The Mets have one last chance to advance to the National League Championship Series. Their surprising season has led them to a Game 5 division series matchup with Zack Greinke and the Dodgers, and a full 16 percent of their 25-man roster has a legitimate connection to the Yankees. Some are more important pieces than others, but the Yankees have played a part in putting these Mets together.
The everyday player
Leading into the 2010 season, the Yankees traded away three young players for Curtis Granderson. He fell flat at first, restructured his swing and hit 115 home runs with two All-Star appearances in his four years with the Yankees. He turned that stint into a four-year deal with the Mets, and was this season asked to move back into the leadoff role. He responded with the second-best on-base percentage of his career. He was a run-producer with the Yankees. He’s been a table-setter with the Mets.
“I think the fact that Kevin (Long) is here helps him a lot,” manager Terry Collins said. “They have such a great rapport. He was so happy when we hired Kevin, and I think Kevin keeps him calm. Kevin knows his swing better than anybody. I think if he gets out of whack, he can be fixed in a hurry. But you’re right, he’s had a tremendous year not only on the power front, but on getting on base.”
The role player
Last year, the Yankees tried an experiment of sorts. They took a chance on Kelly Johnson — mostly a second baseman in his career — could be a regular at third base, a position he’d started only 12 times in the big leagues. Johnson wound up losing time to Yangervis Solarte, played five different positions and didn’t provide nearly the left-handed bat the Yankees had expected. He was traded away at the trade deadline, and he signed this winter with the Braves to be a true utility man.
As the Mets started retooling this season, they went after Johnson, who’s bat had significantly improved in his return to the Braves. As a left-handed bench bat, Johnson has played six different positions with the Mets including every spot in the infield. He’s not necessarily a trusted shortstop, but he’s been there in a pinch. It was the Rays who first used Johnson as a utility man, the Yankees reinforced that idea, and now the Mets are taking advantage of it to help round out their bench.
The second-chance starter
When the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon in 2011, it seemed like the longest of long shots. He hadn’t pitched at all the year before and it had been five years since he last pitched a full season. The Yankees gave Colon a second chance and he completely resurrected his career (perhaps with some medical and chemical help). He’s now finishing off a two-year deal with the Mets, and after making 31 starts for the second day in a row, he’s been a go-to long man in their bullpen this postseason.
“Anytime you mention Bartolo Colon’s name, it’s the same,” Collins said. “He pounds the strike zone, keeps the ball down for the most part, fields his position, all the things you want done, holds runners. And as far as did we think about what we had in the bullpen, we didn’t know because he hadn’t done a lot of relieving in his career. We just said when we put him down there, we knew we had somebody that could come in. We used him in L.A. because we knew we were going to get a groundball and we got a groundball. It’s nice to know you’ve got a guy down there that you’re not concerned about base on balls. They got to swing the bat.”
The surprise setup man
A ninth-round pick in 2003, Tyler Clippard pitched his way into becoming a pretty decent rotation prospect with the Yankees. He made his big league debut in 2007, and although his first start was excellent — six innings, one run — he finished the year with a 6.33 ERA through six big league games. He had a 5.19 ERA in Triple-A and the Yankees seemed to give up on him, dumping him to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo. It was a mistake. One thing the Yankees had never tried was putting Clippard in the bullpen, and it turns out Clippard is a pretty good reliever.
In his second year with the Nationals, Clippard became a key setup man. In his fourth year he was an all-star, and in his fifth year he was a closer. Oakland traded for him this winter, put him back in the ninth inning and wound up trading him to the Mets at the deadline. His strikeout rate has dipped a little with the Mets, but so has his walk rate and he had a 1.05 WHIP in his 32 games with them. The Yankees never tried Clippard in their bullpen, and now the Mets are benefiting from having him available in theirs.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees seemed more encouraged than unhappy after this 8-4 loss ended their four-game winning streak and prevented them from sweeping four from the Angels. The Yankees should have done more with 15 hits and three walks, but the lineup is at least more formidable now with Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and especially Alfonso Soriano.
Those three weren’t around when the Yankees dropped two of three at Fenway last month. They will start another three-game series there Friday night.
“I think it’s a different club,” Joe Girardi said. “The way we’re swinging the bats, it’s a much different club.”
The Yankees were nine back of the Red Sox heading into Thursday night’s play.
“We’re the team that’s chasing them now,” Granderson said. “So it’s going to be a very big three-game series, not the fact that’s it’s a Boston and Yankees series, but the fact that we can gain a lot of ground. It’s very important for us. We have to also be cautious that they can also create a lot of ground, too.”
They have another power-hitting bat on the way, according to Jon Heyman at CBSSports.com and some others Thursday night. The word from them is the Yankees have agreed to terms with Mark Reynolds. The righty batter, of course, is known for homering and striking out. But he can back up at third and platoon with Lyle Overbay at first. When the Indians designated Reynolds last week, he was at .215 with 15 homers, 48 RBI and 123 strikeouts. He has been cold in the homer department, none since June 28. He batted .098 in July. Your thoughts?
The Yankees delivered 46 hits in these last three games. They batted .366 and scored 31 runs in the four games.
Soriano had four singles and an RBI in this game and went 10 for 14 and drove in 14 in the last three. That was a major-league high for RBI in one series this season. The last Yankee with at least 14 RBI in a series of any length was named Joe DiMaggio, who knocked in 14 in a six-game series vs. the Indians in 1938.
“The last three games, I’ve been hitting the ball good and seeing the ball good,” Soriano said.
Phil Hughes finally showed some improvement after failing to get through five in his previous three starts. He allowed three runs and six hits over six, but he fell to 4-12.
“It was obviously better,” Hughes said. “It would’ve been hard to pitch much worse than I had been.”
Girardi said that until he hears more about it from MLB, he didn’t want to comment on the new manager’s challenge rules for replay that will go into effect next season if the owners, players association and umpires approve.
Associated Press photo.
A-Rod and life for those on the marquee • 08.10.13
“I often wonder how guys like Michael Jordan and some of the greatest football players and some of the greatest hockey players — their life has to be so much different, because what I might consider being able to go out and do every day and just trying to be normal, I don’t necessarily think it’s that way for them.
“I lived close to Michael Jordan when we were in Chicago. His yard was fenced. He had his own movie theater in his house because it was easier for him to watch it there. The time he handed out candy on Halloween through the fence, the line was a mile long. It’s never happened to me. I don’t get that many people in five years.
“I think their lives are different because of who they are and what they’ve done in their careers. So for me to try to imagine what a superstar would go through, I can’t.”
A-Rod is still a marquee name, but he’s no longer a superstar. He didn’t look good in the Yankees’ 10-inning, 4-3 win over the Tigers last night at Yankee Stadium, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, leaving him at 3 for 15 in four games.
He’s going to have to tune out some of the sounds like he heard during this game, the loud boos from the home crowd that were competing with the cheers, the boos that came as a result of the PED allegations for which MLB suspended him 211 games, pending his appeal.
“Alex has had to deal with stuff before,” Girardi said. “He’s been booed before. He knows what he has to do, and I expect him to do it.”
This morning, ESPNNewYork.com reported that the Yankees informed Rodriguez in writing before the game that they intend to discipline him for getting a second opinion on his quad issue last month without their authorization. A-Rod stood up the media after the game. Here’s a link to my story about what went on last night. Also, Curtis Granderson has literally had a couple of unlucky breaks this season, but he did contribute to the winning rally. Here’s a link to my story on his year and the struggles in his latest comeback.
Associated Press photo
Yankees pregame: All about A-Rod • 08.09.13
Of course, our question of the day is: How will Yankees fans greet Alex Rodriguez tonight? He’s batting fifth and playing third in his 2013 home debut. I’ll guess there will be more boos than cheers with the 211-game suspension dangling over him.
“I don’t really have a way they should receive him,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s not my job. … I’m not so sure how it’s going to go out there. The only thing that you hope is when you walk into a ballpark, whether you’re at home or a visiting ballpark, it’s not personal. That’s the only thing you hope. But the fans are going to react the way they’re going to react. They buy the tickets and that’s part of it.”
Girardi was asked this: If he were just a regular guy coming to the game with his son, what would he say to him about reacting to this situation?
“I’ve talked about this with my son and how things have went in baseball,” Girardi said. “In this day and age, with cameraphones and everything that goes on, the chances of you ever getting away with anything aren’t very good. There are consequences to your actions and you’re usually going to have to pay for them. I talked to my son about the value of hard work and doing things the right way. As far as my son as a fan, I’d tell him not to get wrapped up in what goes on in the stands. Be respectful and go from there. Because I think a lot of times the kids are going to imitate what your mom and dad do in a sense, when they’re smaller.
“I talked about that in Chicago, that someone cheered when Alex was hit. Now it’s their perogative to do what they want, but if it was your son, would you cheer if a guy got plunked? Probably not. But as far as the other part of the reception, that’s up to the people.”
After three games, Rodriguez is 3 for 11, with all the hits being singles. He has walked twice and has been hit once.
“I think his swing has been a little bit more explosive than I thought it might be,” Girardi said. “You never how a guy is going to react off a second hip surgery. He’s just missed a few balls. He’s squared up a few balls. But I’m pleased with how his lower half is working, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to work when he came back from this second hip surgery and being older. But I’ve been pleased with it.”
A-Rod reportedly apologized to all his teammates the other day for creating a distraction, but Curtis Granderson has seen business as usual in that regard.
“There’s media here all the time,” Granderson said. “And between the first inning and the ninth inning, it’s us against them. Fans have booed us. Fans are going to cheer us. That’s part of it. We’re the New York Yankees and I don’t expect anything different.”
Yankees postgame: Hughes deserved better • 06.27.13
“He pitched way too good to get a loss,” Lyle Overbay said.
Hughes had seven days between starts and he put them to good use, working on mechanical issues and taking a step back to collect himself.
“I just felt like the last week or so really helped me,” Hughes said, “just to kind of gather my thoughts for a few days and work on some things on the side. I felt like I had better plan and better mechanics and threw the ball pretty good. … Whenever you’re trying to get through some rough stretches, it helps just to take a deep breath.”
There had been chatter about Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda waiting in the wings with Hughes struggling. But this isn’t his first bout with inconsistency.
“I don’t let the talk creep into my head,” Hughes said.
The Yankees are just 12-18 over the last 30 games, and the sporadic offense has obviously contributed. The Yankees were shut out for the seventh time, including three times this month. They were blanked only six times all of last season.
This time, Derek Holland shut them out on two hits. Do you know when the previous time was that a Rangers pitcher shut the Yankees out on two or less hits? That would be never. It hadn’t happened since the franchise moved from Washington to Texas in 1972. Joe Coleman last did it for the Senators on July 19, 1969.
“I believe we’re capable of scoring runs,” Joe Girardi said.
With this group?
“I think we can, but time will tell,” Girardi said.
On the rehab front, Derek Jeter actually drove Alex Rodriguez after their workout from Steinbrenner Field to the nearby minor-league complex, according to The Associated Press. Jeter ran outside for the first time since the second ankle fracture was discovered in April and reported no problems. The AP report stated that A-Rod took simulated at-bats. ESPNNewYork.com reported that Rodriguez basically told the Yankees Wednesday that he wasn’t sure when or if he will be back this season. But Jeter gave a positive review in the AP report.
“He looked good,” Jeter said. “Alex works extremely hard. He’s working hard now to come back.”
Jeter wouldn’t label A-Rod a distraction.
“Why would he be a distraction?” Jeter asked.
Francisco Cervelli, according to the AP, has been doing his hitting indoors. Curtis Granderson is doing range-of-motion exercises. No swinging yet. A minor-leaguer took a swing, though, launching a homer in batting practice that deflected off the clubhouse roof and hit Granderson’s car.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Ivan Nova really hasn’t had too many good moments since the first half of last season, but the 26-year-old righty was one of the bright lights on an otherwise dark night for the home team at Yankee Stadium Wednesday.
He was working in the long-lost game against the Mets, entering for the fifth with the Yankees trailing 8-1. He allowed just one run and five hits with six strikeouts and only one walk across the final five innings of the 9-4 loss.
“I was throwing a lot of strikes and I was aggressive,” Nova said. “It’s a good one.”
In the eighth, he struck out the side, getting Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and Ruben Tejada swinging.
“The curveball was really good,” Nova said. “Once I get ahead, I go with my curveball. That’s my strikeout pitch.”
Nova knows he has to prove that he’s worthy of being put back in the rotation after posting a 6.48 ERA over four starts and then spending April 27 through May 23 on the DL with triceps inflammation and a back problem. He pitched into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th inning and earned the win last Saturday at Tampa Bay in his first relief outing after returning. This second outing brought his ERA down from 6.11 to 5.16.
“I’m really excited about the way I’m pitching,” Nova said. “The way I pitched today, I’m pretty happy with myself.”
It would certainly be a boost for the Yankees if he can pitch like this consistently and regain the form when he went 16-4 as a rookie in 2011 or 10-3 in the first half last year.
Also, here’s the link to my story on last night’s game. The Yankees have scored just nine runs in the four-game losing streak. Here are updates on Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. And I spoke with Lyle Overbay and he’s loving his time here and wants to stay no matter what the role after Teixeira’s return.
Photo by The Associated Press
But it helped that Felix Hernandez left after six and they could get to work against the Mariners’ bullpen. It turned out that King Felix tweaked his back in the sixth when he fielded a comebacker and turned and got a force at second. He also took a knee in the calf when he obstructed Lyle Overbay’s path to first in the fourth. The back apparently isn’t a new thing.
“He’s had on and off issues with it, some stiffness back there from time to time,” manager Eric Wedge said. “But he’s managed it well. … I’m hoping that he’s fine, and I think he will be fine.”
That sounds like the outlook for Travis Hafner as well. He underwent an MRI on his sore right shoulder, which he said stems from being hit by a pitch on the last homestand. Joe Girardi said it’s just tendinitis. Hafner called it “probably the best-case scenario.”
“It’s good,” Hafner said. “It just kind of showed some inflammation in the shoulder. I got an injection in it, and hopefully that clears it up and it should be good to go in a couple of days.”
The Yankees have been doing fine without their injured guys, although they got one back with Curtis Granderson’s return for this game. This first-place team is now 25-14.
“I still think we have a lot of really good players, maybe not the names we’re used to having here, but guys who have had big years,” Girardi said. “This group has worked really hard.”
Overbay had another nice game outside of an error that led to an unearned run. He contributed an RBI double in the sixth and the go-ahead sac fly to cap the three-run seventh. He has five go-ahead RBI, tied for second best on the team with Vernon Wells, one behind Hafner.
“He’s had so many big hits and RBI for us,” Girardi said. “… I feel good about when he’s at the plate.”
Back to the obstruction: Overbay would’ve been out at first even without it, but crew chief Jerry Layne said, “Any time the runner is obstructed before first, the ball is dead. He’s awarded first, and any runner that could be forced is awarded (his base).”
CC Sabathia gave up 10 hits but just the three runs, and he struck out 10 in 6 1/3.
“I wanted to minimize the damage and keep the game close enough and give us a chance to win,” Sabathia said.
Granderson went 0 for 3, but he also had a big walk in the decisive rally. And everything went well in left. It was his first regular-season start out there since Oct. 2, 2005, with the Tigers at Minnesota.
Robinson Cano had the tying two-run double. It was the 345th double of his career, which meant he passed Mickey Mantle for solo possession of eighth on the Yankees’ all-time list.
Photos 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.
The good, the bad and the mixed reviews • 01.21.13
When I choose Pinch Hitter posts, I try to find both sides of an argument. I look for some guest posters with a pessimistic view, and I look for some who are firm optimists. When Daniel first emailed me to suggest today’s pinch hitter topic, his proposal was built around these two sentences:
I truly believe the only way the Yankees will compete this season and next with this austerity budget looming will be via trades for young impact players like Justin Upton. I have not seen Brian Cashman, in my opinion, make a feasible trade since 2008 and the Nick Swisher trade so my confidence is at an all time low.
I was expecting an indictment of Cashman’s trade history, not a conclusion of full confidence, and my guess is that Daniel wasn’t expecting that conclusion either.
It’s tricky business trying to make an absolute, black-and-white evaluation of any team’s trade, draft and free agent history. There are going to be highs and lows, and even those highs and lows — with a few exceptions — are going to come with mixed reviews. The Nick Swisher deal was an absolute win for the Yankees. The Pedro Feliciano signing was a clear loss. But those are in the minority.
The A.J. Burnett signing depends on how much weight you put into his 2009 World Series performance.
The Jesus Montero trade depends on how well Michael Pineda comes back from shoulder surgery.
The Javier Vazquez trade depends on the development of Dante Bichette Jr., and whether you believe the Yankees would have kept Melky Cabrera long enough to see him emerge (and whether you believe his emergence would have stained the clubhouse).
The Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy draft depends on how you feel about the Joba Rules and the Curtis Granderson trade, and the Curtis Granderson trade depends on how you feel about Granderson’s soon-to-be four years with the Yankees and whether the Yankees need a younger center fielder, and whether the Yankees need a younger center fielder might depend on the development of Slade Heathcott, who was only drafted as compensation because the Yankees were unable to sign Gerrit Cole in 2008, which was the same draft that yielded David Phelps, who might not have gotten a big league chance last season had Pineda not been injured and Burnett not been traded.
Point is, it’s hard to put any of this in a vacuum and make a definitive statement. On a case-by-case basis, we can argue and deliberate and form opinions, but the collective moves of a front office rarely fit under a universal heading. There are positives and negatives, fodder for the pessimists and the optimists alike, and that’s why we can spend an entire winter — each and every winter — having the same basic debate over and over again.
Associated Press photo