When he thought of Bartolo Colon in the bullpen, Yankees manager Joe Girardi thought of Alfredo Aceves, and he thought of Ramiro Mendoza. He thought of those long relievers who could do it all: Spot start when necessary, pitch multiple innings when asked, and get three big outs in key situations.
Girardi believes Colon could be that sort of reliever, the sort of reliever Sergio Mitre never was and the kind of reliever Freddy Garcia probably wouldn’t be.
“Serge was more of a starter,” Girardi said. “He was never really a one-inning guy. We just think Bartolo can do some different things… In a sense, you feel that not asking him to throw 200 innings might be easier on him, physically.”
Those seem to be the biggest factors in the Yankees final decision. Colon’s raw stuff has been impressive, and his ability to stay healthy is a concern. That combination, the Yankees feel, fits best in the bullpen.
Nova was clearly the best option as the No. 4 starter, and Garcia’s track record suggests he’s a reliable No. 5, but Garcia’s similar to Mitre in that he’s unlikely to be an overwhelming reliever. Colon has shown unexpected velocity and movement, and his fastball might play up in key situations. It’s also been five years since Colon last pitched more than 100 innings in the big leagues. The Yankees didn’t want to take their chances on hoping for 100-plus innings from him this year.
“We will make sure that we use him properly, that we don’t abuse him or throw him days in a row,” Girardi said. “We understand this is something he’s really never done a whole lot of, so we have to be smart about it. It’s kind of like when we moved Aceves, who had always been a starter, to the bullpen. How we did it with Phil Hughes when we moved him; you’ve got to be smart how you do it.”
• Colon was supposed to start tomorrow’s game, but now that he’s in the pen, the Yankees want to keep him fresh for Thursday’s opener. Colon will instead pitch briefly out of the bullpen on Monday. Tomorrow’s starter will be someone from minor league camp.
• A.J. Burnett will start on Monday, Garcia will start on Tuesday and Ivan Nova will stay behind to start a game on Wednesday. Phil Hughes will pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday.
• One other thing to consider about Colon in the bullpen: “He warms up quick,” Girardi said. “Larry talked about it, that when he gets ready for his bullpens, it’s quick. Serge wasn’t really fast about it because he had always been a starter. Most starters can’t do it very quickly.”
• Girardi said it’s “conceivable” that the Yankees will skip Garcia the first time through the rotation. This was one of those moments when “conceivable” clearly meant, “likely.”
• Pedro Feliciano is dealing with the same upper-arm tightness that slowed him down earlier this spring. He seemed to be on his way back, but Feliciano felt it again during his most recent bullpen. He’ll throw off flat ground tomorrow, but Opening Day is in doubt. The Yankees should know for sure by Tuesday.
• The first two pitchers Girardi named as possible replacements for Feliciano were Romulo Sanchez and Luis Ayala. Asked about Mark Prior, Girardi said, “anything is conceivable.” This time, though, the word conceivable was clearly being used to indicate a scenario that’s not at all likely.
• Girardi still thinks there’s a chance Curtis Granderson will be ready for Opening Day. He’s supposed to run and throw today. Tomorrow he’ll take some dry swings with a broom stick, and if that goes well, he’ll also hit a few balls off a tee tomorrow. “There’s a chance,” Girardi said.
• George King noted that Eric Chavez can ask for his release today, but it’s clear he’s going to make the team. “He’s looked really, really good,” Girardi said.
• Still no final decision on a backup catcher, but Girardi again sounded like he was leaning heavily toward Gustavo Molina. He compared Molina to Garcia, in that the Yankees knew what to expect from Molina and didn’t feel the need to give him many at-bats this spring. “We wanted to see what our kids could do, so we gave them a lot of playing time,” Girardi said. “Now we’ve started to play Molina more. If we decide to go in that direction, we want him ready to go.”
• Is the lineup set with Brett Gardner first and Derek Jeter second? “Still a topic of discussion,” Girardi said. “They’ve gotten plenty of opportunities to do it here and it’s been pretty good.”
• For you numbers folks out there: Kevin Millwood was given No. 45, and Chris Dickerson will wear No. 39.
• Off the bench: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Eric Chavez, 2B Doug Bernier, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Ronnie Belliard, LF Austin Krum, CF Justin Maxwell, RF Abe Almonte.
• Out of the bullpen: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson, Boone Logan, Mark Prior, Luis Ayala, Romulo Sanchez, Steve Garrison, Josh Schmidt, Pat Venditte and Chase Whitley.
• If you’re curious, I had a Brian Cashman story in the paper today.
Associated Press photos