The LoHud Yankees Blog

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

Yankees at the break: The bullpen07.12.11

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.

First half
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.

Second half
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 minors
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.

One question
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 future
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

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Pregame notes: Opportunities on the way06.10.11

Joe Girardi said he wasn’t holding out much hope. The Yankees doctors had seen Joba Chamberlain’s MRI results, and the Yankees manager was sure that their diagnosis was correct.

“I was pretty convinced that he was going to have surgery,” Girardi said.

Dr. James Andrews confirmed the diagnosis today, and Chamberlain will have surgery on Thursday. He’s likely lost for a year or so, certainly through the rest of this season and probably well into next season.

A Yankees bullpen that was seen as an overwhelming strength at the start of the spring training schedule now includes only three relievers who were projected to make the team when camp opened — Mariano Rivera, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan — and two of those three have been thrust into more significant roles than expected. Now it’s Luis Ayala who seems poised to take a larger-than-expected role. The Yankees will try some young guys, but Ayala’s experience essentially makes him the new Robertson, while Robertson becomes the new Chamberlain (who was already the new Rafael Soriano).

“(Ayala)’s become real important,” Girardi said. “He’d kind of taken Robby’s spot in the sixth, and now he’s going to be moved up to Robby’s spot in the seventh, so he’s become real important for us. He is a guy that has experience. He’s pitched in the back end of games, which I think is important. What we’ve seen from him is he has his good sinker, he comes in and throws strikes and he has a slider. He’s not afraid. He’s been through this before.”

The Yankees are expected to make a move before tonight’s game. We already know Kevin Whelan is on his way from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Once he arrives, he’ll be the first of what could be several internal options the Yankees look at in the late innings, trying to see who else might fit.

“You could see some guys that are going to get an opportunity, and we’re going to see what they can do,” Girardi said. “Obviously, when you start talking about pitching in the back end of games, a lot of times you prefer power arms or a lot of deception, and there’s some young kids down there — and some young kids in Double-A, and you probably even go down further — that have that, and they don’t have the experience. Some of them might get it.”

• Russell Martin texted Girardi this morning to say his back was feeling better, but the Yankees coaching staff told Girardi that Martin’s still not ready to play. Girardi said it’s just tightness. “We are going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “Maybe tomorrow is feasible. Maybe on Sunday. I’m hoping by this weekend we can play him.”

• Without Martin, the Yankees have leaned on Francisco Cervelli, who’s been throwing the ball into center field more often than the throws it to second base. Girardi and Tony Pena have been working with him to fix a mechanical flaw. “It’s similar to with a pitcher,” Girardi said. “If that front shoulder flies a little bit early, that ball’s taking off. And that’s what’s happening with him.”

• Girardi said Martin’s injury do not have him thinking about making a move to call up a catcher. “I think we’re OK for a while just because we do have Jorge in case of emergency,” Girardi said. “It would be different if we didn’t have Jorge.”

• Speaking of Posada, his son is feeling better two days after surgery. “He’s doing good,” Posada said. “He’s doing better.”

• Talked to Damaso Marte for a little while this afternoon. He’s playing catch, but only from about 20 feet. Much beyond that, his shoulder still feels sore. Playing light catch, though, the ball comes out “nice and easy” and Marte is still hopeful that he’ll be able to get himself back at some point after the all-star break.

• On Wednesday, the Indians optioned Shelley Duncan to Triple-A. It goes without saying that I was hoping to see him this weekend. He’s an easy guy to like, and an easy guy to root for.

• The Indians are one of the biggest surprises in baseball, a first-place team expected to finish at the bottom of the AL Central. “They’ve played well,” Girardi said. “They’ve pitched. Offensively, a lot of left-handed hitters. A lot of those guys are switch-hitters as well. They’re a young team that’s played well and they’ve gotten Grady Sizemore back. They’ve gotten huge contributions from Asdrubal Cabrera and there’s some experience there in bringing in Orlando Cabrera which I’m sure has helped out a lot and has helped out these young kids. Hafner, even though he’s been hurt, has had a pretty good year. I mean, this is a pretty good club, and they have some guys that have struggled but they’re still winning.”

• Tony Gwynn is one of the few players who would know, and he says the last 10 hits are the hardest to get on the way to 3,000. Derek Jeter is 10 away right now. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to get 3,000 hits,” Girardi said. “But I would imagine if I was at 2,990 it would be on my mind. But sometimes things just have a way of working out where it looks like it’s on your mind but it’s really not, or it’s on your mind and it looks like it’s not. I don’t think he’s ever going to let us know, but I’m sure it’s possible.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: Going home, feeling good06.05.11

There was an unmistakable energy in the Yankees clubhouse tonight. It was the feeling of a team heading home and looking forward to it. The final day of a long road trip feels different depending on the outcome, and it was obvious the Yankees felt good about this one.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever face a nine-game stretch of that kind of starting pitching again,” Mark Teixeira said.

Even the bad starters on this trip were pretty good, but the Yankees won six of nine and played legitimately good baseball. The games they lost were all one-run games. The starting pitching was tremendous, the bullpen did its job, the offense came to life and the defense was especially good the past two nights. Less than a month ago, the Yankees lost six in a row and seemed to be spiraling. Now they’ve won 13 of 18 heading into this week’s showdown against Boston.

“I thought we played pretty well at home before we left, the Mets and Toronto series,” Girardi said. “But before that, we were struggling. We were struggling to win series. There were times we’d win the first agme and we couldn’t win the next two and we weren’t playing well, but we’ve played much better the last five series, and that’s encouraging.”

Pitching deservedly got a lot of credit this road trip, but Teixeira had five home runs during this West Coast swing, including two of them today in Anaheim. He has eight home runs and 19 RBI in the past 16 games. He’s still not hitting for much average, but he’s driving the ball taking his walks.

“I feel good physically,” he said. “Sometimes when you don’t hit home runs, a lot of it’s because you’re a little tired. Your bat’s a little heavy, your bat’s a little slow. Physically I feel like we’ve had a good amount of off days. I feel like I’ve taken care of myself like I always do, and up to his point, my bat’s felt pretty good. Pretty much all season it’s felt pretty quick. I’d still like to get a few more hits. My average is probably not where I want it, but that’s just really good pitching.”

Pitching doesn’t get much better than what the Yankees saw during this road trip, but six wins in nine games shows how well they’re playing heading into tomorrow’s off day and this week’s three-game series against the Red Sox.

Here’s Teixeira.

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More than anything, it seemed the Yankees wanted to talk about their bullpen after this latest win. Bartolo Colon didn’t have his usual command, so the Yankees had to lean on their relievers for 3.2 scoreless innings.

“That might have been the toughest of all the wins that we had,” Girardi said. “It seemed like we had two runners on every inning form the sixth on, maybe even the fifth on, I don’t know, but that was a tough win… When (the relievers) had to get it, they got it.”

Dave Robertson struck out Maicer Izturis to strand the bases loaded in the sixth. Joba Chamberlain struck out Howie Kendrick to strand two runners in the seventh, then he got a double play to end the eighth. Mariano Rivera let the winning run come to the plate in the ninth, then ended the game with a quiet fist pump after the Yankees turned a quick double play.

“There’s a lot of days when you feel great and you’re blowing fastballs by people,” Chamberlain said. “This is the time you have to pitch. You rely on your command, your catcher and your defense most importantly. You’re not going to get a strikeout here, but you’ve got to let them put it into play and let them make plays behind you.”

Both Chamberlain and Robertson called it a battle. Neither had his best stuff, but both found a way. Girardi said some of the credit goes to the rotation for pitching so deep into games lately that he could stick with Robertson and Chamberlain through slightly extended outings.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘I just put the winning runs on base,’” Robertson said. “I was struggling, I couldn’t find the strike zone, but I wasn’t going to give in. I was going to give everything I had to get out of it.”

And he did.

• Colon only walked two, but it was clear this wasn’t his best day, and he didn’t have his usual command. “I couldn’t find a good grip on the ball,” he said. “I was trying to throw my two-seamer, and I couldn’t.”

• More than any other Yankees pitcher, I would say A.J. Burnett talks most often about shutdown innings, scoreless innings after the Yankees have scored. Colon only had one of those tonight. The Yankees scored in the second and third, then he let the Angels tie in the bottom of the third. The Yankees scored two more in the fifth, and Colon gave up a run in the bottom half. “The good thing is we got the two-run lead again, and he only gave them one more,” Girardi said. “That was the important part.”

• Colon called Robinson Cano’s charging, barehanded play to end the third inning, “the play of the game.” It really was a remarkable play from a guy who’s been surprising inconsistent defensively this season. “The barehanded play is incredible,” Girardi said. “That’s just an incredible play, and that saves a run as well.”

• Derek Jeter had another single, this one to right field to pull within 14 of career hit No. 3,000. “As a club we’re starting to get excited,” Girardi said. “I think the fans are starting to get excited. We would love to see him do it at home during the home stand.”

• Jorge Posada said he didn’t think anyone was in position to catch the throw from left field, that’s why he rounded second base on his fourth-inning double. He saw the relay men in front of him and didn’t think any one was behind him. “To be honest,” Girardi said. “He hit the double and I looked down, and I was looking over this way, and the next thing I know, he’s in a rundown. I’m like, what happened? First baseman did his job, he followed, and I guess they threw behind him. I didn’t actually see the play because I assumed it was a double.”

• Posada had his first two-hit game since May 17. He came into the game 1-for-16 on the road trip

• Brett Gardner also had two hits. He had one hit in the first seven games of this trip, now he has four hits in the past two.

• Gardner was caught stealing for the seventh time this season. He’s never been a guy who gets caught stealing very often — nine times all last year — but for whatever reason he keeps getting thrown out this year.

• Swisher on Robertson: “D-Rob’s been doing it all year long, man. That kid doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. It boggles my mind.”

• This was the 30th career multi-homer game for Teixeira. It was his third multi-homer game in this ballpark, one as an Angel, one as a Ranger and one as a Yankee.

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “Our guys have pitched pretty well too”06.01.11

In the beginning, this three-game series was all about Oakland young starters. In the end, it had much more to do with the Yankees veterans.

“Our guys have pitched pretty well too,” Joe Girardi said. “Bartolo got us off to a great start, and Freddy’s been throwing the ball well, and I just felt that our club, we had a chance to win every game on this road trip, and we’ve been playing better. I just felt we had a chance today.”

Following the lead of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia — and CC Sabathia’s final start in Seattle — A.J. Burnett gave the Yankees seven strong innings. He allowed a two-run homer in the first inning, then allowed one more hit the rest of the way. Girardi said Burnett got stronger. His best innings, Girardi said, were the fifth, sixth and seventh.

“Once you’re out there you don’t think about it,” Burnett said, “but obviously you don’t want to be the guy that makes the winning come to an end either. I think we’ve done a good job here of late, and to keep it going, it’s up to us to go out and set the tone. Our defense and our hitters see that confidence and see we’re in those games. It helps them out as well.”

Credit obviously goes to the Yankees lineup, which has done a nice job with both situational hitting and trademark home runs, but in these four straight wins — the Yankees longest winning streak of the season — the Yankees 30-something starters have outpitched their 20-something peers. At a time when all facets have been pretty good, the Yankees focused seemed to turn time and again to their starters.

“We’ve beaten three pretty darned good pitchers,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Our guys have been terrific. You can’t say enough about the jobs Colon and Garcia have done. Those guys have been Godsends for us, and A.J. was terrific today.”

Said Girardi: “Pitching is the key, obviously. You have to pitch well to win a lot of games. Whenever we pitch well I get excited, but it’s good to see our offense swinging the bats. It’s great.”

Things are going so well for the Yankees these days, even their mistakes are becoming positives.

In the fourth inning tonight, Nick Swisher missed the sign from third-base coach Rob Thomson. Swisher thought he saw the bunt sign. There were two on, none out, and the Yankees were trailing by one, so Swisher showed bunt when he took ball one. When Thomson didn’t wipe off the sign — signaling that the Yankees were changing the strategy — Swisher assumed the bunt was still on, so he showed bunt again on ball two.

That’s when the pitching coach came out to talk to Gio Gonzalez, and Swisher called for a conference with Thomson.

“I went over to Thomp and said, ‘What do you want me to do right here?’” Swisher said. “He said, ‘I want you to let it loose.’ So I did.”

Swisher hit the very next pitch for a three-run home run, the decisive blow in a two-run win. When he got to the dugout, Swisher found out that he was supposed to be swinging away the whole time.

“We wanted him to swing the bat,” Girardi said. “So it worked out really well for us. It got him into a good count.”

Here’s Swisher, able to laugh about the whole thing because of the final result.

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• The Yankees got their first three-game series sweep of the season. Every other series sweep this year has been a two-game set against the Orioles. With Sunday’s win in Seattle, this is also the Yankees first four-game winning streak of the year.

• Girardi pointed out that this game wasn’t necessarily easy for Burnett. The final numbers are outstanding, but he was laboring, especially early. The difference, he said, was an adjustment away from his four-seam fastball, which was finishing too far up in the zone. “I think at times in the past I would stick to it and get beat up,” Burnett said. “I realized that the two-seamer kept me down in the zone today. To righties I used that more and changeups to lefties. Everything was down.”

• No surprise, the home run was a four-seamer. “Commitment-wise, it wasn’t there 100 percent,” Burnett said. “In tat situation he’s looking for a heater and if I miss, I miss. So what? We’ve got a base open. After that, I didn’t want to leave anything over the plate.”

• For the second day in a row, the Yankees had a pitcher get out of an inning by making a reaction grab on line drive back to the mound. This time it was Joba Chamberlain. Yesterday it was Freddy Garcia. “We’ve had two guys that they have to check their pacemakers,” Girardi said.

• The Yankees have won 10 straight against the A’s, and they’ve gone 24-4 against them since Girardi became manager in 2008. “That’s hard to believe because they’ve got a really good team,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Billy Beane has done a great job of gathering talent and great pitching.”

• When Swisher was traded to Chicago, Gonzalez was one of the primary pieces coming from the White Sox to the A’s. Swisher said he had no idea until this morning that he was facing a guy he was once traded for. “I just found out about that this morning, that we were in the same trade,” Swisher said. “No one likes getting traded, bro. You don’t really pay attention to who was on the other side of it. He’s a great pitcher, no doubt, and he’s got a lot of potential. I wish him the best of luck.”

• A first-inning double moved Derek Jeter within 16 of career hit No. 3,000. “I can’t wait, man,” Swisher said. “I can’t wait to see that. I’ve seen someone hit 500 (home runs), seen Mariano save 500, but I’ve never seen 3,000 hits, man. I’m excited to see that.”

• Jeter has a seven-game hitting streak and has a .512 on-base percentage when leading off the first inning this year. That’s the highest such on-base percentage in the Majors.

• Russell Martin is hitless in his past 16 at-bats. On the flip side, Mark Teixeira has a nine-game hitting streak.

• Mariano Rivera picked up his 14th save of the season. He’s now pitched in 1,002 games, tying Goose Gossage for 14th on baseball’s all-time games pitched list.

• Burnett had not won a game on the road since August 10, 2010, an 11-start streak without a victory. He was 0-5 with a 5.64 ERA. No other Major League starter failed to get at least one win on the road over that stretch (minimum 60 innings pitched) and only one had a higher ERA. That one? Carl Pavano, of course.

• Dan Haren is scheduled to start against the Yankees on Saturday, but apparently he felt some pain in his back during a bullpen this afternoon. He cut the bullpen session short. “He says he’ll be fine, but we’ll see,” Mike Scioscia said.

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “That’s good company right there”05.31.11

The reactions were probably exactly as you might expect. Alex Rodriguez shrugged, Joba Chamberlain laughed and Derek Jeter really didn’t want to talk about it.

Today, Sports Illustrated released the results of a player poll that ranked the most overrated players in baseball. Rodriguez was first, Chamberlain second and Jeter third.

“That’s good company right there,” Chamberlain said.

Those three have led the overrated poll each of the past three years. Chamberlain was No. 1 last year and Jeter was No. 1 in 2009, the year he went on to finish third in the MVP voting.

“I’ve been on this list many, many times, and I’m sure I’ll be there again next summer,” Rodriguez said. “I will say this: If this is the only thing we’re talking about, we’re doing good.”

I have a hard time getting too worked up about something like this. It’s fun to talk about, but it’s also impossible to say whether players took the word overrated to mean overpaid, overhyped or overly famous. It’s also hard to know how much money and jealously play into something like this. A player in New York, with the Yankees, is naturally going to get more exposure than a player in Milwaukee playing for the Brewers. Does that makes Yankees more susceptible to being overrated? If a player is overrated, doesn’t that say more about the person doing the rating than the player himself?

“I guess I’m disappointed that I’m not No. 1,” Chamberlain said. “I’ve still got a job, so I’m doing something right.”

Jeter said he didn’t vote: “I’m more focused on more positive things,” he said.

• If you’re curious, Jayson Werth was fourth and Jonathan Papelbon fifth in the SI poll. The magazine noted that Nick Swisher just missed the top five. He got 4 percent of the vote.

• Girardi said he put Russell Martin’s name in the lineup before he had a chance to check with him. Martin will do what he did yesterday, go through stretch and drills to make sure his toe is up to playing.

• Lately, Girardi has been starting Eduardo Nunez against left-handers and using either Jeter or Rodriguez at DH. Today, he decided to DH Andruw Jones and could take advantage of Brett Gardner’s defense in this spacious outfield. “You’re playing in a big outfield and Gardy has hit lefties,” Girardi said. “I just felt, it’s a good day for Gardy to play.”

• What day is good for Rodriguez to get a DH day? “Tomorrow would be a great one,” Girardi said.

• Girardi went further than before in admitting that his DH spot has become a platoon. “You could look at it that way,” Girardi said. “Jorge hasn’t had success right-handed this year, but he’s had success in the past. It’s just kind of worked out that way.”

• Before the game, Phil Hughes did long toss with Ivan Nova. Hughes will throw a bullpen tomorrow.

• Girardi’s scouting report on Brett Anderson: “Outstanding breaking ball. And he’s going to throw it for a strike, and he’s going to try to back foot the right-handers, and you’ve got to try to lay off it. The young man’s got very good stuff. When you face these guys, they know how to expand the zone, and that’s where you have to try to lay off them.”

• Left-handers have a higher batting average than right-handers against Anderson this year, but Anderson has yet to give up an extra-base hit to a lefty this season. “Lefties don’t hit him for power,” Girardi said. “They definitely don’t. And righties, I think, have only hit four homers off him this year, so it’s not a guy that gives up a lot of homers, but the extra-base hits come off of righties.”

Coco Crisp CF
David DeJesus RF
Conor Jackson 1B
Josh Willingham DH
Ryan Sweeney LF
Kurt Suzuki C
Mark Ellis 2B
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B
Andy LaRoche SS

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “I’m not that type of guy”05.23.11

The leading home run hitters in the American League are squaring off tonight, and while most seem to be wondering how Juan Bautista got to the top of that list — from fairly anonymous player to arguably the most dangerous hitter in the game — Curtis Granderson seems to find it more bizarre to find himself on that list.

“It (was) unusual for people to throw these crazy predictions before I even played my first game as a Yankee,” Granderson said. “And with the stuff that’s going on now, there’s even crazier ones. I ask people, physically, look at me. I’m not that type to guy. If it happens, great. It’s not something I try to do. I don’t put myself in a category like Bautista or a Ryan Howard or an Alex Rodriguez, except for the fact we’re all baseball players.”

Granderson hit 30 home runs in his last year with the Tigers, and because he was moving from Detroit’s spacious ballpark to the Yankees occasionally homer-happy stadium, there were instantly predictions of 40-plus. Then Granderson got off to a miserable start last season, and those lofty hopes were kind of forgotten.

It was somewhat forgotten — or lost completely — that Granderson hit 14 home runs in his last 46 games last season. This year he has 16 through 45 games. He’s been hitting home runs near this pace for roughly a half-season worth of games.

“Bautista you saw a whole year of the same thing and now you’ve seen two months of it,” Joe Girardi said. “Curtis, it’s been the past four months, but it was two months one year and maybe people forget. It’s not glaring how many home runs he hit last year, but then you look at his two months this year and you say, wow, he’s got a lot at this point. It’s two guys that have made adjustments and have become big power hitters.”

Fair enough, but don’t expect Granderson to buy into it any time soon. He called 40-plus home runs a “kid dream kind of deal,” something he’d obviously like to do but would never actively pursue.

“I’ve never considered myself that,” he said. “I try to drive the baseball, I’ll say that. Sometimes they happen to get out of the ballpark.”

Here’s Granderson.

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• Nick Swisher is getting another healthy day off to work on his left-handed swing. It reminds me of the days Granderson was given late last season when he and Kevin Long made those successful changes to his swing. “He’s just doing the drills that he’s been doing,” Girardi said. “There’s a lot of different ways to work with players when they’re going through some tough times, offensively or pitching. You can keep running them out there or you can give them a couple days to try to work on some stuff. I chose at this point — because I’ve been running him out there every day — to give him a couple days.”

• Girardi said there’s a chance Rafael Soriano will be on a mound at the end of this home stand. Sounds like it’s not set in stone, but that’s what the medical staff was talking about.

• Still no date set for Phil Hughes to get on a mound. He’s scheduled to make the upcoming West Coast trip.

• Alex Rodriguez has not had his hip checked. No appointment scheduled. Rodriguez said last weekend that it wasn’t an urgent matter, just something they want to have checked at some point. It’s not bothering him.

• Girardi plans to stay away from Joba Chamberlain today, but that’s strictly because of his workload. It has nothing to do with Chamberlain’s eye infection. “I was not aware of his eye infection,” Girardi said. “Sometimes I’m the last one to hear things. It’s been that way my whole life. I will stay away from him today.”

• Eric Chavez is walking around without his protective boot, but he can’t run yet. He won’t really begin baseball activities until he can run. “I can’t tell you when he’ll be able to run,” Girardi said. “But he seems to be doing OK. As far as walking. He’s walking fine, but it’s just getting to that next step.”

• Girardi said it’s hard to call Bartolo Colon a surprise at this point: “We witnessed it almost three months,” Girardi said. “It was a pleasant surprise early on, what I saw in spring training. But it’s a guy now that you expect it from, and when you don’t get great location, you’re a little bit shocked. Like the day he had in Texas. We were a little bit shocked. He’s been outstanding. It’s a guy you expect to give you a distance. It’s a guy you expect to keep you right in the game and throw a ton of strikes.”

• A very quick congratulations to my friend Trisha who was married this weekend in Michigan. It was great to get up north and see her family, who I hadn’t seen in several years. Congratulations to Trisha and Nick!

Rajai Davis CF
Corey Patterson LF
Jose Bautista RF
Yunel Escobar SS
Juan Rivera 1B
Aaron Hill 2B
Eric Thames DH
J.P. Arencibia C
Edwin Encarnacion 3B

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 497 Comments →

Postgame notes: Close as you can get to must-win in May05.17.11

Joe Girardi believes in the rules, but tonight he broke one of his own. In the seventh inning, Girardi turned to Joba Chamberlain, then he stuck with Chamberlain through the eighth. It was the first time this season Chamberlain had pitched three days in a row, the kind of bullpen workload Girardi usually avoids at all costs.

“It just felt like we needed to win this game,” Girardi said. “I don’t want to say it was a must-win, but it was as close as you can get to a must-win in the month of May.”

There was a sense of relief in the Yankees clubhouse tonight. Not only because the snapped a six-game losing streak, but because they played well in the process. After Alex Rodriguez hit those two home runs, something seemed to click. Suddenly the Yankees were executing the fundamentals, getting key outs and hitting with runners in scoring position. Dave Robertson pitched out of a jam, Brett Gardner laid down a perfect bunt single and Jorge Posada doubled to spark a cushion-building, two-run seventh.

“It was desperation,” Rodriguez said. “We definitely needed to win a game. We haven’t won in a while and hopefully this was the start of something good.”

Girardi said he won’t use Chamberlain tomorrow, no matter the situation. Frankly, as big as Chamberlain’s seventh-inning out was, no outs felt more must-have than Robertson’s back-to-back strikeouts in the sixth. If this game was going to turn on the Yankees, it was going to happen right there. Robertson did what he does, and he charged off the mound showing more emotion than perhaps the Yankees had ever seen from him.

“I told him,” Ivan Nova said, “that game was his game.”

Here’s Robertson.

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And here’s Rodriguez.

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• Oddly enough, Rodriguez said it was hit first at-bat — the ground out to third — that let him know his swing was in better shape. He was happy with that at-bat, and he homered in his next two at-bats. “I’ve had one good swing here, another one there, but the consistency hasn’t been there,” Rodriguez said. “Not only there (in games), but it hasn’t been there in my work. That’s one thing that Kevin and I are looking for is consistency and really start driving into my lower half. I thought my leg kick was under control for the most part and every swing I took I was happy with tonight.”

• Two hits for Posada in his return to the lineup. “Just be able to put everything away and behind you and go out there and play ball,” Posada said. “It’s one of those things that, you’re happy to be back in the lineup and it’s a good feeling.”

• You might have seen on television that Nova slammed his glove when he came out of the game. He said he was upset at himself because of his command. “I won the game which is important, because we had bad moments and lost six in a row,” he said. “My command, I don’t feel too good about that. I know I can do better than what I showed today.”

• After B.J. Upton burned A.J. Burnett by hitting a curveball for a home run last night, Robertson attacked Upton with fastballs. “I felt good with my fastball, so that’s what I was going to throw to him,” Robertson said.

• Similar story for Robertson against Casey Kotchman. “Another fastball,” he said. “Just wanted to come in a little higher, and not leave it down at the knees because I don’t want to give him a chance to drop the head on it and get it out. It turned out to be strike three, so I was pretty excited.”

• Chris Dickerson said that RBI single in the seventh felt like his first Major League hit. He felt like he could exhale a little bit when he got to first base. He also said there was some comfort getting the bunt signal in his first at-bat. “That’s easy,” he said. “Coming from the National League, I’ve always been a good bunter. As soon as I saw him (give the sign) I was like, OK, this will be easy. This will be an easy way to contribute right here, because I know I can get this down.”

• Why not go straight to Mariano Rivera in the ninth? “We had a five-run lead and I wanted to try to get three outs out of Sanit,” Girardi said. “I told him if a couple guys get on, I’m bringing Mo in. Give Mo some wiggle room if something happens. That’s just the way I did it.”

• By the way, Girardi said he checked with Chamberlain before the game to make sure he felt up to pitching if necessary. “Because he didn’t throw a lot of pitches and he’s been economical, I just felt that I had to do it,” Girardi said. He was trying to avoid using Boone Logan and Luis Ayala tonight.

• Both Nova and Girardi said pace was important for the Yankees starter. “I thought he got better in the fourth and fifth,” Girardi said. “He picked up his pace a little bit. It seemed like he was working slow the first three innings. He was getting in a lot of long counts. He was almost at 70 pitches after three innings and he got into the sixth, so I did see some improvement.”

• Strange review play on the Shoppach fly ball in the ninth. Both Brett Gardner and Girardi said they were sure it hadn’t hit the catwalk. If it did hit the catwalk, it would have been a home run.

• Robertson seemed almost embarrassed by his outburst of emotion, but Mark Feinsand suggested he should start yelling and screaming all the time. Robertson laughed at the very idea of it. “Oh yeah,” he said. “because I’m such a loud guy.”

• A different way of looking at this finally finished losing streak: “We haven’t been out there in a week to shake hands,” Girardi said.

• Phil Hughes made 45 throws today, 30 from 90 feet and 15 from closer to 110. He’ll keep doing stuff like this for the next few days and ramp things up when he gets back to New York at the end of the week. He’s been doing his normal weight training.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 254 Comments →

Pregame notes: Clean MRI for Soriano05.17.11

Rafael Soriano had an MRI today, and it showed nothing but inflammation in his sore right elbow. That’s the same issue he’s been dealing with since last week’s Royals series. All things considered, that seems like good news for the Yankees and their setup man.

But still, this has not been the best-case scenario that the team was hoping for when they gave Soriano a massive three-year deal this offseason. He has not been nearly as good as he was last season, he surely didn’t win over any teammates with last night’s comments and now he’s on the disabled list with an elbow issue that just won’t go away.

“He’s thrown the ball really well for us at times, and he’s struggled at times,” Joe Girardi said. “Unfortunately he hasn’t felt good lately, and we just need to get him back and get him healthy and get him doing what he’s capable of doing.”

Girardi backs his players. It’s what he does. That’s his management style, and we’ve all come to expect it. Asked about Soriano’s comments last night — when Soriano threw the lineup under the bus and said it hasn’t bothered him to miss this rocky stretch — Girardi went about as far as he’ll go to publicly rip a player.

“My thought is, we win as a team and we lose as a team,” Girardi said. “Everyone on this club can always do a little bit more. That’s the bottom line. You can take that for what it’s worth.”

The Yankees decided even before Soriano went for his MRI that he would go on the disabled list. Chris Dickerson said he got the news around midnight, while he was on a bus from Pawtucket to Scranton. The Yankees new that Soriano would have to skip at last three or four days before throwing another bullpen, which meant at least another week or so before he’d be available in a game. They didn’t want to keep playing short, so they put him on the DL.

• Nick Swisher is sick. He was throwing up after last night’s game, and Girardi called him today to check on how he was feeling. Still not good, so he’s out of the lineup and Dickerson is in.

• Dickerson landed at 2:30 this afternoon and came straight to the ballpark. You might remember that he had a similar rushed arrival in spring training and promptly went 3-for-3 (before being shutdown with an injury).

• Who handles the eighth without Soriano? “Joba has been pitching in the back end (and) Robby has been pitching in the back end,” Girardi said. “We’ll go day-by-day. Sometimes guys aren’t going to be available and you’ve just going to have to get through it.”

• Girardi said he had no second-thoughts about where to put Jorge Posada in today’s lineup, but he indicated that his spot in the lineup is still fluid. “To me it was the place to put him today,” Girardi said. “There’s a lot of things I look at, and I just thought it was the place to put him.”

• Dickerson was always going to be the call-up. That was decided before the team found out Swisher was sick.

Carlos Silva is starting for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday.

Sam Fuld LF
Ben Zobrist 2B
Johnny Damon DH
Evan Longoria 3B
Matt Joyce RF
B.J. Upton CF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Elliot Johnson SS
Kelly Shoppach C

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 46 Comments →

Postgame notes: “I think we all needed a day like this”05.08.11

Walking into the Yankees clubhouse after this game, Kevin Long’s words were stuck in my head. Just a few days ago, before a game in Detroit, the Yankees hitting coach seemed to suggest something like this was coming.

“(Derek Jeter)’s not hot, he’s not cold,” Long said. “He just hasn’t went through a streak yet. He’s going to get hot and go through a hot streak.”

Jeter had a hit in every game this road trip. He raised his batting average from .242 to .276, and in the past two games he more than doubled his extra-base hits for the season. Last night he drove a ball off the wall in left field, and tonight he went deep to right-center in back-to-back at-bats, once to pull the Yankees within a run, then to put them in front.

“I think we all needed a day like this,” Long said tonight. “It feels good to have Jeet come out and swing the bat the way he did. The other day in Detroit he hit those three balls good. He’s had a couple of games since then that have been really good, and then today was the icing on the cake. We’ll take it from here.”

When Jeter’s first home run got just over the wall in the fifth inning, Joe Girardi turned to Long on the Yankees bench and said, “We’re going to have to talk about him again.” Last week, Jeter grew so tired of discussing his swing and his numbers that he began refusing to discuss those things before games. He would talk at length postgame, but not pregame. He’d already dismissed some of the mechanical changes he’d worked on this spring, and he was trying to get himself comfortable. He decided that discussing it pregame was contrary to that goal.

“When you come here, you’re going to try to not think about things and try to stay positive,” Jeter said. “It’s not the first time we’ve scuffled a little bit, but you still have to have confidence… Sometimes the results can be frustrating, but going in there every day you have to have confidence that you’re going to be able to produce. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s starting to.”

A seven-game hitting streak doesn’t mean Jeter’s out of the woods, and a two homer game doesn’t mean that he’s finishing hitting the ball on the ground, but Jeter’s finally gone through a little bit of a hot streak, and it’s surely taken some of the pressure and — maybe — a little bit of the attention off the Yankees captain.

“You want everything to happen in one day, but it doesn’t always happen in one day,” he said. “It takes a little while. I’m well aware that you have to have patience.”

Here’s Jeter’s postgame interview.

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• The Yankees kind of owed CC Sabathia this win. He’d missed out on so many wins earlier this season, he deserved to sneak a win this afternoon. Sabathia said his fastball command was actually better than last time, but walks and errors put the Yankees in an early 4-0 hole. “Just try to leave it right there, make it so that’s all they get,” Sabathia said. “These guys are going to battle, put together good at-bats. They did, and we ended up coming back.”

• More proof the Yankees offense is making up for those blown win opportunities earlier this season: The Yankees have scored 12 runs in a game three times, and Sabathia’s gotten the win each time.

• Both Sabathia and Francisco Cervelli said his changeup command was a significant problem early. “Just calm down because it was real tough the first inning,” Cervelli said. “And then the wind was too crazy. Changeup crazy. But he made adjustments. Everybody knows who CC is already.”

• Curtis Granderson hit his 11th home run of the season, most in the American League. He didn’t hit his 11th homer last year until August 14, in his 91st game of the season. Tonight’s was his fifth home run against a left-handed pitcher, which matches a career-high for home runs off lefties in a season.

• Jeter facts: His first home run ended a streak of 259 at-bats without a home run. It was the second longest homer-less streak of his career. He went 311 at-bats without one in 1997… This was the second longest he’d ever gone before hitting his first home run in a season. He went 119 at-bats without one this year and 128 without on in 2008… He got his first steal tonight in his 30th game. That’s his second longest wait before stealing a bag. His longest was 38 games, also in 2008… This was his second four-hit game of the season. He had only one four-hit game last year.

• Cervelli hit the first grand slam of his career and the first he could remember since High-A in 2007. “I’m close to Alex now,” he said. “Lou Gehrig and Manny. I’m going there now.”

• How crazy is it that Cervelli, of all people, can rattle off the all time grand slam leaders? You think he’s been eyeing that record and keeping track?

• Girardi said he addressed today’s defensive mistakes with the team. The Yankees played an ugly game early. “I told our club, ‘We have to stop making it so hard on ourselves,’” Girardi said. “We’re a good team, but we’re making it harder on ourselves. We’re capable of playing better.”

• Sabathia had two of the Yankees season-high four errors. On the first one, it seemed like the grass might have played a part in Sabathia being forced to make a tougher than expected play. Not the case. “I was just rushing,” he said. “I had way more time than I thought, I just didn’t pick the ball up.”

• The other two errors belonged to Brett Gardner, who failed to scoop the ball while fielding a single, and Alex Rodriguez, who made a nice play at third and then made a bad throw to first. “That play has to be made 10 out of 10 times,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just kind of an unusual play. I was almost getting ready to throw the ball to a kid in the stands.”

• Rodriguez and Long have been working on his leg kick, which has gotten too high. Both were encouraged by his at-bats today. “I was happy with all my swings today,” Rodriguez said. “I wish I’d get three or four hits, but the bottom line is we won a game. Overall, my balance was good, my strike zone control was good, and if I do that, there’s going to be a lot of damage.”

• Long, Girardi and Jeter all scoffed at the idea that the Yankees are too reliant on home runs. “Come on, this needs to stop,” Long said. ” You score runs however you’re going to score runs. We have guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and because we’re strong and they hit a ball good, we talk about that’s the only way we can score runs. We need to do a better job, yes, with a man on third, less than two outs, of getting the guy in. I don’t care how we score runs. I don’t think anybody in this room cares how we score runs. We need to stay consistent.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 95 Comments →

“You take advantage of it when you can”04.21.11

The Yankees have a rotation problem that could very easily become a bullpen problem.

CC Sabathia is the only Yankees starter to pitch through the seventh inning this season, and he’s done it only once. The Yankees have had four starts last more than six innings, and they’ve had five starts last fewer than five innings. The rotation hasn’t given the Yankees much distance, and that’s meant more work for the bullpen.

Joba Chamberlain has already pitched 10 times. So has Mariano Rivera. An unusual number of off days and a couple of rain outs have let Joe Girardi lean heavily on his top four relievers, but the schedule won’t always be so generous.

“They’re getting their days off, that’s the big thing,” Girardi said. “Eventually when we start playing every day, guys are just going to have to sit. That’s the bottom line. We’re going to have to spread it around, and one of the big keys there is getting some more distance out of our starters, which we have not been able to do early in the year. Hopefully that changes.”

The raw numbers suggest Chamberlain and Rivera are on pace for more than 100 appearances, but in this case, the numbers are deceiving. The Yankees are 22 days into the season. Through the first 22 days last year, Chamberlain pitched nine times (he actually pitched nine times in the first 20 days). According to Baseball Reference, Chamberlain threw 167 pitches through the first 22 days last season. He’s thrown 162 this year.

Because of the days off, the relievers workload is not especially extreme. It’s just not sustainable.

Girardi proved last season that he pays close attention to the workload of his relievers. He actually took heat for being so cautious late last season, and to call him reckless this year seems a little over-the-top. Chamberlain actually laughed out loud at the idea that he’s been overworked and might not be fresh at this point.

“There are very few times where we have this kind of break up as far as many games and then a day off,” he said. “You take advantage of it when you can.”

Right now the Yankees can take advantage, and they have taken advantage.

But the Yankees are scheduled to play the next 17 days in a row. There will be no built-in rest for the next few weeks. The Yankees will need their starters to provide that sort of relief.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 52 Comments →

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