Manny Banuelos sat at his locker yesterday weaving a new set of shoe strings into his spikes. He seemed hopeful and optimistic, excited that today he’ll get into his first game since Tommy John surgery. Banuelos is only 22 years old, and he still sees a bright future for himself. Or, at the very least, he knows a bright future is still possible.
“It feels great,” Banuelos said. “I feel healthy. I don’t feel pain. Always (right after the surgery) I would throw, I would feel nervous like I would feel pain, but I don’t feel anything like that. So I’m happy for that.”
As we talked, it was hard for me to tell whether Banuelos had ever heard the name Frank Jobe before another reporter mentioned the name to him earlier in the day. Certainly, Banuelos didn’t know until yesterday that Dr. Jobe had died on Thursday, but the impact of that total stranger’s life was not lost on the young Yankees left-hander.
“He saved a lot of careers,” Banuelos said. “That’s why I’m still here.”
Banuelos is hopeful and optimistic because of the Tommy John surgery procedure that Jobe first performed 17 years before Banuelos was born. Banuelos underwent the procedure on October 4, 2012. His surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, who has become the modern master of the operation. There’s a scar on Banuelos’ left elbow, and there’s a small and unnecessary ligament missing from his right forearm, but he is otherwise perfectly healthy less than a year and a half removed from surgery.
He’s so healthy, in fact, that Banuelos said he doesn’t even consider today’s game to be a significant test. He’s excited about pitching, but he doesn’t feel like he’s going to prove anything. He’s thrown enough bullpens and sim games to know he can pitch again. He can let loose with fastballs and breaking balls and not worry that his elbow is going to feel that long-gone pain that he once feared.
“I just did my tests already, a few months ago,” Banuelos said. “Just go pitch like before. Go out and try to get outs quickly, get the command, throw strikes. That’s all. … I’m not going to learn anything, but I will feel excited because (it’s been) almost two years and I’m not pitching in an inning, so (today) will be the first one. I can’t wait to see what will happen.”
· Masahiro Tanaka’s next outing will be a simulated game. He said Japanese teams don’t do sim games — they would be more likely to do an intrasquad game — but he considers it nothing more than another part of his adjustment. Said he has no problem with doing a sim game, it’s just something he’s never done before. I imagine he could say that about a lot of things that have happened the past two months.
· Brendan Ryan’s sore oblique will keep him out of a few games, but Joe Girardi said there is no significant concern about the long-term impact. “We think he’ll be fine next week,” Girardi said. “The MRIs came out good, so we think he’ll be fine. We’re probably being a little cautious because we can.”
· Girardi talked this morning about how well the pitching staff has done this spring. Asked for specific guys who have made a strong impression, Girardi mentioned two names: Dellin Betances and Fred Lewis. Betances is on everyone’s radar, but Lewis is a little less familiar. He has been pretty good after an assignment to the Arizona Fall League this offseason. “He’s a guy that you’re not going to worry about putting him against right-handers,” Girardi said. “… He gets a lot of ground balls.”
· No swings for Tyler Austin today, but that’s just a planned day off. Said he still feels good.
· Tanaka and CC Sabathia are each scheduled for sides today.
· Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Corban Joseph, 2B Jose Pirela, SS Yangervis Solarte, 3B Zelous Wheeler, LF Ramon Flores, CF Antoan Richardson, RF Adonis Garcia, DH Pete O’Brien
· Today’s available relievers: Manny Banuelos, Cesar Cabral, David Herndon and Fred Lewis (with Chase Whitley, Mark Montgomery, Chris Leroux and Danny Burawa making the trip just in case)
· Batting practice groups in Tampa:
Group 1: Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, Brian McCann
Group 2: Russ Canzler, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, John Ryan Murphy
· Canzler grew up as a big Jeter fan. He was pretty excited about being in Jeter’s hitting group today.
· Finally, a random moment from the clubhouse: Shawn Kelley has a small but effective Bluetooth-enabled speaker system next to his locker. This morning, he and David Phelps were in a musical discussion with Meredith Marakovits, which led to Phelps getting on his phone, pulling up Spotify — or something like Spotify — and playing several Michael Bolton songs while Kelley made specific requests for Bolton’s greatest hits. It was both brutal and extremely funny. When Dave Robertson walked in the clubhouse, Phelps changed the song to Sweet Home Alabama. The closer had arrived, to his very own entrance music. Hilarious.
Associated Press photos