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A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News

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Pregame notes: Bullpen rested for three in a row10.02.11

Joe Girardi had no regrets this morning about using Mariano Rivera last night. The way he saw it, a grand slam would have pulled the Tigers within 2, and Girardi thought it was best to shut the door right then and there.

“He hadn’t pitched since Tuesday, and before that, he hadn’t pitched in a little bit,” Girardi said. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt him. Obviously it helps to keep him sharp. I think you could look at it either way with three more days in a row. But it shouldn’t hurt.”

Ivan Nova pitching into last night’s ninth inning meant the Yankees used only Luis Ayala and Rivera in Game 1. Girardi has said he’s willing to use any of his relievers three days in a row, which leaves him with a full bullpen these next three days. There’s a chance Rivera wouldn’t be available on Tuesday, but Girardi said there’s no doubt he’ll be available tonight and tomorrow.

A full bullpen could be key with Freddy Garcia, who’s built his season on keeping the Yankees in a game for six innings, then letting the relievers takeover. Garcia-to-Soriano-to-Robertson-to-Rivera could be a perfect recipe for the Yankees in Game 2.

“Our bullpen is in very good shape,” Girardi said. “So that sets up really well. Freddy is a completely different look than all of our other pitchers. You can look at all of our other pitchers and say they’re somewhat power guys. Freddy is the one finesse guys we’ve got that’s going to use a lot of offspeed, see some slow breaking balls. It’s a totally different look.”

Here’s Girardi’s pregame press conference. It wasn’t very long. We got a little more in the beat writers session.

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• The Yankees are now committed to CC Sabathia pitching tomorrow’s Game 3, and Girardi finally made it official that A.J. Burnett will start Game 4. The only thing that would have kept Burnett from lining up for Game 4 would have been using him in long relief last night. Phil Hughes is the long man today.

• Girardi said the umpires “absolutely” got the call right on Robinson Cano’s double off the top of the wall last night, though Girardi was a little surprised that fans didn’t reach out and pull that ball into the stands. “Usually you see that,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure how far they would have had to reach to get to it. I don’t know how wide that concrete is out there. I’m sure it would have been reviewed either way, so it would have ended up the same.”

• Despite the fact Sabathia just pitched two days ago, Girardi said his pitch count won’t be at all limited tomorrow night. “I don’t think so, just because he threw so few on Friday, and he’s not expected to make another start in the division series,” Girardi said.

• Girardi said he’s not second-guessing Ayala after back-to-back rough outings. “He’s pitched really well for us,” Girardi said. “And I think you have to look at his body of work. And he got a ground ball from Avila, then he got another ground ball. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.”

• Hector Noesi and Raul Valdes have joined Ramiro Pena in Tampa. Those three are staying sharp at the minor league complex. Bartolo Colon and Austin Romine are staying with the big league team. Romine is catching in the bullpen to stay with the big league staff.

• Girardi never looked a replay of last night’s play at the plate. He said last night that he was positive it was an out when he saw it live, and he never felt a need to look at it again.

• As someone pointed out, Rivera technically threw the first and last pitch of Game 1. He threw the ceremonial first pitch on Friday, then closed the game on Saturday.

Austin Jackson CF
Magglio Ordonez RF
Delmon Young LF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez DH
Alex Avila C
Jhonny Peralta SS
Wilson Betemit 3B
Ramon Santiago 2B

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 64 Comments →

Garcia: “Be myself and get those guys out”10.02.11

Last time Freddy Garcia pitched the playoffs, it was Game 4 of the 2005 World Series, and Garcia pitched seven scoreless. It was his third win in as many starts that postseason.

“It’s been a long time,” Garcia said. “You always remember good times, when I pitched in ’05. I’m ready to pitch, man. I’m going to show up (today) and do my best.”

Truth is, Garcia was a much different pitcher back in 2005. He was 28 back then, still throwing a little bit harder, more than holding his own in a rotation that almost single-handedly gave the White Sox a championship.

Now 34 years old, Garcia has evolved into a different sort of pitcher, one who leans on offspeed pitches, location and guile. In a year that started with a minor league contract and an invitation to big league camp, he’s earned another turn on a postseason mound.

“For me I got to go, you know, one pitch at a time,” Garcia said. “I cannot live in the past when I used to throw hard and whatever. I have to live with what I got right now, and go with my plans. If I do that, I can be successful. So that’s what I want to do, one pitch at a time, and do the best I can… How many pitchers you know throw hard and they don’t get people out in the postseason, the regular season? So for me, I got to go out there and be myself and get those guys out.”

Here’s Garcia speaking before yesterday’s game.

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Postgame notes: “A kid that’s blossomed into quite a player”10.02.11

A few things to notice about the Tigers decision to go to Al Alburquerque to face Robinson Cano in the sixth inning.

1. Alburquerque is a right-handed pitcher, not a lefty.
2. In 43.1 innings this season, he’d allowed just 21 hits, not one of which was a home run.
3. The one time he faced Cano earlier this year, Alburquerque got one of his 67 strikeouts.

“I was surprised,” Cano said. “They have a lefty (and) righty in the pen, but he brings in the righty. So, it ended up in our favor. I mean, that’s the decision he made, but I was looking for something that Ic an drive. Not looking for the home run, something I can at least get one RZBi so we can put some more runs in the lead.”

By now you know the result. Cano clobbered Alburquerque’s second postseason pitch for a grand slam, the 11th postseason grand slam in Yankees history. Cano tied a franchise posteason record with six RBI in the game, all of which came with two outs.

“It’s not a guy that, when he goes up there and there’s a runner on, he’s just trying to get a hit,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s trying to do damage… You look at what he’s done the last two years for us, he has been big for us. What he did in the playoffs last year, he did a lot of damage. We talked about moving him up and we couldn’t seem to get all our guys in the lineup the same day for a while there. It’s a kid that’s blossomed into quite a player is what he’s done.”

In the last week of the season, Girardi’s decision to bat Cano third against right-handers and fourth against lefties was a clear indication that this is Cano’s team now. He talked about taking notice of what Alex Rodriguez did in the playoffs in 2009, and now Cano seems poised to have the same sort of singular impact. He’s that good, and he showed it tonight.

“Robbie’s been doing it all year,” Derek Jeter said. “Robbie’s a tough out. He can beat you with a home run, he can beat you with pulled balls, he can hit balls the other way. He’s tough to pitch to, and he showed that today.”

Here’s Cano.

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Ivan Nova’s first postseason inning lasted all of eight pitches. It was a quick start to an impressive playoff debut from the Yankees rookie.

“When you throw an inning like that, a quick inning in a situation like today, that lets you know that everything is the same,” Nova said. “It’s the same game. A little bit more pressure, of course, but it looked the same for me.”

Nick Swisher said Nova “controlled the game,” and Jeter said he was “as good as we could hope for.” A strong regular season earned Nova the No. 2 spot in the rotation, and tonight only solidified it.

“Robbie has been through the moment a lot already. Ivan has not,” Girardi said. “Ivan did a great job tonight. Our prayer is that it continues… I talked about if he was able to control his emotions, I thought he could pitch pretty well.”

Said Nova: “I was so excited, my first postseason start. I could not believe it. I was really excited. After the first inning, I came back normal. I was more confident, and I slowed down everything, so it was good.”

• It wasn’t The Dive or The Flip, but Jeter made another big defensive play in a big spot. With the game still tied in the fifth, Jhonny Peralta singled to center, and Jeter’s relay from Curtis Granderson hit Russell Martin in the chest. “I’m not the cutoff man to the plate,” Jeter said. “But Peralta hit it hard and Curtis sort of had to wait for it and couldn’t charge it, so I thought if I step in, we might have a chance to get him. Fortunately we did.”

• Most of the credit for the play went to Jeter, but it was a nice play by Martin as well. He kind of caught the ball and applied the tag in one motion. “It was a good throw,” Jeter said. “In that situation you’re just trying to get rid of it as quick as you can. I thought we had an opportunity, I thought it would be close, and fortunately we were able to get him. At the time, it was, what, tied at the time? So it was a big play for us.”

• Nick Swisher went asked about Cano’s pair of doubles, home run and six RBI: “Sounds like Matsui.”

• In a five-game series, winning Game 1 is huge. “You want to win games,” Jeter said. “It was a little odd. We were a good team for seven innings today because it was a continuation game, but a lot of good things happened.”

• Cano in response to a question about whether fans should be chanting “MVP” for him instead of Granderson: “That’s something not in my mind. We have to give credit to Granderson the way he helped the team the whole year. Right now my focus is in the playoffs, so I’ll let you guys decide (the MVP). Like I said, my goal is just to win it all.”

• Nova said the only pitch that was really working for him early was his fastball, but eventually everything fell into place. “I think I got everything today for me,” Nova said. “That’s the way I feel. I only throw one changup, but everything for me was working fine.”

• Cano’s reviewed double was the 10th play reviewed by video replay at the current Yankee Stadium, and the second in the postseason. The first was last year when Lance Berkman had a home run overturned and ruled foul.

• The last Yankees postseason grand slam was Ricky Ledee in the 1999 ALCS. The only other Yankees grand slam in the division series came from Paul O’Neill in 1997.

• Nova is the first Yankees rookie to win his postseason debut since Orlando Hernandez in 1998.

• Jorge Posada tied Bernie Williamss for the second-most postseason games all-time. Posada has played in 121. Jeter is at the top of the list with 148.

• Russell Martin has hit safely in seven of 10 career division series games.

• Jeter has reached base safely in 28 of 31 Game 1′s.

• Girardi’s final word on his rotation situation: “Right now we’re planning on CC on Monday and probably A.J. on Tuesday.”

• Tonight’s attendance of 50,940 was the largest single-game attendance at the current Yankee Stadium.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 450 Comments →

Pregame notes: “You worry about today’s game today”10.01.11

Freddy Garcia will start tomorrow’s rescheduled Game 2, and it sounds like there was never much chance of CC Sabathia getting the ball. In fact, Joe Girardi hasn’t committed to Sabathia pitching on Monday. It’s still possible, he said, the he’ll wait until Tuesday to pitch his ace again.

“You’re asking a guy to pitch on Sunday and Thursday, and he threw on Friday,” Girardi said. “To me, it’s too much… You don’t want to send a guy out there if he’s not physically as good as he can be. I’m not saying that any starting pitcher is going to be 100 percent, but if you have a couple games that you can choose from and he can be 95 percent one day and 80 percent the other day, I’m going to take him at the 95 percent.”

Right now, Girardi expects Sabathia to be his Monday starter, but he won’t set that in stone until Sabathia checks in Sunday and confirms that he feels strong enough to pitch the next day.

As for Tuesday’s Game 4, it’s obvious that A.J. Burnett is the leading candidate to start for the Yankees, but Girardi said he hasn’t discussed it with Burnett. For now, Burnett is available as a long man, and if the Yankees get into a crazy situation tonight, Burnett will be available to pitch multiple innings.

“I think you worry about today’s game today,” Girardi said. “You worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow. That’s what you do.”

How much has this series changed now that Sabathia and Justin Verlander are, essentially, pitching only once.

“It can potentially change a lot, but I don’t think we’re ever going to know,” Girardi said. “That’s for people to sit around and talk about. You’ve got two aces going, a 1-1 game, and now they’re conceivably only going to pitch once each. It changes the complexion of it, but none of us really know if it would have changed the outcome.”

Here’s Girardi’s press conference.

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• Girardi quickly dismissed any notion that Alex Rodriguez might be bothered by playing four games in a row. He said the fact Rodriguez sat out the regular-season finale is a non-issue. “If it wasn’t New York and it wasn’t Alex this wouldn’t have been such a big deal that a guy was a little cranky,” Girardi said. “He played on turf a couple of days. I think you probably could have askd about 10 of our players in Tampa on Wednesday if any of their knees were a little cranky from playing on the turf and you probably would have gotten about seven yeses. Because it’s Alex, it’s a big deal.”

• Rodriguez actually did early work in the field yesterday and today. When I got to the park this afternoon he was taking grounders at third.

• Same thing for Russell Martin. Even with four days in a row and a day game after a night game, Martin is still expected to start every game behind the plate. “He’s ready to go,” Girardi said.

• The closest Girardi would come to confirming Burnett as his fourth starter was to say he’s a “great candidate” to start that game. “He’s pitched well against this team this year,” Girardi said.

• If not Burnett, Phil Hughes is the obvious alternative. “He’s an option,” Girardi said. “He’s not really stretched out over the last two weeks, but I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen in the next couple games with the rain in the forecast. ”

• Girardi said he never put a real plan together because he was quickly convinced last night’s game was not going to continue, but he probably would have used Burnett had the game resumed after the rain delay. “That’s probably what I would have done,” Girardi said. “I didn’t even think about that, because when I came in, I looked at the radar and it didn’t look too good. I heard TBS say there was a window and I was wondering where that window was.”

• Girardi said it’s not up to him, but his hope is that MLB will postpone the start of tonight’s game if there’s rain in the forecast for the first few innings. He’d rather not burn out a starting pitcher in another delay.

• The Tigers have not changed anything about their lineup. They’d have to lose a player to do so, so they’re going with their vLHP lineup against the right-handed Ivan Nova.

• Andy Pettitte is here, but there’s no ceremonial first pitch tonight, so the thinking seems to be that he could be throwing out the first pitch tomorrow. Could the Yankees have Mariano Rivera throw to Jorge Posada before Game 1, then have Pettitte throw to Derek Jeter before Game 2?

Associated Press photos

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Nova not showing any nerves heading into tonight10.01.11

Ivan Nova was feeling nervous, and he usually doesn’t feel nervous standing 60 feet 6 inches from batters. Only this angry Blue Jays’ batter, Jose Bautista, was getting a little closer after watching a pitch sail by at head level three innings after homering.

“Because when he came to me, I don’t know what to do,” said Nova, who didn’t back down in that incident during his first major-league start for the Yankees last August in Toronto.

Nova has been calm all this season. But now the 24-year-old rookie will be under the hot glare at Yankee Stadium, taking the ball tonight as the Game 1 “reliever” against the Tigers after originally being selected to start Game 2. Since Friday night’s opener was suspended because of rain after an inning and a half and the score 1-1, Nova gets to take over for CC Sabathia.

“I don’t really see the difference,” Nova said. “It’s not like they’re going to throw me out there. I’m going to have time to warm up and do all the stuff I usually do.”

Joe Girardi said: “The big thing is for him to just control his emotions, and we’ll watch for that early. If we have to talk to him a few more times early in the game, we will.”

The supremely confident Nova doesn’t think this is going to be a problem at all. He arrives after going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in the regular season.

“I had big games this year; it wasn’t difficult to do,” Nova said. “Why is it going to be difficult (tonight)?”

Girardi factored his poised demeanor into the original rotation decision, among other things.

“It all plays into it,” Girardi said. “The year he’s had. His ability to pitch when he got in trouble this year. He did a much better job than he did last year managing innings.”

Nova said he came back from spending most of July in the minors as a more aggressive pitcher, trying to get ahead on counts every time.

“I came (back) here with another mind-set — I don’t want to go back to the minor leagues,” Nova said. “I was making sure to do everything possible to not go back to the minors again.”

Girardi was impressed with the way he took the news flash of his demotion to Triple-A (making room at the time for Phil Hughes’ return to the rotation).

“Extremely impressed,” Girardi said. “It would have been easy for him to storm out or to talk to his buddies and tell them how unhappy he was, and I never heard anything. I never heard a word about his displeasure with anything that we did. He just went to work, and that’s unusual, because usually you hear something through the grapevine. But not this time.”

Nova went 12-0 with a 3.25 ERA in his last 16 starts. He’s in line for a possible Game 5, too.

“Nova had a lot of talent and I was pleased with what he did last year,” Girardi said. “It’s just been the maturation of him that’s gotten him to this point. He wasn’t rushed, and he got a chance to throw a lot of innings. He kind of flew under the radar, and it probably helped him because when you come up a lot of times in a Yankees rotation, you’re not asked to be the second starter or third starter. You’re asked to be a fourth or a fifth just because there’s that experience. And that can help as well.”

And to think, Nova’s family only wanted 10 wins out of him this season.

“I tell them I don’t want 10,” Nova said. “I don’t think 10 is enough. They are really happy with me. I’m so happy with what I did this year. Everything I do this year was especially for my family (and) for my grandfather. He died last year. He wanted to see me in the playoffs. He doesn’t have a chance to see me right now. I know he’s happy with me right now.”

A.J. Burnett, who could be the Game 4 starter now, if necessary, has been a friend and mentor to Nova, helping him with personal stuff and pitching stuff, like when Nova struggled at times last season and early this season.

“Before I pitch, he always was telling me, don’t give them a reason to take me out of the game,” Nova said. “During the game, I was thinking when I have a situation that could be trouble with me, that’s what I was thinking.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland expressed some concern over facing Nova, something they haven’t done this season. Nova did make his big-league debut in May 2010 with two innings of scoreless relief against Detroit.

“The tapes I’ve looked at, he’s very impressive,” Leyland said. “It’s something our hitters will have to contend with.”

Here’s Nova speaking before Friday’s game was rained out.

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This post was written by Brian Heyman

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Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Misc, Podcastwith 256 Comments →

Does it make sense to pitch Sabathia on Sunday?10.01.11

Joe Girardi sounded as if his decision had been made. He didn’t even wait for the question last night before announcing that Freddy Garcia would start Sunday’s freshly schedule Game 2 at Yankee Stadium.

The second question was whether it would be possible to pitch CC Sabathia instead.

Sabathia threw only 27 pitches last night, which would seem to be little more than an aggressive bullpen session. By pitching Sabathia on Sunday, the Yankees could — in theory — bring him back to pitch Thursday’s Game 5 on short rest.

“I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” Girardi said. “Just because, when you’re talking about a real heavy bullpen, this is more than a bullpen. And it’s not the right thing to do… I’m going to wait to see how he feels Saturday and Sunday. And then we’ll go from there.”

A few minutes later, Sabathia took his turn at the podium, and he vowed to make his case for pitching as often as possible.

“If (pitching Sunday) means I get the ball as many times as possible, I’m all for it,” he said. “… My side days, I don’t do a full warmup. I went through my full pre-game warmup (last night). That’s about 48 pitches, too. Like I said, I’ll just see how I feel tomorrow and work with Skip and see what happens.”

Here’s Sabathia.

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Postrain notes: Change of plans10.01.11

Rain got in the way of the Yankees’ best starting pitching plan. CC Sabathia will be limited to one full start. The three-man rotation will be a four-man. As Joe Girardi said after the Yankees’ 23rd game impacted by weather: “The one thing I probably learned as much as any other, you cannot fight Mother Nature.”

Tonight’s opener was suspended due to rain with the score 1-1 after an inning and a half. Tomorrow night, the original Game 2 starters, Ivan Nova and Doug Fister, will take over for CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer are down as the starters for Game 2 Sunday at 3:07, but Sabathia said he’ll fight to make that start in hopes of pitching Game 5 on short rest.

Jim Leyland committed to pitching Verlander again on Monday.

So who would start a Game 4 for the Yankees in a potential matchup with Rick Porcello? Welcome back to the rotation A.J. Burnett?

“That’s something we’ll have to talk about,” Girardi said. “A.J. is obviously the most stretched out for us in that situation.”

Here’s Girardi’s postgame press conference.

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Should Major League Baseball have seen this coming and never let the game begin? Depends on who you ask.

“It was a nice day until the bottom of the first inning,” Mark Teixeira said.

Girardi said he knew it was going to rain, but none of his weather reports suggested it would ever rain this hard. Joe Torre, representing Major League Baseball, said the rain was supposed to happen off and on.

“We certainly were not going to start a game if we had a forecast of heavy rain,” Torre said. “Whether it was CC or Justin or two other guys, because it certainly isn’t fair to either club. Our forecast was light, intermittent showers, nothing that was threatening, except until late tonight. Obviously that forecast changed, and we came up with the result that we did.”

That said, one Yankee called the situation “stupid” and said a group of players were watching the radar on an iPad pregame and saw a massive green blob that was predicted to hover over Yankee Stadium for four hours.

“Never in my wildest dreams, with the way today was weather-wise, would you think you were going to run into this tonight,” Torre said.

• Although Girardi mentioned a division series doubleheader as a possibility, an MLB official announced to the press box that there is no scenario in which the Yankees and Tigers would play two games on the same day.

• The Yankees and Tigers will play four straight days, from Saturday through Tuesday. “Guys might be asked to go three days in a row (out of the bullpen) now,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. You just got to play it by each game and see how guys are doing.”

• Speaking of the bullpen: Nice work by the Yankees to have Mariano Rivera throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Jorge Posada. It was a nice touch.

• Leave it to Derek Jeter to bring perspective to the fact the Yankees got only two innings out of Sabathia tonight. “I’m sure they probably would have liked Verlander to have pitched the whole game, too,” Jeter said. “We got two innings out of (Sabathia). They got one (out of Verlander).”

• Verlander on his outing: “I had a nice bullpen in front of half of America today.”

• Sabathia gave up the Delmon Young homer, but he also struck out four through the first two innings. He looked much better than he had in the last few starts of the regular season. “There were only two innings, but, yeah, I was getting ahead,” Sabathia said. “The counts were better. I felt pretty good.”

• Sabathia said it didn’t matter how long the rain delay went, he was going to back into tonight’s game. “About 15 minutes after I went down to the cage and started playing catch with Montero a little bit,” he said. “Took the tarp off for a second, and I was ready to go back, ready to go back out. Got some hot stuff on and I was ready to go… I was going back out. No matter what. It’s just that time of year. I would have been very upset if we would have started the game and I wasn’t back out there.”

• Sabathia slipped on his last pitch, but he didn’t even realize it had happened. “I didn’t even know I slipped until I watched it on TV,” he said. “I didn’t really feel it until the ball was gone. It was raining pretty good, though. Conditions got bad pretty quick.”

• Interesting situation for Jim Leyland, who started a lineup that he planned to have face a left-handed pitcher, and now that lineup will be facing a right-hander. “I’m going to keep my lineup in there and see how the game plays out,” he said. “Obviously, I’m not going to start pulling guys out. I’m not going to change my lineup in the bottom of the second inning tomorrow. My lineup will be the same when we take the field. It would be the same. There could be a point where a pinch-hitter could be a factor because of what you ask.

• No surprise, but Leyland was pretty hilarious about the whole thing. “It is what it is,” he said. “Good Lord, it rained. So what? It’s all about three. It’s all about three. Win three, lose three. That’s what this is about. The magic number is three for both teams. That’s the way it is. There’s no sense getting all excited.”

• Nova and Fister are on track to start a potential Game 5.

• Girardi said he had no problem with the way things were handled tonight. “The weather is tricky around here,” he said. “We had one game here, we were trying to figure out it’s 7:00 when we were going to play the split double-header. There was no way we were playing. And at 7:30 everything split, and we ended up playing. The weather is hard to predict around here. It’s been hard to predict all year long. No, I have no complaints.”

• And we’ll end with the worst thing Girardi could have possibly said during tonight’s press conference: “We have a shorter game, I think, tomorrow.” Now that we all know we’ve been jinxed into a 25-inning game tomorrow, let’s all get some sleep.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 60 Comments →

Pregame notes: “You don’t want to let him beat you”09.30.11

Is it possible for one of the best hitters in baseball to sneak under the radar?

Miguel Cabrera leads the Majors in batting average and on-base percentage. He ranks fourth in slugging, and his OPS is second only to Jose Bautista. But he’s a secondary focus on this Tigers team, where Justin Verlander gets so much attention that Cabrera seems like a piece of the supporting cast.

“If he plays another eight to 10 years, he could go down as one of the greatest hitters of all time,” Joe Girardi said. “If you get in situations, you don’t want to let him beat you.”

Girardi would know. He managed Cabrera in Florida.

“It was a young man who, at a very young age, really knew how to hit and really knew how to play the game,” Girardi said. “I was impressed with his knowledge of the game and understanding how to play the game, and we had a very good relationship.”

At this point, you know all about the Yankees. You know Robinson Cano has been moved up to third in the lineup, you know Alex Rodriguez is coming off an injury and you know Curtis Granderson spent the year emerging as one of the game’s most dangerous hitters. You also know all about Verlander and CC Sabathia, a pitching matchup custom-made for Game 1. You know this is the division series, and the Yankees have the home-field advantage.

What’s we’ll find tonight is how the Yankees plan to approach the most dangerous hitter in the Tigers lineup, a guy who’s not getting the most buzz in Detroit, but who could make the biggest difference in this series if the Yankee choose to face him.

“That’s why we went out and got Victor Martinez,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “… We feel very comfortable with Victor behind Miguel right now. There’s no question about that. He’s a very professional hitter. He’s knocked in over 100 runs. There’s never a perfect lineup but we think we have the guy to hit behind him.”

Here’s Girardi’s pregame press conference.

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• Leyland announced that Rick Porcello will be his Game 4 starter. That means they’re planning to use Verlander in Game 5. Girardi said he’s sticking with his decision to use Sabathia in Game 4 and Nova in Game 5.

• Girardi said all of his roster decisions were “pretty much as anticipated.” They wanted to keep their regular bullpen, and they felt comfortable with Jesus Montero as the backup catcher. A.J. Burnett is basically the long man, which seems to have lessened the need for Hector Noesi.

• Will Burnett be the fourth starter if the Yankees advance to the ALCS? “There’s a good possibility, yes,” Girardi said.

• Girardi expects to pinch hit Montero for Jorge Posada if the Tigers bring in a left-hander late in the game. In using Montero, the Yankees will eliminate their backup catcher, but Girardi will take that chance and lose his DH if something happens to Martin at that point.

• Austin Romine will stay with the big league club. So will Bartolo Colon. Ramiro Pena has already gone to Tampa to stay sharp, and lefty Raul Valdes will head down there on Sunday.

• Girardi didn’t rule out the idea of using Colon later in the postseason, but it doesn’t seem especially likely. “It’s possible. We’re going to have him continue to throw. He’s probably going ot stay with us though, but we’ll have him continue to throw and maybe the extra rest will help him.”

• Chris Dickerson became an important piece because the Yankees want to use him for late-inning defense in Detroit. “You look at the outfield in Detroit, how big it is, it’s nice to have Dickerson,” Girardi said.

• The seventh, eighth and ninth innings are obviously spoken for, but Girardi said he considers Phil Hughes to be a candidate for key spots in the sixth. “I’ll look at matchups,” Girardi said. “We’ve used Wade and Ayala and Boone in those situations. Not afraid to use Hughsey in those situations either.”

• The Yankees plan to stick with this lineup throughout the series.

• Girardi’s reaction to news that Terry Francona is out as manager in Boston: “These jobs are precious, there’s no doubt about it. There’s expectations. A lot of times they’re extremely high expectations when you’re in certain towns. We understand that when we take the job. High expectations are better than no expectations. You do enjoy it and you enjoy your time when you’re there. Tito has done a great job there. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know he’s done a great job.”

Austin Jackson CF
Magglio Ordonez RF
Delmon Young LF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez DH
Alex Avila C
Ryan Raburn 2B
Jhonny Peralta SS
Brandon Inge 3B

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 219 Comments →

Big games and big results from the big man09.30.11

Justin Verlander is impossible to overlook. He’s been too good this season, too good to think there’s any other pitcher in this division series capable of having a bigger impact.

Surely squaring off against a pitcher like that sparks something extra inside of CC Sabathia.

“I wish I could sit here and say yeah, but no, not at all,” the Yankees ace said. “I still have to go out and do my job. Like I said, I’m out pitching against the Detroit Tigers and that lineup. I really can’t get myself concerned with what he does.”

Sabathia is the Yankees answer to Verlander, and the two are very familiar with one another having spent so much time together in the American League Central. They’ve already met once this year. It was on Opening Day. Both took a no-decision.

“CC’s a horse,” Derek Jeter said. “He wants to be out there. He’s a guy that wants to finish his games. He’s been our ace. He’s been the guy that we look to for big games and big results, and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

This is the key matchup. In a five-game series, a 1-0 lead is huge. The Yankees and Tigers are going with their best.

“I have a ton of confidence in CC,” Joe Girardi said. “This is a guy that’s been doing it for a long time. He’s been doing it in the postseason for us as well. He’s a guy that gives you a ton of innings, but he gives you quality innings. I have a ton of belief. You know he’s not going to panic. If he gets in a tough situation, he’s going to continue to make his pitches.”

Here’s Sabathia during yesterday’s press conference.

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Don’t forget, we’re doing a chat here on the blog today at noon. See you there!

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Podcastwith 575 Comments →

Postgame notes: “Friday’s what we play for, and it’s here”09.29.11

B.J. Upton was at the plate in the 12th inning when the television showed the last step of the Boston collapse. The crowd here at Tropicana Field went berserk, and the volume only increased when the final score was posted on the scoreboard in left field.

Evan Longoria was literally the very next hitter.

It happened that quickly, from Jonathan Papelbon’s meltdown in Baltimore to Longoria’s game winner in St. Pete, eight minutes passed. A night that had already seen the Rangers lockup the No. 2 seed in the American League and the Cardinals clinch the wild card in the National League, ended with an unlikely celebration at the Trop.

“That was one of the best days in baseball’s history probably,” Mark Teixeira said. “Every game tonight all across baseball seemed like it mattered, and there were some great finishes… Give (the Rays) a lot of credit. Down seven runs going into the eighth inning with your season on the line, obviously we don’t want to be on the short end of that stick, but you give them a lot of credit for the way they fought back.”

Funny thing is, none of it really mattered to the Yankees. They didn’t need a win today. They just needed to get through this game with their players healthy, and they more or less did that (more on that in a bit). For the Yankees, the game that really mattered was the Rangers win against the Angels. That’s the game that setup a division series matchup between the Yankees and the Tigers.

“It’s a strange game,” Joe Girardi said. “You never know what’s going to happen from night to night. It’s weird, but Friday’s what we play for, and it’s here.”

Here’s Girardi.

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• Girardi officially named a three-man rotation for the division series: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia. “We just like the way that Freddy’s pitched,” Girardi said. “Freddy’s pitched well. We talked about it and debated about it a long time, and we just decided to go with Freddy. We like the way that Freddy has competed all year, and we’re going to send him out there.”

• Sabathia will pitch Games 1 and 4. Nova will pitch Games 2 and 5.

• A.J. Burnett will move to the bullpen for the division series. That’s why he faced a batter in relief tonight, just so he could do it one time before the postseason. “He’s a guy that can get a strikeout for us if we need it, and he’s a guy that can give us some distance if we need that,” Girardi said. “He can do multiple things.”

• Alex Rodriguez is fine. Girardi said his knee was “achy,” but Girardi said he has “no doubt whatsoever” that Rodriguez will be able to play Friday. “I don’t really have a concern about him,” Girardi said. “The turf can do that to you sometimes, and he’ll be ready to go Friday.”

• Jesus Montero was sent for X-rays after a tipped ball hit his throwing hand. The results were negative, and Girardi expects Montero to be sore but available. “My guess is that he’ll be OK,” Girardi said. “We’ll check tomorrow, but the x-ray came out negative”

• Girardi said he used his bullpen according to plan. At one point Hector Noesi seemed to be stretching, but I don’t think he ever threw a pitch. “I had talked about that I wasn’t going to use Robby, Soriano or Mo,” Girardi said. “That was the bottom line, and we tried to close it out. We had a seven-run lead with two (innings to play) and I went to guys with experience, and we didn’t get it done.”

• What does Girardi make of Luis Ayala and Boone Logan — two guys who have actually been in his bullpen all year — giving up six runs in an inning? “I don’t make too much of it,” Girardi said. “You just don’t.”

• Before Logan and Ayala, a total of seven Yankees pitchers — five of them September call-ups — pitched a total of seven scoreless innings.

• Dellin Betances walked two in the first inning, but he got back-to-back strikeouts to strand the runners, and his first big league start spanned two scoreless innings. Not a bad way to bounce back after an rocky debut at home.

• The two teams combined to use 18 pitchers — 11 of them were Yankees — which set a new record at Tropicana Field. The previous high was 15 in a game between the Rays and Red Sox.

• Mark Teixeira hit two home runs and will finish with 39 for the season, one shy of the second 40-homer season of his career. His grand slam in the second inning was the fourth allowed by a Rays pitcher this season (the first was hit by Jorge Posada). It was the Yankees 10th grand slam of the season and the seventh of Teixeira’s career.

• It was Teixeira’s first grand slam on the road since hitting one off Edwar Ramirez in 2008. Did you think you’d read Edwar Ramirez’s name tonight?

• The game-tying home run that Cory Wade allowed in the ninth inning was the first run he had allowed against the Rays in six appearances this season. Wade opened the season on the Rays Triple-A team and came to the Yankees because the Rays wouldn’t give him a shot in the big leagues.

• On the Rays comeback: They were 9 games out of the wild card on September 4, the most games ever overcome in September to get into the postseason in Major League history. The Rays went 16-8 since September 4 while Boston went 6-18. Tonight, the Rays were down by seven runs in the eighth inning, making this the second-largest comeback in franchise history and the largest at Tropicana Field.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 394 Comments →

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