The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Tuesday notes: Another opportunity for Nunez02.19.13

It’s going to be a while before Derek Jeter is ready to play in games, and that means playing time for someone else. Most notably, it means playing time for Eduardo Nunez.

“I can’t kill him,” Joe Girardi said. “I can’t play him nine innings every day, but he’s going to play a substantial amount.”

Nunez and Jeter went through shortstop drills together again today, and the Yankees plan to keep Nunez at short this spring, and there’s little doubt that the Yankees idea of letting Jeter DH against lefties in the regular season leaves a legitimate opportunity for Nunez to get big league playing time again.

“I want Jeter to be healthy again and play how he plays,” Nunez said. “But for now, it’s my opportunity to show I can play every day and show I can play defense. I can do different things than people think I can do. … I feel great right now. My confidence is (high). I know what I can do. I know what kind of player I can be, and that I can be right now.”

Girardi said the Yankees will look for consistency out of Nunez, and that should come as little surprise. Nunez has shown flashes of being a valuable big leaguer — most recently, he played well during his short time playing in Jeter’s place during the ALCS — but his defensive lapses are well documented.

“He has to earn it,” Girardi said. “We’ve got to toy with some different options, but we liked what he did at the end of last year. We know he provides a lot of excitement. Our plans are probably to keep him at short for the most part — we did talk about that — but he does have to earn it.”

Girardi said there’s a chance the Yankees could carry both Nunez and Jayson Nix, but it would leave the Yankees without a left-handed pinch hitter, which they’d like to have. Ultimately, Girardi repeated his familiar promise to carry the best players to make up the best team. Nunez will have a chance to put himself in that group.

“Jeter’s a Gold Glove,” Nunez said. “Cano’s a Gold Glove. (So are) Teixeira and A-Rod. You don’t see too many errors from these guys. When they come to me, I make an error, it’s a big thing. … It was a little bit in my mind, frustration for that, but I thank Jeter, thank A-Rod (and) thank Cano. They talked to me a lot and teach me how to fix that.”

• Here’s Girardi explaining the Phil Hughes injury: “It’s upper back, up here by his shoulder blades, so we’ll see how he is in a couple of days. The good thing is he was ahead of where he probably would normally be at this time, which helps. … You’re usually more concerned about the lower lingering. But until it’s gone, it’s going to linger. That’s like a Yogi-ism.”

• Despite being ahead of most of the other big league pitchers, Hughes was not in consideration to start Saturday’s spring opener even before the injury.

• Austin Romine said he’s more or less stopped thinking about his back. He doesn’t really notice it any more. Bascially a week into spring training and Romine’s had no problems so far. He’s very optimistic that he’s gotten past the problem.

• Haven’t heard much about Michael Pineda lately. He said today that his shoulder still feels good, but he’s not scheduled for another bullpen until Friday.

• David Phelps gets the opening start on Saturday, and although Girardi didn’t talk about it today, he’s always made it clear in the past that early spring outings don’t carry a lot of weight. I can’t imagine Phelps is going to feel that way. This is what he said earlier in camp: “I pushed myself a little more in the offseason so my arm is ready a little quicker during spring training because I’m trying to make an impression.”

• Speaking of making an impression, I didn’t see it, but there was some buzz today about Ichiro Suzuki’s behind-the-back catch during outfield drills. I asked Brett Gardner to describe it and Gardner started laughing. “That’s my fault,” he said. “I told him to do it.” Gardner said that Ichiro has a variety of behind-the-back catches that he’ll do every once in while when the team is shagging fly balls. Gardner wanted to see a few today, and Ichiro was up to the task. Girardi said he didn’t see Ichiro do it today, but “I’ve seen him do it before,” Girardi said.

• Mark Teixeira’s last day in Yankees camp is March 2. Robinson Cano’s last day is March 3. After that, those two will join their World Baseball Classic teams to prepare for the tournament.

• Random conversation of the day was with new outfielder Thomas Neal. If a handshake is any indication of a man’s strength, Neal just might be a 40-homer guy. I’m not sure how he uses a cell phone without crushing it. Seriously, Neal said he got some interest from the Yankees pretty soon after being designated for assignment, but he took some time making his decision on where to sign. He decided the Yankees were the best fit, with the potential for a real opportunity.

• Matt Diaz tried to convince me to write a story about his son’s tee-ball team. Seriously. He thinks that group has a real shot this year.

Associated Press photos

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Best case, worst case: Catcher01.28.13

This should be fun…

Best case scenario
The path is finally clear
The situation really needs no introduction. Jesus Montero is gone (you already knew that), Russell Martin is also gone (you knew that too), and the most proven catchers in the Yankees organization are a trio of long-time backups looking for an opportunity to finally get regular playing time (that too has been discussed a few times). There’s very little about the Yankees immediate catching situation that inspires confidence, but it certainly creates opportunity, and the best-case scenario is that Austin Romine takes that opportunity and runs with it.

Sure, there’s something to be said for one of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart or Bobby Wilson proving the doubters wrong — it’s certainly a good scenario to have one of those three have an impact with the glove and hit a little better than expected — but the absolute best-case scenario is Romine establishing himself. Because he was overshadowed for so long, it’s easy to forget that Romine was a second-round pick who, before last year’s back injury, was considered one of the better catching prospects in the game. Two years ago, MLB.com ranked him ahead of Travis d’Arnaud. A healthy Romine — with a steady bat and a glove that lives up to recent Yankees hype — could be a young, cheap solution for this year and the immediate future.

And if we’re talking best-case scenario’s, Romine will have to take advantage of this window, because the Yankees highest hopes don’t leave much time before Gary Sanchez is ready. Still very much a work in progress, Sanchez’s bat has plenty of believers, but if he can show some maturity in the clubhouse and improvement behind the plate, he just might push himself among the very best prospects in the game. A good year at Double-A will suggest that Sanchez is transitioning from potential to performance, and it could put him on track to have a big league impact as early as the second half of 2014. Add in some Double-A improvement from J.R. Murphy, and the Yankees days of a glove-only catcher could be limited to this offseason only.

Worst-case scenario
Where have you gone Chad Moeller?
Stewart is a career .217/.281/.302 hitter in the big leagues. Cervelli hit .246/.341/.316 in Triple-A last season. Wilson has never started more than 58 games in a major league season. The worst-case scenario behind the plate is just as obvious as the opportunity that it provides: If no one steps up, the Yankees could have an offensive black hole at the position. Defensively, the in-house options provide at least some sense of stability – even in a worst-case scenario, the Yankees should be able to catch and throw behind the plate – but the low side of offensive possibilities is awfully low.

As for a prospect to fill the gap and provide a bat, the immediate option is Romine, with some outside chance of Murphy putting himself into the picture in the second half. But Romine’s back problems kept him sidelined almost all of last year, and back problems have a tendency to linger. If that injury lingers, and if Murphy fails to live up to his offensive potential – which is his prospect calling card – then the Yankees will have no catching prospects within two years of being big league ready.

Sanchez could push to be in New York within two years, but that’s a best-case scenario involving improvements behind the plate and continued development at the plate. In a worst-case scenario, Sanchez creates more doubt and less optimism about his ability to stick at catcher, which would be a significant blow to his prospect status and leave the organization in needing to commit resources – either on the free agent market or via trade – to find a catcher who can handle the job for the next several years.

Associated Press photos

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Pinch hitting: Jordan Ozer01.23.13

Our next Pinch Hitter is Jordan Ozer, a 24-year-old who grew up in South Orange, N.J., went to college at the University of Wisconsin, and now works as a media relations assistant in the athletic department of the University of Arkansas. Jordan as a signed, 1952 poster of Mickey Mantle in his living room and still has his old Yankee Stadium subway route memorized.

Jordan is used to moving around, but he sees an opportunity for the Yankees to find – just maybe — some stability at a position of traditional strength for the franchise.

The offseason is nearly over, and the team with the long history of all-star backstops is looking at a gaping hole at catcher. For years the Yankees were buoyed by Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, and younger Yankees fans were spoiled by Jorge Posada’s potent bat. But as Russell Martin prepares his Pirates uniform for spring training, the current Yankees squad presents a myriad of uninspiring options for the starting catcher spot.

The Yankees are steadily marching toward their self-imposed $189-million limit, and while the number would give many clubs a large berth to work with, the New York club, as currently constructed, is forced to use some creativity. The incumbents, namely Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, fit squarely into the “all-glove, no-bat” mold that backups have long utilized to craft lengthy professional careers. The most intriguing option for what otherwise seems to be an offensive black hole is to go on potential, install Austin Romine as the starting catcher, and see if he can run with it.

The Yankees farm system has been stacked with young backstops of late, and Romine’s all-around tools allowed for the Jesus Montero trade. While in hindsight, Montero could have been a solution to this problem, Romine’s ceiling is a higher in the combination of glove and bat.

While Romine has been in the Yankees farm system for five years, last season’s injury really hurt his development. With only 21 games at AAA, Romine is lacking in high minor league seasoning (Montero’s lingering presence kept him in Trenton longer than was needed). In an ideal world, Romine would spend another year developing in AAA while a veteran manned the plate in the Bronx, but that was last season’s plan before back trouble derailed things. With the given alternatives, there’s no reason not to give Romine the chance to cut his teeth at the big league level. His defense, which VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman called “plus, plus,” will approximate the values that Stewart and Cervelli bring, while at least offering a semblance of being able to produce at the plate. Cervelli hit .246 in AAA in 2012. Stewart hit .241 for the Yankees. With the other question marks in their lineup, the Yankees cannot afford either of those players in the everyday lineup.

The Yankees know what Cervelli and Stewart can produce. Romine should get a big opportunity this spring, especially with Cervelli not in Tampa while he participates in the World Baseball Classic. If Romine proves he can handle himself, the Bombers should be aggressive and gamble on his upside.

The Romine decision represents more than one starting spot in the 2013 lineup. As currently constructed, the Yankees will need to rely on their youth and farm system to succeed under the $189-million mark. That requires players such as Romine to pan out, because the Yankees eventually will need replacements for some of the current veterans.

It seems ownership wants to abandon the prior strategy of big free agent splashes that got the Yankees locked into long-term contracts with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett. This shift will only work if the Yankees get cheap production from within. That requires the homegrown Ivan Nova to hold down a spot in the starting rotation. Michael Pineda needs to get healthy and contribute. David Phelps and Manny Banuelos can become a part of the solution. Eduardo Nunez can carve out a role on the club with the tools he provides. Even further down the road, the Yankees have a wealth of impressive talent in the low minors. Between Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez and Jose Campos, the Yankees simply have to look at last year’s Charleston Riverdogs squad to envision a future New York team that is already wearing Yankees pinstripes.

Recent evidence across the league has proven that young players can make an immediate impact on winning clubs. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper not only captured the nation’s attention last year, but they were key pieces of playoff contenders. The Yankees may not have an on-the-verge superstar such as those two, but the Yankees do have a solid farm system. More importantly, they need to start relying on their young talent more than ever before.

The Yankees can start this transition this season, and it can begin with rolling the dice on Romine behind the plate.

Associated Press photo

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Yankees injury report03.19.12

A quick rundown of the injuries suffered in Yankees camp this spring…

Robinson Cano
Bruised hand
Hit by a pitch last night, Cano was pulled from the game, then he went for x-rays that came back negative. He’s going to be reevaluated on Tuesday, but the Yankees don’t seem overly concerned.

Derek Jeter
Sore left calf
Jeter felt some soreness in his calf during Wednesday’s game in Dunedin. He finished the game but hasn’t played since. Today he’s scheduled to get treatment at the stadium. He hasn’t done baseball activities since Thursday. He’s expected to play Tuesday.

Russell Martin
Tight groin/hamstring
Martin was scratched from yesterday’s road trip because of some stiffness that he says is between his groin and hamstring. He felt something similar a few years ago and decided to be cautious about it this year. He’s expected to play Tuesday.

Nick Swisher
Sore groin
An MRI came back negative, but Swisher hasn’t played since feeling something “tug” running out of the box on Wednesday. He’s been going through regular baseball drills and is expected to play on Tuesday. Like Martin, Swisher said he wouldn’t have come out of the lineup if this were the regular season.

Dave Robertson
Bruised right foot
The most infamous Yankees injury of the spring seems to have resolved itself. Robertson stumbled down a step while carrying a box at his house and he hasn’t played in two weeks, but he threw a bullpen yesterday and is scheduled to throw another one tomorrow. He could be in a game within a week or so and the expectation is that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Freddy Garcia
Swollen right hand
Hit by a comebacker on Wednesday, Garcia has been shutdown for a few days. He’s skipping a scheduled minor league start this afternoon but could be back in a game as early as Friday. X-rays showed no broken bones, and Garcia’s simply been waiting for the swelling to go down.

Eduardo Nunez
Bruised right hand
Although he still had the hand wrapped after the game, Nunez played last night and said everything felt fine. He’s now played in back-to-back games after missing nearly two weeks because of soreness than lingered longer than expected. He suffered the injury when he was hit by a pitch in Clearwater.

Ramiro Pena
Sprained right ankle
Pena is scheduled to take batting practice off Brad Meyers on Tuesday, which seems to indicate that he’s pretty close to returning from a sprained ankle suffered while sliding into second base on Thursday. He’s been walking around the clubhouse with no noticeable limp.

Austin Romine
Sore back
Romine missed time with a sore back last season as well, so the Yankees decided to be extra cautious when his back began feeling sore this spring. Romine has not played in a game and just started taking swings two days ago. He might be able to get in a game late in spring training, but he’s spent most of his time just trying to make sure the back doesn’t become a lingering issue.

George Kontos
Sore oblique
Injured in his first bullpen of the spring, Kontos waited longer than expected before getting back on a mound, but he finally made his spring debut last night with a 1-2-3 eighth inning.

Russell Branyan
Sore back
Something of a wild card for the Yankees platoon DH job, Branyan hasn’t had a chance to plead his case because he’s been shutdown with a sore back. He received epidurals last week, but it’s still not clear when he’ll be ready to play.

Manny Delcarmen
Strained lat
The former Red Sox reliever hasn’t pitched in a game this season, but he threw a bullpen yesterday. Based on the timing of other pitchers he seems to be on track to get in a game in about a week.

Dan Burawa
Torn oblique
The biggest long-term injury of the camp could force Burawa to miss significant time. The young relief pitcher seemed to make a fast impression — both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman mentioned him at different points — but he had to shut it down at

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Jeter, Martin and Swisher scratched03.16.12

Derek Jeter was pulled from todays lineup because of a tender left calf. Joe Girardi said hes decided Jeter wont play again until Tuesday, but he labeled this as more precautionary than anything. He hasnt forgotten what happened to Jeters other calf last year.

Also, Russell Martin was scratched because of soreness in his left groin. Its unclear whether it happened on yesterdays play at first base.

Nick Swisher has told Girardi that his tight groin feels better, but Girardi decided not to play him today either.

UPDATE, 10:14 a.m.: Here’s the basic injury update…

Derek Jeter
Went through normal drills in Tampa yesterday, but while the Yankees were on the bus home from Viera, Girardi got a call saying Jeter’s left calf was “tender.” That’s not the same calf that Jeter hurt last year, but Girardi considered last season’s injury to be a cautionary tale.

“My alarm was he hurt his calf last year,” Girardi said. “I said, even though it’s the other calf, I said we’re going to be smart about this. I told him, ‘Don’t even go out today.’ I think he could hit today and take BP, but just let it calm down.”

Russell Martin
Girardi planned to have Martin catch seven or eight innings today, but instead Martin showed up and said his left groin was “stiff.” Girardi’s not sure whether it’s connected to yesterday’s awkward play at first base. For whatever it’s worth, Martin said yesterday that he was fine on that play, banged his shoulder into the ground but nothing else.

“He will not catch today and I’m not sure when he’ll play again,” Girardi said. “… I don’t think Russell will be out but a couple of days, but you never know. You don’t know how guys respond.”

Nick Swisher
Pulled from Wednesday’s game because of a sore groin, Swisher went through drills yesterday and told Girardi that he’s feeling better, but Girardi is being extra cautious — hard to blame him given the current state of nagging injuries — and so he won’t play this afternoon. Girardi said it’s possible Swisher will play tomorrow.

Freddy Garcia
Was scheduled to pitch on Monday’s off day, but Girardi said he doesn’t expect that to happen. However, there seems to be a chance that Monday will be the only start Garcia actually skips. Too early to know for sure, but Girardi didn’t seem to be ruling out any other start.

“His hand looks better,” Girardi said. “(But) he still has some swelling in there.”

Eduardo Nunez
As scheduled, Nunez will not hit again today. It will be his third day off in a row. He’s scheduled to try to hit again tomorrow. He still hasn’t played since being hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday.

Ramiro Pena
Out with a sprained right ankle suffered in yesterday’s game. Although Pena said yesterday that he thinks he’ll be out only a day or two, Girardi still thinks it might be longer. Girardi mentioned Tuesday as a possible return for Pena.

“I imagine he’s going to be a couple of days,” Girardi said. “The way I saw him walk off the field yesterday, I wasn’t extremely encouraged.”

Russell Branyan
Has yet to play in a spring training game and had multiple epidurals this morning to try to help his sore back.

Austin Romine
Still not doing anything baseball related because of his sore back.

“He’s doing better,” Girardi said. “He’s probably pretty close to getting on the field to do some baseball activities. He feels much better, he feels much stronger, and that was the feeling we wanted him to have.”

Dave Robertson
Said this morning that he’s going to play catch today, but he’s still not sure when he’ll be on a mound. Robertson said he’s “doing well” but Girardi had too many other players on his mind today and forgot to check on his setup man.

“I forgot to ask about him,” Girardi said. “I had so many other guys to talk about.”

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Sunday notes: Command improves for both Sabathia and Hughes03.11.12

Spread across two different spring training sites, separated by a little more than two hours worth of highway, a little less than half of the Yankees projected big league pitching staff got on the mound this afternoon. Phil Hughes faced the Twins in Fort Myers. CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Boone Logan and Cory Wade faced the Phillies in Tampa.

Their combined line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K.

Most of the attention was naturally on Rivera, and that’s probably the way it’s going to be throughout the season. If the expectation is that he’ll retire at the end of the season, then every one of his outings carries a little extra significance. There’s a little added appreciation to every step along the way. Rivera, Logan and Wade each pitched a hitless inning today, but the bulk of the innings belongs to the starting pitchers.

CC SABATHIA
3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

Before the game, Sabathia told Russell Martin that he wanted to work on his two-seamer and his changeup, and those pitches were the focus of the afternoon. Sabathia wasn’t happy with his fastball command last time out, but he was much better this time, and he got better in the second and third innings.

Sabathia: “Felt good. The fastball command was pretty good, the secondary pitches were working. I still got a little ways to go, you know. I still want to work on my two-seamer. But I feel good today… Fastball command (improved). Getting it in on righties, and Russ did a good job making sure we got a lot of those. He called a lot of two-seamers which is something that we’ve been working on all spring. He did a good job of working in things we were trying to do.”

Martin: “He was great. What I liked about him was he had some good velocity. I don’t know how hard he was throwing, but it felt like the ball was jumping out of his hand. And he threw some good changeups. He threw his curveball for strikes. We talked before the game, he wanted to work on his two-seamer a lot and his changeup, I think we did a good job of that today. We threw some two-seamers in for lefties, made them uncomfortable. Locked a guy up with a slider for a puncy. Threw some good changeups down in the zone off his fastball. He was good today.”

PHIL HUGHES
3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

Joe Girardi went on the road to see Hughes make his second spring appearance. Last time out, Hughes’ arm strength was much better than at this time last season, and his fastball remained in the low 90s this afternoon. I wasn’t there to see it, but it seems to be another solid step forward.

Hughes: “The cutter wasn’t as good as it was last time, but the curveball was much better. Fastball location was much better, as well. Command-wise, it was a lot better, especially in the second and third innings… It seemed like my fastball was good. It was jumping on hitters a little bit based on the swings I was getting. That was a positive thing. Being able to work out of some trouble with guys on, they put together some good at-bats in the first and I was able to get around those.”

Girardi: “I thought he had everything today. Fastball location was much better, he threw some good changeups, curveballs and cutters. I was very pleased. I thought it was a nice step in a positive direction for him. A lot of times at this point in the first couple starts, I’m focusing on the good things. Knowing that they are rusty, you don’t expect them to have their A stuff a lot of times. You want to see what they’ve got the first couple starts. I was pleased.”

• Girardi said today that Hughes and Sabathia will split their next start, four innings apeice, on Friday.

• Dave Robertson is supposed to get his walking boot off tomorrow, but that’s subject to change depending on how he feels. “If he comes in and he’s walking okay and it’s not too painful, he’ll come out of the boot,” Girardi said. “If it’s still pretty painful, we’ll put him back in the boot.” For whatever it’s worth, Robertson seemed to be walking much more easily today.

• Eduardo Nunez could be in a game as early as Tuesday. “We’ll have him take BP Tuesday, and if he has no problem, I’ll put him in the game,” Girardi said.

• Really nice game by Chris Dickerson here in Tampa. He made a nice running play in center field, had the two-run single that gave the Yankees the lead, and he stayed in a rundown long enough to let runners advance to second and third. I’m still surprised no team thought they could carry him as a fourth outfielder this year. He’s a nice player.

• Russell Martin stole another base today. That’s four steals in five games for the Yankees catcher. “I’m putting a little pressure on Gardy,” Martin said. “That’s all I’m doing.” Might be working because Gardner also had a stolen base today. It was Gardner’s second.

• Derek Jeter went 2-for-3 — and had another hit taken away by a nice catch in center field — in the Yankees 3-1 win against the Phillies. Dickerson, Robinson Cano, Gustavo Molina, Bill Hall, Justin Maxwell and call-up-for-the-day Austin Krum also had hits in the win. … Francisco Cervelli went 3-for-3 in the 5-1 loss to the Twins. Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Gary Sanchez, Jayson Nix and Corban Joseph also had hits in that game, as did call-up-for-the-day Walter Ibarra.

• Clay Rapada, Chase Whitley and Kevin Whelan were able to keep the shutout intact in Tampa. … In Fort Myers, Adam Warren allowed one run through three innigns, but the game unraveled when Graham Stoneburner allowed a solo homer in the seventh inning and Adam Miller gave up a three-run homer in the eighth. All five Twins runs came on home runs.

• Add Dan Burawa to the injured list. Girardi said today that Burawa hurt his ribcage yesterday. “He’s probably down for a little bit,” Girardi said. Burawa seemed to be making a pretty good impression this spring but was still just here to get his feet wet. He’s not realistically in the big league picture this season.

• Once again Girardi said Austin Romine is making steady progress from his sore back, but the Yankees are staying extra cautious. There’s no rush to get Romine into regular duty in spring training. “If he’s a backup here, he’s not going to play every day,” Girardi said. “And if he’s in the minor leagues, he’s going to play every day, so you can work him up to three and four days in a row down there. That’s not a problem. I want to see him playing healthy before we leave; that’s the most important thing.”

• A lot of guys up from minor league camp today, but center field standout Mason Williams wasn’t among them. Girardi said today that he expects Williams to come up for a big league game at some point this spring. Girardi’s never seen him play, but “I’m interested,” he said.

• After fracturing the bone around his eye earlier this spring, A.J. Burnett has returned to Pirates camp. He’s still expected to miss two to three months.

• During a surprise Facetime conversation, Alex Rodriguez, Dave Robertson and Tino Martinez spoke with Stephanie Decker, the mother that lost both legs while protecting her two children from a tornado in Indiana last week.

• Want further proof that Mariano Rivera pretty much sets his own schedule in spring training? Here’s Girardi’s I-have-no-idea answer to a question about what’s next for Rivera after today’s debut appearance: “He’ll probably have some days where he has a couple days off. He might throw an inning, do a bullpen the next time, then throw an inning again. He usually gets his seven or eight appearances in, so he’s got plenty of time to do that. There’s no rush.”

Associated Press photos

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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.”

TIGERS
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 →

Pregame notes: You were expecting decisions?09.28.11

Joe Girardi made three announcements about his division series roster.

1. CC Sabathia will start Game 1.
2. Mariano Rivera will be on the roster.
3. Ivan Nova will start Game 2.

“We haven’t completely made our roster, and some of it’s going to depend on who we’re going to play, and we still don’t know that,” Girardi said. “We’re fairly close, but there are some decisions that have to be made depending on who we play.”

I guess locking Nova into Game 2 is a mild bit of news, but that was pretty much the assumption. Girardi said his Game 3 starter doesn’t really depend on the opponent, but he’s still not ready to announce it. He said there are “two or three” decisions that still have to be made.

And there’s a good chance nothing will be official until tomorrow’s workout at the stadium.

“I should know who we’re playing,” Girardi said. “Hopefully they don’t pay until 4 tomorrow afternoon. We’ll talk about it when we come in tomorrow and I’ll probably have most of the decisions made.”

• Girardi said he chose Dellin Betances to start today’s game largely because he expected to use Betances anyway, and he’s used to being a starter. “We probably won’t go long with him, I mean, we’re not asking him to give us five or six innings,” Girardi said. “We just figured it was the best time to pitch him.”

• Girardi said he’s expecting two or three innings out of Betances. Ultimately, he’s expecting to use a lot of young relievers. Boone Logan, Luis Ayala and Phil Hughes are the big league guys expected to pitch.

• Hughes didn’t start because Girardi wants him to once again get loose and get in the game. It’s one more chance to readjust to life in the bullpen.

• Girardi said he’s planning to stick with this heart-of-the-order against lefties. He likes having Rodriguez hitting behind Cano for protection.

• Why Montero behind the plate? “With some of the younger kids throwing, Montero has a better idea of what they’re doing,” Girardi said. “He caught most of these guys at Triple-A this year.”

• Montero would DH more often against Texas, making Romine more necessary if that’s the opponent? “That’s a pretty good assumption,” Girardi said.

• Will the regulars play all game? “We’ll just kind of see how it goes,” Girardi said. “We’ll go along with the game and see how it goes. Will I play them all nine innings? Maybe not. My first priority is taking care of my guys, and I’ve got to do it.”

• If Derek Jeter gets his batting average above .300, would Girardi pull him? “That’s something I’ll talk to him about,” Girardi said.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 205 Comments →

Three pictures worth a thousand words09.27.11

The Yankees passed along some professional photos of last night’s rookie hazing. It’s rare that every single outfit is hilarious, but these were pretty good selections. Whoever made the decision to make the two tall guys Milli Vanilli … bravo! At one point, Jesus Montero was trying to dance like MC Hammer, and pictures will never fully explain just how hilarious it was to watch Austin Romine try to figure out how to get his costume on.

Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances as Milli Vanilli
Brandon Laird as Slash
Hector Noesi as Prince
Austin Romine as Madonna
George Kontos as George Michael
Jesus Montero as MC Hammer

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 341 Comments →

Postgame notes: “I think he just didn’t like it”09.27.11

The Yankees lost tonight, but the mood in the clubhouse was beyond loose. Things were normal for a while — quiet, like after most losses — then the rookies started getting to their lockers and finding costumes.

Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances are towering versions of Milli Vanilli. George Kontos is George Michael. Jesus Montero is MC Hammer. Brandon Laird is Slash, complete with a guitar and black vest. Austin Romine is Madonna, but he had such trouble figuring out the dress that he improvised parts of it. At one point he was tying something that didn’t seem like it was supposed to be tied.

The Yankees are sending an official photo later tonight.

The story that had people laughing even before the costumes came from Russell Martin, who actually went into detail about his ejection in the fifth inning. He’d just gone to the mound to calm down Phil Hughes, who was upset about some borderline pitches, and when he got to the plate, Martin started talking to home plate umpire Paul Schrieber. Here’s Martin’s version of conversation.

Martin: “Did you stretch before the game?”
Schrieber: “What?” (said while walking in front of Martin)
Martin: “Did you stretch before the game?”
Schrieber: (gave Martin a puzzled look)
Martin: “I feel like you’re kinda tight right now.”

“I didn’t say it in a way that was condescending,” Martin said. “I was trying to loosen things up a little bit because I felt like he wasn’t really having a good time, and so he threw me out. I didn’t say he sucked. I didn’t say he was the worst umpire in the league. I didn’t say any of that stuff. I just made a joke and he then threw me out, no warning, nothing. Gone.”

Someone suggested that perhaps Schrieber didn’t get the joke.

“I think he got it,” Martin said. “I think he just didn’t like it.”

Here’s Martin telling the story. It’s honestly hilarious.

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• Obviously Girardi didn’t go to his top relievers tonight. He said that’s because he wants to use all of his top guys tomorrow night. Using them tomorrow gives them a chance to stay fresh, but it still gives them two days off before the division series opener.

• The plan is still to have Phil Hughes pitch again on Wednesday. “We need to get him back out there,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t pitched in two weeks, so I wasn’t sure what I’d get today. It’s important that he comes out feeling okay tomorrow and that his back is okay.”

• Girardi was talking to the media in his office when the crowd at the Trop went nuts. They’d just seen the Red Sox lose on the big video board in right field, meaning the wild card race is tied. “I actually saw one of their players look at the scoreboard when there was a loud cheer today,” Girardi said. “That probably wouldn’t happen on a normal day. They should be excited.”

• On tomorrow’s game: “We’re playing to win,” Girardi said. “I’ve got Bartolo and a loaded bullpen tomorrow, so we’re playing to win games. But I also have to pick the time to use my relievers, because if we get into some long games on Friday and Saturday, I’ve got to make sure they can go multiple innings. If you start throwing them a lot and you wear them down a little, shame on me. My responsibility is to this club.”

• Girardi wasn’t worried about Austin Romine getting back behind the plate after catching 14 innings last night. “He’s young,” Girardi said. “I don’t worry about that.”

• Girardi also said using Romine wasn’t necessarily an indication that he’s planning to carry Romine on the postseason roster. Girardi also wanted to save Montero for a pinch hitting opportunity, because he knows Montero might be asked to pinch hit in the playoffs.

• Jorge Posada was involved in two double plays that ended with plays at the plate. “He made a good double play on the bullet, then the other double play on the stolen base attempt by Johnny,” Girardi said. “He did OK over there.”

• Hector Noesi has allowed five runs on nine hits and three walked in 4.2 innings as a starter. He has a 6.84 ERA in 16 road appearances this season. His ERA is 2.59 in 14 appearances at home.

• Robinson Cano now has 81 extra-base hits, tied with Roger Maris for the third-most by a Yankees left-handed hitter since 1950. Don Mattingly had 86 in both 1985 and 1986.

• Cano has 14 home runs in 8 career games at Tropicana Field. That’s his most at any visiting ballpark. In his past nine games at the Trop, Cano is hitting .417 with three homers and 10 RBI.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 164 Comments →

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