The video above is a little bit of footage from Alex Rodriguez’s introduction to first base. It came during pitchers’ fielding practice this afternoon, and as you might guess, the drills were really designed for pitchers, not for a novice first baseman. Rodriguez basically just covered the bag a few times and scooped some slow grounders. You’ll be able to tell from the video above that this was not a thrown-into-the-fire situation. Rodriguez really didn’t do much.
And when the workout was over, as Rodriguez stood in the clubhouse talking about his determination to learn the position, he realized he’d actually lost his brand new first baseman’s mitt.
Perhaps the transition will be harder than anyone realized.
“As we go through these drills, I think it’s important that he go over there and tries to get a better understanding of what the position entails, and the spots he’s supposed to be at,” Joe Girardi said. “… It’s one of the few places that you hold the runner on, in a sense, and then you have to sprint and change the way you’re shaped for a ground ball, so your setup is different. All your responsibilities on cuts and relays. It’s just different. And you’re looking, in a sense, the opposite way.”
Of course, it’s worth wondering if this “learning first base” situation is more smoke than fire, getting a lot of attention strictly because it’s A-Rod and not because it actually matters to the Yankees. If Mark Teixeira is healthy, he’ll surely play first base almost every day. And Teixeira is weakest from the left side, so when he gets a day off, might make more sense to let experienced left-handed hitter Garrett Jones play the position, not inexperienced right-handed hitter Rodriguez.
Girardi, though, dismissed the idea that this is an insignificant experiment.
“I think we’ve seen over the last two years, there’s a lot of times you don’t think someone would ever play a position, and then things change,” Girardi said. “I think you definitely think about playing him on days when you’re giving Mark a day off. Maybe Garrett’s playing right field, maybe your DH is moving around a little bit, maybe you’re DHing Carlos (Beltran) a day. There’s a lot of things you can do.”
Ultimately, Rodriguez’s ability to play first base will be more valuable if he’s hitting well enough that an extra position keeps him in the lineup more often. Even Girardi has acknowledged that hitting is, by far, the most important aspect of his return to the team. So is there some chance that learning a new position is adding an unnecessary wrinkle to this already uncertain process?
“I do whatever they tell me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy to get some playing time. … It’s too quick to tell (how it’s going). I’m anxious to learn, though.”
• The Yankees have their first injury of the spring. Brendan Ryan is expected to miss about five days of baseball activity because of a mild strain in the middle of his back. He hurt himself lifting weights before reporting to Tampa. Specifically, he was hurt doing biceps curls. “It’s an eyewash exercise anyway,” Ryan said. “… I don’t know what I’m doing in (the weight room) in the first place, you know? What am I going to go from hitting two homers to four?”
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today and has been wearing a protective brace on his surgically repaired right knee. “The fact that he’s wearing a brace or not wearing a brace doesn’t concern me anymore,” Girardi said. “If they feel that he’ll stay healthier wearing the brace, then I would tell him, wear the brace.”
• Because of that knee issue, the Yankees are moving slowly with Sabathia. “We’re taking it slow with him, knowing that we don’t really think that he’s behind and he’s got plenty of time,” Girardi said. “We’re not rushing it because of his knee, and we want to take it step by step.”
• Along those lines, Girardi said he will wait until tomorrow to announce the starting pitchers for those early exhibition games. Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes reported that Adam Warren is “probably” going to start Tuesday’s opener.
• Before Tuesday’s spring opener, the Yankees are scheduled for an intrasquad game on Sunday. Girardi said he expects Monday to be a fairly light day leading into the Grapefruit League games.
• For whatever it’s worth, I was told today that Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have made a strong impression from the way they reported to camp. Apparently their early workouts have been impressive, and both are in great shape. Three other names singled out as having reported to camp in especially good shape: Austin Romine, Mason Williams and Cito Culver.
• Also heard a lot of good things about Luis Severino’s sim game today. “Young kid with a great arm,” Giradi said. “Good slider, good changeup. It’s something to get excited about.”
• And Nathan Eovaldi’s two-inning simulated game: “Really good stuff,” Girardi said. “Powerful arm. I think he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. He has pretty good command. He threw some good splits today. Athletic. So I think he’ll do a good job in those parts of the game where you have to be an athlete. I liked what I’ve seen and we like where he’s at right now.”
• One personal observation: When Aaron Judge takes batting practice, he doesn’t hit the towering fly balls you might expect from a power hitter his size. It’s all line drives — hard line drives — up the middle and toward the gaps. He didn’t hit very many out today. One that did go out probably never got higher than the top of the scoreboard. Just a line drive that he clobbered. You know who from Judge’s group might have hit the most homers? Ramon Flores.
• Hideki Matsui was the batting practice pitcher for the group of Williams, Romine, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy.
• Noticed today that Cole Figueroa (who was at second yesterday) got some time at shortstop during defensive drills. Jonathan Galvez (who was at third) got some time at second, and Nick Noonan (who was at short) got some time at third. A lot of utility types who seem destined for Triple-A but could follow the Solarte/Wheeler path to New York.
• A source of annoyance this afternoon: writing a blog post that would have been posted hours ago, if only I’d hit the “public” button instead of the “save draft” button. I guess it’s spring training for everyone.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Rodriguez learning first base: “I think he’s trying to learn. I think he was paying attention and trying to learn. He’s never taken balls over there, he’s never seen what a bunt defense looks like from over there, and that’s going to take some time.”
Associated Press photos
Predictably, unavoidably, today’s first full-squad workout in Yankees camp was dominated by Alex Rodriguez. He was the center of attention, the one player who drew the most cameras and eyes from the media, and the one who drew the most reaction from the crowd. That reaction, by the way, was all positive as far as I could tell. A lot of cheering when he had a good round of batting practice. I honestly didn’t hear a single boo.
The topic of Rodriguez will fade a little bit over time, but he’s a fascinating figure in this camp, and one of the teammates who knows him best is Mark Teixeira. After today’s workout, I actually thought Teixeira did a great job talking about the A-Rod situation. He talked about some tough issues, and managed to walk the line between supporting his teammate and condemning steroid use. He also provided some insight into Rodriguez’s challenges going forward.
Asked whether Rodriguez has changed, Teixeira offered a reminder that we’ve been here before
“That is a tough question to answer. I don’t know. He’s the same guy that I’ve known a long time. We came here in ’09 under very similar circumstances, if you guys remember, and we had a great year. He did a great job of putting it behind him and playing baseball. The entire team did a great job of putting it behind us, so that’s what I’m expecting this year.”
Missing a lot of time and trying to be a great hitter again; Teixeira went through it last year
“I think the difference is he’s well past his surgery, so I think that’s great for Alex that he’s well past his surgery. He’s not in a rehab mode that I know of. I think he feels pretty good, and that’s the difference probably.”
What’s the last thing to come as a power hitter?
“The carry is the last thing that comes back; the ball carrying. There’s a lot of cage work in the offseason. You want to hit line drives and you want to hear the ball off the bat, but you really don’t know how it’s carrying. At least for me, I’m working on my hands more in the offseason, and then slowly in spring training – I won’t hit many home runs early in spring training in batting practice –as we get closer to the season, I want to see that ball backspinning, carrying out of the ballpark because that’s what I need to do at the plate.”
What’s the state of the game with performance enhancing drugs?
“I think it’s better than it’s ever been. I came up in ’03 when we had some weird testing where there was testing but you could still do it and there were no penalties or whatever. And there were still a lot of guys doing it. There were. I think the middle 2000s, late 2000s, baseball did a great job of putting things in place. You’re always going to have cheaters. You’re always going to have guys who are trying to beat the system no matter what it is – taxes, breaking the speed limit, whatever. So for us to think no one is going to try to bend the rules is a little naïve, but I give the commissioner’s office a lot of credit (and) I give the players association a lot of credit for working together to try the best we can.”
How does Teixeira view PED users?
“I’ve been outspoken. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all, but if you’re willing to take that chance, then that’s something you have to look in the mirror. I’m not going to stay anything that’s going to change anyone’s mind. It’s one of those situaitons. It is what it is. We all had kids in school who cheated on their tests, and we all worked hard and maybe got a B and they got an A. That’s life.”
So how does he reconcile that opinion with his friendship with A-Rod?
“There’s a lot of people that make bad decisions. Alex is not a bad person. I’ll be the first one to tell you that. I’ve known Alex for a long time, but Alex has made bad decisions, and he’s owned up to them. Hopefully now we can kind of get past it. That’s something that, if he was still denying it and still coming in here and put on a different face (it might be a different story). He told everyone he was sorry for what he did.”
• It was quickly overshadowed by A-Rod, but today really started with Larry Rothschild once again bringing up the idea of a sixth starter. How realistic is that? “We’ll see,” Brian Cashman said. “In a perfect world, it’s something that’s a great concept. I think more realistic, what we’ll see, is someone taking a sixth spot and pushing guys back (for one start) or skipping a starter a turn in the rotation. I think that’s probably more realistic than finding six quality arms to run through out there every six days on a consistent basis. But you hear many a times, the interest level in having a six-man rotation, and there’s a lot of positives from that. But it’s hard to pull off.”
• Cashman made it clear that the Yankees have to find five starters before they start to figure out a sixth starter. “If we’re ever in a position to be fortunate enough to have six quality arms that can compete for a win on a daily basis in the rotation, then I think we’ll be in a position to implement that,” Cashman said. “But first things first.”
• Speaking of which, here’s Joe Girardi on Tanaka’s morning bullpen: “Very good. Forty pitches, threw all his pitches, arm strength looked really good. We’ll continue to move him along, we’ll get him ready for a game, I don’t know when we’ll get him in a game, but that was good.”
• As the Yankees started taking ground balls, the first thing I noticed was Girardi standing directly behind Rob Refsnyder at second base. Girardi, though, said not to read into his positioning. “I was next to the first baseman, then I was next to the second baseman, then I stood next to the shortstop, and then I proceeded to third base,” Girardi said. “So I stood next to everybody today. … For me, it’s conversation; talking to some of the players I didn’t know. I have not had a chance to be around Galvez, Noonan, Refsnyder. I thought it was important. Cole Figueroa. I thought it was important I talk with everyone today.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury said he’s willing to hit anywhere in the order — he had to hit third last year — but Girardi wouldn’t give us any real indication about his plans for the lineup. “I think you have to see the makeup of our lineup, and who we decide is going to be in the lineup on a fairly regular, everyday basis,” Girardi said. “We’ve thrown around some ideas, but I think it’s too early to put an order together. The good thing is I’ve got 39 more days or something like that.”
• The Yankees had a lengthy team meeting before today’s workout. Teixeira said Rodriguez did not speak during the meeting. As far as I could tell, all interaction with Rodriguez was positive today. He stretched with Carlos Beltran, and took batting practice with Teixeira, Greg Bird and Jose Pirela. “Obviously, if he does well, it only helps the team,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “From that standpoint, I think we all hope he has a good season.”
• Rodriguez got his first-baseman’s glove today, but he hasn’t started breaking it in. He did all of today’s defensive drills on the left side of the infield. “We’ll have him do early work (at first base),” Girardi said. “When we do some of the team defenses, (he will be) running through it in both places so you have some idea. As far as (having him play first in) a game, I don’t know yet, but you do want to get him comfortable before you send him out there.”
• First full-squad workout, and no Derek Jeter. First time that’s happened in two decades. “It was a little strange not seeing Derek out there today,” Girardi said. “We were doing the mass infield (drills), and he wasn’t there. It was kind of strange to me.”
• Or maybe, it wasn’t strange at all. “He retired,” Cashman said. “It never crossed my mind.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “When I look at things today, I think the pitchers are a lot further along. I was very pleased with what I saw from Tanaka. I’ve been very pleased as far as what I’ve seen from our pitchers as a whole. One thing that sometimes stands out but you don’t always realize is how big these guys are. I know I’m shrinking at a slow rate, but God, they seem to be getting bigger.”
Associated Press photos
Fairly uneventful return to Yankees camp for Alex Rodriguez this afternoon.
Participating in his first official spring workout since 2012 — coming back from surgery in 2013; suspended in 2014 — Rodriguez went through a typical first day of drills. He took warmed up in the outfield, took ground balls at third base, hit in the cage, and lifted inside. The reaction from fans was overwhelmingly positive (whenever there was any reaction at all).
So how’d he look? In a word: Fine. He moved around alright, but it’s not like he was sprinting around the bases. He fielded grounders cleanly, but he wasn’t ranging more than a half step in any direction. He hit some home runs during batting practice — I thought his last two rounds of BP were especially sharp — but these were batting practice fastballs.
There was really nothing to learn today. If anything stood out, it was the fact that a relatively small crowd in attendance was clearly focused on Rodriguez, but had little reaction to him. What reaction did come was overwhelmingly positive, including a pretty big cheer after his final round of batting practice.
“I saw his batting practice today,” Mark Teixeira said. “Not many guys are hitting the ball like he is right now. First day is always kind of a breaking in time for most guys. He looked great out there today, and hopefully that continues.”
Essentially, that’s what today was about. Rodriguez looked perfectly fine in his first workout with the team. He hit some balls pretty hard, and did all that was asked of him in the field — but no one was asking for much.
“I’ve said all along I don’t think it’s fair to judge him early, I really don’t,” Joe Girardi said. “When you’ve played as few games as he has the last two years, the speed of the game is what you have to get used to. I don’t think it’s fair to judge. I don’t judge a lot of our players the first two weeks of games. You just don’t, because they’ve been off of playing five or six months, and it’s just something different. A lot of the time you’ll find that the people who played winter ball are much further ahead that the people who weren’t playing winter ball. So you have to give them time.”
When will we start to have any idea what he’s really capable of doing?
“Probably the last two weeks of spring training,” Brian Cashman said. “In fairness, let him knock the rust off and let him get his feet back on the ground. In terms of trying to make judgments of what potentially he will be, in fairness to him, it won’t take place until the last two weeks of camp, despite him going through everything all these guys are going to be going through.
“He’s on the team, and so it’s more like: let’s get him prepared for the season and have a better view of what he can provide toward the end of camp, not anywhere close to the beginning.”
Associated Press photo
Another bullpen in the books for Masahiro Tanaka, and still the Yankees are speaking with confidence about his elbow and his health. Tanaka threw 40 pitches today, which is a pretty substantial side session.
“He threw great,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “Everything is progressing the way we like, so we’ll just keep going. … No (restrictions). We’re just bringing him along at a pace that he’s more accustomed to. A little different schedule as far as not trying to put a lot of pitches on him in a three- or four-day period, but still get him built up and get the stamina built up. That’s pretty much what we’re doing.”
Tanaka said he felt more arm strength than in previous bullpens, and he felt that he was throwing the ball harder. That’s not because he’s trusting the elbow any more, he said he’s simply building natural strength.
“I think I was throwing with more force than the last bullpen,” Tanaka said. “As far as hitting the spots, the location goes, I think it was better than the last bullpen as well. … I feel that I’m on the right track. Going through the workouts and going through the bullpen today also, it does give me confidence that I’m moving in the right direction.”
Don’t dismiss Rothschild’s previous comment about keeping Tanaka on a lighter schedule so far this spring. It’s something that’s likely to continue, and it’s an idea that extends beyond Tanaka. Rothschild indicated that the Yankees might stick with basically a six-man rotation during spring training just to see how guys react to having an extra day off between appearances. They’re clearly hoping to make this sixth spot-starter idea work.
“They’re all going to need it,” Rothschild said. “We’ve looked at schedules and scenarios, and we’ll continue to look at it as we go through spring, see how guys react. They’ll probably pitch on the fifth and sixth day in spring, see how they react to that and give them the extra time. We’ll see toward the end how we exactly want to do it. We do have the opportunity that if we need a sixth starter at times, we’ll probably run him out there. We’re looking at 30 games in 31 days at the end of April through May, so we’ll probably look at a lot of different scenarios. If they can handle it, and we’re comfortable with it, we may go with it. Otherwise, we’ll try to figure out how to get them through the first two months. It’s not just Masahiro; there are three or four guys in that group.”
• Alex Rodriguez was in and out of the Yankees clubhouse just like everyone else this morning. He didn’t talk to media, and it really didn’t seem to be a big deal. Not the overwhelming distraction that you might expect. The fact he talked the past three days probably helped make that possible. “I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “Obviously, if he does well, it only helps the team. From that standpoint, I think we all hope he has a good season.”
• Hideki Matsui is in Yankees camp today. He stopped by Tanaka’s locker this morning, and Tanaka sprang to his feet for a handshake and a brief conversation. “Not all the Yankee players, former Yankee players, come here and get to be in that position (as a spring instructor),” Tanaka said. “It says about how he was as a player, here as a Yankee. I have very much a lot of respect toward Hideki.”
• Speaking of guest instructors, Mariano Rivera said this morning that he hasn’t been throwing at all lately. Doesn’t even really play catch with his son, who’s been pitching really well at Iona. Asked, though, how many warmup pitches he would need before throwing a cutter that could get a hitter out, Rivera just laughed. “Every pitch,” he said. I honestly believe him.
• Little surprise that Rodriguez has been assigned both a hitting group and an infield group with Mark Teixeira. Those two seem to always work together in spring training. In the past, the Yankees have specifically listed positions for individual players during infield drills, but there were no positions listed today. Based on Rodriguez’s group — with Teixeira and Kyle Roller — I’m guessing most or all of Rodriguez’s reps this morning will come at third base. Probably not going to have three guys at first base (the Yankee usually only have two guys at each position during infield drills).
• Did not see anyone in the Yankees clubhouse who seemed to show up in bad shape. Mason Williams seems to be in great shape. Aaron Judge looks like a monster. Jonathan Galvez looks like a strong dude. But the guy who stands out is Kyle Roller. Good grief. That guy’s arms are massive. Just looks like a guy who should be able to mash a baseball (and based on last year’s Triple-A numbers, that’s exactly what he can do).
• A group of pitchers are scheduled for early work tomorrow, as are a group of hitters. I’m guessing that means early morning live batting practice before the full workout begins. These are the guys scheduled for early work tomorrow (I can’t imagine all of these guys will face hitters tomorrow, but some might):
Pitchers: Andrew Bailey, Esmil Rogers, CC Sabathia, Chris Capuano, Scott Baker, David Carpenter, Dellin Betances, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder
Hitters: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Jake Cave, Kyle Roller, Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge
• Heading to the minor league complex for live batting practice: Adam Warren, Nick Goody, Diego Moreno, James Pazos, Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez, Andrew Miller, Danny Burawa and catcher Austin Romine.
• Early morning bullpens (these already happened):
Masahiro Tanaka (with Gary Sanchez catching)
Bryan Mitchell (with Francisco Arcia)
Chase Whitley (with Kyle Higashioka)
Jared Burton (with Juan Graterol)
Domingo German (with Trent Garrison)
Tyler Webb (with Eddy Rodriguez)
• Infield drills (specific positions not listed this morning):
Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Rodriguez, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Greg Bird, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan
Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brian McCann, Eddy Rodriguez
Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Brendan Ryan, Mark Teixeira
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones
Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Kyle Roller
Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Jake Cave, Chris Young
Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Associated Press photos
Mark Didtler of The Associated Press caught up with Hank Steinbrenner to talk about Alex Rodriguez today. Here’s the story:
Suspended last season for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez reported to the Yankees’ spring training camp Wednesday at George Steinbrenner Field. A-Rod is trying to return as his 40th birthday approaches in July.
“Hopefully this spring he can contribute, that’s the bottom line,” Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ co-chairman, said Wednesday. “He can hit. He’s a natural. Hopefully he can still do it. We’re just going take it as it goes. As far as whether he can contribute or not, we’ll have to see. Hopefully he will. Hopefully he’ll help the lineup.”
Steinbrenner was heavily involved in the team’s decision to sign Rodriguez to a record $275 million, 10-year contract in December 2007 after the three-time MVP terminated his $252 million, 10-year deal with three seasons remaining.
Rodriguez has not played a full season since then because of injuries, which led to operations on both hips, and the suspension. Rodriguez has apologized to the Yankees and to fans, but didn’t go into specifics on his actions that led to the ban. Six years ago, he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas.
Rodriguez completed his physical Wednesday, which he said he passed, and met with manager Joe Girardi before making the mile trip for his third early workout at the Yankees’ minor league complex. He hit five homers in 102 batting practice swings.
General manager Brian Cashman said he was surprised when Rodriguez arrived Monday.
Rodriguez declined to say whether he apologized to Girardi, saying “I’m going to keep our conversions private.”
“It was a good meeting, positive,” Rodriguez said. “I think Joe’s position has always been one to back me up. I’d go through a wall for Joe.”
Girardi also wouldn’t say whether an apology was made.
“We had a good conversation, and he’s ready to go to work,” Girardi said. “We talked a little bit about what our goals are in spring training. I told him I’d get him as many at-bats as I could that he could physically handle. He said I’m here to try to help this team win. I want to play, I want to help this team win.”
Girardi and Cashman say Chase Headley will be their starting third baseman and Rodriguez will compete for at-bats at designated hitter. Rodriguez could see some time at first base.
“I told him whatever he needs, I’m all in,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the biggest thing for him in Thursday’s first full-squad workout is “just being back in pinstripes.”
“It’s been a long time,” he said.
The Yankees are hoping for a turnaround season after missing the playoffs the past two years.
“We could have a really good team and do well this year,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s going to be the same as the last two years, hopefully we won’t have the injuries we had. We just have to hope for the best this year.”
Healthy seasons for Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda will be key.
Tanaka made two late September starts after missing 2 1/2 months last season with a partially torn elbow ligament. Pineda went 5-5 with an 1.89 ERA in 13 starts after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two years.
“If Tanaka and Pineda can stay healthy, we’re going to be very tough in that area with the other guys as well,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve got two legitimate top-notch starting pitchers. Nobody would deny that. If they can stay healthy, we can be very tough this year.”
Associated Press photos
For good reason, there’s already been plenty of talk in Yankees camp about the defensive shift. Not about the ways the Yankees might use the shift this season, but about the ways the might try to beat it.
“We’ve talked about it as an organization,” Joe Girardi said. “We will discuss things with players. This is the adjustment defenses have made, and we need to make (offensive) adjustments too. I’m not asking you to be something you’re not. I’m not going to ask you to do something that you’re not comfortable doing, but it’s something that we need to have discussions about and see how we attack it.”
Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira in particular have lost plenty of hits because of shifted infielders. Their thoughts:
McCann: “I want to hit the ball where it’s pitched. It’s not necessarily that I’m going to try to go up there and hit the ball to left field. If it’s away from me, it needs to go to left field. If they come in on me, I need to be able to pull it, but pull correctly. If you pull correctly, you create back spin which is going to help you hit home runs. … If I hit two or three singles in a row to left field, they’re going to continue to play the shift because that’s where my power is. That’s just the way it is and whether that takes a couple of points off my batting average, if I take the approach I have day in and day out for 500 at-bats, at the end of the year things will be there.”
Teixeira: “Thoughts on (beating) the shift? Hit more home runs, hit more doubles, and walk more. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. Every time I try to slap the ball the other way, it doesn’t go well for anybody. That’s what the other team wants. They want to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter. So if I can hit more home runs, more doubles, walk more, that takes care of the shift. I don’t want to ground out to second base. That’s not what I’m trying to do up there.”
It goes without saying that it’s good to use the whole field, good to take what the defense is giving, and it’s bad to hit ground balls to an area crowded with defenders. The Yankees obviously agree with those principles, but they also seem focused on sticking with a player’s strengths.
“The biggest thing for me is don’t let it get in your head and don’t force things,” new hitting coach Jeff Pentland said today. “Obviously the ability to use the whole field is important. I’m not going to stand here and tell you we’re going to try to force things through the infield or through the shift. We’ve still got to go up there and hit the ball, but there are things we’ll spend time on.”
• Girardi met face-to-face with Alex Rodriguez today. Girardi said he told A-Rod that he would get all the spring at-bats “that he could physically handle.” Girardi also told Rodriguez that he would play some third base this spring, and formally asked him to get some reps at first base. “He’s willing to do anything,” Girardi said.
• Mark Teixeira on working with Rodriguez: “I’m looking forward to working with him over there. Alex and I have been friends for a long time now. I’ll enjoy working with him over there. It’s funny; I was a rookie when Alex was the best player in the world. He got to teach me some things, and now I’m going to be able to teach him some things at first.”
• According to Girardi, the plan is for Rodriguez to play in either the first or second game this spring. The Yankees will not hold him out of games when the exhibition schedule starts. They want him to start getting at-bats right away.
• Pentland on Rodriguez: “I’ve always been a big fan of Alex, are you kidding? … I don’t think he’s going to have that many issues. He was born to hit. That’s the way I feel about him.”
• As usual, Girardi said the Yankees have reached out to National League teams for permission to use a designated hitter in road games against N.L. teams in spring training. Typically, teams are perfectly happy to do that in the first half of the spring schedule. Girardi said some teams aren’t willing to do it as the schedule gets closer to Opening Day. I would expect, though, that there will be a DH when the Yankees open the exhibition schedule against the Phillies on Tuesday.
• Mariano Rivera is expected to be in Yankees camp for nine or 10 days. “He has free rein to help out as much as he can,” Girardi said. “I think the advice that he’ll give young players should be something they should listen to.”
• In full uniform, Rivera watched bullpens and then shagged some fly balls today. I wouldn’t hold out hope for an Andy Pettitte-like return, but it’s hard not to think of it. “I joked with him,” Girardi said. “I said, ‘The last time a guy like you came to spring training, he made two days of coaches meetings and then he went home for three days and decided he wanted to pitch again. So I’m just curious to see how long you’re going to make it in our meetings.’”
• I watched Gary Tuck leading catching drills for a while this afternoon. That group gets pretty intense, and both Joe Girardi and Tony Pena seem to love watching it. Worth noting that each day the Yankees update a contest for which catchers have the fewest drops in camp so far. Right now, three catchers still have zero, and it’s the three big league guys: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine.
• Pitchers going to the minor league complex to face hitters tomorrow: Andrew Miller, Adam Warren, Jose Ramirez, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Diego Moreno, James Pazos and Danny Burawa. Austin Romine is heading over there with them, presumably to catch some guys.
• Final word goes to Teixeira: “We have the talent in here. There’s a lot of teams that would love to have our roster right now. It takes talent, it takes health, it takes execution. We have the talent, so it’s the health and execution are the ones we’re going to work on this year. I think we all believe in each other here.”
Associated Press photos
Had a pretty good spot for Luis Severino’s bullpen this afternoon. Here’s some video from directly behind the catcher. Also, a few very quick notes from today’s final workout of only pitchers and catchers. We’ll have more in-depth notes later this afternoon. For now, five things from today:
1. Everyone has reported on time, and everyone has passed the physical. Seems like there’s usually at least one player with a travel issue or something else keeping him from being in camp when it opens. This time, Joe Girardi said, everyone has arrived with no issues.
2. Mariano Rivera is expected to be in camp for nine or 10 days serving as a guest instructor. Much like his late playing day, Rivera basically has the green light to do or say whatever he wants. Girardi said he jokingly asked Rivera if he wanted to make some road trips now that he’s a coach. Don’t bank on that happening.
3. New hitting coach Jeff Pentland introduced himself to the beat writers after today’s workout. He talked for a little while about being excited to work with Alex Rodriguez and about his views on the defensive shift. One comment that stood out: “I’m only a good hitting coach if we have good players.” That’s really true.
4. A few pitchers will skip morning meetings tomorrow — stuff they’ve already heard — and will instead go to the minor league complex to face hitters. Just trying to maximize the time, Girardi said. Andrew Miller and Adam Warren will be among those heading over to the complex.
5. Girardi said he expects to have some intrasquad games before the exhibition schedule begins next week. He expects Rodriguez to play in either the first or second Grapefruit League game.
The first full-squad workout isn’t until tomorrow, but the Yankees’ spring clubhouse will have a little extra life today as position players report for their physicals. And yes, Alex Rodriguez will be involved. Joe Girardi explained yesterday that Rodriguez saw only a couple of specialists when he showed up on Monday. He’ll have to complete the full physical today.
“I think it helps, him coming in the first couple days, because he has spoken with the media,” Girardi said. “It’s not going to be necessarily the first chance people have to the opportunity to talk to him, so I would think that would help.”
As Monday’s high-profile arrival proved — as if there were any doubt — Rodriguez is going to be an unavoidable center of attention this spring. They story is simply too fascinating to get away from it.
Rodriguez is not the guy who will make or break the Yankees’ season. His return is not nearly as important as Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, or Carlos Beltran’s elbow, or CC Sabathia’s knee, or Brian McCann’s production, or Rob Refsnyder’s potential. Each of those elements will get plenty of attention this spring. You’re also going to read and hear a lot about Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius and Luis Severino these next six weeks.
But on a day-to-day basis, there’s little in Yankees camp more fascinating than Rodriguez.
It really is an unprecedented situation: a player of his caliber, coming off baseball’s longest-ever steroid suspension, after a series of recent injuries and surgeries, having publicly feuded with the league and the front office, no longer trusted at his usual position, providing no clue what to expect on or off the field. It’s a story with endless angles and endless possibilities; it’s fascinating, even if it’s often maddening.
If you’re sick of the whole thing, I completely understand — believe me, there are plenty of days when the last thing I want to write is another A-Rod story — but there’s a reason it’s getting so much attention. It’s like nothing else.
“When you’re guilty of something and you pay your consequence, you pay your consequence and we have to move on,” Girardi said. “From a physical standpoint, is he going to be different? Maybe. That’s something I have to be aware of. He’s a couple years older and there are things I have to be aware of, but I don’t think my job description really changes.”
Associated Press photo
The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
Headley and A-Rod: “It’s business as usual” • 02.24.15
Peering over an outfield wall some 350 feet away, it’s hard to pick up on the details of a conversation between two people meeting for the first time. A camera lens, though, can zoom in and create an image that seems to tell the story.
Today, an Associated Press photo of Alex Rodriguez’s first workout with new teammate Chase Headley was begging for a snappy back-page headline. With his arms out and a quizzical look on his face, Headley seemed to be saying: What are you doing over here? We already have a third baseman.
“I promise you I didn’t say that,” Headley said, laughing. “I don’t know what I said, but I promise you I didn’t say that.”
With Rodriguez and Headley each early arrivals in Tampa, today was their first opportunity to work side-by-side. They ran, they hit, and they fielded ground balls at third base; the position Rodriguez used to play every day in Bronx, and the one Headley will now play every day.
“For me to be here, I feel like (playing third base) is what made sense,” Headley said. “We established that early on (in offseason contact negotiations). There’s a lot of things that can happen over the course of a season. Obviously the more bodies that you have that can fill positions (is) great, but if I thought I was coming here to be a first baseman or a left fielder or whatever, I wouldn’t have came back. That wouldn’t have made sense for me or the Yankees.”
Really, Headley said working out with Rodriguez was a lot like working with any other new teammate. Obviously it’s a unique situation that has its own quirks, but Headley said there was nothing awkward about today’s workout. He and Rodriguez spoke on the phone earlier this winter — it was Rodriguez who initiated that conversation — and today was a pretty typical first meeting.
“As a player, you experience different things in your career,” Headley said. “And I’ve been around long enough that there’s been different sets of circumstances that I’ve dealt with, and this just another one. As far as a teammate, I expect him to be great. I’ve heard great things from other guys, and every interaction that I’ve had with him has been positive. Hopefully here in a few days everything will calm down and we’ll start talking about baseball, but you know, obviously you expect to answer the questions about him. But from my point of view, it’s business as usual.”
Joe Girardi reiterated that he expects Rodriguez to primary play designated hitter. Bu the said Rodriguez will also get some time at third base, and Girardi wants him to take some ground balls at first base just in case he’s needed to back up over there.
“To me, the most important thing is getting him at-bats,” Girardi said. “If you’re (having him play third base regularly), I don’t know if you can get him enough at-bats in spring training for him to feel comfortable. I’m going to take it week-by-week, see where he’s at physically and how he’s responding, make sure he’s getting enough at-bats.”
As for Headley, he’s signed to a four-year contract and seems perfectly secure in his role on this roster. There are a lot of new guys for him to get to know this year. Rodriguez is just one of them.
“Really, he’s another teammate,” Headley said. “And (I’ll do) anything I can do to help him, and I’m sure he feels the same way. That’s what’s important. We’re going to try to win a lot of games.”
Associated Press photos