The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Sunday night links: Prospects, lineups and the Captain03.13.11

The Yankees top three pitching prospects survived today’s first wave of cuts, just like they survived this winter’s search for proven big league starters. In a Q&A with Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, general manager Brian Cashman said he’s confident his young pitching would be enough to trade for a short-term rotation upgrade, but he’s more focused on the long-term impact of keeping his best pitchers in the organization.

“I have enough chips,” Cashman said. “But if people want to demand certain bullets, those certain bullets I’m not going to shoot… There are untouchables here.”

Cashman didn’t name names, but clearly Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman have made strong impressions this spring. Brackman had some control issues today, but he’s clearly opened some eyes. The “Killer Bs” are widely considered the top pitching prospects in a pitching-rich system, and all three were kept in camp through this morning’s round of seven cuts, and the afternoon’s round of three more.

• More good stuff from Carig, who took a look at the remarkably small impact a lineup change is likely to have on the Yankees. The Yankees could make a change this season, but is it worth rocking the boat — and maybe pushing some of the wrong emotional buttons — for what could be such marginal improvement? Maybe, maybe not.

• Ben Shpigel of the Times stayed behind in Tampa yesterday and wrote a nice piece about Derek Jeter’s increasing comfort at the plate. “Early on, he told me, ‘I’ll probably take a lot of pitches during spring training until I get comfortable,’” Kevin Long said. “He’s not taking those pitches anymore.” Jeter swung at the first pitch he saw this afternoon and drove a fly ball to center field for an out.

Nice stuff from my old friend Donnie Collins about his immediate thoughts after seeing news about the earthquake in Japan. For Donnie and I, who spent a lot of time around Kei Igawa the past few years, it was impossible not to worry about Igawa on what had to be a terrible day for him. It was also great to hear that both Jonathan Albaladejo and Darrell Rasner were safe and largely unaffected.

• Supporting everything we’ve seen and heard in Yankees camp, Buster Olney talked to one evaluator who said Eric Chavez has looked good while “hitting the ball hard” this spring. He really does seem to be an ideal fit on the Yankees bench.

• The Royals put a pitcher on the 60-day disabled list to make room for Robert Fish.

• In former Yankees news: Despite the fact Russell Branyan is making a strong impression in Diamondbacks camp, Juan Miranda remains the favorite to be Arizona’s starting first baseman. With the Padres, Dustin Moseley is keeping himself in the rotation mix and has “all but guaranteed” a spot in the bullpen.

• It’s not a link, but here’s a leftover quote from today that I thought was funny. Russell Martin was asked about calling pitches for Mariano Rivera: “It’s cutter or sinker,” Martin said. “It’s pretty basic. Cutter on one side. If he doesn’t want that, it’s a cutter on the other side. And then it’s a sinker. If he shakes more than twice, I’m putting down the wrong signs.”

My high school won its first boys basketball state championship this weekend. I saw the team play when I went home for my friend’s wedding a few weeks ago. They went 10 players deep, substituted five at a time, and pressed the entire game until the game was no longer in doubt it was too cruel to keep up that frantic pace. They were fun to watch. Go Bulldogs!

Associated Press photo of Jeter meeting Dave Stevens from Easthaven, Conn., who was born without legs and participates in sports using a wheelchair

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Sunday notes: Garcia stumbles in third start03.13.11

For the first time this spring, one of the starters fighting for a spot in the Yankees rotation truly struggled. Bartolo Colon had his rocky inning, but he bounced back immediately. Ivan Nova was only so-so last time out, but he still allowed just two runs and got through three innings.

Today, Freddy Garcia was pretty bad. He couldn’t locate his fastball — especially inside — and didn’t make it out of the third inning. He pitched 2.2 innings allowing four runs on six hits, two walks and a hit batter.

“I couldn’t make a pitch,” Garcia said. “I had a couple guys 0-2 or 1-2, but I’d walk a guy or hit a guy. I wasn’t executing a pitch when I needed it… I didn’t pitch the way I wanted to pitch. There’s nothing I can do. I know I have to pitch good to try to win a spot, but it was one of those days. I have to forget about it, come back tomorrow and try to do my job in my next start.”

Joe Girardi said Garcia “wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been,” and was pretty obvious from the beginning. His fastball was bad, so he was leaning on his secondary pitches, and those were only marginally effective.

“It’s way too early,” Girardi said. “He’s got more starts to go. We don’t expect any of our starters to be perfect. We know there are going to be bumps in the road in spring training. You have to deal with it and you have to develop arm strength. There are a lot of things you have to get going, but you’re trying to get to the last half of it where you start throwing better the last half.”

Girardi said he didn’t feel the need to talk to Garcia about the outing. Veteran pitchers understand what’s going on, and Girardi said at this point he’s just interested in seeing how Garcia bounces back.

“I have to move on,” Garcia said. “What can I do about pitching bad today? I have to take it out of my mind, try to focus on my next game.”

Here’s Garcia.

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• It’s easy to overlook given what Mariano Rivera did in the very next inning, but Rafael Soriano had another impressive inning today, allowing one stranded hit in the fifth. Soriano has allowed two hits and no walks through three innings. “I like his style,” Russell Martin said. “He’s aggressive. He goes right after hitters. He doesn’t fool around, throws his best stuff at you and makes you swing the bat. It’s good.”

• Rivera was asked whether Soriano has the stuff to thrive in New York. “He has the abilities,” Rivera said. “He has everything to succeed here. I don’t see why not.”

• By the way, Rivera said we might see more of the high socks this season.

• Dave Robertson bounced back from his previous outing when faced one batter and allowed a triple. This time, Robertson pitched a hitless seventh inning, striking out one and walking none. Martin said he was happy that he got to catch a bunch of relievers today. He’s trying to get familiar with everyone.

• Andrew Brackman was noticeably upset with himself after his inning and two-thirds. He walked two, gave up two hits and allowed one unearned run. “He got behind in some counts,” Girardi said. “He had a chance to get out of that inning. We dropped a fly ball. We didn’t turn a double play. He fought his way through it, but he’s not as sharp as he’s going to be, and he understands that. But I think it’s still frustrating for him.”

• Alex Rodriguez hit his second spring homer, continuing his strong month of March. Mark Teixeira’s double was the only other Yankees hit. Kevin Russo’s sacrifice fly drove in their only other run.

• Another hit for both Derek Jeter and Eric Chavez. Robinson Cano also singled.

• Jeter dropped a popup that should have ended the fourth inning without a Twins run. The error led to four unearned runs when Eric Wordekemper followed with a hanging slider that Brian Dinkelman hit for a home run. “Once I started backpedaling, I was in trouble,” Jeter said. “To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have thought about it again unless you guys brought it up.”

• Both Rule 5 picks are out of Yankees camp. Although Robert Fish showed some flashes of good stuff, he and Daniel Turpen combined for 8.1 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 7 BB and 7 K. They never had a realistic shot of making the roster, but neither showed enough to stick around any longer.

• Of the position players cut today, Daniel Brewer made the best impression. He hit .364/.364/.455. Austin Krum and Bradley Suttle each batted .154 with no extra-base hits.

• Martin had not caught Rivera this spring, not even in the bullpen. He went to the mound at the beginning of Rivera’s inning, and Martin said the conversation was short and sweet. “I just asked him, what’s the cutter (sign), and what’s the sinker?” Martin said. “(Rivera said) this is cutter, this is sinker, and that’s it. He’s like, ‘Go behind there.’ I was like, all right, see you later.”

Associated Press photos of Garcia, Rivera and Francisco Cervelli

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Saturday notes: Vazquez keeps hitting03.12.11

It’s impossible to ignore Jorge Vazquez this spring. The guy made a career out of smashing baseballs in Mexico, he’s hit through his first two seasons in the minor leagues, and this spring he’s leading the team in RBI, tied for the team lead in home runs and batting .480.

“He’s played really well for us in spring training. He continues to swing the bat and continues to do what he needs to do,” Joe Girardi said. “This kid has shown that he can hit, and he’s hit at every level that he’s been at.”

Girardi has more than once called Vazquez “more of a first baseman,” but he can play third. If Eric Chavez weren’t also hitting this spring, Vazquez might be playing his way into a strong chance of landing a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Instead, he’s making an impression. The Yankees seem to be heading toward carrying Chavez on the bench, but it’s hard to ignore what Vazquez is doing right now, and it will be hard to forget if/when the Yankees need an extra bat in the middle of the summer.

“We know what he can do, and he’s shown us what he can do,” Girardi said.

• Burnett was most encouraged by his curveball today, but he continued his spring training tradition by working in a few changeups that he said were pretty effective. He threw one to right-handed hitter Ryan Zimmerman, who lined out on the pitch.

• Speaking of the changeup, here’s Burnett talking about pitching to Russell Martin: “He has an idea what I want to do. I faced him a couple of times a long time ago. He’s got an idea what my strengths are, but he wants me to use my changeup. He’s a big believer in that. It’s all confidence with him.”

• One more Burnett note: He has yet to walk anyone, and he seemed realize talking about it probably jinxed it this afternoon. “I haven’t walked anybody yet, have I?” Burnett said. “Well, there goes that.”

• In his first action in center field, Brett Gardner played there through the seventh inning. Eduardo Nunez stayed at shortstop throughout.

• Rule 5 pick Daniel Turpen gave up a walk-off single in the ninth inning, sending the Nationals to a 6-5 win. Not sure how much longer the Yankees will look at Turpen and Robert Fish, but it’s a crowded bullpen as it is, and neither Rule 5 pick has strong numbers this spring.

• Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano are both scheduled to pitch tomorrow.

• The Yankees remain excited about what they’ve seen from Chavez, but they decided to play it safe when it came to today’s road trip. “Extremely encouraged,” Girardi said. “I just thought it was silly to put him on a bus for two hours after he played yesterday.”

• When Ramiro Pena popped out in the eighth, he turned and flung his bat back toward the Yankees dugout, a rare show of emotion for the Yankees utility man. Hard not to notice that he’s hitting .154 this spring while Eduardo Nunez has thrived. I still think there’s a chance Pena will be the pick — the utility job is going to be an incredibly minor role, and the Yankees love Pena’s glove at short — but Nunez is clearly outplaying him this spring.

Alfredo Aceves is likely to start against the Yankees on Monday.

• Speaking of former Yankees: Talked to Chien-Ming Wang a little bit before today’s game. He said he’s thrown a sim game this spring and he’s hoping to be game ready early this season. His fastball has been 86-87 mph, and he thinks that will go up as he gains arm strength. “It’s been a long time, but I’ve been patient,” he said.

• I couldn’t see it from the press box, but Gardner said a stealth bomber flew by in the middle of the game. It happened before the bottom of an inning, while he was warming up with Melky Mesa. Gardner told Mesa to turn around and look at it, and Gardner said Mesa’s reaction was priceless. Gardner told him it was a UFO. Mesa’s reaction? “Maybe.”

Associated Press photos of Vazquez with Montero; Burnett’s arm; and Cano laughing after a called strikeout

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Thursday notes: “The CC we’re used to seeing”03.10.11

CC Sabathia was scheduled for four innings this afternoon. He wound up pitching five scoreless and still didn’t reach his pitch count. Going head-to-head against Phillies ace Roy Halladay, Sabathia was back to his old self after a rocky start his last time out against the Nationals.

“That’s pretty much the CC we’re used to seeing,” manager Joe Girardi said.

Sabathia said he was sharp enough to work on some specific things today, throwing changeups when he was down in the count and mixing in some first-pitch two-seamers. His delivery was “cleaner,” he said.

“I have the pause in my delivery,” Sabathia said. “I was kind of floating, drifting through it (last time) instead of just staying there, gathering, and then going. We worked on that in the bullpen, and I was conscious of it in the bullpen here today and trying to translate into the game.”

• Sabathia was hit in the thigh by a comebacker but stayed in the game. He didn’t even let the medical staff check him during the game, though he did have it wrapped afterward. “I’ve got a lot of meat down there,” he said.

• This early in spring training, and the two starting pitchers — Sabathia and Roy Halladay — combined for 11 scoreless, walkless innings. “Look at the two starters we’re looking at,” Girardi said. “You don’t see it a lot (this early), but if it’s going to happen, it’s usually two starters like that.”

• Warner Madrigal was scheduled to pitch today, but he felt some soreness in his arm. “He might be shut down for a few days,” Girardi said. Madrigal is coming back from surgery, but Girardi said today’s soreness was in a different spot.

• Dave Robertson faced one hitter this afternoon, which was the plan. Robertson threw 31 pitches his last time out and Girardi just wanted to get him in the game for one hitter. Of course, that one hitter tripled.

• After Robertson, Rule 5 pick Robert Fish had a rough sixth inning. He got three outs, one of which was a sac fly and one of which was a pickoff. John Mayberry Jr. hit a two-run home run off him, one of three hits against Fish.

• Mark Prior allowed his first runs of the spring. The Phillies scored three runs against him, but two were unearned because of an error by Justin Maxwell. Prior gave up two walks and an RBI double.

• The Yankees had a total of four hits today, on apiece by Brett Gardner, Russell Martin, Ramiro Pena and Jorge Posada. All of those hits were singles.

• In his spring debut, Ronnie Belliard went 0-for-2. Given the way Eric Chavez is hitting — and the way Jorge Vazquez is hitting for that matter — it’s really difficult to imagine Belliard doing enough to make this roster.

• Brett Gardner will get one at-bat as a designated hitter tomorrow, then he’ll make the road trip to play center field on Saturday.

• Girardi said he’s planning to go on the road for tomorrow’s split squad game against the Blue Jays because he wants to see Ivan Nova pitch. He’ll leave someone else to manage the home game and watch Phil Hughes. Why not have Nova pitch at home? Hughes has already made two starts on the road, and he’s locked into a rotation spot. He gets to stay home this time.

Alfredo Aceves was knocked around today, allowing four hits and three earned runs through 2.1 innings for the Red Sox.

Associated Press photos of Sabathia meeting with Russell Martin and Jorge Posada, and of Girardi talking to Tony Pena

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Saturday notes: Sabathia, Soriano, Brackman and Vazquez03.05.11

Let’s just jump straight into the notes this time.

• CC Sabathia allowed five earned runs through 2.2 innings this afternoon. The Yankees other starters — including all four back-of-the-rotation candidates — have combined to allow one earned run through 18 innings.

• To line him up properly, Sabathia will get an extra day of rest at some point this spring, but it won’t come on the scheduled off day March 15. That will be Sabathia’s day to pitch, and rather than have him take a day off to pitch the 16th, Sabathia will throw a simulated game that morning. Joe Girardi actually apologized to the beat writers for making us come to the stadium that day.

• One last Sabathia note: Just in case you were concerned, Sabathia had reached his pitch limit, which is why he came out of the game in the third. He’s not hurt. Probably goes without saying, but had to make sure.

• Rafael Soriano will throw another simulated game on Monday. He could be in a game a few days after.

• Still no set-in-stone plan for Mariano Rivera. “He’s still a little ways away,” Girardi said. “He’s further away than Soriano.”

• Next time Andrew Brackman pitches, it will likely come in an actual game. “We were really pleased with his BP slash simulated game (this morning),” Girardi said. “He threw like 10 pitches of BP, then got three outs pretty quickly.”

• Nice game from Brett Gardner who had a double and a triple as part of that eight-run fourth inning. Both hits were legitimately driven into the corners, one to left field and the other to right. Gardner has three hits this spring, all for extra bases.

• Two more hits, two more RBI and one more double for Jorge Vazquez. It would be an upset if he made the roster — Eric Chavez’s left-handed bat is a better fit on the bench — but he’s forcing the Yankees coaching staff to take notice. “He’s definitely opening eyes,” Girardi said.

• Speaking of which, Chavez had his fourth hit of the spring and is hitting .364. “He’s swung the bat really well,” Girardi said.

• Dave Robertson and Robert Fish were the only Yankees starters to not give up a hit today — Fish went two innings without a hit — and Ryan Pope closed the game with one of the few scoreless innings. “When we made a mistake in the middle of the plate, they hammered it,” Girardi said. “We didn’t get away with anything today.”

• Those pitching problems started with Sabathia, but Joba Chamberlain didn’t do much to help. After cleaning up Sabathia’s mess in the third, Chamberlain was charged with two runs of his own in the fourth. “He threw the ball OK, and then it looked like he made a couple of mistakes with his fastball,” Girardi said. As far as I know, Chamberlain didn’t speak to anyone after the game. It’s not unusual for the big league guys — all but the starting pitcher — to get out of the park quickly as soon as they’re finished.

• The Nationals top overall draft pick Bryce Harper had two at-bats in the game. He grounded to first against Daniel Turpen, then single to right against Romulo Sanchez. “It’s pretty amazing to be 18 years old and be doing what he’s doing,” Girardi said.

• Looking back through Cervelli’s history of spring injuries I found this post from almost exactly one year ago. Funny that, at this time last year, Cervelli was hurt and Girardi immediately dismissed the idea of Jesus Montero making the team. Veteran Mike Rivera was next in line. This year, Montero has become the favorite, and the veteran Gustavo Molina is strictly emergency insurance.

Associated Press photos of Sabathia, Gardner and Montero with Girardi

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Monday notes: Timing and patience for Jeter02.28.11

For any player, one hit on February 28 means almost nothing. When that hit comes from guy who has nearly 3,000 in his career, it means even less, so we’ll have to excuse Derek Jeter for not getting worked up about a leadoff single in the top of the fifth.

“It’ll take a while to get comfortable,” Jeter said. “When was the first game? Two days ago? That was the first time I’ve seen pitching with (the new mechanics). It’s going to take a while to get comfortable. You have more time because there’s no stride. Now you’ve just got to figure out when to swing.”

Figuring out when to swing seems like a pretty basic piece of hitting, but Jeter in eliminating his stride, Jeter has changed his timing at the plate. It’s taking a while to get used to the changes, and Jeter said he still goes to the plate actively thinking about his mechanics, which is a bad thing. But it’s also an unavoidable thing at this point.

Tomorrow, hitting coach Kevin Long will stay behind in Tampa — he won’t make the team’s trip to Bradenton — so he can work one-on-one with Jeter.

“His timing is just a little bit off on the outside pitch,” Long said. “He’s got to wait a little bit longer on those pitches, and the ones in, he’s been a little bit late on. We’ll gain on it and go day by day with it. I’m certainly not, at this point, ready to cash it in and start from scratch with it. It’s going to take a little time.”

When Jeter tried to make this change in September, he still had a little bit of a stride. Now he’s trying to get rid of the stride completely, and that’s left him with more time to wait for pitches. If it’s going to work, it’s going to take repetition and patience. Joe Girardi said this morning that he won’t start truly evaluating Jeter’s swing until “three weeks or so” into spring training.

“You hope that it becomes second nature so you don’t have to think about it,” Jeter said. “The good thing is, my foot hasn’t been moving. That’s a step in the right direction, I guess.”

Here’s Jeter.

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• Russell Martin did more blocking drills this morning and said his knee feels better each day. He’s expected to get one more DH start and catch a game either Thursday or Friday. “A little stiffness when I’m running full out, 100 percent, but nothing else really,” Martin said. “It’s getting better still, even throughout the game today.”

• After taking an A.J. Burnett pitch to the head on Sunday, Greg Golson is expected to workout tomorrow, and he’ll probably get in a game Wednesday.

• Two more hits, including a double for Jorge Vazquez. He’s easily the Grapefruit League MVP through three games. He’s still a long-shot to break camp with the Yankees, but he could certainly make a big impression that keeps him on the radar.

• Mark Prior had a 1-2-3 inning in his first spring appearance, including a strikeout on the splitfinger he’s been working on. “It felt great,” Prior said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I felt good. Got some things I need to work on, but I think all and all, I think it went well.”

• Speaking of 1-2-3 innings, add Manny Banuelos to the list of young Yankees starters who have been outstanding in their spring debuts. “He looked really good,” Girardi said. “Three pitches he threw for strikes. Couple of strikeouts on a couple of curveballs. Ability to get back in the count with his changeup. Throwing hard. I mean, he looked really good.”

• Speaking of young starters who looked good, I talked to Nardi Contreras a little bit about Dellin Betances making such a strong first impression yesterday. To my mild surprise, Contreras seemed even more impressed with Ivan Nova’s outing.

• Rule 5 picks Daniel Turpen and Robert Fish each gave up two runs this afternoon. Contreras said Fish was throwing strikes, it was a matter of location in the zone. He had control, but not command. Turpen was given a blown save, and Fish was given the loss.

• Two-hit day with an RBI for Mark Teixeira. Francisco Cervelli also had two hits. Andruw Jones had the other Yankees RBI.

Associated Press photos of Jeter and Alex Rodriguez

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Tuesday notes: Posada accepting and adjusting02.15.11

Sitting at his familiar locker in the back corner of the Yankees clubhouse, Jorge Posada seemed to be at ease with his new role. He did not appear agitated or frustrated (and Posada has rarely been one to hide his agitation or frustration).

“I think knowing before spring training started that you’re going to be a DH, I think that helped me a little bit,” he said. “That mentality has changed for me a little bit.”

When he got the news this winter, Posada didn’t want to hear it. In the months since, Posada’s feelings seem to have settled. I’m sure there’s still a part of him that wants to catch everything — and thinks he could catch every day — but at 39 years old, Posada recognizes several truths: It’s been three years since he had 400 at-bats, he’s entering the last year of his contract, and the Yankees have plenty of young catchers on the verge.

“I don’t know (what happens after this season),” he said. “A lot has to do with this year. How I feel this year, how I come out after this season. I would like to stay healthy. I think DHing will help me. After the season, see how my body responded the whole year and how I feel after the season and make the decision then. I’m happy with everything that’s gone on.”

Posada has reached out to Edgar Martinez for advice but hasn’t been able to reach him. He said he’ll try to find a routine this summer — Joe Girardi suggested occasional catching drills in the cage during the game — and he’ll pick the brain of any veteran DH the Yankees play against along the way.

As for the physical and mental toll of catching 130-plus games season after season?

“I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” Posada said.

Here’s audio from Posada. That weird sound at the beginning is Posada taping a bat.

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• Assuming he does come back for another season, Posada said he can’t imagine playing for any other team. “I really can’t,” he said. “After the year it will be really tough to look somewhere else. We’ll see. If I want to play, I would like to stay here.”

• Joe Girardi indicated that he’d like to give Posada a few spring games at catcher, but that’s not a sure thing. “I think anyone would like to have reps if the possibility is going to occur during he course of the season,” Girardi said. “We’ll just see how he’s doing and make some judgment calls as we go.” Clearly Girardi wants Posada to get most of his spring at-bats as a DH so he can adjust to the role.

• Speaking of the catcher position, Girardi and Brian Cashman were both encouraged by what they saw out of Jesus Montero in the bullpen today. “I think he sits more comfortable,” Girardi said. “I think his hands work better. He’s in outstanding shape. We’ll see as spring training goes along, we’ll get a chance to see him do everything, but he just looks more comfortable (than last spring).”

• Larry Rothschild spoke quite a bit about A.J. Burnett this afternoon — more on that later — but he also touched on Joba Chamberlain. “Really, for him, it’s getting the ball downhill, creating the angle so it’s not flattening out going up to the plate,” Rothschild said. “I think that will help the slider. Pretty much, I think it’s that simple.”

• Most of the guys who threw bullpens today were around 25 pitches, all fastballs.

• Although the Yankees still want to take things slowly with Russell Martin, Cashman said the Yankees are not really worried about him. There’s just some stiffness in his surgically repaired knee. Nothing major, just enough for the Yankees to move with caution.

• Brett Gardner was in camp today. He said he’s allowed to be here ahead of the other position players because he’s doing rehab work. The wrist, though, feels good. He’s been able to throw and hit with no problems. “I’m ready to roll,” he said. “I feel good, man.”

• By the way, Gardner had a series of trips planned for this winter, but had to cancel all of them because of the wrist injury. I told him I went skiing this winter. Gardner said he went once in high school but won’t go again until he’s finished playing. The reason? He broke his wrist that day.

• Spent a little bit of time talking to Rule 5 pick Robert Fish today. He said this is his first big league camp — he was never in big league camp with the Angels — and he was surprised at just how hard the Yankees worked on Day 1. This was no light day.

• Speaking of the Rule 5 picks, Fish and Daniel Turpen are pretty big guys, but the biggest new guy in camp is easily Andy Sisco. He looks a little bit like Shelley Duncan, but even bigger. If he decided to attack Manny Banuelos, poor Manny would never have a chance.

Associated Press photos of Posada with Francisco Cervelli; Mark Prior crouched after sprints; and Martin going through catching drills

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The good, the bad and the unknown02.13.11

Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in less than 24 hours. The offseason is essentially over, teams have finished their winter maneuvering, but if you dig through baseball, you’ll find that no team is perfect. No organization answered every question and patched every hole. The Phillies aren’t perfect. The Red Sox aren’t perfect. The Yankees aren’t perfect.

I thought it was best to wrap up the Pinch Hitters series with something positive on the day before camp opens, and James did that nicely. The season is not over before pitchers and catchers report.

It says a lot that the Yankees — given their potent lineup and deep bullpen — are seen as such a question mark this season. It’s all because of their rotation, because starters are important enough to make the Phillies a favorite and the Yankees an unknown. I don’t disagree, but pitchers and catchers report tomorrow morning, ad the Yankees are much like every other team in baseball: A mix of good, bad and unknown.

Rotation

Good – CC Sabathia is a legitimate ace, one of the top pitchers in the game in terms of both dominance and durability… Phil Hughes was an all-star in his first full season as a starter, beginning to live up to the considerable potential that’s been touted for a half-decade… After a terrific Triple-A season, Ivan Nova held his own during a big league call-up late last season… When he’s good, A.J. Burnett can be one of the best No. 2 starters in baseball.

Bad — Burnett is coming off the worst season of his career, a season so bad that he was held out of the ALDS rotation, just one year after he was the team’s No. 2 starter… Unable to land Cliff Lee, the Yankees top free agent rotation additions were Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, both at the end of their careers, not at the beginning… Despite the positives, Nova has only seven career starts in the big leagues and last year struggled to work deep into games.

Unknown — Sabathia had offseason surgery on his knee, fixing an injury that impacted him late last season… Several young starters from the minor league system could make a run at a rotation spot this spring, and could be counted on to fill holes during the regular season… Colon has not pitched in the big leagues since 2009 but impressed the Yankees in winter ball… Hughes is still working to refine a changeup that could be key to building consistency… Are the Yankees top minor league starters ready for the next step?

Lineup

Good — The Yankees are returning almost everyone from a lineup that scored the most runs in baseball last year. They could have scored 100 fewer runs and still been in the top third… Robinson Cano has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, one of the best all-around hitters in baseball… Nick Swisher made legitimate strides last season to improve his batting average and increase his production. Brett Gardner also took a significant step forward… At the designated hitter position, the Yankees have replaced Nick Johnson with Jorge Posada.

Bad – Derek Jeter is coming off the worse season of his career, and at 36 years old, there’s reason to wonder if that drop in production is a sign of things to come… Curtis Granderson made strides in the second half, but his overall numbers were not what was expected in his first season with the Yankees… Russell Martin hit .249/.350/.330 the last two seasons.

Unknown – Alex Rodriguez was healthy this winter. That might be enough to put him back among the super elite hitters in baseball… Similar bounce-back questions surround Jeter, Granderson, Posada, Martin and Mark Teixeira. The Yankees will especially count on Teixiera to return to his pre-2010 form… Top prospect Jesus Montero could hit his way into the big league picture sooner rather than later… Is Gardner’s wrist 100 percent healthy?

Bullpen

Good – The Yankees top offseason addition was Rafael Soriano, who led the American League in saves last year and will slide into a setup role… The Yankees also added Pedro Feliciano this winter, giving them a consistent, veteran left-handed specialist… Mariano Rivera remains one of the best closers in baseball… Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan were terrific down the stretch last season.

Bad – The Yankees have plenty of dominant one-inning relievers, but carrying all of them will mean room for only one long reliever. It could be difficult to fill the void if back-to-back starters make early exits… Rivera is 41 years old. Feliciano is 34 and has carried a heavy load the past three seasons… The Yankees top minor league relief depth — the guys who previous bounced back and forth from Triple-A — is gone, most notably Jonathan Albaladejo and Mark Melancon.

Unknown – Chamberlain and Robertson seem on the verge of being reliable setup men, but last year the Yankees felt compelled to trade for Kerry Wood, and this year they felt compelled to sign Soriano. It’s uncertain if/when they’ll be trusted to take the next step… Logan was a revelation last season, but he doesn’t have a Major League track record… The best long relief candidate might be needed in the rotation… Borderline bullpen candidates Romulo Sanchez, Daniel Turpen and Robert Fish are either out of options or Rule 5 picks who can’t be sent to the minor leagues.

Bench

Good — Despite concerns about his ability to hit at the Major League level, Francisco Cervelli is a career .274/.343/.340 hitter in New York, more than acceptable for a backup catcher… Fourth outfielder Andruw Jones slugged .486 last season, giving the Yankees a replacement for Marcus Thames, but with a better glove… At the very least, the Yankees know Ramiro Pena is a reliable defensive option in the infield.

Bad – Cervelli’s overall numbers are good, but he’s been prone to extended periods without offensive production… Jones is no longer an elite defensive player, and he hit .212 the past four seasons… Pena hit .227/.258/.247 last season… Aside from Jones, the Yankees have no reliable, proven offensive options for the bench.

Unknown – The Yankees could replace Pena with Eduardo Nunez, but Nunez has just 50 at-bats of Major League experience… Veterans Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard were signed to minor league contracts and will try to prove themselves this spring… The Yankees bench could play a significant role if the Yankees feel the need to give Rodriguez and Jeter regular days off… How long will the Yankees wait before giving Jesus Montero or Austin Romine a spot on the roster?

Associated Press photos of Sabathia, Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Cervelli

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 306 Comments →

Getting a closer look at two Rule 5 picks01.06.11

For the Yankees, spring training actually provides a unique opportunity to evaluate talent. It doesn’t mean much for the veterans who have been there and done that, but for Rule 5 picks and borderline minor leaguers, there is legitimate pressure to perform. It’s a different sort of pressure than they face in Scranton or Trenton.

“It’s as close to the regular season in New York as you can simulate,” pro scouting director Billy Eppler said. “They’re going to demonstrate anything they can do. They aren’t going to hold anything back. It can be a situation where you’re getting to see these guys in a little bit more adverse setting than what is typically out there.”

The results are not necessarily what the Yankees are trying to evaluate. They’re looking for how a player attacks and how he reacts. “We’re looking more for approach and process,” Eppler said.

I asked Eppler to give me a brief scouting report on each of the two Yankees Rule 5 picks. In each case, the Yankees saw talent in the minor leagues and thought they take a look under the microscope of big league camp.

Robert Fish
The Yankees had more than one scout who was impressed by Fish. “From the left-handed aspect there could be some value there,” Eppler said. “And we wanted to get a closer look.”

Fastball: 89-94 mph, averaging 91 to 92. Can miss bats.
Curveball: Has “feel” for the breaking ball. Curve has good downward tilt and size.
Change: Slight fade action.

Needs to improve strike throwing ability, but the Yankees like that he has the ability to miss bats and get strikeouts. They especially like those things from the left side. Eppler didn’t mention this, but obviously the Yankees have their top two left-handed options. They’ve also loaded up on lefties signed to minor league deals. Like any Rule 5 pick, Fish must be considered a long shot, but the Yankees believe there’s talent there.

Daniel Turpen
This one is more about grabbing an arm that has talent and finding out how it plays. Unlike Fish, Turpen has spent all of his career pitching out of the bullpen, having done it at Oregon State and throughout the minor leagues.

Fastball: 88-94 mph, averaging 92. Good sink that generates ground balls.
Slider: His breaking ball can be a strikeout pitch. Delivery plays a role.
Changeup: Turpen has thrown a changeup in the past, but the Yankees didn’t see one in 2010.

Turpen throws strikes, and he comes with a low 3/4 arm slot that adds deception. Just like Fish, the Yankees scouting reports described Turpen as having a “large, burly build.” He’s a big guy throwing with some velocity and sink from the right side. As it stands, the Yankees seem to have six of seven bullpen spots accounted for. Turpen could find his way into the mix kind of like Jonathan Albaladejo did when he broke camp in 2008 and 2009.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 231 Comments →

State of the Yankees bullpen12.17.10

With Pedro Feliciano on his way across town from the Mets, and Mariano Rivera officially re-signed as the closer, the Yankees bullpen has most of its pieces in place. It could still use an arm or two to solidify the late innings, and maybe another option for long relief, but most of the work has been done.

Yankees Feliciano BaseballLocked in place
Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson, Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre
Even though he’s currently their best option as a No. 5 starter, I’ll include Mitre on this list because it’s hard to imagine the Yankees not adding some sort of starter between now and spring training. He’s also their best option for long relief, with most of the alternatives — Alfredo Aceves, Dustin Moseley, Chad Gaudin — no longer on the roster.

Big leagues or bust
Robert Fish, Daniel Turpen, Romulo Sanchez
These three are on the 40-man roster, and they can’t be sent to the minor leagues. Fish and Turpen are the two Rule 5 picks, and they have to be passed through waivers and offered back to their former team before the Yankees can send them down. Fish, the lefty, seems to have a better shot than Turpen, but even he’s considerable long shot. Sanchez is out of options — confirmed by the Yankees — and could be a legitimate dark horse as a hard throwing reliever capable of pitching multiple innings.

On a minor league deal
Mark Prior, Neal Cotts, Brian Anderson, Andy Sisco, Buddy Carlyle
All of these are long shots, obviously, but I get the sense that Cotts intrigues the Yankees a guy who could come up to play a role if Logan or Feliciano is hurt during the year. I’m guessing we’ll see a few more minor league signings in the next two months, especially a Dustin Moseley/Jason Hirsh type who could start in Triple-A and pitch long relief in New York.

Prospects looking to open eyes
Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, Ryan Pope, Steve Garrison
I only listed the other minor league guys who are on the 40-man roster, but I’m sure others — David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, etc. — will also be invited to camp. That said, I don’t think the Yankees are eager to move any of their young starters into the bullpen to start the season, and relievers like Pope and Garrison still need Triple-A experience. Probably not legitimate options out of spring training.

Associated Press photo of Feliciano

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 139 Comments →

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