Support for A-Rod • 06.06.13
“We haven’t had him the last two months,” Brett Gardner said. “It won’t change anything.”
You would think Rodriguez would appeal if there’s a penalty. But if a ban is announced, as Tuesday’s ESPN report indicated it would be for Rodriguez and about a total of 20 players over alleged ties to PEDs, the attitude in the clubhouse will be forgiving. That’s what CC Sabathia indicated.
“I think it’ll be support,” Sabathia said. “Everybody makes mistakes. We’ll just have to wait and see. But I think there will be nothing but love and support in here.”
Gardner said Rodriguez is like a brother to the players. Mariano Rivera said he doesn’t think he will bring up the current situation with Rodriguez, but he’s open to listening if A-Rod wants to share his thoughts.
Asked if he has sympathy for Rodriguez, who always seems to be in the middle of some controversy, the closer said, “He’s my friend. Besides that, he’s my teammate also. Definitely it’s not easy. It’s not easy to be on the cameras or in the papers, always being chased. But at the same time, all I have to do is support.”
Here’s a link to my full story today on this matter, complete with Terry Francona’s thoughts on who’s to blame, plus an attached video at the top that I shot of Joe Girardi talking about the situation. Also, here’s a link to my story today about Sabathia feeling encouraged after his last two starts, including yesterday’s complete game. I also shot a video of Girardi talking about Sabathia with that one. Thanks for reading the last three days. Chad will be back later to take you through the West Coast trip.
CC Sabathia came away with his 36th career complete game and 28th career complete-game win, allowing seven hits and one walk while fanning nine. He was perfect the first 4 2/3, then gave up two runs in the sixth and two in the seventh before finishing strong in this 6-4 victory over Cleveland that completed the Yankees’ fifth series sweep of the season.
He came away feeling encouraged after his second straight decent start that followed a three-start stretch in which he gave up a combined 29 hits. He said throwing strikes has been the difference. Indeed he threw 84 of his 116 pitches for strikes against his old team. He has also had a little better velocity the last two starts, hitting 93 mph in each of the final four innings this time, including five times in the seventh.
“I feel a lot better,” Sabathia said. “Just throwing on the side, playing catch, I feel more consistent. I’m being able to throw the ball where I want. So hopefully I can just keep building and be better.”
When Mike Aviles dumped a single into left with two outs in the fifth, the perfect game was gone. Sabathia wasn’t down.
“I hadn’t even realized until after he got the hit,” Sabathia said. “Everybody started clapping. I figured there were not Indians fans here.”
Travis Hafner backed him with a two-run homer, his second long ball of the series against his old team. Seven of his 10 homers have come at Yankee Stadium.
Brett Gardner backed Sabathia with a three-run homer. That’s six homers already for Gardner. Seven is his career high.
“Maybe just being a little better hitter, a little more mature approach at the plate,” Gardner said.
The Yankees finished the season series at 6-1. Interesting stat: They averaged seven runs per game against Cleveland. They are averaging 3.67 runs in 52 games against other teams.
So after the 1-4 start, they finished the homestand at 4-4 to move to 34-25. Now come 10 games on the road, four in Seattle, three in Oakland and three in Anaheim.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Curtis Granderson is back in pinstripes after five Triple-A rehab games. He will wear padding in tonight’s return vs. Seattle — on his right elbow, his twice broken right hand and, of course, the right forearm that was broken during the first at-bat of his first exhibition game. More interesting than the hitting stuff is the fielding stuff. Granderson is in left for this game.
“I’m ready to play,” Granderson said. “It doesn’t matter where it happens to be. I’ve said that before. Joe (Girardi) knew that before. So did (Rob) Thomson. I got a chance to work in right, center and left in the minor leagues. So I’m ready as I can for that. Obviously Yankee Stadium and all the big-league stadiums are going to be another challenge as well. But we go out there there today and take the first step.
“The main thing I’ve got to do is just go out there and get balls off the bat. You can’t mirror game-like swings and game-like intensity until you’re actually out there in it. I’ll get a chance to talk to Vernon Wells, who has been playing exceptionally out there. I’ll get a chance to talk to Brett Gardner, who has played a lot out there.”
Girardi didn’t spell out how he was going to use his four outfielders, but you would think that Granderson would mostly play left and move to center or right when Brett Gardner or Ichiro Suzuki has a day off. He could also get some DH at-bats, especially if Travis Hafner is down for a while. Yes, another injury. The oft-injured Hafner’s right shoulder has been sore, so he’s going to get an MRI. He’s expected to miss at least a couple of games. Vernon Wells had been playing left, but he’s the DH tonight. He’s also still a good outfielder, fine in left. Ichiro can play right or left (or even center), but he has an arm more suited for right.
“I don’t think it hurts to give a guy a day off here and there, spread it around a little bit,” Girardi said. “Grandy, you can’t expect him to go seven, eight days in a row right out of the chute. I think that would be unfair to him. Get him kind of back into playing every day. But they’re all going to play a lot. That’s the bottom line.”
Girardi said Hafner’s shoulder has “been bothering him for a little bit. He’s managed it and he’s played through it. He’s been fairly productive for us. But we’re just taking some precautionary things to see where he’s at and make sure we’re not missing anything.”
Girardi wouldn’t comment on talk that third baseman David Adams will be called up from Triple-A tomorrow when he’s eligible (after being released at the end of spring training).
Yankees pregame: Grandy off center? • 05.05.13
The Yankees had seemed to have passed on moving Curtis Granderson from center to left after he broke his right forearm in his first at-bat of his first exhibition game and missed spring training. But Joe Girardi today opened up the possibility again that Granderson may not be in center when he returns, that Brett Gardner may stay there.
“We’ll decide that as time goes on,” Girardi said. “We’ve talked about Grandy; we just want to get him healthy. People have asked me a lot about, ‘When Grandy comes back, what are you going to do with your outfield if you have three guys who are playing pretty well?’ I said, ‘Well, Grandy is going to play. He’s a big part of our offense.’ But as we’ve seen around here, a lot can happen in a couple of weeks.”
Later, Girardi added, ‘We might toy around with some other things (for Granderson), left, right, other things. He’s getting reps everywhere right now.”
But that isn’t happening with Gardner next to him.
“That’s not my concern,” Girardi said. “My concern is how he reacts in all the different spots.”
Granderson has been playing extended spring games. And, of course, he had to get hit by a pitch Saturday in the arm. But this was in the triceps, according to Girardi.
“From what I understand, he’s OK. He’s kind of picking up where he left off,” Girardi said about him getting hit again.
The minor-league complex in Tampa will be packed with rehabbing major leaguers with several others set to join Granderson, including Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
“I know there’s a lot of big people there,” Girardi said. “I understand that. But that’s not going to be the focus of my day. The focus of my day is the people in this room right now and winning the game.”
David Robertson played catch for the second straight day. He plans to test that lower left hamstring again Tuesday prior to the game in Colorado, throwing on flat ground and then throwing a few pitches off a mound if that goes well. He said he just has a little tightness now.
“I don’t see why I can’t be ready,” Robertson said.
Andy Pettitte struggled without his signature cutter in his last start, against the Astros. Girardi doesn’t expect that to be a problem today, against the A’s.
“I’ll be completely shocked if it’s not there today,” Girardi said.
Yankees react to bad news on Jeter • 04.19.13
Derek Jeter is gone until at least after the All-Star break after breaking his left ankle again. (My article today about the situation). The Yankees are getting used to bad injury news. They’ve had a lot of practice reacting so far this year.
“He’s our captain, leader,” Phil Hughes said. “It’s never good news when guys are going to be out longer than you expect. But we’ve got to continue to battle along like we have been.”
The Yankees have won seven of their last nine to move to 8-6.
“It’s tough, but we haven’t had him yet,” Brett Gardner said. “When you don’t have guys, you can’t really count on them to come back. You’ve just got to make do with what you’ve got. I feel like we’ve been playing pretty good baseball so far. We’ll try to keep it going.”
Of course, Eduardo Nunez becomes even more of a key figure as the main man replacing Jeter. Nunez made his first error of the season, on a bad throw to first, in Thursday night’s 12-inning, 6-2 setback to the Diamondbacks. He also missed a grounder he probably should have had. But his defense has been better overall so far than last year. Now he needs to stay consistent. And hit more. He’s batting .233 over his 11 games.
Before the game, and before the update came on Jeter, Nunez said, “I hope he comes back this year. I hope he comes back healthy. But I’m prepared to play all year. … This is what I’ve been working for all my life.”
After the game and the update, Nunez expressed mixed feelings, saying, “It’s good for me to keep playing, but it’s not what I’m looking for.”
Also, Phil Hughes was much improved Thursday night (here’s that story), so at least he can try to build off that. And in my Yankees notebook for today, I write about Travis Hafner’s good health being a key, have Brian Cashman explaining why it’s hard right now to bring in shortstop reinforcements and look ahead to the Toronto series that starts tonight.
Yankees postgame: Train keeps rolling • 04.17.13
The Yankees have now won three straight and seven of eight after this come-from-behind 4-3 win over Arizona. They’re 8-5 after the 1-4 start and despite all those marquee-name injuries.
“It’s early, but we’ve got a pretty good team,” CC Sabathia said. “The guys filling in are doing a great job.”
Travis Hafner would be one of those guys. After sitting around for two-plus hours, he sent up that pinch solo shot in the eighth. He’s now hitting .342 with four homers and eight RBI in 12 games.
“I’ve been swinging the bat pretty well,” Hafner said. “I’m having a great time.”
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson did believe what he just saw from Hafner, hitting that first-pitch, 96 mph fastball from David Hernandez.
“He’s hit a lot out like that,” Gibson said. “Obviously, not a good spot to throw it.”
Gibson also wasn’t thrilled with lefty reliever Tony Sipp’s fastball away to Brett Gardner with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. That resulted in the tying two-run single.
“The ball is up and out over the plate, and give the guy some credit; he hit where he should have,” Gibson said.
Gardner was happier, saying, “With two outs and the bases loaded, it’s kind of all on you. It feels good to be able to come through.”
Sabathia threw 31 pitches in the two-run first, then threw just 77 over the next seven.
“I think he just battled through it,” Joe Girardi said. “We’ve seen CC do that a number of times where maybe he doesn’t have his ‘A’ stuff and he finds a way to keep you in the game and doesn’t give up big innings. There’s a lot that can be learned for how he goes about his business.”
I’ll have more from Girardi on Sabathia’s diminished velocity in my morning post.
It’s been said that Joe Girardi has one of the easiest jobs in baseball: Just write down the names of a bunch of superstars, call it a lineup, and go win 95 games. Things are a bit different this season, and Girardi acknowledged that this Opening Day lineup took him a little longer than usual.
“It’s a little bit more,” he said. “You look at some of the positions that you’re going to do, and more about where you’re going to put guys in the lineup, in a sense, than maybe who’s playing. Trying to divide up your lefties a little bit against Lester, and having some new faces in Wells and Francisco, trying to figure out where to put them. So there was a little bit more thought.”
Girardi settled on moving Eduardo Nunez near the top of the lineup, strictly to split the lefties. Ichiro Suzuki is batting seventh today, but Girardi said Ichiro will move up to the No. 2 spot when the Yankees face right-hander Clay Buchholz on Wednesday.
“We’ve liked the way Nuney has swung the bat,” Girardi said. “I didn’t particularly want to put three lefties in a row against Lester to start the game. We’ve liked Gardy’s ability to get on base, so I put him in the leadoff spot. And without Jeet, I thought we should put a right-hander in there, and we’ve liked what Nuney has done.”
• Based on this spring’s catching matchups, I really assumed Chris Stewart would catch CC Sabathia today. Then again, I also thought Girardi would stick with Ichiro in the No. 2 spot even against a lefty, so what do I know? “I think the first month, it will be somewhat of a process of figuring out exactly how you’re going to (use the catchers),” Girardi said. “You can play spring training games, but playing in-season games is different. The things you have to handle are different. Your emotions are different. It was something that I thought about the last three or four days. Talked to my coaches about it, and right now it’s probably going to be a fairly even split.”
• It’s worth noting that Cervelli is actually a career .317/.414/.393 hitter against lefties.
• According to Brian Cashman, Derek Jeter is scheduled to play catch and undergo treatment today. “There is no exact schedule for Derek because it’s what his ankle allows him to do,” Girardi said. “And we’re really not going to know that until he goes out there.”
• Have not seen Alex Rodriguez, but apparently he’s here. It’s still unclear just how much of the pregame ceremonies he’ll be a part of. “Introductions are usually not the first thing on my mind when I come in here,” Girardi said. “I’m anxious to see him. I want to see how he’s moving around in a sense because I haven’t seen him since, probably the end of January when he was just starting to ride a bike. What he chooses to do today is his prerogative, and I’m fine with whatever he chooses to do.”
• Also no sign of Mark Teixeira, who’s supposed to visit the doctor this morning. I know he was expecting to be out of the checkup in time to be here for the ceremonies.
• A few observations from the clubhouse: Dave Robertson’s has been given a new locker, the one right next to Mariano Rivera. Eduardo Nunez also has a new locker in between Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez. Francisco Cervelli’s old locker now belongs to Chris Stewart, so he’s in Nick Swisher’s old locker. Joba Chamberlain moved to Robertson’s old locker, David Phelps move to Chamberlain’s old locker, Cody Eppley moved to Phelps’ old locker, and Adam Warren has Eppley’s old locker.
• Not great news for Brennan Boesch and Lyle Overbay: They have the lockers generally given to players who bounce back and forth from Triple-A.
• In case it didn’t go without saying, Girardi said the Yankees will stick with just one left-handed reliever for the time being. “You look at our eighth inning and our ninth inning, and that’s nailed down,” Girardi said. “My hope is Joba will nail down the seventh inning. If there’s a lefty we want Boone to face in the seventh inning, we might do that, and then have Joba go after the righties. But I figure, if you can nail down the seventh, eighth and ninth, you can use Boonie earlier.”
• Someone from a Japanese television station said during Girardi’s pregame press conference that Hideki Matsui has been given Japan’s highest civilian honor. “Congratulations to Hideki,” Girardi said. “I think everybody is aware of what this organization thinks of Hideki Matsui. He’s a wonderful man, he was a wonderful player. Did a lot for the New York Yankees in his time here, and represented us very, very well. I think from the Yankees standpoint, we’d like to congratulate him because he’s a man who deserves a great honor.”
• The Yankees will honor the Sandy Hook victims and first responders before today’s game. “I think it’s important to say thank you,” Girardi said. “The town of Newtown has went through so much during the last four or five months, six months, and you think about being a responder. Sometimes we don’t think about what they go through, and how important they are during a situation like that. I think it’s nice that we’re getting an opportunity to say thank you for all that you do, because they’re obviously going to do more as the future goes on.”
• The video above is Girardi’s opening comments from this morning’s pregame press conference.
Associated Press photo
Video: Yankees go through pop up drills • 02.20.13
Tony Pena was running the machine for today’s pop up and fly ball drill on the main field. At one point, I noticed he seemed to be aiming the machine right at me. You’ll notice in the video below, after Dan Johnson makes a play in foul territory, I’m pretty slow turning the camera back to the field. I’d actually turned my head to Pena to try to determine whether I need to get out of the way.
Obviously some other things came up today, but I do think this morning’s Pinc Hitter post is worth discussing. After all, it is kind of amazing that after five years, we’re still not entirely sure what Brett Gardner can do.
The bulk of his big league experience has come in left field, not center, so we have yet to see his glove in its most natural and impactful environment. Despite marginal left-right splits — his career on-base percentage is actually higher against lefties — there’s always been a tendency to platoon him, so he’s only come close to 600 plate appearances in a season once. His career slash line (.266/.355/.368) is remarkably similar to Michael Bourn’s (.272/.339/.365), yet Bourn is a two-time All-Star while Gardner remains fairly anonymous.
Small tangent to prove just how annonymous Gardner is. — Last spring, Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand and I went for a quick postgame dinner at Chipotle. The guy waiting on us had a Yankees tatoo on his arm and was telling people in line that one of the actual Yankees had just been in the restaurant to get a burrito. The guy behind the counter was extremely excited by this brush with fame, yet he couldn’t remember the player’s name. He said it was the fast little left fielder. Mark asked if it was Gardner. “Yeah, that’s his name!” the guy said.
Anyway, this morning, Pinch Hitter Emilio made the case that Gardner coming back from injury will be the Yankees “biggest improvement” since last season. A few days ago, Mike Axisa wrote something similar about Gardner’s potential impact. If you’re waiting for me to disagree, well…
Mariano Rivera is also coming back from an injury, but Rivera-for-Soriano is a fairly even swap. Ichiro Suzuki will be with the Yankees for a full year this season, but at this point of his career, he’s probably not a better player than Nick Swisher. Kevin Youkilis is a new face, but he’s not necessarily an upgrade on Alex Rodriguez.
So, yes, I agree that Gardner is going to be the Yankees biggest upgrade. He won’t hit for Raul Ibanez’s power, but he’ll certainly play better defense and give the Yankees a different sort of threat. Getting Gardner off the disabled list could be the equivalent of signing Bourn, except without the large contract and lost draft pick.
Just two questions to add: Does the current roster mean the Yankees finally in a position to take full advantage of Gardner’s skill set? And after he turns 30 near the end of the season, will Gardner play a role in whatever comes next, or will he be dismissed as a part of the previous era?
Putting Gardner in center field would be a good start toward a positive answer to the first question. Part of Gardner’s value comes in his ability to play center, and he has the potential of being an impact defensive player at the position. Another step toward taking full advantage might be putting him at the very top of the order. He has a career .355 on-base percentage, and even in his down years he’s had an OBP of .345. If that’s a repeatable statistic and Gardner can reach base more often than Ichiro — who had a .340 OBP after coming to the Yankees last year — then Gardner belongs at the top of the order, with Jeter second and Robinson Cano third. If Gardner really can produce like Bourn, then the Yankees have to treat him like Bourn.
Beyond 2013, Gardner’s future might depend on cost and alternatives. He has one year of arbitration left, which means he’s under team control for 2014 and could hit the open market before the 2015 season. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are on their way, but can the Yankees count on them enough to let go of a potential value signing like Gardner?
This season offers a chance to really discover what Gardner can do. When the Yankees find out, they just might have a player worth keeping.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Emilio Estevez • 01.29.13
This is how today’s Pinch Hitter introduced himself in an email: “My name is Emilio Estevez (yes, just like the actor).”
Obviously, the name had to be addressed. With that out of the way…
Our Emilio was born in the Dominican Republic, “where baseball is more of a lifestyle than just a game,” he wrote. His family moved to New York when he was 4 years old, and now that he’s 27, Emilio is living in Kansas City, working as an engineer and still following the Yankees “like my life depended on it.”
Although he says Mariano Rivera is his favorite player, it’s not the return of the Yankees closer that Emilio wrote about.
To put it mildly, the Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones duo was not good last year. Ibanez had the most memorable moment of the Yankees season with his pinch hit home run in Game 3 of the ALDS — and for that I will always be grateful — but the truth is that a .240/.308/.453 line is not good. If you like sabermetrics, his WAR of 0.3 (according to baseball-reference) should be a pretty good indicator of his value. Jones was just plain bad, hitting .197/294/.408 in 94 games.
Having said that, I will now spend the next 400 words gushing over how much I like the alternative.
Gardner has two major skills on offense: he can get on base and he can steal bases. During his two healthy seasons (2010 and 2011) he stole 96 bases; only Michael Bourn had more with 113. During this time, Gardner had an on-base percentage of .364, which gave him the highest on-base percentage of any player who had more than 50 stolen bases during those two seasons (Andrew McCutchen was tied with Gardner with an OBP of .364). The big advantage of Gardner over other ‘speedy’ players is that he is good at getting on base; you can’t say that about many of them.
Defensively, whether you like advanced defensive metrics or if you prefer the “eye test,” Gardner rates as an elite defender. He led all left fielders in DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (ultimate zone rating) in both 2010 and 2011. He has excellent range and a very good arm; Gardner had the fourth most outfield assists among left fielders during 2010 and 2011 combined. We can safely say that he is a huge improvement defensively over Ibanez or Jones.
The Yankees last season ranked 22nd in stolen bases. With a healthy Gardner, this area will be much improved in 2013. The Yankees were also last in triples with just 13 all season; Gardner hit seven triples in 2010 and eight in 2011. My point is that Gardner gives the Yankees offense another dimension which was lacking last year, and that is the ability of creating runs on the base paths.
Having an elite defensive left fielder, who is also one of the base-stealers in the game, who can also get on base regularly, on a team that is otherwise very slow on the bases is a big improvement over a worse-than-average left fielder who can’t get on base and who will occasionally hit a home run.
I, for one, can’t wait to see Gardner back out there making pitchers nervous and chasing down fly balls in the outfield.
Associated Press photo