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What Do The Numbers Say?

In these early days of spring training, reporters, bloggers, and fans desperate for any little bit of news cling to every comment made by the manager and GM, wishcasting and overreacting wildly to anything that seems to betray more than intended.

For example, at the end of his chat with the press yesterday, Joe Torre was asked if he got to see any of the relievers work out in the bullpen and if he saw anything he liked. Here’s his response:

“Kozlowski. I like his size and the fact that he’s left handed. I thought Veras was very good. It looked like he was hitting spots which is pretty unusual. Plus, Gator said to him ‘what was that?’ He says, ‘curveball.’ He [Guidry] says ‘No, no, no. Fastballs. Changeup.’ So, he felt good enough to want to do that today. . . . Let’s see who else was there. . . . Vizcaino I missed, I wanted to see him, but I was a little tardy. Gator said he hit his spots all the time and threw well. I though Beam threw the ball pretty good. Henn, I tell ya, Henn’s throwing the ball hard, and, again, he showed us that last year that we didn’t see before that. So it’s going to be interesting. I thought Villone threw the ball good. If you compare to last year, where he was at this time last year, because he didn’t have a good spring as far as pop on the ball.”

Using the list of pitching groups posted earlier yesterday by Peter Abraham, Torre mentioned the lone new guy in group one (Vizcaino), one guy from group three (Kozlowski), and one guy not listed (Villone) as well as every member of group two but one: Chris Britton, who was not only part of group two, but is a pitcher Torre’s never seen before in camp.

So should Chris Britton be worried? Probably not, but that’s the level of clue-hunting that tends to go one this time of year.

With that in mind, one thing that always interests me is the assignment of spring training numbers. If you’re wearing number 83 and competing with a guy wearing number 14, odds are you’re fighting an up-hill battle. So, what do the numbers tell us?

To begin with, two returning players with guaranteed spots on the 25-man roster have changed numbers. We all know about Robinson Cano switching from Roger Clemens’ old number 22 to 24, a tribute in reverse to Jackie Robinson, for who he was named. With Randy Johnson in Arizona, Miguel Cairo has reversed his digits as well, ditching number 14 for the 41 he wore in 2004.

A number of pitchers on the bubble for the last two spots in the bullpen, or as potential replacements for the fifth starter have retained their numbers from last year. That’s a good sign for number 33 Brian Bruney and number 38 T.J. Beam. Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, and Sean Henn are likely less encouraged that they’re still wearing numbers 58, 61, and 62 respectively.

Had Raul Chavez not broken his hand he might have been otherwise discouraged by the fact that he’s been given number 59 while the three men he’s competing against are wearing 14, 17, and 26 (Todd Pratt, Ben Davis, and Wil Nieves, respectively). Wearing John Flaherty’s old number 17 is probably the most impressive thing Davis has done in a Yankee uniform.

Elsewhere on the 40-man, Jose Veras has to be discouraged that the number 31 he wore last year in the majors has been reassigned. He’s now sporting a clunky 60 on his back. Josh Phelps, who will either make the 25-man or return to the Orioles, is the man wearing number 31 now. Meanwhile, both of the Kevins (Thompson and Reese) wore number 27 in the majors last year. This spring, Thompson got to keep it while Reese was given number 64. Tough break for Reese, who missed the end of last year due to injury.

Among the non-roster invitees, the only men with what look like regular season numbers are Pratt, Davis, and Ron Villone, who has retained his old number 47 and is a good bet to make the team.

What about Phil Hughes, you ask? Hughes wore number 50 for Trenton last year and, curiously, has a number 45 “Hughes” jersey pictured on his website. For those who have forgotten, 45 is Carl Pavano’s number, a curious choice for Hughes to say the least. Less compellingly, Hughes was given number 65 this spring, which merely supports the Yankees insistence that he’s going to start the season in Scranton.

By the way, Chris Britton is wearing number 56. He wore 52 for the O’s last year. The low 50s are mostly taken up by the coaches, the exceptions being Bernie’s 51, Bobby Abreu’s 53 (taken from Larry Bowa upon arrival last year), and Hideki Matsui’s 55. Tony Peña wears 52 for the Yankees. Britton thus got the lowest available number in the 50s. I suppose that’s a good sign. Stay tuned . . .

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