Ibanez and the lessons from the past • 03.19.12
It wasn’t meant to be a hard-hitting question, but it certainly put things in perspective. After another hitless game last night, Raul Ibanez was asked when he’d ever been surrounded by so many reporters after a spring training game.
“First time,” he said, smiling. “First time ever, so congratulations to me.”
In several corners of the Yankees fan base, Ibanez was not a very popular signing in the first place. He was essentially replacing Jesus Montero — who was supposed to replace Jorge Posada — and he was chosen ahead of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, popular former Yankees who also fit the left-handed DH mold. Ibanez’s overall numbers weren’t very good last year, and although his splits vs. right-handers were better than any of the alternatives, those numbers weren’t overwhelming either. He’s 39 years old, and although he’s cheap and proven with a tremendous clubhouse reputation, he’s just not the kind of addition that sparks a ton of excitement. And his slow start certainly isn’t helping.
Ibanez is clearly not happy with his numbers, but he’s not moping through the clubhouse either. He’s learned to focus on something other than spring training results. Truth be told, so have the Yankees.
Two years ago, the Yankees signed Thames to be a platoon designated hitter and occasional corner outfielder. He’d never hit higher than .256 in any big league season, but he also had a career .496 slugging percentage against lefties. The Yankees thought they could maximize his impact with specific at-bats.
Spring training: Thames was on a minor league deal, and made the team despite hitting just .135 in spring training. He struck out 21 times and didn’t homer until the final week.
Regular season: Wound up playing more than the Yankees expected and hitting better than they could have hoped. Thames even produced against right-handers finishing with a career-high .288 average and 12 home runs.
Far removed from his superstar days in Atlanta, Jones hit .204/.312/.411 in the three seasons before he signed with the Yankees to be a platoon DH and corner outfielder. The Yankees liked him because he’d slugged .558 against lefties in 2010.
Spring training: In his first stint with the Yankees, Jones hit just .182/.265/.318 in spring training. He had one home run and 10 RBI, and that opened the gate to a slow start once the season began.
Regular season: By the end of the season, Jones had been everything the Yankees hoped. He got most of his at-bats against lefties and hit .286/.384/.540 against them. Turns out he was playing on a sore knee, and after getting that repaired this offseason, the Yankees re-signed Jones to play the same role this season.
With Jesus Montero traded and Jones signed to hit against lefties, the Yankees went looking for a one-year player who could hit right-handers. They settled on Ibanez ahead of familiar left-handed hitters Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, making their choice based on Ibanez’s .440 slugging percentage against righties last season, as well as his ability to play the corners occasionally.
Spring training: It’s been an ugly first impression for Ibanez who’s working with slightly adjusted mechanics and hasn’t been able to consistently hit the ball with any kind of authority. A deep fly ball to left field was one of a handful of hard-hit balls for Ibanez this spring.
Regular season: To be determined…
None of this is definitive. Just because Thames and Jones bounced back from rough spring trainings doesn’t mean Ibanez is going to do the same, but Thames and Jones were in similar situations. They were easy to write off in the spring only to produce in the regular season. At this point, I don’t think anyone can say whether Ibanez will actually hit come April and May, but I’m not sure an ugly spring training is proof that he won’t.
I’m sure patience is hard to have this time of year, but Ibanez isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to be given a chance to hit in the regular season. The Yankees just have to hope his timing issues sort themselves out, and he shows the kind of power the team is expecting against righties.
“I think his attitude has been really good, and he’s went about his work the right way,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t care who you are, it’s not easy to struggle. We don’t wake up saying, I hope I struggle today. We don’t do it. I’ll probably have some conversation with him if it continues just to tell him to relax and do your thing, just be who you are.”
Associated Press photo
Up and down through the middle of March • 03.19.12
The off day seems like a good time to take a look at some of the players making an early impression — one way or another — in Yankees camp. In some cases — Jose Gil hitting .667 or Robinson Cano hitting .185 — the numbers up to this point mean absolutely nothing. Gil isn’t likely to play his way onto the big league radar, and Cano isn’t going to play his way out of the big league lineup. But in some case, players are making an impression that just might matter at some point.
.333/.385/.667 with five doubles
Seems like not much has been written about Granderson’s spring, but he’s been driving the ball consistently, which seems to be a good sign that he might be able to pick up where he left off. Obviously spring training numbers don’t mean much, especially when a lot of these at-bats have come so early in camp, but Granderson has at least given reason to believe last year’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke. So far, so good.
1.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, five strikeouts, one walk
Andy Pettitte might complicate things down the road, but for now, the Yankees are still trying to pick five starting pitchers from a group of six. And right now, Hughes is making a strong case that he belongs. With fastball velocity that’s much better than last spring, and fastball command that seems to be improving every time out, Hughes has been a very effective starter this spring, with the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of any rotation candidate. Freddy Garcia’s hand injury did nothing to hurt Hughes’ cause.
0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, seven strikeouts
A fairly late addition to Yankees camp, Rapada is trying to win the one open spot in the Yankees bullpen, and he’s making a pretty good case for the job. Through 5.1 innings, the lefty specialist has allowed just two hits while striking out seven. He has a track record of getting out left-handers in the big leagues, and depending on what the Yankees want from that last bullpen spot, might have emerged as a favorite to win a big league job.
.065/.121/.097 with seven strikeouts
I’m a real believer that spring training numbers — especially at this point — don’t mean much. But there were plenty of fans who weren’t sold on Ibanez in the first place and his slow start has done nothing to ease those concerns. A lot of his spring at-bats have come against lefties, which he will hardly ever face in the regular season, but he’s admitted that his timing is off right now. Results in spring training might not mean much, but there are certainly plenty of people who would like to see some results at some point.
54.00 ERA, four walks, no strikeouts
Two spring outings. That’s it. It’s a tiny sample size from a pitcher signed to a minor league deal, so it shouldn’t be even a blip on the radar. However, Miller is an intriguing possibility as a former elite prospect trying to work his way back from a series of injuries. He’s still just 27 years old with a past that makes people wonder “what if?” but his early spring impression did nothing but make him one of the first cuts. Not many pitchers have thrown particularly poorly in Yankees camp, but Miller certainly did.
Zero games played
He was always a long shot to make the team, but with Raul Ibanez struggling, Branyon might have been able to open some eyes and at least give the Yankees something to consider. Instead, he’s missed most of camp with soreness in his back. His situation wasn’t particularly good to begin with, but it’s only gotten worse as the injury has lingered.
NOWHERE TO GO
D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps
0.54 combined ERA, 16 strikeouts, six walks
Adam Warren and Dellin Betances have also pitched well this spring, but Phelps and Mitchell have been true standouts. Problem is, it’s hard to know what these numbers mean from two guys who are clearly no higher than eighth and ninth in the rotation pecking order. The addition of Andy Pettitte does nothing to help open a door for them, but they’ve been impressive.
.368/.455/.474 with three stolen bases
The only problem with Maxwell is what to do with him. A shoulder injury robbed him of last year’s second half, but he was productive when he played, and he’s been terrific this spring. The toolsy outfielder might be a great fit on the bench if the Yankees had a spot for him. Instead, his big spring might only help his trade value because he’s out of options and the Yankees don’t seem to have room for him.
.292/.370/.625 with two home runs
No doubt about it, Rodriguez has been good this spring. But unlike Granderson, the questions surround Rodriguez have little to do with his ability to hit. They’re all to do with his ability to stay healthy. So far, Rodriguez has shown no signs of injury, but he showed no signs last spring either and wound up on the disabled list. There’s very little Rodriguez can prove this spring. His only test is whether he can stay on the field through the end of October.
Associated Press photos
Based on my chat this afternoon, apparently Raul Ibanez’s 2-for-24 start to spring training is exactly what everyone was worried about when the Yankees signed the veteran to a big league deal late last month. Ibanez has struck out five times, hasn’t walked yet, and he’s hitting .083.
“I think a lot of it has to do with feeling comfortable and finding your timing,” Ibanez said. “I’ve kind of been in between timing mechanisms right now. I’m trying to eliminate some of the extra movement and getting acclimated to that. I’m moving less, so it’s almost like you’re going backwards at first. Hopefully I’ll catch on and figure it out.”
We’ve seen this plenty of times in the past when hitting coach Kevin Long has worked with a hitter to develop quieter mechanics. In the case of Curtis Granderson, the impact was overwhelmingly positive. In the case of Derek Jeter, the changes were scrapped after a few months of ineffectiveness.
As for Ibanez? Time will tell, and right now there hasn’t been a lot of time.
“To me it looks like a little bit of a timing issue,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s a little bit late, and that’s something that’s very correctable. You hope when they start playing two and three days in a row, you kind of get that timing better. Some guys take a while to get going in spring training. Right now, at times, I think he’s just a little late.”
Ibanez didn’t have very good overall numbers last season, and he’s already 39 years old, so the concern about his production is easy to understand. But he’s also a veteran who’s been in this situation before.
“You definitely have to wait and trust it’s going to be there,” he said. “It will come. It’s happened to me before, so it will come.”
Associated Press photo
Dave Robertson was moving boxes at his Tampa-area home last night when he stumbled down some stairs. Joe Girardi said it was more like he missed one step, not necessarily went tumbling down an entire flight. His right foot felt fine initially but it eventually became sore and Robertson went for x-rays, which were negative. He’s getting an MRI this morning and is currently wearing a walking boot as a precaution and for comfort.
“They were empty boxes,” Girardi said. “They weren’t even heavy boxes. I told to just kick them down the steps next time.”
There is some concern, obviously. Girardi said Robertson wasn’t walking very well this morning, and the official diagnosis so far is a mid-foot sprain. Girardi said there was no swelling, which he’s taking to be a good sign. Because he’s a reliever, Robertson could miss several days and not be at serious risk of missing the start of the season.
Until the MRI comes back, it’s really too early to know how much time Robertson will miss and whether Opening Day is at risk.
• Joba Chamberlain will throw another bullpen tomorrow, and he’ll throw breaking balls for the first time on Sunday. Those breaking balls won’t come off a mound. He’ll throw them off flat ground. He said things are still going well with his rehab from Tommy John.
• Raul Ibanez has seen most of his time in left field, but he played a lot of right field when he was younger and the Yankees want him to be able to play both outfield corners. That’s why he’s in right field today, to get a few reps out there before the season. “I’m pretty confident that he’s going to play it fine,” Girardi said.
• Eduardo Nunez will take batting practice today, but Girardi still not sure he’ll be ready to play tomorrow. There doesn’t seem to be any significant concern about him, just taking things slowly and making sure he’s ready.
• George Kontos will throw a bullpen tomorrow. If that goes well, hell fall back into a regular spring routine and could face hitters within a few days.
• Cole Garner, who’s been shutdown with a sore hamstring, is making today’s trip to Dunedin but he’s not scheduled to play.
• Today’s sides: Graham Stoneburner, Brett Marshall, Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia.
• Tomorrow’s sides: Brad Meyers, Adam Warren, Joba Chamberlain, Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Hiroki Kuroda.
• Today’s available pitchers: Ivan Nova, Michael O’Connor, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Cesar Cabral, Dan Burawa, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Chase Whitley and Juan Cedeno.
• Today’s second string: C J.R. Murphy, 1B Brandon Laird, 2B David Adams, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Jorge Vazquez, LF Zoilo Almonte, CF Melky Mesa, RF Chris Dickerson, DH Colin Curtis
Associated Press photo
Pregame notes: “It’s just too early” • 03.03.12
Joe Girardi said this week that Ivan Nova is not guaranteed a rotation spot. So can he start earning his spot today in Clearwater?
“It’s just too early,” Girardi said. “I want to see Nova go out and throw strikes.”
Girardi said he told the pitchers early this spring that their first few outings are strictly preparation. He told them to get ready, stay healthy and prove themselves in the last few weeks of the spring schedule. Nova has two innings today, and it’s more about getting his work in than making an impression.
• Raul Ibanez has his second straight start at DH, and oddly enough, each start has come against a left-handed starter (the Phillies are starting Cole Hamels today). Girardi said he doesn’t get “caught up” in lefty-righty matchups this early in spring training. Even though Ibanez was signed to hit against right-handers, Girardi just wants him to get some at-bats right now.
• Andruw Jones, who isn’t making today’s trip and didn’t get an at-bat yesterday, will start in the outfield tomorrow. Of course, that’s going to be against a right-handed starter.
• Phil Hughes just finished throwing live batting practice — or a sim game, whatever you want to call it — and now Adam Miller is doing the same. Colin Curtis and Francisco Cervelli are the hitters. Larry Rothschild and Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred are watching.
• CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are throwing sides today in Tampa.
• The position players not making the trip will stay behind to go through regular drills. There’s a specific note that Jones and Curtis will get some work in left field. The hitting groups in Tampa:
Group 1: Robinson Cano, Francisco Cervelli, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones
Group 2: Colin Curtis, Gustavo Molina, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
• Tomorrow, Adam Warren, Graham Stoneburner and Brett Marshall are each throwing bullpens. Hiroki Kuroda will throw a sim game to Brandon Laird and Zoilo Almonte.
• Today’s available pitchers: Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Michael O’Connor, Chase Whitley, D.J. Mitchell, Juan Cedeno and Clay Rapada. Only the first six are actually expected to pitch.
• Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Brandon Laird, LF Chris Dickerson, CF Dewayne Wise, RF Cole Garner, DH Justin Maxwell
UPDATE, 10:52 a.m.: The Phillies are going with Jimmy Rollins plus some outfield regulars.
Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Hunter Pence RF
Jim Thome DH
Ty Wigginton 3B
John Mayberry Jr. 1B
Domonic Brown LF
Erik Kratz C
Michael Martinez 2B