"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: March 2006

Older posts           

Fair or Foul?

Does New York have some of the greatest fans in the world, or is this a city of fair weather bandwagon-riding chumps? From my experience, I’d have to say a little bit of both. (Hey, we’re the city that has everything after all, right?) For a town that often crows about what tough, loyal fans we have, it’s amazing how many native New Yorkers are quick to dump on the local teams in favor of, well, whatever team is currently winning. So weather it was the Bulls and then the Lakers or the Red Sox, there is always a visible portion of the New York population that gravitates to the National team of the moment. However, there are true-blue die-hards here just like there are in Philly and Boston and wherever else you want to mention. (There are Yankee fans who actually rooted for the team prior to 1995–many of whom frequent this blog–and will continue pulling for them when the team isn’t winning division titles year after year.) Witness this article today in The New York Times about the Knick fans that have stuck it out through one of the organization’s most dreadful seasons to date. These cats pay top dollar for their season tickets, but it will take more than losing and general mishegoss to keep them away.

Thursday’s Game – Nieves Say Nieves Edition

According to the New York Times and MLB.com, the twenty-fifth man on the Yankees opening day roster will be . . . Wil Nieves!

You know, Joe Torre has been hinting for a while that Nieves might make the roster, in part because he’s out of options, but the idea was so absurd I didn’t give it much credence. Then again, ever since the Kevins were optioned down to Columbus, the Yankees have been without a preferable option. A twelfth pitcher is unnecessary, particularly in April, when the schedule is littered with off-days. The thing the Yankees need most on their bench is a big bat, but there are none of those left on the bubble in camp. Second to that, they could use a reserve outfielder who can hit, but those options departed with Reese and Thompson. Popular waiver wire targets Carlos Pena and Erubiel Durazo are both first basemen (though even that’s a stretch for Durazo), and both were so bad this spring that the Yankees would be better off having either find his stroke in Columbus than having him warm the bench in the Bronx.

So, Wil Nieves. Whatever. I’d say they’re going to have to get rid of him when the inevitable roster crunch arrives, but no such crunch is on the horizon. Scott Proctor will likely get bounced to the minors when Aaron Small comes off the DL and I’m not about to hold my breath for Carl Pavano’s return. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Octavio Dotel activated before Pavano, whose endless injuries are creeping closer and closer to his mangina. Dotel could force Nieves off the roster, though by then Jaret Wright could be ready to hit the DL himself. I suppose the upside of having Nieves on the roster is that he could wrestle the back-up catcher job from Kelly Stinnett, making the Yankees’ catching corps seven and a half years younger, but not necessarily any better.

At any rate, here are your 2006 New York Yankees:

1B – Jason Giambi (L)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Gary Sheffield (R)
CF – Johnny Damon (L)
LF – Hideki Matsui (L)
DH – Bernie Williams (S)

Bench:

R – Andy Phillips (IF)
R – Miguel Cairo (IF)
L – Bubba Crosby (OF)
R – Kelly Stinnett (C)
R – Wil Nieves (C)

Rotation:

L – Randy Johnson
R – Mike Mussina
R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Shawn Chacon
R – Jaret Wright

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Tanyon Sturtze
L – Mike Myers
L – Ron Villone
R – Scott Proctor

DL: R – Carl Pavano, R – Octavio Dotel, R – Aaron Small

Now that the roster is set, my spring training game wraps are kind of meaningless, but since the Yankees wrapped up their Grapefruit League schedule yesterday afternoon, I might as well wrap it up.

(more…)

Wednesday’s Game

Behind their last B-squad line-up of the spring, the Yankees beat the Tigers on the road 4-2

Lineup:

Johnny Damon CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Bernie Williams RF
Jorge Posada DH
Andy Phillips 1B
Russ Johnson 3B
Bubba Crosby LF
Felix Escalona SS
Keith McDonald C

Subs: Damian Rolls 3B, Wil Nieves C, Rudy Guillen RF, Mitch Jones LF

Pitchers: Jeffrey Karstens, Scott Erickson, Ron Villone, Kyle Farnsworth, Matt Childers

Big Hits: Doubles by Russ Johnson (1 for 2 with two walks) and Felix Escalona (1 for 4). Andy Phillips was 2 for 3 with a walk, scoring twice.

Who Pitched Well?: Jeffrey Karstens retired the last ten batters he faced, allowing just two runs on a walk and two hits in five innings, striking out two. Ron Villone retired the only two batters he faced to finish the seventh inning for Scott Erickson. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a Delmon Young double for a scoreless eighth. Matt Childers kept his scorless spring intact despite a hit and a walk in the ninth.

Oopsies: A fielding error by Felix Escalona

Ouchies: Johnny Damon said, “I’m as close to 100 percent healthy as I can be.” (AP). Jorge Posada (1 for 2, 2 walks) will catch tomorrow’s game and will indeed be behind the plate for Randy Johnson in the season opener despite catching just seven of the Big Unit’s innings to Stinnett’s 22 1/3, largely due to illness and injury.

How’d Randy Do Anyway?: Pitching against single-A Phillies with Torre and Guidry in attendance: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 4 K. If nothing else, I’m sure it was good for Johnson to pitch in relative obscurity while all the flack over his situation with his baby’s momma dies down.

Roster News: Scott Proctor has officially made the opening day roster, filling Aaron Small’s swing man spot at the back of the bullpen. His spring line: 6 G, 2 GS, 17 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 7 BB, 14 K, 1.06 ERA, 1-1. With Proctor on the 25-man roster, there is just one spot left which could go to either a seventh reliever or a fifth bench player. That is unless Jaret Wright is put on the 15-day DL since he won’t need to start until April 15, in which case the Yanks will have room for both a bench player and another reliever.

Catcher Keith McDonald, meanwhile, was reassigned to minor league camp after going 0 for 3 in yesterday’s game.

Tuesday Night’s Game

The Yankees were limited to four singles and a walk, losing to the Phillies 3-0 at home.

Lineup:

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui LF
Jason Giambi 1B
Jorge Posada DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Kelly Stinnett C

Subs: Andy Phillips 1B, Miguel Cairo 2B, Felix Escalona SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Omir Santos C, Bernie Williams RF, Bubba Crosby CF, Luis A. Garcia LF

Pitchers: Scott Proctor, Carl Pavano, Mariano Rivera, Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Myers

Big Hits: none

Who Pitched Well?: Scott Proctor made his second strong start of the spring, allowing just one run on a Sal “Thurman” Fassano homer in five innings while allowing just two other hits, both singles, and a walk against five strikeouts. Mike Myers and Mariano Rivera both pitched perfect innings.

Ouchies: The biggest news is Carl Pavano’s return to game action. Pavano, who last pitched with the major league club on June 27 of last year and hasn’t pitched in a game of any kind since an A-ball rehab start on August 3, allowed one run on a Shane Victorino solo homer in one inning of work, throwing 11 of 14 pitches for strikes and surviving a dive into first to retire Bobby Abreu on a slow grounder up the line. Jorge Posada also returned to action, going 0 for 3 as the Yankees’ DH. He’s expected to catch Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale. Chien-Ming Wang threw 61 pitches in the bullpen and will take his scheduled turn in Phoenix on Friday. Octavio Dotel threw his first batting practice of the spring. Scott Erickson (remember him?) is expected to pitch in today’s game.

Roster Crunch Time: Randy Johnson will start for the minor league campers today, giving Jeff Karstens the major league start. Jaret Wright will start the minor league game tomorrow with Wang and Chacon pitching the two games against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. Though only Johnson and Mussina have been officially announced, barring a disaster start from Wang or Chacon and a dominating performance by Wright (and likely not even then), Wang will start the finale of the A’s series with Chacon going in the first game of the Angels series a week from Friday. Wright would then be in line to take the fifth starter’s turn on April 15 in Minnesota.

The battle for the last spot in the bullpen, however, has heated up with Ramiro Mendoza (1.93 spring ERA) feeling heat from Proctor (1.06 ERA with the third most innings in camp), Matt Smith (1.69), Matt Childers (0 runs in one start and three relief appearances) and, sadly, Scott Erickson, who will return to action today with a 2.61 spring ERA. I’m still rooting for Mendoza or Smith, preferring to see Proctor find a spot in the Clippers rotation and Erickson find himself in another uniform. Childers is just 27 and is better utilized as roster insurance in Columbus than as a pitcher expected to produce as a member of the opening day roster.

While we’re at it, the final spot on the bench seems to be down to Wil Neives (.269/.321/.423 this spring) and Felix Escalona (.263/.333/.421), unless Joe Torre has been seduced by Luis A. Garcia’s eleven at-bats, which started with a pair of homers and have since featured three singles in nine trips with just one strikeout and no walks. Nieves is out of options, but just might slip through waivers. Escalona would be my choice, though with the Kevins gone and Russ Johnson not hitting, there’s really very little added value to be had with any of these guys. All the more reason to offer Carlos Pena, who could be useful as a lefty bat off the bench later in the season, a minor league deal.

Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down

Late last week, Buster Olney wrote what we’re likely to see at the Yankee-Sox cirucs this year:

There are so many new players — new relievers, in particular — on the two teams, and they will tend to be overaggressive in reacting to somebody’s getting hit by a pitch in this rivalry. It will be as if Kyle Farnsworth and Julian Tavarez and the others joined a fraternity fight, they know all their new house brothers are watching and they feel a need to demonstrate their toughness. There’s almost no doubt that they will have incidents this year, and you almost can assume that Farnsworth or Tavarez or [Taynon] Sturtze will be in the middle of something.

Farnsworth and Sturtze come across like bouncers jacked-up on Red Bull, and Tavarez has the looks of an old-timey bad guy. All that is missing is a mustache for him to twirl as he ties the girl to the train tracks. Even our old pal Beth, a Red Sox fan so devoted that she is generally willing to make apologies for the most boorish BoSox behavior, is having a hard time finding a place in her heart for Mr. Tavarez, who was involved in an incident yesterday with Joey Gathwright of the Tampa Bay Rays.

For all of the hysteria and hype that accompanies the New York-Boston rivalry, both teams have entertained us with a riveting and dramatic brand of baseball for the past four years. Sure, there have been ugly moments, but let’s hope things don’t get uglier just because they can. Sox and Yankee fans tend to bring out the worst in each other, but lets hope that the two teams continue to bring out the best in each other and remind us how thrilling the rivalry and the game can be.

Monday’s Game

On the road and without the DH, the Yankees brought along some familiar faces from weeks past, but couldn’t outlast the Braves, losing 5-4

Lineup:

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Hideki Matsui LF
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jason Giambi 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Wil Nieves C
Shawn Chacon P

Subs: Miguel Cairo SS-1B, Felix Escalona 2B, Ramiro Pena SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Keith McDonald C (see below), Luis A. Garcia RF, Bubba Crosby CF, Melky Cabrera LF, Damian Rolls PH

Pitchers: Shawn Chacon, Kris Wilson, Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Villone

Big Hits: A two-run bomb by Alex Rodriguez (2 for 3) and doubles by Rodriguez and Giambi (3 for 4). Gary Sheffield was also 3 for 4.

Who Pitched Well?: No one was particularly impressive though Kyle Farnsworth struck out two in a scoreless inning despite giving up a walk and a hit.

Who Didn’t?: Chacon ran out of gas in the sixth, leaving the game after 5 1/3 after allowing five runs on three walks and six hits, two of them home runs (a solo shot by Brian Jordan in the fifth and three-run, broken-bat tater by Adam LaRoche in the sixth). That said, Chacon struck out seven and has now struck out 21 in 22 spring innings, though he has also walked 13.

Ouchies: Jaret Wright threw 50 pitches in the bullpen and will pitch in a minor league game Thursday. Aaron Small threw from the rubber for the first time since straining his hamstring. Jorge Posada worked out with the team again and could start at DH today or tomorrow and return to catching before the week is out. Chien-Ming Wang’s knee is slightly swollen, but doesn’t appear to be an issue.

Bullpen Cuts: Colter Bean was optioned to Columbus and Mark Corey and Dusty Bergman were reassigned to minor league camp. Bean didn’t get a good look this spring due to his rehab from an offseason ACL injury. The left-handed Bergman got lit up in five spring innings. Corey pitched well, but is a 31-year-old journeyman with a terrible track record.

So Who’s Keith McDonald?: Although I missed it at the time, the Yankees obtained veteran minor league catcher Keith McDonald from the Rangers over the weekend for a player to be named later. This is an encouraging sign as it suggests that they will not add third-string catcher Wil Nieves to the opening day roster simply because he is out of options. The 28-year-old Nieves is preferable to McDonald, who is 33, has played in just eight major league games and, despite playing exclusively in the Pacific Coast League, hasn’t hit a lick this decade. But should Nieves land elsewhere, McDonald at least gives the Yankees a capable receiver at triple-A. It’s not like Nieves was going to hit anyway.

Sunday’s Game – Kevins Declined Edition

Back at home, the Yankees won an ugly 9-8 game against the Tigers.

Lineup:

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Jason Giambi 1B
Bernie Williams LF
Robinson Cano 2B
Kelly Stinnett C

Subs: Luis A. Garcia 1B, Miguel Cairo SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Omir Santos C, Bubba Crosby RF, Kevin Thompson CF, Kevin Reese LF, Wil Nieves DH

Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Mark Corey, Tanyon Sturtze, Jose Veras, Dusty Bergman, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Myers

Big Hits: A two-run dinger by Bubba Crosby (1 for 2) in the eighth was the game winner, Sheffield (2 for 3), Bernie (1 for 4) and Cano (2 for 4) doubled, while Jeter (2 for 3) and Damon (2 for 4) also had multi-hit days.

Who Pitched Well?: Mendoza and Myers finished things off with perfect eighth and ninth innings respectively. Before leaving the game after being hit by a comebacker, Wang allowed two runs on three hits in 2 1/3 innings, but also struck out three against no walks and three of his other four outs came on the ground.

Oopsies: A Jason Giambi throw.

Ouchies: Wang left the game in the third when he was hit in the right knee by a hard one-hopper off the bat of Curtis Granderson. X-rays were negative and Wang returned from the hospital without a limp. Carl Pavano threw 30 pitches in the bullpen and is expected to pitch an inning in relief on Tuesday. Johnny Damon, who has played center in the last two games, reports that he no longer has any pain in his throwing shoulder. Jorge Posada worked out with the team yesterday and will have the spints removed from his nose and his vision checked by an ophthalmologist today. Posada experienced some swelling in his left eye after being hit by Kelly Stinnett’s throw on Wednesday, but says his vision has been fine since Thursday.

The Cruelest Cuts of All: Abandon hope all ye who enter here, Kevin Thompson (.383/.420/.532 this spring) and Kevin Reese (.280/.308/.360) were optioned to Columbus, handing the back-up outfielder spot to Bubba Crosby (.161/.188/.387). To put it another way, 28-year-old Kevin Reese, who hit .276/.359/.450 in a full season at Columbus last year and 26-year-old Kevin Thompson, who hit .329/.432/.565 in a half-season at Trenton last year, were demoted in favor of 29-year-old Bubba Crosby who has hit .221/.253/.301 in 163 career major league at-bats. Here’s hoping this situation rectifies itself should one of the Kevins have a strong start with the Clippers. Less troublingly, Ben Davis was reassigned to minor league camp. More cuts, which could very well clarify the bullpen situation, are expected today.

Saturday’s Game

Despite Mike Mussina’s decision to take his turn with the minor league campers, the Yankees had no problem handling the Devil Rays, dancing all over them to the tune of 10-1.

Lineup:

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Jason Giambi 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Gary Sheffield DH
Hideki Matsui LF
Bernie Williams RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Wil Nieves C

Subs: Miguel Cairo 1B, Andy Cannizaro 2B, Felix Escalona SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Omir Santos C, Kevin Reese RF, Bubba Crosby CF, Kevin Thompson LF, Luis A. Garcia DH

Pitchers: Matt Childers, Colter Bean, Matt Smith, Ramiro Mendoza, Matt Corey, Frank Brooks

Big Hits: A no-doubt-about-it homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 4), a triple by Derek Jeter (1 for 3), and doubles by Giambi (1 for 3), Sheffiled (1 for 3), Reese (1 for 2) and Thompson (1 for 1) (Sheffield’s hitting off the top of the left centerfield wall). Amazingly, the Yankees collected 13 hits by thirteen different hitters.

Who Pitched Well?: Matt Smith threw two perfect innings, Matt Childers, a swing man in the minors, pitched three scorless innings striking out two, though he did walk one and allow four hits. Childers’ brother Jason pitched in the game for the Devil Rays.

How’d Moose Do?: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 3 K, 92 pitches, 61 percent strikes

Ouchies: Johnny Damon played the field for the first time since the beginning of the WBC, Jaret Wright threw 21 pitches from halfway up a bullpen mound and 13 more from the rubber. Aaron Small also threw from halfway up a bullpen mound, while Scott Erickson had a regular bullpen session. Carl Pavano was supposed to throw a bullpen but the weather, which was in the high 50s and low 60s, was deemed to cold for him. Jorge Posada has rejoined the team today and will participate in workouts before today’s game.

Friday’s Game – Papi Choi Edition

Randy Johnson turned in his second consecutive strong showing yesterday, but the Yankees’ road lineup of bench players couldn’t muster enough offense to make it count resulting in a 3-1 Twins win.

Lineup:

Bubba Crosby CF
Miguel Cairo SS
Bernie Williams DH
Andy Phillips 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Kelly Stinnett C
Luis A. Garcia RF
Russ Johnson 3B
Kevin Reese LF

Subs: Ramiro Pena SS, Omir Santos C, Kevin Thompson RF, Tim Battle PR

Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Jose Veras, Dusty Bergman

Big Hits: Just a double by Andy Phillips (1 for 3)

Who Pitched Well: As I said, Johnson: 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 HR (Terry Tiffee), 0 BB, 6 K

Notes: Because both of his final two spring starts were to come against the Devil Rays, Mike Mussina will instead take his turn with the minor league campers today against the minor league D-Rays. In his place, Matt Childers will make the major league start.

***

After the game, the Red Sox claimed ex-Dodger Hee Seop Choi–whose availability has been an inevitability ever since the Dodgers signed Nomar Garciaparra to play first base, if not since the firing of Paul DePodesta–off waivers. Choi is a twenty-seven-year-old lefty-hitting first baseman with a severe platoon split who has yet to live up to his potential. Three years ago, the Twins released another twenty-seven-year-old lefty-hitting first baseman with a severe platoon split who had never lived up to his potential. That player signed with the Red Sox and proceeded to be one of the ten most productive players in the game over the following three years. His name is David Ortiz. Here’s a comparison of the two players’ careers prior to signing with Boston:

David Ortiz: .266/.348/.461, .524 OWP, 1693 PA
Hee Seop Choi: .240/.349/.437, .531 OWP, 1086 PA

Indeed, the age-27 player Choi is most similar to according to PECOTA is none other than Big Papi himself.

Ortiz’s numbers since signing with the Red Sox: .297/.383/.600, .709 OWP, 1891 PA

When Ortiz was available in the winter of 2003, George Steinbrenner instructed Brian Cashman to sign him, but Cashman refused because of the presence of both Jason Giambi, who had just hit .314/.435/.598 in the first year of a seven-year, $120 million contract, and Nick Johnson, a home-grown prospect who was nearly three years Ortiz’s junior (incidentally, Johnson, who was the key player sent to the Expos in the Javy Vazquez deal, is also 27 this offseason and has a better career line than Choi or Ortiz at the same age: .265/.383/.437, .587 OWP, 1767 PA).

This year, the Yankees still have Giambi (coming off a .271/.440/.535 comeback season), but their back-up is Andy Phillips, who not only lacks any sort of meaningful major league track record (just 49 career PA), but is nearly two years older than Choi. I’ve long been rooting for the Yankees to give Phillips a shot because of his minor league numbers, but even I couldn’t argue against limiting him to a utility/righty pinch-hitter role, or even dumping him altogether in favor of the younger, more established Choi, whose lefty swing could have been a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. A Choi/Phillips DH platoon, meanwhile, could have pushed the Yankee offense into 1000-run territory this year. Instead, Choi’s presence in Boston will allow the Red Sox to kick the 38-year-old J.T. Snow to the curb and, if necessary, move Kevin Youkilis to third base should Mike Lowell fail to rebound from his dreadful 2005.

But don’t blame Brian Cashman, or anyone else in the Yankee front office for that matter. Because of the waiver order–which begins with the worst team in the same league as the waiving team (determined by the previous year’s standings through the thirtieth day of a new season), proceeds to the best team in that league, then begins the other league again going worst-to-first–the Red Sox were able to claim Choi before the Yankees got their shot. In a vicious twist, it was the tie-breaker that awarded the Yankees the 2004 AL East title–which proved to be worth little more than bragging rights as the second-place Red Sox claimed the Wild Card, neither team had home field advantage in the playoffs, and both were eliminated in the ALDS–that cost them Choi. This is very different than what happened with Ortiz. Ortiz was released before the Twins had to offer him a contract for 2003, making him a free agent during the winter of 2002-2003. Choi, on the other hand, had already re-upped with the Dodgers by signing a one-year $725,000 deal, thus he had to be waived lest the Dodgers be forced to eat that entire contract. Instead, the Red Sox will assume his full salary and likely paid a waiver price for the privilege. They’ll almost certainly get their money’s worth, though it’s staggering to think that 26 other clubs passed on Choi before the Red Sox put in their claim.

Thursdays’ Game

Sorry about the delay on today’s post, I was out of commission yesterday as I was in Philadelphia promoting Baseball Prospectus 2006. Before we get to the Yankees 8-1 drubbing of the visiting Astros, I should mention that I’ll again be on the road promoting BP06 this Sunday at 1:00 when I, along with Allen Barra and the largest collection of BP authors ever assembled in one place, will take part in a baseball roundtable at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair.

Right then. On with it . . .

Lineup:

Johnny Damon DH
Derek Jeter SS
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jason Giambi 1B
Hideki Matsui LF
Bernie Williams CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Wil Nieves C

Subs: Andy Phillips 1B, Miguel Cario 2B, Felix Escalona SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Luis A. Garcia RF, Bubba Crosby CF, Kevin Reese LF, Kevin Thompson DH

Pitchers: Scott Proctor, Colter Bean, Mariano Rivera, Mike Myers, Tanyon Sturtze, Kyle Farnsworth

Big Hits: Homers by the previously hitless Alex Rodriguez (two-run job, 2 for 3), Matsui (solo shot, 2 for 3), and Garcia (3-run jack, 1 for 1). Garcia is 2 for 2 with two homers, five RBIs, and three runs scored this spring. Gary Sheffield (2 for 3) not only doubled (his first extra-base hit of the spring), but doubled his spring hit total.

Who Pitched Well: Proctor, making a strong argument for his conversion back to starting, struck out four in four scoreless innings allowing just two hits and a walk, all of which came in the fourth inning. Colter Bean, in his first game action of the spring, Mariano Rivera, pitching in back-to-back games for the first time this spring, and Kyle Farnsworth (now that’s a Big Three I could learn to love) each pitched a perfect inning striking out one, none and two respectively. Mike Myers pitched around a walk in one hitless inning.

Ouchies: As I said, Colter Bean saw his first game action of the spring after rehabbing from off-season ACL surgery. Jaret Wright played catch for ten minutes before yesterday’s game. Peter Abraham reports that his back looked loose. He could return to game action as early as Tuesday. Jorge Posada was released from the hospital yesterday morning and did not attend yesterday’s game, but should return to action next week as well.

Wednesday Night’s Game: Half-Assed Running Commentary, Rivalry Edition!

With the Yankees and Red Sox playing a night game live on YES, I thought I’d do a running commentary on the game, at least until Becky switches over to the new episode of Lost.

The Yanks are hosting the Red Sox at home at Legends Field. As expected, the YES broadcast is non-stop Johnny Damon for the first 15 minutes. Nauseating. The one bit of “relief” is footage of Jorge Posada being hit in the face with a throw from Kelly Stinnett while playing catch during BP before the game (to bad they haven’t started BPTV yet, or whatever it’s called). Posada was distracted by another ball and Stinnett’s throw hit him in the nose, catching a bit of his left eye socket as well, knocking him down and bloodying his face. He was helped off the field in a daze and pulled from the line-up.

During a terrible version of the national anthem, the camera catches non-roster invitee Enrique Wilson in his Red Sox uniform. Hilarious.

Top 1

Here’s the Red Sox’s line-up:

Adam Stern CF
Alex Cora SS
J.T. Snow 1B
Manny Ramirez DH
Mike Lowell 3B
Wily Mo Pena RF
Dustin Mohr LF
Ken Huckaby C
Alejandro Machado 2B

Jonathan Papelbon P

Shawn Chacon is on the hill for the Yanks.

Stern steps in wearing a red jersey, looking like he’s still on team Canada. He singles through the right side on Chacon’s second pitch.

The defensive alignment shows Bernie in center with Damon, who was seen throwing during fielding drills before the game, as DH. Sigh. I imagine it would make Torre’s brain ache to write one of the Kevins in the line-up with the rest of his starters.

Stern takes second on Chacon’s second pitch to Cora, Stinnett’s throw is up and away to Jeter, thankfully missing his nose. Chacon makes Cora look bad on a slow 12-6 curve for the first out.

J.T. Snow is the first of three former Yankee minor leaguers in this line-up. Chacon gets ahead 0-2, wastes one high and away, then gets Snow swinging on a harder curve over the outside corner.

Manny forgot his uniform and is wearing number 95 with no name on the back (the rest of the Sox have their names on their jerseys). Manny’s look this spring is a homeless-man beard and light orange dreads. He works the count full and draws a walk on a fastball just barely low and away.

Mike Lowell, ex-Yankee farmhand #2, is next. Stinnett makes a nice stop on a pitch in the dirt away, 1-1, then again 2-1. Chacon’s fourth pitch to Lowell is popped straight up, Stinnett, who wears a regular cap rather than a helmet or nothing at all under his hockey-style mask, makes the catch with his left foot in the right-handed batter’s box.

Bottom 1

The Yankee line-up, sans Posada:

Damon DH
Jeter SS
Matsui LF
Sheffield RF
Rodriguez 3B
Giambi 1B
Williams CF
Cano 2B
Stinnett C

At least Torre bothered to move Stinnett down to ninth rather than just subbing him in Posada’s spot (the original lineup ended Posada-Cano-Williams).

The Sox are wearing caps with red bills and buttons with their red BP jerseys. Whatever. The Yanks are in their blue BP jerseys and pinstriped pants.

Damon shows bunt on Papelbon’s second pitch, fouls off a 2-2 pitch, then takes ball three to go full. He chops the seventh pitch to third, Lowell stops it but doesn’t field it cleanly, but still recovers to get Damon by a half-step.

Jeter falls into a quick 0-2 hole then works it back full. He then hits a half swing chopper to second and is thrown out easily.

Papelbon looks a bit like a younger Mike Timlin from the back. A big country boy (Timlin’s from Texas, Papelbon from Baton Rouge) with a large, square back and skinny legs that taper to the ankle.

Matsui draws a five-pitch walk. Sheffield hits a pitch high and over the plate to center for the final out.

Top 2

Wily Mo (ex-Yankee farmhand #3) sends his bat flying into the stands striking out on another tremendous Chacon curve.

Mohr swings about a half-hour early on a couple of change-ups for Chacon’s fourth strikeout of the game. Makes you think that if Chacon had a strong fastball to go with his curve and change he’d be unhittable. Unfortunately, that’s the one pitch you can’t teach.

Save for Stern’s lead-off single, the Sox have yet to hit the ball fair. As I type that, Huckaby laces a double down the third base line past Rodriguez for a double and makes a Willie Mays Hayes head-first slide into second, nearly stopping short of the bag as Jeter turns to apply the tag. A moment later, the YES camera’s catch Jeter rotating his left shoulder with Huckaby lurking to his left.

A grounder to second and a flip to Chacon ends the inning.

Bottom 2

Rodriguez makes a nice swing on the first pitch he sees, flying out to the warning track in right center. Jim Kaat argues for Ortiz’s 2005 MVP candidacy. Sigh.

Giambi puts a nice swing on a fastball up in his eyes and pops it to center.

Bernie then crushes a ball over the foul pole in left. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen Bernie hit a ball that hard or show that much bat speed. It would be a lot of fun if Bernie proves me wrong this season. 1-0 Yanks.

Cano grounds to second to end the inning.

Top 3

Cano bobbles a nice play to his left but stays with it to retire Stern. Cora pops to Jeter. After 2 2/3 innings, Chacon has thrown 68 percent of 41 pitches for strikes. Solid.

Bernie standing in center is clean shaven, hiding the grey in his beard. Having homered in the previous inning, he looks ten years younger.

Snow works a full-count walk.

Kay and Kaat are talking about how Enrique Wilson and Manny are best friends (though they fail to connect the dot back to their days as youngsters with the Indians—remember when Enrique was considered to have potential? Zoinks!) At any rate, the Sox are apparently dreading telling Manny that Enrique isn’t going to make the team. Pathetic.

Full-count fastball inside corner Ks Manny, who spins out of the way.

Bottom 3

Stinnett doubles. Damon goes 3-0 then singles through the hole into right to put runners on the corners with no outs. A grounder right to the third-base bag by Jeter catches Stinnett taking a step toward home. Lowell chases him down the line and makes the tag himself, holding Damon and Jeter to first and second. Mastui walks on four pitches to load the bases with one out for Sheffield. After 2 1/3, Papelbon has thrown 47 pitches and barely more strikes then balls.

How old is Roger Clemens? One of his closest friends is Al Nipper. Zoinks!

Sheff creams a line-drive foul. Then lifts a rainmaker sac fly to left and all three runners tag and advance, 2-0 Yanks.

Kaat misquotes Yogi: “You can see a lot by observing.” I’ve always enjoyed Kaat, but he’s either too rusty or too old right now.

Papelbon walks Rodriguez to reload the bases. Not a good night for the Sox’s best young pitcher. Giambi tops one to second. If anyone else was running it would have been close, but Giambi looks like he’s running in oatmeal on his way down to first. I may have stolen that simile from Steve Goldman. He can deal, I’m driving him (and Jay Jaffe) to Philly tomorrow (today for those reading this) for our Baseball Prospectus event at the Walnut Street Barnes & Nobel (plug!).

Top 4

Lowell hits one into the right-center gap, Bernie cuts it off, but with his momentum going away from second, his lollipop throw is too late to catch Lowell, who slides in for a double. Question is, we know Damon’s arm is no better, but would his wheels have made the difference there? The play was closer than I would have expected (though not so close that Jeter bothered making a tag).

Wily Mo cracks a two-run homer just as our new puppy pees in the living room. Pardon me for a moment . . .

Okay, 2-2 game, Machado is on with two outs. Stern doubles him home to make it 3-2. Cora grounds out to Giambi to end the inning.

On the penultimate pitch of the inning, Cora lines a hard foul down the right field line that bounces into the Yankee bullpen where Mike Mussina snags it showing off his gold-glove hands. Kaat must not have been looking and as the shot lingers on Mussina joking with catcher Ben Davis, who’s wearing Flaherty’s number 17, he remarks “as we see Mike Mussina holding a ball in the bullpen.” This is just not Kitty’s night.

Bottom 4

Bernie doubles into the RF gap, another nice swing. He shows his age running the bases, however, and makes an ugly slide trying to avoid the throw. He’s lucky he didn’t hurt himself. After all that effort he’s stranded.

Top 5

Brian Cashman joins Kaat and Kay in the booth after they inform us that the result of Posada’s pre-game accident was a fractured nasal passage that was reset at the hospital. Cashman says Posada will avoid the DL and at worst will miss a week. When last Posada’s nose was broken (by an Alfredo Amezaga throw in 2004) Posada missed just four games. Ah, but will it rob him of his power again? Cashman also tells us that Pavano threw 35 pitches in batting practice today and is projected to be activated in late April.

Bottom 5

Jeter leads off bottom of the fifth with a single. Lost comes on. Hey, it’s spring training.

[an hour later]

Top 9

With a 5-3 lead thanks to a two-run Luis Garcia homer (yes, this one), Kyle Farnsworth comes on to shut the door for the Yanks.

A group of kids can clearly be heard chanting “Let’s-Go-Red-Sox.”

Machado hits a grounder to Phillips, who flipips to Farnsworth for the first out (yes, I’ll be using that joke all year).

Adam Stern creams a hanger over the right field wall to make it 5-4. If Alex is watching this he’s cursing a blue streak over Farnsworth throwing junk with a two-run lead and no-one on. For what it’s worth, his fastball is coming in at 93 miles per hour. Now 95.

A comebacker hops right into Farnsworth’s glove for the second out.

Ian Bladergroen walks. The last out is a fly out to center. Yankees win, 5-4.

Subs: Andy Phillips 1B, Miguel Cairo 2B, Russ Johnson 3B, Omir Santos C, Luis Garcia RF, Bubba Crosby CF, Kevin Thompson LF, Kevin Reese DH, Felix Escalona PR

Pitchers: Shawn Chacon, Mariano Rivera, Mike Myers, Tanyon Sturtze, Kyle Farnsworth

The Man in the Middle (Book Excerpt)

From “The Last Nine Innings”

by Charles Euchner

Chapter Four: Inside the Diamond

Whenever I’m teaching younger players, what I ask is, ‘Can you dance?’” Matt Williams, the Diamondbacks’ veteran third baseman who came to the big leagues as a shortstop in 1987, is ruminating about the art of defensive play in the four infield positions. Williams has become a philosopher of the game as he struggles to cool down his intensity and combine his God-given athleticism with his growing knowledge of the game.

Dancing—an activity that brings together focus and relaxation, grace and quickness, initiative and cooperation—provides Williams with the concept he needs to play his position. Dancing helps him understand when and how to stay loose but also when to move quickly. Keep light on the feet like a dancer, then you can attack and parry, as the play requires.

“That’s all it is—you’re just dancing through the ball. When your feet stop, when your feet get lead[en], your hand gets hard, when you don’t adjust to a bounce, that’s when you make mistakes.”

• • •

Leading off for the Diamondbacks in the home half of the second inning, Steve Finley hits a 1–0 fastball up the middle. Shortstop Derek Jeter hesitates briefly before playing the ball to his side. Jeter fields the ball, a hard one-hopper, cleanly. Reaching down with his six-foot-three body, Jeter flips it hard to first in one motion.

“You play short there’s going to be a lot of plays that you’re off-balance,” Jeter says. “You just work at it, practice it, get better with time. Some may be kind of difficult because of how tall I am as opposed to a shorter guy. But that just comes with experience.”

• • •

Derek Jeter’s fielding poses a dilemma. Depending on whom you debate, Jeter is either one of the best fielding shortstops in the game—or he is absolutely, positively the worst. The question is whether to believe your eyes when watching him.

Part of the difficulty in judging Jeter is that he is the winningest shortstop in an era of great shortstops. Players like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Omar Vizquel, Orlando Cabrera, and Edgar Renteria do not have the luxury of playing for consistently great teams. They seem to do more at their positions than Jeter. But Jeter is a winner. He has been on four World Series champions in five years, and now he’s playing for a fifth title. He must be doing something right.

When baseball people gather to watch Jeter, they smile. They watch him charge balls in the middle of the diamond, range to the outfield and right-field line to gather pop flies, communicate with pitchers and infielders. They love his hustle, his willingness to risk his body to make a play; whether it’s diving three rows into the stands or facing down a base runner barreling into second base. They watch the way he captains not only the infield but the outfield, too. They like the messages he gives other players. Years before, as a youngster, he confronted the Rubenesque pitcher David Wells when Wells had a hissy fit on the mound after an error. Jeter barked back on behalf of his teammates and they appreciated it.

Broadcaster Tim McCarver acknowledges that Jeter sometimes has a hard time picking up sharp hops. “I’m sure there are five or six shortstops who read a ground ball, a hop, better,” says McCarver, a Jeter fan. “It’s not one of his strong suits. He comes over and up on the ball. Sometimes he charges when he should stay back and stays back when he should charge.”

McCarver pauses, looking for context: “But it’s almost crazy to talk about that, he does so many things well.”

(more…)

Monday’s Game

As good as Mike Mussina was in his last start, he was that bad yesterday, resulting in a 15-2 Yankee loss to the Tigers on the road.

Lineup:

Johnny Damon DH
Derek Jeter SS
Bernie Williams RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jorge Posada C
Andy Phillips 1B
Kevin Reese CF
Kevin Thompson LF
Miguel Cairo 2B

Subs: Felix Escalona SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Wil Nieves C, L. A. Garcia (?) RF, Andy Cannizaro DH

Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Dusty Bergman, Mark Corey, Scott Proctor, Ron Villone

Big Hits: A solo homer by Cairo (1 for 3), Damon and Jeter were both 2 for 3, Phillips was 2 for 4. On the flip side, Bernie went 0 for 4, grounded into two double plays and left seven men on base.

Who Pitched Well: Scott Proctor walked one and struck out two in two hitless innings, Mark Corey retired the only batter he faced.

Who Didn’t: Villone gave up two runs on four hits in one inning. Bergman gave up three runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. Mussina, however, takes the cake, giving up ten runs on a walk and twelve hits, including a pair of doubles and four home runs (by Dmitri Young, Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez and Alexis Gomez) in just four innings.

Ouchies: Jaret Wright’s back spasms will cause him to miss his scheduled start on Thursday (curiously it appears the Yanks has planned to skip Wang’s turn which falls on today’s off day, though I’ve not read any explaination as to why, I assume he’ll now take Wright’s turn on Thursday), but the Yankees are cautiously optimistic beyond that and have yet to determine if he’ll even miss a full turn or just have his start pushed back. Scott Erickson also suffered back spasms over the weekend, yet another in a series of fortuitous Yankee injuries dating back to last April. Carl Pavano, meanwhile, is now not expected to be ready by April 15, the day that the Yankees will need a fifth starter. Pavano is scheduled to throw batting practice Wednesday, then again on Saturday and should make his first game start a week from Wednesday or Thursday. That would give him time to make three starts before the 15th, but the Yankees think he’ll need 30 to 35 innings to be ready. Same old story. Don’t hold your breath for Meat’s return. Anyone still curious as to why the Yankees were unable to trade this guy this past winter?

So who will be making that April 15 start? Well, if his back holds up it will be Jaret Wright, who is still supposedly fighting for a rotation spot (a battle Pavano may make moot). If not, there’s a chance that Aaron Small could be back from his hamstring injury by then. Failing that, Matt DeSalvo just might get his shot earlier than expected. Indeed, to the delight of many, Joe Torre has said he has no intention of using Scott Erickson as a starter, back spasms or not. From MLB.com:

Torre nixed the idea of using Erickson as a starter, however, even if the rotation has a hole to fill because of injury.

“We’re looking for Erickson in the middle of a game, because he could probably give you two, three or four innings,” Torre said. “If he’s in the mix, that’s probably what his role would be.”

If he’s in the mix,” music to my ears.

Dem’s Da Breaks

There aren’t many games I’d like to read about less than Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Already the framework for Buster Olney’s book about the Yankees’ most recent championship run, the game itself is probably one of the single most painful moments of my Yankee life. I’m not asking anyone to cry for me–in the middle of the night after the Diamondbacks won, restless from a lack of sleep, I was able to get some much-need perspective when I realized that the team had in fact just won the three previous titles. Brother, I thought, it could be a lot worse. Still, three outs away? With Marinao on the mound? Man, you’d have to take that everytime, right? After the eighth inning an old friend of mine–a Mets/Red Sox fan–called up and said, “Well, that’s about that, huh?” I nearly broke the phone slamming it down. You never make that call, bro. Especially, after those Murphy’s Law-defying games at the Stadium.

The 2001 Serious was far more difficult for me to stomach than the 2004 playoff collapse to the Red Sox. Yet the way in which they lost to Arizona was somehow fitting. Here were the Yankees getting spanked around all Series long and if it weren’t for two nights of Miracles, there would never have even been a Game 7. But there was, and in the end the Yankees simply got out-Yankeed.

I know my emotions were heightened in the aftermath of 9.11, and there were a lot of people out there pulling for the Yankees (not everyone, cause you’d have been hard-pressed to find a Red Sox or Met fan not cheering for joy once the D-Backs won). In all, they played spirited ball during those playoffs, knocking off superior teams from Oakland and spoiling what could have been a truly historic season in Seattle. What’s the old cliche? You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything. Well, the Yankees gave its fans and baseball fans in general an amazing run in ’01–exactly what we needed. But they just couldn’t do everything, they couldn’t get the final three outs.

Charles Euchner’s new book, “The Last Nine Innings,” tells the story of baseball through the prism of Game Seven. He explores fielding (infield and, in an illuminating chapter on Steve Finley, outfield), baserunning, hitting, pitching, relief pitching, training, and managing. There are good interviews with Matt Williams and Mark Grace, Curt Schilling and surprisingly, Shane Spencer. What distinguishes Euchner’s book is that it has an “insider’s” feel written from an “outsider’s” persepctive. While “The Last Nine Innings” refers to the events surrounding that post-season, the author sticks mainly to the nuts-and-bolts aspect of the game, both in the training room and on the field.

The results are satisfying and surprising, and the book is accesible for the novice fan while absorbing for the die-hard nut too. I had a few minor quibbles–in characterizing Bernie Williams as a guy who is over-looked, I think Euchner himself over-looks him–but I was most taken with Euchner’s even-handed writing style. The prose isn’t fancy, but clear and to the point. Euchner’s book is balanced, fair and informative. It’s well worth checking out, even for those Yankee fans who may still be licking their wounds.

(more…)

Sunday’s Game – Roster Extravaganza Edition!

The Yankees shutout the Indians at home yesterday 2-0 behind a fantastic outing by Randy Johnson with all five of the returned WBC players seeing action, but before we get to the usual game-in-a-box summary, I want to address the flurry of cuts the Yankees made yesterday. Here are the players optioned or reassigned to the minors yesterday:

1B – Eric Duncan, 3B – Marcos Vechionacci, SS – Ramiro Pena, C – David Parrish, OFs – Melky Cabrera and Mitch Jones, SP – Sean Henn, RPs – J. Brent Cox, T.J. Beam, Frank Brooks.

Duncan, Vechionacci, Pena, Cabrera and Cox are potential future stars who impressed Torre and his coaching staff this spring, but need further seasoning in the minors. Cox, who will be 22 in June, is the oldest of that bunch. Jones also impressed at the plate but remains a poor defender with high strikeout rates, who, at age 28, has yet to show that he’s outgrown triple-A. Sean Henn had an awful spring (9.45 ERA, 6 2/3 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 BB, 4 K) and will return to triple-A where he’ll slip behind DeSalvo and Rasner on the depth chart. Beam is 25, has never pitched above high-A ball, barely pitched this spring (3 IP) and didn’t do well in that limited exposure (6 H, 3 R, despite a solid 4:1 K/BB). Brooks threw just two uneventful innings this spring and will spend the season as a triple-A roster filler. Parrish sucks and proved it by going 0 for 8 this spring.

In addition to those cuts, Senator Al Lieter officially announced his retirement before coming into yesterday’s game to get one last out (a groundout by Eduardo Perez). With those eleven men out of the picture for the moment, one can break the remaining campers into four groups: those that have made the 25-man roster, extra catchers, those rehabbing from injuries, and those battling for one of the final spots on the 25-man freed up by one of those injuries. Here’s how they break down:

Made the roster (22):

1B – Jason Giambi (L)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Gary Sheffield (R)
CF – Johnny Damon (L)
LF – Hideki Matsui (L)
DH – Bernie Williams (S)

R – Andy Phillips (1B/3B)
R – Miguel Cairo (IF)
R – Kelly Stinnett (C)

L – Randy Johnson
R – Mike Mussina
R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Shawn Chacon

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Tanyon Sturtze
L – Mike Myers
L – Ron Villone
R – Jaret Wright

Extra catchers (3):

R – Wil Nieves
S – Ben Davis
R – Omir Santos

Injured or rehabbing (4):

R – Carl Pavano (mangina)
R – Octavio Dotel (elbow)
R – Aaron Small (hamstring)
R – Colter Bean (knee)

Batting for a spot (14):

OF – Bubba Crosby (L)
OF – Kevin Reese (L)
OF – Kevin Thompson (R)
IF – Felix Escalona (R)
IF – Russ Johnson (R)
IF – Kevin Howard (IF)

R – Ramiro Mendoza
R – Scott Erickson
L – Matt Smith
R – Scott Proctor
R – Matt Childers
L – Dusty Bergman
R – Mark Corey
R – Jose Veras

Taking the second part first, Bergman, Corey and Veras have pitched just five innings combined and Bergman and Veras have pitched poorly at that. I can only assume they’re still here just to eat innings. Here are the spring lines of the other five:

(more…)

Saturday’s Game

Playing in the same Jupiter, Florida ballpark in which they lost to the Cardinals the day before, the Yankees took an easy one from Joe Girardi’s baby Marlins yesterday 8-3

Lineup:

Kevin Reese CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Hideki Matsui LF
Gary Sheffield RF
Jason Giambi DH
Andy Phillips 1B
Wil Nieves C
Marcos Vechionacci 3B
Felix Escalona SS

Subs: Miguel Cairo 1B, Kevin Howard 2B, Ramiro Pena SS, Eric Duncan 3B, David Parish C, Mitch Jones RF, Melky Cabrera LF, Russ Johnson DH

Pitchers: Jaret Wright, Dusty Bergman, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Myers, J. Brent Cox, Ron Villone

Big Hits: A three-run homer in the third by Hideki Matsui (1 for 3, 4 RBIs), a bases-loaded triple by Kevin Howard (2 for 4, 4 RBIs), and what Ken Singleton described as “a ringing double” by Mitch Jones (1 for 2). Kevin Reese was 2 for 4 with a walk and two runs scored.

Who Pitched Well: Mike Myers worked a perfect seventh, striking out one, Ramiro Mendoza allowed one hit while striking out one in a scoreless sixth, but the big story was Wright, who allowed just one run in four innings on three hits and no walks while striking out four. After the game, Wright credited his effectiveness to a new grip on one of his pitches taught to him by Mike Mussina. Which pitch that is, however, seems to be the subject of some debate, as MLB.com reports it’s his curve, while our pal Peter Abraham reports it’s his slider.

Oopsies: Felix Escalona, Ramiro Pena and Mitch Jones each committed a fielding error.

Ouchies: Robinson Cano got beaned in the left temple by a throw from third baseman Miguel Cabrera while trying to beat out an infield single in the first. Cano was safe, but was removed from the game as a precaution (yielding to Kevin Howard’s fantastic day). Cano appears to be fine. Scott Erickson was scheduled to pitch, but instead returned to Tampa with back spasms while Ramiro Mendoza, who I believe to be his primary challenger for Aaron Small’s spot in the bullpen, pitched a pretty sixth inning. Jorge Posada (flu) took batting practice and is expected to be in the line-up tomorrow when the team returns to Tampa, as should be returning WBCers Jeter, Rodriguez and Williams (though not Damon, due to his shoulder tendinitis). Bubba Crosby (hamstring) is also expected to return to action tomorrow.

Friday’s Game

The Yanks lost another snoozer on the road, this one 5-2 to the Cardinals.

Lineup:

Miguel Cairo SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Jason Giambi 1B
Gary Sheffield DH
Hideki Matsui LF
Kelly Stinnett C
Melky Cabrera CF
Russ Johnson 3B
Kevin Thompson RF

Subs: Eric Duncan 1B, Felix Escalona 2B, Ramiro Pena SS, Marcos Vechionacci 3B, Wil Nieves C, Kevin Reese LF, Andy Phillips DH

Pitchers: Shawn Chacon, Frank Brooks, Scott Proctor, Ron Villone, Jose Veras, Matt Smith

Big Hits: Doubles by Jason Giambi (1 for 3), Russ Johnson (1 for 3), Miguel Cairo (2 for 4), Kelly Stinnett was 2 for 3 and Kevin Thompson went 2 for 3.

Who Pitched Well: Scott Proctor walked one in two hitless innings. Ron Villone struck out two in a hitless inning, though he walked one.

Who Didn’t: Jose Veras gave up four runs (three earned) on three hits without getting an out, though one suspects that Matt Smith, who struck out two and was not charged with a run, but followed Veras by allowing a hit, walking one and uncorking a wild pitch, had something to do with that.

Oopsies: A throwing error by Chacon and a fielding error by Felix Escalona.

Ouchies: The fates are trying to give Joe Torre a message as Bubba Crosby, who missed the first week of spring after being hit on the index finger during a bunting drill, missed yesterday’s game due to what is alternately being called a tight groin and a tight hamstring. Doesn’t sound like Torre’s getting the message, however:

“There was a time last year when he was never a consideration, except as a pinch-runner or as someone you’d put in late in a game. But after Donnie worked with him, I saw a different hitter. He once was a dead pull hitter — hit the ball in the air and swing and miss. Donnie got him waiting on the ball. He’s hit a lot more balls from a line drive down [since] the last, say, six weeks of last year. He’s a much better player now.” (MLB.com)

Upcoming Schedule: Settle in for a long day of baseball on the tube today as the Yankees play the Fish on YES at 1:00 and the two WBC semifinals air on ESPN at 3:00 and 10:00. A little break in the middle there for dinner, otherwise, baseball all day. Best of all, Becky and I have a brand new puppy to curl up on the couch and watch the games with us. Man, life is good!

Thursday’s Split Squad Games

The Yankees dropped a pair of split-squad games to the Tigers and Astros yesterday.

A-Game

Wednesday the Yankees visited Houston and put the smack down. Yesterday, the Astros returned the favor 10-5.

Lineup:

Miguel Cairo 3B
Melky Cabrera CF
Jason Giambi 1B
Gary Sheffield DH
Hideki Matsui LF
Kelly Stinnett C
Kevin Howard 2B
Ramiro Pena SS
Kevin Reese RF

Subs: Eric Duncan 1B, Russ Johnson 3B-2B, Hector Made 3B, Wil Nieves C, Bronson Sardinha RF, Rudy Guillen LF, Ben Davis DH

Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Mariano Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Myers, T.J. Beam

Big Hits: Solo homers by Matsui (1 for 2) and Russ Johnson (2 for 2), a pair of doubles by Stinnett (2 for 3) and a triple by Melky Cabrera (2 for 4)

Who Pitched Well: Wang allowed five hits and no walks in four innings and getting ten of his twelve outs on ground balls, but was betrayed by his defense resulting in a pair of unearned runs in the first. Rivera and Myers both walked one in a hitless inning, though Rivera also hit a batter.

Who Didn’t: Sturtze and Beam combined to allow seven runs on six hits a pair of walks and a homer (Luke Scott off Beam) in two innings pitched. Sturtze also plunked two Astros. Ugly.

Oopsies: A fielding error by Cano and a throwing error by Ramiro Pena.

Ouchies: Jason Giambi played the field for the first time since before his calf injury. Jorge Posada has a fever, unfortunately an increase in cowbell has not caused the illness to abate. He’ll skip the Yankees’ two-game roadtrip to Jupiter this weekend.

B-Game

Joe Torre actually joined his B-squad on the road (Mattingly managed the home game) as it enabled him to have dinner with his old Cardinal teammate Bob Gibson and Gibson’s even older teammate Stan Musial. How much would you pay to join that trio for a long, story-filled meal? I’m sure dinner was better than the Yankees 4-3 loss to the Tigers, which was so incredibly dull that the subhead of the game wrap on the Yankees’ official site reads: “Rolls, Escalona, Vechionacci drive in runs for New York.” Wow, thrilling.

Lineup:

Bubba Crosby CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Andy Phillips 1B
Mitch Jones DH
Damian Rolls LF
Felix Escalona SS
Omir Santos C
Marcos Vechionacci 3B
Kevin Thompson RF

Subs: David Parrish C, Jose Tabata RF

Pitchers: Matt DeSalvo, Jeffrey Karstens, Scott Erickson, Sean Henn

Big Hits: None. Not one Yankee had an extra base hit or a multi-hit day.

Who Pitched Well: Really no one, though both Jeff Karstens and Scott Erickson allowed just one baserunner in two innings a piece, both baserunners came on solo homers. Matt DeSalvo allowed just one run on another solo homer in three innings while striking out three, but also walked three and allowed two other hits, and the homer was by Omar Infante.

Who Didn’t: No one really stunk up the joint like Sturtze or Beam in the A-Game. Sean Henn got the loss by giving up another run in 1 2/3 innings on two walks and two hits, the second hit being a game-ending RBI single by Nook Logan, though Henn also struck out two.

Oopsies: The Yankees played error-free ball, but the Tigers made four errors behind groundballer Nate Robertson (11 of 15 outs on the ground) and company, giving them a staggering 26 on the spring.

WBC: The USA managed just three hits against Mexico, losing 2-1 and thus losing a tie-breaker to Japan, who will advance to play Korea in the second semi-final on Saturday, the third match-up between the two teams in the tournament and a game I don’t plan to miss. That means the Yankees will be back at full force possibly as soon as Sunday’s return to Tampa. Bernie Williams is already back in Tampa, where he will work out at the minor league complex while the Yankees are on their two-day road trip. For the record, Derek Jeter went 0 for 4 in last night’s game and finished the WBC with a .450/.522/.550 line with a triple and no strikeouts in 23 plate appearances over six games. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 2 with two walks last night finishing with a .333/.391/.381 line with a double and seven strikeouts in the same number of opportunities. Johnny Damon did indeed pinch run last night, but did not come to bat, finishing the tournament 1 for 7 with a triple and two walks. Al Leiter made just one appearance in the tournament giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in just 2/3 of an inning.

Third Cut: After pitching in the B-game, Matt DeSalvo and Jeffrey Karstens were optioned to Columbus (a.k.a. minor league camp). With that, the Yankees have relocated all of the starters who aren’t either going to make the 40-man roster or be considered for work out of the bullpen, which is to say that I believe that the Yankees are currently trying to figure out what Sean Henn might be able to offer in a relief roll. DeSalvo has thus far fulfilled expectations by departing camp as the pitcher most likely to pull a Chien-Ming Wang this season. His final spring line: 8 IP, 4H, 1 R, 1 HR, 6 BB, 5 K, 1-0, 1.13.

Wednesday’s Game

The Yankees were exceedingly unkind to ol’ pal Andy Pettitte and the Astros yesterday, whooping them 11-1 on their own field.

Lineup:

Bubba Crosby CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Jason Giambi DH
Jorge Posada C
Andy Phillips 1B
Mitch Jones RF
Russ Johnson 3B
Kevin Thompson LF
Miguel Cairo SS

Subs: Eric Duncan 1B, Felix Escalona 2B, Ramiro Pena SS, Omir Santos C, Kevin Reese CF, Kevin Howard DH

Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Ron Villone, Scott Erickson, Ramiro Mendoza, Frank Brooks

Big Hits: Mitch Jones (2 for 5) went deep twice for the second time in three days, Kevin Thompson cracked a pair of doubles in the process of going 4 for 5, Robinson Cano (3 for 4) and Miguel Cairo (1 for 3) also doubled, as did Russ Johnson (1 for 4), who’s two-bagger was his first hit of the spring (though he’s walked five times and scored four runs), Eric Duncan, who is now slugging .875 this spring, tripled in his only at-bat, Andy Phillips also had a big day going 3 for 4 with a pair of RBIs.

Who Pitched Well: Mike Mussina threw 77 percent of 78 pitches for strikes while allowing just one run on three hits and a walk and striking out eight over five innings. After the game he said, “I did everything I wanted to do, anything I wanted to do, in any count.” Scott Erickson worked a perfect seventh. Ron Villone and Ramiro Mendoza each threw a hitless inning walking one each.

Ouchies:

The verdict on Johnny Damon’s shoulder is tendinitis. The Yankees are taking that as good news and Damon will be limited to pinch-running and pinch-hitting duties for at least the next week be it in the WBC or Yankee camp. The main objective is to keep Damon from throwing, though I tend to wonder if a head-first slide or diving back to first on a pick-off attempt could do just as much damage.

Despite claiming to refuse comment on the fact that Damon’s shoulder flare up happened in the WBC, Cashman did say that it was something “that sprung up because he pushed himself.” With Korea’s stirring 2-1 victory over Japan, the US can advance to the semifinals of the WBC with a victory tonight over Mexico. As WBC rosters can be altered between rounds, here’s hoping the US sends Damon back to Tampa if that should happen. Regardless, the Yankees expect Damon to be ready for opening day.

Meanwhile, the big injury news from yesterday is that Aaron Small strained his right hamstring while doing his running on Tuesday and will likely start the season on the disabled list. With Small and Pavano, who threw 45 pitches in the bullpen yesterday, ticketed for the DL there are now two open roster spots for the season’s first 15 days.

As I said before, I expect Pavano’s spot to be filled by an extra position player much like Andy Phillips did for Kevin Brown last year. The favorite for that spot at the moment is Kevin Thompson, who is hitting .469/.514/.656 this spring, though by all rights Thompson should be given Bubba Crosby’s spot on the roster with, say, Felix Escalona (.296/.321/.519) getting the extra spot. Of course, bearing in mind the uselessness of spring training stats, I’d rather see Kevin Reese take the outfield spot as there are still some doubts about Thompson that even his electric spring can’t quiet. Either way, don’t fret too much about the spot created by Pavano as the last man on the bench won’t see a lick of action before the Yankees’ need for a fifth starter boots him back to Columbus on April 15.

As for who will replace Small in the pen, you can scratch Colter Bean from your wishlist due to the fact that he’s rehabbing from ACL surgery and still hasn’t seen game action this spring. You can also cross off the three Columbus starters on deck, DeSalvo, Henn and Rasner (the last of whom has already been reassigned), as they’d be much better off starting in Columbus in preparation for the all-but-guaranteed injury-induced opening in the rotation than languishing in the major league pen. I’m wishcasting for Matt Smith, who despite giving up one monster solo homer has looked sharp to me. The problem there is he’s only pitched 2 1/3 innings this spring. More likely we’ll be subjected to watching “proven veterans” Ramiro Mendoza and, yes, Scott Erickson battle it out for Small’s long relief spot.

Startlingly, Erickson has pitched more innings this spring than any Yankee hurler other than Johnson and Mussina. Gulp. Here are the spring lines of these two old hands:

Erickson: 8 1/3 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K, 0-2, 2.16
Mendoza: 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 7 K, 1-0, 2.84

If forced to chose between these two, I’d take Mendoza in a heartbeat. My reasons are these:

  • Save for the high walk total, Mendoza has outpitched Erickson this spring
  • Erickson last posted an ERA below 6.00 in 2004 in eight starts with triple-A Norfolk. His mark there was 4.50. Mendoza posted a 1.50 ERA in 11 appearances from Rookie ball through the majors while rehabbing last year, striking out 19 in 18 innings (most of those innings coming in triple-A) and walking just two. Mendoza also posted a 3.52 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with the Red Sox in 2004. The last time Erickson had a single-season major league ERA that low was 1992 (though in fairness, Erickson is a starter and did post a 3.69 mark in 1997). Erickson’s lowest single-season major league ERA this decade was 5.55 in 2002.
  • Mendoza is more than four years younger than Erickson.

Prodigal Son: With their 3-2 loss to Cuba, Puerto Rico has been eliminated from the WBC, which means Bernie Williams is on his way back to Yankee camp. Bernie was 2 for 4 with a walk and a lead-off home run in the loss and hit .250/.280/.542 with a double and two homers but just one walk in 25 plate appearances as PR’s DH and lead-off man in all six games.

WBC: There are just four games left in the WBC, miraculously all will be shown live on ESPN (all times EST):

Thu 3/16: USA @ MEX (Angel Stadium) 7:30
Sat 3/18: CUB @ DR (Petco Park) 3:00 – semi-final 1
Sat 3/18: TBD @ KOR (Petco Park) 10:00 – semi-final 2
Mon 3/20: Winner 1 @ Winner 2 (Petco Park) 9:00 – Championship Game

Korea remains the only undefeated team in the tournament and looks to have the upper hand given their pitching strength and the fact that the final two rounds will take place at the pitching-friendly Petco Park. Indeed, if the US beats Mexico tonight and advances to face Korea in Saturday’s second semi-final, I’d expect an easy win for Korea given the USA’s inferior outfield defense (Ken Griffey Jr. in center is a nice thought, but an outdated one to say the least) and the fact that Korea already beat them once by a score of 7-3 in a game in which Korea was leading 7-1 after eight innings. Filtered back through Yankee glasses, this means the issue of Damon playing in any future WBC games is a minor one at worst and that Damon, Jeter and Rodriguez (but hopefully not Leiter) will all be back in camp by Monday.

Tuesday’s Game

The Yankees lost a close, well-pitched game to the Cardinals who, disturbingly, wore their red home caps on the road. Final score 4-3.

Lineup:

Bubba Crosby CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Jason Giambi DH
Gary Sheffield RF
Hideki Matsui LF
Andy Phillips 1B
Kelly Stinnett C
Felix Escalona SS
Miguel Cairo 3B

Subs: Eric Duncan 1B, Kevin Howard 2B, Ramiro Pena SS, Marcos Vechionacci 3B, Wil Nieves C, Kevin Thompson RF, Kevin Reese CF, Melky Cabrera LF, Mitch Jones DH, Ben Davis PH, Shelley Duncan PH

Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Mariano Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Myers

Big Hits: Just a solo homer by Robinson Cano (2 for 4). Cano was the only Yankee with more than one hit.

Who Pitched Well: Mariano Rivera struck out two in a scorless sixth. Randy Johnson allowed just one hit through 4 1/3, retiring eleven in a row and needing just 36 pitches through his first four innings. He then gave up two runs on a walk and four more hits (including a homer by St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan’s son Chris) over his final 2/3 inning. He struck out four on the day throwing 73 percent of 67 pitches for strikes. Johnson will make three more starts this spring.

Oopsies: A throwing error by Kelly Stinnett.

Ouchies: Jason Giambi returned to game action going 0 for 2 with a sac fly, but the big news was Johnny Damon’s tired throwing shoulder. Damon hurt his left shoulder diving for a ball early last August, but the reoccurence of soreness has been attributed to typical spring training fatigue. However, because Damon is playing in the WBC and no one in Tampa–specifically Torre, Cashman, or any of the Yankee doctors or trainers–has spoken to him, everyone is overreacting to the lack of information. The fact of the matter is that Damon is resting the shoulder by not playing–he last started on Friday and had a single pinch-hit at-bat on Sunday–just as he would if he were in camp with the Yankees, and could be taken off the US roster and returned to the Yankees if the team advances to the semifinals (which it might not). Damon has a dreadful throwing arm to begin with (Steven Goldman recently wrote that the Orioles’ Daniel Cabrera could throw a dead octopus through a brick wall. Damon, like Bernie before him, couldn’t throw a brick through a dead octopus.) So as long as the bum wing (which could be fine given the rest) doesn’t effect his swing, there’s not much cause for concern here. Just be thankful that the Yankees have two of the best cuttoff men in the business in Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. The more things change . . .

Older posts           
feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver