There were four pitchers chosen to throw the first group bullpen of Yankees camp, and the selections came as no coincidence. CC Sabathia was on the first mound, then Masahiro Tanaka, then Hiroki Kuroda, then Ivan Nova on the far end. Those are the four pitchers locked into the Yankees rotation for 2014.
Just don’t tell Nova.
“I’m still in a competition,” Nova said. “Nothing is sure. I know that CC can be sure. (So can) Kuroda, Tanaka. I’m one of the young guys. I’ve got to be doing the best out there in the competition.”
True, Nova was actually optioned to Triple-A at one point last season, but he pitched so well in the second half that he actually finished with the lowest ERA of any Yankees starter in 2013. He’s 27-year-old now, he’s entered his arbitration years, and there’s really no reason to think he’ll be anywhere except the middle of the big league rotation when the season starts.
But Nova said he’s treating this spring just like every other. He knows he’s been inconsistent in the past, and knows he’s lost focus from time to time.
“We expect Nova to be in our rotation,” Joe Girardi said. “But I love that attitude. You have to perform. The bottom line is it’s a performance-based business, so you have to go out and perform, but I love that attitude. I liked what I saw from him the first day out. But we expect him to be one of our starters.”
Coming off a good year, and a terrific second half, Nova’s looking to finally have a complete season. And it starts in spring training.
“I know I was struggling at the beginning (last season),” he said. “I got hurt and all that, but at the end you’ve got to prove that you can pitch in the big leagues. It’s something you put in your mind and you work hard to do. When I took the time in the minor leagues again, (I was) thinking what I want to do and execute in the big leagues. I know I have the stuff to have success in the big leagues. I did in the past. I guess I’ve got to do everything together from the beginning. That’s what I want to do from the first month, first start of the year.”
· The first spring training workout was a success in that it seems no one was hurt, and everyone seemed to handle the bullpens and fielding drills and batting practice rounds without a problem. “As I said yesterday, with the open competitions that we have here, I had some concerns about guys trying to do too much,” Girardi said. “And I didn’t see that today.”
· Francisco Cervelli caught Masahiro Tanaka’s first American bullpen on Thrusday, and Cervelli caught him again today. “The fastball command was really good,” Cervelli said. “He threw the same pitches — (fastballs), sliders and split — but what I care about is the fastball, and it was really good. The two-seam and some sliders was good, some a little slow, but he’s going to get it with the time.”
· Speaking of Tanaka, the attention on him continues to be intense. Media from both Japan and the U.S. followed his every move around the back fields today. “As a player, I feel very honored to get this much attention,” Tanaka said. “Some of the fans were cheering today and I was very happy to receive those cheers. At the same time, I understand that I haven’t given out any results on the field yet, so my focus is to train and go out there, try to get those results.”
· Cervelli’s awesome quote on all the Tanaka attention: “He’s going to get used to that. When the whole team comes here, it’s going to be the same for everybody. He’s not the only guy who makes $100 million here. There’s going to be attention for a lot of people. Even me, I don’t make even a million and I’ve got attention sometimes.”
· Tanaka said the duration of today’s workout was much shorter than he’s used to. In Japan, pitchers throw much longer bullpens because they go more days between starts. Everything else at least looked familiar to Tanaka. He was laughing with Sabathia, Kuroda and Nova as those four went through pitchers fielding practice together.
· If you’re looking for my own analysis of today’s bullpen sessions, I’m really not in a great position to give much. We’re kind of forced to stand at an awkward angle to the side of the pitchers, so it’s hard to get a real good sense of what exactly the ball is doing. Plus, these early bullpens don’t tell much anyway.
· So what will Tanaka remember most about his first Yankees workout? “Probably what I will remember is the four laps that we did at the end,” he said. “It was pretty hard.” Before the English translation, the Japanese reporters were already cracking up at Tanaka’s answer. He kept talking about how hard the running was. Pretty sure he was joking around (mostly). “I’m a little bit of a slow runner, but that part I really can’t help,” he said.
· Small bit of housekeeping: Japanese reliever Yoshinori Tateyama — a veteran non-roster invite who pitched well in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year — has not yet reported to camp because of visa issues. No word on when he’ll be here.
· Final word will go to Girardi, talking about the Tanaka transition: “I think what you’ll see is you’ll see his bullpens shorter than what it might be if (he’s starting) every seven days. Some of the bullpen numbers that I’ve heard they throw in Japan, it’s pretty hard to work it here if you’re throwing 100 pitches in between starts. Those are the things we’re going to have to manage. He’ll throw a couple times on five days rest in spring training, and maybe one time we’ll give him a sixth day just because of an off day. But just trying to get him used to the five-day rotation slowly.”
Associated Press photos