The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


The spring’s unexpected stat03.09.12

Russell Martin has played in four games this spring. He has a stolen base in three of them. He’s the Yankees stolen base leader by a landslide. Martin has three. The rest of the team has one (Chris Dickerson).

“Because I’m fast,” Martin said, allowing himself a little bit of a laugh.

Don’t get me wrong, Martin has pretty good speed for a catcher. He’s stolen 74 bases in his career, and once stole 21 in a season, but he hasn’t stolen more than 11 in any of the past three years. He as 43 steals since 2008. For comparison, Brett Gardner had 49 last year alone.

So why is it Martin who seems to be doing all the running this spring? Part of it is that he simply feels like it. He had surgery last winter and couldn’t workout his legs. This winter, he got his legs stronger and lost a little bit of weight.

“My legs feel good,” he said. “I have more power in my legs because I trained them this offseason, and I’m lighter. I’m not a blazer, but I pick my spots. I’m not Gardy or anything like that, but normally if a guy is above a 1.4, 1.45 (to the plate), I’ve got a shot. If he’s under that, I don’t even think about going.”

Associated Press photo

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Wednesday notes: No change for a change03.07.12

Finally, a pitcher who’s not working on a changeup.

Hiroki Kuroda throws fastballs and cutters, curveballs and sliders, but he doesn’t throw a change. And the Yankees don’t want him to. Kuroda’s out pitch is a splitfinger, which some pitchers use much the same way as a changeup.

“He doesn’t necessarily need to throw one because of that,” Joe Girardi said. “… His split is different from what some of our other guys have. I know he’ll throw his share of cutters as well. He starts with the location of his fastball, but I really like the split. I think if you look at the couple of strikeouts today, they were both very good splits. That’s a different look.”

Freddy Garcia has been effective with a splitfinger, but it’s not an especially common pitch these days. It’s been effective for Kuroda, and Russell Martin — who caught Kuroda in Los Angeles — has been talking about the effectiveness of that pitch since camp opened. Kuroda said he was happy with it today, and happy that he was able to mix all of his pitches in his first spring outing.

“Usually it takes the full spring training before everything is to the level I need it to be in the regular season,” he said. “… The most important thing that I wanted to accomplish was a feeling for the real game, and I think I was able to do that, so I’m happy.”

• On a day the team was visited by a pregame motivational speaker, the Yankees were held to four hits in a 4-0 loss. Nick Swisher and Jose Gil doubled in the loss. Russell Martin and Dewayne Wise singled.

• Before today’s game, Rafael Soriano told the coaching staff that he felt ready to pitch in a game. In the past, Soriano has been opposed to pitching against division opponents in spring training. “For whatever reason he wanted to pitch today, so I didn’t ask any questions,” Girardi said. “I think it’s good for him to get out there, and I was pleased with what I saw.”

• Soriano struck out two batters in a scoreless inning. Boone Logan also had two strikeouts in an inning, and Cory Wade threw a scoreless frame with one hit and no strikeouts.

• Martin is the Yankees early spring leader in stolen bases. He’s swiped two bags. Chris Dickerson is the only other Yankees player with one.

• Derek Jeter bobbled a ground ball for his first spring training error. Jayson Nix threw a ball away for his second. … Colin Curtis had an outfield assist, throwing to Nick Swisher who relayed to third base for an out that ended the sixth inning. … Clay Rapada pitched a scoreless eighth inning and stayed in to face a lefty to open the ninth. He struck out the lefty before giving way to Kevin Whelan for the final two outs. Rapada is trying to make the team as a left-handed specialist.

• Eduardo Nunez hit with a tee and soft toss today, and he’ll take light batting practice tomorrow, but he’s still not ready to get in a game and won’t play tomorrow. Nunez said his bruised right hand is still “a little bit” sore, but he’s been able to do full fielding drills with no problem. Today he was working out at third base, making the throw across the diamond from foul territory.

• Mark Teixeira had a regularly scheduled day off. His thumb — which he jammed making a tag yesterday — is fine.

• According to Baseball America, the Yankees have signed a Cuban lefty Rigoberto Arrebato to a minor league deal and released minor league first baseman Jamie Mallard. Mallard was signed in the middle of last season and never actually played in an official game.

• Girardi on Yogi Berra’s arrival in camp: “I felt like camp started today. Yogi’s here. It’s great to see… Just kind of puts a smile on everybody’s face. Things pick up around here a little bit. Really good to see.”

• It was announced today that the Yankees Triple-A affiliate officially will be called the Empire State Yankees this season. There’s even a slightly modified logo. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre stadium is being rebuilt, forcing the team to play all of it’s games on the road, including multiple “home” games in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Batavia. The team is expected to return to its home stadium — and it’s original name — next year.

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “That’s just how A.J. is”10.05.11

It took A.J. Burnett exactly six pitches to walk his first batter tonight. Larry Rothschild went to the mound after five hitters, Cory Wade was throwing in the bullpen before the third out, and the only thing that let Burnett escape the first inning was a leaping, falling catch by Curtis Granderson.

That was the beginning of Burnett’s biggest start of the year, a game that saved the Yankees season and salvaged some of Burnett’s.

“That’s A.J.,” Russell Martin said. “He wasn’t that erratic. That’s just how A.J. is, really. I didn’t have to say anything to him. I gave him a little neck message, and he went back to work … Gave him a little rubdown, sort of like a boxer in his corner.”

It was occasionally a high-wire act, but like Martin said, that’s A.J. He walked four and gave up four hits, but he also gave the Yankees 5.2 innings on a night they gladly would have accepted four. After Wade got loose in the first inning, the Yankees didn’t have to use a reliever until the sixth.

“A lot of times, for starters, that first inning is the toughest inning to get through, and you kind of get your feet wet,” Joe Girardi said. ” He hadn’t started a game in a while, in about eight or nine days. But he got through it, and then he pitched really well.

“… I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year. I’ve said all along, the Tigers swing the bat. To be able to shut them down, he gave up the one solo homer and gave up a double and proceeded to get out of that inning. We were all excited for him and very proud of what he did.”

For Burnett it was redemption. No one rips A.J. Burnett quite like A.J. Burnett, and even tonight he was a little bit hard on himself — said he should have pitched deeper, gave the defense a ton of credit — but he also stuck with his mantra of staying positive.

“Maybe it took me 25 to 30 (pitches) to get loose,” he said. “Maybe. I don’t know. I was just letting it go, and if it didn’t go for a strike, it didn’t go. I wasn’t worried about it. I got the ball and was able to do it again. I was able to find somewhat of a rhythm after that. It was a little nerve-racking in the first. I hadn’t been out there in a while.”

The Yankees didn’t plan to have him out there this time, but Friday’s rain forced their hand, and Burnett forced a winner-take-all Game 5. It started out nearly as bad as the Yankees could have imagined, but on night of redemption and second chances, Burnett got it going and kept the Yankees alive.

“I knew I was overthrowing, but I wasn’t going to think about it,” he said. “When you think about it, that’s when it goes more south… I wasn’t going to let little things bother me. I didn’t care if I walked eight, whatever. How many hits, how many homers you give up, I was just going to get the ball back and let it fly. I took that approach tonight, and it worked.”

Here’s Burnett.

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Here’s Girardi.

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• Burnett said it more than once, and it was true every time: “We don’t win tonight without defense.” A double play, Derek Jeter snagging a line drive, a few nice plays by Alex Rodriguez and — of course — Curtis Granderson’s pair of run-saving catches in center field.

• Granderson said it was his second catch, the Superman dive into left-center, that was the more difficult of the two. “Because of the distance I had to go,” he said. “The first one, I didn’t have to move too far, but I did have to freeze on it. It does make that play very difficult. Once you end up on your heals, now it’s hard to go ahead and generate some speed. For the second on, to have to go as far as I did and then to have to leave my feet like that, the good thing I thought if I do miss that one, Gardner is there. For the first one, if I miss that one, there’s nothing there but the wall back there and some ivy.”

• No surprise, but Girardi committed to Ivan Nova absolutely getting the start on Thursday.

• Girardi also said CC Sabathia will be in the bullpen on Thursday. “I plan on him being available to us,” Girardi said.

• With Cory Wade up in the first inning, Girardi said he was fully prepared to make a move that early. “I can’t tell you that I was going to take him out, I can’t tell you I was going to leave him in,” Girardi said. “But I had the guy up in case that first inning got away from us a little bit.”

• Girardi wasn’t sure what he would have done if there were another base runner after Jhonny Peralta’s double in the fourth inning. “Very possible I make a change there, yes,” Girardi said. Burnett struck out the next two batters and stayed in the game.

• How wild was that first inning? Girardi said he thought it was Wade he had getting loose, but he wasn’t sure. After all that happened tonight, he was perfectly willing to believe it was Phil Hughes.

• Speaking of Hughes, he finally got in a game with a scoreless eighth inning. Jesus Montero also saw his first division series action with two hits, including a pinch-hit RBI single in his first career postseason at-bat.

• Alex Rodriguez got his first two hits of the division series. They both came in that six-run eighth when struggling Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher also had hits. “I said our guys are having decent at-bats,” Girardi said. “They have a pretty good pitching staff here. There was a lot of talk about it. I talked about Adrian Beltre today. It doesn’t take much for a guy to be a huge impact. I thought Al had a huge RBI after getting down 0-2 in the count, I thought that was a big RBI.”

• Jeter on his two-run double that put the Yankees on the board: “I actually thought he caught it. After seeing the replay, the ball bounced right back up to him, and he bare-handed it. From my vantage point, all I saw was his back. That’s why I stopped at second. I thought he had caught it and that was double play. Austin has run down a few of my fly balls over the years. But fortunately for us, that one fell in.”

• Two more hits for Brett Gardner who’s having a nice series. His batting average is up to .385 in these first four games.

• We’ll give the Captain the final word tonight: “We enjoy playing at home,” Jeter said. “If you are going to win a championship, you have to play well at home, you have to play well on the road. We were fortunate to get a split here and bring it back to New York on Thursday. I’m pretty sure our fans will be vocal, excited and so will the Tigers. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Hopefully we can win one more game.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “I’m sure there will be some adrenaline”10.03.11

After he took heat last night for using Luis Ayala in the ninth inning of a three-run game, Joe Girardi was asked today whether he thought about skipping CC Sabathia tonight and pushing his ace to Tuesday’s Game 4. In theory, the strategy would have conceded that tonight’s game is a tough one to win, and Sabathia would help the Yankees chances in a potential must-win Game 4.

Girardi’s response had more to do with Game 5.

“We felt he was ready to pitch, and if he’s ready to pitch, we’re going to use him,” Girardi said. “The other thing is, you figure you can use him in the bullpen maybe if you need him (in Game 5) if he feels OK on Thursday. And it lines up for next series. I just felt that he was ready, and I was going with him.”

So we have the much-anticipated matchup that was supposed to shape this series in the opener, and will instead determine which team faces elimination tomorrow.

“I probably feel the same way the Yankees felt when they had CC on the mound for the opening game in front of that crowd in New York,” Jim Leyland said. “It’s a great match-up. It’s one that everybody was anxiously awaiting in Game 1. It didn’t turn out. You always worry about the hype and all the stuff that goes on and postseason is pretty draining really, to be honest with you… I’m sure there will be some adrenaline flowing.”

Girardi admitted that, had he known it was going to rain in the second inning, he never would have sent Sabathia to the mound in Game 1. He would have saved his ace for Game 2, or for multiple innings after a rain delay.

“Probably not, no,” Girardi said. “They told us there might be some light rain, and that’s what they expected. Obviously that changed dramatically.”

This series has changed, and tonight’s the biggest game yet.

Here’s Girardi.

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• Girardi once again committed to Alex Rodriguez in the cleanup spot, despite the fact he’s hitless in the first two games and hasn’t done much since returning from knee and thumb injuries. “I don’t make too much of yesterday,” Girardi said. “I know everything gets magnified when you have a zero in front of your name, people are going to talk about it, but I thought he had good at-bats the first game. The second game, their starter shut us down.”

• Was Girardi surprised to hear the Yankee Stadium boos for Rodriguez yesterday? “I’m not surprised because I think our fans want us to win so badly,” Girardi said. “I think they always expect big things from Alex. With his name and the things that he’s accomplished, there’s high expectations.”

• Russell Martin his fine after last night’s hit by pitch. “No complaints from him,” Girardi said.

• No matter what happens tonight, the Yankees are 100 percent committed to A.J. Burnett starting tomorrow’s game. That’s going to happen whether it’s a potential clincher or a potential elimination. “Who would I go to, Mo?” Girardi said.

• Brett Gardner didn’t finish the season especially strong, but Girardi said that had no impact on his decision to pinch hit Eric Chavez last night. “I was just taking a chance with Chavez,” Girardi said. “What he’s done with runners in scoring position for us this year has been really, really good, and you’ve got a short right field fence that he’s more than capable of hitting is over. I took a shot.”

• Girardi was also once again defending the decision to pitch Luis Ayala last night. “If I used Soriano or Robertson, they would say why did you use him?” Girardi said. “That’s the nature of this. You calculate what’s going to happen. You’re not always going to be right, you don’t have a crystal ball, but being down there runs, I can go with these guys earlier and for longer today and tomorrow.”

• As for the decision to have Freddy Garcia pitch to Miguel Cabrera in the sixth: “He had struck him out the time before and he had struck out Martinez twice and gotten Avila once or twice,” Girardi said. “There is no great matchup for Miguel Cabrera; it’s not like you bring in anyone and it’s a guarantee. That’s how good this guy is. I took a shot with him.”

• Leyland on his decision to go with a different lineup than he had for Game 1. “To be honest with you, neither Jhonny or Raburn have hit CC at all,” he said.

• No one seemed especially wrapped up in Jose Valverde’s comments after last night’s game that the division series would be won by the Tigers before it came back to New York. “It might excite a few (players),” Girardi said. “But the one thing I said is you can’t let your emotions take you out of your game.”

• Leyland compared Valverde’s comments to the pregame videos shown at Yankee Stadium. “He admitted it was tongue in cheek when he said it,” Leyland said. “Second of all, I didn’t take offense to the video at Yankee Stadium when they were talking about the World Series, like we were the junior varsity and they were getting ready for the World Series. I didn’t take offense to that at all. In fact, I thought it was great. That’s what they should be talking about. I don’t really think that.”

Associated Press photo

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Postgame notes: “We always thought Game 3 was the biggest”10.02.11

Literally and figuratively, the storm clouds were gathering at Yankee Stadium this afternoon.

The Tigers had a four-run lead before the Yankees had a hit, then the rain started falling, Alex Avila slipped in foul territory, the tying run reached base and Robinson Cano came to the plate. This one had the potential for a wild walk-off that would give the Yankees a flood of momentum heading into Detroit. Instead, Cano hit a ground ball to second, and the Tigers claimed home field advantage heading into tomorrow’s delayed showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.

“Tomorrow is big,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Going back to when I first got here, we always thought that Game 3 was the biggest. It’s almost like hitting; the 0-0 pitch is the most important, then the 1-1 pitch becomes the most important. Same goes for a series. There’s no need to get caught up in emotions. Whoever plays better, whoever executes fundamentals, is going to win the series. “

The Yankees seemed to have a favorable matchup against Max Scherzer, but aside from walks and a hit batter, Scherzer didn’t allow many scoring opportunities. The Yankees didn’t have a hit until the sixth, and they didn’t score until Curtis Granderson’s home run in the eighth.

Good things started happening for the Yankees in the ninth — Nick Swisher’s home run, Jorge Posada’s first postseason triple, Avila slipping and missing a potential game-ending popup — but this was never a game that felt good for the Yankees. They weren’t hitting, and the Tigers were perpetually doing just enough.

“You think that something is going to happen good for us (in the ninth),” Derek Jeter said. “But with Valverde, it’s hard enough to score a run off him, let alone four. But I thought we had some good at-bats. We battled there at the end, but we just fell short. For a moment there, you think we might catch a break.”

The Yankees did not catch a break. They didn’t create a break for themselves in the first eight innings, and they couldn’t do quite enough in that wet and rainy ninth. Sabathia vs. Verlander was the marquee matchup when this series began, and it’s the marquee matchup now that the series is tied at a game apiece.

“It’s huge,” Mark Teixeira said. “Tomorrow’s a really big game. You don’t want to go down 2-1 with them having a chance to close it out in their home park. It’s a big game for us.”

Here’s Jeter.

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Two curious decisions by Joe Girardi tonight, each of which will surely lead to plenty of second guessing. As always, Girardi had reason behind his choices, but they didn’t workout. The question will be whether you agree with the logic.

With two on and one out in the seventh, Girardi sent left-handed Eric Chavez to pinch hit for left-handed Brett Gardner. He was hoping for a three-run home run. It’s worth noting that Gardner had lined out sharply in his previous at-bat, and that Chavez hit just two home runs tonight. It’s also worth noting that Scherzer has a tendency to give up a lot of home run.

“Gardner is fine,” Girardi said. “Just hoping (Chavez) might pop one… When you’re losing the game 4-0, you’re looking for a three-run homer is what you’re looking for, so no, it’s not a hard move.”

With the Yankees down by three runs in the ninth, Girardi elected to use Luis Ayala — essentially the last man in the bullpen — instead of going to either Dave Robertson or Rafael Soriano.

“We still have two more games in a row,” Girardi said. “And we’re down three. If we got it down to two, we were going to maek a change. Being down there runs and you know what Valverde has done all year long, we decided to go to Ayala.”

Chavez struck out in the seventh. Ayala allowed a run in the ninth.

Here’s Girardi.

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• Jim Leyland said a lot about the production of the Yankees third and fourth hitters tonight when he admitted that the Tigers seriously considered pitching around Cano in the ninth inning to load the bases for Alex Rodriguez. “I thought about it,” Leyland said. “But that other guy has been known for the dramatics, and I figured it’s wet, it’s slippery, one gets away, one run is in. Something like that would happen, a groundball, a ball slips. I just couldn’t do it. He hit a ball in the infield, you get him over there, and somebody throws it away, the game is tied. It did cross my mind.”

• Rodriguez has struggled since returning to the lineup, but Girardi said he has no plans of taking Rodriguez out of the cleanup spot. “I thought he swung the bat pretty good yesterday,” Girardi said. “Today they made some tough pitches on him. I don’t have any plans in changing my lineup. It’s only two games. I’m not going to make too much of two games.”

• Most of the damage against Freddy Garcia was done by Miguel Cabrera, but Garcia was happy with his approach and his pitches to the Tigers’ best hitter. “First inning, I think that was a good pitch down and away,” Garcia said. “He made good contact. After that, I shut it down waiting for us to start hitting. It never happened, but that’s part of the game.”

• Garcia said the sixth-inning pitch that Cabrera looped into center field for an RBI single was a split. “I was trying to make a great pitch and I did,” Garcia said. “But great hitters do that.”

• Although he allowed three hits in the sixth, Garcia said he wasn’t tired. “I’ve got like 70 pitches,” he said. “I was really good. I finished strong. Base hit here, base hit there. It’s part of the game.”

• Russell Martin is fine. The pitch that hit him got part of the bat and a little bit of the bottom of his left hand. “A little bit of acting there, but it did get me,” Martin said.

• Boone Logan’s balk didn’t matter — he struck out the next two batters — but he was embarrassed by it. Mid-delivery, Logan heard someone shout behind him and thought timeout had been called. The result was a sudden halt in his motion. “It was probably the worst balk in the history of baseball,” Logan said.

• Jeter on his costly error in the sixth: “I had no problem catching it, I just threw it low. With Austin (Jackson) running, you really don’t have much time.”

• Chavez on his approach pinch hitting for Gardner: “That’s not really my thought process to hit a home run there. I’m just trying to put the barrel on the ball and have the same approach every at-bat. I don’t think I go up there trying to do one thing or the other other than put a good swing on the ball.”

• Jeter said he thought, once Posada got between first and second in the ninth inning, that there was no way Posada was stopping until he got to third. “I don’t know about that,” Posada said. “I can’t get thrown out there. My run doesn’t mean anything.”

• It was the first postseason triple of Posada’s career.

• You don’t see Jeter arguing with a home plate umpire too often, but Jeter had a lengthy conversation after striking out looking in the seventh. He said he thought the ball was outside. “I was just asking him if he knew the weather forecast for the rest of the game,” Jeter joked.

• Everyone in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to mention Scherzer’s changeup, which doesn’t seem to a pitch you hear about very often with him. “He was really good, best I’ve ever seen him,” Teixeira said. “Great fastball, his changeup was really, really good. The numbers don’t lie, he dominated us.”

•• Posada gave an honest evaluation of Pettitte’s first pitch, calling it low and away. “I think it was a ball,” Posada said, laughing.

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “You worry about today’s game today”10.01.11

Freddy Garcia will start tomorrow’s rescheduled Game 2, and it sounds like there was never much chance of CC Sabathia getting the ball. In fact, Joe Girardi hasn’t committed to Sabathia pitching on Monday. It’s still possible, he said, the he’ll wait until Tuesday to pitch his ace again.

“You’re asking a guy to pitch on Sunday and Thursday, and he threw on Friday,” Girardi said. “To me, it’s too much… You don’t want to send a guy out there if he’s not physically as good as he can be. I’m not saying that any starting pitcher is going to be 100 percent, but if you have a couple games that you can choose from and he can be 95 percent one day and 80 percent the other day, I’m going to take him at the 95 percent.”

Right now, Girardi expects Sabathia to be his Monday starter, but he won’t set that in stone until Sabathia checks in Sunday and confirms that he feels strong enough to pitch the next day.

As for Tuesday’s Game 4, it’s obvious that A.J. Burnett is the leading candidate to start for the Yankees, but Girardi said he hasn’t discussed it with Burnett. For now, Burnett is available as a long man, and if the Yankees get into a crazy situation tonight, Burnett will be available to pitch multiple innings.

“I think you worry about today’s game today,” Girardi said. “You worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow. That’s what you do.”

How much has this series changed now that Sabathia and Justin Verlander are, essentially, pitching only once.

“It can potentially change a lot, but I don’t think we’re ever going to know,” Girardi said. “That’s for people to sit around and talk about. You’ve got two aces going, a 1-1 game, and now they’re conceivably only going to pitch once each. It changes the complexion of it, but none of us really know if it would have changed the outcome.”

Here’s Girardi’s press conference.

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• Girardi quickly dismissed any notion that Alex Rodriguez might be bothered by playing four games in a row. He said the fact Rodriguez sat out the regular-season finale is a non-issue. “If it wasn’t New York and it wasn’t Alex this wouldn’t have been such a big deal that a guy was a little cranky,” Girardi said. “He played on turf a couple of days. I think you probably could have askd about 10 of our players in Tampa on Wednesday if any of their knees were a little cranky from playing on the turf and you probably would have gotten about seven yeses. Because it’s Alex, it’s a big deal.”

• Rodriguez actually did early work in the field yesterday and today. When I got to the park this afternoon he was taking grounders at third.

• Same thing for Russell Martin. Even with four days in a row and a day game after a night game, Martin is still expected to start every game behind the plate. “He’s ready to go,” Girardi said.

• The closest Girardi would come to confirming Burnett as his fourth starter was to say he’s a “great candidate” to start that game. “He’s pitched well against this team this year,” Girardi said.

• If not Burnett, Phil Hughes is the obvious alternative. “He’s an option,” Girardi said. “He’s not really stretched out over the last two weeks, but I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen in the next couple games with the rain in the forecast. ”

• Girardi said he never put a real plan together because he was quickly convinced last night’s game was not going to continue, but he probably would have used Burnett had the game resumed after the rain delay. “That’s probably what I would have done,” Girardi said. “I didn’t even think about that, because when I came in, I looked at the radar and it didn’t look too good. I heard TBS say there was a window and I was wondering where that window was.”

• Girardi said it’s not up to him, but his hope is that MLB will postpone the start of tonight’s game if there’s rain in the forecast for the first few innings. He’d rather not burn out a starting pitcher in another delay.

• The Tigers have not changed anything about their lineup. They’d have to lose a player to do so, so they’re going with their vLHP lineup against the right-handed Ivan Nova.

• Andy Pettitte is here, but there’s no ceremonial first pitch tonight, so the thinking seems to be that he could be throwing out the first pitch tomorrow. Could the Yankees have Mariano Rivera throw to Jorge Posada before Game 1, then have Pettitte throw to Derek Jeter before Game 2?

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: Bartolo’s last stand?09.27.11

There’s a chance Bartolo Colon has thrown his last pitch in pinstripes.

In a spring training clubhouse that had quite a few unknowns, Colon was perhaps the greatest wild card. For a while, he was the Yankees most unexpected surprise.

“In spring training he was phenomenal,” catcher Russell Martin said. “In his bullpens — he’s always been known as a strike thrower — but his command was unbelievable. He doesn’t have the best offspeed in the world, but when his sinker’s working really well, it doesn’t really matter.

“… He did a great job for us, especially early in the season when he really had control of the sinker. He was pretty much untouchable for a while there. As we went along, he kind of wasn’t as consistent as the year went along, but he still kept us in a lot of games. I definitely take my cap off to that guy. He did a great job for us this year.”

Joe Girardi wouldn’t commit to any sort of role for Colon in the postseason. He said he’s still considering Colon for a spot in the rotation, and it’s possible the Yankees will carry him in the bullpen. Girardi also acknowledged that Colon’s velocity was once again lower than the Yankees saw in the first half, and he hasn’t won a game since July 30. He’ll finish the season with a 4.00 ERA.

“Bart was great for us this year,” Girardi said. “He picked us up at a time where we were struggling and weren’t sure what we were going to do with our starters. Bart was big for us.”

That’s hard to argue. In the first half, when Phil Hughes was on the disabled list and Ivan Nova had yet to emerge as a reliable big league starter, Colon was the Yankees second-best starter. He gave the Yankees more than they could have expected. Question is whether he will give them any more.

Here’s Girardi.

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• The first of two big blows against the Yankees came in the sixth inning, when Martin grounded into a triple play with the bases loaded. “I just hit it in the wrong spot,” Martin said. “It was the pitch I was looking for, I kind of had an idea he was going to start me with the changeup. It was really a good pitch to hit. It was changeup middle. I just got out in front and rolled over, and really just hit it in the wrong spot. He made a nice play, though.”

• The triple play was the third in Rays history. It was the first the Yankees hit into since 2000. They’ve hit into 25 in franchise history. “As soon as I hit it, I just put my head down,” Martin said. “I knew what was happening… I was trying to get down the line as fast as I could, and just not fast enough. It sucked.”

• The second big blow against the Yankees came in the seventh, when Rafael Soriano gave up the game-winning, three-run home run to Matt Joyce. “It was the walks that killed him tonight,” Girardi said. “If you’re going to have it happen, get it out of the way tonight. He’s been so good for us, I don’t make much of it. Robby comes in and throws well, Mo comes in and throws well, so we move on.”

• Girardi said he’ll try to get Boone Logan and Luis Ayala some work tomorrow night (which seemed to suggest Ayala has a spot on the postseason roster). “I feel good about our bullpen,” Girardi said.

• The Yankees still have not chosen a starter for tomorrow’s game. “I can’t start A.J., I can’t start Freddy, I can’t start Bart, I can’t start CC,” Girardi said. “We’re going to talk about it. That’s all we can do and well figure it out. I will have a starter by 7:10.”

• Alex Rodriguez was pulled from the game strictly to let him rest. He’s not hurt.

• Girardi said he’s still planning to have his regulars — including Rodriguez — in the lineup tomorrow. He’s not sure how long they’ll play.

• Girardi on the Rays decision to intentionally walk Robinson Cano to face Rodriguez with two on in the third inning: “Robbie’s swinging a great bat. We’re just trying to make it as difficult on teams as possible. When you’re swinging that great, they’re going to do that.”

• Johnny Damon passed Lou Gehrig for 57th place on baseball’s all-time hits list with 2,722. He’s two shy of tying Roberto Alomar for 56th.

• Colon is the first Yankees pitcher to go winless in 10 or more consecutive starts since Ian Kennedy from Sept. 7, 2007 to Aug. 8, 2008. So, obviously Colon will be in the Cy Young mix in the National League in three years.

• The last Yankees starter to go at least 10 starts without a win in a single season was Dvaid Cone in 2000. Cone with 15 straight.

• The Joyce home run was the first Soriano had allowed on the road this season.

• Martin has 18 homers in 417 at-bats this season. He had 12 homers in 836 at-bats from 2009 through 2010. Tonight he hit his first home run since going deep twice on August 25.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 211 Comments →

Postgame notes: “I think he just didn’t like it”09.27.11

The Yankees lost tonight, but the mood in the clubhouse was beyond loose. Things were normal for a while — quiet, like after most losses — then the rookies started getting to their lockers and finding costumes.

Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances are towering versions of Milli Vanilli. George Kontos is George Michael. Jesus Montero is MC Hammer. Brandon Laird is Slash, complete with a guitar and black vest. Austin Romine is Madonna, but he had such trouble figuring out the dress that he improvised parts of it. At one point he was tying something that didn’t seem like it was supposed to be tied.

The Yankees are sending an official photo later tonight.

The story that had people laughing even before the costumes came from Russell Martin, who actually went into detail about his ejection in the fifth inning. He’d just gone to the mound to calm down Phil Hughes, who was upset about some borderline pitches, and when he got to the plate, Martin started talking to home plate umpire Paul Schrieber. Here’s Martin’s version of conversation.

Martin: “Did you stretch before the game?”
Schrieber: “What?” (said while walking in front of Martin)
Martin: “Did you stretch before the game?”
Schrieber: (gave Martin a puzzled look)
Martin: “I feel like you’re kinda tight right now.”

“I didn’t say it in a way that was condescending,” Martin said. “I was trying to loosen things up a little bit because I felt like he wasn’t really having a good time, and so he threw me out. I didn’t say he sucked. I didn’t say he was the worst umpire in the league. I didn’t say any of that stuff. I just made a joke and he then threw me out, no warning, nothing. Gone.”

Someone suggested that perhaps Schrieber didn’t get the joke.

“I think he got it,” Martin said. “I think he just didn’t like it.”

Here’s Martin telling the story. It’s honestly hilarious.

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• Obviously Girardi didn’t go to his top relievers tonight. He said that’s because he wants to use all of his top guys tomorrow night. Using them tomorrow gives them a chance to stay fresh, but it still gives them two days off before the division series opener.

• The plan is still to have Phil Hughes pitch again on Wednesday. “We need to get him back out there,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t pitched in two weeks, so I wasn’t sure what I’d get today. It’s important that he comes out feeling okay tomorrow and that his back is okay.”

• Girardi was talking to the media in his office when the crowd at the Trop went nuts. They’d just seen the Red Sox lose on the big video board in right field, meaning the wild card race is tied. “I actually saw one of their players look at the scoreboard when there was a loud cheer today,” Girardi said. “That probably wouldn’t happen on a normal day. They should be excited.”

• On tomorrow’s game: “We’re playing to win,” Girardi said. “I’ve got Bartolo and a loaded bullpen tomorrow, so we’re playing to win games. But I also have to pick the time to use my relievers, because if we get into some long games on Friday and Saturday, I’ve got to make sure they can go multiple innings. If you start throwing them a lot and you wear them down a little, shame on me. My responsibility is to this club.”

• Girardi wasn’t worried about Austin Romine getting back behind the plate after catching 14 innings last night. “He’s young,” Girardi said. “I don’t worry about that.”

• Girardi also said using Romine wasn’t necessarily an indication that he’s planning to carry Romine on the postseason roster. Girardi also wanted to save Montero for a pinch hitting opportunity, because he knows Montero might be asked to pinch hit in the playoffs.

• Jorge Posada was involved in two double plays that ended with plays at the plate. “He made a good double play on the bullet, then the other double play on the stolen base attempt by Johnny,” Girardi said. “He did OK over there.”

• Hector Noesi has allowed five runs on nine hits and three walked in 4.2 innings as a starter. He has a 6.84 ERA in 16 road appearances this season. His ERA is 2.59 in 14 appearances at home.

• Robinson Cano now has 81 extra-base hits, tied with Roger Maris for the third-most by a Yankees left-handed hitter since 1950. Don Mattingly had 86 in both 1985 and 1986.

• Cano has 14 home runs in 8 career games at Tropicana Field. That’s his most at any visiting ballpark. In his past nine games at the Trop, Cano is hitting .417 with three homers and 10 RBI.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 151 Comments →

Postgame notes: “I needed to pitch good today”09.24.11

Even before Freddy Garcia walked out to the mound and stepped on the rubber, the Yankees had already wrapped up a spot the postseason. But Garcia hadn’t secured a spot in the postseason rotation. He might have done that this afternoon.

“What he did today is what he’s been doing most of the year for us,” Joe Girardi said. “… Freddy’s a guy that’s been there and done all that. As we move forward we’ll continue to look at all those things, but today he pitched great.”

Garcia struggled in his first two games this month, and a couple of bad pitches really hurt him last weekend in Toronto, but today was vintage Garcia. He gave up five hits, but all were singles. He struck out only three, but also walked just one. He gave the Yankees six innings, and he beat the Red Sox, and none of the other third-start candidates has been especially impressive lately.

“I needed to pitch good today because my last three starts I was a little bit struggling,” Garcia said. “I did it. I’m really happy about it, and now I’m looking forward to my next start. I don’t know when, but hopefully I’ll be in the playoffs.”

Girardi said he likes that Garcia mixes his pitches. He likes that Garcia gives a different look than the other Yankees starters. And he likes that Garcia’s been to the playoffs before. Garcia has a 3.11 ERA in 55 postseason innings.

“I’ve been there before and I’ve been successful,” Garcia said. “Hopefully they give me the ball and I’ll be there to pitch. That’s what I do… I always like to prove people wrong. I like that. I like a challenge. If they give me a chance to start the game, I’ll be there.”

Here’s Garcia.

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Jesus Montero’s first big league at-bat came with the bases loaded against Jon Lester, and he struck out. Montero’s first at-bat this afternoon was in the same situation, and Montero singled in the first run of the game. It was the start of a 3-for-4 day that included four RBI and Montero’s fourth home run of the season.

Girardi: “I actually thought he had a pretty good at-bat that day (in his debut). I thought he fouled off some pitches and just missed some pitches. He had the one swing that he swung at over his head, his first pitch. I can completely understand that. First day in the big leagues. At Fenway. Bases loaded. Against Jon Lester. I wouldn’t have thought anything if he swung at three balls over his head, I just wouldn’t have. As that day went on, I thought his at-bats were pretty good. We have seen consistent at-bats against left-handers, there’s no doubt about it.”

Montero: “I was remembering the first time, he was on the mound in Boston. I was like, wow, this is a movie again, or something like that? I have him again with three men on base? You get kind of nervous, I get a little nervous in that moment, but I got the base-hit, thank God.”

Here’s Montero.

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• The Yankees will clinch home-field advantage with one more win, or if Detroit loses tonight against Baltimore.

• The pregame ceremony honoring Roger Maris was really nice. One thing about the Yankees, when they bring out their legends, they aren’t messing around. Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford always bring the house down. And one of the Maris boys looks just like his father.

• This was the first time the Yankees had beaten the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium this season. They are 5-11 against Boston this season.

• After scoring eight runs in the first three innings, the Yankees had just one hit — Montero’s home run — from the fourth inning to the end of the game.

• Today was Garcia’s first scoreless start since July 20. It was his fourth scoreless start of the season, and he’s allowed four earned runs or less in 22 of his 25 starts. He’s 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA in day games.

• Girardi said he’s not sure what Garcia will do next, but he could throw a sim game to keep himself on his routine and sharp for a playoff appearance.

• Girardi still has no next step for Phil Hughes, but Girardi is confident that Hughes came through today’s bullpen just fine. Girardi said it’s “possible” Hughes will start one of the games in Tampa. Earlier, it seemed like Hughes would definitely get one of those starts. Could be that the Yankees want him to work out of the bullpen if that’s going to be his postseason role, but Girardi didn’t commit one way or the other.

• Derek Jeter has a hit in 18 of his past 20 games. He homered on a fastball and has now driven in a run in five of his past nine games against Boston. He’s hitting .332 since coming off the disabled list, and he’s hitting .400 against lefties since coming off the DL.

• Montero is the first Yankees rookie to have four RBI in a game against Boston since Brett Gardner drove in four runs on September 26, 2008 at Fenway.

• According to ESPN Stats and Info: Montero is the fifth Yankee with four or more home runs in his first 15 Major League games. The rest of the list: Shelley Duncan, Oscar Azocar, Kevin Maas and Steve Whitaker.

• Montero on driving the ball to right field: “All the time my approach is to right field, trying to hit the ball to right field all the time. Sometimes it’s not going to happen, but I’m thinking that way because that’s the way I learned to hit in the Yankees (organization). That’s the way they pitch me. Every time I go to bat, that’s the way I think.”

• Maybe Russell Martin shouldn’t hate the Red Sox so much. He has 10 RBI in 11 games against Boston this season, his highest RBI total against any team in 2011. His three home runs against Boston are also his most against any team.

• The Yankees announced an attendance of 49,556, the highest for any regular-season game at the current Yankee Stadium. Today’s number broke the previous record by exactly one person.

Assocaited Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 740 Comments →

Pregame notes: “There’s a big, green blob out there”09.23.11

The rain has slowed a little bit, but it’s still coming down here at Yankee Stadium, and the tarp is still on the field. Nothing about the scene suggests a baseball game is remotely close to happening.

“All I know is when I look at the radar there’s a big, green blob out there coming this way,” Joe Girardi said. “We’re right in the middle of it… I don’t know what they’re going to do. The other night we waited until 11:15 to start a game and we played in the rain the whole time, and we played during what I thought was more than moderate rain at times. I have no idea what we’re going to do.”

Although Girardi said there’s no contingency plan he’s heard about. A doubleheader on Sunday seems to make sense, but there’s been no sort of announcement.

Girardi said he might change his lineup based on conditions, but as long as it stops raining, he thinks the field might drain fast enough that he would feel confident sending his regulars out there.

Speaking of sending regulars out there…

“My lineup is going to be very representative every day,” Girardi said. “I have plans. I have already kind of even staked it out where one guys or two guys get this day off, and two guys get this day off, and you’re going to see seven of our regulars in there. Some of that’s going to be Chavy and Nuney who have platooned for us and they’ve been regulars at points during the season.”

• Girardi’s still not ready to announce his postseason rotation — obviously — but he did more or less lock up two spots. Not that this is a big shock, but he agreed that CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are both no-doubt ALDS starters. “We have to make some decisions, there’s no doubt about it,” Girardi said. “But I think you’re safe to say that.”

• Could A.J. Burnett start an ALDS game? “Anyone could get a start in the ALDS,” Girardi said. “That’s where we are right now. I’ll continue to evaluate, and a lot of it depends on who we play.”

• Also not a huge shock, but Girardi made it clear that he plans to have Russell Martin start every playoff game behind the plate. “I think he’s more than capable of playing every day, every playoff game behind home plate, so that’s not really a question in my mind,” Girardi said. “Can he do that? I have no problem doing that.”

• Ultimately, Girardi said he’s not close to finalizing any postseason roster decisions. He hasn’t even met with his staff to talk about it. “We’ve had some long days and we’ve been at the ballpark a lot,” he said. “I think you wait and see how things play out. We’ll have meetings next week and that’s when we’ll really begin to talk about it.”

• Francisco Cervelli said he hasn’t been dizzy this past week, and he’s still holding out hope that he’ll be healthy enough to play in the postseason. That said, he’s also planning to be very cautious because he doesn’t want to get too aggressive with a head injury.

• Joba Chamberlain also rejoined the Yankees this afternoon (on his birthday). He made 30 throws from 30 feet pregame — with Larry Rothschild — and he said he’ll be at that distance for a while. He said that he’s a month to six weeks ahead of schedule, and he thinks he’ll be able to throw off a mound by spring training.

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

Associated Press photos, the one at the top is from that rain game against the Orioles, but it paints a pretty accurate picture of the current scene

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 489 Comments →

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