The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Notes from winter ball: Phelps heating up in Arizona11.03.11

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.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 138 Comments →

Pregame notes: Hughes feeling good after bullpen09.24.11

Pretty quiet day here at Yankee Stadium. The first person I saw in the clubhouse was Yogi Berra, dressed in a sharp suit for today’s Roger Maris ceremony. The last person I talked to in the Yankees clubhouse was Phil Hughes, having just sat down after a morning bullpen.

“I didn’t even feel it,” he said.

In this case, Hughes was referring to his lower back, which started causing him problems last weekend and cost him a start this week. Hughes threw 35 to 40 pitches and he remains on schedule — assuming no setbacks — to pitch next week in Tampa. There’s no date scheduled for that appearance.

“I think you really have to wait and see how he feels tomorrow and decide what we’re going to do,” Joe Girardi said.

Given the fact he hasn’t pitched since September 12, there’s a very real possibility that the Yankees will decide to simply move him into the bullpen for the division series.

“I think you have to think about that,” Girardi said. “I think that’s one of the things you have to think about just because he hasn’t thrown in a while and we’re not sure how it’s going to play out in the next couple of days after throwing this bullpen. Just a lot of decisions to be made by Friday.”

• Francisco Cervelli ran for about 10 minutes today. He’s still not ready to begin baseball activities, but he’s making progress. “I still would be a little bit surprise if we got him back,” Girardi said. “But, you know, maybe it stays away and maybe he’s able to help us.”

• Without Cervelli, the Yankees have to consider a postseason roster without a traditional backup catcher. “It changes the way that maybe you think about your roster a little bit,” Girardi said. “You know, when you think about your roster, the expectation is that Russell is going to play every day. You really have to think about how you’re going to do things and the combination of guys. There’s a lot of thought that’s going to go into this. The one thing about making a roster is you try to guard against everything, that’s what you try to do, but you really can’t.”

• A.J. Burnett will start the first game tomorrow. Ivan Nova will start the second.

• Girardi was asked today about the impact of Mark Teixeira’s defense at first base: “He saves us errors,” Girardi said. “Saving errors to me is important. It saves runs, No. 1. No. 2, it saves pitches for our starter. An inning ends up being prolonged and a pitcher throws 12 extra pitches, and it takes an inning away from them, and it affects your bullpen. It’s just kind of a trickle effect. So, being able to save pitches by saving errors is extremely important to me, and he does a wonderful job.”

• I actually have not yet seen Manny Banuelos, but I know he’s here. I’ve seen Adam Warren and David Phelps hanging around the past two days. They’re here to observe for the weekend, just to get themselves used to the big league environment.

“This is something that our club has done in the past where we bring young kids up that we think could have an impact either next year or the year after,” Girardi said. “(They) kind of get a feel what it’s like to be in our clubhouse, see all the media, understand our clubhouse — our clubhouse is something you have to learn – so when they do get here, they’re more comfortable. We all know that those first couple days as a big league player, a lot of times, there’s a lot of butterflies, but you try to get rid of some of that. But these are kids that we believe are going to help us, and that’s why they’re here.”

RED SOX
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Carl Crawford LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Mike Aviles 3B
Marco Scutaro SS
Josh Reddick RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 159 Comments →

Yankees at the break: The rotation07.12.11

This was supposed to be the Yankees weakness. It’s become a strength. Because of better-than-expected performances from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, the Yankees rotation has been dependable, and it’s grown deep enough that Ivan Nova is tucked away in Triple-A.

First half
This winter, there was one free agent starter who could make the Yankees feel confident about their rotation. He picked Philadelphia, and the Yankees were left scrambling for spare parts. Those spare parts have been outstanding, A.J. Burnett has bounced back from last season’s misery, Nova has been inconsistent but generally pretty good as a rookie, and CC Sabathia is once again an early Cy Young candidate. When Phil Hughes landed on the DL after just three starts, the Yankees rotation was tested, but it rose to the challenge.

Second half
The Yankees have obvious rotation depth heading into the second half of the season. Nova was crowded out of the rotation despite success, so he’s ready to step in if the Yankees need someone. Based on results, there’s little reason to doubt Colon and Garcia, but their age and recent injuries raise some obvious red flags. The biggest question, though, is probably Hughes. He’s made just one start since coming off the disabled list, and although his velocity was much better than it was in April, he didn’t exactly plow through the Indians lineup. The Yankees are hoping that the Hughes saw in last year’s first half shows up for this year’s second half.

The minors
D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Lance Pendleton each have ERAs of 3.38 or lower in Triple-A. Now they’re joined by Nova to give the Yankees a good, young Triple-A rotation. Their success helps cover the fact that Andrew Brackman has been surprisingly bad, losing his rotation spot and struggling to find consistency as a reliever.

The bigger names are in Double-A, where Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have each pitched well – Betances especially – but their control issues are proof that they’re still young and have some work to do. Both have 40 walks in fewer than 80 innings this season. In the lower levels, Mikey O’Brien, Josh Romanski and Nik Turley have pitched their way into call-ups. A few other standouts whose names might not be familiar: Craig Heyer (Fall League selection with a 3.19 ERA in Double-A), Jairo Heredia (improving prospect with a 3.29 ERA in High-A) and Brett Marshall (outstanding since the end of April in High-A).

One question
What happens if Nova dominates in Triple-A?
In his return to Triple-A, Nova struck out 10 and walked none through 7.2 innings that proved he was a Major League pitcher in a minor league game. If that pace continues and one of the Yankees starters slips – doesn’t get hurt, doesn’t fall apart completely, just starts allowing four runs every time out – how quickly would the Yankees make a change and decide they need to move Nova back into the big league rotation?

The future
It will be interesting to see whether the Yankees push either Betances or Banuelos in the second half. It’s entirely possible that they’ll be big league ready at some point next year, but it might not be at the start of the season unless they get at least a half season at Triple-A. It’ll also be interesting to see if Phelps, Mitchell or Warren gets some big league time kind of like Nova did last year. The bigger question, though, centers on Sabathia, who can opt out of his contract at the end of this season. Even if Sabathia opts out, the Yankees would remain a favorite to bring him back, but it’s an issue that could have a significant impact on the next five or six years (maybe more).

Associated Press photos of Sabathia and Colon, headshots of Mitchell, Banuelos and Nova

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 183 Comments →

Looking for upgrades: The pitching staff06.27.11

Two weeks from the all-star break and a little more than a month before the trade deadline, the Yankees are at a point where they can — sort of — figure out what they need to add for a second-half push toward the playoffs. Making this picture a little less clear is the status of their injured players who could provide a significant boost if/when they get healthy.

On the pitching staff, the preseason concern has become a surprising strength, and the preseason strength has become a surprising concern. These are three areas where the Yankees might look to upgrade their pitching staff in the second half.

Starting pitcher

The Yankees rotation has been better than anyone could have expected, and that’s despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. The Yankees, though, will surely kick the tires on alternatives, if only to add depth and peace of mind.

Trade market: Hit-and-miss.
A starting pitcher will be traded before the deadline, history tells us that much. The question is whether an addition would be an upgrade over the Yankees in-house options. If Hughes and Colon come back and pitch well – and both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova continue to pitch well enough – then the need for a starter will be minimal (though the want might still exist). If Hughes or Colon suffers a setback, Garcia or Nova regresses, or A.J. Burnett falls into last year’s habits, then the Yankees will need someone. Carlos Zambrano and Brett Myers seem to be available targets, but are they worth the headache? The Twins have been disappointing and could shed starting pitchers at the deadline, but are they more reliable than what the Yankees already have?

In-house: The kids.
Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are still in Double-A and both are pitching well (though still working on some control issues). Not so long ago, the Yankees had Hughes and Alan Horne dominating in Double-A as highly regarded prospects, but the Yankees left them there, and there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to change course and suddenly rush Betances or Banuelos without at least a brief stop in Triple-A. More likely options might be Carlos Silva, Hector Noesi or someone from the David Phelps-Adam Warren-D.J. Mitchell trio in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren is probably at the top of that pecking order with Phelps is currently on the DL.

Setup reliever

Joba Chamberlain is lost for the year, and Rafael Soriano is almost certainly lost until after the all-star break. Dave Robertson has been terrific in the eighth inning, but the Yankees are mixing-and-matching in the sixth and seventh, still searching for one-inning relievers to complete that bridge to Mariano Rivera.

Trade market: They’re all relievers. Last year, the Yankees took a chance on Kerry Wood, and that move completely changed the bullpen. At the time of the trade, though, Wood was coming off injury and had ugly numbers with Cleveland. He came to the Yankees as a complete wild card and became a dominant setup man. The Yankees could go looking for something similar, but relievers are an unreliable group. Based on what Wood was doing at this time last year, he would not have looked like an especially attractive target. There will be risk in anyone the Yankees go after, though some big names seem to be on the market, including Padres closer Heath Bell.

In-house: Untested. The Yankees have had success plugging minor league starters into bullpen roles, and that’s occasionally worked as a stepping stone to the big league rotation. Right now, they seem to be trying something similar with Noesi.* They also might have found something in Cory Wade, though his innings have been limited. Andrew Brackman has moved to the Triple-A bullpen, but the results have not been encouraging. The Yankees have looked at Kevin Whelan and they’ve run through a series of long-relievers, but so far Noesi has been the call-up standout and Luis Ayala has been better than expected. George Kontos still seems to be pitching himself toward a call-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Left-handed reliever

The Yankees top two left-handed relievers should be Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, but those two proven veterans have yet to pitch this season because of injuries. In their place, Boone Logan has been erratic, unable to repeat last year’s second-half success.

Trade market: Still relievers. The same problem that applies to the setup trade market applies to the lefty trade market: These guys tend to be unpredictable. The Yankees could take their chances on a veteran, with hopes that he doesn’t fall into either the Logan Trap of ineffectiveness or the Feliciaino/Marte Trap of arm problems. The Phillies just released J.C. Romero, who actually had solid numbers against lefties this season but passed through waivers without a claim. Logan has struggled all season, and the Yankees haven’t traded for a replacement yet, which might say something about the market.

In-house: Minor league veterans. The Yankees have signed some lefties for the Triple-A pitching staff, and those might be legitimate options. Randy Flores has pitched well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, holding lefties to a .233 average with nine strikeouts, seven hits and one walk. Greg Smith has pitched well out of the rotation, but that’s only 14.2 innings and he has almost zero bullpen experience. If he could pitch in relief, Smith could give the Yankees a second lefty who doubles as a long man. It’s also worth noting that Whelan has had tremendous success against left-handers, but he’s currently on the DL and his first stint in New York was so short, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees trusting him with the bizarre role of right-handed lefty specialist.

* In my mind, this is why it makes sense to have Noesi playing a bullpen role while Brian Gordon gets a few spot starts. Noesi’s role could be a long-term thing. The Yankees have a very real need in the late innings, and if Noesi adapts to the role, he could be a significant boost the rest of the way. The current rotation opening is a no-doubt-about-it part-time job. Gordon is going to get one or two more starts before Hughes is ready, and obviously they’re going to skip him when they can. He had great numbers this year, so the Yankees are riding the hot hand for a while. They’re hoping for more than a short-term contribution from Noesi.

Associated Press photos

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Yankees clubhouse thinning out after first cuts03.13.11

Mark Prior is all alone in one corner of the Yankees clubhouse. All around him are empty lockers, most of them cleared out this morning through the Yankees first round of cuts.

Prior’s neighbor, Neal Cotts, didn’t make it through the first week of camp. The next three lockers in his row belonged to Buddy Carlyle, Brian Anderson and Andy Sisco but they’re all gone now. In the middle of the clubhouse, empty lockers belonging to Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell are clustered together.

There seems to have been a bit of a system to the first round of cuts. Of the pitcher in camp on a minor league deals, only Warner Madrigal — who’s dealt with an injury — has fewer innings than Carlyle, Anderson and Sisco. Those three weren’t pitching much anyway. The other four cuts were minor league starters — Phelps, Mitchell, Warren and Hector Noesi — who just pitched either Friday or Saturday. They won’t pitch again for a few days, and with the big league starters stretched out to four-plus innings, it was becoming difficult to get those four stretched out as well.

Still waiting for word on whether any of the seven cuts were released. The assumption is that all seven were simply reassigned (or optioned) to minor league camp.

• The only minor league starters still in big league camp are Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos (and maybe Steve Garrison, depending on how the Yankees plan to use him this season). Might not be long before the Yankees have to send some of the Killer Bs down as well to give them innings.

• Banuelos turns 20 years old today. He’s the youngest guy in camp.

• Combined spring numbers for Mitchell and Warren: 8 G, 10.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K, 2.53 ERA. Mitchell walked no one. Warren allowed just one earned run.

• Sisco didn’t allow a hit in big league camp, but he did walk four through 3.1 innings.

• Greg Golson said he’s still not able to do much with that oblique injury. He said it feels better day after day, but he’s not able to swing or doing any real baseball activity until it’s back to 100 percent. “Whenever this thing lets me,” he said.

• Today’s sides: Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Pedro Feliciano, Mitchell and Phelps.

• Mariano Rivera will make his spring training debut this afternoon against the Twins. We’ll see a lot of the regular Yankees bullpen, with Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson also scheduled to pitch. None of the big league relievers is scheduled to make tomorrow’s trip to Fort Myers (except starter Sergio Mitre).

• Minor league utility man Justin Snyder is on the list of players making tomorrow’s trip to play the Red Sox. The Yankees are taking their regular outfielders, but none of the other everyday guys.

Available in the bullpen today: Rivera, Soriano, Chamberlain, Robertson, Brackman, Romulo Sanchez, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper and Dellin Betances. Everyone after Brackman seems to be a backup.

Off the bench: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Eric Chavez, 2B Ronnie Belliard, SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B Kevin Russo, LF Melky Mesa, CF Austin Krum, RF Daniel Brewer and DH Kyle Higashioka.

Tomorrow’s travelers today: Tomorrow the Yankees have their second long road trip in three days. They’ll travel to Fort Myers to play the Red Sox before an off day Tuesday. There will be a workout at the stadium in Tampa on Monday afternoon before the bus leaves.

Pitchers who will be making the trip: Sergio Mitre, Luis Ayala, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Mark Prior, Romulo Sanchez and Eric Wordekemper.

Players who will not be making the trip: Francisco Cervelli, Russell Martin, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Colin Curtis, Greg Golson and Andruw Jones.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 209 Comments →

Friday notes: Jeter showing signs of comfort03.11.11

Derek Jeter had another base hit today, his eighth in the past seven games (seven half games is more like it). I wasn’t in Tampa to see it, but the past week or so, Jeter has stopped slapping everything into the ground and has started driving the ball a little bit. He hasn’t shown much power — his only extra-base hit has been a misplayed triple — but he’s making good, solid contact.

“I think you’re seeing it on how hard he hits the ball,” Joe Girardi said. “I think you see the comfort. You see that he comes back and talks to K-Long (after) every swing, that he felt this or felt that. When you can recognize what you’re feeling, that’s a good sign.”

We all know that spring training numbers mean very little, but Jeter is hitting .333, and at the very least, the Yankees can take that as a sign that Jeter is finding his timing with his adjusted mechanics.

“I think he just needs to get at bats and say golly, I could have waited more, and get to the feeling where it’s OK to wait more,” Girardi said. “It’s just readjusting when he necessarily needs to start something.”

To be fair, I’m not sure Jeter has ever said the word “golly” in his life, but Girardi’s point is well taken.

• Speaking of adjusted swings, Curtis Granderson hit his third spring home run this afternoon in Dunedin. “He showed it at the end of last year,” Giradi said. “He’s been a different hitter since he made that adjustment with K-Long, and we’re seeing it in the spring as well.”

• Phil Hughes wasn’t too happy with his outing today in Tampa, but apparently his changeup was good. He told reporters there that he got six of his seven outs with the changeup.

• Ivan Nova came to camp seeming to be a favorite, but now that all of the rotation candidates seem to be pitching well, it’s worth noting that Nova is the only one who can be sent to the minors. Mitre is out of options, Garcia and Colon can both opt out if the don’t make the big league club. “I don’t think (it matters),” Girardi said. “We’re going to take what we feel is the best, gives us the best chance to win.”

• Even with split-squad games, Robinson Cano and Russell Martin didn’t play today. Both had played two days in a row, and both are making tomorrow’s long trip to Viera.

• In his second spring appearance, Rafael Soriano struck out two through a hitless inning in Tampa. Joba Chamberlain followed with a scoreless inning of his own.

• The Yankees lost both games today — 10-3 in Dunedin, 6-2 in Tampa — and most of the damage was done against guys unlikely to make the big league club. Steve Garrison allowed four runs in one inning in the home game, and David Phelps allowed four runs through one inning in the road game. Phelps pitched part of a second inning but couldn’t get an out. That’s when one of his four runs scored.

• Is it just me, or does Phelps look a lot like Ian Kennedy in this picture on the left? He doesn’t really look like him in person, but I did a double take when I saw this picture from today’s game in Dunedin.

• Eduardo Nunez had a double and continues to hit this spring. He’s hitting .385 while Ramiro Pena is batting .174. Those two have been good friends since the very beginning of their careers, and they seem to be taking this as a friendly competition, but right now Nunez is thriving and Pena’s not doing much to hold him off.

• The Yankees have announced that they’ll be donating $100,000 to the relief efforts in Japan.

• Mark Newman told Marc Carig that Kei Igawa has not been able to get in touch with his family.

• Former Yankees Darrell Rasner and Jonathan Albaladejo are playing in Japan. Todd Linden, who was in Triple-A with the Yankees, might also still be playing over there. It’s probably going to be a while before we find out whether everyone is OK. The Yankees have a close working relationship with the Yomiuri Giants. “The players and people and families of Yomiuri are good (according to what the Yankees are hearing), but obviously it’s not true of the people in the country,” Brian Cashman said.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 219 Comments →

Wednesday notes: Young pitchers living up to the hype02.23.11

All winter we heard about the Yankees young pitching talent, a series of arms that could help out sooner rather than later. A week and a half into spring training, manager Joe Girardi is sold on both the quantity and the quality.

“I’ve seen a lot of good things this spring, from a lot of the young kids as well,” he said. “I thought Phelps threw pretty well today. Warren. Brackman. All of these kids have thrown the ball extremely well at this point in camp. I’m happy. Very happy… We’ve talked about that we have pitching coming, and I really believe that.”

Today, Girardi was asked specifically quite a bit about Manny Banuelos, largely because Banuelos faced live hitters on the main field, with Girardi watching most of the BP session. Girardi said what he saw “matches up” with what he’d already heard about Banuelos. Right now, Girardi knows what he wants to see out of young pitchers, and Banuelos has shown it.

“Strikes, and good strikes,” Girardi said. “Not just strikes, but good strikes. If they throw a ball where they don’t want to, can they adjust quickly? Say he throws a curveball and leaves it way up, can they adjust and get it where (they want it)? What I’ve seen, he’s pretty good at it.”

That said, the plan remains the same. The Yankees are happy with their pitching depth, but they brought in some rotation options that might buy the kids a little more time to develop.

“You have to be open minded, you have to evaluate,” Girardi said. “But it’s not necessarily what you plan on going in.”

• More evidence that the Yankees take Bartolo Colon seriously as a rotation option: “He’s looked pretty good,” Girardi said. “It’s the Bartolo that I remember: A guy that keeps the ball down, uses his fastball a lot and is able to hit his spots.”

• New lefty Pedro Feliciano is used to pitching 85 to 90 times each year. Last year, no Yankees reliever made more than 73 appearances. Boone Logan, Damaso Marte and Royce Ring combined for fewer appearances than Feliciano made last season. “I talked to him about the way we do things here,” Girardi said. “That I’m not a big proponent of throwing guys three days in a row, so don’t be surprised if I do some things different. He’s important to our bullpen. We have to keep him healthy all year long.”

• Eduardo Nunez and Austin Romine were sent home sick today. “It’s the head cold and the throat,” Girardi said. “We gave them medicine and sent them home. We felt that was the best thing to do.”

• With Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard, the Yankees have given themselves some options for veteran experience on the bench. And not just experience, but guys who were very good everyday players before settling into supporting roles. “I think it’s great, because you know they know how to play the game,” Girardi said. “You know that situations when they get in that day to play, there’s not going to be an extreme emotional high. They’re going to prepare the way they’ve always prepared. They know the league, they know the ballparks and they know what it takes to be successful.”

• On the other hand, the Yankees have taken notice of Brandon Laird: “He’s obviously proven that he knows how to drive in a run, he knows how to put good at-bats together when guys are on base,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy that you might think about (on the roster).”

• Speaking of which… Charging choppers at third base this morning, Laird might a nice play on a short hop at the edge of the grass. Minor league defensive coordinator Torre Tyson, who was doing the hitting for the defensive drill, said, “You couldn’t get there two years ago.” Laird agreed, said he had no shot at making that play two years ago. He looks pretty good at third these days. Not implying he’s a defensive wizard, but I haven’t seen anything to make me think Laird can’t play the position.

• Didn’t see anything particularly out of the ordinary about defensive positioning during drills today. Ronnie Belliard continued to take some reps at first base, and I did see Brad Suttle go to first base for a while.

• Dave Robertson was the only pitcher I saw throw his batting practice without a protective screen in front of him. Some pitchers just hate having the thing in front of them and feel like it actually causes them to mess with their mechanics (they feel like their arm or the ball is going to hit the screen). Robertson pitched without it, and as soon as he was done, the screen was put back in place for Ivan Nova.

• Didn’t seem serious, but Colin Curtis fouled a ball off his calf and crashed to the dirt. He was hobbling around for a while, and got some ice for it, but he should be fine.

Here’s a must-read Times piece about the relationship between Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry. Four years ago, during my first spring training covering the Yankees organization, Berra was the very first person I saw when I first walked into the Yankees clubhouse.

Associated Press photos: Girardi surrounded by players; Berra with Derek Jeter; Alex Rodriguez laughing during drills

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 156 Comments →

Monday notes: Cashman is “ready to rock and roll”02.14.11

The Yankees spring training clubhouse is pretty full as it is, but Brian Cashman said he wouldn’t mind finding room for one more. He’s still on the lookout for a starting pitcher, either through free agency or the trade market.

“If it makes sense, I’m ready to rock and roll,” Cashman said.

As it is, the left side of the Yankees clubhouse is full of fourth and fifth starter candidates. Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova have lockers right next to one another. Five lockers away, in his same spot as last year, is Sergio Mitre.

The younger candidates — D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and the rest of the young guys — are in the middle-of-the-room lockers usually assigned to minor leaguers and the more borderline big-league candidates. The fact Nova is with the veterans, in the same row as CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, is a pretty clear indication that he’s a step ahead of the other guys who were in the minor league system last year.

“The chances that the fourth and fifth starter role will be answered sooner than later are not very good,” Joe Girardi said. “I think we’ll spend all spring evaluating everybody in our camp. You’re going to look at Nova, and Garcia (and) Colon and Sergio, and some of the young kids that are coming up… You want to see, as they develop in spring training and they get strong, who we feel has the best chance of helping us during the course of the season. So, basically, we have an open competition until March 30.”

• I doubt there’s anything to read into this, but Girardi mentioned three young starters by name: David Phelps, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances. Again, I’m sure those are just the first three names that jumped into his head, but they were specifically mentioned.

• Speaking of Betances, he said he’s been in Tampa since January. And I’ll say this again, he’s a bigger guy than I ever expected. I knew he was tall, but he’s no scrawny kid. There’s some strength to that guy.

• The Yankees expect Russell Martin’s hip and knee to be just fine, but they won’t push him in spring training. “You’ll see him catching tomorrow,” Girardi said. “It’s not like he’s not going to catch at all, but we’ll take it a little bit slow.”

• Girardi acknowledged that Brett Gardner was playing through fairly steady wrist problems in the second half of last season. “I know it bothered him a lot last year,” Girardi said. “We would talk about it every day, ‘How are you feeling?’”

• I didn’t see Jorge Posada this morning, but Girardi said Posada will do work as a catcher this spring. “We’re going to see Jorge go through some of this catching in spring training,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you if he’s going to catch in games right now. I’m physically going to watch him and evaluate how he feels. But as you know, we asked him to prepare as if he was going to catch.”

• Girardi on how Rafael Soriano might react to becoming a setup man after a great season as a closer. “I know Rafael looks up to Mariano, and he talks about how he watches what he does, so I’m sure that will be a joy a little bit,” Girardi said. “A lot of times that depends on your ego, how easy it is to go from being a closer to not being a closer and being the setup. He seems that he’s excited about being here. He’s excited about doing his job, and he wants to do whatever it takes to win a championship.”

• No innings limits for either Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova. “Right now I don’t have any innings limitations for anyone,” Girardi said. “It’s kind of nice.”

• Speaking of pitching limits, Girardi said CC Sabathia’s offseason surgery shouldn’t impact his workload this season. “I’m pretty much going to manage CC the same,” Girardi said.

• Sabathia said he expects to be one of the guys who throws 20 to 25 pitches in the bullpen tomorrow.

• For the first time, David Wells is in camp as a spring training instructor. “Sometimes camp can get long,” Cashman said. “I think Boomer will keep it lively for us.”

• As you can tell by the picture, the Yankees did a few light drills today. That’s an AP shot of Jesus Montero. Brett Gardner was also in and out of the clubhouse briefly, and he did some light throwing in the outfield with a player I didn’t recognize from far away. Sergio Mitre threw a little bit off flat ground. Curtis Granderson was there at one point.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 133 Comments →

Spring decision: Back of the rotation02.07.11

For the week leading up to spring training, I thought we’d take a daily look at some of the decisions the Yankees have to make before Opening Day. No sense starting with anything but the most obvious decision of all.

Think back. You might remember hearing something this winter about Cliff Lee going to Philadelphia, Andy Pettitte staying home in Texas and the Yankees sorting through the scraps of the free agent starting pitcher market. It was the biggest Yankees story of the offseason, an on-going saga that won’t be settled until a five-man rotation finally comes together this spring (and one that might not be settled — one way or another — until mid-season). For now the Yankees have three starters in place, and two spots up for grabs.

The possibilities
Assuming no late-minute trades or additions, the Yankees have four prominent candidates for two spots: Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Both Garcia and  Colon are in camp on minor league deals, while the rookie Nova is actually coming to camp as an incumbent and a favorite. The Yankees could also look deeper in the farm system, giving prospects like David Phelps, Hector Noesi and Adam Warren a chance to impress.

The easy choice
Last season, Nova showed promise in New York and Garcia was reasonably productive in Chicago. Heading into spring training, they seem to be the front-runners for the fourth and fifth spots. Mitre, though, is even further removed from Tommy John surgery and got some spot starts last season. From the outside — my opinion anyway — he seems more likely to end up back in the bullpen, but Joe Girardi seems to like him, and Mitre is probably a legitimate candidate. He could certainly pitch his way into the rotation.

The alternatives
Colon is a complete wild card here. He hasn’t pitched a full big league season since he won the Cy Young back in 2005. He didn’t pitch at all last year, and it’s hard to believe he has much left, but the Yankees were impressed in winter ball, so he’ll get a look. More intriguing options come from the minor league system where the Yankees have considerable pitching depth.

Noesi, Phelps and D.J. Mitchell each finished last season in Triple-A. It’s impossible to count out any of those three. Andrew Brackman also took considerable steps forward in Double-A last year, but it’s Warren who’s name is brought up surprisingly often. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Warren made just 10 Double-A starts last year, but he was impressive, and his name seems to always come up in interviews with Girardi and Brian Cashman. He seems like a long shot, but one that might get a long look.

A separate but related issue
It’s a minor issue — one that will hardly matter by the second week of the season — but the Yankees have a decide how to line up the top of the rotation. CC Sabathia will obviously start on Opening Day, but who gets Game 2? Should the Yankees show A.J. Burnett that they still have confidence in him, or should they acknowledge that Phil Hughes seems to be the more reliable option at this point? Hughes and Burnett will be the Nos. 2 and 3, but who gets which number is a matter of opinion.

Associated Press photos of Nova and Garcia

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 282 Comments →

Sherman: Winter plans are “subject to re-write”02.02.11

Joel Sherman made two good Yankees observations on his Hardball blog this morning.

1. “(W)hatever the rules are in the chill of February, remember that they are always subject to re-write.”

Sherman pointed out that 10 years ago, Alfonso Soriano hit his way into a big league role sooner than expected, and four years ago, injuries forced Phil Hughes into a big league role sooner than the Yankees would have liked. Who’s to say something similar couldn’t happen this season with the Yankees talented young pitchers?

It’s a good point, especially considering Hughes was rushed to the big leagues precisely because the Yankees rotation became very thin, very quickly. That’s a scenario that could easily play out with a rotation that’s pretty thin to begin with. The Yankees would prefer to move slowly with Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but if one of those three once again cruises through minor league hitters — especially Brackman, who’s more advanced — the Yankees could combine need with performance and make those moves sooner than expected.

Right now, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell might be closer to a big league role than any of the Killer Bs — Noesi, Phelps and Mitchell have already pitched in Triple-A — but it’s worth remembering that back in 2007 the Yankees went through Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright before calling on their top pitching prospect. Even so, they still had Hughes in the big leagues before the end of April.

2. “I think it remains a pretty good likelihood that Andy Pettitte will return and the Yanks will make a trade in spring for a starter…”

It’s not clear whether this is based on conversations within the Yankees front office or simply a guess on Sherman’s part. The Pettitte part isn’t what interests me — at this point I think everyone has an opinion, but no one has a strong sense of what he’s going to do — but I wonder if Sherman’s onto something about a spring trade.

Obviously the starting pitcher trade market didn’t offer much of interest this winter. I’m sure there were names tossed back and forth, but ultimately Brian Cashman decided nothing made sense for the Yankees. The market, though, might change once spring training gets started and teams get a better sense of exactly what they have.

Who might the Yankees target? I have no idea, and that’s kind of the point. If there were an obvious trade partner right now the Yankees would have pulled the trigger already. As it stands, though, it seems that nothing worthwhile is out there, so the Yankees need something to shake up the market. Spring training might be just the thing to do that.

Associated Press photo of Hughes

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 63 Comments →

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