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Monthly Archives: March 2007

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14-13-3

That’s the Yankees’ final spring record after going 0-1-1 against the Tigers in their final two exhibition games. Since the 25-man roster was set in advance of those games (posted again below the fold for those who missed it), I won’t bother with my usual game wrap, instead, here are some items of interest from the final two days of Yankee camp:

  • Kei Igawa allowed three runs on six hits and no walks (though he did hit a batter) while striking out three and needing just 72 pitches to get through six innings in his final start of the spring yesterday.
  • Andy Pettitte threw 66 pitches over four innings against the Blue Jays’ double-A team on Friday allowing four runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out three. Pettitte said he was “good and gassed” at the end of the outing, his first game action in two weeks. Pettitte hasn’t had any continuing back pain, but team trainers have told him not to run between starts just yet, which, in addition to a simple lack of work, is partially to blame for his lack of stamina. He’ll likely pitch no more than five innings on Wednesday, though with Tuesday’s off-day, he’ll yield to a fully-rested bullpen.
  • Mike Mussina needed just 71 pitches to hold the Blue Jays’ triple-A squad scoreless over seven innings on Friday. He allowed just four hits and struck out five.
  • Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino, and Mariano Rivera each threw a scoreless inning. Farnsworth allowed the only hit, Rivera the only walk, each struck out one save for Rivera who struck out two.
  • After finding out he had made the team, Brian Bruney went out and gave up three runs on three hits in his lone inning of work on Friday (though he didn’t walk anyone either).
  • In yesterday’s game, Johnny Damon went 2 for 2 with a triple, Josh Phelps hit his fourth home run of the spring, and Wil Nieves went 2 for 2 with a pair of singles.
  • Andy Phillips has cleared waivers and will open the season with triple-A Scranton. He played all of Friday’s game at second base going 1 for 4 with a run scored.
  • No decision yet from Ron Villone regarding accepting a minor league assignment from the Yankees. If he does accept, he’ll have another opportunity to opt out of his contract if he is not called up by the end of April.
  • Humberto Sanchez and Jose Veras have both been placed on the major league 15-day disabled list. Sanchez will stay in extended spring training to continue his rehab from the elbow soreness that kept him out of action all spring. Veras is recovering from surgery to have a bone spur removed from his pitching elbow and is expected to miss two to three months.

(more…)

You’re My Boy, Blue

Tom Verducci has a wonderful piece in the current issue of SI about his experience working as an umpire during a spring training game between the Red Sox and Orioles last week.  The good folks at SI.com saw fit to posting it on the web.  Verducci also has a follow-up column, filled with insights, also at SI.com.  The best part of Verducci’s experiment is that is illustrates just how difficult umpiring is, and how seriously the men in blue take their profession.  It also drives home just how good major league players are.  

From the magazine article:

The baseball we hold dear is a benign, leisurely sport, a "noncontact" pursuit in which we cherish its sweetly proportioned empty spaces. The interlude between pitches. The flanks in the alignment of fielders. The 90 feet between bases. The flight of a thrown or batted baseball offers elegant interruption to the spatial symmetry.

Working from the interior of the infield, however, reveals the power and speed of the game. It’s the difference between observing a funnel cloud from a safe distance on the ground and flying a research plane into the vortex of a tornado. "I tell all the young umpires that come up from the minors, ‘Expect a close play every time,’" says Tim Tschida, 46, my crew chief who is working home plate this game. "[The play's] only routine here after it’s over. That ball three steps to the right of the shortstop? They don’t get to that ball in the minors and here they might throw the guy out. Middle infielders get to more balls up the middle that minor leaguers would never get to — and not only get to them, but turn them into double plays. I tell the young guys, ‘Don’t give up on anything.’"

From the on-line column:

Star players don’t get their own strike zone.

Said umpire Sam Holbrook, "When I was a rookie umpire in ’98 in the National League, we had interleague play down in Florida. Wade Boggs comes to bat, and the pitcher throws it 92 miles an hour right down the gut. I call it a strike.

"Wade steps back and starts to turn around. I’m thinking, What’s he possibly going to bitch about? He says, ‘Sam, do me a favor. Can you check that ball. I think it’s got a little smudge mark.’

"’Sure,’ I say. The guy throws it in. I look at it and there’s this tiny dot about that big [a quarter-inch] that he saw on a baseball going 92 miles an hour. I said, ‘Holy smokes.’ It just shows you how good the really good ones are."

Said Culbreth, "It’s a myth, this idea that, ‘Do you give Wade Boggs pitches? Because it looks like you do.’ No. Wade Boggs takes pitches because he knows what they are.

"It’s like Greg Maddux. It’s not that we’re giving him that outside pitch. It’s that he never stops throwing out there. If a guy throws a hundred pitches out there and another guy throws 10, it’s always going to appear that this guy is getting the outside."

My father used to ask me what the hardest position in baseball was.  I would say, "Catcher?"  He shook his head.  "Shortstop?"  No.  "The umpire."  I always thought that was funny coming from my dad, who loved to defy authority.  On the other hand, he also had an appreciation for order and rules (maybe he only liked to buck the rules he didn’t like).  The film director Bernardo Bertolucci used to say he’d never work with a film editor if the editor ever won an award for cutting one of his films.  Good editing means that you don’t notice it.  Same as umpiring: you only notice when they screw up. 

Now, I love to curse at umps as much as the next guy, especially the arrogant ones, but after reading Verducci’s story, I will remember not only how hard their jobs are, but how well they perform them. 

Card Corner

By Bruce Markusen

  

 

Willie Horton—Topps Company (1967) No. 465

 

Willie Horton was a favorite player of mine, despite the fact that he never played for two of “my” teams (the Yankees or the Pittsburgh Pirates). One of the most popular Detroit Tigers of the sixties and seventies, Horton made news three years ago when the Michigan legislature honored him with “Willie Horton Day” throughout the state. It was certainly a deserving recognition for the longtime outfielder-DH, who not only made seven American League All-Star teams during his career, but has also continually involved himself in numerous charitable and humanitarian acts throughout the Detroit area. A longtime member of the Tigers’ front office, Horton has worked with such organizations as the United Way, Meals On Wheels, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Horton’s community activism stretches all the way back to his playing days—specifically to 1967. That season, Horton achieved legitimate hero status when he left Tiger Stadium immediately after a game and traversed directly into the streets of Detroit during the city’s brutal racial riots in an effort to quell some of the violence. Still in full Tiger uniform, Horton climbed aboard a truck to speak to a gathering crowd of insurgents. Horton obviously couldn’t stop the riots by himself, but he did succeed in quieting some of the angry demonstrators, especially when he engaged them in calming one-on-one conversations. It was the kind of brave, civic-minded action that I can’t imagine coming from many of today’s major leaguers, given their general reluctance to “mingle” with the common folks even under more pleasant circumstances, both at the games and in other public locales.

Horton’s bravery under fire in 1967 probably didn’t surprise too many of his Tiger teammates, who had come to respect the quiet, rock-solid left fielder for his understated leadership abilities and unwavering professional approach to his work. Horton was one of just a few black players on the Tigers of ’67 and ’68 (along with backup outfielders Gates Brown and Lenny Green, starting pitcher Earl Wilson, and relievers Les Cain and John Wyatt) and the team’s only full-fledged African-American star. His status as the team’s most prominent minority made him extremely popular with black fans throughout Detroit, helping to attract a number of African-American visitors in creating a diverse crowd at Tiger Stadium. Curiously, white and black fans intermingled without incident at the old ballpark, in contrast to the anger and violence that bubbled between the races in the city streets.

On the field, Horton’s presence loomed just as large as his civic and social involvement. He was one of the most feared hitters of his era, in part because of a sturdy five-foot, 11-inch, 225-pound frame of compact muscle, achieved at a time when few players lifted weights and perhaps none used steroids or other performance-enhancing, bodybuilding supplements. Pound for pound, no one appeared stronger than the robust Horton, whose thick wrists and forearms made him a Bunyanesque figure. A seven-time All-Star during his career, Horton typically hit 25 to 35 home runs a year and put up slugging percentages bordering the .500 neighborhood in an era when pitchers enjoyed most of the “enhancements” that the game provided (an expanding strike zone along with the ingression of larger, full-figured stadiums in Anaheim, Oakland, and Kansas City).  Horton’s performance during the famed “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968 remains one of his landmarks; he hit 36 home runs and slugged .543 in a year where most hitters flailed away at far below their normal levels of production. He then hit .304 and scored six runs in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was one of his fielding plays that really turned the Tiger tide during the Series. Never known as a particularly nimble fielder, Horton aggressively charged a ground single to left and then air-launched a one-hop throw to catcher Bill Freehan, who tagged out Lou Brock to stymie a Cardinal rally in the fifth inning of Game Five. The Tigers went on to win the potential elimination game, then claimed the next two matchups to take the Series.

Horton remained the Tigers’ everyday left fielder until 1972, when injuries and a slumping bat restricted Horton to 108 games and led to a time-sharing arrangement with the lefty-swinging Gates Brown. Tigers manager Billy Martin lost so much confidence in Horton that he began to play a catcher, the awkward and immobile Duke Sims, in the outfield during the American League Championship Series, squeezing Willie out of starts in the fourth and fifth games. (Horton, by the way, says that Martin’s insistence on using Sims in the outfield during the playoffs cost the Tigers the pennant that year. Sims went only 1-for-6 in the final two games and committed an error in the decisive fifth game, which the Tigers lost to the A’s, 2-1. In the meantime, Horton appeared only as a pinch-hitter in those two games, delivering one hit in two at-bats. Man, when will managers realize that catchers in the outfield do not work, as seen in the failed examples of Sims, Manny Sanguillen, and Todd Hundley?)

Plagued by a series of injuries, Horton lost the left-field job completely within three years, as the organization decided to capitalize on the relatively new designated hitter rule, which had been put into place in 1973. Horton made a smooth transition to the DH role in 1975, but slumped considerably the following summer. He remained in the role until the early days of the 1977 season, when the over-the-hill Tigers decided to expedite a youth movement by trading Horton to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Steve Foucault, a hefty right-hander who had enjoyed a mixed bag of success but would last only two more seasons in the major leagues.

Legendary for his superstitions, Horton then bounced from team to team, enjoying varying levels of prosperity as a DH with the Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, and Seattle Mariners, while also earning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after his career had been given up for dead. His newfound status as a journeyman prompted a new superstition to be added to his repertoire of rituals, this one involving his equipment. According to the Horton legend, whenever he changed teams he allegedly refused a newly issued helmet from his acquiring team, instead painting the colors and logo of the new team onto his existing headwear. (For those who collected cards in the 1970s, Horton’s 1978 Topps card with the Texas Rangers provides an example of the alleged artwork on his helmet.) During an interview I did with Horton on MLB Radio, I asked Horton if this was true; he confirmed it during our chat while displaying the pride of a skilled painter. True to form, Horton still owns the battered helmet, which appropriately features the old logo and colors of the Mariners—his last major league team.

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2007 New York Yankees (almost)

Hot off the ticker from Peter Abraham, Josh Phelps, Wil Nieves, and Sean Henn have won the right-handed first base, backup catcher, and second lefty reliever spots respectively, and Jeff Karstens will open the season on the DL. Thus:

1B – Doug Mientkiewicz (L)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Bobby Abreu (L)
CF – Johnny Damon (L)
LF – Hideki Matsui (L)
DH – Jason Giambi (L)

Bench:

R – Josh Phelps (1B)
S – Melky Cabrera (OF)
R – Miguel Cairo (IF)
R – Wil Nieves (C)

Rotation:

R – Carl Pavano
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Mike Mussina
L – Kei Igawa
R – Darrell Rasner

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Scott Proctor
R – Luis Vizcaino
L – Mike Myers
L – Sean Henn
R – Brian Bruney*

DL: R – Chien-Ming Wang, R – Jeff Karstens

The asterisks on Rasner and Bruney are because those two spots haven’t been officially announced. With Colter Bean as the only other candidate, however, those assumptions seem safe. The catch is that Karstens’ DL stint was dated retroactively, allowing him to be activated on April 7 if he’s ready, just in time for the fifth starter’s spot to come due on April 8. That means the Opening Day roster could very well include two more relievers and no Darrell Rasner, [UPDATE: Rasner has made the team and is in line to start on April 8.] though the Yankees could always take Rasner north as a long man.

As for the losers of the spring battles, Andy Phillips has been placed on waivers and could potentially clear and end up back in Scranton. Ron Villone has an option to opt-out if he doesn’t make the team, but the Yankees are trying to convince him to accept a triple-A assigment. He’s weighing his options. Todd Pratt, who was going to retire if he didn’t make the team, has left camp.

Also announced today, Josh Phelps will be the Opening Day first baseman against lefty Scott Kasmir, and Andy Pettitte, not Mike Mussina, will start the second game of the season on Wednesday per the order above.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 3

Lineup:

L – Bobby Abreu (DH)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Josh Phelps (1B)
L – Kevin Reese (CF)
R – Kevin Thompson (RF)

Bobby Abreu led off and played the full game to compensate for some of the at-bats he lost to his oblique injury. He went 1 for 3 with a single, a walk, and a strikeout.

Pitchers: Steven Jackson, Ron Villone, Jeff Kennard, Scott Proctor, Kevin Whelan, Colter Bean

Subs: Doug Mientkiewicz (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Andy Phillips (3B), Tim Battle (LF)

Opposition: The Blue Jays’ starters save for Vernon Wells.

Big Hits: Solo homers by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3), a two-out shot in the fourth, his team-leading fourth of the spring, Robinson Cano (1 for 3) leading off the seventh, and Derek Jeter (1 for 4) leading off the eighth. A double and a two-RBI single by Kevin Thompson (2 for 3).

Who Pitched Well?: Steven Jackson, who was awful in his original spring stint, acquitted himself well against the Blue Jays’ starters, allowing just two runs on five hits and a walk in five innings. Jeff Kennard pitched a perfect sixth inning, stranding an inherited runner. Colter Bean pitched a perfect ninth, stranding two inherited runners.

Who Didn’t?: Ron Villone faced one batter in the sixth. That batter singled. Kevin Whelan faced two batters in the ninth. Both of those batters singled.

Ouchies: Jeff Karstens and Chien-Ming Wang will throw bullpens from half-way up the mound tomorrow.

Battles: Joe Torre has said he’d announce the 25-man roster tomorrow. Peter Abraham suggests that Josh Phelps, Wil Nieves and Brian Bruney will be the right-handed first baseman, backup catcher, and last righty reliever, respectively. That just leaves the second lefty reliever (Villone allowing a single to his only batter tonight is yet another data point in Sean Henn’s favor), and the fifth starter. With Karstens not throwing his bullpen until tomorrow, one assumes Torre’s either already made up his mind there, or that the announcement will come immediately following Karsten’s “bully,” as Torre likes to call bullpen sessions.

Notes: Cory Lidle’s widow and son with throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day. A correction to yesterday’s note: Mike Mussina’s minor league outing will occur tomorrow, not today, as will Andy Pettitte’s, as initially reported.

UPDATE:

Cuts: The Kevins were optioned to triple-A after the game, but will remain in major league camp through Saturday.

Also: Mike Myers gave up a pair of runs on four hits in two innings, but also struck out four against the Devil Ray’s triple-A campers.

End of the (Family) Affair?

Life after George has just taken a turn. Steinbrenner’s daughter, Jennifer field for divorce yesterday, leaving Steve Swindal’s future with the club uncertain. Tyler Kepner tackles the story in the Times.

Astros 12, Yankee 2

Darrell Rasner tried to give back the fifth starter’s spot, but forgot that there’s no one around to give it to . . . or is there?

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Doug Mientkiewicz (1B)

Pitchers: Darrell Rasner, Ron Villone, Sean Henn, Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Luis Vizcaino

Subs: Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Carlos Mendoza (3B), Eduardo Nuñez (3B), Wil Nieves (PR/C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Kevin Reese (CF), Josh Phelps (DH)

Opposition: The Astros B-squad.

Big Hits: Doubles by Derek Jeter (1 for 4) and Jason Giambi (1 for 3). Bobby Abreu was 2 for 3 and drove in Jeter in the bottom of the first.

Who Pitched Well?: Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino each threw perfect innings, though Farnsworth had the only strikeout between them.

Who Didn’t?: Brian Bruney allowed two runs on three hits in his lone inning of work, though he didn’t walk anybody. The big story though was the disaster outings by Darrell Rasner and Ron Villone. Villone faced three men, registered just one strike and gave up a four-pitch walk, a single, and a two-run triple, the last to an A-ball shortstop named Tommy Manzella. Darrell Rasner, meanwhile, gave up a whopping seven runs on nine hits, five of them for extra-bases, and two walks in 4 2/3 innings (Villone was supposed to get that last third, but, fittingly, passed the buck to Sean Henn, who allowed Manzella to score before getting that final out of the fifth). Among the hits allowed by Rasner were three doubles, a triple, and a home run, though all came off the bats of men who will head West with the major league team.

Oopsies: Hideki Matsui flubbed a ball in left.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw 31 pitches in the bullpen yesterday, getting up to full speed and mixing in all of his pitches. He’ll throw a minor league game or a simulated game in Tampa today. Jeff Karstens will throw a bullpen today and says he doesn’t feel any discomfort in his elbow. The big injury news, however, took place outside of camp. Peter Abraham reports that J.B. Cox, who missed spring training because he broke his pitching hand in a fight, had a ligament in his pitching elbow repaired by Dr. James Andrews earlier this week. He could return to action at the end of the season, but any hope of him serving as a late-season reinforcement in the pen is gone. Abraham also reports that 2006 draftee Mark Melancon, a right-handed reliever out of the University of Arizona, had full-blown Tommy John surgery this winter.

Battles: Given Rasner’s poor outing, Jeff Karstens could still break camp with the team as the fifth starter if his bullpen work goes well. The team won’t need a fifth starter until a week from Sunday and could give Karstens an inning or two out of the pen early next week as part of his rehab. Meanwhile, Ron Villone remains in play despite all evidence to the contrary. After the game, Joe Torre said that Villone looks exactly like he did a year ago at the end of spring: “If he wasn’t here last year, then it would be tough to even consider him, but with what we know about him and know about his makeup and all that stuff, I think you still have to make a decision with that infumation being a part of it.” Brian Bruney had a bad outing. Wil Nieves went 0 for 2 with a strikeout. Josh Phelps made out in his only at-bat.

Notes: Mike Mussina will pitch in a minor league game today. The Yankees have called up Steven Jackson and Chase Wright to pitch the major league games in place of Mussina and Pettitte today and tomorrow.

Inside Out

By Emma Span

The day before I left New York to cover spring training, my editor at the Village Voice was abruptly fired. When I got back, I met the new editor for the first time… at which point he abruptly fired me, for reasons he declined to explain, other than that I wasn’t his “taste”. Ah, the thrilling world of print media! I knew I should’ve gone to law school.

In some ways, though admittedly not most, this is actually a bit of a relief: I could already feel, after only seven months on the job, some of the joy being sucked out of the game. Baseball writing is a grind, with few off days and very little time to relax, and sportswriters are quick to admit they’re not fans. (This Joel Sherman post is one of the more recent and, I think, honest examples, but almost any beat writer will echo these sentiments). Nor should they be: they’re supposed to be objective, and as Sherman says, his allegiance is to his column. But when you’re neutral, a baseball game becomes an exercise in aesthetics and plot points. It can still be a pleasure to watch, but it lacks the visceral emotional pull that draws many of us to sports in the first place.

Seeing the players off the field humanizes them – watching Mariano Rivera examine a pair of new sneakers, or Endy Chavez trying and failing to tie a tie, or Farnsworth, Bruney, and Proctor feeding the waterfowl. But the fact is that half the fun of rooting for baseball teams lies with the larger-than-life personalities and storylines. With a game every day, you need heroes and villains, not regular people (incredibly fit and staggeringly wealthy regular people, but you know what I mean) with their mundane complement of merits and flaws.

In many ways I was less disillusioned by the players than I expected to be – our culture takes a dim view of professional athletes these days, but almost everyone I talked to was at the very least polite (even when clearly sick of answering questions), and more than a few came across as intelligent and pleasant. But that’s not the point. The point is that if you’re going to spend three or four hours of your life watching a ball game, you want to cheer for your heroes – not the actual human beings, but your idea of them. Melky Cabrera the person seems like a good kid. I got to interview him through a translator this spring, and he spent most of the time smiling warmly and thanking God and Joe Torre – roughly an equal number of times, which I suppose is probably about right. But I still prefer the Melky of the popular imagination who sprang into the city’s collective consciousness last year.

Sometimes the real world is kind enough to give your imagination what it wants. One of the knocks against the Yankees in recent years has been that they don’t appear to be having much fun. Not a few pundits actually blamed the 2004 ALCS loss on this, though I’d argue that was due more to the Red Sox’s pitching, David Ortiz’s hitting, and Dave Roberts’ legs than any kind of magical positive attitude (FORP – Fun Over Replacement Player?). But as a fan, purely as regards entertainment value, it is generally more enjoyable to watch a group of guys who are having a good time themselves. I wouldn’t say that “fun-loving” is the precise word to describe those 1990s teams, but they did appear to genuinely like each other.

Last year, the Mets often seemed to have the Yankees beat by miles in that regard, but in Tampa this spring the Bombers looked as if they were catching up. I think partly that’s due to the youth influx – Cano and Cabrera together are an exuberant presence, even though (or maybe because) I usually can’t understand what they’re saying. But it’s also a deliberate effort: Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, in particular, are making loosening up a priority.

“It’s been a slow turn but we’re definitely getting it,” said Giambi of the lightening clubhouse atmosphere. “When I first came over here it was just a different core of guys, they weren’t like that. They were more businesslike, which was great because it was successful for them, as far as winning four world championships… I mean they had fun, but they were a little more businesslike. Whereas Johnny and I are a little more-” he paused to find the right word, and succeeded – “slapdick.”

In the end, playing good baseball will make almost any group likeable. But as both juicy column material, and fodder for cheerfully irrational fandom, I say the more outsized personalities the better — the kind of personalities who can make an impression from a distance. Cano and Cabrera did this last year, and I believe Giambi can do it again, regardless of what kind of artificial help he may have had in the past. Matsui does it without the benefit of speaking English. And hell, Johnny Damon is the master. We’re down to the last vestiges of those 90s teams, if you’ll forgive me for referring to one of the greatest closers of all time as a vestige, and the Yankees need to forge a new identity for themselves. I just want it to be an engaging one — whether I end up watching this season from the press box, the stands, or the futon.

Emma Span is now a freelance writer, apparently, and lives in Brooklyn. She blogs about New York baseball at Eephus Pitch.

Twins 4, Yankees 3

Ron Gardenhire’s son won the game in the bottom of the ninth when Chris Basak booted his grounder up the middle with the winning run on second base.

Lineup:

S – Melky Cabrera (LF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
R – Josh Phelps (DH)
R – Andy Phillips (1B)
R – Chris Basak (SS)
L – Kevin Reese (CF)
R – Miguel Cairo (3B)

Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Colter Bean, Mike Myers, Scott Proctor, Chris Britton

Subs: Ramiro Peña (SS), Todd Pratt (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Brett Gardner (CF)

Opposition: Most of the Twins starters, but no Joe Mauer.

Big Hits: Solo homers by Bobby Abreu (2 for 2, BB) and Josh Phelps (2 for 4). Phelps is now tied with Giambi and Rodriguez for the camp lead in homers despite having roughly 20 fewer plate appearances than the other two. Abreu, meanwhile, has two homers in just 18 PA. Robinson Cano (2 for 5) picked up his ninth double of the spring.

Who Pitched Well?: Carl Pavano didn’t strike anybody out, but he turned in a quality start allowing just six hits and a walk in six innings and getting 14 of his eighteen outs on the ground thanks to four double plays. He needed just 86 pitches to get through those six innings. Mike Myers threw just two pitches and retired his designated batter, Jason Kubel.

Who Didn’t?: In to face a series of subs in the ninth, Chris Britton issued a four-pitch walk to Luis Rodriguez with one out. After pinch-runner Jason Tyner stole second with two outs, Britton gave up a game-tying single up the middle to Matt Tolbert, a player on loan from the Twins’ minor league camp who wasn’t even invited to major league camp this spring. Tolbert moved to second when Kevin Reese’s throw from center tailed away from cutoff man Andy Phillips, and came around with the winning run when Toby Gardenhire—I kid you not, the manager’s son, Toby, who also was never officially invited to minor league camp—hit another ball up the middle that Chris Basak booted. Tolbert and Toby wore numbers in the 90s and didn’t even have names on the backs of their jerseys. Embarrassing doesn’t cover it.

Oopsies: Chris Basak, playing shortstop, flubbed a grounder to his right on the Yankees’ first defensive play of the game. Playing second base, he then flubbed a grounder to his right on the Yankees’ final defensive play of the game. Basak has made four errors this spring.

Ouchies: Chien-Ming Wang played catch with Ron Guidry from 60 and 90 feet away, making 45 throws. He hopes to beat the Yankees projected return date. Andy Pettitte reported no ill effects from his bullpen on Monday. Jeff Karstens is wearing a protective sleeve on his pitching arm and taking anti-inflammatories. He could start throwing again tomorrow, but will be careful not to rush back to quickly. Ron Villone was hit in the shin by a comebacker in his minor league outing on Monday, but escaped with just a bruise. Humberto Sanchez (elbow) will start the season in extended spring training.

Battles:: Josh Phelps hit a solo home run in the second and singled in the go-ahead run in the ninth, though he did strike out and hit into a double play in his other two at-bats. Phelps is tied with Robinson Cano for the camp lead in RBIs despite having barely more than half as many plate appearances as Cano. Andy Phillips followed Phelps’s home run with a strikeout, then followed that with three more Ks, though he did make some smooth plays in the field. Todd Pratt struck out in his only at-bat. Colter Bean walked the first two men he faced in the seventh, but rallied to post another scoreless inning.

Notes: Twins starter Boof Bonser (who, despite allowing a pair of solo homers, allowed just two other hits and struck out seven in his six innings of work) looks and moves like a right-handed David Wells. Meanwhile, Carl Pavano’s gait on his walk from the mound to the dugout is beginning to resemble Joe Torre’s in the other direction. Despite Pavano’s solid outing, he still hasn’t officially been named the Opening Day starter, though he seems like a lock at this point.

Philadelphia, Here We Come

By Allen Barra

Hello. Some of you may know me as Allen Barra. Some of you may know me under my pseudonyms, Norman Mailer–check out The Naked and The Dead, it kicks butt–or Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the black congresswoman from D.C–I’m thinking of giving up that identity as it forces me to do too much writing from the bleachers while watching Nationals games.

I promised Alex Belth that I would do this blog, so here I am. I wanted to call him up this morning and say, “I’m not responsible for the decisions I make when I’ve been drinking.” But then the horrible truth struck me: I don’t drink, and I actually made the decision to do this while sober. This has to rank with the worst decisions I ever made in my life, right up there with not returning Angelina Jolie’s phone call. So, here I am. I’m not really sure what it is I’m supposed to do.

To be honest, I’m not entirely certain of what a “blog” is. Before I met Alex, I thought a blog was a Danish breakfast treat. Now, after reading Alex, I’ve discovered it’s really a device for baring your soul, like Dostoevsky, only more neurotic.

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Yankees 5, Phillies 1

The Yankees plated five of their seven base runners to support some strong pitching and pick up the win.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Doug Mientkiewicz (1B)

That’ll be the lineup against right-handed starters when the season opens.

Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Mike Myers, Colter Bean, Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Mariano Rivera

Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (PR/SS), Aarom Baldiris (3B), Ben Davis (C), Kevin Reese (RF), Kevin Thompson (CF), Matt Carson (LF)

Opposition: The Phillies’ starting nine.

Big Hits: A mammoth three-run homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 4) with one out in the first inning. A double by Robinson Cano (1 for 3) in the fifth which was followed by a two-RBI double by Doug Mientkiewicz (1 for 3) (Posada had walked to start the inning). Those were actually the only Yankee hits. The Yanks scored five runs on three hits, three walks and a Jimmy Rollins error.

Who Pitched Well?: Kei Igawa gave up a run on two hits and a walk in the third inning, but allowed just two other baserunners (a Wes Helms double and a walk in the fourth), striking out four in five innings of work. He threw 87 pitches. Igawa has looked better in each start this spring, has a 2.65 spring ERA, and could be the Opening Day starter. That said, the Yankees seem more inclined to hide Igawa from the spotlight for now, despite his big-game reputation in Japan. Expect him to make one more spring start on Saturday then make his regular season debut a week from Friday against the Orioles following Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina and, hopefully, Andy Pettitte in the rotation. Brian Bruney struck out the side looking in the seventh. Colter Bean came on in relief of Mike Myers with a man on third and one out, hit two batters to load the bases, but stranded all three runners. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a walk and a hit that should have been caught by Doug Mientkiewicz for a scoreless eighth. Mariano Rivera pitched around a flared single to shallow left that tipped off the outstretched glove of shortstop Chris Basak for a scoreless ninth. And, yes, he did throw the changeup.

Who Didn’t?: Mike Myers came in to face superstar lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Howard is slumping badly and struck out, but Utley greeted Myers with a triple.

Oopsies: Doug Mientkiewicz whiffed on a Chase Utley liner that skipped right in front of him in the eighth.

Ouchies: Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the bullpen before the game and is scheduled to throw again on Wednesday. Pettitte did not throw full speed, but said that he usually doesn’t throw at game speed in his bullpen sessions and that the session went “as good as I could expect.” Jeff Karstens’s tests (including an MRI, a CT scan, and X-rays) came back negative, with doctors suggesting that his stiffness is in his triceps, not his elbow. That’s good news, though it doesn’t cure the stiffness which could still rob Karstens of the roster spot that he appeared to have won this spring. Chien-Ming Wang will have a catch again today.

Battles: Josh Phelps didn’t come to the plate. Ben Davis made out in his only trip. Brian Bruney got the upper hand on Colter Bean in back-to-back innings, though neither allowed a hit or a run. Bean plunked two batters then escaped the bases-loaded jam he helped create. Bruney struck out all three men he faced, looking.

Notes: Ron Villone tossed a scoreless frame against the Phillies’ A-ball squad yesterday afternoon. Ex-Yank Matt Smith tore through the heart of the Yankee order retiring Abreu, Rodriguez, Giambi, and Matsui in order, striking out Rodriguez and Matsui. Smith was a small price to pay for Abreu, but I still dig the cut of that kids jib.

Yankee Panky: Spring Training Edition

By Will Weiss
Bronx Banter Correspondent

Welcome, Yankee fans, to the first edition of “Yankee Panky” on Bronx Banter. First, special thanks go to BB’s Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, for allowing me to riff on two subjects I’ve studied my entire life: the Yankees and the media.

In this space, we’ll address on a weekly basis — and sometimes more frequently, if the situation merits — how the team is portrayed in the local and national media. Along the way, we’ll review the battle of the back pages in the Daily News, the Post and Newsday, the top storylines of the week, and examine TV and radio coverage as well.

While I will be critiquing the coverage in this space, I will not criticize specific writers or broadcasters. I spent the past five years as senior editor of YESNetwork.com and still call many of the writers and broadcasters on the Yankee beat my colleagues. I’ll leave the railing to Phil Mushnick and Bob Raissman, since that’s what they get paid to do.

This column will also be an exercise in engaging you as readers and fans to speak up. (This is a place for banter, after all, isn’t it?) If the media, from an idealistic standpoint, is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the fans, do they do a good job of serving their audience? What kind of stories do you care about: features that give a sense of humanness and personality to the players, or do you want better game analysis? Do you care more about snappy quotes and the soap opera elements that feed the tabloids, or do you prefer the more intellectual type of coverage presented by the New York Times, Baseball Prospectus and bloggers like Steven Goldman at YES?

We can get to those questions throughout the season. For now, here’s my quick recap of the spring, and the backpage count for the week:

Number of times the Yankees led: 1 (Wednesday, 3/21) On this day, the Yankees announced they would not give A-Rod a contract extension, leaving the door open for him to opt out after the season. Since the Yankees have a history of not giving contract extensions before the season, this should not have been a surprise. It should be even less of a surprise given the treatment of Mariano Rivera’s contract as he enters what could be his final year as a Yankee.

Top Story, Part 1: A-Rod. From his admission of a cooler relationship with Derek Jeter to the Mike and the Mad Dog interview to the “will he or won’t he” be here in 2008 questions, when was enough enough? Why didn’t editors sound the dead-horse alert?

On his WEPN radio show, Michael Kay called for Alex Rodriguez to “shut up” and “stop doing interviews.” On virtually every stop of the Baseball Prospectus book tour, the contributing authors were asked about A-Rod and, naturally, defended his status as a great player. I hope this year is the year he’ll be able to get out of his way both psychologically and verbally and stop caring what people think, but that’s not his makeup. The New York papers have played A-Rod to be the anti-Jeter for three years, when really the biggest difference between the two is their relationships with the media. Jeter uses the press to preserve clubhouse matters and an image similar to Nike brethren Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, whereas A-Rod comes across as a little brother in his sibling’s shadow, using the media to pine for attention.

As someone who had to assess these situations and decide how to cover the soap opera in a workable way for YES, I can tell you honestly that not long after his game-winning home run against the Braves in late June last year, I wanted the A-Rod stuff to stop. But he has a tendency to keep bringing the stories on himself and making news through his actions. Maybe this is the year he does it in a positive way in New York.

Top Story, Part 2: Carl Pavano. A cause for contempt among Yankee fans and to some extent, teammates (remember Mike Mussina’s quote; “He’s got to prove to a lot of people he wants to pitch for us.”), the pinstriped punchline for the past 18 months has come through the spring healthy and is now being considered for the Opening Day start on April 2 against the Devil Rays at the Stadium. I don’t have a problem with the logic or facts of this report, given Chien-Ming Wang’s hamstring injury, Andy Pettitte’s back spasms and Mussina’s desire to keep to a regular schedule. Let him start Opening Day in front of 56,000 fans who can’t wait to boo him and see what happens.

Here’s my beef: To say that Pavano has redeemed himself among teammates and fans is farfetched. You don’t go from “CRASH TEST DUMMY” in September to redemption in March. Just ask A-Rod.

Top Story, Part 3: The Roger Clemens discussion. This would be going on even if Brian Cashman hadn’t lured Andy Pettitte back from Houston. Clemens was coy in his YES broadcast booth appearance two weeks ago, which is typical. He’s been vague every offseason since 2003. I’m inclined to disbelieve anything that’s written or said about Clemens’ return one way or another. Like many, I believe he will pitch, either in New York or Boston. The Post’s “>George King called it a “flop” in Sunday’s edition – leading to questions of his Major League readiness, and whether he’ll be able to handle New York.

Story we all saw coming, Part 2: Gary Sheffield popping off at the Yankee organization the first chance he had to meet with the New York media. His comments, however true or untrue they may be, fit the pattern of how he left his previous five teams.

Surprise column: Joel Sherman of the Post criticizing Jeter’s skill as a captain in the wake of the first phase of the spring’s A-Rod dilemma.

Most underreported story: Granted, he was hurt for much of the Grapefruit League season, but did anyone else notice how much leaner Jason Giambi looked? (I’m glad not too much has been made of the team’s lenience regarding Giambi’s mullet and scruff. He needs to be grubby.)

What’s your take on all this? There’s a lot here, so fire away.

Until next week…

Tigers 9, Yankees 5

Paging Darrell Rasner . . .

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
R – Todd Pratt (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Melky Cabrera (RF)
L – Doug Mientkiewicz (DH)

Pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Sean Henn, Mike Martinez, Chris Britton, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino, Eric Wordekemper

Subs: Andy Phillips (PR/1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Marcos Vechionacci (3B), Wil Nieves (C), Austin Jackson (RF), Kevin Reese (CF), Kevin Thompson (LF), Josh Phelps (DH)

Opposition: The Tigers’ starting nine.

Big Hits: Doubles by Todd Pratt (1 for 3), Jason Giambi (2 for 2, BB), Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3), Doug Mientkiewicz (1 for 3), and minor leaguer Austin Jackson (1 for 2). Pratt’s and Rodriguez’s were ground-rule doubles, both touched by fans down the left field line.

Who Pitched Well?: Scott Proctor pitched a perfect sixth. Luis Vizcaino pitched a perfect seventh. Minor league reliever Mike Martinez (who is not 7’2″ as his Baseball Cube page claims; He may not even be his official height of 6’2″), got Omar Infante to pop out to strand the three runners he inherited from Henn in the fourth. Chris Britton pitched around a pair of singles for a scoreless fifth inning.

Who Didn’t?: Jeffrey Karstens had his second straight poor outing, putting his grip on the fifth starter’s in question. Karstens lasted just two innings due to elbow stiffness, allowing six runs on six hits and two walks, the big shot being a three-run homer by Gary Sheffield which put the score at 4-0 after just four Tiger batters. In his last two starts, Karstens has allowed ten runs on twelve hits in 6 1/3 innings. Sean Henn’s scoreless spring came to an end when he gave up three runs on five hits and three walks over 1 2/3 innings while striking out no one. Henn’s line would have been worse had Martinez not come in to get the final out of the fourth after Henn had walked a man to load the bases.

Oopsies: Henn threw two wild pitches, both fastballs in the dirt that Pratt was unable to stop. Alex Rodriguez muffed a humpback liner in the third, tipping it into foul territory, but was not charged with an error. Rodriguez also nearly threw away an inning-ending 5-4 fielder’s choice in the second, but was saved by a nice stretch by Robinson Cano. He then made up for his third-inning muff in the fourth by making a great diving stop to his right to turn a would-be double into a 5-3 groundout.

Ouchies: Jeff Karstens left yesterday’s game after just two rough innings and 46 pitches because of stiffness in his pitching elbow. Andy Pettitte will throw a bullpen today with the hope of throwing a lighter session on Wednesday and starting Friday’s game. Chien-Ming Wang tossed a ball with Ron Guidry for ten minutes yesterday. According to Peter Abraham: “He made 70 throws, most from a distance of 120 feet. And he was throwing from a semi windup and putting some zip on the ball.” Abraham quotes Wang as saying “I don’t feel anything. Yesterday I felt it when I walked. Today, nothing.” (Incidentally, Abraham refers to Wang’s injury as a “tear” when it’s actually just a strain). Despite these encouraging signs, the Yankees are not adjusting Wang’s timetable, instead saying that he’s just keeping his arm in shape while his hamstring heals. Jorge Posada missed his second straight game with an illness characterized by a sore throat.

Battles: Sean Henn gave Ron Villone a reprieve and Jeff Karstens opened the door for Darrell Rasner. Chris Britton didn’t really look all that sharp and his scoreless inning was likely too little, too late. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps combined to go 0 for 3 with three fly outs, none of them particularly deep. Todd Pratt went 1 for 3 with a double. Wil Nieves went 1 for 2. Pratt’s double is the only extra base hit between the two catching candidates. Pratt also has the pair’s only walk this spring.

Notes: During the YES broadcast, John Flaherty recalled an embarrassing incident in 2005 when he was facing Tigers’ lefty Wil Ledezma and he struck out on a pitch that actually hit him in the back shoulder. Flaherty said that the incident was proof of how out of whack he was at the plate, and perhaps the first indication he had that he was on the verge of retirement. Michael Kay asked if his teammates made fun of him for striking out on a pitch that hit him. Flaherty said that they did indeed, singling out Jeter as a prime offender. The YES camera’s then showed Jeter in the dugout and Flaherty said, with more than a little bitterness in his voice: “Derek Jeter knows how to give teammates a hard time when things don’t go well.” Ouch.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 4 (10 innings)

The Yanks and Blue Jays played to a tie yesterday, which was no where near the most significant news item out of Yankee camp yesterday. Read on . . .

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Doug Mientkiewicz (1B)
R – Wil Nieves (C)

Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Mariano Rivera, Colter Bean, Ben Kozlowski

Subs: Andy Phillips (1B), Angel Chavez (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Chris Basak (3B), Todd Pratt (C), Miguel Cairo (RF), Melky Cabrera (CF), Kevin Reese (LF), Josh Phelps (DH)

Opposition: All but one of the Blue Jays’ starters.

Big Hits: A two-run homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3) and a triple by Bobby Abreu (2 for 3). Hideki Matsui was also 2 for 3.

Who Pitched Well?: The five Yankee relievers–Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Mariano Rivera, Colter Bean, and Ben Kozlowski–were perfect combining to pitch four hitless, walkless innings while striking out five.

Who Didn’t?: It’s a bit unfair to list Mike Mussina here. Technically he turned in a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER). But he allowed nine baserunners on seven hits and two walks and struck out just one in those six innings and a fourth run scored thanks to a catcher’s interference call. Really, it would be more accurate to list Mussina’s first two innings here (all four runs) and his last four scoreless innings in the previous category.

Oopsies: Just that catchers interference by Wil Nieves, which led to a run.

Ouchies:The big news, and this really is big news for a change, is that Chien-Ming Wang’s right hamstring will force him to start the season on the disabled list and he could miss most if not all of April as an MRI revealed a Grade 1 strain (the lowest level). Jose Veras had a bone spur removed this past week. He should be out for two to three months. Jorge Posada was a late scratch from yesterday’s game with what Joe Torre called “overall discomfort.”

Battles: With Wang on the shelf it appears Jeff Karstens will move into the fifth-starter’s spot and break camp with the team, though the Yankees might only need to start Karstens once before Wang returns (on April 8 against the Orioles). Wil Nieves and Todd Pratt had identical 0 for 2 with one strikeout days, though Nieves did have that interference call. Raul Chavez was reassigned to minor league camp. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps both went 0 for 1, though Phelps struck out in his at-bat. Brian Bruney and Colter Bean continue to be the top contenders for the last right-handed bullpen spot. Bruney retired all three men he faced on two Ks and a grounder. Bean faced two men and retired them on a strikeout and a fly out.

Cuts: In addition to Raul Chavez, Bronson Sardinha, Angel Chavez, Andy Cannizaro, and Ben Kozlowski were also reassigned to minor league camp. I had forgotten Cannizaro was in camp. I can’t remember the last time he got in a game. Meanwhile, with the exception of the rehabbing Humberto Sanchez, Sardinha (who was actually optioned as he’s on the 40-man roster) was the last man in camp who didn’t have any major league experience. Proof of how impressed the Yankees were by him this spring.

Notes: Bobby Murcer reports that test have shown that he is “entirely clear in regard to the [brain] tumor.” Of far less importance, Chien-Ming Wang was on schedule to be the Yankees Opening Day starter, but now that Wang’s on the shelf, the Opening Day hurler will be either Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano or Wang’s replacement Jeff Karstens. Neither Pettitte nor Mussina is a candidate because Pettitte’s return from back spasms (he’s expected to start no sooner than Thursday) won’t allow him time to get in a warm-up start. Similarly, Mussina’s next scheduled turn is Thursday, which would put him on short rest on Opening Day. Torre’s a bit concerned about Igawa overthrowing in response to an Opening Day start, and thus Pavano is considered the frontrunner at the moment. Of even less importance, Brian Bruney and Kyle Farnsworth shaved their heads before yesterday’s game.

Pirates 3, Yankees 2

Colter Bean’s first poor outing of the year landed both him and the Yankees a loss.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Wil Nieves (C)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
L – Doug Mientkiewicz (1B)
R – Chris Basak (3B)
R – Angel Chavez (2B)
R – Miguel Cairo (SS)
R – Darrell Rasner (P)

Pitchers: Darrell Rasner, Sean Henn, Colter Bean, Luis Vizcaino

Subs: Andy Phillips (1B), Carlos Mendoza (SS), Todd Pratt (C), Raul Chavez (C), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Kevin Reese (CF), Tim Battle (PR/LF), Josh Phelps (PH), Kevin Howard (PR)

Opposition: Most of the Pirates starters, save for batting champ Freddy Sanchez.

Big Hits: Bobby Abreu (1 for 3) doubled and scored in the fourth.

Who Pitched Well?: Rasner struck out five in 4 2/3 innings, walking none. He did however allow seven hits, and a Chris Basak error led to an unearned run. Sean Henn pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings, striking out one. Luis Vizcaino pitched a perfect eighth.

Who Didn’t?: Colter Bean had his first stumble of the spring, allowing two runs on three hits in the seventh and taking a loss. Of course, he also struck out two and still hasn’t walked anyone.

Oopsies: Chris Basak booted a ball leading to an unearned run. It was his second error of the spring.

Ouchies: Chien-Ming Wang’s hamstring cramped up on him during running drills. Wang was not sent for tests, which suggests a cramp is all it was. He reportedly had a hamstring issue during the first week of camp as well. Andy Pettitte stretched a bit and tossed a ball around in lieu of making his scheduled start.

Battles: Both Josh Phelps and Andy Phillips singled in their lone at-bats. Neither Todd Pratt, nor Raul Chavez got a hit in their only at-bats. In fact, adding in Wil Nieves’ performance, the Yankee catchers were 0 for 5. That said, Torre has been talking about Nieves’ health recently as if it’s his job if he’s healthy. Sean Henn was perfect. Colter Bean gave up his first runs of the spring.

Notes: Mike Myers allowed an unearned run in two innings in a minor league game yesterday. T.J. Beam was reassigned to minor league camp.

Observations From Cooperstown

By Bruce Markusen

The Yankee Rumor Mill—Does It Exist Anymore?

I can’t remember the last time the Yankees experienced such a quiet spring on the trade rumor front. It stands in direct contrast to a long forgotten season like 1989, when rumors infiltrated the Yankee camp in Ft. Lauderdale almost every day, with a busy front office pulling off spring deals for the likes of Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni, Tom Brookens, and Mel Hall. It seems almost every spring that there’s a rumor about the Yankees acquiring a brand-name pitcher, or a center fielder, or an extra arm out of the bullpen—something through the trade route. This year, however, all’s silent on the rumor mill. Other than the never-ending talk regarding a possible return of Roger Clemens—which won’t happen until May at the earliest and would not involve an actual trade—there has hardly been any substantive talk of the Yankees making a deal this spring. I guess that’s the price you pay for having a talented team with few glaring weaknesses. (And it’s not like Balboni, Brookens, and Hall drastically changed the fortunes of the ’89 Yankees, who won only 74 games and finished fifth in the AL East.)

With the phone lines remaining quiet, some writers have been busy trying to concoct trades that might make some sense. Others have been contemplating deals that could happen after the season starts. After all, this is a Yankee team that does have flaws, even for all of its frontline talent. The backup catching situation is a mess, first base could be a disaster if Dougie Mink is given too long a leash, and the back end of the rotation looks something less than sturdy. With that in mind, let’s assess some moves that either could happen, or at least in theory, would improve Yankee fortunes.

Bullpen help to the Phillies for a spare catcher: Earlier this week, Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested a trade that would make a great deal of sense for the Yankees and a potential trade partner in the National League: Mike Myers to the Phillies for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies need relief pitching like Doug Mientkiewicz needs a corked bat, so Sherman is certainly on the right track. Ruiz, a 28-year-old receiver with solid defensive skills and something more than a lightweight bat, would represent an upgrade over the current backstop brigade of Todd Pratt, Wil Nieves, Raul Chavez, and Ben Davis. Let me add another suggestion to this scenario. If the Phillies don’t like Myers, how about sending Ron Villone to Philadelphia for Chris Coste? Already 34, Coste is six years older than Ruiz, but does bring a potentially stronger bat and the versatility to play other positions, including first base and third base. With Rod Barajas around as the starting catcher in Philadelphia, either Coste or Ruiz should be available—at least in theory.

Carl Pavano going nowhere for now: At the beginning of spring training, we heard whispers that the Mariners, Rockies, and Cardinals had interest in Pavano, but the Yankees responded by essentially taking the right-hander off the market. The reason? Brian Cashman realized that the timing wasn’t right because Pavano’s value remains exceedingly low. (Plus, with recent concerns over Andy Pettitte’s back, Pavano might become more necessary in the grand scheme.) Here’s what Cashman wants to do: open the season with Pavano, hope that he pitches well over the first month and builds up his trade value, and then re-explore trades that might bring back a backup catcher, or first base help, or a prospect. By then, the Yankees could look more seriously at using Jeff Karstens as a fifth starter, or even give some thought to a recall of Phil Hughes or Ross Ohlendorf.

An Alex Rodriguez blockbuster: An Angels blogger claims that the Yankees have talked to Anaheim about a trade that would put A-Rod on the left coast in exchange for a package of three players: catcher Jose Molina, right-hander Jered Weaver, and minor league righty Dustin Moseley (ah yes, another pitching prospect). Pardon me for doubting, but I suspect that Cashman has had little or no conversation with the Angels regarding A-Rod this spring. Even if he had, this particular package doesn’t fit, now that Weaver has been placed on the disabled list and will miss Opening Day. (Plus, the Yankees like Ervin Santana better than Weaver.) The Yankees would also need a third baseman in the deal, necessitating that someone like Chone Figgins be included. Still, I could see a trade like this being discussed sometime after April 1, assuming certain conditions are met. If the Yankees stumble out of the gate badly and A-Rod simultaneously slumps at the plate, rumblings of him exercising his “out” clause will only escalate. Angels owner Arte Moreno absolutely loves Rodriguez, who would be a perfect fit for a Halos team that needs at least one more slugger to team with Vladimir Guerrero. Of course, A-Rod would have to give his consent. He’s not ready to do that, but a poor start coupled with continuing showers of Bronx boos could convince A-Rod to cut his losses and move on to the next stage of his career.

Are any of these scenarios—a deal with the Phillies, a trade of Pavano, a blockbuster involving A-Rod—likely to happen? Of course not. When it comes to trades, especially in this day of complicated contracts, lack of organizational depth for many teams, and a preponderance of conservative GMs, always bet against a trade happening. But these are the kinds of moves that Cashman should be considering, especially if the Yankees duplicate their slow start of 2005. This team has some pitching and depth concerns—and only a fool would consider the Yankees bulletproof, in need of nothing as Opening Day approaches.

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.

Reds 8, Yankees 7

The Yanks jack three homers, but can’t hold a four-run seventh-inning lead.

Lineup:

S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Kevin Reese (LF)
R – Carl Pavano (P)

Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Mike Myers, Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Villone, Jason Jones, Brian Bruney, T.J. Beam

Subs: Josh Phelps (1B), Miguel Cairo (2B), Chris Basak (SS), Angel Chavez (3B), Todd Pratt (C), Kevin Thompson (RF), Bronson Sardinha (RF), Shawn Garrett (LF), Ben Davis (PH), Andy Phillips (PH)

Opposition: Two-thirds of the Reds starters.

Big Hits: A three-run homer by Bobby Abreu (1 for 3) and solo shots by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 4) and Josh Phelps (1 for 2), and doubles by Robinson Cano (2 for 4) and Kevin Reese (1 for 4). Derek Jeter was 2 for 2 with two walks.

Who Pitched Well?: Kyle Farnsworth struck out two of the three men he faced in a perfect sixth inning. Non-invitee Jason Jones retired the only two men he faced to stop the bleeding caused by Ron Villone.

Who Didn’t?: Villone allowed three runs on two walks and two hits including an Enrique Cruz triple while only managing to record one out. Brian Bruney struck out the side in the eighth, but also allowed a game-tying run on two hits, one of them an RBI double by Dewayne Wise. Brought into a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, T.J. Beam gave up doubles to the first two batters he faced, the second a game-winner by Edwin Encarnacion. By comparison, Carl Pavano’s start (three runs on eight hits and two walks in just 4 1/3 innings) almost looks good . . . almost. Meat did escape a no-outs, bases-loaded jam in the first via a shallow fly out and a double play.

Oopsies: Jason Giambi misjudged a couple of balls hit in the second base hole, retreating to cover the bag rather than attempting to make a play on them.

Ouchies: Bobby Abreu played the field for the first time this spring. Andy Pettitte will indeed miss his scheduled start today, but says his back is feeling better.

Battles: Josh Phelps hit a solo homer in two trips. It was his second longball of the spring, tying him with Jorge Posada for second among the Yankee campers. Before the game, Joe Torre said he’d limit Andy Phillips to first base and DH and might even use him in a minor league game to allow him to concentrate on his hitting and said that Todd Pratt is in a similar place in terms of needing to catch up to the rest of the hitters at the plate due to his early heel injury. Pratt walked in his only plate appearance yesterday, the first walk drawn by a backup catcher candidate this spring. Wil Nieves caught Chien-Ming Wang in yesterday’s minor league game. Villone, Bruney and Beam combined to blow the game over the final three innings, with Villone and Beam having the worst outings. Villone’s spring ERA is now 9.00.

Notes: What Derek Jeter estimated to be about 100 bees interrupted the game in the fifth inning by swarming in the infield and chasing the Yankees off the field. Chien-Ming Wang, Chris Britton and Scott Proctor pitched in a minor league game in Tampa against the Phillies triple-A squad. Wang allowed three runs on five hits and struck out four in six innings. Britton struck out three in two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Proctor allowed just two hits in two scoreless innings. Neither Britton, nor Proctor walked a batter.

Sleeping with the Enemy

I interviewed Curt Schilling last weekend. Our conversation is now up at SI.com. We spoke about his new blog, 38 Pitches, which I think is particularly interesting when Schilling breaks down his pitching performances. Check it out.

Spring Training Status Report

I thought I’d take advantage of the lone off-day in the Yankees’ spring schedule to take a look at some of the overall performances we’ve seen this spring, with the caveat that spring training stats are largely meaningless, of course.

First, here’s how the starting nine have performed:

Player Pos AVG/OBP/SLG Notes
Johnny Damon CF .250/.386/.333 Damon homered in the Yankees’ first spring training at-bat, but hasn’t had an extra base hit since. He leads the team with eight in walks.
Derek Jeter SS .302/.348/.326
Bobby Abreu RF 0 for 3 Abreu didn’t make his spring debut until Tuesday due to a strained oblique muscle that appears to be fully healed.
Alex Rodriguez 3B .324/.419/.405 Leads the team in strikeouts with ten.
Jason Giambi DH .189/.286/.459 Leads the team in homers with three.
Hideki Matsui LF .357/.386/.524 Among Yankees with more than 31 plate appearances, only Robinson Cano has had fewer end in a walk or strikeout.
Jorge Posada C .320/.414/.600 The only Yankee other than Giambi with multiple home runs this spring.
Robinson Cano 2B .375/.375/.563 Leads the team in hits, runs scored, doubles, RBIs, and total bases. Hasn’t drawn a walk, but has struck out just thrice.
Doug Mientkiewicz 1B .074/.257/.111 Not hitting, but second on the team in walks.

Because of Abreu’s injury, Melky Cabrera has lead the team in plate appearances, but struggled mightily, hitting just .200/.216/.220. He has, however, played strong defense at all three infield positions. For the same reason, Kevin Thompson has lead the team in games played, also cycling through all three pastures and hitting a far more robust .296/.367/.556, not that you’d know it with all of the attention heaped upon Bronson Sardinha’s .303/.324/.424. The other Kevin, Reese, his hitting just .267/.281/.400.

In the infield, the breakout star has been Chris Basak, who’s crushing at a .414/.433/.690 clip and leading the team in slugging. Miguel Cairo is leading the team in stolen bases, a perfect five-for-five, and is tied with Mientkiewicz with six walks, hitting .300/.405/.333 overall.

The man leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage is righty first-base combatant Josh Phelps, who’s hitting .435/.481/.609 and has struck out just three times in 26 plate appearances. His rival, Andy Phillips has gone 3 for 12 with no walks or extra base hits since returning from his mother’s hospital room, but has struck out just once himself.

As for the catching battle, neither Todd Pratt nor Wil Nieves, both of whom missed time due to a sore heel and elbow respectively, has an extra-base hit or a walk. Pratt is 2 for 14, Neives is 2 for 11. Raul Chavez, meanwhile is hitting .294/.278/.471 on the strength of a homer and four singles. And that’s no typo, Chavez has indeed pulled off the odd trick of having a lower on-base percentage than batting average thanks to having a sac fly, but no walks. Ben Davis has only come to the plate eight times, but has more extra base hits than the other three men have produced in a combined 43 trips (.250/.250/.625 thanks to a walk and a triple). Yes, you read that right, not one of these four men has drawn a walk in 51 plate appearances.

Of the position players already reassigned to minor league camp, the most impressive by far was 18-year-old Jose Tabata, who hit .429/.529/.643.

As for the pitchers, here’s the starting five:

Player ERA etc. Notes
Chien-Ming Wang 2.57, 14 IP, 1 BB, 7 K Wang has uncharacteristically given up two home runs.
Mike Mussina 3.46, 13 IP, 2 BB, 4 K Moose has give up a team worst three homers.
Andy Pettitte (L) 0.00, 10 IP, 2 BB, 7 K Pettitte has allowed just five hits, less than half of the next lowest total by a Yankee starter.
Kei Igawa (L) 3.00, 12 IP, 10 BB, 15 K Igawa leads the team in both walks and strikeouts.
Carl Pavano 5.63, 8 IP, 5 BB, 3 K Pavano missed one start for personal reasons but has thus far had no serious injury concerns.

Of the two sixth-starter options still in camp, neither Jeff Karstens nor Darrell Rasner has walked a man in a combined 20 2/3 innings. Karstens has a 2.70 ERA and 11 Ks in 13 1/3 innings. Rasner has a 2.45 ERA and 4 Ks in 7 1/3 innings. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. Rasner pitched in one minor league game. Factoring in that outing, Rasner has a 2.38 ERA and 7 Ks in 11 1/3 innings, but did walk one batter.

Phil Hughes left camp with a 7.71 ERA having walked 6 men in 4 2/3 innings and struck out just two. Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright both left camp with 1.35 ERAs. Steven Jackson split camp with a 9.82 ERA.

Finally, the bullpen:

Player ERA etc. Notes
Mariano Rivera 0.00, 7 IP, 0 BB, 7 K Mo’s allowed just three hits.
Scott Proctor 0.00, 6 IP, 0 BB, 5 K Proctor allowed a run in a minor leage appearance, pushing his overall ERA to 1.17.
Kyle Farnsworth 3.60, 5 IP, 2 BB, 3 K Farnsworth hasn’t given up a home run this spring.
Luis Vizcaino 2.25, 8 IP, 2 BB, 10 K Vizcaino has allowed just one homer.
Mike Myers (L) 1.80, 5 IP, 1 BB, 3 K In eight appearances.

And the contenders for the final two spots:

Player ERA, etc. Notes
Ron Villone (L) 3.86, 4 2/3 IP, 1 BB, 5 K But eight hits and over six games.
Sean Henn (L) 0.00, 4 2/3 IP, 2 BB, 3 K Henn hasn’t allowed a hit this spring.
Chris Britton 13.50, 4 IP, 2 BB, 1 K Things get uglier when you factor in his minor league apperance, which pushes his overall ERA to 16.88 ERA.
Brian Bruney 0.00, 3 IP, 2 BB, 5 K Bruney’s allowed just one hit.
T.J. Beam 0.00, 4 IP, 2 BB, 3 K Beam has allowed just two hits.
Jose Veras 0.00, 3 1/3 IP, 1 BB, 2 K Veras has not pitched in a week due to elbow pain.
Colter Bean 0.00, 6 2/3 IP, 0 BB, 8 K Bean has allowed just two hits . . . like it matters.

Bean and Henn look like the leaders there, but don’t count out the team’s prejudice against Bean or toward Villone. Of the two I’d say Henn has the better chance of making the team because he’s out of options. I wonder if north Jersey native Villone, who’s in camp on a minor league deal, would be willing to start the year in nearby Scranton. On the flip side, Andy Phillips and Wil Nieves, the other two Yankee campers who are out of options, are likely to slip through waivers at the rate their going, which means Josh Phelps just might make the team after all.

All of that said, there’s still a week and a half left to go in camp (ten games to be exact). Anything could happen . . .

Change my pitch up…

Yo, did anyone see Mariano pitch against Ryan Howard last night? He threw the big guy two consecutive change-ups. The first, on an 0-2 count, was low for a ball. The next one was low too, but Howard lunged and struck out. If Rivera can throw a change up effectively this season, well, that just wouldn’t be fair would it?

Oh, and speaking of our man Jorge, Joel Sherman has a column on Posada today in The Post:

The Yanks are making Posada, who is in his walk year, play for his next contract. But even more important is just how vital Posada is to the Yanks. He is their most irreplaceable player. Not the best player. But the one that would be most difficult to cover for should he suffer a long-term injury.

True, true, true dat.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver