There was a bit more excitement than usual in the Yankees’ clubhouse this afternoon because of the fact that the big man has returned. Derek Jeter smiled and joked with CC Sabathia as he approached his locker, while catchers Russell Martin and Chris Stewart beamed when asked about what it means to have their ace back from his groin injury.
The Yankees did very well in Sabathia’s absence, going 12-6 while extending their lead in the AL East to nine games. But make no mistake about it — it’s understood that this team won’t be able to reach its ultimate goal without its hefty lefty.
“We were able to kind of weather it without for the three weeks that he basically was gone, and I applaud the guys who stepped up,” Joe Girardi said. “But it’s great to have him back. He’s been the ace of our staff since he got here. The wins that he’s had for our staff, the innings, the quality innings – it’s great to have him back.”
Girardi’s main concern will be making sure that CC doesn’t try to make up for the missed time in one start. Sabathia spoke about being embarrassed about spending anytime on the DL, and will surely be amped up tonight.
“I don’t think you can really do a whole lot,” Girardi said when asked how he can guard against CC overthrowing. “It’s basically him getting out there, and yeah, I am a little bit concerned that he is strong, because he’s had a chance to rest up here. I’m sure he’s anxious to get out. I can’t remember the last time, or if ever, he’s been on the DL.”
• To make room for Sabathia on the roster, outfielder Darnell McDonald has been designated for assignment.
• For the second consecutive game, Alex Rodriguez will DH due to a stiff neck. A-Rod went 2 for 4 with a double and two runs scored last night. When asked in the clubhouse (in a somewhat joking manner) if he could turn to his right today, he smiled and simply said, “No.” Here’s what Girardi said: “With Al, I didn’t even really check with him. I told him last night that I was probably going to DH him again today, so if I have to make an adjustment, I will. My plan is to play him in the field tomorrow and maybe DH Jeet.”
• In what has become a hot topic of discussion in the past few days, A-Rod was asked about the discrepancy in his numbers when he DHs, as opposed to playing third. Coming into tonight’s game, he’s hitting .360 in 23 games as a DH, and .243 in 60 games at third base. “I actually kind of peaked up at the scoreboard the other day and saw that the numbers are pretty good,” he said. “But I don’t see anything to it. I love playing third base, and my legs feel good.”
• Chris Stewart will catch Sabathia tonight, with Russell Martin getting the night off. Martin broke a 66 at-bat homerless streak last night. “I was going to catch Russell one of the next two days,” Girardi said. “Russell has had success off of both guys. He’s had good success off of (Wednesday’s starter Ricky) Romero, so I chose to do it that way. Stew has caught CC a lot and is more familiar with him.”
• Girardi had no update on Brett Gardner, other than saying that he was in the MRI tube when he checked about a half hour before his press conference. I’m sure Girardi will be asked again in the postgame press conference, so I should have an update later.
• While the news hasn’t been good regarding Gardner, there were more positive signs from Joba Chamberlain today as he continues to work his way back to the majors. Joba threw a perfect inning in his third Gulf Coast League game earlier today, striking out two and hitting 98 MPH with his fastball. It’s really incredible to think that he’s throwing so hard this early when it has been such a long time since he last pitched, but perhaps the extra rest due to his ankle injury has benefited his arm after undergoing Tommy John surgery. According to Newsday’s Mark Didtler, Joba’s next appearance could be with the Class A Florida State League Tampa Yankees on Friday. “I think it’s time to move,” Chamberlain said. “Not saying that these hitters aren’t good, but they neccessarily don’t have the plan that the guys at the upper levels have. Now I think it’s just time to be able to take a step forward and take another step. To be able to get a high level and see what happens.”
• Girardi acknowledged that Joba’s return is becoming more and more realistic. “We’re very encouraged by what he is doing right now,” he said. “Eventually, you have to get to back-to-back days… It seems like we’re getting through this, and it shouldn’t be a really long time if everything goes according to plan.”
• Staying on the theme of injured bullpen pitchers, Girardi was asked what would be the latest that Mariano Rivera could resume baseball activities if he wanted to have a shot at pitching again this season. To put it simply, it’s a long shot. “He would have to pitch in some games before the regular season ended, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you can throw him out there without having some type of a spring training…. My anticipation is that it’s going to be very difficult.”
• A few minor league notes… RHP Ramon Ortiz earned the win at Triple-A last night, registering his 11th consecutive quality start (6 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 5 K)… Also at Triple-A, Jack Cust went 3 for 5 with his team-leading 20th homer. He currently ranks third in the Independent League in home runs, runs scored (57) and walks (68). He’s also tied for third in RBI with 62… At Double-A, Melky Mesa went 3 for 5 last night with a double and a homer. He leads the team with 16 doubles, and could be a guy the Yankees consider as an outfield option if Gardner’s MRI does not go well… Dellin Betances will start tonight at Double-A.
• Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup: 1. Davis (LF); 2. Rasmus (CF); 3. Lawrie (3B); 4. Encarnacion (1B); 5. Lind (DH); 6. Escobar (SS); 7. Francisco (RF); 8. Johnson (2B); 9. Mathis (C); LHP Cecil.
Associated Press photos