Andy Pettitte loved the idea of pitching in the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees did not.
“They weren’t crazy about it, and I understand it,” Pettitte said. “I mean, it’s understandable. I spoke with Cash and I spoke with Joe. (They said), ‘If you decide to do this, we’re going to support you,’ but obviously they were hoping it was something that I wouldn’t do, and like I said, I understand it. And at the time that I was considering it, I was just hoping they would understand, which I knew they probably couldn’t. I’ve done a lot of things in this game, but I’ve never had a chance to play for my country. I don’t know if that sounds corny, but it was a big deal for me.”
Doesn’t sound corny to me, but it also doesn’t sound unreasonable for the Yankees to have some hesitation about a 40-year-old playing in an unnecessary exhibition.
“This needed to be the focus,” Pettitte said. “I guess it just came down to not really wanting to take quite that chance of having something go wrong and then kicking yourself all year long.”
• The spring’s first workout went smoothly, but it’s always a little more boring when it’s just the pitchers and catchers. The position players really bring the place to life. Two interesting pitch counts: Phil Hughes threw 40 pitches and Clay Rapada threw 35. Rapada joked that he’s going to be a long man. Hughes explained that he’d already thrown six bullpens before today.
• Hughes isn’t alone. Quite a few of the pitchers seem more advanced than usual (including Mariano Rivera, who actually threw a bullpen today rather than waiting another week). Some of the younger guys in camp — including guys like David Phelps, Adam Warren and Chase Whitley who could be in the big league mix — have already faced hitters. Phelps, Warren and Whitley threw batting practice at the minor league complex on Monday. Whitley said he expects to face hitters when he throws his first spring bullpen tomorrow.
• Because he’s coming back from an injury, Derek Jeter is allowed to report to spring training immediately (you may remember that David Adams and Justin Maxwell came to camp with the pitchers and catchers last year), but Girardi said he doesn’t expect Jeter to report early. “I don’t think so,” Girardi said. “I think he’s doing most of his stuff down at the minor league facility, doing his drills and all his work.”
• Girardi said all of the pitchers and catchers reported to camp on time. No one was late this year. “Not that I know of,” Girardi said.
• Pettitte said he’s well aware that the Yankees might try to protect him, but he wants — even expects — to make 30 starts this season. “I know Joe is going to protect me as best he can as far as keeping my innings limited,” Pettitte said. “But I want to throw 200 innings, make all my starts. Heck, I want to win 20 games, that’s what I want to do.”
• Is this Pettitte’s last year? He said he honestly hasn’t made up his mind. “I can tell you right now, as I sit right here, I hope this is it,” he said. “But having gone through this and done this, I’m not going to shut it down again unless I know for a fact that I’m done with this.”
Associated Press photos
Trying to build on a solid but injury shortened Triple-A season, David Phelps first three Arizona Fall League starts were uninspiring. He allowed three earned runs each time, never throwing more than 3.1 innings. His past two outings have been more what the Yankees were hoping to see.
In his past two starts, Phelps has pitched nine innings, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out seven. And that’s without throwing more than 67 pitches.
Phelps is one of those guys who was brought in to observe late in the season. The Yankees clearly believe he can play a role next season, and his Fall League stint is about building a few more innings before shutting things down for the winter.
• Speaking of young starters: Hector Noesi keeps getting better in the Dominican. After two not-so-great outings, Noesi pitched six innings without an earned run in his most recent start. He struck out five, walked one and dropped his winter ERA to 3.38 through three starts.
• Ronnier Mustelier, the utility man from Cuba, continues to hit in the Fall League. He’s batting .390/.405/.610 while playing third base (played mostly outfield and second base in Tampa this season). He’s new to the Yankees farm system, and a little old for a low-level prospect, but so far he’s been a steady hitter.
• Jorge Vazquez, the Yankees slugging Triple-A first baseman, is hitting .320/.400/.587 through 75 at-bats in Mexico. He has 21 RBI and 23 strikeouts. That’s pretty much the kind of hitter he is.
• Outside of the Arizona Fall League, there are only four Yankees with more than 20 winter at-bats. One of them is Vazquez. The other three are Jose Gil (an organizational catcher), Luis Nunez (an organizational infielder) and Jose Pirela (a borderline shortstop prospect). Pirela didn’t do much in Double-A this season, but he’s hitting .389/.421/.500 in Venezuela.
• Corban Joseph has a modest four-game hitting streak in the Fall League. He’s been kind of up-and-down in Arizona.
• Ramiro Pena has played in one game in Mexico. He went 1-for-4.
• Reliever Chase Whitley is a fast riser in the Yankees system, and he has nine strikeouts with one walk in his past seven Fall League outings. That’s a total of 9.1 innings in those appearances. Opponents are hitting .178 against him, and that’s usually an offensive league.
• Class-A reliever Dan Burawa is getting knocked around in Arizona. He was charged with five earned runs today and has a 9.00 ERA through 10 appearances. He’s been charged with multiple runs in each of his past three outings.
• Nine of Pat Venditte‘s 12 appearances in Mexico have been scoreless, but he’s twice allowed multiple runs, pushing his ERA to 4.15. More telling is the fact hitters are batting .238 with 11 strikeouts and just one walk against him.
Yankees at the break: The bullpen • 07.12.11
This was supposed to be the Yankees obvious strength, instead they’ve spent the season plugging holes and moving Dave Robertson into later and later innings. At this rate, he’ll be their designated 10th-inning reliever by mid-August. The Yankees bullpen has held it together despite a series of injuries and a few disappointments.
The problems started when Pedro Feliciano couldn’t break camp. Pretty soon Phil Hughes was hurt, which forced Bartolo Colon out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Then Rafael Soriano went on the disabled list. Then Joba Chamberlain needed Tommy John. If not for Robertson’s all-star performance, the Yankees bullpen would be a mess. Given the situation, though, it’s been pretty good. CoryWade’s been a nice pickup, Luis Ayala has given the Yankees more than they could have expected, Hector Noesi has filled in from minor league system and Boone Logan has finally had some success after a brutal beginning. All things considered, the situation could be much worse.
At this point, Damaso Marte actually seems closer to a return than Feliciano, but the guy the Yankees really need to get back is Soriano. He would give the bullpen some of the late-inning depth that made it so imposing when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Logan’s shown some recent signs of getting himself straightened out, and that could also be huge in the second half (he was certainly crucial in the second half last season). Every year, relievers are among the most discussed trade possibilities, but it’s worth remembering that last year’s bullpen addition – Kerry Wood – had ugly numbers and was coming back from an injury when the Yankees acquired him. You just never know who might make the difference in a bullpen.
The Yankees have already seen a long line of long relievers up from Triple-A. At this point, George Kontos might have moved to the top of the pecking order. Temporarily lost in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, Kontos has been outstanding with a 2.26 ERA and 59 strikeouts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Back from Tommy John surgery, he seems to have regained a lot of his prospect status. The Yankees also have right-hander Kevin Whelan and veteran lefty Randy Flores putting up good Triple-A numbers. And don’t forget the name Tim Norton. He was terrific before a shoulder injury, and Donnie Collins has reported that he could be back soon.
Beyond the relievers on the verge of the big leagues, the Yankees have had great success with some of the college relievers that they drafted last year. Chase Whitley has already pitched his way to Double-A, Preston Claiborne has a 1.17 ERA and 24 strikeouts in his past 10 outings at High-A, and Tommy Kahnle has a 68 strikeouts and a .194 opponents batting average in Low-A. Ryan Flannery, a 47th-rounder in 2008, has 13 saves and has allowed a total of two walks out of the Tampa bullpen (and this is the second year in a row he’s shown outstanding control). Everyone’s favorite switch pitcher, Pat Venditte, has pitched pretty well in Trenton after a miserable first month.
Is there a new version of Hughes or Chamberlain waiting in the system?
In the past, the Yankees had great success moving Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the Triple-A rotation and into a big league setup role. Could they try a similar trick this season? The Triple-A rotation has been impressive, and guys like Adam Warren and David Phelps have fastballs that might translate to late-inning success. Ivan Nova, too.
The Yankees have Mariano Rivera under contract for one more year, so they don’t have to find his replacement just yet. Soriano can opt out after this season, but surely that’s not going to happen after an injury. Robertson is just now eligible for arbitration, so he’ll still be incredibly cheap. Those are three pretty important pieces coming back next year, and the Yankees should get Chamberlain back at some point next season. There are pieces already in place for next year and beyond. What’s left is for the Yankees to sort through their upper-level pitching depth to decide who can help their rotation, and who’s better suited for a bullpen role in the near future.
Associated Press photos of Rivera and Robertson, headshots of Kontos, Claiborne and Chamberlain