This is not the day Kelly Johnson will be thrown into the fire at third base. That day came last June when Evan Longoria needed a break, and the Rays decided Johnson was their best alternative.
“They just said, ‘Hey, let’s go out and get some early stuff and we’ll see how you look over there,’” Johnson said. “I played that day, and I played like a week straight. Just whenever (Longoria) needed something — a week to DH or a day off or something — I would go over there.”
Today Johnson makes his Yankees debut at third base, the position he’s expected to primarily play this season. Could get some time at second and first and maybe even the outfield, but he’s here to be a third baseman. He’s been taking ground balls at third ever since workouts started, and Johnson said he’s refining the way the plays the position, not necessarily learning it.
“When you’re an infielder, when you play baseball, you’ve got an eye on other positions,” he said. “You kind of know. I think we’ve all got an idea before we can go somewhere what we’ve got to do. It’s not like you’re just completely fresh and new. … I think the one thing that’s kind of stood out that I’ve had to concentrate on is catching the ball and being in the best position to get the throw to first as strong and accurate as possible. Trying to cut out any little things. There’s always something. You kind of catch and at second you kind of have a little more time, so it’s not as important that your fielding mechanics, your throwing mechanics are as perfect. Now, I’ve got to make sure my shoulder is pointed to the bag. Don’t get too turned. Don’t (do) anything extra that could give the runner an advantage. Just stuff like that. Be a little more aware of having a little less time.”
Asked who’s been helping him at third base, Johnson mentioned three people: Infield coach Mick Kelleher (who was primarily a shortstop), guest instructor Willie Randolph (primarily a second baseman), and minor league coach Jody Reed (who played all of nine major-league games at third). Truthfully, this is a camp extremely light on true third basemen. In that way, I suppose, Johnson fits right in.
“I did have one of the best teammates you could possibly ask for last year when I first came over (to third base) with Longoria,” Johnson said. “I was all in his ear constantly. There’s not a lot that can play the position better than him, so there were certainly some things that I can remember him talking about. You take what you can from guys that have experience. All the coaches, they’re coaching here for reason. … This is more just building the repetition. Preparing. That’s the way I look at it. This is nothing compared to when I had to move to second, to me, in the beginning of my career. This, to me, is more about getting the information, getting my legs under me, and getting the repetition and the muscle memory.”
· Today’s USA Today story about the new home plate collision rules was highlighted and taped to the wall next to Francisco Cervelli’s locker. I assumed Cervelli put it there himself. Turns out it was someone else — he doesn’t know who — who apparently thought it made sense to let a guy who’s had his share of catching injuries read up on the new rules. Cervelli said the Yankees have only talked about the new rules “a little bit” but they haven’t done much work to adjust to them.
· On trying to adjust to the new rules: “After a collision and another one, I always say I’ve got to take care of myself a little more,” Cervelli said. “But the way I learn in the Dominican was, this is my house and I’ve got to take care of my house. But obviously you’ve got to adapt to the new rules, and if it happened to me, it can happen to anybody.”
· Alfonso Soriano was able to hit and workout this morning. Indications are that he might go through the full pre-game team workout as well. He said he’s feeling much better.
· I was looking at the posted travel roster for tomorrow when Eduardo Nunez came up to check it. Someone mentioned that he’s making the first road trip tomorrow. “That’s weird,” Nunez said, with his usual laugh. Not weird at all. That guy’s gotten plenty used to being on the road in spring training.
· And guess who’s catching onto the travel protocol pretty quickly: Mason Williams stopped to talk briefly in the clubhouse this morning, and when I asked how camp was going, he said it had been good. “I’m expecting to make every road trip,” he said. “Every one.” That’s probably a good expectation, Mason.
· The Yankees will go through a normal workout before today’s game. In fact, the Florida State team is currently lined up at the top of the visiting dugout watching the Yankees stretched in right field. A few guys threw batting practice this morning, and there will be full team batting practice later today. Didn’t notice any fielding drill assignments. Could be that they’re just going to take ground balls while BP is going on. That’s not unusual.
· Early morning live batting practice:
Facing Jose Pirela, Corban Joseph, Eduardo Nunez and Jacoby Ellsbury
Shawn Kelley (to John Ryan Murphy)
Yoshinori Tateyama (to Francisco Arcia)
Matt Thornton (to Austin Romine)
Dave Robertson (to Brian McCann)
· Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Jose Gil, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Dean Anna, 3B Jose Pirela, LF Antoan Richardson, CF Mason Williams, RF Ramon Flores, DH Pete O’Brien
· Today’s scheduled relievers: Brian Gordon, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, Francisco Rondon (with just-in-case backups listed as Chase Whitley, Fred Lewis and Dan Burawa)
· Tomorrow’s travel squad:
Pitchers: Dellin Betances, Bruce Billings, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Chris Leroux, Ivan Nova, Jose Ramirez, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Jose Gil, Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy, Pete O’Brien, Austin Romine
Infielders: Dean Anna, Russ Canzler, Corban Joseph, Eduardo Nunez, Jose Pirela, Yangervis Solarte, Zelous Wheeler
Outfielders: Zoilo Almonte, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ramon Flores, Adonis Garcia, Antoan Richardson, Mason Williams
· Batting practice groups:
Group 1: Russ Canzler, Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson, Francisco Cervelli
Group 2: Adonis Garcia, Brendan Ryan, Yangervis Solarte, John Ryan Murphy
Group 3: Zoilo Almonte, Dean Anna, Corban Joseph, Gary Sanchez
Group 4: Jose Pirela, Antoan Richardson, Mason Williams, Jose Gil
Group 5: Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki, Brian McCann
Group 6: Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira
Group 7: Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, Zelous Wheeler, Austin Romine
Group 8: Tyler Austin, Ramon Flores, Francisco Arcia, Pete O’Brien
Associated Press photos