for-five, and is tied with Mientkiewicz with six walks, hitting .300/.405/.333 overall.
The man leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage is righty first-base combatant Josh Phelps, who's hitting .435/.481/.609 and has struck out just three times in 26 plate appearances. His rival, Andy Phillips has gone 3 for 12 with no walks or extra base hits since returning from his mother's hospital room, but has struck out just once himself.
As for the catching battle, neither Todd Pratt nor Wil Nieves, both of whom missed time due to a sore heel and elbow respectively, has an extra-base hit or a walk. Pratt is 2 for 14, Neives is 2 for 11. Raul Chavez, meanwhile is hitting .294/.278/.471 on the strength of a homer and four singles. And that's no typo, Chavez has indeed pulled off the odd trick of having a lower on-base percentage than batting average thanks to having a sac fly, but no walks. Ben Davis has only come to the plate eight times, but has more extra base hits than the other three men have produced in a combined 43 trips (.250/.250/.625 thanks to a walk and a triple). Yes, you read that right, not one of these four men has drawn a walk in 51 plate appearances.
Of the position players already reassigned to minor league camp, the most impressive by far was 18-year-old Jose Tabata, who hit .429/.529/.643.
As for the pitchers, here's the starting five:
Of the two sixth-starter options still in camp, neither Jeff Karstens nor Darrell Rasner has walked a man in a combined 20 2/3 innings. Karstens has a 2.70 ERA and 11 Ks in 13 1/3 innings. Rasner has a 2.45 ERA and 4 Ks in 7 1/3 innings. Actually, that's not entirely fair. Rasner pitched in one minor league game. Factoring in that outing, Rasner has a 2.38 ERA and 7 Ks in 11 1/3 innings, but did walk one batter.
Phil Hughes left camp with a 7.71 ERA having walked 6 men in 4 2/3 innings and struck out just two. Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright both left camp with 1.35 ERAs. Steven Jackson split camp with a 9.82 ERA.
Finally, the bullpen:
And the contenders for the final two spots:
Bean and Henn look like the leaders there, but don't count out the team's prejudice against Bean or toward Villone. Of the two I'd say Henn has the better chance of making the team because he's out of options. I wonder if north Jersey native Villone, who's in camp on a minor league deal, would be willing to start the year in nearby Scranton. On the flip side, Andy Phillips and Wil Nieves, the other two Yankee campers who are out of options, are likely to slip through waivers at the rate their going, which means Josh Phelps just might make the team after all.
All of that said, there's still a week and a half left to go in camp (ten games to be exact). Anything could happen . . .
Change my pitch up...
Yo, did anyone see Mariano pitch against Ryan Howard last night? He threw the big guy two consecutive change-ups. The first, on an 0-2 count, was low for a ball. The next one was low too, but Howard lunged and struck out. If Rivera can throw a change up effectively this season, well, that just wouldn't be fair would it?
Oh, and speaking of our man Jorge, Joel Sherman has a column on Posada today in The Post:
The Yanks are making Posada, who is in his walk year, play for his next contract. But even more important is just how vital Posada is to the Yanks. He is their most irreplaceable player. Not the best player. But the one that would be most difficult to cover for should he suffer a long-term injury.
True, true, true dat.
Yankees 2, Phillies 0
This game wasn't nearly as close as the score indicates.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Mariano Rivera, Luis Vizcaino, Mike Myers, Colter Bean
Subs: Doug Mientkiewicz (1B), Chris Basak (2B), Ramiro Peña (SS), Angle Chavez (PR/3B), Wil Nieves (C), Bronson Sardinha (PR/RF), Kevin Thompson (CF), Kevin Reese (LF), Andy Phillips (DH)
Opposition: Two-thirds of the Phillies starters, including Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, but a double-A starting pitcher.
Big Hits: A double by Robinson Cano (2 for 3) in the second that turned into an inning ending play when Jorge Posada (0 for 3), who had been on first base via an error, missed Larry Bowa's stop sign and was thrown out at the plate. Doubles by Matsui (2 for 3) and Cairo (1 for 3). Melky Cabrera went 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well?: Everyone. The four relievers combined to allow one hit (off Myers) and no walks while striking out six in four innings. Of particular note, Rivera struck out Ryan Howard on a changeup. Igawa looked sharp in the first inning, throwing first-pitch strikes to all four batters he faced, working down in the zone, and allowing just a bouncing ball single. In the second he was back to his old ways of being wild and up in the zone. He then recovered in the third and would have had a 1-2-3 inning on three groundballs if not for Jeter's error, which he followed with a walk and another groundout. He got that 1-2-3 inning in the fourth on a pop up and two strikeouts. He was less impressive in his final inning, walking the lead-off man, then having a homer blown back into Hideki Matsui's mitt by the wind that was gusting in all night, and finally having a ringing line drive head right to Miguel Cairo at third resulting in a 5-4-3 double play. All together he needed 65 pitches to work five innings, allowing two hits, walking three, and striking out three.
Slick Plays: In the first, Aaron Rowand hit a grounder that almost rolled to a stop on its way to the second base position. Robinson Cano charged and made a barehanded flip to Jason Giambi, who made a nice scoop for the out. With one out in the second, Jayson Werth tripped leading off first base on a fly out to center. Johnny Damon flipped to Jeter who, racing into shallow center, spun and fired low to first where Jason Giambi made a great scoop to complete the 8-6-3 double-play. Giambi later made another nice scoop on another low throw by Jeter on the play before Jeter's error.
Oopsies: Kei Igawa would have had a 1-2-3 third inning on three groundouts to the left side, but Derek Jeter booted the third out. Following singles by Cano and Cabrera in to lead off the fifth, Miguel Cairo popped up a bunt, failing to move the runners. Ramiro Peña made a throwing error later in the game.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu went 0 for 3 in his spring debut, but didn't look hindered by his injury in any way, just rusty. Andy Pettitte had back spasms after his workout on Monday, skipped his bullpen yesterday and likely won't make his scheduled start on Friday, despite his own protestations. The Yankees are playing it safe and don't consider Pettitte's back to be a major issue right now.
Battles: Andy Phillips grounded out in his only at-bat from the DH slot. I have yet to see Phillips hit a ball in the air past the pitcher's mound this spring. Though I admittedly haven't seen all of his at-bats, I have seen one of his two hits. Will Nieves was also 0 for 1. For what it's worth, the only Yankee relievers not to allow a run or issue a walk this spring are Mariano Rivera, Scott Proctor, and Colter Bean, their combined line is 19 2/3 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 20 K.
Pat Borzi has a nice piece about the relationship between Jorge Posada and Tony Pena today in The Times.
Blue Jays 9, Yankees 1
Chris Britton punches his ticket for triple-A and Miguel Cairo pulls an Enrique Wilson in the outfield. Total score of the last two games: Yankees 9, Opponents 10.
L - Johnny Damon (DH)
Pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Chris Britton, T.J. Beam, Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, Sean Henn
Subs: Angel Chavez (3B), Wil Nieves (C), Kevin Thompson (CF), Jose Tabata (PR/LF), Andy Phillips (DH), Kevin Reese (PH), Kevin Howard (PR)
Opposition: The second-place Blue Jay's starters.
Big Hits: A pair of doubles by Robinson Cano (2 for 3) and a third by Doug Mientkiewicz (1 for 3), the last being Minky's second hit of the spring. Minky also drove in the only run of the game, though it came on a double-play so there was no official RBI.
Who Pitched Well?: Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, and Sean Henn each pitched a perfect inning, Bruney and Henn both struck out two of the three men they faced.
Who Didn't?: Jeff Karstens had his first rough outing of the spring, needing 75 pitches to get through 4 1/3 innings, surrendering four runs on six hits, four of them doubles. Chris Britton, who came on in relief in fifth, gave up five more runs on four hits and a walk, the big blow being a three-run homer by Gregg Zaun. Britton was pulled after six batters, having retired just one of them.
Slick Plays: Mientkiewicz came off the bag to save an errant throw by Alex Rodriguez in the first inning, making a swipe tag on Lyle Overbay for the out.
Oopsies: Miguel Cairo had a rough outing in left field, flubbing one catch that was ruled a double and making a wild throw to first to try to double up a runner that was properly ruled an error. He was moved to second base later in the game.
Ouchies: Wil Neives returned to action today. Bobby Abreu will make his spring debut tomorrow.
Battles: Todd Pratt and Wil Nieves both went hitless in three and one at-bats respectively. Andy Phillips singled in his lone at-bat from the DH slot. Chris Britton more or less punted his chances of making heading north with the major league club, inflating his spring ERA to 13.50 after getting lit up in a minor league game in his last outing. Brian Bruney, Sean Henn, and T.J. Beam, meanwhile, still have yet to give up a run this spring.
Notes: Kevin Howard is a 25-year-old utility infielder acquired in the Tony Womack dump whose disappointing showing repeating double-A last year kept him from getting a proper spring training invite.
The acclaimed baseball writer, Charles Einstein died a few weeks ago. His obit is in the Times today. Einstein edited the four volume "The Fireside Book of Baseball," as well as several books about Willie Mays. Well worth checking out. And he's the random part: Einstein was the half-brother of Albert Einstein, better known as Albert Brooks.
Yankees 8, Pirates 1
The Yankees batted around against a tired Zach Duke with two outs in the fourth, putting up seven runs before Josh Phelps, in his second at bat of the inning, lined to third to mercifully end the inning.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino
Subs: Doug Mientkiewicz (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Angel Chavez (PR/3B), Ben Davis (PR/C), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Kevin Thompson (PR/CF), Kevin Reese (PR/LF), Andy Phillips (DH)
Opposition: Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche and a bunch of scrubs.
Big Hits: Jason Giambi hit a grand slam in the middle of the Yankees' seven-run outburst against Duke. Alex Rodriguez followed with a triple. Chris Basak doubled off Damaso Marte in the eighth, eventually scoring the Yankees' eighth run.
Who Pitched Well?: Mike Mussina finally had a good outing, pitching five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, all singles, and a walk while striking out two. Mariano Rivera needed just six pitches to work a perfect sixth, and thus threw ten more in the pen afterwards. Mike Myers pitched around a double in the eighth. Luis Vizcaino pitched around a single in the ninth, striking out one.
Who Didn't?: Kyle Farnsworth gave up a run on two walks and a hit in the seventh.
Slick Plays: With one out in the fifth Jose Castillo flew out to shallow right with Ryan Doumit on first base. Doumit wandered a bit too far off first and Melky Cabrera fired a strike to Doug Mientkiewicz for a 9-9-3 double play. Later, Minky made a couple of nice plays of his own, one a diving stop to his right on a line drive, the other fielding a short hop on the foul line. Left fielders Hideki Matsui and Kevin Reese both made nice running catches heading back toward the warning track, though Reese's was more impressive.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu looked good in batting practice yesterday, ran the bases, and is penciled in as Tuesday's DH. Humberto threw 25 fastballs in the bullpen and will remain in camp to work with Ron Guidry, throwing another bullpen on Tuesday. Wil Nieves should play in today's game. Jose Veras (elbow) will play catch today.
Battles: Josh Phelps went 2 for 3 and made a nice base-running play with two outs in the fourth. That came when Robinson Cano hit a grounder behind second base which Pittsburgh shortstop Brian Bixler dove for and stopped on the edge of the infield grass. Phelps, who had taken off on contact, slid in just ahead of Bixler's flip to second. Andy Phillips grounded out in his only at-bat from the DH slot. Ben Davis did not come to bat.
Housekeeping: I've fixed all of the MLB hit-chart links on the sidebar. I've also deleted all of the Retrosheet links, as all of the splits and game logs on Retrosheet can now be accessed via Baseball-Reference (with the exception of the catch-all "men on" split, but it hardly seemed worth the clutter for that single split seeing as B-Ref provides all of the individual men-on-base situations).
Phillies 3, Yankees 2
Andy Phillips and Carl Pavano collaborated on this loss.
R - Miguel Cairo (2B)
Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Carl Pavano
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Chris Basak (2B), Ramiro Peña (SS), Jorge Posada (C), Bronson Sardinha (RF)
Opposition: Most of the Phillies starters.
Big Hits: A double by Kevin Thompson (2 for 4) of former teammate Matt Smith.
Who Pitched Well?: Andy Pettitte was fantastic, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out four in five innings, retiring the last 13 men he faced in order. He has yet to allow a run or issue a walk this spring while allowing just five hits and striking out seven in ten innings over three starts.
Who Didn't?: Carl Pavano gave up all three Phillie runs, though Andy Phillips defense helped out there, walking two and allowing four hits in four innings while striking out one and hitting a batter in his bonus half inning in the bottom of the ninth.
Oopsies: Andy Phillips made an error in the sixth, leading to the first Phillie run, then ole'd a possible double play ball with the bases loaded in the seventh, leading to two more Phillie runs. Kevin Thompson dropped a fly ball in Pavano's bonus inning.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu, who took batting practice in the cage on Friday, took outdoor batting practice with the rest of the team yesterday, during which he checked his swing a few times with out pain. Wil Nieves did "batting exercises" on Saturday and could return to game action by Tuesday. Humberto Sanchez is scheduled to throw a bullpen from the top of the mound today.
Battles: Andy Phillips went 1 for 4 with a run scored as the third baseman, but struggled in the field, his error and later misplay leading to all three Phillie runs. Josh Phelps walked in two plate appearances. Raul Chavez went 1 for 3. Chris Britton had an awful outing against the Phillies minor leaguers (see below). Darrell Rasner did well against the Devil Ray's triple-A squad.
Notes: Scott Proctor and Chris Britton threw in a minor league game against the Phillies minor leaguers. Neither did particularly well. Proctor allowed a run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings and struck out no one and Britton got lit up for four runs on three hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings. Darrell Rasner faired much better against the Devil Ray's triple-A squad, allowing just one run on one hit and a walk while striking out three in four innings. The Phillies wore green caps and jerseys in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
Astros 4, Yankees 3
The first three men the Yankee sent to the plate all scored. They were the only Yankees to do so. The penultimate man the Astros sent to the plate scored to end the game.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Luis Vizcaino, Ron Villone, Colter Bean, Ben Kozlowski
Subs: Andy Phillips (1B), Angel Chavez (2B), Eduardo Nuñez (SS), Chris Basak (3B), Ben Davis (C), Kevin Reese (PR/CF), Kevin Thompson (PR/LF)
Opposition: The Astros starters
Big Hits: A three-run first-inning home run by Robinson Cano (1 for 3). Miguel Cairo was 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well?: Chien-Ming Wang allowed just one run on four hits while striking out three and walking none in five innings. Ten of his remaining twelve outs came on the ground and he threw 75 percent of his 61 pitches for strikes. Colter Bean pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out two. Luis Vizcaino pitched around a walk while striking out two in a hitless, scoreless sixth inning.
Who Didn't?: Ron Villone blew the lead in the seventh by surrendering solo homers to Morgan Ensberg (that'll happen) and Adam Everett (that won't). Ben Kozlowski then lost the game by giving up doubles in the bottom of the ninth to the only two batters he faced in the game.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu took 55 swings against batting practice pitching. The Yankees hope Abreu will be able to play on Thursday against the Reds, the day after the lone off-day in the spring schedule.
Battles: Todd Pratt went 0 for 3. Ben Davis made out in his only at-bat, but did throw out Chris Burke attempting to steal second. Andy Phillips struck out in his only at-bat.
Notes: With Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano scheduled to be the only Yankee pitchers to see action in today's game, throwing five and four innings respectively, Darrell Rasner will throw in a triple-A game today while Scott Proctor and Chris Britton will also pitch in minor league games. Eduardo Nuñez, who subbed in at shortstop in yesterday's game, is a 19-year-old shortstop who didn't hit a lick in his full-season debut in 2006 after being invited to Yankee camp last spring on the strength of a mildly impressive short-season pro debut with Staten Island in 2005.
Finally, Andy Phillips' mom has been released from the hospital.
By Bruce Markusen
Mike EaslerTopps Company1987 (No. 135)
As a child of the 1970s, I've always loved wood paneling in a home. I even appreciate the cheap, cardboard-thin wood that lined the basements of many houses in the northeast corridor during the seventies. Given my affection for wood paneling, it's not surprising that Topps' 1987 wood-bordered set ranks as my favorite of the 1980s.
With the wood border providing an ideal framework, Mike Easler's card rates near the top of my list. This card, No. 135 in the set, gives us a clear view of Easler's memorable batting stance. Unlike most power hitters, Easler batted out of a pronounced crouch, a pose usually preferred by singles and doubles hitters the ilk of Pete Rose. After attacking a pitcher's offering with a fierce uppercut, Easler finished off each swing with his signature flourishan exaggerated rotation of the bat, the equivalent of a helicopter motion. Even as a college student in the 1980s, I used to mimic the Easler "helicopter" during meetings with fellow baseball diehards. No one of Easler's era finished his swing in such a way, and no one since has matched Easler's twirling of the bat.
In addition to his distinctive batting style, Easler also had a descriptive nickname. Although most Yankee fans remember Don Mattingly as "The Hit Man," he was not the first to acquire the nickname. Easler preceded Mattingly as the original Hit Man, a testament to his aggressive style at the plate and his ability to pepper line drives from one outfield gap to another. Unlike most left-handed hitters with power, Easler boasted a particularly effective opposite-field stroke, which he seemed to prefer over pulling the ball to right field. Easler was usually at his best hitting the ball with gusto toward left-center, an ability that he honed during his years at Fenway Park. Easler became particularly adept at hitting "The Wall" at Fenway, an advantage that he would lose during his two stints with the Yankees. Unfortunately, left field at Yankee Stadium has never provided a reachable target for left-handed hitters, and that did not change for The Hit Man, who struggled to fill the shoes of the player for whom he was traded, Don Baylor.
Still, Easler was reasonably productive in his first go-round in Yankee pinstripes. He played well as a platoon DH and left fielder, sustaining a role that he had filled with the Boston Red Sox. Prior to that, Easler had forged a niche as a highly successful part-time player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which included a cameo during the team's World Championship season in 1979. That Easler sustained a lasting major league career of consequence throughout the 1980s is testament to his perseverance. For most of the 1970s, Easler bided his time in the minor leagues, save for unproductive cups of coffee with the Houston Astros and California Angels. Along the way, he won two minor league batting titles. Yet, major league scouts didn't like Easler; they viewed him as nothing more than a platoon player, incapable of hitting left-handed pitching, and regarded him as a butcher in the outfield. They didn't feel he hit with enough power or possessed enough speed. Even as Easler filleted minor pitching at Double-A and Triple-A, scouts dismissed him as nothing more than a career minor leaguer.
Most players would have been excused for taking their minor league numbers to Japan for a bigger payday, but Easler remained adamant about a career in the major leagues. Easler's persistence started to deliver dividends in 1977, when the Pirates first brought him to Pittsburgh. By 1979, he appeared capable of contributing in a small role to a World Championship club. By 1980, he had convinced everyone that he belonged in the major leagues for the long haul.
Easler also helped his cause by becoming popular in the clubhouse. Teammates liked him, as did the media. Easler always answered questions from the press after games, regardless of the outcome. Even the most jaded Red Sox reporter, weary from having to deal with "unfriendlies" like Jim Rice and Wade Boggs in an exceedingly difficult clubhouse, could find solace at Easler's locker. Easler would always talkno matter what.
Given his sociability, his relentless determination, and his resplendent hitting style, it's easy to see why Easler became one of my favorites during the 1980s. His 1987 Topps card might not be worth muchit's a common card from an era in which too many cards were produced to begin withbut it's still a nice one to have.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.
Yankees 3, Braves 2
The Yankees scored all of their runs off Oscar Villarreal in the seventh inning to win a game that would have been infuriating for Braves fans had it actually counted.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Mike Myers, T.J. Beam, Tyler Clippard, Sean Henn, Mariano Rivera, Brian Bruney
Subs: Chris Basak (2B), Angel Chavez (PR/SS), Miguel Cairo (3B), Raul Chavez (C), Bronson Sardinha (PR/LF), Kevin Thompson (CF), Todd Pratt (DH)
Opposition: All but one of the Braves starters.
Big Hits: They all came in the seventh inning against Oscar Villarreal. Hideki lead off with a double and was followed by an absolute bomb by Raul Chavez that disappeared deep into the night over the left field gap, tying the game at 2-2. Chris Basak followed that by popping out to shallow left, but the wind that blew Chavez's drive out to sea blew Basak's ball past shortstop Yunel Escobar and Basak hustled into second for a double. Andy Phillips then bunted Basak to third and Kevin Reese laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to give the Yankees the lead. That was followed by a double by Kevin Thompson for good measure. Incidentally, I was thrilled to see the squeeze bunt. It's baseball's forgotten play. The sac but may be overused, but the squeeze bunt needs to be brought back. I can't remember the last time the Yankees executed a squeeze bunt, in spring training or any other time.
Who Pitched Well?: Tyler Clippard wasn't great, but he was good. In 2 2/3 innings the only hit he allowed was a solo homer by Chipper Jones. In that at-bat, Clippard made Jones look foolish with an 81-mile-per-hour changeup that wowed Ken Singleton and Joe Girardi in the YES booth, then followed it up with a 91-mile-per-hour fastball that Jones was late on. Jones timed his next changeup, however, and deposited it over the wall. Clippard struck out two in his first two innings, but in his third frame he walked two and was pulled with two outs in the inning for Sean Henn, who retired the only batter he faced on a comebacker. Mariano Rivera pitched around a leadoff flare single by ex-Yank Craig Wilson for yet another scoreless inning. Brian Bruney also pitched around a single for a scoreless inning, picking up the save. Rivera and Bruney struck out one man each.
Who Didn't?: Kei Igawa threw three scoreless innings, allowed just one hit, struck out five, and got three of his remaining five outs on pop ups. So why is he here? Because he also walked four, threw more balls than strikes (33 to 29), and exhausted his pitch count an inning ahead of schedule. Joe Torre thinks Igawa's still overthrowing, but both he and Jorge Posada have been impressed by his stuff and his approach. Mike Myers gave up a double to the only batter he faced, lefty-hitting Braves catcher Brian McCann. T.J. Beam inherited that runner and let him score on a wild pitch and a single.
Slick Plays: Brian McCann, leading off the second, lit into a high fastball, sending it into the right center field gap. Melky Cabrera wasn't having it and made a tremendous diving, rolling snag.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu will take batting practice today for the first time since straining his oblique muscle while doing the same at the beginning of camp. Humberto Sanchez will remain in camp until he throws a bullpen from the top of the mound. He threw from half-way up on Wednesday.
Battles: Raul Chavez hit a game-tying homer in two trips to the plate and nearly threw out an attempted basestealer (super duper slo mo showed he was probably out, but it was to close to call even with the replay) despite a very high throw. Todd Pratt struck out in his only trip as the DH. Andy Phillips hit three grounders, one of which found the shortstop hole for his first hit of the spring, and successfully sac bunted. Phillips has yet to hit a ball in the air in a game this spring. T.J. Beam let his inherited runner score. Sean Henn retired his only batter. Brian Bruney picked up a one-run save.
Before the game, Joe Torre described Chris Britton as "raw" and said that he was rushed in Baltimore and that "he's got a little ways to go yet, because he is young." Torre made sure to point out that he's been impressed with Britton's stuff, his confidence, and his demeanor, and said that Britton is still in the mix for the bullpen, adding "you can't dismiss anybody that's had major league experience at this point." Still, it sounds like Britton's a long shot to head north with the team at this point. Britton has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 spring innings across five appearances. In that time he's allowed three hits and a walk and struck out one. Meanwhile, here's the combined spring line of Brian Bruney, T.J. Beam, Jose Veras, Ron Villone, Sean Henn and Colter Bean:
21 IP, 12 H, 0 R, 7 BB, 16 K
Fortunately, half of the spring schedule still remains. This is a dogfight.
Joe also mused on Karstens (9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K), the last two spots in the rotation, the possible need for a long reliever, and the shape and size of his bullpen. Give a listen over on LoHud starting at the 3:29 mark. In summary, Torre sounds like he'd rather have Karstens pitching in rotation in Scranton than languishing in the bullpen, and will likely use Pavano and Igawa irregularly in April as the schedule allows/requires while keeping the top three starters on regular rest. As for the pen, with his last two starters pitching irregularly, Torre seems to think those two can eat the April relief innings that might otherwise require a long man. That said, he's still leaning toward a 12-man staff, but said that if a position player really jumps out at him over the remaining two weeks, he could make the team at the expense of the twelfth pitcher.
Notes: As expected, Tyler Clippard was reassigned to minor league camp after the game. Before being reassigned, Jose Tabata was learning about plate discipline from fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu.
Sweet and Meaty
I found a link to an excerpt from Michael Morrissey's new book on the 2006 Yankees via Was Watching the other day. The chapter covers Carl Pavano's misbegotten Yankee career. Former Yankee manager Bob Lemon liked calling everyone "Meat." What do you think he would have called Pavano?
Yankees 4, Twins 1
Rumor has it the Twins were at Legends field last night. There was very little evidence of that.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Chase Wright, Scott Proctor, Ron Villone, Chris Britton, Kyle Farnsworth
Subs: Andy Phillips (1B), Angel Chavez (PR/2B), Miguel Cairo (PR/SS), Chris Basak (3B), Todd Pratt (C), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Kevin Reese (PR/CF), Kevin Thompson (LF), Ben Davis (DH)
Opposition: The Twins B-Squad with Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Jason Bartlett
Big Hits: Doubles by Derek Jeter (2 for 3), Hideki Matsui (2 for 3), two by Robinson Cano (2 for 3), the first of which drove in in Matsui to start the scoring, and Jason Giambi (1 for 3), whose two-bagger drove in Damon with the second run. Ben Davis tripled to center to lead off the bottom of the eighth in his only at-bat.
Who Pitched Well?: Karstens was flat out dominating. He was perfect through his first three innings, throwing 22 of 27 pitches for strikes. He allowed a single in the fourth, but that was his only baserunner of the night. He struck out four men and needed just 41 pitches (30 strikes) to get through four innings, and looked as good as those numbers with great location and a lot of Twins swinging and missing at breaking balls and changeups. After the game he told reporters that he's stopped throwing his cut fastball because Mariano Rivera told him it wasn't fooling anyone. Chase Wright pitched two hitless innings, escaping a one-out bases loaded jam (a hit batsman and two errors, one his own) by striking out Glenn Williams and Jason Bartlett. Scott Proctor pitched around a double in the seventh. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a Chris Basak error in the ninth for the save.
Who Didn't?: Walked one of the two batters he faced (though he struck out the other). Chris Britton, brought on to finish Villone's inning, moved the runner to second on an errant pick-off throw, then gave up an RBI single to Chris Heintz before getting the last two outs.
Slick Plays: Robinson Cano made a nice play ranging in to shallow right on a ball that was a single under Miguel Cairo's glove the other day, then later made a nice throw across his body while ranging toward shortstop to nail Joe Mauer. Alex Rodriguez made a great dive to snag a liner to his right to end the second.
Oopsies: After Chase Wright hit Rondell White with one out in the fifth, Alex Rodriguez flubbed a sinking liner off the bat of Matt LeCroy for an error. On the very next play, Wright flubbed a slow hopping comebacker then made a bad throw to first to load the bases. He then struck out the next two men to strand all three runners. Chris Britton threw a pick-off throw past Andy Phillips at first base in much the same way that Ross Ohlendorf threw one past Mientkiewicz the night before. Chris Basak booted a ball at third base in the ninth.
Ouchies: Wil Nieves threw yesterday and should play in a game this weekend.
Battles: Todd Pratt delivered and RBI single to the opposite field in two at-bats. Ben Davis tripled in his only trip. Andy Phillips hit a weak grounder to third in his second spring at-bat. Chris Britton allowed his inherited runner to score . . . from first base. Jeff Karstens, meanwhile, has pretty much won the battle for sixth starter/long man (9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K). All that remains to be seen is if the Yankees need a sixth starter before someone else overtakes him during the regular season, or if they decide to take a short reliever or extra outfielder north instead of a long man.
Cuts: Phil Hughes, Ross Ohlendorf, Matt DeSalvo, and Chase Wright were reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. Tyler Clippard will pitch in tonight's game and one suspects he'll be reassigned soon after. Hughes says he will focus on improving his changeup in triple-A so that he can feature it along with his fastball and curve, which are both plus pitches. He leaves camp with a 7.71 ERA having allowed 12 baserunners (6 hits, 6 walks) in 4 2/3 innings and struck out just two. Wright was actually the best of the quartet this spring, posting a 1.35 ERA while striking out seven and allowing just two hits in 6 2/3 innings. Of course he did walk five and hit another. DeSalvo, for all of Torre's praise, allowed 11 baserunners in 6 innings and struck out just one. He and Ohlendorf both leave camp with 4.50 ERAs. Ohlendorf allowed 12 baserunners in 6 innings, though most of that damage (5 of the 12 runners) came in his final appearance on Monday.
Notes: Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano will both pitch against the Phillies on Saturday, with Pettitte pitching the first five innings and Pavano taking the last four. Joe Torre will ask Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to have his team hit in the bottom of the ninth even if they're ahead so that Pavano can get that fourth inning in.
Swanie, How I Love Ya
I'm proud to introduce the first Bronx Banter post by Village Voice sportswriter, Emma Span, who will be contributing twice-a-month for us this season. Dig...
By Emma Span
Spring training is a tough time for sports writers or, at least, for me. You want to talk about the games, except they're so utterly unimportant that you often overhear players asking each other who today's opponent is. And at this stage of March, every statement about a player's performance has to be qualified by either "Of course, it's still early" or "It's only spring training" or "Keep in mind he was just out there to work on his change today."
It was especially tough to find legitimate news in Port St. Lucie (home of the Mets and an awful lot of strip malls), so I was relieved to arrive in Tampa. The Mets are a pleasant, friendly, likeable group, but the juiciest news items of the week were Duaner Sanchez arriving late to work a few times and Lastings Milledge cutting his hair; I'm counting on the Yanks to liven things up a little. Plus, there were no other female reporters with the Mets, and until I got to Legends Field on Sunday - where there are several - except for the lady at the hotel desk and the girl at Wendy's, I'd barely even glimpsed another woman in a week. I've never been happier to see Suzyn Waldman.
But if the lack of real baseball news can make spring training frustrating, that relaxation is also what makes spring's odd, enjoyable little moments possible. I've been at this job for about seven months now, and I like to think I've gotten fairly blasé about the locker room scene. But when Reggie Jackson walks by eating a sandwich, nods, and says hi, I realize nope. Not quite used to it yet. A friend of mine rounded a corner last week and came face to face with Yogi Berra in a towel, an experience I'm sure, for various reasons, will prove difficult to forget.
Covering the Yankees will probably always be a little different for me because I grew up watching them though Reggie was before my time. It was all Don Mattingly then, and watching him playing (sort of) first base behind Andy Pettitte in Monday's simulated game was definitely one of the highlights of spring training thus far. [One note: the Yankees announced yesterday that Mattingly's father had just passed away, after undergoing several brain surgeries this week, and Mattingly had left to be with his family. You'd never have known what he was going through by watching him interact with the players on Monday.]
Legends Field, as some of you probably know, has a fenced-in artificial pond on one side, stocked with enormously fat ducks, geese, and a swan -- a very Steinbrennerian touch. As I walked by Sunday afternoon, maybe an hour before the Indians game, I saw Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Bruney, and Scott Proctor grab some bread from a staffer, huddle around the chain-link fence, and start feeding the birds. I'm not sure why, but that tableau completely cracked me up.
Incidentally, I'd always thought swans were supposed to be mean, but Bruney said this one was "sweet," and lonely because it had just lost its mate. See, you learn something new every day here.
Emma Span, formerly of Eephus Pitch, lives in Brooklyn and writes about sports for the Village Voice. She recently began blogging for them at Out of Left Field.
Reds 6, Yankees 3: Confessions of Alex Rodriguez Edition
The Yanks dropped their second straight game for the first time this spring. Andy Phillips and Brian Bruney made their spring debuts, and eight players, five of them non-roster invitees, were reassigned after the game.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Brian Bruney, Mariano Rivera, Luis Vizcaino, Matt DeSalvo, Mike Myers, T.J. Beam
Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Angel Chavez (PR/2B), Chris Basak (SS), Miguel Cairo (PR/3B), Raul Chavez (C), Jason Brown (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Brett Gardner (PR/CF), Jose Tabata (LF), Andy Phillips (DH), Melky Cabrera (PH), Juan Miranda (PH)
Opposition: Two-thirds of the Reds starters and their ace Aaron Harang.
Big Hits: A ninth-inning solo homer by Kevin Thompson (1 for 2), and doubles by Posada (1 for 3), Sardinha (1 for 2), and Cano (3 for 3); Johnny Damon went 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well?: T.J. Beam pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out one. Mariano Rivera pitched around a single for yet another scoreless inning. Brian Bruney made his spring debut and pitched like himself, walking two and striking out two in a scoreless, hitless inning. Luis Vizcaino was victimized by a Doug Mientkiewicz error, allowing one unearned run on that error and a single while striking out one.
Who Didn't: Mike Mussina gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits, including a leadoff Brandon Phillips home run, and a walk in three innings of work. Matt DeSalvo gave up two runs on two hits and two walks in his two innings, though Joe Torre was enthusiastic about his performance, saying after the game that he thinks DeSalvo's "throwing the ball really well" this spring.
Oopsies: Fielding errors by Robinson Cano in the first and Doug Mientkiewicz in the sixth both lead to unearned runs.
Ouchies: Humberto Sanchez (elbow) is expected to throw a bullpen from half way up the mound tomorrow with Ron Guidry looking on, after which he should be reassigned to minor league camp. Wil Nieves (elbow) reported that his X-rays and CAT scan were both negative and hopes to return to action by the weekend. Jose Veras has been shut down with elbow pain of his own and is scheduled to have an MRI today.
Battles: Forgotten man Brian Bruney made a solid debut in the fourth inning against the Reds starters, getting his outs on two Ks and a grounder, though he walked two in his lone inning of work. Joe Torre has backed off his suggestion that the Yankees will fill the final bullpen spot with a long man, suggesting that off days could allow them to use the fifth starter as a long man at the start of the season, but Torre has also said that Bruney might be too far behind to challenge for that final spot out of camp. T.J. Beam, another candidate for that spot, was perfect in his one inning, but pitched against the subs in the ninth. Raul Chavez was pinch-hit for with Melky Cabrera and thus never came to bat. Andy Phillips ground into a double play in his first and thus far only official plate appearance of the spring. He did so pinch-hitting for Giambi in the DH slot, so that GIDP was his only participation in the game.
Cuts: The second round of cuts was again limited to players who won't see the majors this year. They include Eric Duncan, Juan Miranda, Alberto Gonzalez, Brett Gardner, Jose Tabata, Steven Jackson, Jeff Kennard, and Kevin Whelan. Of that bunch, only Miranda, Gonzalez and Kennard are on the 40-man roster, and only Gonzalez is likely to land as high as triple-A come April. Of the eight demoted players, the only one to make much of an impression in camp was Tabata, who lived up to his reputation by leaving major league camp with the team lead in batting average (.462) and on-base percentage (.563) despite being just 18 years old. Gonzalez saw the most action, getting into 11 games and hitting .333 (five singles and a walk), but also undermining his defensive reputation with three errors, one at each of the infield skill positions. Eric Duncan's game winning homer a couple of days ago was his only hit in ten at-bats (he also walked once). On the pitching side, Kennard was unimpressive in his two innings of work and had a dreadful showing in the intrasquad game, while Jackson was terrible in his 3 2/3 innings (9.82 ERA, 4 BB). Whelan allowed just one baserunner (a walk) in 1 1/3 innings, earning the save in each of his two outings. Supposedly Phil Hughes and Humbero Sanchez will be reassigned after throwing bullpens for Ron Guidry tomorrow.
Red Sox 7, Yankees 5
Sure it was Yanks v. Sox. Sure it was tied at 4-4 in the seventh. But it's still spring training. And I'm not saying that just because the Sox touched up a rattled Russ Ohlendorf to win 7-5.
L - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Darrell Rasner, Colter Bean, Russ Ohlendorf
Subs: Juan Miranda (PR/1B), Angel Chavez (2B), Ben Davis (C), Miguel Cairo (RF), Kevin Thompson (CF), Jose Tabata (LF), Bronson Sardinha (DH)
Opposition: The Red Sox full Tim Wakefield lineup (that is, the eight regulars plus Doug Mirabelli).
Big Hits: Chris Basak (2 for 4) tripled leading off the second inning. He's hitting .444/.444/.778 this spring (8 for 18, double, triple, homer), is leading the Yankees in total bases (14), and made a great diving stab at third base last night, showing off his strong throwing arm. Ben Davis picked up his first spring hit in six at-bats with a ringing double to the gap in left. Hideki Matsui and Josh Phelps were both 2 for 4. Phelps drove in two runners in the process and leads the Yankees with 7 RBIs this spring.
Who Pitched Well: In a game in which no one was especially impressive, I'll list Carl Pavano here, in part because, now that he's successfully completed his second outing in an official spring game, I'm taking him of the 60-day DL on the sidebar. In three innings, Pavano allowed two runs on four hits and a walk, striking out two. Really, though, he looked pretty good in the first and third, and gave up both runs with two outs in the second. Not too bad for just his second start. Joe Torre repeatedly says that the results for Pavano don't matter; all that matters is his comfort and health. After a year and a half of inaction on Pavano's part, there's something to be said for that line of thinking, though if he's not getting more guys out come the end of March, that tune's going to change.
Who Didn't: Darrell Rasner didn't make it through his three innings before exceeding his pitch count, yielding a pair of runs on five hits, including a solo homer by J.D. Drew to dead center. Colter Bean let one of Rasner's runners score to tie the game for the Sox before getting his two outs. Both Bean and Russ Ohlendorf had almost too much motion on their pitches, both being very wild inside to righties. Ohlendorf even hit two batters. He gave up three runs on those two HBPs, a walk and a single in an ugly seventh inning, but recovered in the eighth to erase a lead-off walk with a double play and record a scoreless frame. One of the announcers on the YES broadcast mentioned that Joe Torre says that you can always tell when the cuts are coming because the young guys start to press. Indeed, the Yankees are expected to announce a good number of cuts tomorrow. One imagines most of them will be starting pitchers as the major league starters will be working five innings in their next turn through the rotation, thus eating up all of those tandem innings. That logic could be applied to the outings of Rasner, Ohlendorf, and Phil Hughes in the past couple of days, the latter two especially.
Oopsies: With Julio Lugo on first representing the tie-breaking run in the seventh, Russ Ohlendorf threw wild to first base allowing Lugo to move all the way to third. I think that throw might have prompted the "pressing" remark.
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu worked out in the outfield yesterday, taking fielding practice. He continues to swing at soft-toss. He'll be away from the team today, however, as he and Larry Bowa will be attending the funeral of longtime Phillies coach John Vukovich. Humberto Sanchez is said to be making progress, but will likely be optioned in today's cuts. Todd Pratt made his spring debut, catching four innings, but it looked like his heel was still bothering him when he ran. Then again, maybe that's just how a guy who looks like Patrick Warburton runs.
Battles: Josh Phelps drove in a pair of runs with a line-drive single in the first, picked up another hit to go 2 for 4, and looked good on defense. Andy Phillips collected a single and a double in nine at-bats against Andy Pettitte in a simulated game yesterday. He should see real game action today. Todd Pratt went 1 for 3, looked comfortable at the plate, and gave off veteran warm fuzzies in the field, framing pitches nicely, getting Pavano to pitch inside to the Red Sox big hitters, and counseling his pitcher on the bench. Darrell Rasner wasn't as sharp as he had been in his previous two appearances, but his aggregate spring line (2.45 ERA, no walks) still looks good.
Notes: The Yankees will keep Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano on the same day barring further interruption of their schedules. One of the two will pitch in a minor league game when their turn comes due. Assuming that no one will be skipped for next Wednesday's off-day, their spot in the rotation synchs up with Opening Day, which suggests Pettitte will get that assignment. However, that off-day falls on Chien-Ming Wang's scheduled turn. If, rather than pushing everyone back a day, they use Pettitte/Pavano on regular rest on Thursday and leapfrog Wang to Friday, then Wang would be on schedule to start the opener. Either way, it looks like Mike Mussina is out of the running for the honor. Due to the off days on either side of Opening Day, everyone else will be pitching on odd rest in their first start of the season, so breaking up the Pettitte/Pavano tandem by holding one of them back for an extra day won't make much of a difference. My expectation is that the rotation will be Wang, Mussina, Pettitte, Pavano, Igawa to open the season. Though the Yankees don't need a fifth starter until the sixth game, so it could be Wang, Moose, Pettitte, Pavano, Wang, Igawa, Moose etc. Also, the order of the last two men, Pavano and Igawa, is supposedly dependent on their performances for the remainder of March, even though Pavano's is supposedly unimportant.
Incidentally, last night's game gave us a look at how the Red Sox lineup is likely to shake out to start the season. Removing Tim Wakefield's personal catcher from the equation, this is the lineup Terry Francona posted:
R - Julio Lugo (SS)
Jason Varitek will likely slot in before or after Lowell. Quick impressions: Dustin Pedroia is really pressing and could force the Sox to use Alex Cora far more than they want to; Coco Crisp looks like he's going to have a nice bounce back season from his injury-addled Red Sox debut last year.
Rites of Spring
I visited my friend Johnny Red Sox yesterday afternoon. John lives between York and East End on the upper east side, which is, in the words on my late father, "the ass-end of the world." (When my brother lived in Brooklyn, Pop told him it was "the ass-end of the planet." Ben said, "Don't you mean the ass-end of New York?" And Dad replied testily, "You know what I mean." As if there was a difference.) John I and trooped back west to Central Park. It was brisk and windy but very nice in the sun. Most of the grassy areas were roped-off, but eventually we found a spot to have our first catch of the year.
A father and son were there throwing a ball around. Shortly thereafter, two French kids--maybe ten and seven, respectively--showed up with mitts and an old ball. The older one was serious-minded. The younger kid was bored. Neither instinctively knew how to catch the ball, but the older one was trying very hard. I gave him a head-nod at one point, and you could tell he was thrilled by the gesture.
They moved around nervously as the ball came their way and dropped more than they caught. The younger kid kept catching the ball accidently with his bare hand. Nothing about the catch seemed fun for him. But the older kid was insistent. I caught glimpses of what they were doing as John and I threw the ball back-and-forth. I thought about helping them out but didn't and got caught up in conversation with John.
When we took a break, I noticed that the two kids had put their gloves down and were now kicking a soccer ball around. Ah, the International version of having a catch. The little one was zipping around the dirt, enthused. The older one was still serious, but working on some fancy kicking moves. When he booted a ball past the little kid he issued an immediate, "Pardon" (my bad).
There was one infield that was open to the public and we saw two high school kids hitting grounders to each other. One stood at home plate with a mitt on one hand and a bat in the other. He dropped the ball from his glove, and smacked a grounder.
When he got back to John's crib, the last inning of the Yankee game was on and we watched the highly-touted Jose Tabata hit. Did you guys catch that? It was an impressive at-bat. He looked at fastball outside for a ball, swung through a breaking pitch and then was jammed by a fastball that was in on his fists. He took the next pitch outside for a ball, and then looked at another fastball in on his hands, this time for a ball. (I don't recall but he may have also fouled off a pitch or two.) The next pitch was a fastball on the outside part of the plate. Tabata lined it over the right field fence for a home run.
SI.com's Bryan Smith was at the game and e-mailed me later. "Jose Tabata is going to be a star. Love the body on that kid."
Radio Goo Goo
My appearance on Yankee Fan Club Radio this evening can be found here. My segment starts around the 18:50 mark. In it I discuss Phil Hughes and his rough outing in today's game, Carl Pavano, and, briefly, Roger Clemens.
Indians 4, Yankees 3
The Yankees lost their second game of the spring (curiously both were games against the Indians started by Chien-Ming Wang).
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, T.J. Beam, Scott Proctor, Chris Britton, Ron Villone
Subs: Juan Miranda (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (PR/SS), Angel Chavez (PR/3B/2B), Chris Basak (PR/3B), Raul Chavez (C), Ben Davis (C), Jose Tabata (LF), Kevin Thompson (LF/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Josh Phelps (PH), Robinson Cano (PH), Kevin Reese (PH)
Opposition: Seven of the Indians starters including Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, but no Grady Sizemore (who seems to own Wang).
Big Hits: A ninth-inning lead-off, opposite field homer by Jose Tabata. Alex Rodriguez (1 for 2) delivered a two-out RBI-single in the sixth. Bronson Sardinha, a last-minute replacement for Jason Giambi in the three-hole, went 2 for 4. Robinson Cano delivered a two-out, full-count, pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth.
Who Pitched Well: Chien-Ming Wang gave up a home run to David Dellucci in the first, but was otherwise outstanding in his first four-innings outing of the spring. Wang struck out four, including Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, getting the rest of his outs on seven groundouts and a pop up. He tired with two outs in the fourth, issuing a walk after going to three-balls on a batter for the only time in the game and issuing his second ground-ball single of the game, but got the final out on a grounder that ricocheted off Alex Rodriguez to Derek Jeter, who made a great off-balance throw to nail the runner at first. Mariano Rivera allowed his first base runner of the spring on a Josh Barfield double, but retired the other three batters he faced. T.J. Beam got the only batter he faced to ground into a double play to end the seventh in relief of Phil Hughes. Scott Proctor pitched around a single in the eight, striking out two. He continues to look sharp this spring, making good use of his curve. Chris Britton retired the only two men he faced in the ninth and Ron Villone struck out Travis Hafner to finish the frame.
Who Didn't: Phil Hughes had his second rough outing in three spring appearances, this being the by far the worse of the two. Starting off the sixth inning, his stuff looked fantastic--mid-90s heat and a devastating nose-to-toes curve that came in as slow as 70 miles per hour--and he went right after his first two batters, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. Hafner grounded out meekly, but Martinez battled him, eventually singling the opposite way. That seemed to rattle Hughes, who quickly lost that laser-like command that is his calling card. He walked the next batter on four pitches, then gave up an RBI double, a sac fly, threw a wild pitch in the dirt, and issued a five-pitch walk before finally getting out of the inning on a groundout. In the seventh he was greeted by a ringing triple by Hector Luna. His next pitch was in the dirt and Luna was plated on a hard liner to right that Melky Cabrera snagged for a sac fly. Hughes then walked Hafner after going full and gave up another hard single to Martinez before yielding to T.J. Beam.
Oopsies: Brett Gardner hit a bounding seeing eye RBI single in the seventh, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, ending the rally. The oopsie wasn't his, though, it was the umpire's. Gardner was clearly safe. Chris Basak failed to successfully bunt over the tying runs in the eighth, forcing the runner at third instead.
Ouchies: Jason Giambi was a late scratch due to cramps in his calf. He'll start tomorrow night's game against the Red Sox, as will Todd Pratt. Wil Nieves has been shut down due to an inflamed right elbow. He's had x-rays and an MRI (results pending) and is expected to miss about a week. Bobby Abreu (oblique) hit 20 balls off a tee on Saturday and reported no pain. He hit 25 soft tossed balls in the cage today in addition to some more tee work (roughly 50 swings in all according to Joe Torre). Brian Bruney (back) threw a bullpen today and hopes to pitch in a game in the next couple of days. Humberto Sanchez (elbow) played catch on Saturday and hopes to throw off a mound soon.
Battles: Josh Phelps, up with the Yankees down by two, the bases loaded, a lefty on the mound, and one out in the eighth, hit into a rally-killing double play. Raul Chaves was 1 for 1 with a single. Ben Davis didn't get a turn at-bat. Beam, Britton and Villone all pitched perfect partial innings.
Notes: Carl Pavano's absence on Friday night has been revealed to have because of a "severe medical situation" involving his girlfriend, model Gia Allemand. No more details have been made available, but Pavano has said that she's doing well. Last year's NL Manager of the Year, Joe Girardi made his 2007 YES debut, partnered with Ken Singleton. The prospect of a Singleton/Leiter/Girardi booth providing hitter, pitcher, and catcher perspectives respectively is awesome.
Radio Ga Ga
Quick programing note: I'm schedule to be a guest on Yankee Fan Club Radio this evening around 6:20 or so. Follow the link and give a listen. I'll add a link to the podcast/mp3 if, there is one, afterwards.
Yankees 5, Pirates 3
The Yankees continue to get big hits from first basemen with uncomplicated last names. Today, the pride of Florham Park, New Jersey came through with a pinch-hit two run blast to break a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Steven Jackson, Tyler Clippard, Luis Vizcaino, Mike Myers, Sean Henn
Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Andy Cannizaro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Miguel Cairo (3B), Jason Brown (C), Kevin Reese (RF/CF), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Jose Tabata (LF)
Opposition: Just three of the last-place Pirates starters.
Big Hits: Eric Duncan hit a two-run pinch-hit homer in the top of the ninth of Pirates closer Salomon Torres to win it. He was 0 for 8 with a walk before that blast.
Who Pitched Well: Kei Igawa had a strong outing when Ronnie Paulino wasn't at the plate. Paulino touched Igawa up for a two-out double in the first and a two-out, two-run homer in the third. Otherwise, Igawa struck out four and walked none allowing just three other hits, all singles, in three innings, with just two of his nine outs coming in the air. Certainly his outing was a huge improvement over his spring debut. Tyler Clippard kept pace with the rest of the Yankees young arms with two more scoreless innings, allowing his first hit in four spring innings (he still hasn't walked anyone) and striking out one. Luis Vizcaino allowed a hit and a walk while striking out two in a scoreless inning, which seems to be his way of doing things. In four spring innings he's allowed six base runners and struck out five. Mike Myers retired the only two batters he faced in the ninth and Sean Henn struck out his only man to pick up the save.
Who Didn't: Steven Jackson was again unimpressive allowing a run on four hits and two walks in his two innings and striking out no one. He did get five groundball outs and a double-play, however.
Battles: Raul Chavez went 0 for 3, but did gun out Chris Duffy on the bases. Josh Phelps had his first bad day of the spring, going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, though he still managed to drive in a run on a groundout.
Notes: As expected, Pavano returned to the team today. He threw for ten minutes in the bullpen and is schedule to start on Monday against the Red Sox. Andy Pettitte will pitch a simulated game back at Legends Field and Andy Phillips will hit against him with the hope of getting into an actual game on Tuesday. Catcher Jason Brown was on loan from minor league camp. He's a 32-year-old career minor leaguer out of USC who's had a total of 41 at-bats in triple-A, has never seen the majors outside of spring training, and has a career minor league GPA of .226.
Yankees 5, Devil Rays 1: Dov'è Pavano? Edition
Big story of Friday night's game was that schedule starter Carl Pavano did not take the ball. Instead he was excused from the team to attend to an unspecified personal issue. According to the Yankees, Pavano should return to the team this weekend and his departure had nothing to do with an injury or the lawsuit stemming from his August 2006 car crash, which was made public Friday morning but was actually filed two months ago according to Peter Abraham, who broke the story. Joe Torre supported Pavano's decision to attend to the matter and Brian Cashman, while refusing to divulge Pavano's personal business, described it as a "legitimate reason." As with Meat's "heavy legs" during workouts in late February, this would be something of a non-story had it involved any other player (imagine, for example, that it was Jeffrey Karstens rather than Pavano who missed his scheduled turn tonight for personal reasons and was supported by both the manager and the GM--no big deal, right?).
Update: Per Joe Torre's post-game press conference, Pavano came to him with the issue forty minutes before game time, but was reluctant to leave, only deciding to do so after Torre and Guidry insisted it was the right thing to do. He should return to the team tomorrow and could even pitch in tomorrow's game (Torre said that was unlikely since it will be a day game, but wouldn't rule it out).
Undisturbed by Pavano's departure, the Yanks waltzed to a win against the Devil Rays.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Jeffrey Karstens, Chase Wright, T.J. Beam, Kyle Farnsworth, Ben Kozlowski, Jose Veras
Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Chris Basak (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Angel Chavez (PR/3B), Ben Davis (C), Kevin Thompson (PR/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Miguel Cairo (LF), Juan Miranda (PR/DH)
Opposition: Most of the last-place D-Ray's starters.
Big Hits: A solo homer by Jorge Posada (1 for 2), his second of the spring. A double by Melky Cabrera (2 for 3). Doug Mientkiewicz walked twice and singled, his first hit of the spring in his 13th at-bat.
Who Pitched Well: Almost everyone. Jeff Karstens allowed just two hits (including a Jonny Gomes double) and walked none while striking out four over his three innings. Three of the other five outs he recorded came on the ground. Chase Wright traded in those two hits for two walks, also striking out four in 2 2/3 innings. T.J. Beam came on to get the final out of the sixth on a grounder. Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect seventh, striking out two and getting a groundout. Jose Veras gave up a double and a walk in the ninth, but got a grounder and two strikeouts to end the game.
Who Didn't: Lefty Ben Kozlowski had an odd go in his first appearance of the spring, allowing the only Devil Ray a run on two walks and a hit in his lone inning of work. Then again, he also struck out the side.
Ouchies: Todd Pratt caught a bullpen session yesterday and ran in the outfield with no pain. He'll test himself by running the bases before seeing game action. It turns out Bobby Abreu has not been swinging a broom stick, but has been doing twisting exercises and is indeed hoping to swing a bat this weekend. Mariano Rivera's allergies kept him out of last night's game. He threw in the bullpen instead.
Battles: Ben Davis struck out in his only at-bat and is 0 for 5 this spring. T.J. Beam got the out he was asked to get, though he's only pitched two partial innings this spring. Jeff Karstens has now thrown five scoreless innings this spring allowing four hits, walking none, and striking out five. Darrell Rasner, who pitched on Thursday, has thrown five scoreless innings allowing three hits, walking none, and striking out three.
Observations from Cooperstown
By Bruce Markusen
Over the past few days, I've tried to settle on a common theme to the Yankees' spring camp in Tampa, but in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "I've got nothing." I don't want to spill any more ink on the Alex Rodriguez-Derek Jeter courtship, refuse to become tempted by Roger Clemens' game of "Waiting For Godot," and have grown tired of Gary Sheffield's illogical rants from Tigertown. So instead I'll present a smattering of observations on what has taken place at Legends Field over the first four weeks of spring training.
*We're almost ten days into the exhibition season, but no closer to finding out the identity of the new backup catcher. Todd Pratt is hurt, Raul Chavez is a non-factor, and Wil Nieves reminds me too much of John Ramos (a blast from the past). For most of the 1980s, the Yankees searched high and far for a quality starting catcher. Now they're having similar trouble finding a merely competent backup receiver. Is it so crazy to suggest that if the Yankees decide to trade Carl Pavano, they should be happy to receive a second-string catcher in return? If the Rockies, Cardinals, or Mariners were willing to give up a B-level catching prospect for Pavano, Brian Cashman should jump at the opportunity. Anything but another right-handed reliever, of which the Yankees have cornered the market.
*From what little I've seen of Josh Phelps, he looks like he can hitto the tune of 25 home runs if given 450 at-bats. With his tall body and long swing, the Dale Murphy lookalike appears to be the kind of guy who could struggle in a platoon role, but might be more productive playing every day. Right now, there's no chance of him getting those regular at-bats, but that situation could change drastically in Yankeeland. Given Doug Mientkiewicz' recent history of back problems and poor hitting, he'll be out of a job by mid-July. If Phelps is still around by then (and if the Yankees are willing to put up with his stodgy defense at first base), he might be a reasonable stopgap at first base. In contrast, I think Andy Phillips would fare better in a platoon, but I have serious doubts that he would even be able to match Minty's production as an everyday player. And that's a scary thought.
*How come no one told me about the new baseball terminology in place this spring? I've read in more than one place that Bobby Abreu will begin "dry swinging the bat" in a few weeks. Dry swinging? As opposed to wet swinging? When I first heard the term "dry swinging," I immediately thought of Gregg Jefferies' routine of taking a bat into a swimming pool and trying to swing the bat under the water. That's actually a very good way of improving your hand and wrist strength, but I guess we can assume that Abreu won't be doing that. In the meantime, I'm sure someone will fill me in on the real meaning of the new catch phrase.
*Mariano Rivera showcased his change-up the other day against the Reds, striking out former Devil Rays prospect Josh Hamilton with that very pitch. (Here Hamilton is trying to make the Reds' roster as a Rule Five draftee and he has to face Mariano in the middle innings. Gee, thanks, Jerry Narron.) Rivera has worked on the change-up in prior springs, but this is the first time I can remember hearing serious talk that he might actually unveil it during the regular season. Left-handed hitters throughout the American League must be thrilled at the possibilities. They've already been subjected to the stinging sensation of broken bats on inside cutters; now they might have to protect the outside half of the plate against a fadeaway change-up. That's not only unfair, it's downright mortifying.
*Rivera might actually have some help this year. With the additions of Chris Britton and Luis Vizcaino and the availability of Brian Bruney from Day One, the Yankees have their deepest bullpen since the World Championship days. (When was the last time the Yankees had four pitchers who could consistently reach 95 on the gun?) If Scott Proctor's rubber arm can return from last year's pounding and if Kyle Farnsworth can work ahead of the count, the bullpen could be second only to Anaheim in the American League.
*A final thought has to do with the suffocating atmosphere around Legends Field. I know some of the hosts over at MLB Radio who have openly discussed the restrictive air around the Yankees. Even with a new PR director and a new director of stadium security in Tampa, the Yankees still conduct spring training as if it were a penitentiary. Members of the Yankee staff, who walk the premises with cold, unsmiling looks, spend much of their time shooing the media from one location to another. Given such a joyless atmosphere, it's not surprising that the new security director recently booted some fans from box seats at Legends Field, only to realize they were members of Brian Cashman's family. Don't the Yankees realize it's just baseball, and that it's supposed to be fun? As the late Willie Stargell used to say, you're supposed to play baseball, not work it. The Yankee organization could learn a lesson from Pops.
Yankees 5, Braves 3 (10 innings)
The Yankees played their second ten-inning game in as many days yesterday, this time coming out ahead thanks to some more clutch hitting from Josh Phelps.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Scott Proctor, Matt DeSalvo, Colter Bean, Chris Britton, Ron Villone
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Andy Cannizaro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Chris Basak (PR/SS/3B), Raul Chavez (C), Jose Tabata (LF), Doug Mientkiewicz (PH), Kevin Thompson (PH), Eric Duncan (PH), Ben Davis (PH)
Opposition: All but one of the fallen Braves' starters.
Big Hits: An opposite-field home run to lead off the second by Jason Giambi (1 for 3). With the game tied 2-2, Chris Basak (2 for 2) led off the eighth and doubled (though left fielder Matt Diaz booted the ball eliminating what otherwise might have been a close play at second). Josh Phelps (1 for 1) delivered the game-winning RBI single with two-outs in the tenth after having delivered a tie-breaking sac fly in the eighth in his previous at-bat.
Who Pitched Well: Colter Bean slung two perfect innings, striking out two. Bean has allowed just one baserunner in four spring innings, striking out four. Scott Proctor and Ron Villone pitched around singles for a pair of scoreless innings, Villone benefiting from a double-play and earning the save. Matt DeSalvo pitched two scoreless innings, though he did allow four baserunners (a single, a Kelly Johnson double, and two walks).
Who Didn't: Mike Mussina retired the last five men he faced, but he was pounded before that, allowing a pair of runs on four hits in his first inning and a third, including a fielder-assisted Jeff Francoeur homer and a pair of doubles. Even those early outs were hit hard. Chris Britton blew a one-run lead in the ninth on a walk and a triple, vulturing the win from Bean.
Oopsies: Attempting a leaping catch at the wall of a drive to deep right by Jeff Francoeur, Bronson Sardinha tipped the ball over the wall for a home run as the ball bounced out of the webbing of his glove. In the bottom of the ninth, after Scott Thorman drew a one-out walk off Chris Britton with the Braves down by a run, Willie Harris pinch-ran and Raul Chavez overthrew second on Harris's steal attempt, which allowed Harris to reach third before eventually scoring the tying run (though to be fair, Harris was plated by a triple and thus could have scored from first).
Ouchies: Bobby Abreu didn't feel any pain while swinging his broomstick, Humberto Sanchez is soft-tossing on flat ground, and Andy Phillips has returned to camp. Phillips will have to work his way into game shape over the next few days. His 53-year-old mother, Linda, whose car was t-boned by a tractor trailer, has undergone successful surgeries on her shattered hip and pelvis as well as another to alleviate some clotting. She's been off her respirator since Wednesday and, though she's still not fully lucid, she's responsive and stable enough for Andy to return to the team.
Battles: Chris Britton blew the save in the ninth when he allowed a ringing two-out triple of the bat of Tony Peña Jr. Wil Nieves (0 for 2) grounded into a double play to kill a rally in the second, then failed to execute a sac bunt in the fifth. Asked to do the same in the tenth following Jose Tabata's leadoff single, Ben Davis (a famous bunter of sorts), bunted right back to the mound, but benefited from a throwing error by pitcher Steve Colyer which put runners on second and third with none out. Raul Chavez also went hitless in two at-bats and committed a throwing error on a stolen base attempt. Josh Phelps twice came to the plate with the game tied and the go-ahead run on base, and both times drove that run home. With the go-ahead run on third and one out in the eighth, Phelps delivered a sac fly to deep right to put the Yankees up 3-2. With the game tied 3-3 in the tenth, men on first and second, and two outs, Phelps creamed an opposite field single off the wall in right to push the score to 4-3 Yankees. Phelps also had a good day in the field, saving yet another Alberto Gonzalez error with a nice scoop at first base, though he did run into an out trying to go first-to-third on Bronson Sardinha's RBI single to end the rally in the tenth. Thus far Phelps has raked at the plate (.600/.615/1.000), looked perfectly viable in the field, but has proven to be a dreadfully slow baserunner.
Bronx Banter Interview: Joe Posnanski
I sat down with Joe Posnanski, the author of a new book on Buck O'Neil, The Soul of Baseball, recently to talk about all things Buck. (In turn, he interviewed me about all things Yankees at his new blog.) Here is our chat. Hope y'all enjoy.
BB: Buck became a celebrity after appearing in Ken Burns' PBS series. What did he do for the previous twenty years? Was the PBS thing really life-altering for him?
Pos: There's no doubt it changed his life. He was a scout in the '70s and '80s -- mostly for the Cubs, but later for the Kansas City Royals -- and he told most of the same stories. He carried himself in the same way. It's just that people really didn't listen to him much then. I've heard a long interview with Buck from the early 1980s, it was just the Buck people heard a decade later. You can hear all the same joy and optimism and love in his voice. It took Ken Burns to really hear that voice and bring it to America. And it was never the same for Buck after that. Suddenly, he was in demand -- an overnight success at 82, he said.
BB: I was so moved by Buck's reaction to not being elected into the Hall of Fame. Obviously, he was hurt by it, but he recovered--at least on the surface--faster than those around him. Then he told you, "Son, what is my life about?" It wasn't about the glory, it was about the giving.
Pos: That's exactly right. It was so vivid to see the way Buck responded to the Hall of Fame. So many of the other things Buck overcame in his life -- not being able to attend Sarasota High School, not being given the chance to play or manage in the Major Leagues, on and on -- were just concepts in my mind. But here was something I saw first hand, and I know Buck was disappointed that he did not get elected into the Hall of Fame. But he recovered, I think, on the surface and beneath. That's what his life was all about. You move beyond bitterness and disappointment. You embrace life.
BB: You know the famous Satchel Page line about not looking back. Do you think that applied to Buck at all? Do you think he ever had reflective moments of sorrow or anger but just dismissed them and kept moving ahead?
Pos: I can't see how he could be human and not have those reflective moments of sorrow and anger. He dealt with so much injustice in his life ... the worst of America in the 20th Century. But I can tell you this, I was pretty close to him for this book. I mean, you travel a year with someone, and you see them in all sorts of moods. I never saw things back up on him. He was a very spiritual man. And he gained so much from his contact with people. Anytime he seemed to need a burst of energy, he would go up to a stranger and just start talking.
BB: Buck really did need people as much as they needed him, didn't he? I love the story about him taking a break during a hot day, and finding a young boy to talk to, and by the end of their chat, he was revitalized.
Pos: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Buck's connection to people is what kept him so alive and so hopeful about the world through 94-plus years. There is a constant theme in this book, I think. Whenever Buck felt a little tired, a little down -- a little bit "old," you could say -- he would find someone to connect with. Sometimes, like in the chapter you mention, it was a child. Other times it was woman in a red dress or a man in an art gallery or a couple kissing in an airport. He never talked about these things -- it wasn't like he said, "Hey, I need to go talk to some strangers now." He just did it. And it was always amazing to me the way he seemed reborn after connecting with someone.
Yankees1 , Reds 1 (10 innings)
In their first night game of the spring, the Yankees played the Reds to a ten-inning one-run tie, with Bronson Sardinha again coming up with a big ninth-inning hit in a televised game. Roger Clemens soaked it all in from the stands with his son Koby, the Astros minor league third baseman.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Darrell Rasner, Luis Vizcaino, Mike Myers, Jose Veras, Sean Henn
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Chris Basak (PR/3B), Ben Davis (C), Raul Chavez (C), Brett Gardner (CF), Kevin Reese (PR/LF), Eric Duncan (DH), Bronson Sardihna (PH/RF)
Opposition: The surprising third-place Reds' B-squad featuring just three starters led by Edwin Encarnacion.
Big Hits: Alex Rodriguez (2 for 3) led off the second inning with a double that rolled to the wall in center. With the Yankees down by one in the bottom of the ninth, Chris Basak (1 for 2) lead off by yanking a double down the left field line. After Kevin Reese bunted Basak to third in his only plate appearance, Torre sent Bronson Sardinha up to pinch-hit in roughly the same game situation as his game-winning homer on Monday. Sardinha delivered a game-tying single (it could have been a double but he stumbled rounding first). Later in that inning, with Cairo on first and two outs, Josh Phelps (1 for 1) creamed a ball to deep left that hopped over the wall for a grounds-rule double, forcing Cairo to hold up at third with the potential winning run.
Who Pitched Well: Everyone really. Pettitte pitched three scoreless innings, working out of a second inning bases-loaded jam by striking out Javier Valentin with a sharp curve and getting Juan Castro to ground into a double play. Mariano Rivera pitched his second perfect inning of the spring, striking out Josh Hamilton on a changeup, after which he laughingly gestured to Jeter at shortstop, pointing to his eyes as if to say "did you see that?" Darrell Rasner also showed a nice curve over three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out two. Myers and Veras combined to pitch a perfect ninth. Henn added a perfect tenth save for Alberto Gonzalez's third error of the spring.
Who Didn't: Luis Vizcaino allowed the one Reds run on a Joey Votto homer with two outs in the eighth, but otherwise looked sharp, striking out two in his one inning of work, and also showing a nice curve.
Battles: Three scoreless innings by Rasner. A clutch ninth-inning double by Phelps in his only at-bat. Ben Davis flied out in his only at-bat and was pinch-hit for with Sardinha in the ninth. Raul Chavez served only as a defensive replacement in the tenth.
Oopsies: With two outs in the third and the bases empty, Pettitte got Chris Denorfia to hit a slow hopper to third base. Alex Rodriguez gloved it, pumped twice, and uncorked a throw that tailed into the runner. Mientkiewicz caught it, but was pulled off the bag and missed the tag. E-5. Rodriguez was also thrown out at home following his second-inning lead-off double when he then ran through Larry Bowa's stop sign on Hideki Matsui's ensuing single. In the third, Rodriguez took an 0-2 called strike three with two on and two outs. Tough day for the third baseman. After his game-tying single, Bronson Sardinha was thrown out stealing second on the back end of a botched hit-and-run (Cairo swung through the pitch). Alberto Gonzalez, who before last night had made the only two Yankee position player errors this spring, one at second base and one at third, picked up an E-6 in the tenth to complete the set when a hopper skipped under his glove at shortstop. To be fair, he had to range to his left and charge the ball to have a play on it.
Ouchies: In the first inning, Pettitte broke Denorfia's bat with a cutter and the barrel flew back to the mound and knicked him in the ring finger of his pitching hand. He showed no ill effects afterwords. The X-rays on Todd Pratt's heel came back negative, he should return to action soon. Humberto Sanchez is light tossing. Brian Bruney, who has been out with a back and the flue, threw 25 pitches in the bullpen last night and should get in a game by the weekend. Bobby Abreu should be dry swinging a bat this weekend.
Notes: Roger Clemens sat in the stands near the Yankee dugout to watch his buddy Andy Pettitte pitch. He spend an inning on the air with Ken Singleton and Al Leiter (my broadcast dream team) in the YES booth, but didn't betray anything about his intentions for this year (though if you want to try to read into his words, the clip is available on MLB.com). During the game, Clemens was seen talking jovially with Ron Guidry, Yogi Berra, and Reggie Jackson. It's a real treat to see players of that caliber palling around and disseminating wisdom to the current Yankees. Goose Gossage seemed to spend the entire game lecturing Scott Proctor in the dugout. Good stuff.
I fully expect Daisuke Matsuzaka to be more than formidable this season. The Bombers can survive a strong rookie season from him; they'll have cause for concern if Paplebon and Beckett are monsters. Fortunately, Yankee fans up north are staying warm thinking about Phillip Hughes, who is profiled by Jayson Stark today at ESPN.com.
Speaking of chill, the latest round of steriod stories are predictably depressing. Check out Jon Weisman's excellent post on matter over at Dodger Thoughts.
Indians 6, Yankees 5
The Yankees coughed up a 4-2 lead in the seventh and lost for the first time this spring when a ninth-inning rally came up a run short.
L - Johnny Damon (DH)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Ross Ohlendorf, Kyle Farnsworth
Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Andy Cannizaro (2B), Angel Chavez (SS), Alberto Gonzalez (3B), Raul Chavez (C), Kevin Thompson (CF), Jose Tabata (PR/LF), Bronson Sardinha (DH)
Opposition: Something like two-thirds of the Indians starters, including Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Victor Martinez.
Big Hits: Two-run homers by Kevin Reese (3 for 4) and Josh Phelps (1 for 3).
Who Pitched Well: Phil Hughes recovered nicely from his shaky first outing with two scoreless innings, striking out one and getting the rest of his outs on the ground. He allowed a hit and a walk, but only faced the minimum six batters because he picked Dave Dellucci (the walk) off first base in the fourth and followed Hector Luna's fifth-inning single by getting Mike Rouse to ground into a double play.
Who Didn't: Chien-Ming Wang was greeted with a homer by Grady Sizemore on his third pitch. In the third, Mike Rouse tripled off Wang and was plated by a Sizemore sac fly. In his three innings of work, Wang allowed a total of five hits, though he still got two-thirds of his outs on the ground (no Ks). In two innings of work, Ross Ohlendorf struck out three and induced a double play, but also walked one and allowed four hits. Of those four hits, Luis Rivas's double and Michael Aubrey's single followed an Alberto Gonzalez error in the seventh to plate three unearned runs as the Indians tied the game. Kyle Farnsworth allowed a run on two hits in the eighth, which prevented the Yankees' ninth-inning run from tying the game.
Oopsies: Alberto Gonzalez, who committed the Yankees only other position-player error this spring by booting a ball at second, booted a ball at third in the seventh to kick start that three-run Indians rally.
Battles: Josh Phelps's homer was his first extra-base hit of the spring. He's now 4 for 8 with two walks and just one strikeout. Wil Nieves went 1 for 2. Raul Chavez went 0 for 1 with a sac fly to drive in the final Yankee run. If you doc Chavez an at-bat for the sac fly, both he and Nieves would be 2 for 7 with no extra base hits or walks and one strikeout in three games each. Ben Davis and the injured Todd Pratt are a combined 0 for 5.
Soul Brother #1
The award-winning sportswriter Joe Posnanski has just published a book about Buck O'Neil called The Soul of Baseball. Pos followed Buck around for a year. This book is about their time together. It is a wonderful reminder of what a special man Buck was. Here's an excerpt to give you a taste. I'll have a Q&A with Pos up shortly. In the meantime, head on over to your favorite bookshop and grab a copy for yourself.
from The Soul of Baseball by Joe Posnanski
Buck kept coming back to the old woman. Every city Buck had visited that summer seemed hotter than the city before, but this was the heat crescendo Washington roasted. Gnats and flies attacked in the humidity. Buck kept talking about the old woman. She had walked across the street in front of the car, and Buck watched her. She was seventy or so, gray hair, small, she wore a long dress and a silver jacket. She carried two small plastic bags of groceries. She walked slowly, like she was considering whether to turn back.
The woman came upon a puddle in front of the curb, a puddle big enough to have condominiums built around it. Buck said: "Puddles in Washington must be bigger than anywhere else in America. The sewers must be backed up or something." The driver made a crack about sewers and politicians. The woman stood by the puddle a few seconds. She studied it, measured it perhaps. She then seemed to bend her knees and lean forward, as if she intended to jump across. Buck held his breath. Then she shivered, as if a cool breeze had passed through her, and she stood up straight, took one longing glance at the puddle, and made the long trek around.
"Hold on for a second," Buck said to the driver. Buck stepped out of the car and walked up to the woman. He offered to carry her groceries, but she said she could manage fi ne. He said to her, "I saw you standing there by that puddle."
She smiled. "Yeah?"
"I thought you were going to jump over it for a minute there."
"You did, huh? I thought about it. There was a time, you know."
"I know," Buck said. "There was a time."
Yankees 6, Tigers 5
Right fielder Bronson Sardinha, the only Yankee to play the entire game, smacked high fastball from ex-Yank Felix "The Run Fairy" Heredia over the wall in right for a a two-run game-winning homer to extend the Yankees' perfect spring record to 5-0.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Jeff Kennard, Mariano Rivera, Steven Jackson, Chris Britton, Tyler Clippard, Scott Proctor, Ron Villone
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Chris Basak (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (PR/SS), Miguel Cairo (3B), Ben Davis (C), Kevin Thompson (CF), Kevin Reese (LF), Juan Miranda (DH), Melky Cabrera (PH), Brett Gardner (PR)
Opposition: All but two of the defending AL Champion's starters.
Big Hits: Sardinha's walk-off blast (his only hit in four at-bats), a two-run homer by Hideki Matsui (1 for 3) off Justin Verlanderm, and a two-out, full-count double by Kevin Thompson (2 for 2, the other hit a bunt single) off Joel Zumaya. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter both went 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well: Mariano Rivera worked a perfect third inning in his spring debut, striking out the first two batters he faced and getting a weak hopper back to the mound from the third. Tyler Clippard, also making his spring debut, hit Brent Cleven in the back of the helmet with a two-out 3-2 pitch and was having trouble getting his curve to drop into the zone in the next at-bat, resulting in a couple of high inside pitches to Brandon Inge and some boos from the Tiger fans in attendance, but he otherwise looked powerful and in command, retiring Inge and the other five batters he faced with relative ease. Scott Proctor looked sharp while working a perfect eighth, getting two quick groundouts and a strikeout and working in his curveball.
Who Didn't: In his Yankee debut, Kei Igawa walked three and allowed two hits, using up his allotted 40 pitches one-batter into his second inning of work. Of course, he also struck out the side in the first amid all those walks, limiting the damage to just one run. Unlike Phil Hughes, Igawa didn't look nervous, he just looked rusty. After the game he said his performance was not unlike his early preseason performances in Japan. Joe Torre added that the balls used in the early part of the game were too slick and that the balls used later on had been rubbed up better. In to finish the second for Igawa, Kennard got two line-drive outs to left field then hit Gary Sheffield and walked two other batters to force in Igawa's baserunner. Steven Jackson didn't make it through his two innings, allowing three runs on five hits and a pair of walks and getting pulled with two-outs in the fifth.
Battles: Josh Phelps only at-bat came with the Yankees down to their last out and trailing by one. His single off lefty specialist Heredia set up Sardinha's game-winning homer. Ben Davis flied out in his only at-bat. Chris Britton got the only batter he faced to fly out.
Ouchies: Wither Todd Pratt? He's been shut down due to an inflamed left heel. X-ray results are expected today. Bobby Abreu will start taking some practice swings with a broomstick.
Health Updates: Andy Phillips' mother has been taken off her ventilator, is breathing on her own, and will undergo surgery on her pelvic bones today, all of which are good signs. According to Andy Pettitte, who has been keeping in contact with his namesake, Phillips "sounds upbeat." Bobby Murcer will not join the YES team for spring training, but still plans to return to broadcasting during the regular season. You can listen to Murcer's conference call with reporters over on LoHud.
Hey Look At That Shot...
They've got it really groovin',
Anyone remember that old Yankee jingle for WPIX? I hadn't heard it since I was a kid but found it on YouTube the other night. The horns used to get me jacked-up. I never could figure out what they were saying after "groovin," but I remember something about a horse. "Whacking-that-horsehide-harder," I said to Emily after I played her the clip. "I wonder who came up with that one?"
"Someone who was clearly sexually frustrated," she replied.
On 11 Alive!
Oh, and while I was at it, I found an old ad for the Reggie Bar too.
Yankees 10, Phillies 5
Once the legendary Cole Hamels left the game, the Yankees broke out the whoopin' sticks to run their spring record to 4-0. The deets:
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Jeffrey Karstens, Chase Wright, Jose Vizcaino, Colter Bean, Mike Myers, Kevin Whelan
Subs: Juan Miranda (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (PR/2B), Chris Basak (3B), Raul Chavez (C), Bronson Sardinha (PR/RF), Kevin Reese (PR/CF), Eric Duncan (DH)
Opposition: The second-place Phillies' starters.
Big Hits: The Yankees got fifteen hits, but just one went for extra bases, that being an RBI double by Kevin Reese (1 for 2, BB); Melky Cabrera broke an 0 for 8 by going 3 for 3 and Bronson Sardinha went 2 for 2 giving the Yankee right fielders a combined 5 for 5 day.
Not Invited to the Party: Jason Giambi and Eric Duncan both went 0 for 3 to give the DH spot a combined 0 for 6. Alberto Gonzalez and Doug Mientkiewicz were the only other Yankees without hits, both going 0 for 2. Mientkiewicz is 0 for 6 with two walks in his three starts this spring.
Who Pitched Well: Jeff Karstens pitched two scoreless innings allowing just two hits (one a Pat Burrell double) and striking out one, he even got two groundball outs. Colter Bean pitched another scoreless inning allowing one hit and striking out one.
Who Didn't: Mike Myers couldn't close the door, allowing two runs on a walk and three hits in the ninth, but only getting two outs. Kevin Whelan came on to get a grounder for the final out.
Battles: Karstens outpitched Pavano, holding his own after the solid outings of Rasner and Ohlendorf. Nieves went 1 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI, he also gunned out Jimmy Rollins on the bases. Raul Chavez went 1 for 2 with a pair of RBIs.
Ouchies: Carl Pavano successfully pitched his two innings without incident. If he does it again on Friday, I'll take him off the 60-day DL on the sidebar. His line: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 0 HR. Incidentally, Chase Wright did the same later in the game, but added a strikeout. Humberto Sanchez was supposed to pitch today, but the Yankees are being cautious with him. Lefty non-roster invitee Ben Kozlowski, who suffered an abdominal strain a week or so ago, is back in action.
Oopsies: Alberto Gonzalez booted a ball at second base, adding to Mike Myers' troubles. It was the first error by a Yankee position player this spring (Ron Villone made a throwing error in Friday's game).
Notes: It's been reported by both Peter Abraham and Jim Baumbach that Don Mattingly makes out the spring training lineups. After four games, all of the Yankees' starters have made three starts save for Jorge Posada who's made two, and Bobby Abreu who's made none due to his oblique injury. Playing in Abreu's place, Melky Cabrera has been the only Yankee to appear in all four games, starting all four. The non-starters who have started thus far have been: Josh Phelps (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B, SS), Angel Chavez (3B), Will Nieves (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), and Jose Tabata (LF, DH). I'm surprised to see Tabata, an 18-year-old who spent all of last year in the Sally League, get so much playing time. It shows you how high the organization is on him. Thus far he's gone 2 for 8 with a pair of walks (that's a solid .400 OBP), three Ks, a run scored, and an RBI.
Yankee 4, Pirates 3
A three-run eighth inning rally delivered the Yankees' third spring victory in as many games, with the youngsters who combined to produce the winning run being part of the first round of cuts afterwards.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Matt DeSalvo, Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Henn, Jeff Kennard, Jose Veras
Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Andy Cannizaro (PR/2B), Ramiro Peña (SS), Marcos Vechionacci (PR/3B), Ben Davis (C), Francisco Cervelli (C), Brett Gardner (CF), Kevin Reese (PR/LF), Angel Chavez (DH)
Opposition: The last-place Pirates B-squad.
Big Hits: A solo homer by Posada and doubles by Matsui and Thompson (both 1 for 2 with a walk); in his only at-bat, Vechionacci singled home Peña for the winning run with one out in the eighth.
Who Pitched Well: Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect fifth.
Who Didn't: No one pitched especially poorly, but collectively the other five pitchers allowed 13 baserunners in eight innings and recorded only one strikeout. Mussina, DeSalvo, and Kennard each allowed a run, Moose on a home run by Brad Eldred.
Battles: Phelps walked and singled in three trips, but he was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double when the ball after seeing the ball ricochet of third base. Ben Davis went 0 for 2.
Cuts: After the game, the Yankees demoted the game-winning infield combo of Marcos Vechionacci and Ramiro Peña, two slick fielders who will spend the season trying to hit their way out of A-ball, catchers Francisco Cervelli, P.J. Pilittere, and Omir Santos, and righty starter Steven White. Cervelli did not get a turn at-bat in yesterday's game and Pilittere, Santos and White saw no game action at all. White, who is still working his way back from a tweaked neck, threw a bullpen session from half-way up the mound yesterday and received praise from Guidry and Torre on his way to minor league camp. He's expected to throw from the top of the mound in his next session. All of the reassigned players were non-roster invitees.
Notes: Yesterday's game was the first of six broadcast on WCBS radio. Since all regular season games are on WCBS I don't indicate it on the sidebar, but since only five more of the spring tilts will be narrated by the dulcet tones of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, I'll indicate the radio broadcasts in the upcoming schedule. Today, Carl Pavano pitches for the actual Yankees for the first time since his infamous butt-bruising inning last spring.
Yanks 3, Devil Rays 1
The Yanks remain undefeated and the Yankee starters remain perfect through four spring innings. The details:
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Darrell Rasner, Scott Proctor, Chris Britton, Ron Villone, Colter Bean, Kevin Whelan
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (2B), Andy Cannizaro (SS), Chris Basak (3B), Todd Pratt (C), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Kevin Thompson (LF), Eric Duncan (PR/DH)
Opposition: The last-place Devil Rays' starters followed by a full compliment of subs.
Big Hits: Chris Basak's three-run, eighth-inning homer was responsible for all three Yankee runs. Alberto Gonzalez, subbing at second after subbing at short in the opener, went 2 for 2. Jason Giambi (0 for 1) drew his third walk in four spring plate appearances.
Who Pitched Well: Andy Pettitte pitched two perfect innings, recording one K and three groundouts on 20 pitches (15 strikes). Darrell Rasner followed by allowing just one hit in two shutout innings, recording a K of his own and getting four of his remaining outs on the ground. Colter Bean pitched a perfect eighth inning, striking out one and getting two groundouts. Chris Britton allowed one hit while otherwise matching Bean's performance.
Who Didn't: Ron Villone gave up a pair of hits and made a throwing error in his one inning, resulting in the only Devil Ray run. Ironically, he earned the win when Basak homered in the following frame.
Battles: Following strong performances by Jeff Karstens in the intrasquad game and Ross Ohlendorf in the opener, Darrell Rasner turned in one of his own. Wil Nieves and Todd Pratt both went 0 for 2. Josh Phelps went 1 for 2. His hit was creamed off the left-field wall, but ricocheted back so hard that he was held to a single.
Notes: Today's 1:15 start against the Pirates at home will be WCBS's first Yankee broadcast of the year. The station just signed a multi-year extension with the Yankees.
By Bruce Markusen
Throughout the year, we'll be spotlighting a variety of historic baseball cards at Baseball Toaster. Some will feature former Yankees, and most will be from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. We'll discuss some of the intricacies of the cards--and the players featured on them. We hope you enjoy them.
I started collecting baseball cards in 1972. That was 35 years ago, though it seems more like three and a half. I remember well my first trip to Gillard's Stationary Store in my hometown of Bronxville, New York. My first card, the one that was on the top of the pack I purchased, featured Dave Cash of the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. That seemed to be pretty good luck to me, obtaining the card of an everyday player for the best team in baseball.
It wasn't until many years later that I happened to pick up another card that turned out to be a favorite of mine, No. 692 in that old Topps set. Back then, Topps issued cards in series, with the high-numbered cards usually released sometime in August. By then, most of us had moved on to collecting football cards for the upcoming NFL season. So I never even saw Curt Blefary's high-numbered action card that year. I didn't pick it up until I had started to become a serious collector, buying it for a few dollars from a local baseball card dealer sometime during the 1980s.
Why did I like that Blefary card? First, it was an action card, which was fairly rare back then. In 1972, Topps heralded every one of its action shots by surrounding it with a bold red border, topped off by the words, "In Action," near the top of the card. Second, I loved the Oakland A's of that era, the height of Charlie Finley's green-and-gold dynasty. And third, Blefary was a former Yankee, always my most favored team.
If You Want My Body...
Yo, I just thought this was too funny:
"I felt kind of sexy up there today and I don't know why," [Jason]Giambi said. "I usually look to get hot the last week of the spring."
I wonder if Tank Pratt ever feels sexy.
Spring Opener Game Wrap
Using my standard spring format, which I hope to apply to all of the Yankees spring training games this March, here's the recap of today's opener. Check out the previous post for the liveblog blow-by-blow.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
(according to Jim Baumbach, class clown Johnny Damon looked at the lineup and cracked "are we even trying?")
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, T.J. Beam, Ross Ohlendorf, Luis Vizcaino, Mike Myers, Jose Veras
Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Marcos Vechionacci (3B), Raul Chavez (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Kevin Reese (LF), Jose Tabata (PR/DH)
Opposition: The reigning AL Central Champions B-squad, just two notable hitters (Morneau, Cuddyer), and no quality major league pitchers.
Big Hits: Homers by Giambi (a two-run shot, 1 for 1, 2 BB) and Damon (leading off the game, 1 for 3, K), a bases-loaded RBI single by Posada (1 for 1, BB)
Who Pitched Well: Wang retired all six batters he faced, five on ground balls, and needed just 19 pitches to do it. Only ten of those pitches were strikes, however, and both he and Posada said after the game that he was wild up in the zone. He gets better? Ohlendorf looked sharp in his two innings, pitching around a pair of singles, one a well-placed grounder, the other a blooped jam shot over second. Four of Ohlendorf's six outs came on the ground and one was an infield popup. Joe Torre enthusiastically described him as "real polished" after the game. Vizcaino, Myers, and Veras also looked good against the Twins' subs.
Who Didn't: Golden Boy Phil Hughes was anxious, overstriding by his own admission, and likely overthrowing. His laser-guided control deserted him and his lethal curve either hung or missed wildly. He used up his 33 pitches in 1 1/3 innings walking two, allowing a double to Michael Cuddyer, and throwing a wild pitch that moved Cuddyer to third, from which he scored after Hughes' departure. Hughes did get the reigning AL MVP to take a perfectly placed strike three to end his outing. Hardly a disaster by any stretch, but a disappointment given both the hype and what I've seen of Hughes with my own eyes in the past. T.J. Beam allowed that one run to score in the process of allowing as many baserunners as outs recorded.
Ouchies: Carl Pavano had a successful bullpen, reported no problems with his bruised foot, and will make his scheduled start on Sunday. Raul Chavez, all the way back from his broken hand, played half of the game behind the plate. He and Giambi, who had off-season wrist surjery, appear to be 100 percent.
Battles: Hughes made a case for starting the year in triple-A by showing some butterflies on the mound. Ohlendorf has injected himself into the emergency-starter picture along with Rasner and Karstens. Chavez was the only backup catcher to see action and went 1 for 3 with a single and a K. In the field he showed off his arm by throwing behind Twins' lead-off man Denard Span and almost picking him off. Josh Phelps walked in his only at-bat and got the job done in the field. Andy Phillips, meanwhile, has left the team to be with his mother who was in a serious car accident. Last year Phillips' wife was undergoing chemotherapy during spring training. His wife is doing well. Here's hoping we can soon say the same about his mother.
One of the joys of baseball is the way it works its way into your life, be it the daily routine of watching the ballgame after work or on a lazy weekend afternoon, the seasonal shift from fresh, optimistic Aprils, to the brutal dog days of August, to the crisp, suspense-filled pennant races and playoffs of September and October, or the annual renewal that comes around each spring. As I begin my fourth full season blogging the Yankees, I've found that similar patterns have emerged in my work. Each spring there are two posts I look forward to with particular enthusiasm. The first is my breakdown of Yankee campers (2004: NRIs and 40-man, 2005, 2006, 2007). The second is my live blog of the first spring training game. In 2004 I actually blogged the third spring game due to the YES Network's broadcast schedule (running upstairs to my desktop between innings to do so). In 2005 I blogged MLB.TV's free-broadcast during a slow day at work in what proved to be the penultimate post on my Big Red Blog. Last year I was reduced to blogging YES's 7pm replay of the spring's opening game, though thankfully with convenience of a laptop.
This year, however, I'm doing this in style. I've taken the day off and am home with my laptop and DVR humming, a two-liter of Coke and a one-pound bag of Bauchman's sourdough "nutzel" bites at the ready, prepared to transmit as much of the action as time and my fingers will allow. All updates will appear in this post (I'm currently updating after each plate appearance at minimum). With that, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present 2007 New York Yankees baseball!
When I was growing up, my grandparent's lived on 81st street, directly across from The Museum of Natural History. Their apartment served as a homebase for my father at various times, and I was often dispatched to Zabars, the specialty food shop, just a few blocks away on Broadway. I was usually asked to get the same thing: a beef salami and a seeded rye, sliced (must be seeded, must be sliced, I learned the hard way). The salamis hung above the meat counter and you had to take a number before being served.
One time, when my twin sister Sam and I were 12 or 13, we were standing on line facing the counter, when we heard two excited voices from behind us. They were discussing all of the treats behind the glass counter. In a nifty bit of timing, we both turned our heads around slowly, and who should we see but Danny Devito and Rea Pearlman. I think we may have had an inch on them, but we were essentially looking at them eye-to-eye. Just as our heads were completely turned, facing them, they stopped talking, looked up at us, and gave us a big smiled. They waved, which was comic because they were standing about two feet away. We turned our heads slowly back around, looked at each other and shrugged.
Zabars is still around of course (it practically takes up the entire block now). I stopped in earlier this week and was nearly floored when I got to the deli counter and found that there were no salamis hanging above it anymore. It made me think of my father. They still sell beef salami, but it just isn't the same. Such is life in the big city. But I did feel better--at least somewhat comforted--after reading Alex Witchel's piece in The Times yesterday. Hey, I'm thankful that Zabars is still here--and it's not likely to go anywhere for at least a minute.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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