Tomorrow is the Yankees’ first spring workout, so tonight we’ll finish our countdown of the most pressing spring training issues by looking at one that could single-handedly determine the success or failure of this season.
Do the Yankees actually have a good starting rotation, or even a viable starting rotation?
Some of this is out of the Yankees’ hands at this point. All they can do is hold their breath and hope Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow doesn’t snap, Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and CC Sabathia’s fastball isn’t smacked all over the yard. They can only follow protocol with Ivan Nova’s rehab, work on Nathan Eovaldi’s offspeed pitches, and evaluate their options for the fifth starter spot. For the most part, their major rotation decisions were made weeks ago. Maybe even months ago. In some cases, years ago.
But at some point, the Yankees will have to decide whether they have enough.
Is this a rotation capable of getting the Yankees into the postseason. Should they consider a trade for a guy like Cole Hamels? Have they left themselves too short-handed to make a serious run?
This winter, the Yankees chose to role the rotation dice. They acknowledged in the fall that their rotation was a concern, but they didn’t want to make a Sabathia-like commitment to Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, and they didn’t like the going rate for high-risk secondary options like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. They chose to sacrifice one starting pitcher to acquire a shortstop, which made their one trade for another starting pitcher more of a replacement than an upgrade.
• Is there any indication Tanaka’s favoring his elbow; has this rehab protocol really worked?
• Does Pineda seem to have his usual arm strength; is this spring 2012 all over again?
• What kind of pitcher is Sabathia at this point; has he successfully transitioned to a new stage in his career?
• Did the Yankees find a young gem in Eovaldi; can he do anything more than light up a radar gun?
• How much does Chris Capuano have left; did the Yankees get his last drop of effectiveness last season?
• Are Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers legitimate options; have the Yankees overly neglected their immediate depth?
• Can Bryan Mitchell or Chase Whitley spot start if necessary; how far away is Luis Severino?
Whatever the answers to those questions, there’s only so much the Yankees can do at this point. Their most important rotation decisions came when they passed on Scherzer and Lester, when they made a pair of rotation-based trades (three trades counting the Manny Banuelos deal), and when they selected Capuano and a handful of minor league free agents to build their back-of-the-rotation depth.
In some ways, their key 2015 rotation decisions came when they traded for Pineda, extended Sabathia, and elected to forgo surgery on Tanaka.
But as pitchers and catchers settle into Steinbrenner Field, it’s still hard to look at this Yankees team and see a more all-or-nothing situation than the state of the rotation. This spring, the Yankees will have to figure out whether this rotation is good enough to make the Yankees contenders or thin enough to keep them out of the playoffs.
And as with any spring training decision, the evaluation will be subject to change once the season gets started.
Associated Press photos
Ideas like this seem to be floated from time to time, and they often seem to fade away. At the moment, though, it seems the Yankees are open to some version of a six-man rotation.
According to Bryan Hoch, pitching coach Larry Rothschild said today that the Yankees will discuss using a sixth starter in April and May. I don’t arrive in Tampa until tomorrow, so I didn’t hear Rothschild’s exact words, but Hoch makes it clear that Rothschild said there’s a possibility of using a sixth starter “at times,” which leaves open the idea of a five-man rotation that simply lets a spot starter get a turn or two during long stretches.
Just guessing here, but maybe use a sixth starter during that stretch of 13 games in a row at the end of April? Maybe once or twice during the stretch of 17 games in a row at the beginning of May? Can’t help wondering how Ivan Nova’s return from Tommy John might factor in.
The fact the Yankees are willing to discuss a sixth starter seems to be a clear attempt to ease some of the health concerns at the top of the rotation. It also seems to leave open any and every possibility. With one wide-open spot in the bullpen — and a bunch of young relievers who could fill that spot — the Yankees could carry a typical reliever out of spring training, option him for a one-day spot starter, and then call up a new reliever a day later. They could also — again, in theory — get a guy like Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers or Chase Whitley stretched out spring training, carry him as a long man out of camp, and give him a start here and there when the schedule gets dense.
It’s an interesting discussion, especially for a team that already seems to have rotation issues even without trying to go six deep.
UPDATE, 3:59 p.m.: In his full story on Yankees.com, Hoch writes that Rothschild is indeed considering the idea of a sixth starter only in spot-start situations, specifically during lost long stretches of games in late April and early May.
“We’re aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches,” Rochschild said. “Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren’t going to be able to throw a lot, we’re going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can.”
Associated Press photo
The conversation came between starts, some time between A.J. Burnett’s nine-run debacle in Baltimore and his got-the-job-done start tonight in Boston.
“When we talked, it was basically me telling him what I’d seen through time,” Larry Rothschild said. “I don’t want to get into details of the conversation. I said, ‘Look, you might not like what I say, but here’s what’s out there. Here’s where I think we have to go.’ And he was great. Really good… I give him a lot of credit for what he did tonight.”
This was the first time since June 29 that Burnett allowed fewer than three runs in a start. He lasted just 5.1 innings, but he made only one critical mistake tonight, and that was the two-run homer to Dustin Pedroia. Other than the first two batters in the fourth, he didn’t let a runner past first base until the sixth.
“I felt pretty comfortable for the most part, new gig and all,” Burnett said. “I was just really relaxed out there tonight and went one pitch at a time. I didn’t miss over the plate a lot. I missed over the plate basically twice, both to Pedroia. My misses were down and even though I was behind on a lot of guys, they weren’t able to square a lot up because of that.”
Burnett’s new “gig” is a slight change to his mechanics. He’s changed where his hands start — both in the windup and out of the stretch — and there’s less of a turn in his delivery.
“Minor changes,” he said. “But major to a guy who’s been pitching the same way for 11 years. I looked at it with an open mind and it felt good… It’s definitely something I can work with. I felt real comfortable out there. I’ve only really been working on that for three days. I’ve been pitching the same way for 11 years, so it’s a big change, but as the game went on I felt more comfortable.”
No sense painting this as the start of a turnaround. It’s one start after two months of disappointment, but it was a glimpse of the reason Burnett got that five-year contract in the first place. He can be a good Major League starter, and the Yankees best-case scenario doesn’t involved finally dumping Burnett to the bullpen. It involves getting Burnett pitching well again.
“We need A.J.,” Russell Martin said. “And I think Larry had a big part in it, just simplifying a couple of the things in his mechanics just to get him consistent in his delivery. And then from there it was just him executing pitches, and we were on the same page for the most part of the game. It was good for him to fill that role against a really good lineup.”
Final word from Rothschild: “The one thing that he’s done is competed all along. Even in the toughest games, the toughest circumstances, he’s competing. That’s a pretty good place to start.”
• The Major League debut of Jesus Montero was rather forgettable. The Yankees top hitting prospect went 0-for-4 with a hit by pitch. In his first three at-bats, he ended three innings with a total of six runners left stranded. But still, it was a debut, and four at-bats mean nothing in the course of a career.
“It means a lot for me, for my life,” Montero said. “Thank God I’m here for the first time and the first opportunity that I got to play in the big leagues. It was amazing for me today. After the first at-bat I feel more comfortable and I hit more well. I didn’t get the base hit, but I hope soon.”
• The big base hit, instead, came from the current Yankees catcher. Martin’s two-run double in the seventh turned everything around. Up to that moment, the Yankees had stranded 12 runners in the first six innings. “We just couldn’t seem to get the big hit off of Lester,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s a strikeout guy, so he’s going to sometimes have the bases loaded and get out of it. We got him out early, got him out after five and we were able to capitalize on some scoring chances after we got him out.”
• Terrific at-bat by Andruw Jones to start that seventh inning. His walk came after 14 pitches. Everyone in the clubhouse seemed to mention it at least once. Jones tied a career-high with three walks in the game, something he hadn’t done since 2006.
• Also plenty of talk about the Curtis Granderson catch in the sixth. That was a diving play that saved at least one run, maybe two. Might have been the difference in the game. “The Grandy man,” Burnett said. “He can do it all can’t he?”
• Mark Teixeira has a bruised right knee and he’s day-to-day. No x-rays were taken, and no tests are planned, but Girardi said he’s not sure Teixeira will be able to play tomorrow. Teixeira tried to stay in the game, but after playing defense for a half inning, his knee got stiff. “I couldn’t move,” he said.
• Robinson Cano had his team-leading 43rd multi-hit game.
• Derek Jeter played his 2,405th game, passing Mike Schmidt for the 15th-most games played all with same team. He went 2-for-4 tonight and is hitting .347 since coming off the disabled list.
• Boone Logan struck out the only batter he faced for the fifth time this season, the most such appearances in the American League.
• The Yankees lost eight of nine against the Red Sox in the first half, but since the all-star break, these teams are 3-3 against one another. “We didn’t play very well the first nine games against them,” Girardi said. “They beat us up pretty good, but we’ve pitched a lot better against them and our at-bats have been a lot better.”
• Last word on the Red Sox comes from Martin: “It feels good. I’ve been saying the whole time, I don’t think there’s a team better than the other. Every time we play them it’s one of those things where, the team that plays the best that day is going to win. And today we just played a little bit better than them. It’s going to be like that from here on out. If we see them in the playoffs, it’s going to be the same way.”
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “I’ve got a lot of energy” • 08.31.11
The top of the first inning wasn’t over, and already Joe Girardi was on the field arguing with home plate umpire Ed Rapuano. It was that kind of night here in Boston, a night fueled by plenty of emotion, and largely decided by those who were able to contain it.
The Yankees backup catcher is perhaps the most emotional player on the roster, and he was in the middle of everything tonight. He was behind the plate when CC Sabathia and Boone Logan got out of huge jams, he hit a towering home run off John Lackey, and he stood toe-to-toe with Jarrod Saltalamacchia after Lackey seemed to retaliate with a pitch to the back.
“I don’t remember (what was said),” Cervelli said. “A lot of Spanish. At that moment, I forgot my English. But it’s part of the game, I’ve got a lot of energy.”
Girardi seemed certain Lackey’s pitch was intentional, Cervelli thought the same thing, and so did Sabathia, who was among the agitated Yankees who seemed ready to fight after the plunking.
What would have happened if Sabathia had stayed in the game to pitch the next half inning?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Speaking of Sabathia, while Cervelli was a bundle of energy behind the plate, Sabathia was a picture of calm on the mound. He gave up 10 hits tonight, and he seemed to be in trouble constantly, but he made huge pitches. Adrian Gonzalez was 0-for-4 against him with three strikeouts and a ground ball that ended the sixth inning.
“I was just trying to make pitches,” Sabathia said. “They put some tough at-bats together and tonight I was able to make pitches. They had a lot of runners on base, lot of opportunities but we could make pitches when we needed to. I felt like I had good stuff, felt good, felt strong all the way through. I tried to make sure I controlled my emotions and make pitches.”
Sabathia seemed indifferent to the fact this was his first win against Boston this season. The Yankees needed to win this game, and whatever happened in the past didn’t seem to matter.
“It was a big win against a team we’re chasing,” Sabathia said. “And I look forward to pitching 5 days from now.”
Can’t forget this guy. He wasn’t in the middle of a near fight like Cervelli, and he didn’t find his way through six innings like Sabathia, but his back-to-back bases-loaded strikeouts in the seventh were huge.
“I haven’t been more relaxed all year,” Logan said. “I know it’s easy to say that after what happened, but that’s the honest truth. I was composed, and the louder the fans got, the more locked in I got.”
Against this lineup, Logan knows this might not be the last time the Yankees need him this series.
“Coming in, I have good confidence right now,” he said. “I’ve been pitching well lately, which is what you need coming in facing the second-best lineup in the league. With all the lefties, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to be getting in a couple of games.”
On an emotional night, the key might have been the one guy who kept his cool. Here’s Sabathia.
• There were a handful of good lines in the clubhouse tonight, but the best might have come from soft-spoken Larry Rothschild. He was asked whether he said a bad word to get himself ejected after Cervelli was plunked. “More than one,” he said.
• Girardi was ejected with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. He argued that Saltalamacchia swung, but the umpires ruled it was a hit by pitch. “The explanation to me is, he said, ‘He got hit, which caused him to swing,’” Girardi said. “That was the explanation I got. He clearly swung to me, and that’s an important out. It’s not like me to blow my top very often, but this is an important game.”
• Girardi said, without question, Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch in the first inning. The umpire ruled that it hit the bat.
• After Cervelli’s long home run, he clapped his hands when he got to home plate. That might have upset Lackey and led to the hit-by-pitch. “Every time I get a base hit or a double, I clap,” Cervelli said. “That’s me, that’s my game, and I don’t try to do anything bad to another player. That’s me, and if they feel a different thing, I say I’m sorry. But I’m not trying to.”
• Asked about his emotional response to Logan getting out of the seventh, Cervelli said, “That’s Cervelli.” Seriously. It was a Rickey moment. Hilarious.
• Girardi said there was no hesitation leaving Sabathia in to finish the sixth inning with his highest pitch count of the season. The Yankees had Cory Wade getting lose in the fifth, and Girardi told Rothschild to sit Wade down after Sabathia got through that inning. It was basically a given, to Girardi, that Sabathia was going back out there. “There’s situations that he’s ready for,” Rothschild said. “And he’s had some extra rest the last four or five starts.”
• Sabathia threw 128 pitches, matching the second-highest total of his career.
• Girardi said it’s possible the Yankees could line up the rotation so that Sabathia gets an extra day before his next start, but it’s not certain they’ll do that. No one seems especially concerned about the pitch count, especially not Sabathia.
• Turns out, Russell Martin is a little banged up after being hit in the toe and the thumb in Baltimore. “We’ll see how he feels (tomorrow),” Girardi said. Martin said it’s a none issue. “I’m alright,” he said.
• Huge play by Robinson Cano to get the second out in the fifth inning. “He’s done that for me a couple times this year,” Sabathia said.
• Girardi’s ejection was hit second of the season, 16th of his career and 11th as Yankees manager. He was also ejected once as a player. The two ejections tonight were only the Yankees second and third ejections of the season.
• Brett Gardner broke an 0-for-14 skid with his seventh-inning single.
• Mariano Rivera got his 35th save of the season, making this his 11th season in which he’s saved at least 35 games. That’s one shy of Trevor Hoffman’s record for 35-save seasons.
Associated Press photos
It’s easy to see the trend developing between CC Sabathia and the Red Sox. The numbers paint a pretty convincing picture, and it’s not a good one for the Yankees ace: He’s 16-2 with a 2.11 ERA against the rest of baseball, but 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston. He’d allowed a total of seven runs in his previous eight starts, but allowed seven runs in six innings today.
“I can see (being worried) if I hadn’t beat them in the last three years,” Sabathia said. “But I have. So that gives me confidence to know that I can go out and pitch well against this team.”
The Yankees are quick to point out that Sabathia allowed just one run in one of those Boston losses, and it was one bad inning that cost him in another. Instead of looking for broad story lines, they focused on the specifics of this start. Again, the evidence was convincing.
Sabathia: “Fastball command wasn’t there. Everybody knows I throw everything off my fastball. It was just cutting and up-and-out and just all over the place. It was a tough day today.”
Francisco Cervelli: “Early in the game we had no fastball control, so it was tough with the Red Sox lineup. It’s tough, man. If you get behind, if you make mistakes, you’re going to pay because they’re really good.”
Larry Rothschild: “I think you need all your pitches in a game like today. I think he got into a little bit of a pattern of throwing fastballs when he didn’t have to in some situations, and he didn’t command it as good as he has been. He was up a lot. Even the strikes were up and away. They weren’t located as well as he usually locates them. It was one of those days for him.”
Fastball command was the issue today. Sabathia said it was fastball command that got him into hitters’ counts, and it was fastball command that left hitable pitches over the plate. If there was an adjustment to be made, it didn’t happen quickly enough.
“When I’m right, I can get anybody,” Sabathia said. “It’s just one of those things.”
Here’s Sabathia. It’s kind of hard to hear parts of it, but he did his interview out in the concourse so bad audio is unavoidable.
Three comments about pitch selection, and whether Sabathia should have adjusted without his fastball command:
Sabathia: “It’s just me not recognizing it early enough and going to other pitches. Maybe use my changeup a little more, maybe use my cutter a little more. In some of those hitters counts, I was just trying to make a pitch with a fastball and it just wasn’t working out for me.”
Rothschild: “They’re going to have prolonged at-bats and they’re going to make adjustments. You have to be able to make adjustments, and the only way to do that is to have command of more than one pitch.”
Cervelli: “Maybe if the fastball is in a good location and they get jammed, it’s another opinion. I’ve got my plans. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s wrong.”
• The pitching matchup seemed lopsided in the Yankees favor, but John Lackey was able to limit the damage. The Yankees were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and they left nine men on base. The leadoff man reached base in the sixth, seventh and ninth without the Yankees scoring a run.
• The best chance to get back in the game came when the first three batters reached in the fifth. The Yankees got only one run out of it because Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira struck out, and Robinson Cano grounded to third. “Boston had already done what they needed to do,” Granderson said. “We had to play catch-up and we weren’t able to go ahead and get even.”
• On the other side, the decisive blow was certainly Jacoby Ellsbury’s two-out, three-run homer in the fourth. Ellsbury doubled his previous career-high with six RBI. “It’s another missed location,” Sabathia said of the home run pitch. “Two fastballs down and away, and then I give one up and out over the plate like he likes it. He just put a good swing on it.”
• Against Sabathia: David Ortiz was hitless, Adrian Gonzalez had one hit, Carl Crawford went 3-for-3 and Ellsbury was 1-for-2 with the home run and a sac fly. Lefties are hitting .200 against Sabathia this season, but Crawford and Ellsbury were especially damaging against him today.
• Seven runs was a season-high for Sabathia. The five-run fourth was his second-worst inning of the season.
• One positive note on Sabathia: He struck out six, giving him nine straight starts with at least that many strikeouts. That’s a career-long streak, and last Yankees pitchers to have that many consecutive six-strikeout games was Roger Clemens in 2001.
• Girardi said he believes Hector Noesi will be fine after being hit by a line drive in the ninth. The ball hit his chest and bounced up to hit his face. “I think he’s fine, but he’s probably a little sore,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of the bullpen, Girardi said he believes the bullpen will be fine for tomorrow, but he will have Phil Hughes just in case. “If I need him, depending on what kind of game it is,” Girardi said.
• Cervelli went 3-for-4, improving to 6-for-10 against the Red Sox this season and 18-for-42 in 13 career games against Boston. He’s a .478 hitter in seven career games at Fenway.
• Robinson Cano has gone hitless in back-to-back games at Fenway for the first time in his career.
• Mark Teixeira’s team-leading 32nd home run was his four career homer off Daniel Bard. No other major leaguer has more than one home run against Bard.
• Granderson stole his 100th career base in the fourth inning. He also scored his Major League-leading 100th run of the season.
• Girardi on Alex Rodriguez: “He took BP, took some ground balls and moved a little bit. Basically the same stuff he’s been doing, a little bit more, though.”
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: What’s next for Hughes? • 04.08.11
Just like everyone else, Phil Hughes is searching for answers. He’s well aware of the results, and he’s well aware that his fastball doesn’t have the life he’s come to expect. That said, Hughes said he feels fine, perfectly healthy. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he doesn’t see any sort of mechanical issue, and if it were mechanical, he believes Hughes would see significant velocity peaks and valleys.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s tiredness,” Rothschild said. “The arm strength hasn’t been there all spring. There’s a history of it from the past, but you’d like to see it at some point pretty soon.”
Truth is, there might not be an answer. Rothschild said the Yankees tried to lighten Hughes’ workload this spring, but it had no impact. Hughes said it was hard to trust spring results, because he saw a velocity spike when he finally joined the big league rotation last year. Right now, it seems everyone’s best bet is that the velocity will come back as a matter of course.
“I don’t think this is something you’re going to see all year,” Rothschild said. “At least I would hope not. I don’t know if he’s lost it or just hasn’t built up all the way yet. Some guys are slower like that, and he’s clearly right now one of them.”
Joe Girardi said he wouldn’t rule out the idea of skipping a start in hopes that extra rest will make a difference, but right now there are no plans to do so.
“It’s possible he could get an extra day here, or there’s some different things we could do, but right now, no,” Giradi said. “I want to get him back out there, get him right, and get him going… If you want to last a long time, you have to figure out how to mentally grind through things, and how to get through situations, and I saw him do it a number of times last year. I saw this kid take big steps last year, and I’m not willing to say those steps are gone just because of two starts. There’s going to be starts where you struggle. You might have a bad couple starts, you might have a bad month. And you’ve got to find a way to fight through it.”
As usual in his small Fenway office, it was pretty much impossible to hear Girardi postgame, so here’s Rothschild speaking after tonight’s game.
• Bartolo Colon said he actually felt better as the game progressed. It’s hard to overstate just how good he was. “Bartolo was just really locating his fastball well, to both sides of the plate,” catcher Russell Martin said. “His first two, three innings, I think we threw one off-speed pitch. He’s just got a really nasty comeback two-seamer that he can throw in on lefties, and they really don’t know what to do with it. If they hit it, it’s going to be foul. When he locates it, it’s going to be tough to hit.”
• A shining example of how unreliable the win and loss stats are, especially given a one-game sample size: Colon took the loss this afternoon and John Lackey got the win. Their lines:
Colon: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Lackey: 5 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
• Phil Hughes isn’t the only Yankees pitcher struggling. Boone Logan is the only left-hander in the pen, and today he allowed a pivotal double and two-run single to David Ortiz and J.D. Drew. “It’s not fun going out there and not doing your job, giving up hits to lefties, walking lefties,” Logan said. “My job is to get them all out, and I’m not doing any of that right now.”
• Logan has pitched in three games. He’s been charged with a run in all of them — one was unearned — and he’s allowed five hits while getting just four outs. The problem starts with his slider. “I need to locate my four-seam also, but my slider is my pitch everything else comes off of,” Logan said. “… I just gotta quit aiming the ball and just let it go. Quit thinking about it.”
• Just to close the book on Yankees pitchers today: Dave Robertson looked pretty good in a scoreless eighth. He allowed one hit, a single. He threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes.
• Alex Rodriguez’s third home run of the season was his 50th career home run against the Red Sox. No active player has more home runs against Boston. Rodriguez has more career home runs against the Angels (67), Orioles (54) and Blue Jays (52).
• Speaking of Rodriguez, today’s home run gave him 1,836 career RBI, tying him with Ken Griffey Jr. — and move him past Rafael Palmeira — for 13th on baseball’s all-time RBI list.
• Speaking of success against Boston: Robinson Cano went 2-for-4 with two doubles, raising his career batting average at Fenway to .362, fifth highest all-time among visiting players. That’s also the highest career average for any player in a Yankees uniform at Fenway with a minimum of 200 at-bats. That’s according to Elias and passed along by the Red Sox.
• On the flip side: Hughes has an 8.47 career ERA at Fenway, his worst of any Major League park.
• Nick Swisher’s run-scoring groundout in the third inning gave him 500 RBI for his career. He’s driven in a run in five of the Yankees seven games this season.
• If it wasn’t Colon, the Yankees star of the day was certainly Brett Gardner, who had a double, a triple, two walks, an RBI, a stolen base and made some fine plays in the outfield.
• I didn’t get over there to talk to him — I was focused on the pitchers — but Mark Teixeira was one of a handful of position players who stuck around long after the game to talk to the media. Hard to blame guys for wanting to leave quickly today (as you’ll see in the last note) but Teixeira stuck around to talk after his fifth-inning error. I thought I’d mention that since accountability became an issue earlier this week.
• Looking for a little insult to injury? The water was messed up in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway, so the Yankees couldn’t shower after the game. They had to dress in their regular clothes, leave the park and — I hope — shower at the hotel.
Associated Press photos
Friday morning notes: Individual attention • 02.18.11
When Joba Chamberlain finished his morning bullpen, Chamberlain walked into the tunnel that leads back to the Yankees clubhouse, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild focused all of his attention on Ivan Nova, the only pitcher still in the bullpen.
Rothschild stood in the batter’s box — not squared up to the plate, but close enough to somewhat resemble a hitter — while bullpen coach Mike Harkey and Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred watched near the mound. Organizational pitching guru Billy Connors watched from a bench on the side of the pen.
That’s the point of these early sessions. Most spring training bullpens happen with four or five guys throwing at once. Rothschild said the early sessions are specifically designed so that he spend more one-on-one time with individual pitchers.
“We’re going to filter the guys through,” he said.
Nova’s first spring bullpen was in a group. Today he got the individual attention.
Rothschild said the Yankees will do the same with batting practice after position players report this weekend.
• Chamberlain is already mixing all of his pitches. Considering it’s still the first week of camp, the Yankees seem to have more guys than usual who have already moved past fastballs. I remember Dave Robertson spinning a few curveballs two days ago. Phil Hughes is already mixing all of his pitches. Some of the minor league guys were facing hitters at the minor league complex before big league camp opened.
• Speaking of Hughes, he also did his work early this morning, but he did it after Chamberlain and Nova. I have no idea what Hughes did this morning, but he walked into the clubhouse just before it closed and was drenched in sweat. He clearly did more than a routine bullpen.
• Brett Gardner is not listed in today’s hitting groups. Looks like he won’t be here today. I’m guessing he’ll be back tomorrow when the other position players show up.
• Bullpen assignments:
Dellin Betances (to Jesus Montero)
Pedro Feliciano (to Gustavo Molina)
Dave Robertson (to Russell Martin)
Andy Sisco (to Austin Romine)
Manny Banuelos (to Kyle Higashioka)
Brian Anderson (to Francisco Cervelli)
Andrew Brackman (to Jose Gil)
Romulo Sanchez (to Gustavo Molina)
Daniel Turpen (to Kyle Higashioka)
Steve Garrison (to Jesus Monter0)
D.J. Mitchell (to Austin Romine)
David Phelps (to Roman Rodriguez)
Adam Warren (to Francisco Cervelli)
Eric Wordekemper (to Jose Gil)
• Same hitting groups as usual, except without Gardner
Group 1: Gil, Higashioka, Montero and Romine
Group 2: Martin, Cervelli, Molina and Posada
Associated Press photo of Rothschild and A.J. Burnett after an early morning bullpen earlier this week
Burnett: “I’m here to be a factor” • 02.15.11
I’m a force out there. Guys don’t want to face me. I just felt like guys didn’t care if they faced me (last year). I feel like I gave them that edge… I came here to win. I came here to pitch. I came here to be behind Big Man. And I wasn’t last year.
First, it’s kind of cool that he calls CC Sabathia “Big Man” on first reference. Second, I can’t imagine the Yankees wanting to hear anything different from their erratic supposed-to-be-number-two starter. He managed to acknowledge that he was terrible in 2010, while also showing confidence for 2011.
“It’s a chicken and egg question,” new pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “Is the confidence there because of success or is success there because he’s doing things right mechanically and gets confidence? I think we’ll attack it right now to get him in line to the plate. Get him comfortable throwing the ball, and I think he’ll get the confidence and demeanor that he should have.”
Burnett talked a lot about confidence today. He talked about having it when he was pitching well, and losing it after his winless month of June. When he lost his confidence, Burnett started thinking too much. He went searching for advice that might put him back together, and pretty soon the pieces were scattered everywhere.
When Rothschild went to Burnett’s house this winter, the meeting started with a long conversation. Four or five hours of B.S., Burnett said. The actual lessons wer about taking a mental problem and making it physical, and about taking a physical problem and making it mental.
The theory is: If Burnett can mentally force himself to physically repeat his mechanics, then he’ll physically pitch better and feel better mentally. The cycle will build on itself.
“I like Larry,” Burnett said. “He’s old school. I’m old school. He’s not here to come change or fix a bunch of things. On the other hand, my lower half tends to swing out like a gate. It’s a matter of keeping that from over swinging.”
He made it sound so simple, and the exercises Rothschild gave him this offseason were about little more than repetition, about getting one leg to consistently fall in the same spot over and over again. It seems like such a small thing, but the Yankees are banking on the idea that, it snowballed one way last year, why couldn’t it snowball the other way this year?
“You look back and I wasn’t really a factor (last year),” Burnett said. “And I’m here to be a factor.”
Brian Cashman: “I certainly hope it, believe it. He’s had a history of some really high times when he’s been extremely good, and then there have been some times when he hasn’t performed up to his abilities. Whenever he’s had some dips, he’s always bounced back. I count on that. He’s coming off his worst season, but he’s had some tough stretches before and he’s responded to it. He’ll respond. I believe that. Need him to, but I believe it (too).”
Joe Girardi: “There’s a few reasons I have confidence in A.J. (One), I’ve seen what he can do. Two, I know his heart, and I know how disappointed he was about some of his starts last year. I saw how it affected him… I know that until the season, until we see him pitch, it’s going to be asked a lot. But I’ve just got a feeling in my gut that he’s going to have a good year because of those reasons.”
Larry Rothschild: “It’s hard to say right now, but going into it, look, this guy’s had success at a pretty good level in the major leagues. We’re not trying to rebuild anything. We’re just trying to get it where he can repeat deliveries so he can throw the ball loose. This isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a rebuilding or anything. It’s just kind of tooling it back a little bit, and refining things, and simplifying.”
A.J. Burnett: “It got me depressed every time I thought about it, so I just stopped thinking about it. It’s in the past. I’ve had seasons before that were bad. You just have to come back. It will bury you if you don’t. Figure out a way to let it slide. I realize how important I was last year, for the first time in probably my whole career. It should be a little different.”
Associated Press photos
You go your way (and I’ll go mine) • 02.13.11
I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely excited to see the Grammy Awards, but I’ll be watching tonight.
I’m sure most of the ceremony will be rather forgettable, but mixed into the nonsense, Arcade Fire is scheduled to perform, Mick Jagger will be part of a tribute to Solomon Burke, and Bob Dylan will be the third act in a three-artist medley with Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. That’s a can’t miss combination.
That’s how I’ll spend my last night before the baseball chaos ensues. For now, here is one last batch of offseason notes and links. Have a good night, everyone. Pitchers and catchers report in the morning.
• Nice work by Marc Carig, who looked into the personality of new Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild. “He knows when to hit the accelerator,” Al Leiter said. “He knows when to hit the brakes.”
• Speaking of new faces, Anthony McCarron profiled non-roster pitcher Brian Anderson, the converted outfielder trying to reestablish himself as a pitcher. “Pitching was always what I wanted to do,” Anderson said.
• The Yankees are not necessarily a finished product. Jon Heyman reports that they’re still talking to starter Kevin Millwood, but no deal seems close. Remember what Brian Cashman has said time and time again: If any current free agent starters are going to land in New York, it’s going to have to be at the Yankees price.
• George King took a look at 10 issues facing the Yankees heading into spring training.
• Cool story in the New York Times about the history of the Negro Leagues at Yankee Stadium.
• Funny story from Buster Olney about a minor league run-in with Deion Sanders. The only time I can remember a player being angry and confronting me about it, the story in question — a blog post actually — had been misinterpreted by a family member, who told the player that I was pushing for the Yankees to release him. This was in spring training a few years ago, the player was new to the team, and he’s just been sent down from big league camp. The whole thing got sorted out pretty quickly, and he actually became a go-to guy in the clubhouse, but in that moment, he was not pleased.
Associated Press of Rothschild with Carlos Zambrano
Fairly quiet day in Tampa • 02.10.11
My friends in Tampa were reporting gray skies this morning. Although it cleared up after a while, it seems there wasn’t much going on down there today. Things will probably stay relatively quiet until Monday, when camp actually opens and Joe Girardi addresses the media.
• Russell Martin did some drills that had him squatting for a second straight day. That’s good news for his knee and hip.
• Larry Rothschild was in the mix and said he feels good about A.J. Burnett after going to Burnett’s house this winter. He said Burnett’s head is in a good place.
• Rothschild also compared the Yankees current bullpen to the Cincinnati bullpen of the early 90s. That’s the Nasty Boys group, and that’s a rock solid reference. Rothschild was their bullpen coach.
• Also back in the mix: Both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.