"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Wrapping Up Week One

Spring training is officially one week old, but since I posted my look at the 69 players the Yankees have in camp this year, the sum total of our commentary on the goings on in Tampa has been Alex’s post of Andy Pettitte’s opening statement from his press conference on Monday. Why? Two reasons: 1) there’s been no news, and 2) Peter Abraham has it covered.

The back-page stories thus far have been Andy Pettitte’s late arrival due to his stopover in Washington, DC to give a deposition about the contents of the Mitchell Report, and Alex Rodriguez sticking his foot in his mouth regarding how often he was drug tested last year. Both stories are dead. Pettitte reported on Monday, four day’s late with the team’s permission, and is already on a normal pace. Rodriguez just misspoke, and I think the media and fans are finally getting used to the fact that he has a tendency to say the wrong thing and learning to ignore it when he does.

Otherwise it’s the usual business. Joe Girardi’s focus early on appears to be on conditioning and fundamentals. On the first day of camp, he told his pitchers, “Take care of your bodies. You can’t make the team today, or tomorrow, or the next day, so take it slow and make sure you get your arm strength before you start trying to impress people.” According to Pete, Girardi has been more active on the field than Torre, going from spot to spot to observe his players up close, but has been relatively hands-off thus far, letting his coaches coach while taking extensive notes.

The one big change in camp this year appears to be an increase in running, with Girardi having the players working on stamina where Torre used to have them do more sprinting. Both Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have joked to the media about their dislike for the increased running. Alex Rodriguez, a workout junkie, kinda likes it. Pete Abe wisely points out that the running has less to do with Girardi than new strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea, who replaced Marty Miller after the rash of hamstring injuries the Yankees suffered early last year (apparently because they weren’t doing enough running).

Speaking of workouts, as per the usual spring training script, most of the news in week one was about who has come to camp in great shape, though Abraham attributes some of that to Girardi’s having explicitly told his players to do so. The Yankee list includes Johnny Damon, who came into camp last year a bit heavy and has something to prove after a season in which he was slowed by a variety of injuries and terrible in the first half, Bobby Abreu, who also has something to prove after his terrible start to last season and is in the walk year of his contract, Jason Giambi, who was injured and unproductive last year and is likely in his walk year as well as the Yanks are sure to buyout his option at year’s end, Derek Jeter, who may finally be accepting the fact that things won’t come quite as easy to him as age starts to catch up to him, and Joba Chamberlain, who seems to have put the conditioning concerns that allowed him to slip to the Yanks in the 2006 draft behind him.

In addition to those guys arriving in great shape, Pete Abe said that Mike Mussina, another veteran in his walk year with something to prove after a poor 2007, and Phil Hughes, who lost a lot of time to injury last year, have arrived with a “sense of purpose.” I’m not sure what that really means, but Abraham did follow up by reporting on strong bullpen outings from both of them. Hughes and Chamberlain have also been seen working out with Andy Pettitte doing a reduced version of the Roger Clemens workout which, for all of the wisecracks that can be made given the Mitchell Report fallout, is no joke. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has more encouraging news on Hughes.

The exception to all of this appears to be Kei Igawa. According to Abraham, the player nicknamed “Quest” because of his affinity for running (or was it his affinity for video games?), is “the only Yankee who looks like he spent the winter on the couch . . . He’s so behind in running drills it’s like he’s carrying his translator.” No comment.

The reporters have developed the habit of asking Girardi at the end of each day if everyone is healthy. Thus far the only issue has been some back spasms suffered by center field prospect Austin Jackson, though they didn’t seem to be of any particular concern. Abraham reported that Kyle Farsworth survived a staph infection in his leg in January and that Hideki Matsui, despite reports that his surgically repaired knee was bothering him, is moving smoothy during drills and showing no ill-effects.

Giardi has said that Chamberlain and Igawa will both be in the competition for the rotation, that he hopes to get Johnny Damon 600 at-bats as the team’s primary left fielder, and suggested that Bobby Abreu will remain in his customary number-three spot in the lineup. Legends Field has been renamed after George Steinbrenner, an appropriate and deserved honor. Morgan Ensberg is wearing number 21, ending the unofficial retirement of Paul O’Neill’s former number.

And that’s about it. Pete’s blog is essential reading for some of his great slice-of-life observances, which lend color to a fairly mundane part of the season. Among the highlights thus far have been notes on the clubhouse attendants’ disrespect for Carl Pavano, Sean Henn needling Andrew Brackman about his the college basketball career, Mike Mussina’s interior decorating, the wild fielding drills Toñy Pena puts his catchers through, Kevin Long filling Larry Bowa’s shoes as a friend to Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano, or Tino Martinez, who is in camp as an instructor for the first time, learning how to hit fungoes. Also, check out this shot of Derek Jeter messing up Andy Pettitte’s official photo.

In the meantime, no news is good news.

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