Walk in the main entrance to the Yankees clubhouse and turn away from the lockers labeled Sabathia, Nova and Kuroda. On the left side of the door, along the front wall of the clubhouse, there are four lockers that seem fairly interchangeable. Each one is occupied by an experienced, right-handed middle reliever who has big league time and outstanding spring training numbers. They came here looking for an opportunity in New York, and each one has done enough to win a spot.
They’re well aware that there won’t be room for all of them, and there might not be room for any of them.
“All four of us right here, you could come up with reasons to take one of us,” Matt Daley said. “And you can also come up with ways that none of us (make it) because of the whole roster situation. … I try to put the thought out of my head as much as possible, but it definitely goes through your mind and you think about it. You think about all the different possibilities. You just realize that they have a lot of good options.”
Daley, David Herndon, Jim Miller and Chris Leroux all sit side by side in the Yankees clubhouse. Just in front of them, maybe 10 feet away, is the fifth guy who would fit in if there were room along that front wall: Japanese right hander Yoshinori Tateyama. All five have sub-1.00 WHIPs. Most have close to or more than a strikeout per inning.
“As a non-roster guy, the odds of breaking are slim coming in, and you know that,” Miller said. “Let’s just make an impression.”
They’ve done that, and even if you don’t see any of them on Opening Day, there’s a chance you could see at least one of these guys at some point during the season.
Past: Went undrafted out of Bucknell, but made the Rockies Opening Day roster in 2010. The next year he had shoulder surgery and ultimately rehabbed his way back in the Yankees minor league system.
Present: Fully healthy this spring, Daley said he’s finally felt like himself again. He pitched extremely well in limited action after a September call-up last season. “To get to September and have the success that I did, it made it a much better offseason,” Daley said. “And also made it a little more motivating to know that I could get back to where I was previously and possibly be even better.”
Future: “The goal is to put as much pressure on them as possible to make a tough decision,” Daley said. “The mindset to do that is, control what you can control. That’s what I’ve tried to do every time. Go out there, pitch the way I know I can, and good things will happen. Even if I don’t make the team, the go down to Scranton, do the same thing and be up at some point during the season.”
Past: Made three Opening Day rosters with the Phillies, but had Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2012 and hasn’t been in the big leagues since. Got to Triple-A with the Yankees last season and pitched well before re-signing this winter.
Prest: Rehab mode is finished, and although Herndon was eased into game action this spring, he’s basically back to pitching at 100 percent. “I feel like I’m starting to put stuff together at the right time,” he said. “I’m pretty pleased going into April.”
Future: “If you look around the room, everybody that’s still here has done the right thing,” Herndon said. “So, at this point, it just depends on which direction they want to go. … The bottom line is you’re going to be doing the same thing whether it’s in New York, whether it’s in Scranton, you’re going to be going, toeing the rubber, trying to get guys out. What you’ve got to do right now is prepare yourself. If I’m in New York, great. But if I’m in Scranton, just work my butt off.”
Past: With quite a bit of experience in Florida and Pittsburgh, he finally made his first Opening Day roster last season only to end up designated for assignment and pitching in Japan. Did not pitch well overseas, just five starts with a 9.00 ERA.
Present: This winter, Leroux was pitching in the Dominican Republic when his close friend – and former Yankee – Jeff Karstens suggested he try a two-seam fastball. He’s now all but abandoned his mid-90s four-seamer in favor of a big sinker that generates both ground balls and swinging strikes. “I’m almost a different pitcher than I was last season,” he said (and that’s to say nothing of how much different he looks without the beard he had in Pittsburgh).
Future: “I’m not thinking anything,” Leroux said. “I’m just glad I’ve had a good camp and hopefully open some eyes. If everything works out out of camp, great. If it doesn’t and they end up sending me to Scranton, then I’m geared up to pitch well there and hopefully get the call at some point – sooner rather than later. … Last year was such a write-off for me that I’m just glad to have an opportunity with a good team where there is opportunity.”
Past: After a pretty good year with the A’s in 2012, Miller was DFA and claimed by the Yankees, who stashed him in Triple-A until a late September call-up when the pitching staff was depleted. One of several veterans who pitched well in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.
Present: After choosing to re-sign, Miller reported to spring training early so that he could work on a slider with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. “It’s gotten better over the course of camp,” Miller said. “That was the idea. Let’s leave a lasting impression.”
Future: “I came in with the mindset that I was going to start at Scranton, and if they took me north with them I was going to be pleasantly surprised,” Miller said. “But I didn’t want to get my hopes up and then have them shot down or anything like that. I’m pleased with the way I’ve thrown the ball. I’m pleased with how camp’s gone so far. Just trying to whatever I can to at least make my name stick and make it a hard decision for them.”
Past: Twelve-year professional in Japan, he signed with the Rangers in 2010 and spent parts of three seasons in the Majors with Texas. Traded to the Yankees in the middle of last season and pitched well with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Present: As he’s gotten older, Tateyama said he’s lowered his arm angle so that he’s a fairly extreme side-arm pitcher at this point. Tateyama said he’s been happy with the action on both his sinker and his slider from that angle.
Future: “We know we’re competing with each other,” Tateyama said. “I focus on my pitching. … I spent spring training the last couple of years in Arizona. There it is so dry, (fingers) slip on the ball. This is my first time in Florida, so the humidity, I like that. I can grip the ball. And I changed my arm location, a little bit down. That’s good for me. Breaking ball is doing well. Sinking fastball is doing well.”
Associated Press photos