Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Observations from Cooperstown
2007-03-09 10:08
by Alex Belth

By Bruce Markusen

Over the past few days, I've tried to settle on a common theme to the Yankees' spring camp in Tampa, but in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "I've got nothing." I don't want to spill any more ink on the Alex Rodriguez-Derek Jeter courtship, refuse to become tempted by Roger Clemens' game of "Waiting For Godot," and have grown tired of Gary Sheffield's illogical rants from Tigertown. So instead I'll present a smattering of observations on what has taken place at Legends Field over the first four weeks of spring training.

*We're almost ten days into the exhibition season, but no closer to finding out the identity of the new backup catcher. Todd Pratt is hurt, Raul Chavez is a non-factor, and Wil Nieves reminds me too much of John Ramos (a blast from the past). For most of the 1980s, the Yankees searched high and far for a quality starting catcher. Now they're having similar trouble finding a merely competent backup receiver. Is it so crazy to suggest that if the Yankees decide to trade Carl Pavano, they should be happy to receive a second-string catcher in return? If the Rockies, Cardinals, or Mariners were willing to give up a B-level catching prospect for Pavano, Brian Cashman should jump at the opportunity. Anything but another right-handed reliever, of which the Yankees have cornered the market.

*From what little I've seen of Josh Phelps, he looks like he can hit—to the tune of 25 home runs if given 450 at-bats. With his tall body and long swing, the Dale Murphy lookalike appears to be the kind of guy who could struggle in a platoon role, but might be more productive playing every day. Right now, there's no chance of him getting those regular at-bats, but that situation could change drastically in Yankeeland. Given Doug Mientkiewicz' recent history of back problems and poor hitting, he'll be out of a job by mid-July. If Phelps is still around by then (and if the Yankees are willing to put up with his stodgy defense at first base), he might be a reasonable stopgap at first base. In contrast, I think Andy Phillips would fare better in a platoon, but I have serious doubts that he would even be able to match Minty's production as an everyday player. And that's a scary thought.

*How come no one told me about the new baseball terminology in place this spring? I've read in more than one place that Bobby Abreu will begin "dry swinging the bat" in a few weeks. Dry swinging? As opposed to wet swinging? When I first heard the term "dry swinging," I immediately thought of Gregg Jefferies' routine of taking a bat into a swimming pool and trying to swing the bat under the water. That's actually a very good way of improving your hand and wrist strength, but I guess we can assume that Abreu won't be doing that. In the meantime, I'm sure someone will fill me in on the real meaning of the new catch phrase.

*Mariano Rivera showcased his change-up the other day against the Reds, striking out former Devil Rays prospect Josh Hamilton with that very pitch. (Here Hamilton is trying to make the Reds' roster as a Rule Five draftee and he has to face Mariano in the middle innings. Gee, thanks, Jerry Narron.) Rivera has worked on the change-up in prior springs, but this is the first time I can remember hearing serious talk that he might actually unveil it during the regular season. Left-handed hitters throughout the American League must be thrilled at the possibilities. They've already been subjected to the stinging sensation of broken bats on inside cutters; now they might have to protect the outside half of the plate against a fadeaway change-up. That's not only unfair, it's downright mortifying.

*Rivera might actually have some help this year. With the additions of Chris Britton and Luis Vizcaino and the availability of Brian Bruney from Day One, the Yankees have their deepest bullpen since the World Championship days. (When was the last time the Yankees had four pitchers who could consistently reach 95 on the gun?) If Scott Proctor's rubber arm can return from last year's pounding and if Kyle Farnsworth can work ahead of the count, the bullpen could be second only to Anaheim in the American League.

*A final thought has to do with the suffocating atmosphere around Legends Field. I know some of the hosts over at MLB Radio who have openly discussed the restrictive air around the Yankees. Even with a new PR director and a new director of stadium security in Tampa, the Yankees still conduct spring training as if it were a penitentiary. Members of the Yankee staff, who walk the premises with cold, unsmiling looks, spend much of their time shooing the media from one location to another. Given such a joyless atmosphere, it's not surprising that the new security director recently booted some fans from box seats at Legends Field, only to realize they were members of Brian Cashman's family. Don't the Yankees realize it's just baseball, and that it's supposed to be fun? As the late Willie Stargell used to say, you're supposed to play baseball, not work it. The Yankee organization could learn a lesson from Pops.

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.

2007-03-09 10:24:14
1.   vockins
Isn't dry swinging when you're not taking a pitch? Like on deck warmups?

I am prepared to be 197% wrong on that. I seem to recall one of my coaches using the term that way, but that was over 20 years ago.

2007-03-09 10:52:27
2.   Chyll Will
"Is it so crazy to suggest that if the Yankees decide to trade Carl Pavano, they should be happy to receive a second-string catcher in return?"

No, and Jim Dean will probably man-crush/one-up you on that very shortly (now you've done-did it...)

"If Phelps is still around by then, and if the Yankees are willing to put up with his stodgy defense at first base, blah-blah-blah..."

Mkwz was a wasted signing. If you're gonna catch lightning in a bottle, catch it with guys with more upside (Phelps and Phillips are younger) and potentially compliment each other's skills better. If he's only there to make A-Rod feel better or to satisfy Torre's need for "vetereness", then the priorities have not fallen in order and we're still looking at an early exit in October.

Dry-swinging is a late-night Cinemax term similar to "fluffing." I have no idea how it made it's way into a family-oriented blog such as this >;)

Admitting I've only heard the games on the radio and heard his outing once, my first impression of Vizcaino is his tough on righties, but needs work dealing with lefties. Given that, if he improves against lefties, then Myers is superfluous.

Finally, if their doing that at Legends Field, they're asking for real trouble when they get back to the Bronx. Shame...

2007-03-09 11:09:49
3.   Sliced Bread
"Dry swing" is probably derived from "dry run," and the mysterious origins of that can be found here:

2007-03-09 11:16:19
4.   Sliced Bread
re: Mo's changeup. Probably a Guidry idea, and a fine one at that.

Tyler Kepner had this a few days ago:

"I never threw a changeup," the Yankees' pitching coach, Ron Guidry, said with some pride. "Not until I was about 36 years old and I was going out the door."

In Guidry's prime, his catcher, Thurman Munson, had only two signs, each with a variation. One finger meant a straight fastball. If Munson wiggled the finger, he wanted a tailing fastball. Three fingers meant the vicious slider Guidry had learned from Sparky Lyle. Three wiggling fingers meant a slider thrown just a bit slower.

Then Guidry aged. Forced to improvise, he got a strikeout on the first changeup he tried. The startled hitter was so offended, he cursed Guidry and called him gutless.

2007-03-09 11:19:52
5.   David
If Minky's back is bothering him when the season starts, then I think the Yanks should put him on the disabled list and keep both Phelps and Phillips. That would allow them more time to evaluate them. Also, Phelps would likely be a better than Giambi against lefty pitching.
2007-03-09 11:24:23
6.   tommyl
2 Myers is superfluous no matter what. He is around to basically pitch to one or two batters, once or twice a week. Seriously can't another lefty (Villone) or a power righty handle this duty and then manage to stay in the game? Yes, yes I know he's in there for Ortiz, but Ortiz isn't going to homer off a good righty every single time, and hell, he did it off Myers a few times last year anyways. Get rid of him, and then you have the option of either carrying another OF (Thompson, Reese or Sardinha) or replacing his spot in the BP with someone like Britton, Bruney, Bean, Beam etc.
2007-03-09 11:43:29
7.   Sliced Bread
"Even with a new PR director and a new director of stadium security in Tampa, the Yankees still conduct spring training as if it were a penitentiary."

I think the last Yanks PR director who got the boot was a "fall guy" for the Verducci slam job on A-Rod late last season.

I'm guessing the Yankees thinking was that the PR gatekeeper granted too much access, enabling Verducci to weave his troublesome tale of A-Rod: "The Lonely Yankee."

If that's the case, then I would expect the Yanks to be running an even tighter ship this season with respect to media access to the players. That's unfortunate.

As for the uptight/overzealous security at Legends, that's also a bummer. Everybody wants a safe day/night at the ballpark, but it shouldn't feel like a lockdown.

2007-03-09 11:48:16
8.   Shaun P
5 I agree.

6 If Villone is going to make the team, I'd really like to see Myers sent elsewhere, and one of the fireballing righties in his place.

If Farns could give Papi trouble with his heat, why couldn't a Britton or a Bruney?

2007-03-09 12:05:25
9.   tommyl
Last year for Myers (BA/OBP/SLG):

againt righties: .224/.345/.286
against lefties: .257/.297/.443

so at least last year he was actually better against righties, and honestly, not all that amazing against lefties. By comparison Bruney's splits from last year:

against righties: .229/.327/.354
against lefties: .115/.343/.115

and he's a power guy who can pitch more than 1/3 inning at a time. I was also correct in remembering that Ortiz had cranked one off Myers last year, which is obviously a small sample. My point here is that Myers just isn't that much better against lefties than other people and keeping him around prevents us from carrying one of either a long man, another power arm or a 5th OF all of which I think are more valuable than occasionaly having to walk or pitch gingerly to David Ortiz.

2007-03-09 12:45:56
10.   JCP22
I would keep Myers around. If Myers hits his spots, the ball is staying in the park vs Ortiz. Whereas I have seen Ortiz turn around many nasty high fastballs as well as the low and away ones from righties. I think the only pitch that bothers Ortiz from a righty is high heat up and in...if it tails over the middle of plate, he can still mash it. Is anything the Yanks throw at Ortiz from the right side (ex Rivera) much better than Flash Gordon when he was on his game? Remember how those matchups generally turned out? Keep running Myers out there, and have him run a few fastballs up and in just for kicks.
2007-03-09 12:49:01
11.   tommyl
10 You are ignoring my actual point, that keeping a pitcher on the roster ostensibly to pitch to one batter is just stupid. In the long run you'd do better simply walking Ortiz every time and having another guy on the roster to play in the rest of the games. Yes, David Ortiz is really, really good but believe it or not he does not single handledly win every game for the Red Sox and every other opponent the Yankees will face.
2007-03-09 13:01:21
12.   Sliced Bread
Small sample, but Ortiz took Myers deep last season.

Ortiz whiffed against Farnswacker all four times he faced him.

2007-03-09 13:05:55
13.   sam2175
Yeah, I agree about Myers. If Yankees are so mortified of Ortiz, they should just "Barry Bonds" him each time he is on the plate in any meaningful situation rather than waste a roster spot.
2007-03-09 13:42:42
14.   Bama Yankee
Didn't Guidry work with Myers to help him against righties (IIRC, Gator told him to move to the other end of the rubber)? It seemed to pay off as stated in 9 he had a career year against righties last year. Maybe they don't consider him as much of a LOOGY as we all do and plan to let him face a few more righties batting between tough lefties. Or it could just be that they like his "belly full of submarine frisbee throwin' guts"...
2007-03-09 15:08:34
15.   weeping for brunnhilde
I saw Mo's "change-up" (is that really all it was?) and couldn't believe my eyes. The thing just danced and floated its way in there, hitting the perfect spot. The poor batter had no chance.

Movement, location, change-of-pace.

My God.

As to Andy, what's this about "limiting his exposure to the Red Sox?"

What a bizarre practice--is that precedented?

2007-03-09 16:51:06
16.   Cliff Corcoran
14 Guidry had Myers move to the third-base side of the rubber against righties so he could pitch inside to them. He moves back to the first-base side against lefties.

15 Yes, it's not uncommon for the Yankees to move guys guaranteed rotation spots to minor league games in order to avoid facing their rivals in spring training. Last year Mike Mussina pitched in a minor league game to avoid facing the Devil Rays in both of his last two spring training starts.

2007-03-09 16:53:20
17.   markp
I would much rather have the above mentioned Farnsworth or any of our other RP with mid 90s heaters than Myers face Ortiz.

Was Karstens supposed to start tonight?

2007-03-09 16:58:32
18.   Cliff Corcoran
17 No, Pavano was scratched because he had to attend to a personal issue. It is not injury related and Brian Cashman has said Pavano had a "legitimate reason," that it came up just before game time, and that he'll return soon. Pete Abe has the skinny on LoHud:
2007-03-09 17:19:59
19.   markp

Nice outing by Karstens.

2007-03-09 18:11:43
20.   unmoderated
i cant believe i dont have any of bruce's books at my oneonta, ny. bookstore. there oughta be a rule.

sorry, man.

2007-03-09 19:14:00
21.   Jim Dean
Looks like the long national nightmare is over - Minky got a hit (and two BB) and now stands at a Torre-solid 1 for 13 with 4 BB.

Meanwhile did Karstens look as good as his 4 K's suggest?

2007-03-09 21:09:05
22.   Cliff Corcoran
21 Torre said his velocity is up, perhaps the result of being fresh. He had thrown a lot of innings for a 23-year-old mLer by late Sept of last year.
2007-03-09 21:10:12
23.   yankz
Thanks for the amazing tidbits, please keep it up.

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