Reds 6, Yankees 3: Confessions of Alex Rodriguez Edition
by Cliff Corcoran
The Yanks dropped their second straight game for the first time this spring. Andy Phillips and Brian Bruney made their spring debuts, and eight players, five of them non-roster invitees, were reassigned after the game.
L - Johnny Damon (CF)
R - Derek Jeter (SS)
L - Jason Giambi (DH)
R - Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L - Hideki Matsui (LF)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
L - Robinson Cano (2B)
L - Doug Mientkiewicz (1B)
L - Bronson Sardinha (RF)
Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Brian Bruney, Mariano Rivera, Luis Vizcaino, Matt DeSalvo, Mike Myers, T.J. Beam
Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Angel Chavez (PR/2B), Chris Basak (SS), Miguel Cairo (PR/3B), Raul Chavez (C), Jason Brown (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Brett Gardner (PR/CF), Jose Tabata (LF), Andy Phillips (DH), Melky Cabrera (PH), Juan Miranda (PH)
Opposition: Two-thirds of the Reds starters and their ace Aaron Harang.
Big Hits: A ninth-inning solo homer by Kevin Thompson (1 for 2), and doubles by Posada (1 for 3), Sardinha (1 for 2), and Cano (3 for 3); Johnny Damon went 2 for 3.
Who Pitched Well?: T.J. Beam pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out one. Mariano Rivera pitched around a single for yet another scoreless inning. Brian Bruney made his spring debut and pitched like himself, walking two and striking out two in a scoreless, hitless inning. Luis Vizcaino was victimized by a Doug Mientkiewicz error, allowing one unearned run on that error and a single while striking out one.
Who Didn't: Mike Mussina gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits, including a leadoff Brandon Phillips home run, and a walk in three innings of work. Matt DeSalvo gave up two runs on two hits and two walks in his two innings, though Joe Torre was enthusiastic about his performance, saying after the game that he thinks DeSalvo's "throwing the ball really well" this spring.
Oopsies: Fielding errors by Robinson Cano in the first and Doug Mientkiewicz in the sixth both lead to unearned runs.
Ouchies: Humberto Sanchez (elbow) is expected to throw a bullpen from half way up the mound tomorrow with Ron Guidry looking on, after which he should be reassigned to minor league camp. Wil Nieves (elbow) reported that his X-rays and CAT scan were both negative and hopes to return to action by the weekend. Jose Veras has been shut down with elbow pain of his own and is scheduled to have an MRI today.
Battles: Forgotten man Brian Bruney made a solid debut in the fourth inning against the Reds starters, getting his outs on two Ks and a grounder, though he walked two in his lone inning of work. Joe Torre has backed off his suggestion that the Yankees will fill the final bullpen spot with a long man, suggesting that off days could allow them to use the fifth starter as a long man at the start of the season, but Torre has also said that Bruney might be too far behind to challenge for that final spot out of camp. T.J. Beam, another candidate for that spot, was perfect in his one inning, but pitched against the subs in the ninth. Raul Chavez was pinch-hit for with Melky Cabrera and thus never came to bat. Andy Phillips ground into a double play in his first and thus far only official plate appearance of the spring. He did so pinch-hitting for Giambi in the DH slot, so that GIDP was his only participation in the game.
Cuts: The second round of cuts was again limited to players who won't see the majors this year. They include Eric Duncan, Juan Miranda, Alberto Gonzalez, Brett Gardner, Jose Tabata, Steven Jackson, Jeff Kennard, and Kevin Whelan. Of that bunch, only Miranda, Gonzalez and Kennard are on the 40-man roster, and only Gonzalez is likely to land as high as triple-A come April. Of the eight demoted players, the only one to make much of an impression in camp was Tabata, who lived up to his reputation by leaving major league camp with the team lead in batting average (.462) and on-base percentage (.563) despite being just 18 years old. Gonzalez saw the most action, getting into 11 games and hitting .333 (five singles and a walk), but also undermining his defensive reputation with three errors, one at each of the infield skill positions. Eric Duncan's game winning homer a couple of days ago was his only hit in ten at-bats (he also walked once). On the pitching side, Kennard was unimpressive in his two innings of work and had a dreadful showing in the intrasquad game, while Jackson was terrible in his 3 2/3 innings (9.82 ERA, 4 BB). Whelan allowed just one baserunner (a walk) in 1 1/3 innings, earning the save in each of his two outings. Supposedly Phil Hughes and Humbero Sanchez will be reassigned after throwing bullpens for Ron Guidry tomorrow.
Notes: The tabloids will surely be aflame over Alex Rodriguez's interview with Mike and the Mad Dog yesterday afternoon. You can listen to it by following that link. In it Rodriguez refuses to discuss anything pertaining to Derek Jeter, but otherwise is very frank about his performance over the past three years. The big news, of course, will be that he sounds (justifiably) bitter about the way the fans treated him last year and strongly suggests that this season will be a referendum on his career as a Yankee, particularly with his opt-out looming.
Some key quotes:
"There's no question, last year I wasn't happy because I didn't play well at all and I was very disappointed. And it was probably my first year, going into my thirteenth year, that I didn't enjoy playing the game."
Responding to Mike Francesa asking "Do you think the fans have been fair with you?": "Boy, I tell ya, that's a tough question. . . . I don't think they've been fair all the time."
Responding to Francesa asking "Do you feel that [Joe Torre] gave you up in that [Sports Illustrated] article?": "I'm not going to answer that, but I'll tell you that Joe and I spoke [behind] closed doors and I'm going to leave it right there."
Re: batting eighth in the final game of the ALDS. "That was very embarrassing. I was crushed, to be honest with you. I couldn't believe it. I haven't been hitting eighth since I was probably eighteen years old. I looked at the card and I saw the first five and I don't think I was playing. . . . I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. . . . I don't blame Joe, I blame myself."
On his defense: "'06 it looked like it should have been my first year at third base. I was clueless, I was lost, I was confused at times. The problem is when you're at shortstop, I feel like, okay, I go back to my memory bank and I can fix this overnight. Sometimes at third base you don't have a little bit of a history, I was lost . . . I told [Larry] Bowa, I asked [Rob Thompson], let's get to work, let's get the throwing angle working, let's get my footwork working."
Responding to Chris Russo asking if he was disappointed in his overall performance in his first three years as a Yankee: "I think my performance should have been better, yes."
Asked why his performance has been disappointing: "Maybe trying too hard. I tell you what, in 2005, riding the wave of the fans was an unbelievable experience. Sometimes you come out a little tired, the fans get behind you, they're chanting MVP, this and that, and before you know you have two home runs and five RBIs. Sometimes I think when you try to fight that wave of the fans, of them being negative and expecting you to do things, and then you're playing pretty lousy on top of it, then you try to do a little more than you have to, and that shouldn't be the case."
On his playoff struggles: "My biggest thing is, I gotta be more selective in the playoffs. Very seldom do you see a third or fourth hitter go off, because [the opposition] is protecting against that. So what I have to do is take my base hit the other way, take my walk, steal a base. And what I try to do is I try to, perhaps, hit home runs and do what I do in the regular season, and in a seven game series, in a five game series, they're not going to allow you to crush them."
On the 2007 season: "It's a do or die situation. Either New York is going to kick me out of New York this year . . . At some point, either New York is going to say, I've had enough of this guy get him the hell out of here, and we have an option, or New York is going to say, hey, you know what, we won a World Championship, you had a big year, you're a part of it, we want you back. . . . I want to make sure from the fans, management, I'm wanted here."
The part I found most interesting, to be truthful, was this thinly veiled swipe at Jeter's oft-repeated opinion that any season that doesn't end in a World Championship is a failure: "It's not tennis or golf, I can't judge myself [by] if we win the World Series, I was successful. I think that's ridiculous. It's such a team game, but as an individual, you have to help your team win by fielding well, running the bases well, hitting well, hitting in the clutch, things I haven't done consistently here. I hope we win the World Series, I hope I'm a part of it, but I can't judge myself strictly on winning a World Series."
Some final thoughts: "One thing is about New York for four years, I don't have any apologies or any regrets. I've left it all out on that field. I work my absolute tail off. I've given all I have. Off the field I try to do all the right things to prepare myself to play. Sometimes I'm lousy. I'm trying my best."