Monthly archives: March 2008
Go Away, and Come Back Tomorrow
The game was been postponed until tomorrow night. A major drag for all those fans who schlepped up to the Bronx and stood around in the rain. Now, they wouldn't have wanted to schedule the series in Toronto to begin with, no that would have made too much sense.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays
2007 Record: 83-79 (.512)
Manager: John Gibbons
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Rogers Centre
Who's Replacing Whom:
Scott Rolen replaces Troy Glaus on the DL
Opening Day Roster:
1B - Lyle Overbay (L)
R - Shannon Stewart (OF)
R - Roy Halladay
R - Jeremy Accardo
15-day DL: R - Scott Rolen (3B), L - B.J. Ryan
R - David Eckstein (SS)
The Start of the Ending
This is the sixth Opening Day for Bronx Banter. Since 2003, I've often wondered what life would be for the Yankees without Joe Torre, and, more significantly, what'd be like without George Steinbrenner. In way, we are entering the new season, the last for the House that Ruth Built (and the good people of NYC rennovated in the mid-seventies), without either man. Torre has moved to the west coast to lead the L.A. Dodgers, and the Boss has been quietly removed from the public eye, replaced by his two sons, Hank and Hal. This is the end of an era in some regards, and all spring I've felt sad about the pending loss of Yankee Stadium, and the demise of the Boss (man, I never thought I'd say that). There is something really off about Opening Day in the Bronx when Bob Sheppard isn't in the house.
Of course, there is plenty to be excited about with the team--from Joe Girardi and his staff, to the young pitchers, to the returning stars like Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada and Rivera. Still, I've found myself avoiding reading too closely about the team over the past few weeks. Cliff has done a wonderful job of charting the progress of the team during spring training, and there is no lack of material available (with Pete Abe leading the way). There is so much to read, in fact, that I've almost shut-down in an effort to start fresh today. I want my impressions to be clear and sharp. In order to do that, I found it helpful to step away, ever-so slightly.
I'm also hesitant because on some level, I don't always like the person I become during baseball season: Neurotic. I get so wrapped up in the winning and losing of games that I have no control over that it impacts my sleep, my well-being, my relationship with my wife, you name it. I've enjoyed the winter break from the emotional rollercoaster. Who knows? Maybe I'm maturing...I know I'm far less knuts than I used to be (and maybe this is just wishful thinking). But I also know that the Yankees are the only team that stirs me up like I'm a kid. When I checked on-line last week and saw that the Red Sox had won their first game, I felt a twinge in my gut. Oh, man, here we go again. Then again, that is part of the reason why I love following the Yanks, because, rational or not, the games mean something to me.
Give me a couple of pitches today and I'll be hooked--watching how much Jeter enjoys himself, or seeing Robinson Cano stroking a line drive into the left-centerfield gap, or Johnny Damon poppin' one into the upper deck in right, or just admiring Rodriguez's seemingly effortless swing. These and many other small moments, give me so much pleasure over the course of the long season, that they overwhelm my petty insecurities as a fan obsessed with the results. The play on the field, the injuries, the hard work, all make coming back worthwhile.
Cliff and I will be holding down daily coverage this year, with weekly additions from Bruce, Emma and Will. Hope y'all will fall through and enjoy it with us. (For starters, check out Roger Angell's latest at the New Yorker.)
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
New York Yankees
2007 Record: 94-68 (.580)
Manager: Joe Girardi
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Yankee Stadium (100/99)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Morgan Ensberg replaces Doug Mientkiewicz
Opening Day Roster:
1B - Jason Giambi (L)
R - Shelley Duncan (1B/OF)
R - Chien-Ming Wang
R - Mariano Rivera
15-day DL: L - Andy Pettitte, R - Jeff Karstens, L - Sean Henn
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
The Yankees open the 2008 season with a roster that looks a lot like the one with which they concluded the 2007 season. That may not be the most encouraging sign for a team that finished in second place in its division in 2007, but there are a lot of hidden positives.
To begin with, the Yankees made several significant roster upgrades during the season last year. Roger Clemens solidified a rotation spot in early June, replacing Kei Igawa and Matt DeSalvo; thus, Ian Kennedy replaces not just Clemens, whose performance he's likely to match or even exceed, but the dismal early-season performances of Igawa (7.63 ERA prior to Clemens' arrival) and DeSalvo (5.87 ERA prior to Clemens). On the bench, Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan, and Jose Molina were mid-season upgrades from Miguel Cairo (.246 EqA), Kevin Thompson (.214), and Wil Nieves (.141), respectively. Duncan replaced Thompson on July 20, Molina replaced Nieves on July 22, Betemit was acquired at the July 31 trading deadline, and Cairo was designated for assignment a week later. When Phil Hughes came off the disabled list on August 4, he solidified another rotation spot that had been filled at various times by Carl Pavano (4.76 ERA), Jeff Karstens (14.73 ERA as a starter), Darrell Rasner (solid until he was injured in his third start in this spot), Tyler Clippard (6.33 ERA), DeSalvo (one dismal start), and Igawa in a return engagement (5.97 ERA pre-Hughes). This year, Hughes returns to the rotation as a better pitcher than the one who came back from hamstring and ankle injuries last August still worried about his legs, and is replacing not only his own performance over 13 starts, but that of those various replacement pitchers. On August 7 of last year, the Yankees brought up Joba Chamberlain and made him their primary set-up reliever, which allowed every other reliever other than Rivera to drop down a notch on the depth chart and squeezed out Mike Myers a week later. Opposing hitters had hit .257/.349/.399 against Myers. They hit .145/.202/.229 against Chamberlain. Chamberlain won't be quite that dominant this year for the simple reason that no one could be, but he'll be more effective than any of the short relievers the Yankees used for the first four months of last season, save for perhaps for Luis Vizcaino during the months of June and July (1.27 ERA in 29 games after posting a 7.27 mark in April and May).
In part due to those in-season upgrades, the Yankees went 56-28 over the final three months of last season, a pace which projects to 108 wins over a full campaign. Having upgraded on the fly during the summer, the Yankees then spent the offseason working to keep that roster intact, doling out more than $444 million to do so by signing Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Robinson Cano to long-term deals, re-signing Andy Pettitte and picking up Bobby Abreu's option for this season, inking Jose Molina for two years, going through arbitration with Chien-Ming Wang, and settling with arbitration-eligible youngsters Wilson Betemit and Brian Bruney.
Given all of that, the apparent lack of change on the roster is less of a concern. The bench, rotation, and bullpen should all be better than they were a year ago because of the upgrades made during last season. As for the starting lineup, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are all but guaranteed to see noticeable-to-significant decreases in production given the exceptional nature of their 2007 performances, but there are several other players who can be flagged for improvement.
Bobby Abreu hit .228/.313/.289 through the end of last May, then hit .309/.396/.520 the rest of the season. Abreu hit .349 with a pair of homers and a team-best 13 walks this spring. If he stays hot entering the season, he should easily outpace last year's performance. Similarly, Johnny Damon hit .234/.338/.322 through July 20 of last year, then .319/.369/.493 the rest of the year. Damon was plagued by a variety of nagging injuries in the first half of last season, but once he got healthy, his stats looked a lot like they did in his first year as a Yankee (.285/.359/.482). Keeping Damon healthy is a challenge, but there's ample opportunity for improvement there.
Speaking of health, Jason Giambi missed more than two months of last year with plantar fasciitis and hit just .236/.356/.433, which was roughly equivalent to what the Yankees got out of Doug Mientkiewicz (.277/.349/.440) or what they can expect from Morgan Ensberg this year (.233/.366/.438 the last two seasons combined). This year, Giambi's going to be back in the field, which increases his chance of injury, but also tends to increase his production at the plate. Just looking at 2006, Giambi's last healthy season--which happened to be one split fairly evenly between the two positions--Giambi hit .224/.373/.531 as a DH and .289/.459/.592 as a first baseman. Giambi is 37 and his body has been through a lot over the years, so there's a good chance he's cooked, but he spent most of his time in the field this spring and looked good, hitting .395 with two homers (though, oddly, just two walks), so there's reason to believe that, even if he only gives the Yanks another 300 plate appearances, they'll be more productive plate appearances than the 300 he gave them last year.
Then there's Robinson Cano, who hit .343/.396/.557 in the second half of last season, but just .274/.314/.427 in the first half. Cano's seen this pattern before, as his career OPS is 212 points higher after the All-Star break than before. Cano arrived in camp this year determined to have a first-half similar to his past second-half performances and hit .452. He also went 3-for-3 on the basepaths (Cano stole just four bags in nine tries last season). If Cano can put together a full season reflective of his abilities at the plate, he could make the leap from star to superstar at age 25.
Finally, there's Melky Cabrera. Melky's just 23, but this will be his third season as a major league starter, and it could be a decisive one for his Yankee future. Scranton center fielder Brett Gardner was one of the last cuts in camp and will be breathing down Melky's neck all year, something both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have been rather upfront about in the press. Melky started last year cold and on the bench before finally being given the center field job on June 1 as a result of Johnny Damon's first-half struggles. Melky hit .325/.375/.482 in his first three months in center, but went cold again September. This year he'll be the Yankees' starting center fielder on Opening Day for the first time in his career, and the club will be looking for him to reward their continued faith in him with a breakout season. One positive indicator from spring training: Melky hit .304, drew 7 walks (tied for second best on the team), and struck out just three times.
Another positive indicator for the team is that 98-plus-win Pythagorean record listed above. The Yankees scored nearly six runs per game last year and 76 more than the next most productive offense in baseball. This year, they have a better bench and hope for improvement at five spots in the order. The passage of a season has also allowed them to improve their pitching by starting the year with Hughes, Kennedy, Chamberlain, and Ross Ohlendorf on the major league staff and with last year's Double-A sensations Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and reliever Scott Patterson now waiting in the wings with triple-A Scranton.
None of this means the Yankees will be a better team than they were a year ago, but there's certainly a strong chance that they will be, and it's difficult to believe they'll be any worse, which, considering they won 94 games and the Wild Card last year, is a nice place to start.
In an ideal tuneup for Opening Day, the Yankees beat the Marlins in a well-pitched ballgame by a 4-2 score. The decisive blow came with the Yanks trailing 2-1 in the ninth inning and facing Florida closer Kevin Gregg. Shelley Duncan struck out to start the inning, but Greg Porter walked and Cody Ransom singled. Chad Moeller then hit a three-run, stand-up, inside-the-park homer to give the Yankees the lead and, eventually, the win.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Billy Traber, Mariano Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Bruney, Joba Chamberlain, Ross Ohlendorf
Subs: Shelley Duncan (PR/1B), Cody Ransom (2B), Wilson Betemit (SS), Morgan Ensberg (3B), Jose Molina (C), Jason Lane (RF), Bernie Castro (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Chad Moeller (DH)
Opposition: The Marlins' starters.
Big Hits: A double by Damon (1 for 2, BB), a solo homer by Melky Cabrera (2 for 3) and that inside-the-park homer by Chad Moeller (1 for 1). Jason Giambi was 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well: Everyone. Phil Hughes allowed two runs (one unearned) on three hits and a walk in five innings and struck out four. He still got most of his outs in the air, but he was far more efficient, needing just 69 pitches, and he retired the last ten men he faced in order. Six of the eight members of the Opening Day bullpen pitched (LaTroy Hawkins and Jonathan "Andy Pettitte's Roster Spot" Albaladejo being the exception) and combined they put up this line: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K. Mariano Rivera recorded the only fly out. The pen's other 11 outs came via strikeout or groundout. Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney both struck out the only two men they faced. The two hits were doubles off Billy Traber and Ross Ohlendorf.
Oopsies: A fielding error by Derek Jeter.
Ouchies: A groundball struck Jeter's pinky (I assume the right one, since the left one would have been in his glove) during batting practice. He played in the game, but went 0 for 2, made an error, and came out earlier than the other starters. Still, he's expected to be in the Opening Day lineup despite the bruised finger.
More: Scott Patterson got "a little heated" when he was sent down, but he'll buck up and try to pitch his way back. To me the most interesting part of that article by MLB.com's Bryan Hoch comes at the end:
The right-hander said he developed the mental toughness to deal with successful hitters during the offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League, facing players such as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Castro.
Did he mean Juan Castro? And even if he did, does a 35-year-old with a career .231/.269/.336 line really qualify as a "Major League hitter"? Either way, Miguel Cabrera definitely counts.
Wilson Betemit declined Morgan Ensberg's offer of $5,000 for uniform number 14, so Ensberg will take number 11, which was worn by Chris Woodward during spring training and Doug Mientkiewicz last year. A couple of anecdotes about Joe Girardi. And finally, per Joel Sherman, Brian Cashman "envisions" both Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg starting against the tougher lefties in the league. I imagine that scenario would put Duncan in left in place of the lefty-challenged Bobby Abreu and Ensberg at first base in place of either Giambi or, if Giambi shifts to DH for those games, Matsui. If either of the latter two are in a groove, they won't need the sub, but subbing Shelley in for Abreu against lefties is a good move, though I wonder to what degree Joe Girardi will actually execute that plan.
Yankees Opening Day Roster
The Yankees set their Opening Day roster yesterday. First the expected moves: Jeff Karstens was placed on the 15-day DL, though he's expected to miss at least a month; Nick Green and Jose Veras were sent down, as were Edwar Ramirez and Scott Patterson.
Here's where the surprises come in. Andy Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the bullpen yesterday and is still on schedule to pitch a minor league intrasquad game on Sunday (against Ian Kennedy) and then make a start in the first trip through the rotation in the regular season. However, because he hasn't pitched in a spring training game since March 17 the Yankees were able to put him on the 15-day DL retroactive to that start, thus making him eligible to come off the DL to start the fifth game of the regular season a week from today against the Rays.
With Pettitte on the DL, the Yankees will have an eight-man bullpen and thus have decided to start the season without a long-man. With two extra spots available (Pettitte's and the one expected to be filled by a long-reliever), they are taking two extra right-handed short relievers. Thus Brian Bruney, Ross Ohlendorf, and the big surprise to me, Jonathan Albaladejo will all start the season with the big club, while Kei Igawa and Darrell Rasner will both start the season in the Scranton rotation.
My only complaint is that Scott Patterson should have made the team over Albaladejo, but then Albaladejo will likely get bumped when Pettitte comes off the DL a week from today, so that's likely moot. I'll be curious to see if Girardi renews his desire for long man once the bullpen is down to seven men. If so, it will force another decision. For now, here are your 2008 New York Yankees:
1B - Jason Giambi (L)
R - Shelley Duncan (1B/OF)
R - Chien-Ming Wang
R - Mariano Rivera
15-day DL: L - Andy Pettitte, R - Jeff Karstens, L - Sean Henn
Card Corner--Alex Johnson
When one hears the name "Alex" associated with the current day Yankees, the identity of Alex Rodriguez comes to mind. (Or perhaps even Alex Belth.) Three decades ago, another Alex patrolled the outfield for the Yankees. Though not as talented as Rodriguez, he was very controversial, even more so than the man who has become the lightning rod for the Yankees of the new millennium.
This 1975 Topps card (No. 534) is the only one that depicts Alex Johnson as a Yankee, albeit featuring the airbrushed cap colors of the Bronx Bombers. (The cap, oddly fitted onto his head, matches the oddity of Johnson’s facial expression.) Troubled and talented, Johnson didn’t last long with the Yankees, playing only 62 games for them across parts of the 1974 and ’75 seasons. He missed out on the glory years of 1976 to 1978, which is fitting for a player who never had the fortune of participating in the postseason. At times a productive player—he won the American League batting crown in 1970--Johnson fit the description of a journeyman, bouncing from the Phillies to the Cardinals to the Angels and Rangers, before finishing his career with the Yankees and Tigers. Given his talent, he should have played his entire career in one or two places. With a sweet right-handed swing, brute strength, and the kind speed that allowed him to run home to first in under 3.8 seconds—simply remarkable for a right-handed hitter—Johnson possessed All-Star talent.
Chiseled like a museum statue (think of someone with the build of a Glenallen Hill or Mark Whiten), Johnson possessed the kind of physical force that earned him the nickname, "The Bull." Sadly, Johnson’s repeated confrontations with teammates and the media also brought on such less complimentary names as "Awful Alex" and "Alex The Angry." More than 30 years after his retirement in 1976, that is how Johnson tends to be remembered by most fans.
Johnson didn’t like conversing with sportswriters, whom he didn’t trust. He nicknamed one particularly heavy-set writer "The Oblong Jerk." (For all of his faults, Johnson was intelligent; I mean, how often do you hear an athlete using the word "oblong?") He felt even more strongly about another writer, once pouring coffee grounds into the gentleman’s typewriter. Johnson also criticized official scorers for intentionally tabulating his statistics incorrectly, such as failing to give him proper credit for runs batted in or outfield assists. "One of them in particular is Dick Miller," said Johnson, referring to the Southern California writer who covered the Angels. "I don’t think he can even count when it comes to scoring me."
Johnson’s personality quirks carried over to the playing field. Since he believed that his body would become "stale" if he used excessive amounts of energy, he didn’t hustle to his position in the outfield, making him the anti-Pete Rose. On more than one occasion, he told reporters that "I’m just paid to hit," and that full effort in other parts of the game was simply not necessary. He also paced himself by failing to run hard on routine infield grounders and pop-ups, a habit that became especially problematic in 1971. That summer, "Awful Alex" was benched five times by manager Lefty Phillips for a failure to hustle. Johnson also chose not to partake in one of baseball’s time-honored rituals, refusing to shake hands with his teammates after hitting a home run. "I don’t want to waste time running up and down the bench," Johnson explained, "shaking hands for everything that happens."
In actuality, Johnson suffered from mental illness and would have benefited from counseling of some kind. The Angels probably should have arranged psychiatric service, but that sort of thing just wasn’t done very often in professional sports at the time. So Johnson fell deeper into the cracks, seemingly unable to improve his behavior even as the Angels’ attempts at discipline mounted.
As antisocial as Johnson could be, he could also be kind to the point of being saintly. He once donated $500 to a fund earmarked for his former Angels teammate Minnie Rojas, who had been paralyzed in a horrifying car crash. Not wanting to publicize his charitable effort, Johnson denied making the contribution. From a public relations perspective, Johnson could have used all the good will that the donation would have generated, but all that mattered to him was helping a friend.
Johnson also took time to attend the funeral of his former friend, infielder Hiraldo "Chico Ruiz," who lost his life in a 1972 car accident. The two had become estranged, often arguing with each other during that tumultuous 1971 season with the Angels. Putting hard feelings aside, Johnson was one of the few ballplayers to attend the funeral service for Ruiz.
Based on the comments of friends and family, Johnson’s off-the-field persona was far different from the angry public image that he often portrayed. He could be generous, warm, and considerate. Sadly, the baseball world saw too little of that side.
Since his playing days, Johnson has remained reclusive, rarely granting interviews. I’ve never seen him profiled as part of a "Where are they now?" piece. I don’t know if he’s still "Angry Alex," or if he has found a way to move past that stage of his life. Perhaps only Alex knows.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.
This, That, and the Fourth
Joel Sherman is blogging twice a day for the Post now. One of the most saber-friendly columinsts going, Sherman usually has something interesting to add to the discussion. Peep.
The boys at River Avenue Blues are doing some fund-raising for the Jorge Posada Foundation. Check it out.
Why were the Red Sox so successful last year? This picture from Rays Anatomy offers some insight.
Lastly, check out Eric Neel's takeout piece on Joe Torre over at ESPN:
I expected him to be cool. I'd heard the supremely self-possessed Derek Jeter call him "Mr. Torre," as if kneeling at the feet of an ancient elder, and I'd had Dodgers broadcaster Charlie Steiner tell me, with just the slightest hint of exaggeration, that Torre "is like Neo in 'The Matrix,'" a man capable of moving objects in space with a supernatural flick of the wrist. But what I hadn't quite anticipated is the way Torre's calm confidence seems to radiate, seems available to those around him, like a campfire at which they might warm their hands. Some of that comes from winning four World Series rings; he's quick to say his success buys him time and goodwill with people. But some of it is just this: When you're with Joe Torre, you get the feeling -- though, as a student of postmodern culture and a working writer in the world of sports journalism, I know such things are impossible -- that he might actually be for real.
Last fall, the Indians, and the entire Joe Torre Era already seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?
Shook Ones (Pt II)
This is why Josh Wilker is doing some of the best work out there. Lawrence Taylor scared me as a kid, so did MJ, and later, Pedro and the Big Unit.
The Yankees played their final home game of exhibition season yesterday, prior to which Legends Field was renamed for the Bossman. The Yanks now play a pair of games against Joe Girardi's old team, the Marlins, in the Fish's regular season home, Dolphin Stadium, then head north for the final Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.
As for the game, Kei Igawa gave up a bunch of runs early, the Yanks didn't score much and lost 5-2 to the Pirates.
L - Johnny Damon (DH)
Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens, Scott Patterson, Ross Ohlendorf, Brian Bruney, Josh Schmidt
Subs: Cody Ransom (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (PR/SS), Nick Green (3B), Jose Molina (C), Jose Tabata (RF), Jason Lane (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Jason Brown (DH)
Opposition: The Pirates minus Jason Bay.
Big Hits: Homers by Derek Jeter (1 for 2, BB) and Nick Green (1 for 2) and a double by Jose Molina (1 for 2). No Yankee had a multi-hit game.
Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson had another perfect outing, this one lasting four outs. Patterson has allowed just one baserunner (a double) in 7 2/3 spring innings and struck out seven. Brian Bruney and Ross Ohlendorf both pitched around singles for scoreless innings. Bruney struck out two. Ohlendorf struck out none, but faced the minimum thanks to a Jose Molina pickoff and got his other two outs on the ground. Jeff Karstens pitched around a single for a scoreless 1 1/3 innings and struck out two, but left the game with a groin injury (see below).
Who Didn't: Kei Igawa gave up four runs on four singles, a double, and three walks in 3 1/3 innings, putting the ball back in Darrell Rasner's shoe when it comes to the battle for the long-man job in the Opening Day bullpen.
Oopsies: Morgan Ensberg's third error at first base and a wild pickoff throw by Ohlendorf.
Nice Plays: Molina pounced on Ohlendorf's wild throw and nailed the runner at second. Jorge Posada picked Nyjer Morgan off first base.
Minor Work: Mariano Rivera, Jose Veras, and Jonathan Albaladejo all pitched in yesterday's triple-A contest. Mo worked around a walk, struck out a man, and is set to start the season. Looking at the list of pitchers in yesterday's major league game, I'd say those assignments are confirmation that neither Veras (who gave up two runs in his only inning) nor Albaladejo (who matched Mo's line) is making the 25-man roster, though neither was among the players officially reassigned yesterday (see below).
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw long toss yesterday, will pitch in an intrasquad game on Sunday, and could start the fourth game of the season if all goes well. Karstens did not travel with the team to Miami. He'll stay behind to get an MRI and will likely land on the DL with a groin injury, leaving Darrell Rasner as the last man standing for the long-relief job. Back in the lineup, Johnny Damon (flu) went 0 for 3 as the DH. Brett Gardner needed his lip stitched up after fouling a ball off his face on Wednesday, but otherwise he's fine, though a bit tough to look at. Scott Patterson got hit in the hip by a comebacker, but stayed in the game.
Roster Moves: The Yankees cleaned house when it comes to position players, reassigning Brett Gardner, Cody Ransom, Jason Lane, Bernie Castro, Greg Porter, Chad Moeller, and Jason Brown to minor league camp. That leaves the four expected bench players (Molina, Duncan, Ensberg, Betemit) and Nick Green in major league camp. Per Pete Abe, Joe Girardi said that Wilson Betemit has made the team, which means Green will be farmed out as well. So, though it's still unofficial, you can put that four-man bench in ink. As for the reassigned players, Castro (2B), Ransom (3B), Lane (RF), Gardner (CF), Moeller (C), and possibly Porter (LF) will start for Scranton. I assume catcher Jason Brown will return to his role as an organizational soldier, though every year I expect him to retire and begin his career as a coach.
Yankee Panky # 46: Get In The Game
Please allow me to start the column by saying I miscalculated. I had intended to review the various papers' pullout/special sections on the Yankees, but they will be available this Sunday. Since rosters are complete now, the last vestiges of those sections can now go to print.
In order to truly appreciate those sections — regardless of the quality of writing — think of the planning that goes into it. Editors meet on the content for those sections and begin doling assignments starting from the time they send reporters to Tampa. It's a long, painstaking process.
I'll tie in the reviews with some Opening Day missives in the next column. …
… This week, I wanted to veer off the beaten path (not the "beatin' path," as in "dead horse," or Canseco v. A-Rod: A Juicing and Wife-Ogling Tale), to discuss how various media members view their function in the baseball establishment. But before I do, a quick tangent: Reading about the Red Sox' whining about the Japan trip took me into the DeLorean and the last week of March, 2004. My colleagues and I were on two-week rotations for Spring Training, and I had the final two weeks leading up to the Yankees' exodus to Japan, where they opened the season against the Devil Rays. I actually watched their charter take off from my hotel room.
At any rate, the quotes from various Sox players and coaches were eerily reminiscent of those of Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and a couple of other Yankees who vocalized their disdain for the long haul across the International Date Line. There was concern of how the trip would affect the team long-term for the season. The first three weeks of April were terrible; the Yankees went 8-11 in their first 19 games, including a 1-6 mark against the Red Sox. An eight-game win streak ended the first month of the season and bled into May, and set the tone for a 101-61 record that included 61 come-from-behind victories.
But the early effects of the Japan trip were still talked about on Sept. 30, the night the Yankees clinched the AL East on a game-winning home run by Bernie Williams. As I was scampering through the clubhouse, steno pad in hand trying to avoid a champagne shower that would have ruined my notes, I recall one local television reporter introducing a question to Mussina (and I'm paraphrasing): "Moose, it's been a long season, you've been outspoken about the Japan trip and voiced your complaints, etc. …" To which Mussina replied, "Complained? You've been here like 10 minutes all year, how do you know?" Now while I may not be the biggest fan of Mussina, especially in his treatment of media members, I thought this was hilarious and if I were in his position, I can't say I'd have reacted differently. I'd love to find out if something similar occurs in Boston later this year. That would be hilarious.
To the point of the column: media members' opinions of their place in the game. In her most recent column, ESPN.com Ombudsman (Ombudsperson?) Le Anne Schreiber interviewed many ESPN reporters and analysts about how they juggle their multiple roles, specifically the injection of opinion when serving as guests on ESPN Radio programming, SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, etc., compared to managing their "objectivity" in reporting. It's an old-school/new-school debate that's raging in Journalism schools, going back to when I was in college, and there isn't a real answer.
I found the last half-dozen paragraphs most interesting. Schreiber discusses Steve Phillips' role in the Mitchell Report analysis, which led to the question of, "How much are the media and other non-players a part of the game?"
I found Olney's quote astonishing. If he, or any other writer, doesn't consider himself part of the institution of baseball, then the institution of baseball should not give members of the BBWAA such elevated status. Remove the writers' wing from the Hall of Fame. Don't allow them to vote for any regular-season honors. Writers are an integral part of the game's culture, makeup and have helped develop some of its vernacular. When I worked at YES, I wasn't around the team every day. For my first three years there, until I cut back my game assignments, I worked roughly 50+ games a year on-site and at least 100 more on the editorial side. I felt like I was part of the game because my summaries, columns, etc., were helping shape fans' views of the team. On a different level, when I did TV and radio play-by-play for my college sports teams, I didn't feel like I was a part of the team, but I was a part of the game. I was an element of the way people received information on the game.
What do you think? Are writers, broadcasters, front office members, owners, etc., separate from the Institution of Baseball? Is Phillips right? Is Olney?
I'm curious to review your comments.
Until next week …
Living in the Future
Brett Myers and 22-year-old righty Andrew Carpenter shut out the Yanks 4-0.
L - Brett Gardner (CF)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Ohlendorf, Joba Chamberlain, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Chris Woodward (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Jose Molina (C), Bernie Castro (PH/CF), Nick Green (PH), Greg Porter (PR), Carlos Mendoza (PR)
Opponent: The Phillies' starters.
Big Hits: Robinson Cano went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles. Bobby Abreu walked twice in four trips. The rest of the Yankee hitters reached base just four times on two other singles and two other walks.
Who Pitched Well: Billy Traber retired the only two men he faced. Those two men happened to be lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the latter of whom struck out. Ross Ohlendorf pitched around a Geoff Jenkins double, striking out two in the sixth. Joba Chamberlain faced three batters, walking one, striking out one, and getting the third to ground out.
Who Didn't: A bad second inning ruined Chien-Ming Wang's outing. Wang allowed four runs on six singles and two walks in his five innings, but all four runs, four of those singles, and one of the walks came in the second inning. Things were worse than they should have been in that frame as Wang induced two double-play balls, but due to misplays by Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez (the latter Alex Rodriguez's third error of the spring) only got one out from them. Brian Bruney only retired half of the four men he faced, allowing a double to So Taguchi and a single.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw 36 pitches in the bullpen and said he felt good. He's on target to make a minor league start on Saturday and start Game 3 of the regular season, though he'll have to throw another bullpen today to stay on target. Brett Gardner fouled a ball off his face. Bloodied, he came out of the game immediately and headed to the dentist for x-rays. Johnny Damon missed the game as he continues to struggle with the flu. Don't be surprised if you start hearing about other players battling the flu in the coming days (Pete Abe reports Shelley Duncan and Jeff Karstens aren't feeling so hot . . . easy fix on the latter: send him to minor league camp).
Minor Work: Pitching for Tampa, Mariano Rivera tossed a perfect inning and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless one, but allowed two hits.
Roster Moves: As predicted by Chad Jennings, Sean Henn has been placed on the 15-day DL with tendonitis. Nick Green chose not to opt out of his Yankee contract, but the Yanks did reduce their futility-man glut by releasing Chris Woodward. Analyzing the battle for the final bench spot two weeks ago, I wrote, "We'll get our first big lesson on Joe Girardi's decision making when he's forced to choose between Chris Woodward and Morgan Ensberg, a choice which should be obvious." Well, with four days left in camp, Ensberg's on the 40-man roster and Chris Woodward is looking for a new team. I couldn't be more impressed.
More: Gardner got the start because Damon was sick and Melky Cabrera stayed behind in Tampa for some sliding practice. Legends Field becomes George M. Steinbrenner Field today. Porn enthusiast Hideki Matsui is getting married.
The Last Five Minutes of Jose Canseco
Pat Jordan has a funny story about chasing Jose Canseco for a magazine profile over at Deadspin:
I have been pursuing Jose, like the Holy Grail, for three months now, trying to nail him down for a magazine profile he'd agreed to do in January, partly because, as his lawyer/agent had told me, "Jose's on the balls on his ass," and partly because Jose was trying to interest a publisher in his second steroids-tell-all book, which existed only as a two page proposal of typos that had yet to interest any publisher. This second book would be titled "Vindicated," and it would "encompass approximately 300 pages and will require six months to complete."
Uh, and nice zinger to end the piece, right? One commentor on Deadspin said you could just skip the entire story and go right to the last line and that pretty much sums it up. Yow.
Coffee and TV
I figure many of you, being sane and intelligent people, probably missed the official start of baseball season--live from Japan, at 6 a.m., Red Sox-A's--but I had to write about something, and damned if I have anything left to say about spring training. My viewing didn’t go quite the way I planned, as I fell asleep on the futon sometime during the second inning and woke up hours later to the grating laughter of Mike and Mike. Fortunately my TiVo knows me better than I know myself.
“I remember standing on the field with Joe Torre, who I’ve known for about 50-plus years, and he looked at me and I looked at him. And he said, ‘Did you ever think we’d be standing on a field in Beijing, about to play Major League Baseball?’ And I said, ‘No.’”
A born raconteur, that man.
A Tale of Two Seasons
The season has begun. The season has not begun.
On the other side of the world from where the A's and Red Sox kicked off the 2008 season, the Yanks got to Paul Byrd, but a pair of three-run homers by the Indians were enough to beat the Yankees by a 7-5 score.
L - Johnny Damon (DH)
Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Scott Patterson, Kyle Farnsworth, Darrell Rasner
Subs: Shelley Duncan (1B), Nick Green (2B), Chris Woodward (SS), Morgan Ensberg (3B), Greg Porter (C), Chad Moeller (RF), Brett Gardner (RF/CF), Bernie Castro (PR/LF), Jason Lane (DH)
Opposition: The Indians starters save for Casey Blake.
Big Hits: Doubles by Jose Molina (3 for 4), Jason Giambi (2 for 4), and Robinson Cano (3 for 4), the last of whom had two of them.
Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson struck out the only man he faced to end the fifth inning for Ian Kennedy. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a single for a scoreless sixth, two of his three outs coming on the ground.
Who Didn't: Kennedy walked four and gave up a three-run homer to Ryan Garko with two outs in the first. All four runs Kennedy allowed in his 4 2/3 innings were unearned (due to an error by Melky Cabrera), but three of the five hits he allowed went for extra bases. He was also inefficient, needing 91 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings and throwing just 53 percent of those for strikes. Darrell Rasner may have handed the long-relief job to Kei Igawa by giving up a three-run home run to Andy Marte with two outs in the in the eighth with the Yankees holding a slim 5-4 lead. Rasner had worked a scoreless seventh, but allowed four baserunners in his two innings, Marte included.
Oopsies: Fielding errors by Cabrera in center and Chris Woodward (his third of the spring) at shortstop.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte played catch (42 tosses) today and will throw a bullpen tomorrow. If all goes well, he'll start a minor league game on Saturday and start the third game of the season, simply swapping spots with Mike Mussina, who will start the second game. Johnny Damon went 0 for 4 as the DH after missing Monday's game due to the flu.
Roster News: Per Chad Jennings, Sean Henn will likely start the year on the DL with biceps tendonitis (which explains why he has barely pitched in camp). That also allows the Yanks to avoid having to pass Henn, who is out of options, through waivers. Instead they can hold on to him on the DL and get him back to the minors via an eventual rehab assignment. Nick Green can opt out of his Yankee contract tonight and likely will. He's fourth in line for the Yankees' utility spot at best.
Tokyo: It's a shame it started at 6 a.m. EST (or 3 a.m. PCT), because the A's and Sox played a gem of a game in Tokyo to start the 2008 season. The no-name A's scored a pair against hometown hero Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first and just kept putting men on against him, drawing five walks off the Sox starter, but Matsuzaka battled and locked it down. A's starter Joe Blanton then tired in the sixth and coughed up three runs to make it 3-2 Sox, but the A's then jumped right back in in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run dinger by Jack Hannahan, who is filling in for the still-injured Eric Chavez, off Kyle Snyder. The A's got the ball to closer Huston Street with a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, but Brandon Moss, who was literally a last-minute replacement for an achy J.D. Drew in right field, tied it up with a solo homer. The Sox added two more off Street in the tenth, but the A's rallied in the bottom of the tenth against Jonathan Papelbon, only to be outdone by an Emil Brown baserunning mistake that turned a one-out/man-on-second situation into a two-out/none-on situation with the A's having closed to within one run. The A's sloppy play was their undoing throughout the game, while the play of the game was a leaping catch at the wall in dead center by Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury. Three hours and 39 minutes is too long, and the Red Sox did get the win, but otherwise, here's hoping all the games are that good this year.
Yanks Mash, Relievers Cut
The Phillies made four errors and J.D. Durbin gave up six runs in the fifth inning as the Yankees beat the Phillies 13-4.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Billy Traber, Mariano Rivera, LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Bruney
Subs: Wilson Betemit (1B), Chris Woodward (PH/2B), Nick Green (PH/SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Jason lane (PH/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Hideki Matsui (DH), Bernie Castro (PR/DH)
Opponent: Half of the Phillies' starters.
Big Hits: Robinson Cano (3 for 4) was a double shy of the cycle and drove in five runs, three on a home run to right that Pete Abe says flew "over everything." Jason Giambi (2 for 2) and Melky Cabrera (2 for 4) also homered. Derek Jeter (3 for 4) and Shelley Duncan (3 for 4) doubled.
Who Pitched Well: LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect eighth inning and still boasts a spring ERA of 0.00. Mariano Rivera struck out the side around his first walk of the spring. Brian Bruney also pitched around a walk in a scoreless four-batter ninth (more on Bruney below the fold).
Who Didn't: Phil Hughes struck out six in five innings, but also allowed three runs, two of them on a Pedro Feliz homer in the fourth. Hughes, who was targeted for 90 pitches, used up 86 of them in those five frames and seven of his nine outs on balls in play came on flies. That combination of inefficiency and fly-ball tendencies is what we were seeing from Hughes last year after he came off the DL, whereas earlier this spring he was back to being the dominant groundballing power pitcher he'd been in the minors. Billy Traber allowed a run on three singles in the sixth. It was the first earned run he'd allowed all spring, though he had allowed a pair of unearned runs (as has Hawkins) as well as a pair of inherited runners to score.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte made 47 throws off flat ground, but still felt some discomfort in his back. He needs to get a bullpen in no later than Wednesday and start a minor league game on Friday in order to make his Game 2 start. Still, the Yankees expect him to start one of the first five games of the season at worst, which means the rotation should remain intact, though it's likely to be shuffled. Johnny Damon caught the flu and was sent home. He's supposed to play today.
Bullpen News: Dan Giese and Heath Phillips have been reassigned to minor league camp. With Traber on the 40-man roster and assumed to be the lefty on the eventual 25-man, that's not big news. The big news is that Chris Britton was optioned to Triple-A. Britton was given just five innings this spring, which ranked him 15th among the relievers in camp, and that doesn't even include Joba Chamberlain and Kei Igawa. Britton excelled in those innings, allowing just three hits and walking none while striking out three and allowing just one earned run (1.80 ERA), but once again he's gotten the shaft. There's clearly something we're not being told here. Nonetheless, with Traber in line to be the lefty (Sean Henn has made just three appearances all spring, though he's also pitched well), and Girardi determined to take a long man (fingers crossed for Darrell Rasner), there's just one spot left and still six men left in camp competing for it with just five exhibition games left. Here are your contenders in reverse running order:
The Yankees brought their B-team on the road to play the Pirates, got just five men on base, and were shut out 8-0
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Scott Strickland, Heath Phillips, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Ross Ohlendorf
Subs: Bernie Castro (2B), Eduardo Nuñez (SS), Nick Green (3B), Jason Brown (C), Brett Gardner (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Wilson Betemit finished the game at first base.
Opposition: Something approximating the Pirates starters.
Big Hits: None. The Yankees had two singles on the day, one by Hideki Matsui and one by Chris Woodward. Matsui also drew one of three Yankee walks and was thus the only Yankee to reach base twice.
Who Pitched Well: Health Phillips pitched around a single for 1 1/3 scoreless frames.
Who Didn't: The only other Yankee hurler not to be charged with a run was Scott Strickland, but he came in with a man on base and allowed a pair of singles, which plated that inherited runner. He also pitched just 2/3 of an inning. Jose Veras allowed two runs on a walk and two singles in the sixth. Edwar Ramirez allowed a run on a walk and two singles in the eighth, though he also struck out the side. Ross Ohlendorf allowed a run on two singles in the ninth, though he also struck out two and/or got two groundouts (the box score is a bit conflicted).
Jeff Karstens started and allowed four runs on seven hits, five of them doubles. He has a 9.64 ERA on the spring and a 1-3 record. Per Pete Abe, the Yankees remain determined to take a long man north, which means it's probably between Darrell Rasner (1-0, 5.84) and Kei Igawa (1-0, 3.38). Igawa, by the way, dominated the Trenton Thunder in today's minor league intrasquad game (see below). I've always preferred Rasner out of this group, though his struggles earlier this month concerned me. Unfortunately, Rasner has the additional obstacle of not being on the 40-man roster.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte (back) was supposed to play catch yesterday. He didn't. He was supposed to start on Thursday. He won't. If he can start in a minor league game on Friday, he can stay on schedule to start Game 2 of the regular season. If not, the Yankees will have to come up with another plan, which could be anything from simply swapping Mussina and Pettitte in the rotation to using the afore-mentioned longman in a spot start, to placing Pettitte on the DL retroactive to his last spring start and starting anyone from a minor league replacement to Joba Chamberlain in his stead. Robinson Cano (back) was supposed to play against the Pirates. He did. He's fine.
Other Action: Igawa, pitching for Scranton, and Mike Mussina, pitching for Trenton, faced off in a rule-bending minor league intrasquad game of sorts that started at 10am yesterday morning. Dan Graziano sets the scene. Chad Jennings has the details. The relevant lines are Igawa: 4 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 8 K; Moose: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K.
More: Kat O'Brien has an exclusive piece on Hal Steinbrenner, on whom I must admit I'm developing a bit of a man-crush. He's young, good looking, and says things like, "The Super Bowl was great. I think it showed New Yorkers that if you're patient with a young kid, good things can happen." Swoon. Excerpts from the article can be found on Kat's blog. Meanwhile, here's a solid piece by Sam Borden on the impact of Joe Torre's relocation on his family. Also, Pete Abe is taking reader questions for Brian Cashman. I imagine you guys could come up with some real doozies for the GM.
On Saturday, the Yankees had one of those days that just wasn't worth waking up for. Both Andy Pettitte and Robinson Cano were scratched from their respective games due to back stiffness and the big league game was rained out in the bottom of the second inning with the Yankees trailing 6-0. Blech.
I won't even bother with the usual breakdown other than to say that Jonathan Albaladejo did most of the damage, but pitched in extraordinarily bad luck. After a lead-off single, a double-play grounder went right through Derek Jeter's legs (Jeter anticipated a hop that didn't happen), after which left fielder Shelley Duncan threw to third base allowing the batter to go to second. After an RBI groundout, Duncan booted a basket catch, plating two more runs. Frank Thomas then hit a grounder to third that hit the bag giving the immobile DH an infield single. At this point, Albaladejo had gotten the equivalent of five outs and allowed one legitimate hit, but only had one out on the board, three runs in, and a man on base first. Then Aaron Hill drove Thomas in with a double. Then a downpour started. Then Marcos Scutaro doubled in Hill, driving Alabaladejo from the game down 5-0. Sure, Albaladejo could have helped himself with a strike out or two in there somewhere, and those last two doubles were smoked, but you kinda have to give the guy a do over for an outing like that, don'tcha? Especially since he was a last-minute replacement for scheduled starter Kei Igawa. You see, the Yankees knew there was a chance the game would be cut short by rain and they wanted to get a look at their relievers, so they inverted their pitching plans, starting the game with Albaladejo and scheduling Igawa for the last three or four innings, which never came.
Scott Patterson replaced Albaladejo and got two quick fly outs, one of which was a sac fly to push Albaladejo's total to six runs, all unearned. Kyle Farnsworth coughed up a double and a walk in the second, but escaped unscathed. LaTroy Hawkins and Joba Chamberlain got their work in indoors in a simulated game. Igawa will pitch against Mike Mussina in a minor league intrasquad game on Sunday that will pit the Double-A squad against the Triple-A squad. Jeff Karstens will make the start for the major leaguers.
As for Pettitte and Cano, here's Andy on his back, which he says locked up on him on Thursday on the way home from the park. He got treatment on Friday, said he felt better Saturday, but the Yankees weren't about to have him pitch. He had the same issue with his back last year and still made 34 starts and two relief appearances, so hopefully this won't be a lingering concern. Right now, Pettitte expects to make his final spring start on Thursday, try to get up toward 90 pitches in that game, and start the second game of the regular season as originally intended. Cano says he's fine and is expected to play in Sunday's game.
My Wife, Morgan Ensberg
The Yankees and Rays played seven and a half innings of scoreless ball before both team's tallied in their final at-bat to make it 2-1 Yanks. The big news, however, is that Morgan Ensberg was added to the 40-man roster after the game, prompted by an escape clause in his contract that would have kicked in at midnight had he not made the 40-man. Having been added to the roster Ensberg is guaranteed $1.75 million for the season. Joe Girardi has said, as he did regarding Billy Traber, who was added to the 40-man a week and a half ago as prompted by a similar clause, that this doesn't mean Ensberg has maid the team, but Ensberg has long since run out of options, and I find it difficult to believe that the Yankees would play $1.75 million just to cut him loose in a week.
Ensberg went 0 for 4 in last night's game, which dropped him to .270/.341/.405 for the spring, which may not be a far cry from what the Yankees can expect from him during the regular season, but it's a heckuvalot better than what they'd get from a Nick Green/Chris Woodward type. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com had a good piece up on Ensberg earlier in the day in which Ensberg raves about working with hitting coach Kevin Long.
As for the guys this leaves out, Brett Gardner and Cody Ransom, who will be Scranton's starting center fielder and third baseman, respectively, put themselves on the short list should the Yanks need roster filler during the season. Gardner has hit .393/.469/.536 thus far this spring and stolen six bases in six tries. The catch is that he's only played 45 games above double-A and the Yankees want to give him a little more time in triple-A. They may also prefer to have him keep his bat warm in a starting role in the minors just in case Melky Cabrera leaves the door open to the major league job in center field. Ransom has played all four infield positions and hit .273/.294/.455. He'll walk more than that, which makes him a threat to Ensberg if the latter struggles. Jason Lane hit .263/.333/.526, but is simply too similar to Shelley Duncan, though that puts pressure on Shelley to perform assuming Lane will wind up starting in one of the outfield corners in Scranton. Perhaps most significantly, the fact that Chris Woodward faded from the fight despite his .409/.435/.455 line this spring (that's all singles save for one walk and one double, by the way) is an encouraging early indicator for Joe Girardi's decision-making skills.
Oh, and Ensberg has said he'll change numbers, ""I'm not taking Paul O'Neill's number. I'll be trying as quickly as possible to get rid of that." Per Mark Feinsand, Ensberg has always worn 14 and will attempt to buy the number away from Wilson Betemit.
As for the game . . .
Observations From Cooperstown: Super Balls
When one thinks of cheating in today’s game, the issue of steroids is the first to come to mind. With steroids, excuses inevitably follow. We’ve heard players say they believed they were taking B-12 shots, or ordinary dietary supplements, or most preposterously, flaxseed oil.
Nearly three and a half decades ago, a different kind of cheating took place at Shea Stadium, where the Yankees were playing home games during the renovation of Yankee Stadium. This category of cheating may have been different, but the explanation offered after the game was no less ludicrous.
It was September 7, 1974. I like to call it the day that the "Super Balls" went flying, even though the balls were hardly intact. Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles became the epicenter of the controversy. So what exactly happened that Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium, as Nettles and the New Yorkers hosted the Tigers? The two teams actually played a doubleheader that day, with the first game taking place without incident. Nettles did hit a home run in the lidlifter, but his bat didn’t break and he was not charged with, or even suspected of, having used a doctored bat. His two-run shot, however, couldn’t prevent the Yankees from dropping an 8-3 decision to the Tigers, who pounded Yankee starter Rudy May for six runs in three and one-third innings. Detroit’s Bill Freehan hit a home run of his own, part of a 2-for-5 effort as the Tigers’ cleanup man.
The real fun didn’t start until the second game, as left-handers Woodie Fryman and Larry Gura (in perhaps his lone highlight as a member of the Yankees; boy, Billy Martin hated him) engaged in a compelling pitchers’ duel. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the second, Nettles stepped to the plate against Fryman, who was usually brutal against left-handed hitters. On this occasion, Nettles found his way against Fryman, connecting on a home run. Once again, the bat did not break, and the Tigers expressed no suspicion that Nettles had done anything to alter or doctor the bat.
Well, those suspicions finally began to bubble during Nettles’ next at-bat, which came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Nettles took a swing and nicked one of Fryman's pitches with the end of his bat, blooping a single into the outfield. While Nettles stood at first, thinking he had picked up his second hit of the game, he also realized that something was wrong. At the moment of contact with the ball, the top of his bat had come flying off the barrel, which was an unusual way for a bat to break into two pieces. Bill Freehan, the Tigers’ longtime catcher, also noticed something out of place, specifically with the larger piece of discarded wood that lay near home plate. Freehan recognized that the inside of the stained brown bat contained a foreign substance, a fact to which he alerted home plate umpire Lou DiMuro. After inspecting the bat, DiMuro called Nettles out for using an illegal bat.
Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting
Behind a member of the actual starting rotation, Yankees B-team crushed the Blue Jays' starters hitting behind a replacement pitcher. Final score: 7-2.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Dan Giese, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Albaladejo, Chris Britton
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzaelez (SS), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Jason Lane (PH/LF), Matt Carson* (PR/DH)
Opponent: The Blue Jays' starters, including Alex Rios.
Big Hits: Consecutive RBI doubles by Wilson Betemit (2 for 4, BB) and Cody Ransom (2 for 3) in the second inning, a two-run double by Shelley Duncan (2 for 5) in the third, and a monstrous two-run jack to right field by Betemit (batting lefty, of course) in the fifth. Johnny Damon was 2 for 3 with a walk, Robinson Cano was 2 for 4.
Who Pitched Well: Ian Kennedy had a monster curve working as well as a good changeup and used those pitches to limit the Blue Jay's starters to one run on six hits and no walks over 4 1/3 innings while striking out four. If there's a knock on his outing it's that he was a bit inefficient, using 75 pitches and throwing only 56 percent of them for strikes. Chris Britton pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one. Jonathan Albaladejo pitched around a single for a scoreless eighth. Dan Giese walked back-to-back batters in relief of Kennedy in the fifth, but one came on a questionable full-count call and he managed to strand both men.
Making his first short-relief appearance of the spring, Joba Chamberlain looked like the guy who posted the 0.38 ERA down the stretch last year by striking out the side on 11 pitches (nine strikes, of course). Just like last September, Joba was firing laser-guided rocket fastballs and unhittable sliders. Of course, he faced a trio of low-minors nobodies, but the performance was so dominant that it almost made me worry that Joba's become a bit too fond and too comfortable in this new role, which could prove to be an obstacle to his return to starting. Indeed, check out some of these quotes:
Kennedy: "He looks like a different guy when he starts and relieves. He just goes after guys. I don't know if he was holding back too much, but he looked like a different guy today."
Joba: "It felt great . . . it's like riding a bike. . . . You just attack the zone. You stop worrying about your mechanics and your abilities take over. It was back to the slider that I'm used to throwing, and not babying it. . . . If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Admittedly that bit about "if it ain't broke" was in reference to his relief repertoire, not the role itself, but I do worry about the fact that Chamberlain suggests he might have been overthinking and babying things while working as a starter this spring. Joba seems to relish the big bad reliever role, but he absolutely must return to starting or he'll be denying the Yankees and himself a chance to realize his full potential.
Who Didn't: Kyle Farnsworth struck out two in his lone inning but also allowed a single, a double, a walk, and a run. Many point to Farnsworth's failings as another reason why Chamberlain needs to be in the pen. If Chamberlain does wind up sticking in relief long-term, Farnsworth's Yankee legacy will be even worse than his numbers will show.
Nice Plays: A relay from Shelley Duncan in the right-field corner to Robinson Cano to nail David Eckstein at third base trying to stretch a double in the first inning.
Ouchies: A week from tomorrow, Humberto Sanchez will throw off a mound for the first time since his Tommy John surgery.
Roster News: Catcher Kyle Anson was reassigned to minor league camp. He'll land in A-ball somewhere depending on where Austin Romine and Jesus Montero wind up. In the Cody Ransom article linked to above, Bryan Hoch suggests that Brett Gardner will not make the Opening Day roster:
. . . there may be no room at the inn for Gardner, who could benefit more from playing every day in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre than by riding the bench in New York. Girardi said he has encouraged Gardner along those lines, telling him to keep his head up and wait for his chance.
*Matt Carson, on loan from minor league camp, got in the game as the Yankees brought a limited roster on the road. Don't sweat Carson. He's a 25-year-old outfielder with a career .250/.307/.397 line after six pro seasons. He hit about that in his first full season in double-A last year and won't crack the starting lineup in Trenton or Scranton this year.
More: In order to avoid giving their divisional rivals an extended look at their starting pitchers with little more than a week left until the regular season, the Yankees will have Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte pitch minor league games tomorrow and Saturday while Darrell Rasner and Kei Igawa start against the Rays and Jays (who also happen to be the first two teams the Yanks will face in April). Indeed, the Jays did the same with Roy Halladay today, using Kane Davis against the Yankees in Halladay's place. Speaking of Davis, there was a nice moment early in the game when he threw a looping curve up in the zone to Cody Ransom who crushed the pitch just as it began to break, hitting it so hard that he pulled it well foul. Ransom hit the ball like he knew he was getting a curve, and a close up of Davis on the mound soon after showed him trying and failing to suppress a giggle. Speaking of the broadcast, YES has used Bob Lorenz in the booth twice this week, first at Virgina Tech alongside Michael Kay, then again today alongside Ken Singleton. I don't imagine the network plans to use Lorenz that way during the regular season, but I'd take him over Kay in a heartbeat (though that has more to do with Kay than Lorenz).
Yankee Panky #45: Doing Their Joba
"It's a combination of innings, success and where we feel he fits best now. It's just something we decided as an organization, that this is the best place to start him this year." — Joe Girardi
Pearls of wisdom from the new Joe that set the local press aflame yesterday afternoon and into this morning. I've said in this space for months that Joba should be the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. Whether that happens is something we'll see a couple of years down the line, obviously, but the speculation will continue as long as he maintains anything close to the success level he demonstrated in his lightning-in-a-bottle debut from August through October.
In general, the reviews were mixed, as noted below:
Newsday's backpage: BREAK THE RULES
Breaking the rules, at least, in Ken Davidoff's opinion, means moving him to the starting rotation at some point, perhaps even going to a six-man rotation at the end of the season.
The Post's George King (who this year has decided to use the pseudonym George A. King III), summed it up thusly:
"The Yankees look at Chamberlain's four-pitch arsenal and believe he could be their ace for a long time. Nevertheless, they made the right move yesterday in leaving Chamberlain where he was last year, because until Chamberlain surfaced, the bridge between starter and Mariano Rivera had too many rotten boards."
Interestingly, no Joba-centric stories appeared in the Times, who instead focused on The Virginia Tech exhibition, C.C. Sabathia's rejection of the Indians' offer and speculation of his interest in the Yankees, and a meaninglessly hyped spring training game with the Red Sox (Confession: I hated having to hype these in my previous gig).
Today's spate of Joba columns and articles — which you know will be picked up over the weekend when the Lupicas of the world return to Baseball from their vacation in Bracketville — on top of the numerous features written about him during the offseason, have made it clear to me that the media has anointed him the face of the New Yankees. Going back to the various dynastic years, you can look at Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio in 1936, then Mantle, Ford, Munson, Mattingly and most recently, Jeter as the names most closely identified with the team.
It's happened quickly, and it can be dangerous. From the looks of things, Chamberlain has the perfect temperament to withstand the scrutiny.
And judging from the coverage, Joba Rules.
AS A FORMER EDITOR MARRIED TO AN ENGLISH TEACHER, THIS BOTHERS ME…
Folks, this is why spellcheck is a waste of time, and why we need to be teaching grammar and usage all the way through high school. I don't blame George for the usage error noted above, because I know the perils of writing on deadline, and when you're bleary-eyed, you miss things. I blame the copy editor. That's a basic one that should have been corrected.
T-minus 11 days until Opening Day. Next week, a review of the Previews and Pullout Sections.
Enjoy the egg hunt ...
This Just In: Yankees To Wear Pinstripes At Home This Year
The Yankees admitted to the worst-kept secret in baseball yesterday by officially announcing that Joba Chamberlain would start the year in the bullpen. Shocker.
I largely avoided the What To Do With Joba debate over the winter, in part by avoiding blogging in general more than I should have, and in part because, to my mind, there's no debate. Save for two months of last year, Joba Chamberlain has always been and should continue to be a starter. Peter Abraham said it best last week, using a pitcher with Chamberlain's talent in relief is a waste equal to using Alex Rodriguez as a pinch-hitter.
That said, here's the point everyone seems to have missed thus far: The decision to put Chamberlain in the pen to start the year isn't about how to get the maximum value out of Joba, it's about how to get the maximum value out of the team. The Yankees have six legitimate starting pitchers. Three of them have no innings limit this year and of the remaining three, Chamberlain has the fewest innings to work with. Chamberlain also has the most and most recent bullpen experience of the six. Putting Chamberlain in the bullpen is best for Joba because it will help limit his total innings (though the team will also have to make sure he gets right up to that limit so he can increase that total next year), and it is best for the team because it allows the Yankees to maximize the value of their roster.
The second thing is that putting Chamberlain in the bullpen in April of what is still officially his rookie season does not mean he's going to be a reliever for the rest of his career. Someone in the rotation is going to get hurt, or is going to stink up the joint, and when that happens, Chamberlain's going to get his shot (unless he's hurt or stinking up the joint himself). Remember, the Yankees used 14 starters last year, six of whom made a dozen or more starts. In 2006 they used 12 starters, six of whom made nine or more starts. In 2005 they used 14 starters and nine of them made nine more starts. Even going back to the "five aces" rotation of 2002 (Clemens, Mussina, Pettitte, Wells, El Duque), the Yankees used ten starters, six of whom made 11 or more starts and seven of whom made eight or more. Remember all of the debate about how and when to work Phil Hughes into the rotation last year? That worked itself out, didn't it? Joba will start games this year. Mark my words.
As for the words of Joba himself and of manager Joe Girardi, have fun: MLB.com, Girardi audio from Pete Abe. Key points: there will be no Joba Rules this year, and the Yankees still think of Chamberlain as a future member of the rotation.
Yeah, I Gotta Rash, Man
Did anyone catch the segment on Lenny "Nails" Dykstra on the latest edition of HBO's Real Sports? Ex-ballplayer-turned-shrewd-businessman. It's worth watching for the highlight clip they show of Nails throwing bolos at Dodger catcher Rick Dempsey back when he was with the Phillies. It's also interesting to see how Dykstra looks and sounds like a troll, almost as if he's drugged. (And if you want to get good and steamed, wait around until the post-segment interview between reporter Bernie Goldberg and host Bryant Gumbel, and dig how Goldberg cops out of telling the truth about Dykstra's alleged use of PEDS.) Pat Jordan wrote a piece on Dykstra for Fortune.com back in December of 2006. The published version concentrates mostly on the nuts-and-bolts of day trading, but Jordan's original ("The Dude Abides") focused more on what it was like to hang out with Dykstra.
Watching the Yankees stomp Virginia Tech 11-0, allowing just two hits to the Hokies along the way, my wife asked me how exactly it was supposed to lift the spirits of the students to have their asses handed to them by the Yankees. I explained that, for most of those on campus, it was in part the gesture and in part getting to see a major league team on their own turf and performing on their intimate ball field. For the players, just getting to meet and compete against major leaguers as equals was a tremendous thrill, as few if any of the Virginia Tech players are likely to make it to the major leagues themselves. Indeed, the Yankees did their best to make themselves available to the students and players and put their starting lineup on the field, with only Hideki Matsui staying behind from the expected Opening Day starting nine.
Beyond all that, there were small victories enjoyed by the Hokies throughout the game. In the first inning, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs, bringing Alex Rodriguez up in a situation that had me wondering if maybe my wife had the right reaction to the game in the first place. Rodriguez swung at the first pitch and hit a sac fly to right field and Jason Giambi followed by grounding into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play that was started beautifully by VT second baseman Matt Hacker, surely a great moment in the life of Hokies' starter Andrew Wells.
In the second inning, the Yankees again loaded the bases and this time pushed across three runs, one on a boot by Hokies' shortstop Ty Hohman that was ruled a hit and two more on walks to Bobby Abreu and Rodriguez. Jason Giambi then lifted a ball to deep right, but it fell short of the wall for the final out. Despite having given up three runs, Hokies' pitcher Dave Zappacosta had stranded three Yankees on the bases and was received enthusiastically by his teammates out in front of their dugout.
These small victories repeated themselves throughout the game as Rob Waskiewicz retired Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Shelley Duncan in order in the third and, in the fourth, redshirt freshman Brandon Fisher struck out Jason Lane and Morgan Ensberg to wrap up his own scoreless inning of work. Rob Whitley then retired the Yankees in order in the fifth, setting down Greg Porter, Chad Moeller and Cano.
The Yankees scored seven runs in the final two frames of the seven-inning contest, but I don't think the Virginia Tech players or their classmates, teachers, or families much minded. Obviously having a major league baseball team come to the campus and romp to a mismatched victory in no way compensates for the thirty-two lives lost last April, but though they may seem painfully insufficient and even disturbingly illogical, random acts of kindness can go along way toward restoring the spirit. Sometimes it helps just to know that someone cares enough to do something. Exactly what that something is doesn't matter nearly as much as the gesture. The Yankees done good.
Many Ways To Have A Good Time
To be honest, I’m sick of spring training. Sure it’s great, in the middle of winter, to get those first photos and videos of the players out in the sunshine... but it’s sort of like watching a singer practice scales or something: interesting enough for a little while, but pretty soon, you just want the show to start. I've therefore been tuning out most of the desultory news from Tampa and, instead, thinking about the really meaningful things. Things like entrance music.
It may have been meaningless, but it was awfully sweet to see the Yankees torch the Red Sox in their first 2008 meeting. It was particularly sweet to have it happen on St. Patrick's Day and to have the Yankees rough up the Sox's non-roster starter Bartolo Colon, who was trumpeted heading into the game as a great low-risk find for the Sox and a possible replacement for the injured Curt Schilling in the rotation (the Sox seem to want Clay Buchholz to start the season in the minors).
It's funny to think that several years back the Yankees organized a three-way deal that cost them Orlando Hernandez primarily for the purpose of keeping Colon away from Boston. Colon was throwing in the mid 90s with good movement on both his fastball and breaking pitches, but was wild and hittable and got bounced in the first inning. Colon struck out Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, but the other Yankees in the order combined for three hits (including a Hideki Matsui double) and three walks for four runs, sending Colon to the showers after eight batters, but just two outs. The Yanks went on to win the game 8-4
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitcher: Andy Pettitte, Heath Phillips, Jonathan Albaladejo, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, Scott Strickland
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (PH/1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Nick Green (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Jason Lane (PH/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Cody Ransom (LF)
Opposition: The Red Sox's starters minus Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew.
Big Hits: A no-doubter two-run homer by Bobby Abreu (2 for 2, BB) who also doubled, both hits coming off Julian Tavarez. Doubles by Hideki Matsui (3 for 4), Jason Giambi (2 for 3). Robinson Cano was 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well: Andy Pettitte allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings, but one of those runs came on a wind-blown fourth-inning homer when Pettitte was past his pitch count, and one of the other two hits was a fly ball that Johnny Damon lost in the sun allowing it to drop for a double. That "double" plated one of the two runs Pettitte allowed in the third, the other of which scored on a wild pitch in the dirt that went right through Posada's legs. Pettitte said he didn't feel quite right on the mound, but reported no pain. He looked pretty sharp in the early innings and struck out three. Billy Traber retired all five men he faced, striking out two. Scott Strickland struck out two in a perfect ninth, though it's likely too late for him to enter the competition for the final bullpen spot. Brian Bruney, hitting 100 miles per hour on the YES gun (for context, Pete Abe says the Yankees themselves had him at 96 mph--if that's true, what has Mike Mussina been throwing?), faced four batters in the eighth, walking one, striking out two, and getting the third to strike out.
Who Didn't: Heath Phillips faced five batters in the fourth and gave up a run on three singles. Jonathan Albaladejo pitched a scoreless inning and a third, getting all of his outs via grounders and a strikeout, but also allowed a single, a double, and walked a batter.
Oopsies: Kyle Anson skipped a throw to second past Alberto Gonzalez, who was utterly unprepared to block the ball. Anson got the error. Jacoby Ellsbury got the stolen base and went to third, but was stranded by Bruney.
Ouchies: Chris Woodward, whose early bid for a roster spot seems to be appropriately receding, has a tight hamstring and will rest for a few days. Derek Jeter was plunked on the elbow by Tavarez, but stayed in the game. Andy Pettitte later made David Ortiz jump out of the way of an inside pitch near his hands, but the pitch was not seen as retaliatory by either team.
Upcoming: With the Yankees playing in Blacksburg, Virginia tomorrow, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera will stay behind and pitch in a minor league game in Tampa with Jose Molina catching and Hideki Matsui likely DHing to get more at-bats (Matsui played all of today's game). The rest of the Yankees (save Woodward) are expected to make the trip. Looking further ahead, the Yankees will have to decide on a fifth starter for Thursday's game, which mean's Joba Chamberlain's much anticipated return to the bullpen could be imminent. As long as the plan remains to return him to the rotation by year's end, I'm fine with it. Ian Kennedy has looked good this spring, as have the other four starters, and things tend to happen. Most likely, an injury will draft Joba into the rotation sooner than anyone expects.
Green With MVP
That's a terrible headline I just couldn't resist as Nick Green knocked in the winning run for the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth to give them a meaningless 7-6 win over the visiting Indians. Heck, I'll probably never have another occasion to use it.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Patterson, Darrell Rasner
Subs: Cody Ransom (PR/1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Nick Green (PR/3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Justin Christian (LF), Kyle Anson (DH)
Opposition: Cleveland's starters and ace C.C. Sabathia.
Big Hits: A monster two-run homer by Shelley Duncan (1 for 3) off Sabathia, Duncan's third tater of the spring. Doubles by Jose Molina (1 for 3), Chad Moeller (1 for 1), and Kyle Anson (1 for 1). Alex Rodriguez was 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson just keeps getting it done, this time getting five outs from four hitters by entering with runners on in the fifth and inducing an inning-ending double play, then pitching a 1-2-3 sixth, striking out one. Patterson has allowed just one baserunner in six innings this spring, striking out five. He and Billy Traber are the only pitchers still in camp who have yet to allow a run this spring, though even Traber has allowed a few inherited runners to score.
Who Didn't: Working in his slider and changeup, Chien-Ming Wang struck out seven men in 4 1/3 innings, but also allowed four runs on six hits and two walks and four of the other six outs he induced came in the air. Darrell Rasner allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in three innings. Both Wang and Ranser allowed solo home runs to Grady Sizemore, who now has five on the spring.
Leaders: There's not much else to say about today's game, so for yucks, here are some of the statistical leaders in Yankee camp thus far:
The Yankees split a pair of split-squad games yesterday. Since the home game against the Rays got all of the coverage, let's start with the road game against the Tigers.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Ross Ohlendorf, Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Strickland*, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras
Subs: Juan Miranda* (1B), Reegie Corona* (2B), Chris Woodward (SS), Kyle Anson (PH/C), Colin Curtis* (RF), Tim Battle* (CF), Justin Christian (LF), Carlos Mendoza* (DH)
Opposition: The Tigers' starters.
Big Hits: A solo homer by Kyle Anson (1 for 2) off Jason Grilli. Doubles by Jason Lane (1 for 3) and Robinson Cano (2 for 4) off Justin Verlander. Doubles by Morgan Ensberg (3 for 5) and Cody Ransom (2 for 3). Melky Cabrera was 2 for 4, Jose Molina was 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well: Brian Bruney pitched around a single for a scoreless inning, striking out two and walking none. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a single and a Miguel Cabrera double for two scoreless innings. Though he struck out none, he did get five of his six outs on the ground.
Who Didn't: Joba Chamberlain walked three men in three innings, gave up a single and a solo homer to Curtis Granderson, and allowed a pair of singles. All totaled, he gave up three runs in those three frames, though he did get seven of his nine outs via strikeout (2) and groundball (5). Ross Ohlendorf allowed two runs on three hits, including a solo homer by Granderson (who had 11 total bases on the day), however an error rendered both runs unearned and Ollie got two of his three outs on the ground. Jose Veras gave up a solo homer to Timo Perez in the ninth. That was Veras's only baserunner, but Timo Perez?! For the curious, minor league loaner Scott Strickland gave up a run on two hits in the seventh.
Nice Plays: The 4-6-3 trio of Robinson Cano, Alberto Gonzalez, and Cody Ransom turned three doube plays.
Oopsies: An error by Cano.
Ouchies: Jason Giambi returned to action after complaining of back stiffness and went 0 for 3, but scored a run and drove one in.
The Yankees and Reds were interrupted by rain twice, the second time with the game tied 7-7 in the tenth inning, which ended the contest there. Phil Hughes got lit up, and Shelley Duncan and Melky Cabrera (who apparently punched Evan Longoria in the back of the head during Wednesday's mele) were both suspended for the first three games of the regular season. All in all, not the Yankees' best day.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Heath Phillips, Chris Britton, Dan Giese
Subs: Wilson Betemit (1B), Bernie Castro (2B/CF), Nick Green (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Chris Woodward (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Greg Porter (PH/RF), Justin Christian (LF), Jason Brown (DH), Brett Gardner shifted to center field before coming out of the game.
Opposition: Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Joey Votto and filler.
Big Hits: A three-run homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3). Doubles by Derek Jeter (2 for 3), Johnny Damon (1 for 4), and Jorge Posada (1 for 3).
Who Pitched Well: Edwar Ramirez retired all five men he faced, striking out four of them. Jonathan Albaladejo retired four of the five men he faced, the one exception being a hit batsman. Dan Giese pitched around a double for two scoreless innings, striking out two.
Who Didn't: Phil Hughes was flat out lit up. He gave up four runs on nine hits, five of them doubles, in 2 2/3 innings. This after having held his competition hitless over his previous five spring innings. Hughes threw 72 percent of his 66 pitches for strikes, which suggests he was missing in the zone, thus the hard hits and no walks. Heath Phillips, last seen getting rocked and ejected against the Rays, faced five men, two of whom walked, two of whom singled, and two of those four scored. Oh, and he tossed a wild pitch somewhere in the middle there. Chris Britton was good by comparison to those two allowing one run on a single and a double in one inning of work.
Oopsies: A bad throw by Alberto Gonzalez, his third error of the spring.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw 47 pitches in the bullpen before the game and reported no discomfort in his elbow.
Hot Wheels: Two more steals by Brett Gardner (1 for 2, BB) who has five on the spring. "He's an exciting player," sez the skipper. "He creates havoc."
More: More LaTroy pranks here. Props to Tyler Kepner for this great find. As for those suspensions, Melky might get his reduced to two games on appeal, but whatever happens, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have said they won't change who they're going to take north to compensate for the suspensions, which means Jason Lane and Brett Gardner won't get an extra boost from the fact that the Yankees will have to play their opening series against Toronto with just three outfielders on the roster. That's good news for Morgan Ensberg, who will have to decide whether or not to opt out of his minor league deal with the Yankees if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. Shelley Duncan, however, sounds devastated. Listening to that audio clip from Pete Abe, my heart kinda breaks for the guy. He's like Lenny from Of Mice and Men; the poor guy just doesn't know his own strength. ("Tell me about the World Series, George.") Despite the split squad today, Duncan will be in the lineup facing the Rays, which seems like a good move on Girardi's part to deliberately defuse this thing. Nonetheless, the umps will be on high alert.
Shameless Self-Promotion: Yeah, so the Yanks vs. Rays battle continues on YES this afternoon, but those of you in north Jersey should tape it and come see Steven Goldman, Derek Jacques and
Card Corner--Thurman Munson
This is the second of a two-part series.
August 2, 1979. I remember that day too well.
In the midst of one of my bad habits, I was staring at the television while eating dinner. I was watching "Gilligan’s Island," of all things, a show that I wouldn’t watch today if you paid me at a rate of $10 a hour. Suddenly, Metromedia Television in New York (Channel Five, for those who grew up in or near the city) interrupted the program with a news update. (I used to hate those updates, especially when they happened to interrupt one of the funniest scenes in a show.)
Within a few moments, the annoyance turned to disbelief. The announcer—I believe it was veteran newscaster John Roland—described a plane crash. I assumed that it involved a politician or someone like that. It didn’t. This crash had killed Thurman Munson.
I had trouble finishing that dinner. Each gulp became more difficult than the last. The meal just didn’t seem to matter. All that seemed important was the real tragedy of a Yankee hero lost. My favorite Yankee, no less.
I remember telling my father when he came from work a little bit later that night. I couldn’t even wait until he had entered the house; I shouted the news from a window that overlooked our driveway. I don’t think my father heard me at first. Maybe he thought I was making it up, but I’ve never had that kind of sense of humor. Or maybe he just couldn’t believe what had happened
I couldn’t believe it for days. Munson’s death—that’s all I thought about for the next three days. It still didn’t sink in—not even in those three obsession-filled days.
Most of the summer, my father and I watched baseball games together on TV. Back then, it was pretty much WPIX, with a few nationally televised games on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights. We might attend a game or two at the Stadium per season, usually not more than that. Simply by happenstance, my dad had bought two tickets several weeks earlier to the game scheduled for the night of Friday, August 3. That happened to be the first game the Yankees played after Munson’s death.
Prior to the game, the Yankees honored Munson by showing a video tribute on the old black-and-white replay scoreboard at the Stadium. As images of Munson flashed by, the fans cheered, then stood, then cheered more and more loudly. The cheers came in waves, medium and then large, becoming less and then rising in volume again. At first, my father and I remained seated. But it just didn’t seem right for us to do that, so we stood up and joined the rest of the Stadium in paying homage to the fallen Yankee.
Even when the video on the scoreboard came to an end, the fans continued to stand and cheer. Standing as part of that Yankee Stadium crowd, I couldn’t believe the length of that applause. That standing ovation lasted for at least ten minutes, maybe 12. It lasted so long, it was hard to keep track.
The length of that cheer—along with the energy and the intensity that sustained throughout—reflected the admiration we had for Munson. He was no longer the best player on the Yankees—he had long since given up that title to Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage—but he was still the most beloved. That was partly because he had played so well for so long, bridging the gap to those years of mediocrity in the early seventies. More importantly, it was because of the way that he played, often racked with pain in his knees, yet never failing to make his best effort at blocking a pitch and never—not once that I can remember—failing to hustle his way on the basepaths. To this day, Munson remains one of the main reasons I get mad watching a healthy ballplayer fail to run hard on a groundball or a pop-up.
Moments before that Friday night game, I remember seeing Reggie Jackson crouched over in right field, crying openly. He and Munson had clashed badly at first, just two seasons earlier, but by now they had reconciled. Make no mistake about it, they weren’t friends, but they respected each other as teammates. Given how Jackson felt the loss of Munson, the other Yankees, the ones who had played with him much longer, must have endured nothing short of devastation.
I remember Luis Tiant pitching beautifully that night, but losing to the Orioles, 1-0. Ordinarily, I might have lost my temper watching a frustrating game like that. Not this night. It was heartbreaking to lose that game, but not as heartbreaking as losing Thurman Munson.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.
Mr. Thursday Afternoon
Leading off the game for the Yankees, Billy Crystal fouled off Paul Maholm's second pitch, grounding it just outside of first base up the left field line. Maholm then fell behind 3-1 to Crystal on some borderline pitches up and away. That's when the Pirates starter got serious and came in down and hard on the lower inside corner with a pair of fastballs that Crystal swung through and struck out. It was over in an instant, and I'm sure for Crystal it happened even faster than that.
I have to say, I softened up a bit actually seeing Crystal at the plate. As much as the at-bat was another privilege for the privileged, looking at the 5-foot-7 Long Island native up there at the plate, I saw the kid, not the millionaire movie star. Sometimes it really is nice to see a dream come true, even if it happens to someone whose already realized all of his other dreams. Hell, I've lived a good life thus far. I have no complaints. Why begrudge anyone else a moment of pure happiness like that.
As for the game (or, rather, the rest of it) . . .
R - Billy Crystal (DH)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Jeff Karstens, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (2B), Cody Ransom (SS), Nick Green (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (PH/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Justin Christian (PR/LF), Johnny Damon (DH)
Big Hits: Seventh-inning homers by Cody Ransom (1 for 2, solo shot) and Robinson Cano (1 for 3, two-run shot) off Byung-Hyung Kim (who wound up vulturing the win). Doubles by Hideki Matsui (1 for 2), Brett Gardner (1 for 1), and Justin Christian (2 for 2).
Who Pitched Well: Mike Mussina was perfect for five innings, striking out two, throwing 64 pitches, and again benefiting from a strong curve. Jose Veras pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one. Brian Bruney retired the only man he faced to end an ugly eighth inning. Mariano Rivera allowed his first two runners of the game on a pair of singles, but managed a scoreless sixth inning anyway.
Who Didn't: Jeff Karstens got lit up for five runs on seven hits and two walks in just 1 1/3 innings. Billy Traber didn't help matters. Following Karstens in the eighth inning, Traber was brought in to face lefty Doug Mientkiewicz and gave up a single, then after a fly out, gave up a two-run single to righty Jorge Velandia and was pulled from the game. Combined with Heath Phillips' struggles on Tuesday, those three performances complicate the bullpen battles considerably.
Nice Plays: Brett Gardner nailed a runner at home. Shelley Duncan made a nice play in the third, ranging behind first for a hard hopper and flipping to Mussina for the outh, and another in the sixth. With men on second and third and one out, Duncan fielded a grounder, looked the runner at third back to the bag, and forced the batter for the second out. Then the runner at third broke for home and Duncan fired to Chad Moeller, who chased him back and tagged him out to end the inning.
Ouchies: Andy Pettitte (elbow) played catch before yesterday's game without any discomfort and should make his scheduled start on Monday. Johnny Damon (toe) took three at-bats as the DH. Hideki Matsui (knee) played the field for the first time. Stump Merrill (face) is back in camp minus a tooth, but in good spirits.
More: The Yankees play a pair of split-squad games on Saturday when tandem starters Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain are due to pitch, but rather than have Kennedy face the rival Rays, they'll have him pitch in a minor league game, with Joba pitching against Detroit on the road and Kei Igawa getting the start for the game that will actually be on TV back in Tampa. On Tuesday, the Yankees will play an exhibition at (and against) Virginia Tech. That will also be on TV, but scheduled starter Mike Mussina will pitch in a minor league game back in Florida while Jeff Karstens is left to deal with the "unfamiliar college mound." Set your DVRs, folks. At least we'll get to see Pettitte vs. Boston on Monday.
Shameless Self-Promotion: For those of you in north Jersey, I'll be joining Steven Goldman and Derek Jacques at the Borders at (or rather, outside of) the Rockaway Mall at 2pm on Saturday to discuss Baseball Prospectus 2008, as well as field your questions on the Yankees, Mets, your upcoming fantasy draft, or whatever else is on your mind these days. Come out and say hi if you're in the area.
Yesterday was just embarrassing. Home plate umpire Chad Fairchild should have been embarrassed for ejecting Heath Phillips for a wild up and in pitch that lightly brushed Evan Longoria's jersey and loaded the bases with the Yankees already trailing 2-0 in the first inning. Crew chief and first-base ump Jerry Crawford should be embarrassed for tossing Bobby Meacham for keeping the peace in the second-inning fracas. Indeed, the umpires were so embarrassed they didn't even talk to the media after the game.
Shelley Duncan should be embarrassed for spiking Akinori Iwamura, even if all he was trying to do was recreate his glove-punting slide against John McDonald in Toronto last year (though that could have been seen as part of the ongoing "Ha!" dispute surrounding Alex Rodriguez).
Rays manager Joe Maddon should be embarrassed for calling Duncan's slide "borderline criminal" after defending Elliot Johnson's collision with Francisco Cervelli over the weekend.
The embarrassment continues today as the Yankees' starting lineup features Billy Crystal leading off at DH on the day before his 60th birthday. Crystal cracked that DH stands for "Designated Hebrew." You know Crystal's career is in trouble when he's stealing material from Ron Blomberg. Still, credit Girardi with coming up with the best way to minimize the Crystal distraction. Crystal will lead off, not play the field, and should be replaced by Johnny Damon when the lineup turns over (Damon, still nursing his bruised toe, has said he's to follow Crystal at DH today). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Damon pinch-run for Crystal if by some miracle the actor finds his way on base (most likely by taking one to the ribs from Pirates starter Paul Maholm, which is how our buddy Goose says he'd approach the at-bat).
Most embarrassing of all, however, is the fact that all of this has distracted anyone from updating us on Stump Merrill's condition after the 64-year-old coach took a thrown ball to the face during batting practice yesterday. Well, almost everyone. Brian Hoch wins the good guy award today by letting us know that Stump is resting comfortably at the hospital. Sounds like he'll be just fine. Hopefully after today's first inning, Yankee camp will be back to normal as well.
Well, the Yankees certainly had an eventful trip to St. Petersburg today. It all started a few hours before game time, when the team announced that Andy Pettitte would be skipping his scheduled start today due to some tightness on the outside of his pitching elbow which was also described as muscle irritation and by Pettitte as a bit of tendonitis (more below). Then, during batting practice, 64-year-old special adviser and former Yankee manager Stump Merrill took a thrown ball to the mouth and was taken to the hospital on a stretcher, awake and alert, but with his head immobilized and a trickle of blood running down his left cheek.
As if that wasn't enough, replacement starter Heath Phillips was rocked in the first inning and clearly rattled as evidenced by a rare balk. With two out, two on, and the Yanks already trailing 2-0, Phillips came up and in to seventh-place hitter Evan Longoria. The pitch brushed the Rays' third base prospect across the chest and, given the rising tensions between the two clubs ever since Yankee catching prospect Francisco Cervelli had his arm broken in a home plate collision in the ninth inning of their last meeting on Saturday, home plate umpire Chad Fairchild tossed Phillips from the game.
Shelley Duncan, who had issues some veiled threats to the Rays over the last three days, led off the top of the second with a single off Longoria's glove and attempted to stretch it into a double as the ball trickled away from the third baseman. Duncan was out by a lot and thus resorted to plan B, which, depending on who you believe, was either to kick the ball out of second baseman Akinori Iwamura's glove, or to use this opportunity to get even with the Rays by spiking the second baseman in the thigh. Regardless of his intent, the latter was what actually happened. Seeing this, hot-headed right fielder Johnny Gomes charged in from the outfield and body-checked Duncan from behind. The hit sent Duncan out toward shortstop and both Duncan and Gomes were immediately restrained as the benches cleared. Duncan and Gomes were subsequently ejected along with Yankee coaches Bobby Meacham and Kevin Long (though no word yet as to why those two also got the thumb).
The game proceeded without further incident from there and the post-game quotes, as one might have expected, saw the Rays and Yankees switch roles, with the Yankees defending Duncan as simply playing hard and aggressive baseball, and the Rays being appalled and offended. I've only seen snapshots of the play, but given Duncan's comments over the last few days, his at-times dangerous enthusiasm, and those incriminating photos (though this one is both less damning and a more accurate snap of the actual slide), I am willing to call this a much dirtier play than the one Elliot Johnson made on Cervelli on Saturday, though thankfully one with less dire consequences (Iwamura got a gash on his thigh, but stayed in the game). I just hope all this foolishness ends here, as the Yanks and Rays will meet again a week from Friday.
Update: Here's some (poor) video of Duncan's single.
As for the rest of the game . . .
Look at Me! I Can Be, Centerfield (Really, I Can!)
Billy Crystal will suit up and play in an exhibition game with the Yankees tomorrow. It's a frivolous, ego-driven stunt, that is being promoted as a good, light-hearted time for all. The Yankee players, management and announcers, seem to fawn over celebrities like Crystal, and, as we well know, stars like Crystal just love being around jocks. Maybe I'm turned off by it because I wish I was Crystal, being able to live out my fantasies. More than that, though, I'm embarassed by his need to fulfill his every desire. Color me a spring training Scrooge.
Chien-Ming Wang made a nice rebound from his ugly second start as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 6-1. Lots more below, so let's get to it . . .
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Edwar Ramirez, Kyle Farnsworth, Darrell Rasner, Brian Bruney
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Wilson Betemit (2B), Cody Ransom (SS), Nick Green (PH/3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Chris Woodward (LF), Jorge Posada (DH)
Opposition: The Jay's starters save for Alex Rios.
Big Hits: A pair of no-doubter homers; a two-run shot to the right of dead center by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 2) in the first inning and a solo shot far over the left field wall by Jason Lane (2 for 3) in the sixth. Also doubles by Bobby Abreu (2 for 3), Cody Ransom (1 for 1), and Melky Cabrera (2 for 3). Melky's double came batting lefty, of course. His other hit was a perfectly placed bunt single to lead off the game, which came batting righty. Jose Molina was 2 for 2.
Who Pitched Well Everyone, really, but the big news was Chien-Ming Wang, who tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings showing good velocity, late movement, and improving as the game went on. After getting roughed up in his last start, Wang worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland to tweak his mechanics, incorporating a double tap in his glove just before separating his hands. Apparently the problem in his previous outing was that he was overstriding and thus leaving his pitches up--death for a sinkerballer--the same problem he was having in the ALDS last year. In the first inning, David Cone, announcing his first game of the year for YES, and John Flaherty commented that Wang's arm appeared to be dragging and, indeed, his pitches were still staying up, but he was popping the mitt in the mid 90s and as the game progressed he found his arm slot and rediscovered his sink. The two hits he allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were both singles, one a broken bat shot into left by Vernon Wells, the other a hard grounder up the middle by Lyle Overbay. He also got eight of his eleven outs on the ground and ended his day by striking out Scott Rolen on three pitches. Along the way, Wang worked on his slider and changeup and threw a total of 58 pitches, this after throwing a 75-pitch bullpen session a couple of days ago.
Beyond Wang, Edwar Ramirez got his only batter, Frank Thomas, to pop out. Brian Bruney pitched around an infield single and struck out two in 1 2/3 innings, though two of his three outs on balls in play were hard line drives that were caught.
Who Didn't: Kyle Farnsworth allowed a double and walked one in a scoreless inning, struck out none and one of his three outs was a hard fly to the warning track in right center. Darrell Rasner retired the first five batters he faced in order and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings, but with two outs in his second inning of work issued a walk and allowed an RBI double. He was pulled with one out in the next inning following a Reed Johnson single. The outing was enough of an improvement over his last two to earn Rasner another outing in major league camp, but he remains on a short leash.
Nice Plays: A perfect throw by Jose Molina to catch Vernon Wells stealing in the first inning. A nice diving snag of a line drive off Bruney by Morgan Ensberg at first base. The best play of the game, however, was a catch against the wall in dead center by Toronto's Buck Coats off a booming drive by Jorge Posada, who has just one single in 15 spring at-bats.
Ouchies: Johnny Damon fouled a ball off his right foot in Monday night's game and skipped yesterday's contest to get x-rays of the foot, which came back negative, which is a positive. The official diagnosis per his manager is a "bruised toe." He'll likely sit out until the toe's feeling better. He's not listed on today's travel roster. Francisco Cervelli, who has been in a full-arm hard cast, will have surgery on his fractured right wrist/forearm (I've yet to see mention of the actual bone that was broken) today. Finally, some news on the rehabbing Humberto Sanchez. He's playing catch from 120 feet and hopes to start throwing bullpens at the end of the month.
More Cuts: Juan Miranda was optioned to triple-A, where I expect he'll be the starting first baseman. P.J. Pilittere, who should be the starting catcher for Trenton until Cervelli's back in action, and outfielders Jose Tabata, Austin Jackson, and Colin Curtis, who will be the Thunder's starting outfield, from right to left, were reassigned to minor league camp. Jackson and Tabata are the top two position-player prospects in the system right now, but did nothing of note in camp. Curtis showed a great glove in camp and went 2 for 6 with a double. Miranda was hitless in camp, but was victimized by a few excellent plays on drives deep in the gaps and could find himself called up as an injury replacement later in the year if he performs well for Scranton.
More: As expected, Joe Girardi is setting about busting Billy Crystal's hump. Joba Chamberlain is working on adding a Chien-Ming Wang-taught sinker to his arsenal. In fact, he got three groundball outs with it in Monday's game. That pitch would be his fifth after his unhittable slider, high-90s fastball, above-average curve, and developing changeup. Wow. Speaking of Joba, Pete Abe sums up the starter/reliever debate perfectly. Meanwhile, the YES crew was pounding the regrettable "Generation Trey" nickname for Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy during today's broadcast, but Hughes says the three of them would prefer "The Three Amigos." Hughes was born the year that film came out, which means he probably doesn't remember that the Denver Broncos beat them to it. Speaking of the YES crew, Cone sounds like he's going to be a headache on the air this year. He spent a lot of time talking about how pitch and innings limits are unnecessary (come back Jim Kaat, all is forgiven!) and praising the Blue Jays for focusing on "chemistry" by signing "character" guys like David Eckstein and Scott Rolen, while failing to note that Rolen's such a great character guy that he's bitched his way off both of his big league teams. You might remember that Cone was also the guy who thought Scott Strickland was likely to make the team out of camp. Strickland was reassigned without throwing a single exhibition pitch. Off to a great start, Coney.
Last night the Yankees played the tenth game of their exhibition schedule, which means they've gone through their starting rotation twice and are a third of the way through their pre-season slate. With that, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at how the battles for the final spots on the roster are shaping up.
There are 53 players left in camp, not counting the trio of rehabbing pitchers (Andrew Brackman, Humberto Sanchez, and Glass Pavano). Twenty-one of those players are all but guaranteed to head north with the club, as per my initial camper's post of a month ago:
1B Jason Giambi (L)
R Shelley Duncan (1B/OF)
R Chien-Ming Wang
R Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy have been sharing the fifth starter's spot thus far, Kennedy getting the start the first time through the rotation with Chamberlain appearing later in the game, and Chamberlain getting the start last night with Kennedy appearing later in the game. Their turn will come around again on Saturday, when the Yankees have their only split-squad games of the month, thus allowing each pitcher to start one of the two games. After that, the decision to bounce one of them to the bullpen will have to be made. There's no reason for Chamberlain not to be the pitcher moved into relief. All of the other pitchers in the rotation have pitched well in at least one of their two starts thus far (the most recent stinker was from Chien-Ming Wang, who will start against the Blue Jays this afternoon). Kennedy has been better than Chamberlain in both of their games thus far, and, perhaps most importantly, Chamberlain will have a much lower innings limit this season, which all but requires him to spend some time in either the bullpen or the minors.
When I wrote my camper's post, Shelley Duncan's spot on the 25-man roster seemed tenuous. Since then he's torn the cover off the ball. He's slugging 1.063 and leading the Yankees in total bases this spring with 17 while his closest competitors have 11. He could probably go hitless for the rest of camp and still make the team.
As for the fourth and final spot on the bench, my initial characterization of the matter suggested it would come down to what sort of player Girardi wanted to fill that final spot, with the top contenders being corner infielder and solid righty bat Morgan Ensberg, outfielder and righty power bat Jason Lane, or any of a number of weak-hitting utility infielders, with speed/defense center fielder Brett Gardner as a longshot.
Yankee Panky # 44: Hanky, and the Unwritten Rules
Being sick has its advantages. For one, it allows you to relax and catch up on some reading. While the Mets have taken hold of the back pages -- it’s the Spring, they’ll have their time in the spotlight again when they’re blowing a 7-game lead in September -- the feature writers have had some fun projecting next steps for the Yankee organization.
Two pieces most notably caught my attention, both for their similarities and for the differences. Both are profiles of Hank Steinbrenner. Ryan McGee’s piece in ESPN the Magazine traces Hank’s path to the Yankees, then to Kinsman Farm, and then back to the Yankees, capturing his bluster and portraying him as his father’s son. The New York Times Magazine also traced the lineage – what profile doesn’t? – and hinted that certain members of the organization believe that Hank is trying too hard to be the kind of managing partner, at least in the press, that his father once was.
The greatest difference was that the PLAY brought the siblings into it as if to demonstrate that the Yankees want to show a unified management front with the Steinbrenner children. Hank is the liaison to the press and handles the baseball decisions, Hal is the brains behind the business decisions, and Jennifer is helping on the real estate side, assisting in oversight of the New Yankee Stadium project.
Hit The Lights
The Yanks shut out the Reds 4-0 in their first night game of the spring, while Hideki Matsui picked up his first hits.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Billy Traber, Mariano Rivera, Ian Kennedy, LaTroy Hawkins
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Chris Woodward (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Jason Lane (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Colin Curtis (LF), Wilson Betemit (DH)
Opposition: The Reds' starters.
Big Hits: Doubles by Alex Rodriguez (2 for 3) and Colin Curtis (1 for 1). Hideki Matsui was 2 for 3 in his second game of the spring.
Who Pitched Well: Everyone, as the Yankees didn't allow a run nor an extra-base hit and walked just one man, but in order: Mariano Rivera stayed perfect in his second spring inning and has yet to allow a ball out of the infield. Ian Kennedy lasted four innings allowing just two singles and a walk while striking out two and retiring his last eight hitters in order. LaTroy Hawkins pitched around a single in the ninth, though he only got one out on the ground. Billy Traber faced three men, allowed a single, struck out one, and got the third to fly out. Joba Chamberlain was inefficient, lasting just 2 1/3 innings while throwing 49 pitches, and only struck out one, but he also allowed just two singles and walked none. He also threw more strikes as the game went on, throwing only 57 percent of 23 pitches for strikes in the first inning, but 73 percent of 26 pitches for strikes over his remaining inning and a third. Pete Abe reports that the lone strikeout came on an "unholy" curve ball to Edwin Encarnacion, but that it was the 14th pitch of that at-bat as Encarnacion kept fouling off sliders. More on Kennedy and Chamberlain, plus audio, from Pete Abe here.
Nice Plays: Chamberlain picked rookie Jay Bruce off first base.
Oopsies: A wild throw by Alex Rodriguez.
Ouchies: Rodriguez and Posada both played the field and picked up hits, though one wonders if that wild throw had something to do with the sore lat muscle the limited Rodriguez to DH duty over the weekend.
New Faces: In need of an extra backstop following Francisco Cervelli's injury, the Yankees have signed veteran Chad Moeller to a minor league deal. Moeller is a 33-year-old major league vet with a career .224/.284/.346 line. He split last year between the Reds and Dodgers, picking up just 56 at-bats along the way (while posting an OPS+ of 3, yes, three). He was available because he'd just been released by the Nationals, who had him in camp as an NRI. He's purely minor league filler, but will be the triple-A starter and thus the Yankees' third-string catcher. Chad Jennings called him this year's Raul Chavez. Bingo. Meanwhile, the Yankees are giving Billy Crystal one hell of a 60th birthday gift. Crystal will do his best not to get killed in Thursday's game. Frankly I'd be surprised if Joe Girardi isn't drawing blood from biting his tongue over this stunt.
The Gerbil Bites Back
Joe Girardi and Don Zimmer are close friends but they disagree about what went down the other day at the end of the Yankee-Rays exhibition game. Over the past three or four seasons, the Rays have occasionally been pesky against the Yanks, though there has never seemed to be any hard feelings between the two teams, not like the ones the Rays have developed with the Red Sox. But it is never too late to start. Who knows? This could be the year. I see that many experts expect the Rays to be much-improved. Maybe this'll keep Zimmer on-point, poised and ready to rustle up another serving of his inimitable brand of moral indignation.
Hughes The Man
I'm hoping to wear that headline out this year. There have been a lot of pleasant surprises thus far this spring, including the number of players who showed up in legitimately fantastic shape, but the best news of all has been the performance of Phil Hughes, who has restored confidence in his legs following last year's hamstring and ankle injuries, and has thus recovered the snap on his curve, the hop on his heater, and is back to inducing groundballs. This afternoon he took on the Minnesota Twins, who didn't know how good they had it when the Yankees offered Hughes in package for Johan Santana, and kept his spring record hitless over four innings as the Yanks went on to win 6-4.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, Chase Wright, Scott Patterson
Subs: Juan Miranda (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Nick Green (PR/3B), Kyle Anson (C), Colin Curtis (RF), Austin Jackson (CF), Brett Gardner (PR/LF), Greg Porter (DH)
Opposition: The Twins' B-squad with Delmon Young and Justin Morneau.
Bit Hits: Doubles by Jose Molina (1 for 3), Morgan Ensberg (1 for 2, BB), and Greg Porter (1 for 1, BB). Chris Woodward was 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well: Phil Hughes sailed through four hitless innings only allowing a pair of walks as he tired in the fourth. He struck out just one man, but got seven others out on the ground. Kei Igawa walked the bases loaded in the fifth, but stranded all three runners and allowed no hits over two scoreless innings. Scott Patterson retired the only man he faced. Though Igawa allowed that grand slam against SFU, during regular exhibition action those three pitchers have combined for 12 scoreless, hitless innings.
Who Didn't: Chase Wright allowed two runs, one earned, on two walks and a single while getting just two outs in the ninth. Jeff Marquez allowed two runs, one earned, on two hits (one a double by minor league catcher Eli Whiteside) and a walk in one inning of work. Alan Horne pitched a scoreless seventh, but allowed a single, uncorked a wild pitch, and walked two.
More Cuts: Wright, Marquez, and Horne were all reassigned to minor league camp after the game, which was likely to happen even if they had pitched well. Like McCutchen and Melancon from yesterday's cuts, all three are worth tracking this season. Horne and Marquez should be the top two starters in the Scranton rotation and could return as spot starters or long-relief help during the year. If all goes according to plan, both will be in the running to replace Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte next spring. Wright is less exciting, but as a lefty who has his first major league win under his belt, he could pop back up if he is able to right his course in the minors. I'd expect him to start the season in the Trenton rotation with McCutchen, but he could sneak into the Scranton quintet depending on how the chips fall at the end of camp. Chad Jennings of the SWB Yankees blog has been doing some good work on the bullpen battles and believes that with these cuts every remaining pitcher in camp is legitimately fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster.
Oopsies: A throwing error by Colin Curtis and a boot by Alberto Gonzalez, the latter Gonzalez's second error of the spring.
Ouchies: Per Pete Abe, Francisco Cervelli is expected to miss eight to ten weeks and could have a pin inserted in his arm to aid his healing. In his first game action of the spring, Hideki Matsui (knee/neck) went 0 for 3 and grounded into a double play, though supposedly the double play ball was smoked to Justin Morneau, who turned the 3-6-3. Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada (right lats) are expected to play the field in tomorrow's game against the Reds.
The Rays beat the Yankees 4-1 at Legends Field this afternoon, but the big news was a home plate collision with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that sent Yankee catching prospect Francisco Cervelli to the hospital where x-rays revealed a fractured right forearm. The play came with the Rays leading 3-1 in the top of the ninth with two outs and minor league infielder Elliot Johnson on first base via a botched play that was absurdly ruled a single (see below). Willy Aybar doubled to left and Johnson attempted to make it home from first base. As the relay came in from Wilson Betemit via Jason Lane, Cervelli set up in front of the plate. The ball beat Johnson to the plate, so Johnson dropped his head and shoulder and plowed full speed into Cervelli, who was rolled over, but held onto the ball for the out. Cervelli was promptly removed from the game and now has his arm in a cast. This play comes on the heels of another Ray, Carl Crawford, plowing into Houston catcher Humberto Quintaro on Wednesday. Cervelli wasn't going to make the team, but he is a valuable prospect and could be be hindered by the lost development time. Joe Girardi is not pleased. The Rays and Yankees play twice more this spring (the first coming on Wednesday) and 18 times during the regular season, so we haven't heard the last of this.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Chris Britton, Kyle Farnsworth, Jeff Karstens, Jonathan Albaladejo, Ross Ohlendorf
Subs: Shelley Duncan (1B), Bernie Castro (PR/2B), Wilson Betemit (SS), Nick Green (3B), Francisco Cervelli (C), Kyle Anson (C), Jose Tabata (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Jason Lane (LF), Juan Miranda (DH)
Opposition: The Rays' starters save for Dioner Navarro.
Big Hits: Johnny Damon (1 for 3) led off the game by shooting a double down the left field line off Matt Garza. That was the Yankees' only extra-base hit of the game. They had just five hits in total and no Yankee had more than one.
Who Pitched Well: Mike Mussina had a monster curveball working and struck out five in 2 2/3 innings while allowing just two hits and walking two. One of those hits just happened to be a wind-blown solo homer by Jonny Gomes. Regarding the walks, Moose was being squeezed by home plate ump Mark Carlson, which is one reason why he only threw 55 percent of his pitches for strikes. It was also the source of some classic grouchy body language on the mound, as you might imagine. Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect fifth inning. Chris Britton retired all four batters he faced, one via strikeout. Jon Albaladejo worked around a walk for a scoreless inning.
Who Didn't: Jeff Karstens wasn't awful, but he took the loss, allowing the tie-breaking run on three hits and a walk over two frames. Ross Ohledorf pitched in bad luck in the ninth (see the botched grounder ruled a hit in "Oopsies" and add in a passed ball by Kyle Anson that allowed a run to score), but also surrendered a solo homer to Hector Gimenez and a would-be RBI double to Willy Aybar that led to the play on which Cervelli was hurt.
Good Plays: The play that sent Cervelli to the hospital was a great block of the plate. Cervelli has certainly been living up to his defensive reputation thus far this spring. Credit is also due to Wilson Betemit for making a great relay throw from shortstop, and to Jason Lane for hitting the cutoff man. Shelley Duncan made a great leaping stab of a hard hopper over his head, but . . .
Oopsies: . . . he botched the transfer in his attempt to come down and start the 3-6-3 and only got the out at first. In the ninth, Duncan bit on a groundball to his right that was an easy play for the second baseman and in his scramble to cover the bag he both cut off Ohlendorf, who was covering, and dropped the throw. Amazingly, that was ruled a hit. Pressed into emergency duty after Cervelli's injury, Kyle Anson allowed a run to score on a passed ball during the only at-bat he caught in the game.
Ouchies: Alex Rodriguez singled and walked in his two trips as the DH. Jorge Posada did not play. Both are nursing sore right lat muscles. Hideki Matsui will see his first game action tomorrow as the DH, though Anthony Rieber asks, "Is it the best thing to have him take a 2 1/2 hour bus ride when he missed time last week with a stiff neck?"
More Cuts: The Yankees reassigned five pitchers to minor league camp: Steven White, Steven Jackson, Mark Melancon, Dan McCutchen, and Scott Strickland. Strickland came down with a sore elbow before games started and never saw action this spring. White and Jackson both got roughed up. McCutchen pitched a solid inning (one hit, one K), but he's pitched just seven games above A-ball and was never a contender to make the team. Melancon pitched one perfect inning, but is coming off a year lost to late-2006 Tommy John surgery. Both Melancon and McCutchen are arms to keep an eye on. White, however, is in danger of losing his spot on the 40-man roster.
She Lost it at the Movies
During my teenage years, few writers had as big an impact on me as did the film critic, Pauline Kael. One of the things that I really loved about reading her reviews was that I could disagree with her and still learn something new. Although I felt I could predict which movies she'd like and which ones she'd trash, I was never that sure. She was always surprising. She was crazy for movies, and often wrote long-winded, sprawling reviews. They were always something to look forward to. In the late Eighties, she fell ill, and I wrote her a note, saying, in effect that she could not die before she had the chance to review my first movie. Subtle, huh? Weeks later, I received a postcard with scrawled handwriting on one side--"It wasn't the prospect of reviewing your first movie that laid me so low, although something sure as hell did. Good luck, Pauline Kael." She retired from The New Yorker not long after that.
Her reviews were also condensed into blurbs in the front of The New Yorker. Here is a random selection, sure, as always, to raise an eyebrow, make someone furious, and perhaps turn your head too.
It's a rainy day in New York. Enjoy:
Losses Piling Up
Not that it matters, but the Yankees dropped their third game in a row yesterday, falling to the Astros 9-5.
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Edwar Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, LaTroy Hawkins, Steven White, Brian Bruney, Heath Phillips, Jose Veras
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Chris Woodward (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), P.J. Pilittere (C), Colin Curtis (RF), Austin Jackson (CF), Greg Porter (PH/LF), Jorge Posada (DH)
Opposition: The Astros' B-team plus Hunter Pence.
Big Hits: A bunch. The Yankees had 13 hits, eight of which went for extra bases including a solo homer by Wilson Betemit (1 for 3) and doubles by Morgan Ensberg (1 for 2) and Greg Porter (2 for 2). Facing Houston starter and ex-Yankee Shawn Chacon with two outs in the second inning, the Yankees cashed in a leadoff double by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 2) when Jason Lane (1 for 3) doubled himself. Jose Molina then singled Lane home and was pushed to third by a double by Brett Gardner, who tripled in his only other at-bat. Melky Cabrera, who later doubled (1 for 2), walked to load the bases, but Derek Jeter (0 for 3) swung at ball four on 3-1 to leave the bases loaded.
Who Pitched Well: Mariano Rivera, in his first game action of the spring, retired the side on eight pitches (seven strikes) via a pair of strikeouts and a groundouts. Health Phillips pitched around a Tomas Perez double for a scoreless inning and a third, striking out one and getting two other outs on the ground. LaTroy Hawkins allowed two runs on a pair of hits in his only inning, but both were unearned due to a Shelley Duncan error, one of the two hits didn't leave the infield, and all three of his outs, and thus five of the six balls in play he allowed, were on the ground. Andy Pettitte allowed two runs on three hits in his 2 2/3 innings, but the two runs came when a questionable hit-by-pitch was followed Victor Diaz cueing a curve off the plate away the other way for a home run. The other hit was a single and Pettitte struck out two while walking none and getting three other outs on the ground.
Who Didn't: Steven White gave up three runs (two earned) on two doubles and the only two walks drawn by the Astros in an inning and a third. Jose Veras allowed two runs on two hits (one a triple by David Newhan) in the ninth.
Nice Plays: A nice running catch by human highlight reel Colin Curtis.
Oopsies: A boot by Shelley Duncan.
Ouchies: Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada split DH duties due to the fact that both are suffering from sore right latissimus dorsi muscles that hinder their throwing and are being shrugged off as typical of the dead-arm period. Per Pete Abe, they will split DH duties again today, sit out tomorrow, and should play the field again on Monday. Hideki Matsui took batting practice again yesterday and could DH on Monday.
Observations From Cooperstown--Who Will Be The 13th Man?
What the hell is the 13th man, some of you are probably wondering right about now?! Basketball has a sixth man, hockey has a third-man-in, and baseball has a 10th man, so what exactly is the 13th man? With 12-man pitching staffs becoming the norm throughout the major leagues today, teams generally now have 13 position players from which to fill out their lineup and bench. That figures to be the case with the Yankees, who will carry a four-man bench in support of their regular nine-man lineup.
Barring injury, 11 of the 13 slots have been decided. They include two catchers (Jorge Posada and Jose Molina), five infielders (Jason Giambi, Wilson Betemit, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez) and four outfielders (Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui). That leaves two open slots. One of those will likely be filled by Shelley "Slam" Duncan, who is off to a riveting start in the Grapefruit League. Yankee management, from the front office down to the coaches, loves Duncan’s work ethic (he took 200 grounders a day in the early part of spring training), enthusiasm, and raw power from the right side of the plate. Let’s face it, they want Duncan to make this team. Heck, I want Duncan to make the team. Only a brutal spring performance would ruin Duncan’s bid, and right now, it doesn’t appear that Slam will crash. So Duncan figures to be the 12th man.
That leaves us with one open spot for a position player—the aforementioned 13th man. Although the Yankees are publicly keeping an open mind, let’s rule out young first baseman Juan Miranda, who will likely start the season at either Trenton or Scranton. We’re left with an intriguing battle featuring four non-roster players and a minor league prospect who received a cup of coffee in 2007. With that in mind, let’s examine the five candidates and their worthiness.
Morgan Ensberg: He has the most impressive resume of the contenders, but is also the oldest at age 32 and is learning to play first base for the first time in his career. A solid defensive third baseman, Ensberg should be able to handle first base with little trouble, but the question lingers: will he start to hit again? He had big years for the Astros in 2003 and 2005, and emerged as a huge component of Houston’s World Series club in ’05, but hasn’t been the same hitter since injuring his shoulder in the middle of the 2006 season. Instead of hitting like Morgan, he’s been hitting more like Morganna. Ensberg is also one of those rare players who sometimes becomes too patient at the plate. Like former big league outfielder Rich Becker, Ensberg can look so passive that he creates the impression that all he wants to do is work out a walk, which may be a sign that he lacks confidence in the strength of his shoulder.
Still, Ensberg ability to draw walks and hit home runs fits in with the general Yankee gameplan. He has also hammered left-handed pitching throughout his career, to the tune of a .405 on-base percentage and a .530 slugging percentage in 686 plate appearances against southpaws. Considering that his primary role would consist of playing first and DHing against lefties, and backing up A-Rod at third, Ensberg seems like a solid fit.
Jason Lane: Like Ensberg, Lane is learning to play first base and also provides the potential for right-handed power on a left-hand dominant club. At 30, he’s two years younger than his former Astros teammate, and brings the added benefit of being able to play all three outfield positions. Unfortunately, that’s where his advantages end. Lane has had only productive season in the major leagues; that was in 2005, when he slugged 26 home runs and came within a whisper of slugging .500. He has been positively brutal the last two seasons, including a failed late-season tryout with the Padres. Unlike Ensberg, Lane hasn’t hit left-handers especially well, so he may not fill the need for lineup balance. He’s also not your prototypical fourth or fifth outfielder. Defensively, Lane is OK, but nothing special, and doesn’t have enough speed to give the Yankees a pinch-running option. In order to make the Yankees’ roster, Lane will have to hit exceptionally well this spring; even then, the Yankees would be wise to take a pass and try to send him to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Or perhaps trade him to the Mets, who could use a warm body from the right side of the plate.
Chris Woodward: Like Lane, the 31-year-old Woodward has had one big year. That was way back in 2002, when he pounded out 13 home runs in semi-regular duty as the Blue Jays’ shortstop. Since then, he hasn’t put up a slugging percentage of even .400 and hasn’t reached base at anything better than a .337 clip. So what does Woody do? Well, versatility is his particular claim to fame. He played seven positions for the Mets in 2005, then showed up at six positions in 2006. A shortstop by trade, Woodward can play all four infield positions and has experience in all three outfield slots. There is some value in carrying a jack-of-all-trades, but the Yankees already have a versatile infielder in Wilson Betemit, who is a much better hitter, can switch-hit, and happens to be five years younger than Woodward.
In the old days (I’m thinking of the seventies and eighties), teams often carried two utility infielders as part of a contingent of 15 or 16 position players. So under that structure, there would be room for both Woodward and Betemit. But in today’s game, with only 13 position player slots, that kind of arrangement doesn’t make sense—unless both utility guys can hit like Tony Phillips or Cesar Tovar. Woodward is clearly not that kind of player, meaning the Yankees should take a pass and try to stash him at Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
Nick Green: He’s a lot like Woodward, only he’s a little better defensively and doesn’t play the outfield, outside of three career games in right field. He’s never had a big season offensively, which puts him behind Woodward, Lane, and Ensberg on the depth chart. Frankly, the 29-year-old Green needs the other contenders to flop and needs some veterans (like the ailing Hideki Matsui) to hit the disabled list to have any chance of making the team.
Alberto Gonzalez: Having been acquired as part of the Randy Johnson trade, Gonzalez is the only one of the five contenders who’s already on the 40-man roster. That won’t help much; he clearly has only an outsider’s shot of making the team—and that’s only if the Yankees decide that Derek Jeter needs a late-inning caddy. Given how the Yankees treat Jeter with ultra-sensitivity, it’s unlikely they would insult him by suggesting he needs to be lifted for defensive reasons. The 24-year-old Gonzalez does have his plusses, however. He’s a brilliant defensive shortstop in the Andre Robertson mold and has the kind of athleticism that should allow him to learn second and third base quickly. He also has just enough speed (38 steals in 57 minor league attempts) to serve as a pinch-runner. But his inability to hit and his lack of experience will probably doom him to start the season at Scranton Wilkes-Barre, where he’ll wait for an injury –or to be traded somewhere else.
So those are the five choices for the 13th man. I’ll take Ensberg, but could see the Yankees, who don’t seem to value good offensive players on the bench, opting for either Lane or Woodward. Who would you choose?
K is for Klass
And Kyle's got plenty of it.
All Gone Wang
The Yankees took the long trip to Sarasota for a game they'd probably rather forget, a 12-8 loss to the Reds that wasn't nearly that close.
L - Johnny Damon (DH)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Patterson, Kyle Farnsworth, Darrell Rasner, Sean Henn, Dan Giese, Billy Traber, Steven Jackson
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Cody Ransom (SS), Nick Green (3B), Francisco Cervelli (C), Jose Tabata (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Juan Miranda (DH)
Opposition: The Reds starters minus Brandon Phillips and their ace pitcher Aaron Harang.
Big Hits: A grand slam by Greg Porter off Alexander Smit in his only at-bat. A solo homer by Bobby Abreu (1 for 3), and doubles by Johnny Damon (2 for 3) and Chris Woodward (1 for 3). Hitting ahead of Porter's salami, Morgan Ensberg (1 for 1) hit a would-be double to center but was held to a single by Jose Tabata's baserunning.
Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson, Dan Giese, and Billy Traber were all perfect, Giese and Traber for an inning each, Patterson for an inning and a third. Patterson and Traber each struck out one, Giese got all three outs on the ground. Kyle Farnsworth faced the minimum as Joey Votto, whom he walked, was caught stealing by Molina. He struck out one.
Who Didn't: Chien-Ming Wang was decimated. He lasted just two-thirds of an inning and gave up six runs on six hits (five singles and a double by NRI second baseman Andy Green) and two walks. The only two outs he got came in the air (one of them a sac fly). Wang later said he was overthrowing and overstriding leaving his sinkers up. After throwing 32 pitches in the game, Wang threw about 20 more in the bullpen while working on correcting what went wrong in the game. Darrell Rasner allowed a single, walked three, and gave up a grand slam to Edwin Encarnacion. He got five of his six outs on the ground, but struck out no one. Sean Henn struck out two in his one inning of work, but also gave up three hits and two runs (though one was unearned). The game officially ended with the hosting Reds up 12-8, but Joe Girardi asked them to play the bottom of the ninth so that Steven Jackson could get an inning of work. Jackson got only one run before allowing four runs and having his manager throw in the towel.
Oopsies: A boot by Woodward and a bad throw by Nick Green.
Tyler Kepner has a piece on Ian Kennedy today in the Times:
Kennedy's average fastball is probably 89 miles an hour, and what was exceptional in high school when he teamed with Young on a United States junior national team is nothing special now.
This brought to mind an article that Jack Curry did on Greg Maddux back in 2003:
"Why am I so good?" Maddux said, repeating a question. "I think it's probably because I understand myself as a pitcher, somewhat. I have an idea of what I can and can't do on the mound. That's probably the only reason I've lasted for the last five or six years."
Horse of a Different Color
For fans inflamed by provincial loyalties, it may be hard to fathom the personal bonds forged in an environment seemingly more suited for enmity than affection. But this winter, the general managers, Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman, made public appearances together, Cashman at Epstein's charity event in Boston, Epstein at a speaking engagement at a New Jersey university, one that Cashman jokingly likened to an Obama-Clinton debate. The friendship is genuine.
The rivalry is real, but it's mostly for (and about) the fans. Which is not to say that players on each side don't want to beat each other, but, with perhaps a few exceptions here and there, I don't believe the players dislike each other in the same way they did in the Fisk-Munson days.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Heath Phillips, Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Albaladajo, Edwar Ramirez, Chris Britton, Ross Ohlendorf
Subs: Shelley Duncan (1B), Nick Green (2B), Chris Woodward (SS), Morgan Ensberg (3B), Francisco Cervelli (C), Jason Lane (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Colin Curtis (LF), Greg Porter (DH), Bernie Castro (PR)
Big Hits: Consecutive doubles to deep dead center by Robinson Cano (3 for 3) and Wilson Betemit (1 for 3), and a solo homer by Shelley Duncan (1 for 2). Derek Jeter was 2 for 2 with a walk.
Who Pitched Well: Heath Phillips tossed a perfect third inning retiring a lefty and two righties (one of the latter via strikeout and the other two men via grounders). Chris Britton retired the only two men he faced. Ross Ohlendorf allowed a well-placed weak ground ball for a single, but struck out the other two men he faced with some wicked stuff.
Who Didn't: Ian Kennedy didn't seem sharp as he threw just 56 percent of his 34 pitches for strikes and allowed a solo homer to Delmon Young, but he didn't walk anyone, only allowed one other hit, a single, and got four of his five outs on the ground (two via a double play in the first). Joba Chamberlain had a ratio of strikes to balls that was similar to Kennedy's (54 percent of 35 pitches), but also got four of his six outs on the ground (plus one via strikeout). He allowed three baserunners in his two frames, one via walk, one via single, and one via a two-run home run by minor leaguer Garrett Jones. Neither pitched well, but neither was awful, and it is still the first week of March. Jonathan Albaladejo allowed a run on four hits (one a double by Joe Mauer), was charged with a blown save, and had to be pulled with one out in the seventh (though he did strikeout two of the five men he retired). Edwar Ramirez struck out Felix Molina to end Albaladejo's seventh inning, but ran into trouble in the eighth. After a leadoff walk, the Yankees' replacement fielders only got one out on a double-play ball. Ramirez then hit a batter, and gave up an infield single and a two-run double. He finally got that second out only because of a great diving catch by Colin Curtis. Then came the hook.
Nice Plays: Curtis's diving catch coming in toward the line in left was the highlight, but Melky Cabrera had a nice day in the field, making a one charging catch on the run in shallow right center and later gunning out a tagging runner for a 8-5 double play. Jason Giambi also had a good day in the field, making one leaping stab of a ball over his head and later circling a well-hit ball down the line nicely for an unassisted putout.
Oopsies: Nothing really, that missed double play was the only poor play. Chris Woodward did a good job of fielding a hard grounder at short, but the ball rolled up his arm on the transfer. Second baseman Nick Green's pivot throw bounced, and Shelley Duncan didn't even come close to corralling it at first base.
Ouchies: Hideki Matsui finally took some batting practice after skipping a few days due to a stiff neck that resulted from his last BP session, though he supposedly wasn't swinging at full strength today. Scott Strickland (sore elbow) was scheduled to throw of a bullpen mound today.
More: Smiles abound in this post from Tyler Kepner, which has the good news on Bobby Murcer's biopsy (it was just scar tissue!) and a humorous note from the intrasquad game that took place this morning. That play involved Chase Wright, who now has yet another incident to live down. Also, here's a link to some links from Chad Jennings of the excellent SWB Yankees Blog, including an excellent piece on Kei Igawa by Kepner.
Game 5 Liveblog: Yankees vs. Twins
Welcome the my fifth annual spring training liveblog. I typically blog the Yankees' first spring training game of the year, but this year the YES broadcast schedule (which omitted the first game of the exhibition season) and reader request have reassigned me to Game 5, which like last year's opener, finds the Yankees hosting the Minnesota Twins.
Here are today's lineups courtesy of Peter Abraham:
R - Carlos Gomez (CF)
R - Kevin Slowey (P)
The traveling Twins only brought half their starters, but they do have both of the M&M boys (last year they left Mauer behind) and two of their big off-season acquisitions, Delmon Young and ex-Met Carlos Gomez. Injuries to Moises Alou (of course) and Endy Chavez forced the Mets to rush Gomez to the majors last year at age 21, robbing him of a crucial year of development. Many believe that Gomez, who has just 140 triple-A bats under his belt, needs a full season at Rochester this year, but looking at his competition and Ron Gardenhire's lineups this spring, it seems Gomez is the leading candidate to open the season as the Twins' center fielder and leadoff hitter. The pressure to show off some of their return for Johan Santana may also factor in to the team's decision.
Harris came over in the Young trade and is competing with Alexi Casilla for the second base job. Tolbert, starting at shortstop today, is also primarily a second baseman and could factor into that battle as well. Buscher is coming off a huge season as a triple-A Rule 5 pick, but will be 27 in April didn't hit much in his brief major league debut last year. Jones is entering his tenth professional season and also made an unimpressive major league debut last year. Knott is a 28-year-old former Padres power prospect and non-roster invitee.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
R - Ian Kennedy (P)
Joba Chamberlain will follow Kennedy for the Yankees.
I like reading about hardass managers from the seventies--Dick Williams, Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, Earl Weaver--because it's just so difficult to imagine them in today's game. Here is a typical bit of nastiness from Billy the Kid, courtesy of Bob Klapisch and John Harper's The Worst Team Money Could Buy:
Perhaps the lasting legacy of Bill Heinz is something he told me in a phone interview 15 years ago. What, I asked him, was the greatest lesson he had learned in nearly half a century of sportswriting? His answer was surprising. "In the end, all of us -- fans, writers, coaches, athletes -- have something in common: We're all losers. Everybody is a loser, let's face it. None of us wins all the time, in games or in life, not Joe DiMaggio, not Muhammad Ali. And none of us is going to live forever."
Not even Roger Clemens...
This reminded me of what Roger Angell once said about failure, and why, when he started writing about baseball, he was drawn to the Mets and not the Yankees because, he contended, there is more Mets than Yankees in most of us. Most of us can generally relate more to failure than success. Pat Jordan was a failure as a pitcher and then made a career out of profiling so-called "failures" (though he writes just as convincingly about success stories). Check out Jordan's latest, from last weekend's Play magazine, on two young golfers.
The Other Guy
Last fall I was at Yankee Stadium working on an assignment for SI.com. I wanted to speak to Kevin Long, the batting coach. I waited, just outside of the Yankee dugout, for batting practice to end. The players started walking off the field. When I saw a familiar face approach I introduced myself...only it was to the wrong guy. "No, I'm not Kevin Long," said Rob Thomson, as if he had often been mistaken for someone other than himself, "he's the short guy over there."
I felt like a dope, but Thomson didn't seem displeased which made me breath a sigh of relief. Well, turns out Thomson will be more visible this year in the Bronx as Joe Girardi's bench coach. According to Mark Feinsand in the Daily News:
"I knew how prepared he was, how much he knew about the game and all the different roles he had played within the organization," Girardi said. "The only thing he didn't have was big-league experience, but he's been doing it for years."
Joba Chamberlian re-upped with the Yanks too. He'll earn $390,000. Random thought...Last week, I either read or heard that Joba went to P.R. over the winter to attend a charity bowling benefit that Jorge Posada hosted. I wonder if a veteran like Posada paid for Joba to fly down there or if the kid paid is own way.
Rain interrupted the Yankees' game against the Blue Jays twice this afternoon. First a rain delay ended Phil Hughes' day after his first pitch of the second inning (Hughes threw a pair of 15-pitch "innings" indoors to get to 40 tosses on the day), then rain ended the game itself with the visiting Yanks leading 2-0 with two outs in the top of the sixth. The Blue Jays sent just 15 men to the plate. None of them reached base.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Scott Patterson, Kei Igawa, Billy Traber
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Jose Molina (C), Colin Curtis (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Juan Miranda (DH)
Opposition: The Blue Jays' starters minus Alex Rios.
Big Hits: Doubles by Shelley Duncan (2 for 2) and Morgan Ensberg (1 for 1).
Who Pitched Well: Everyone. Phil Hughes got through the first inning on nine pitches (six strikes), getting two outs on the ground. Billy Traber struck out the side (two lefties and righty Frank Thomas) in the fifth for the save. Scott Patterson struck out one in his lone inning. Kei Igawa went 3-0 on his first batter, but recovered and struck out two in his two perfect frames (more on Igawa here).
Ouchies: Updating my note on Hideki Matsui from yesterday, Godzilla did not take batting practice yesterday or today due to his stiff neck. The original goal was for Matsui to start participating in games this weekend, but that target is starting to slip. Robinson Cano missed the game to get a couple of fillings in his teeth.
More: Tyler Kepner has a brief note on the Andy Pettitte workout group, which now includes six Yankee hurlers. Kat O'Brien has some nice Joba anecdotes here. The other pitchers scheduled to pitch today (Jeff Marquez, Chase Wright, Alan Horne, and Mark Melancon) will get their work in during a brief intrasquad game tomorrow morning scheduled for 10:15. Assuming there's no more rain, I'll be liveblogging the actual game against the Twins at 1:00.
Smooth it Out
I caught a couple of innings of Sunday's exhibition game between the Yankees and Phillies--saw Giambi punch a double into the left center field gap, saw Alex Rodriguez just get under one and fly out. I was struck by how, what's the right word?, rusty, the fielding was. Not that it came as a surprise, but it reminded me just how smooth most major league fielders are once the season gets going. How talented they are. The routine plays looked difficult on Sunday.
Also saw Jorge Posada take one off the face mask and Ken Singleton, the YES announcer, said, "First one of the year." I wonder if veteran catchers like Posada are so used to getting banged up by foul balls that they hardly notice it (that is, if it is physically possible to hardly notice getting pounded in the grill), or if he says, "Oy, there's the first one, only a hundred plus more to go." Does it get harder and harder the older you get?
The Yanks beat the Astros 7-6 this afternoon to run their spring record to 2-0-1.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Jeff Karstens, Edwar Ramirez, Steven Jackson, Daniel McCutchen, Mark Melancon
Subs: Cody Ransom (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Nick Green (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Jose Tabata (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Austin Jackson (LF), Greg Porter (DH)
Opposition: The Astros starters.
Big Hits: Doubles by Melky Cabrera (2 for 3, BB), Shelley Duncan (2 for 4), and Morgan Ensberg (2 for 4). Robinson Cano went 3 for 4.
Who Pitched Well: Everyone except Mussina. The five Yankee relievers combined for this line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R (0 ER), 0 BB, 4 K. Jeff Karstens delivered three strong innings of relief, working around a single and a double by striking out two and getting four other outs on the ground. Jackson pitched a perfect inning. Melancon erased an error in the ninth by inducing a double play to face the minimum.
Who Didn't: Mussina, who allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits in two-plus innings without striking out a batter. Moose breaks down his outing here. In summary, he was getting lots of early two-strike counts, but lacked command and an out pitch and thus was making mistakes in the zone (he threw a whopping 83 percent of his 40 pitches for strikes) and getting hit. The bulk of the damage occurred when he came back out for the third inning and gave up a pair of singles (an infield job by Kaz Matsui and a solid shot by Lance Berkman) and a three-run homer to Carlos Lee. Moose's outing is yet another reminder that it's very early in spring training, though it's worth noting that a lack of an out pitch is what got him bumped from the rotation down the stretch last year.
Oopsies: A bunch: Morgan Ensberg booted one in the first. In the second, with Hunter Pence on second, Jose Cruz Jr. singled to right field, Ensberg made an attempt at the ball (Mark Feinsand thinks he perhaps should have gotten to it), drawing Mussina toward first to cover the bag, Jason Lane then threw wild to the plate, and Mussina was caught out of position, leaving no one backing up the play and allowing Cruz to move to second. Later in the game, Alberto Gonzalez made a throwing error and Cody Ransom booted one in the ninth.
Ouchies: Hideki Matsui apparently tweaked his neck while swinging a bat a couple of days ago, but was still scheduled to take BP today.
Bonus Cut: Third baseman Marcos Vechionacci, another low-minors player with zero chance of factoring into a position battle, was reassigned to minor league camp.
More: This is utterly unrelated, but fun stuff from Jack Curry on some old cat-and-mouse games between Jason Giambi and David Cone.
The Yanks and Phils played to a 7-7, nine-inning tie in the Yanks' first home game of the spring.
L - Johnny Damon (DH)
Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Steven White, Scott Patterson, LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth, Sean Henn, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras
Subs: Juan Miranda (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (2B), Wilson Betemit (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Jose Molina (C), Colin Curtis (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Chris Woodward (LF), Nick Green (DH)
Opposition: The Phillies traveling squad, featuring five regulars and no Ryan Howard.
Big Hits: A rocket of a three-run home run by Jason Giambi to inaugurate the new right-field bleachers in the first inning. Giambi (2 for 3) also had an RBI double to the gap in left center. Jason Lane added a solo shot and a triple in three trips. The triple was actually a dropped fly by Jayson Werth playing in center, but Lane did hit it about 400 feet. Both homers game off Philly starter Cole Hamels. Johnny Damon doubled in three trips. Bobby Abreu went 2 for 3 with a stolen base for the second straight game.
Who Pitched Well: LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect inning of relief, getting all three outs on the ground. Jose Veras also pitched a perfect frame, with all three outs coming in the air. Scott Patterson, who has a really wacky delivery (a tall guy, he looks like he's going to throw about three-quarters, then suddenly he drops his left shoulder and comes straight over the top in the low 90s), retired the only batter he faced. Andy Pettitte was sharp, pitching around a walk (erased by a double play) and a single (erased by a pickoff) in two scoreless frames and getting just one of his outs in the air. Sean Henn pitched around a single for a scoreless inning of his own.
Who Didn't: Steven White was lit up for four runs on five hits and two walks in just 1 2/3 innings. Brian Bruney, who is probably the most noticeably slimmed-down player in camp, gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in his lone inning of work, picking up a blown save in the process. Kyle Farnsworth is still working from the windup, but it did him little good as he gave up a solo homer to Pat Burrell plus a single in his only frame.
Nice Plays: The gem of the game was actually a full-out dive by Philadelphia center fielder Greg Goslon to rob Juan Miranda of an extra-base hit in the left field gap. Goslon caught the ball in mid-air at full extension. He also had an RBI single and a stolen base and homered in Saturday's game. Word is he still has a lot of work to do at the plate, but he's a young five-tool player worth keeping an eye on. Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez both made nice plays going to their right and throwing off balance to Jason Giambi, who also had a nice day in the field ("I'm a cat out there" sez G'bombi).
Oopsies: Nothing egregious, but there were a few difficult plays in the infield that weren't made that likely would have been during the regular season, betraying how early we are in the process of these players getting ready for the season. Derek Jeter didn't quite get his jump-pass to first base on time, Cano pulled Giambi off the bag with another cross-body throw, and Alex Rodriguez got eaten up by a short hopper right after making his nice play mentioned above.
The First Cut: Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Eduardo Nuñez, and Eric Duncan have all been reassigned to minor league camp, which opens tomorrow. I'm disappointed not to have gotten to see Montero hit, particularly after he homered in Saturday's game, but he and Romine, who were actually reassigned on Saturday, are important prospects from the low minors who need to spend the spring doing something other than riding pine with the big leaguers. Nuñez and Duncan probably shouldn't have been in camp in the first place. In Duncan's case, the invite was likely intended solely to boost his confidence, as not inviting him would have underscored the degree to which his stock has fallen.
Further Reading: Anthony McCarron's liveblog. I found this bit on Giambi particularly interesting: "Giambi is giddy about his condition and wants to prove to the Yankees that he can shoulder the load at first every day. He said he never realized how bad his feet are--medically speaking, not that he's got two left ones--and he is now taking care of them with orthotics and exercises." Remember it was plantar fasciitis (a foot-arch injury) that sidelined him last year.
Duncan Goes Nuts
In the first official game of spring training the Yankees treated the defending NL East Champions a lot like they treated the University of South Florida the day before, cruising to a 9-3 win.
L - Brett Gardner (CF)
Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Darrell Rasner, Billy Traber, Chris Britton, Heath Phillips, Jonathan Albaladejo, Dan Giese, Ross Ohlendorf
Subs: Wilson Betemit (1B-2B), Eric Duncan (1B), Eduardo Nuñez (SS), Marcos Vechionacci (3B), Jesus Montero (C), Jason Lane (RF-LF), Jose Tabata (RF), Austin Jackson (CF), Bernie Castro (DH)
Opposition: The defending NL East Champion Phillies' starters.
Big Hits: A three-run homer by Shelley Duncan, who also delivered a two-run double. He was 2 for 3 with 5 RBIs. Solo homers by Alex Rodriguez (2 for 3) and Jesus Montero (an opposite-field shot in his only plate appearance), and a two-run dinger by Wilson Betemit (1 for 2) of ex-Yank Tom Gordon.
Who Pitched Well: Almost everyone save for Darrell Rasner. The other seven Yankee pitchers combined for this line: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K, the lone run coming on a home run off Giese by non-roster invitee Greg "Goose" Golson, who was the first batter Giese faced and the only baserunner he allowed. Jon Albaladejo struck out two in a perfect inning. Billy Traber faced three lefties and retired them all. Chien-Ming Wang allowed a booming double by Ryan Howard, but retired the other six men he faced, four on groundouts, one via strikeout. Heath Phillips gave up a single to Howard, but struck out the next two men (a righty and a lefty) and got lefty Greg Dobbs to fly out to strand Howard.
Who Didn't: Rasner pitched in and out of trouble with two outs. Following a single sandwiched between a pair of groundouts, he walked Shane Victorino, and gave up an RBI double to Chase Utley. He then walked Ryan Howard to load the bases (likely somewhat intentionally as it came on four pitches), and got Pat Burrell to fly out to leave 'em loaded. The result was the ugliest line of the day, but he probably impressed his coaches by getting himself out of the jam.
Oopsies: After walking and stealing second, Derek Jeter got picked off second base ahead of Rodriguez's homer (Anthony McCarron reports the steal sign was on yet again). Chris Woodward let a grounder through the wickets at second for the game's only error.
Battles: Traber and Phillips kicked off the battle for the lefty spot in the pen. Traber's ability to get lefties out isn't in question, but he needs to prove he can retire righties in order to make the team, and he knows it. Phillips pitched well overall, but the purpose of having a lefty in the pen is to get the big lefties like Howard out, and that he failed to do. Hitting directly behind Duncan in the order, Morgan Ensberg went 0-for-3 with two strikouts. Jason Lane singled and struck out in two trips. In addition to his six bases and five RBIs in three trips, Duncan got good marks for his fielding today. Chris Woodward played the entire game at second base and went 2 for 3, but also committed that error.
More: Jason McAdams of My Baseball Bias liveblogged the entire game. Wang threw just 24 pitches, but was mixing them well. He struck Pat Burrell out on a curve ball and even worked in three changeups. Don't get too excited about that pitch just yet, however. Remember all the hype about Mariano Rivera throwing a change in spring training last year? Well, according to the new edition of The Bill James Goldmine, Mo threw exactly one (1) changeup during the regular season (though James does list 11 Rivera pitches as "uncharted"). If there was just one, Emma Span caught it. Tyler Kepner reports that Joe Girardi's plan is to have Jason Giambi start at first base every other day this month. Finally, check out Pete Abe's piece about the Yankees' long-term center field picture. Quoth Cashman: "In the end, I think we're going to have a great [homegrown] center fielder. It's just a question of who that is."
I saw my favorite bus driver this morning. I went to visit my brother and his family. I take the BX7 bus which picks me up on 236th street and Riverdale Avenue and lets me off on 207th street and Broadway, just a few blocks from their apartment. The trip takes between 15-25 minutes, depending on traffic.
The bus stops directly across the street from where I live so pretty much as soon as I walk out my door I know whether I can make a bus or not. I know exactly how much time it takes if I break out and haul ass in a sprint. Today, I started the sprint but didn't have a chance and missed the bus by a wide margin. Buddy, a fit, old wise guy that lives in my building--he's always out walking his little venomous dog--watched me sprint and then let up in defeat. I caught his eye and he laughed at me.
Took more than ten minutes for the next bus to show up. But when it did I saw that it was being driven by my man, Bobby Riggs. Bobby Riggs is a pale, lean man in his late fifites with glasses and pockmarked skin. He has a thick New York accent and a friendly disposition. Straight forward, open. But not soft. He's been driving long enough to have seniority and he only likes to work the 7 line. The first time we met we got to talking sports, cause I brought it up, but he didn't really care about sports. Somehow we got to tennis and the Billie Jean King celebrity match against...what was that guy's name again? When I left the bus that day, neither of us could remember the stupid guy's name.
Couple of hours after I left him that day, it hit me. And the next time I saw the guy, I was ready to pounce. He opens the door and points at me and goes, "Hey, Bobby Riggs." So we've always called each other Bobby Riggs ever since. He's a real good guy. Lives with his mother. She's 91 and has alzheimer's but he'll never turn her over to a home or an institution.
He was actually getting off the bus himself at 215th street, a shift-change stop for drivers. Time for lunch-o. Before he got off he turned to me and said, "By the way, my name is Paul."
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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