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Monthly Archives: March 2008

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Go Away, and Come Back Tomorrow

The game was been postponed until tomorrow night. A major drag for all those fans who schlepped up to the Bronx and stood around in the rain. Now, they wouldn’t have wanted to schedule the series in Toronto to begin with, no that would have made too much sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays

2007 Record: 83-79 (.512)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 87-75 (.537)

Manager: John Gibbons
General Manager: J.P. Ricciardi

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Rogers Centre

Who’s Replacing Whom:

Scott Rolen replaces Troy Glaus on the DL
David Eckstein replaces John McDonald (bench) and Royce Clayton at shortstop
Marco Scutaro and John McDonald replace Russ Adams (minors), Jason Smith, Ray Olmedo, Howie Clark, Hector Luna (minors) and others on the bench
Shannon Stewart replaces Reed Johnson
Buck Coates replaces Adam Lind (minors)
Rod Barajas ironically replaces Jason Phillips and Curtis Thigpen (minors)
Brandon League replaces Casey Janssen (DL)
Randy Wells replaces Josh Towers

Opening Day Roster:

1B – Lyle Overbay (L)
2B – Aaron Hill (R)
SS – David Eckstein (R)
3B – Marco Scutaro (R)
C – Gregg Zaun (S)
RF – Alex Rios (R)
CF – Vernon Wells (R)
LF – Matt Stairs (L)
DH – Frank Thomas (R)

Bench:

R – Shannon Stewart (OF)
R – John McDonald (IF)
L – Buck Coats (OF)
R – Rod Barajas (C)

Rotation:

R – Roy Halladay
R – A.J. Burnett
R – Dustin McGowan
R – Shaun Marcum
R – Jesse Litsch

Bullpen:

R – Jeremy Accardo
L – Scott Downs
R – Jason Frasor
R – Brian Wolfe
L – Brian Tallet
R – Brandon League
R – Randy Wells

15-day DL: R – Scott Rolen (3B), L – B.J. Ryan
60-day DL: R – Casey Janssen

Likely Lineup:

R – David Eckstein (SS)
L – Matt Stairs (LF)
R – Alex Rios (RF)
R – Vernon Wells (CF)
R – Frank Thomas (DH)
L – Lyle Overbay (1B)
R – Aaron Hill (2B)
R – Marco Scutaro (3B)
S – Gregg Zaun (C)

(more…)

The Start of the Ending

This is the sixth Opening Day for Bronx Banter. Since 2003, I’ve often wondered what life would be for the Yankees without Joe Torre, and, more significantly, what’d be like without George Steinbrenner. In way, we are entering the new season, the last for the House that Ruth Built (and the good people of NYC rennovated in the mid-seventies), without either man. Torre has moved to the west coast to lead the L.A. Dodgers, and the Boss has been quietly removed from the public eye, replaced by his two sons, Hank and Hal. This is the end of an era in some regards, and all spring I’ve felt sad about the pending loss of Yankee Stadium, and the demise of the Boss (man, I never thought I’d say that). There is something really off about Opening Day in the Bronx when Bob Sheppard isn’t in the house.

Of course, there is plenty to be excited about with the team–from Joe Girardi and his staff, to the young pitchers, to the returning stars like Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada and Rivera. Still, I’ve found myself avoiding reading too closely about the team over the past few weeks. Cliff has done a wonderful job of charting the progress of the team during spring training, and there is no lack of material available (with Pete Abe leading the way). There is so much to read, in fact, that I’ve almost shut-down in an effort to start fresh today. I want my impressions to be clear and sharp. In order to do that, I found it helpful to step away, ever-so slightly.

I’m also hesitant because on some level, I don’t always like the person I become during baseball season: Neurotic. I get so wrapped up in the winning and losing of games that I have no control over that it impacts my sleep, my well-being, my relationship with my wife, you name it. I’ve enjoyed the winter break from the emotional rollercoaster. Who knows? Maybe I’m maturing…I know I’m far less knuts than I used to be (and maybe this is just wishful thinking). But I also know that the Yankees are the only team that stirs me up like I’m a kid. When I checked on-line last week and saw that the Red Sox had won their first game, I felt a twinge in my gut. Oh, man, here we go again. Then again, that is part of the reason why I love following the Yanks, because, rational or not, the games mean something to me.

Give me a couple of pitches today and I’ll be hooked–watching how much Jeter enjoys himself, or seeing Robinson Cano stroking a line drive into the left-centerfield gap, or Johnny Damon poppin’ one into the upper deck in right, or just admiring Rodriguez’s seemingly effortless swing. These and many other small moments, give me so much pleasure over the course of the long season, that they overwhelm my petty insecurities as a fan obsessed with the results. The play on the field, the injuries, the hard work, all make coming back worthwhile.

Cliff and I will be holding down daily coverage this year, with weekly additions from Bruce, Emma and Will. Hope y’all will fall through and enjoy it with us. (For starters, check out Roger Angell’s latest at the New Yorker.)

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Yankees Preview

New York Yankees

2007 Record: 94-68 (.580)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 98.5-63.5 (.608)

Manager: Joe Girardi
General Manager: Brian Cashman

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Yankee Stadium (100/99)

Who’s Replacing Whom:

Morgan Ensberg replaces Doug Mientkiewicz
Ian Kennedy replaces Roger Clemens
LaTroy Hawkins replaces Luis Vizcaino
Billy Traber replaces Ron Villone and Sean Henn (DL)
Ross Ohlendorf replaces Edwar Ramirez (minors)

Opening Day Roster:

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

Bench:

R – Shelley Duncan (1B/OF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (1B/3B)
S – Wilson Betemit (IF)
R – Jose Molina (C)

Rotation:

R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Mike Mussina
R – Phil Hughes
R – Ian Kennedy

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Billy Traber
R – LaTroy Hawkins
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Brian Bruney
R – Ross Ohlendorf
R – Jonathan Albaladejo

15-day DL: L – Andy Pettitte, R – Jeff Karstens, L – Sean Henn
60-day DL: R – Humberto Sanchez, R – Andrew Brackman, R – Carl Pavano

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
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 – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

The Yankees open the 2008 season with a roster that looks a lot like the one with which they concluded the 2007 season. That may not be the most encouraging sign for a team that finished in second place in its division in 2007, but there are a lot of hidden positives.

To begin with, the Yankees made several significant roster upgrades during the season last year. Roger Clemens solidified a rotation spot in early June, replacing Kei Igawa and Matt DeSalvo; thus, Ian Kennedy replaces not just Clemens, whose performance he’s likely to match or even exceed, but the dismal early-season performances of Igawa (7.63 ERA prior to Clemens’ arrival) and DeSalvo (5.87 ERA prior to Clemens). On the bench, Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan, and Jose Molina were mid-season upgrades from Miguel Cairo (.246 EqA), Kevin Thompson (.214), and Wil Nieves (.141), respectively. Duncan replaced Thompson on July 20, Molina replaced Nieves on July 22, Betemit was acquired at the July 31 trading deadline, and Cairo was designated for assignment a week later. When Phil Hughes came off the disabled list on August 4, he solidified another rotation spot that had been filled at various times by Carl Pavano (4.76 ERA), Jeff Karstens (14.73 ERA as a starter), Darrell Rasner (solid until he was injured in his third start in this spot), Tyler Clippard (6.33 ERA), DeSalvo (one dismal start), and Igawa in a return engagement (5.97 ERA pre-Hughes). This year, Hughes returns to the rotation as a better pitcher than the one who came back from hamstring and ankle injuries last August still worried about his legs, and is replacing not only his own performance over 13 starts, but that of those various replacement pitchers. On August 7 of last year, the Yankees brought up Joba Chamberlain and made him their primary set-up reliever, which allowed every other reliever other than Rivera to drop down a notch on the depth chart and squeezed out Mike Myers a week later. Opposing hitters had hit .257/.349/.399 against Myers. They hit .145/.202/.229 against Chamberlain. Chamberlain won’t be quite that dominant this year for the simple reason that no one could be, but he’ll be more effective than any of the short relievers the Yankees used for the first four months of last season, save for perhaps for Luis Vizcaino during the months of June and July (1.27 ERA in 29 games after posting a 7.27 mark in April and May).

In part due to those in-season upgrades, the Yankees went 56-28 over the final three months of last season, a pace which projects to 108 wins over a full campaign. Having upgraded on the fly during the summer, the Yankees then spent the offseason working to keep that roster intact, doling out more than $444 million to do so by signing Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Robinson Cano to long-term deals, re-signing Andy Pettitte and picking up Bobby Abreu’s option for this season, inking Jose Molina for two years, going through arbitration with Chien-Ming Wang, and settling with arbitration-eligible youngsters Wilson Betemit and Brian Bruney.

Given all of that, the apparent lack of change on the roster is less of a concern. The bench, rotation, and bullpen should all be better than they were a year ago because of the upgrades made during last season. As for the starting lineup, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are all but guaranteed to see noticeable-to-significant decreases in production given the exceptional nature of their 2007 performances, but there are several other players who can be flagged for improvement.

Bobby Abreu hit .228/.313/.289 through the end of last May, then hit .309/.396/.520 the rest of the season. Abreu hit .349 with a pair of homers and a team-best 13 walks this spring. If he stays hot entering the season, he should easily outpace last year’s performance. Similarly, Johnny Damon hit .234/.338/.322 through July 20 of last year, then .319/.369/.493 the rest of the year. Damon was plagued by a variety of nagging injuries in the first half of last season, but once he got healthy, his stats looked a lot like they did in his first year as a Yankee (.285/.359/.482). Keeping Damon healthy is a challenge, but there’s ample opportunity for improvement there.

Speaking of health, Jason Giambi missed more than two months of last year with plantar fasciitis and hit just .236/.356/.433, which was roughly equivalent to what the Yankees got out of Doug Mientkiewicz (.277/.349/.440) or what they can expect from Morgan Ensberg this year (.233/.366/.438 the last two seasons combined). This year, Giambi’s going to be back in the field, which increases his chance of injury, but also tends to increase his production at the plate. Just looking at 2006, Giambi’s last healthy season–which happened to be one split fairly evenly between the two positions–Giambi hit .224/.373/.531 as a DH and .289/.459/.592 as a first baseman. Giambi is 37 and his body has been through a lot over the years, so there’s a good chance he’s cooked, but he spent most of his time in the field this spring and looked good, hitting .395 with two homers (though, oddly, just two walks), so there’s reason to believe that, even if he only gives the Yanks another 300 plate appearances, they’ll be more productive plate appearances than the 300 he gave them last year.

Then there’s Robinson Cano, who hit .343/.396/.557 in the second half of last season, but just .274/.314/.427 in the first half. Cano’s seen this pattern before, as his career OPS is 212 points higher after the All-Star break than before. Cano arrived in camp this year determined to have a first-half similar to his past second-half performances and hit .452. He also went 3-for-3 on the basepaths (Cano stole just four bags in nine tries last season). If Cano can put together a full season reflective of his abilities at the plate, he could make the leap from star to superstar at age 25.

Finally, there’s Melky Cabrera. Melky’s just 23, but this will be his third season as a major league starter, and it could be a decisive one for his Yankee future. Scranton center fielder Brett Gardner was one of the last cuts in camp and will be breathing down Melky’s neck all year, something both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have been rather upfront about in the press. Melky started last year cold and on the bench before finally being given the center field job on June 1 as a result of Johnny Damon’s first-half struggles. Melky hit .325/.375/.482 in his first three months in center, but went cold again September. This year he’ll be the Yankees’ starting center fielder on Opening Day for the first time in his career, and the club will be looking for him to reward their continued faith in him with a breakout season. One positive indicator from spring training: Melky hit .304, drew 7 walks (tied for second best on the team), and struck out just three times.

Another positive indicator for the team is that 98-plus-win Pythagorean record listed above. The Yankees scored nearly six runs per game last year and 76 more than the next most productive offense in baseball. This year, they have a better bench and hope for improvement at five spots in the order. The passage of a season has also allowed them to improve their pitching by starting the year with Hughes, Kennedy, Chamberlain, and Ross Ohlendorf on the major league staff and with last year’s Double-A sensations Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and reliever Scott Patterson now waiting in the wings with triple-A Scranton.

None of this means the Yankees will be a better team than they were a year ago, but there’s certainly a strong chance that they will be, and it’s difficult to believe they’ll be any worse, which, considering they won 94 games and the Wild Card last year, is a nice place to start.

Ready

In an ideal tuneup for Opening Day, the Yankees beat the Marlins in a well-pitched ballgame by a 4-2 score. The decisive blow came with the Yanks trailing 2-1 in the ninth inning and facing Florida closer Kevin Gregg. Shelley Duncan struck out to start the inning, but Greg Porter walked and Cody Ransom singled. Chad Moeller then hit a three-run, stand-up, inside-the-park homer to give the Yankees the lead and, eventually, the win.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
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 – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Billy Traber, Mariano Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Bruney, Joba Chamberlain, Ross Ohlendorf

Subs: Shelley Duncan (PR/1B), Cody Ransom (2B), Wilson Betemit (SS), Morgan Ensberg (3B), Jose Molina (C), Jason Lane (RF), Bernie Castro (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Chad Moeller (DH)

Opposition: The Marlins’ starters.

Big Hits: A double by Damon (1 for 2, BB), a solo homer by Melky Cabrera (2 for 3) and that inside-the-park homer by Chad Moeller (1 for 1). Jason Giambi was 2 for 3.

Who Pitched Well: Everyone. Phil Hughes allowed two runs (one unearned) on three hits and a walk in five innings and struck out four. He still got most of his outs in the air, but he was far more efficient, needing just 69 pitches, and he retired the last ten men he faced in order. Six of the eight members of the Opening Day bullpen pitched (LaTroy Hawkins and Jonathan “Andy Pettitte’s Roster Spot” Albaladejo being the exception) and combined they put up this line: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K. Mariano Rivera recorded the only fly out. The pen’s other 11 outs came via strikeout or groundout. Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney both struck out the only two men they faced. The two hits were doubles off Billy Traber and Ross Ohlendorf.

Oopsies: A fielding error by Derek Jeter.

Ouchies: A groundball struck Jeter’s pinky (I assume the right one, since the left one would have been in his glove) during batting practice. He played in the game, but went 0 for 2, made an error, and came out earlier than the other starters. Still, he’s expected to be in the Opening Day lineup despite the bruised finger.

More: Scott Patterson got “a little heated” when he was sent down, but he’ll buck up and try to pitch his way back. To me the most interesting part of that article by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch comes at the end:

The right-hander said he developed the mental toughness to deal with successful hitters during the offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League, facing players such as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Castro.

“I knew then that I’d be able to do OK against Major League hitters,” Patterson said.

Did he mean Juan Castro? And even if he did, does a 35-year-old with a career .231/.269/.336 line really qualify as a “Major League hitter”? Either way, Miguel Cabrera definitely counts.

Wilson Betemit declined Morgan Ensberg’s offer of $5,000 for uniform number 14, so Ensberg will take number 11, which was worn by Chris Woodward during spring training and Doug Mientkiewicz last year. A couple of anecdotes about Joe Girardi. And finally, per Joel Sherman, Brian Cashman “envisions” both Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg starting against the tougher lefties in the league. I imagine that scenario would put Duncan in left in place of the lefty-challenged Bobby Abreu and Ensberg at first base in place of either Giambi or, if Giambi shifts to DH for those games, Matsui. If either of the latter two are in a groove, they won’t need the sub, but subbing Shelley in for Abreu against lefties is a good move, though I wonder to what degree Joe Girardi will actually execute that plan.

Yankees Opening Day Roster

The Yankees set their Opening Day roster yesterday. First the expected moves: Jeff Karstens was placed on the 15-day DL, though he’s expected to miss at least a month; Nick Green and Jose Veras were sent down, as were Edwar Ramirez and Scott Patterson.

Here’s where the surprises come in. Andy Pettitte threw 25 pitches in the bullpen yesterday and is still on schedule to pitch a minor league intrasquad game on Sunday (against Ian Kennedy) and then make a start in the first trip through the rotation in the regular season. However, because he hasn’t pitched in a spring training game since March 17 the Yankees were able to put him on the 15-day DL retroactive to that start, thus making him eligible to come off the DL to start the fifth game of the regular season a week from today against the Rays.

With Pettitte on the DL, the Yankees will have an eight-man bullpen and thus have decided to start the season without a long-man. With two extra spots available (Pettitte’s and the one expected to be filled by a long-reliever), they are taking two extra right-handed short relievers. Thus Brian Bruney, Ross Ohlendorf, and the big surprise to me, Jonathan Albaladejo will all start the season with the big club, while Kei Igawa and Darrell Rasner will both start the season in the Scranton rotation.

My only complaint is that Scott Patterson should have made the team over Albaladejo, but then Albaladejo will likely get bumped when Pettitte comes off the DL a week from today, so that’s likely moot. I’ll be curious to see if Girardi renews his desire for long man once the bullpen is down to seven men. If so, it will force another decision. For now, here are your 2008 New York Yankees:

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

R – Shelley Duncan (1B/OF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (1B/3B)
S – Wilson Betemit (IF)
R – Jose Molina (C)

R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Mike Mussina
R – Phil Hughes
R – Ian Kennedy

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Billy Traber
R – LaTroy Hawkins
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Brian Bruney
R – Ross Ohlendorf
R – Jonathan Albaladejo

15-day DL: L – Andy Pettitte, R – Jeff Karstens, L – Sean Henn
60-day DL: R – Humberto Sanchez, R – Andrew Brackman, R – Carl Pavano

(more…)

Card Corner–Alex Johnson

 

When one hears the name "Alex" associated with the current day Yankees, the identity of Alex Rodriguez comes to mind. (Or perhaps even Alex Belth.) Three decades ago, another Alex patrolled the outfield for the Yankees. Though not as talented as Rodriguez, he was very controversial, even more so than the man who has become the lightning rod for the Yankees of the new millennium.

This 1975 Topps card (No. 534) is the only one that depicts Alex Johnson as a Yankee, albeit featuring the airbrushed cap colors of the Bronx Bombers. (The cap, oddly fitted onto his head, matches the oddity of Johnson’s facial expression.) Troubled and talented, Johnson didn’t last long with the Yankees, playing only 62 games for them across parts of the 1974 and ’75 seasons. He missed out on the glory years of 1976 to 1978, which is fitting for a player who never had the fortune of participating in the postseason. At times a productive player—he won the American League batting crown in 1970–Johnson fit the description of a journeyman, bouncing from the Phillies to the Cardinals to the Angels and Rangers, before finishing his career with the Yankees and Tigers. Given his talent, he should have played his entire career in one or two places. With a sweet right-handed swing, brute strength, and the kind speed that allowed him to run home to first in under 3.8 seconds—simply remarkable for a right-handed hitter—Johnson possessed All-Star talent.

Chiseled like a museum statue (think of someone with the build of a Glenallen Hill or Mark Whiten), Johnson possessed the kind of physical force that earned him the nickname, "The Bull." Sadly, Johnson’s repeated confrontations with teammates and the media also brought on such less complimentary names as "Awful Alex" and "Alex The Angry." More than 30 years after his retirement in 1976, that is how Johnson tends to be remembered by most fans.

Johnson didn’t like conversing with sportswriters, whom he didn’t trust. He nicknamed one particularly heavy-set writer "The Oblong Jerk." (For all of his faults, Johnson was intelligent; I mean, how often do you hear an athlete using the word "oblong?") He felt even more strongly about another writer, once pouring coffee grounds into the gentleman’s typewriter. Johnson also criticized official scorers for intentionally tabulating his statistics incorrectly, such as failing to give him proper credit for runs batted in or outfield assists. "One of them in particular is Dick Miller," said Johnson, referring to the Southern California writer who covered the Angels. "I don’t think he can even count when it comes to scoring me."

Johnson’s personality quirks carried over to the playing field. Since he believed that his body would become "stale" if he used excessive amounts of energy, he didn’t hustle to his position in the outfield, making him the anti-Pete Rose. On more than one occasion, he told reporters that "I’m just paid to hit," and that full effort in other parts of the game was simply not necessary. He also paced himself by failing to run hard on routine infield grounders and pop-ups, a habit that became especially problematic in 1971. That summer, "Awful Alex" was benched five times by manager Lefty Phillips for a failure to hustle. Johnson also chose not to partake in one of baseball’s time-honored rituals, refusing to shake hands with his teammates after hitting a home run. "I don’t want to waste time running up and down the bench," Johnson explained, "shaking hands for everything that happens."

In actuality, Johnson suffered from mental illness and would have benefited from counseling of some kind. The Angels probably should have arranged psychiatric service, but that sort of thing just wasn’t done very often in professional sports at the time. So Johnson fell deeper into the cracks, seemingly unable to improve his behavior even as the Angels’ attempts at discipline mounted.

As antisocial as Johnson could be, he could also be kind to the point of being saintly. He once donated $500 to a fund earmarked for his former Angels teammate Minnie Rojas, who had been paralyzed in a horrifying car crash. Not wanting to publicize his charitable effort, Johnson denied making the contribution. From a public relations perspective, Johnson could have used all the good will that the donation would have generated, but all that mattered to him was helping a friend.

Johnson also took time to attend the funeral of his former friend, infielder Hiraldo "Chico Ruiz," who lost his life in a 1972 car accident. The two had become estranged, often arguing with each other during that tumultuous 1971 season with the Angels. Putting hard feelings aside, Johnson was one of the few ballplayers to attend the funeral service for Ruiz.

Based on the comments of friends and family, Johnson’s off-the-field persona was far different from the angry public image that he often portrayed. He could be generous, warm, and considerate. Sadly, the baseball world saw too little of that side.

Since his playing days, Johnson has remained reclusive, rarely granting interviews. I’ve never seen him profiled as part of a "Where are they now?" piece. I don’t know if he’s still "Angry Alex," or if he has found a way to move past that stage of his life. Perhaps only Alex knows.

 

Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.

This, That, and the Fourth

Joel Sherman is blogging twice a day for the Post now. One of the most saber-friendly columinsts going, Sherman usually has something interesting to add to the discussion. Peep.

The boys at River Avenue Blues are doing some fund-raising for the Jorge Posada Foundation. Check it out.

Why were the Red Sox so successful last year? This picture from Rays Anatomy offers some insight.

Lastly, check out Eric Neel’s takeout piece on Joe Torre over at ESPN:

I expected him to be cool. I’d heard the supremely self-possessed Derek Jeter call him “Mr. Torre,” as if kneeling at the feet of an ancient elder, and I’d had Dodgers broadcaster Charlie Steiner tell me, with just the slightest hint of exaggeration, that Torre “is like Neo in ‘The Matrix,’” a man capable of moving objects in space with a supernatural flick of the wrist. But what I hadn’t quite anticipated is the way Torre’s calm confidence seems to radiate, seems available to those around him, like a campfire at which they might warm their hands. Some of that comes from winning four World Series rings; he’s quick to say his success buys him time and goodwill with people. But some of it is just this: When you’re with Joe Torre, you get the feeling — though, as a student of postmodern culture and a working writer in the world of sports journalism, I know such things are impossible — that he might actually be for real.

Last fall, the Indians, and the entire Joe Torre Era already seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Shook Ones (Pt II)

This is why Josh Wilker is doing some of the best work out there. Lawrence Taylor scared me as a kid, so did MJ, and later, Pedro and the Big Unit.

Leaving Tampa

The Yankees played their final home game of exhibition season yesterday, prior to which Legends Field was renamed for the Bossman. The Yanks now play a pair of games against Joe Girardi’s old team, the Marlins, in the Fish’s regular season home, Dolphin Stadium, then head north for the final Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

As for the game, Kei Igawa gave up a bunch of runs early, the Yanks didn’t score much and lost 5-2 to the Pirates.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (DH)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
R – Shelley Duncan (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (1B)
S – Wilson Betemit (2B)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

Pitchers: Kei Igawa, Jeff Karstens, Scott Patterson, Ross Ohlendorf, Brian Bruney, Josh Schmidt

Subs: Cody Ransom (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (PR/SS), Nick Green (3B), Jose Molina (C), Jose Tabata (RF), Jason Lane (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Jason Brown (DH)

Opposition: The Pirates minus Jason Bay.

Big Hits: Homers by Derek Jeter (1 for 2, BB) and Nick Green (1 for 2) and a double by Jose Molina (1 for 2). No Yankee had a multi-hit game.

Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson had another perfect outing, this one lasting four outs. Patterson has allowed just one baserunner (a double) in 7 2/3 spring innings and struck out seven. Brian Bruney and Ross Ohlendorf both pitched around singles for scoreless innings. Bruney struck out two. Ohlendorf struck out none, but faced the minimum thanks to a Jose Molina pickoff and got his other two outs on the ground. Jeff Karstens pitched around a single for a scoreless 1 1/3 innings and struck out two, but left the game with a groin injury (see below).

Who Didn’t: Kei Igawa gave up four runs on four singles, a double, and three walks in 3 1/3 innings, putting the ball back in Darrell Rasner’s shoe when it comes to the battle for the long-man job in the Opening Day bullpen.

Oopsies: Morgan Ensberg’s third error at first base and a wild pickoff throw by Ohlendorf.

Nice Plays: Molina pounced on Ohlendorf’s wild throw and nailed the runner at second. Jorge Posada picked Nyjer Morgan off first base.

Minor Work: Mariano Rivera, Jose Veras, and Jonathan Albaladejo all pitched in yesterday’s triple-A contest. Mo worked around a walk, struck out a man, and is set to start the season. Looking at the list of pitchers in yesterday’s major league game, I’d say those assignments are confirmation that neither Veras (who gave up two runs in his only inning) nor Albaladejo (who matched Mo’s line) is making the 25-man roster, though neither was among the players officially reassigned yesterday (see below).

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw long toss yesterday, will pitch in an intrasquad game on Sunday, and could start the fourth game of the season if all goes well. Karstens did not travel with the team to Miami. He’ll stay behind to get an MRI and will likely land on the DL with a groin injury, leaving Darrell Rasner as the last man standing for the long-relief job. Back in the lineup, Johnny Damon (flu) went 0 for 3 as the DH. Brett Gardner needed his lip stitched up after fouling a ball off his face on Wednesday, but otherwise he’s fine, though a bit tough to look at. Scott Patterson got hit in the hip by a comebacker, but stayed in the game.

Roster Moves: The Yankees cleaned house when it comes to position players, reassigning Brett Gardner, Cody Ransom, Jason Lane, Bernie Castro, Greg Porter, Chad Moeller, and Jason Brown to minor league camp. That leaves the four expected bench players (Molina, Duncan, Ensberg, Betemit) and Nick Green in major league camp. Per Pete Abe, Joe Girardi said that Wilson Betemit has made the team, which means Green will be farmed out as well. So, though it’s still unofficial, you can put that four-man bench in ink. As for the reassigned players, Castro (2B), Ransom (3B), Lane (RF), Gardner (CF), Moeller (C), and possibly Porter (LF) will start for Scranton. I assume catcher Jason Brown will return to his role as an organizational soldier, though every year I expect him to retire and begin his career as a coach.

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Yankee Panky # 46: Get In The Game

Please allow me to start the column by saying I miscalculated. I had intended to review the various papers’ pullout/special sections on the Yankees, but they will be available this Sunday. Since rosters are complete now, the last vestiges of those sections can now go to print.

In order to truly appreciate those sections — regardless of the quality of writing — think of the planning that goes into it. Editors meet on the content for those sections and begin doling assignments starting from the time they send reporters to Tampa. It’s a long, painstaking process.

I’ll tie in the reviews with some Opening Day missives in the next column. …

… This week, I wanted to veer off the beaten path (not the "beatin’ path," as in "dead horse," or Canseco v. A-Rod: A Juicing and Wife-Ogling Tale), to discuss how various media members view their function in the baseball establishment. But before I do, a quick tangent: Reading about the Red Sox’ whining about the Japan trip took me into the DeLorean and the last week of March, 2004. My colleagues and I were on two-week rotations for Spring Training, and I had the final two weeks leading up to the Yankees’ exodus to Japan, where they opened the season against the Devil Rays. I actually watched their charter take off from my hotel room.

At any rate, the quotes from various Sox players and coaches were eerily reminiscent of those of Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and a couple of other Yankees who vocalized their disdain for the long haul across the International Date Line. There was concern of how the trip would affect the team long-term for the season. The first three weeks of April were terrible; the Yankees went 8-11 in their first 19 games, including a 1-6 mark against the Red Sox. An eight-game win streak ended the first month of the season and bled into May, and set the tone for a 101-61 record that included 61 come-from-behind victories.

But the early effects of the Japan trip were still talked about on Sept. 30, the night the Yankees clinched the AL East on a game-winning home run by Bernie Williams. As I was scampering through the clubhouse, steno pad in hand trying to avoid a champagne shower that would have ruined my notes, I recall one local television reporter introducing a question to Mussina (and I’m paraphrasing): "Moose, it’s been a long season, you’ve been outspoken about the Japan trip and voiced your complaints, etc. …" To which Mussina replied, "Complained? You’ve been here like 10 minutes all year, how do you know?" Now while I may not be the biggest fan of Mussina, especially in his treatment of media members, I thought this was hilarious and if I were in his position, I can’t say I’d have reacted differently. I’d love to find out if something similar occurs in Boston later this year. That would be hilarious.

To the point of the column: media members’ opinions of their place in the game. In her most recent column, ESPN.com Ombudsman (Ombudsperson?) Le Anne Schreiber interviewed many ESPN reporters and analysts about how they juggle their multiple roles, specifically the injection of opinion when serving as guests on ESPN Radio programming, SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, etc., compared to managing their "objectivity" in reporting. It’s an old-school/new-school debate that’s raging in Journalism schools, going back to when I was in college, and there isn’t a real answer.

I found the last half-dozen paragraphs most interesting. Schreiber discusses Steve Phillips’ role in the Mitchell Report analysis, which led to the question of, "How much are the media and other non-players a part of the game?"

On a recent "Outside the Lines" report, Phillips seemed to take a giant step onto the media side of the fence when he acknowledged that, as general manager of the Mets, he had signed a player whose performance declined upon joining the team. When Phillips learned the cause was the player’s going off amphetamines, he thought, "Well, dear God, will somebody please get him back on those? That’s the truth, and I say it with some sense of shame and responsibility."

After that show, Phillips says, "I got a lot of reaction from people at ESPN, pats on the back, and I wondered if I had opened up too much about it."

Such disclosure may not be in the best interest of baseball, but it is essential for an ESPN baseball analyst who is asked to comment on others’ complicity in the steroids era. To me, it seemed Phillips had chosen the media side of the line, but I also noticed that when asked later in that same show what baseball management should do now to clean up the game, he began talking about what "they should do" and then shifted to what "we should do."

"I wasn’t aware of switching from ‘they’ to ‘we,’" Phillips says. "But I do believe that we as broadcasters are part of the game. We still have an impact on the game. I don’t know whether this crosses the line in broadcasting or not. I don’t know if writers like Buster Olney and Peter Gammons consider themselves part of the game, but as a GM I always thought of the media covering the game as part of the game."

I knew what Olney’s answer would be, but still I asked him whether he thought he was part of the game.

"No," Olney said. "There is definitely a hard line there for me. I don’t think of myself as part of the institution of baseball."

(TJ) Quinn, Olney, Phillips — all drawing different lines or trying to locate them within the shifting landscape of journalism. Old-school straight lines may have toppled to the ground like a pile of overlapping pick-up sticks, but I think ESPN should make sure all its reporters, analysts, producers and editors know where the old lines are so they can recognize when it is in everyone’s best interest to pick them up again.

I found Olney’s quote astonishing. If he, or any other writer, doesn’t consider himself part of the institution of baseball, then the institution of baseball should not give members of the BBWAA such elevated status. Remove the writers’ wing from the Hall of Fame. Don’t allow them to vote for any regular-season honors. Writers are an integral part of the game’s culture, makeup and have helped develop some of its vernacular. When I worked at YES, I wasn’t around the team every day. For my first three years there, until I cut back my game assignments, I worked roughly 50+ games a year on-site and at least 100 more on the editorial side. I felt like I was part of the game because my summaries, columns, etc., were helping shape fans’ views of the team. On a different level, when I did TV and radio play-by-play for my college sports teams, I didn’t feel like I was a part of the team, but I was a part of the game. I was an element of the way people received information on the game.

What do you think? Are writers, broadcasters, front office members, owners, etc., separate from the Institution of Baseball? Is Phillips right? Is Olney?

I’m curious to review your comments.

Until next week …

Living in the Future

Brett Myers and 22-year-old righty Andrew Carpenter shut out the Yanks 4-0.

Lineup:

L – Brett Gardner (CF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
S – Wilson Betemit (SS)
R – Jason Lane (LF)
R – Chien-Ming Wang (P)

Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Ohlendorf, Joba Chamberlain, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Chris Woodward (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Jose Molina (C), Bernie Castro (PH/CF), Nick Green (PH), Greg Porter (PR), Carlos Mendoza (PR)

Opponent: The Phillies’ starters.

Big Hits: Robinson Cano went 2 for 4 with a pair of singles. Bobby Abreu walked twice in four trips. The rest of the Yankee hitters reached base just four times on two other singles and two other walks.

Who Pitched Well: Billy Traber retired the only two men he faced. Those two men happened to be lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the latter of whom struck out. Ross Ohlendorf pitched around a Geoff Jenkins double, striking out two in the sixth. Joba Chamberlain faced three batters, walking one, striking out one, and getting the third to ground out.

Who Didn’t: A bad second inning ruined Chien-Ming Wang’s outing. Wang allowed four runs on six singles and two walks in his five innings, but all four runs, four of those singles, and one of the walks came in the second inning. Things were worse than they should have been in that frame as Wang induced two double-play balls, but due to misplays by Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez (the latter Alex Rodriguez’s third error of the spring) only got one out from them. Brian Bruney only retired half of the four men he faced, allowing a double to So Taguchi and a single.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw 36 pitches in the bullpen and said he felt good. He’s on target to make a minor league start on Saturday and start Game 3 of the regular season, though he’ll have to throw another bullpen today to stay on target. Brett Gardner fouled a ball off his face. Bloodied, he came out of the game immediately and headed to the dentist for x-rays. Johnny Damon missed the game as he continues to struggle with the flu. Don’t be surprised if you start hearing about other players battling the flu in the coming days (Pete Abe reports Shelley Duncan and Jeff Karstens aren’t feeling so hot . . . easy fix on the latter: send him to minor league camp).

Minor Work: Pitching for Tampa, Mariano Rivera tossed a perfect inning and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless one, but allowed two hits.

Roster Moves: As predicted by Chad Jennings, Sean Henn has been placed on the 15-day DL with tendonitis. Nick Green chose not to opt out of his Yankee contract, but the Yanks did reduce their futility-man glut by releasing Chris Woodward. Analyzing the battle for the final bench spot two weeks ago, I wrote, “We’ll get our first big lesson on Joe Girardi’s decision making when he’s forced to choose between Chris Woodward and Morgan Ensberg, a choice which should be obvious.” Well, with four days left in camp, Ensberg’s on the 40-man roster and Chris Woodward is looking for a new team. I couldn’t be more impressed.

More: Gardner got the start because Damon was sick and Melky Cabrera stayed behind in Tampa for some sliding practice. Legends Field becomes George M. Steinbrenner Field today. Porn enthusiast Hideki Matsui is getting married.

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The Last Five Minutes of Jose Canseco

Pat Jordan has a funny story about chasing Jose Canseco for a magazine profile over at Deadspin:

I have been pursuing Jose, like the Holy Grail, for three months now, trying to nail him down for a magazine profile he’d agreed to do in January, partly because, as his lawyer/agent had told me, “Jose’s on the balls on his ass,” and partly because Jose was trying to interest a publisher in his second steroids-tell-all book, which existed only as a two page proposal of typos that had yet to interest any publisher. This second book would be titled “Vindicated,” and it would “encompass approximately 300 pages and will require six months to complete.”

My pursuit of Jose began in January when I called him in California. His girlfriend, Heidi, answered the phone. I told her that I was writing a magazine story about Jose writing a book. “And a movie,” she said. “Jose is writing a book and a movie about himself.” I said, “You mean a screenplay?” She paused a beat, then said, “No, a movie.” I said, “Of course.”

Uh, and nice zinger to end the piece, right? One commentor on Deadspin said you could just skip the entire story and go right to the last line and that pretty much sums it up. Yow.

Coffee and TV

I figure many of you, being sane and intelligent people, probably missed the official start of baseball season–live from Japan, at 6 a.m., Red Sox-A’s–but I had to write about something, and damned if I have anything left to say about spring training. My viewing didn’t go quite the way I planned, as I fell asleep on the futon sometime during the second inning and woke up hours later to the grating laughter of Mike and Mike. Fortunately my TiVo knows me better than I know myself.

It wasn’t the game’s fault–this one was highly entertaining, even if the end result, 5-4 Sox, wasn’t ideal. Cliff gave the play-by-play yesterday. Depending on your tolerance for Schadenfreude, watching Daisuke Matsuzaka completely and utterly lose the strike zone in the early going was either fun or somewhat wince-inducing–this was supposed to be his big homecoming, after all–but either way, he made an impressive recovery, and the Sox won a tough one, albeit with a little help from the A’s.

Yes, it turns out Oakland isn’t messing around with this whole “rebuilding” thing. I thought I’d been paying pretty close attention to baseball transactions this winter, but I’ve never even heard of a bunch of these guys. I’ve certainly heard of Emil Brown, though, and in the 10th inning, he proceded to demonstrate how they do things in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. I have a lot of faith in Billy Beane’s diabolical schemes, but this particular season . . . well, it could be a rough summer for the Bay Area.

These days, my joy at Opening Day is usually tempered a bit by the knowledge that with it comes Joe Morgan’s ESPN announcing; but we’ve been spared this year, as Steve Phillips and Gary Thorne made the trip instead. I haven’t heard much of Thorne before, I don’t think, and I actually enjoyed him. His use of “Sayonara!” as a home run call was pretty unforgivable, but his perkiness seems to be entirely genuine, and I just couldn’t dislike him, especially since he seemed as punchy as his pre-dawn audience as he rambled on about coffee and cherry blossoms. At one point, he was openly wavering on whether to address himself to East Coast fans just waking up and eating breakfast, or those “west of the Mississippi” who might be arriving home “after the bars close.” I’m still not sure what he ended up deciding, but either way, it was entertaining.

Even Steve Phillips, who regularly rubs me the wrong way on Baseball Tonight, seemed so happy to have baseball back that I couldn’t hold a grudge. Though I did scoff–out loud, just on general principle, even though no one was there to hear it–when he said of Matsuzaka, during his early struggles, “the look in his eyes for his last pitch was the best he’s had yet. He’s competing now, it looks like.” Really? Is that the same "look" you saw in the eyes of Mo Vaugh, Roberto Alomar, and Armando Benitez (twice)? Unfortunately for Mets fans, Scott Kazmir’s eyeballs apparently don’t convey that much competitiveness.

Also joining the telecast, considerably earlier in the day than I prefer to see him, was the Commisioner himself. Having just finished up an exciting and historic trip that brought Major League Baseball to China for the first time ever, Bud Selig was his usual charismatic self, brimming with enthralling stories from his travels in Beijing:

“I remember standing on the field with Joe Torre, who I’ve known for about 50-plus years, and he looked at me and I looked at him. And he said, ‘Did you ever think we’d be standing on a field in Beijing, about to play Major League Baseball?’ And I said, ‘No.’”
(Long pause).

A born raconteur, that man.

There’s been much debate recently over how much the additional travel and jetlag will affect the Red Sox. (No one appears to care very much whether or not it will affect the A’s). Over at YFSF, Paul makes a convincing case that the trip to Japan has historically had little if any impact on a team’s performance. He’s probably right, though when I flew home from Taiwan last summer I was a zombie for well over a week. Regardless, and despite what you might have heard earlier this spring from Theo Epstein, the complaining has already commenced. I’d say karma’s a bitch, but alas, the Sox did win the game.

A Tale of Two Seasons

The season has begun. The season has not begun.

On the other side of the world from where the A’s and Red Sox kicked off the 2008 season, the Yanks got to Paul Byrd, but a pair of three-run homers by the Indians were enough to beat the Yankees by a 7-5 score.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (DH)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Wilson Betemit (3B)
R – Jose Molina (C)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Scott Patterson, Kyle Farnsworth, Darrell Rasner

Subs: Shelley Duncan (1B), Nick Green (2B), Chris Woodward (SS), Morgan Ensberg (3B), Greg Porter (C), Chad Moeller (RF), Brett Gardner (RF/CF), Bernie Castro (PR/LF), Jason Lane (DH)

Opposition: The Indians starters save for Casey Blake.

Big Hits: Doubles by Jose Molina (3 for 4), Jason Giambi (2 for 4), and Robinson Cano (3 for 4), the last of whom had two of them.

Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson struck out the only man he faced to end the fifth inning for Ian Kennedy. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a single for a scoreless sixth, two of his three outs coming on the ground.

Who Didn’t: Kennedy walked four and gave up a three-run homer to Ryan Garko with two outs in the first. All four runs Kennedy allowed in his 4 2/3 innings were unearned (due to an error by Melky Cabrera), but three of the five hits he allowed went for extra bases. He was also inefficient, needing 91 pitches to get through 4 2/3 innings and throwing just 53 percent of those for strikes. Darrell Rasner may have handed the long-relief job to Kei Igawa by giving up a three-run home run to Andy Marte with two outs in the in the eighth with the Yankees holding a slim 5-4 lead. Rasner had worked a scoreless seventh, but allowed four baserunners in his two innings, Marte included.

Oopsies: Fielding errors by Cabrera in center and Chris Woodward (his third of the spring) at shortstop.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte played catch (42 tosses) today and will throw a bullpen tomorrow. If all goes well, he’ll start a minor league game on Saturday and start the third game of the season, simply swapping spots with Mike Mussina, who will start the second game. Johnny Damon went 0 for 4 as the DH after missing Monday’s game due to the flu.

Roster News: Per Chad Jennings, Sean Henn will likely start the year on the DL with biceps tendonitis (which explains why he has barely pitched in camp). That also allows the Yanks to avoid having to pass Henn, who is out of options, through waivers. Instead they can hold on to him on the DL and get him back to the minors via an eventual rehab assignment. Nick Green can opt out of his Yankee contract tonight and likely will. He’s fourth in line for the Yankees’ utility spot at best.

More: The Record‘s Pete Caldera on new bench coach Rob Thomson. Chad Jennings details the minor league outings of Joba Chamberlain and LaTroy Hawkins.

Tokyo: It’s a shame it started at 6 a.m. EST (or 3 a.m. PCT), because the A’s and Sox played a gem of a game in Tokyo to start the 2008 season. The no-name A’s scored a pair against hometown hero Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first and just kept putting men on against him, drawing five walks off the Sox starter, but Matsuzaka battled and locked it down. A’s starter Joe Blanton then tired in the sixth and coughed up three runs to make it 3-2 Sox, but the A’s then jumped right back in in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run dinger by Jack Hannahan, who is filling in for the still-injured Eric Chavez, off Kyle Snyder. The A’s got the ball to closer Huston Street with a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, but Brandon Moss, who was literally a last-minute replacement for an achy J.D. Drew in right field, tied it up with a solo homer. The Sox added two more off Street in the tenth, but the A’s rallied in the bottom of the tenth against Jonathan Papelbon, only to be outdone by an Emil Brown baserunning mistake that turned a one-out/man-on-second situation into a two-out/none-on situation with the A’s having closed to within one run. The A’s sloppy play was their undoing throughout the game, while the play of the game was a leaping catch at the wall in dead center by Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury. Three hours and 39 minutes is too long, and the Red Sox did get the win, but otherwise, here’s hoping all the games are that good this year.

Yanks Mash, Relievers Cut

The Phillies made four errors and J.D. Durbin gave up six runs in the fifth inning as the Yankees beat the Phillies 13-4.

Lineup:

S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Shelley Duncan (LF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (1B)

Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Billy Traber, Mariano Rivera, LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Bruney

Subs: Wilson Betemit (1B), Chris Woodward (PH/2B), Nick Green (PH/SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Jason lane (PH/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Hideki Matsui (DH), Bernie Castro (PR/DH)

Opponent: Half of the Phillies’ starters.

Big Hits: Robinson Cano (3 for 4) was a double shy of the cycle and drove in five runs, three on a home run to right that Pete Abe says flew “over everything.” Jason Giambi (2 for 2) and Melky Cabrera (2 for 4) also homered. Derek Jeter (3 for 4) and Shelley Duncan (3 for 4) doubled.

Who Pitched Well: LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect eighth inning and still boasts a spring ERA of 0.00. Mariano Rivera struck out the side around his first walk of the spring. Brian Bruney also pitched around a walk in a scoreless four-batter ninth (more on Bruney below the fold).

Who Didn’t: Phil Hughes struck out six in five innings, but also allowed three runs, two of them on a Pedro Feliz homer in the fourth. Hughes, who was targeted for 90 pitches, used up 86 of them in those five frames and seven of his nine outs on balls in play came on flies. That combination of inefficiency and fly-ball tendencies is what we were seeing from Hughes last year after he came off the DL, whereas earlier this spring he was back to being the dominant groundballing power pitcher he’d been in the minors. Billy Traber allowed a run on three singles in the sixth. It was the first earned run he’d allowed all spring, though he had allowed a pair of unearned runs (as has Hawkins) as well as a pair of inherited runners to score.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte made 47 throws off flat ground, but still felt some discomfort in his back. He needs to get a bullpen in no later than Wednesday and start a minor league game on Friday in order to make his Game 2 start. Still, the Yankees expect him to start one of the first five games of the season at worst, which means the rotation should remain intact, though it’s likely to be shuffled. Johnny Damon caught the flu and was sent home. He’s supposed to play today.

Bullpen News: Dan Giese and Heath Phillips have been reassigned to minor league camp. With Traber on the 40-man roster and assumed to be the lefty on the eventual 25-man, that’s not big news. The big news is that Chris Britton was optioned to Triple-A. Britton was given just five innings this spring, which ranked him 15th among the relievers in camp, and that doesn’t even include Joba Chamberlain and Kei Igawa. Britton excelled in those innings, allowing just three hits and walking none while striking out three and allowing just one earned run (1.80 ERA), but once again he’s gotten the shaft. There’s clearly something we’re not being told here. Nonetheless, with Traber in line to be the lefty (Sean Henn has made just three appearances all spring, though he’s also pitched well), and Girardi determined to take a long man (fingers crossed for Darrell Rasner), there’s just one spot left and still six men left in camp competing for it with just five exhibition games left. Here are your contenders in reverse running order:

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Punchless

The Yankees brought their B-team on the road to play the Pirates, got just five men on base, and were shut out 8-0

Lineup:

S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (1B)
S – Wilson Betemit (SS)
R – Jason Lane (RF)
R – Cody Ransom (3B)
R – Chris Woodward (DH)
R – Chad Moeller (C)

Pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Scott Strickland, Heath Phillips, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Ross Ohlendorf

Subs: Bernie Castro (2B), Eduardo Nuñez (SS), Nick Green (3B), Jason Brown (C), Brett Gardner (CF), Greg Porter (LF), Wilson Betemit finished the game at first base.

Opposition: Something approximating the Pirates starters.

Big Hits: None. The Yankees had two singles on the day, one by Hideki Matsui and one by Chris Woodward. Matsui also drew one of three Yankee walks and was thus the only Yankee to reach base twice.

Who Pitched Well: Health Phillips pitched around a single for 1 1/3 scoreless frames.

Who Didn’t: The only other Yankee hurler not to be charged with a run was Scott Strickland, but he came in with a man on base and allowed a pair of singles, which plated that inherited runner. He also pitched just 2/3 of an inning. Jose Veras allowed two runs on a walk and two singles in the sixth. Edwar Ramirez allowed a run on a walk and two singles in the eighth, though he also struck out the side. Ross Ohlendorf allowed a run on two singles in the ninth, though he also struck out two and/or got two groundouts (the box score is a bit conflicted).

Jeff Karstens started and allowed four runs on seven hits, five of them doubles. He has a 9.64 ERA on the spring and a 1-3 record. Per Pete Abe, the Yankees remain determined to take a long man north, which means it’s probably between Darrell Rasner (1-0, 5.84) and Kei Igawa (1-0, 3.38). Igawa, by the way, dominated the Trenton Thunder in today’s minor league intrasquad game (see below). I’ve always preferred Rasner out of this group, though his struggles earlier this month concerned me. Unfortunately, Rasner has the additional obstacle of not being on the 40-man roster.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte (back) was supposed to play catch yesterday. He didn’t. He was supposed to start on Thursday. He won’t. If he can start in a minor league game on Friday, he can stay on schedule to start Game 2 of the regular season. If not, the Yankees will have to come up with another plan, which could be anything from simply swapping Mussina and Pettitte in the rotation to using the afore-mentioned longman in a spot start, to placing Pettitte on the DL retroactive to his last spring start and starting anyone from a minor league replacement to Joba Chamberlain in his stead. Robinson Cano (back) was supposed to play against the Pirates. He did. He’s fine.

Other Action: Igawa, pitching for Scranton, and Mike Mussina, pitching for Trenton, faced off in a rule-bending minor league intrasquad game of sorts that started at 10am yesterday morning. Dan Graziano sets the scene. Chad Jennings has the details. The relevant lines are Igawa: 4 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 8 K; Moose: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K.

More: Kat O’Brien has an exclusive piece on Hal Steinbrenner, on whom I must admit I’m developing a bit of a man-crush. He’s young, good looking, and says things like, “The Super Bowl was great. I think it showed New Yorkers that if you’re patient with a young kid, good things can happen.” Swoon. Excerpts from the article can be found on Kat’s blog. Meanwhile, here’s a solid piece by Sam Borden on the impact of Joe Torre’s relocation on his family. Also, Pete Abe is taking reader questions for Brian Cashman. I imagine you guys could come up with some real doozies for the GM.

Do Over

On Saturday, the Yankees had one of those days that just wasn’t worth waking up for. Both Andy Pettitte and Robinson Cano were scratched from their respective games due to back stiffness and the big league game was rained out in the bottom of the second inning with the Yankees trailing 6-0. Blech.

I won’t even bother with the usual breakdown other than to say that Jonathan Albaladejo did most of the damage, but pitched in extraordinarily bad luck. After a lead-off single, a double-play grounder went right through Derek Jeter’s legs (Jeter anticipated a hop that didn’t happen), after which left fielder Shelley Duncan threw to third base allowing the batter to go to second. After an RBI groundout, Duncan booted a basket catch, plating two more runs. Frank Thomas then hit a grounder to third that hit the bag giving the immobile DH an infield single. At this point, Albaladejo had gotten the equivalent of five outs and allowed one legitimate hit, but only had one out on the board, three runs in, and a man on base first. Then Aaron Hill drove Thomas in with a double. Then a downpour started. Then Marcos Scutaro doubled in Hill, driving Alabaladejo from the game down 5-0. Sure, Albaladejo could have helped himself with a strike out or two in there somewhere, and those last two doubles were smoked, but you kinda have to give the guy a do over for an outing like that, don’tcha? Especially since he was a last-minute replacement for scheduled starter Kei Igawa. You see, the Yankees knew there was a chance the game would be cut short by rain and they wanted to get a look at their relievers, so they inverted their pitching plans, starting the game with Albaladejo and scheduling Igawa for the last three or four innings, which never came.

Scott Patterson replaced Albaladejo and got two quick fly outs, one of which was a sac fly to push Albaladejo’s total to six runs, all unearned. Kyle Farnsworth coughed up a double and a walk in the second, but escaped unscathed. LaTroy Hawkins and Joba Chamberlain got their work in indoors in a simulated game. Igawa will pitch against Mike Mussina in a minor league intrasquad game on Sunday that will pit the Double-A squad against the Triple-A squad. Jeff Karstens will make the start for the major leaguers.

As for Pettitte and Cano, here’s Andy on his back, which he says locked up on him on Thursday on the way home from the park. He got treatment on Friday, said he felt better Saturday, but the Yankees weren’t about to have him pitch. He had the same issue with his back last year and still made 34 starts and two relief appearances, so hopefully this won’t be a lingering concern. Right now, Pettitte expects to make his final spring start on Thursday, try to get up toward 90 pitches in that game, and start the second game of the regular season as originally intended. Cano says he’s fine and is expected to play in Sunday’s game.

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My Wife, Morgan Ensberg

The Yankees and Rays played seven and a half innings of scoreless ball before both team’s tallied in their final at-bat to make it 2-1 Yanks. The big news, however, is that Morgan Ensberg was added to the 40-man roster after the game, prompted by an escape clause in his contract that would have kicked in at midnight had he not made the 40-man. Having been added to the roster Ensberg is guaranteed $1.75 million for the season. Joe Girardi has said, as he did regarding Billy Traber, who was added to the 40-man a week and a half ago as prompted by a similar clause, that this doesn’t mean Ensberg has maid the team, but Ensberg has long since run out of options, and I find it difficult to believe that the Yankees would play $1.75 million just to cut him loose in a week.

Ensberg went 0 for 4 in last night’s game, which dropped him to .270/.341/.405 for the spring, which may not be a far cry from what the Yankees can expect from him during the regular season, but it’s a heckuvalot better than what they’d get from a Nick Green/Chris Woodward type. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com had a good piece up on Ensberg earlier in the day in which Ensberg raves about working with hitting coach Kevin Long.

As for the guys this leaves out, Brett Gardner and Cody Ransom, who will be Scranton’s starting center fielder and third baseman, respectively, put themselves on the short list should the Yanks need roster filler during the season. Gardner has hit .393/.469/.536 thus far this spring and stolen six bases in six tries. The catch is that he’s only played 45 games above double-A and the Yankees want to give him a little more time in triple-A. They may also prefer to have him keep his bat warm in a starting role in the minors just in case Melky Cabrera leaves the door open to the major league job in center field. Ransom has played all four infield positions and hit .273/.294/.455. He’ll walk more than that, which makes him a threat to Ensberg if the latter struggles. Jason Lane hit .263/.333/.526, but is simply too similar to Shelley Duncan, though that puts pressure on Shelley to perform assuming Lane will wind up starting in one of the outfield corners in Scranton. Perhaps most significantly, the fact that Chris Woodward faded from the fight despite his .409/.435/.455 line this spring (that’s all singles save for one walk and one double, by the way) is an encouraging early indicator for Joe Girardi’s decision-making skills.

Oh, and Ensberg has said he’ll change numbers, “”I’m not taking Paul O’Neill’s number. I’ll be trying as quickly as possible to get rid of that.” Per Mark Feinsand, Ensberg has always worn 14 and will attempt to buy the number away from Wilson Betemit.

As for the game . . .

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Observations From Cooperstown: Super Balls

When one thinks of cheating in today’s game, the issue of steroids is the first to come to mind. With steroids, excuses inevitably follow. We’ve heard players say they believed they were taking B-12 shots, or ordinary dietary supplements, or most preposterously, flaxseed oil.

Nearly three and a half decades ago, a different kind of cheating took place at Shea Stadium, where the Yankees were playing home games during the renovation of Yankee Stadium. This category of cheating may have been different, but the explanation offered after the game was no less ludicrous.

It was September 7, 1974. I like to call it the day that the "Super Balls" went flying, even though the balls were hardly intact. Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles became the epicenter of the controversy. So what exactly happened that Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium, as Nettles and the New Yorkers hosted the Tigers? The two teams actually played a doubleheader that day, with the first game taking place without incident. Nettles did hit a home run in the lidlifter, but his bat didn’t break and he was not charged with, or even suspected of, having used a doctored bat. His two-run shot, however, couldn’t prevent the Yankees from dropping an 8-3 decision to the Tigers, who pounded Yankee starter Rudy May for six runs in three and one-third innings. Detroit’s Bill Freehan hit a home run of his own, part of a 2-for-5 effort as the Tigers’ cleanup man.

The real fun didn’t start until the second game, as left-handers Woodie Fryman and Larry Gura (in perhaps his lone highlight as a member of the Yankees; boy, Billy Martin hated him) engaged in a compelling pitchers’ duel. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the second, Nettles stepped to the plate against Fryman, who was usually brutal against left-handed hitters. On this occasion, Nettles found his way against Fryman, connecting on a home run. Once again, the bat did not break, and the Tigers expressed no suspicion that Nettles had done anything to alter or doctor the bat.

Well, those suspicions finally began to bubble during Nettles’ next at-bat, which came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Nettles took a swing and nicked one of Fryman’s pitches with the end of his bat, blooping a single into the outfield. While Nettles stood at first, thinking he had picked up his second hit of the game, he also realized that something was wrong. At the moment of contact with the ball, the top of his bat had come flying off the barrel, which was an unusual way for a bat to break into two pieces. Bill Freehan, the Tigers’ longtime catcher, also noticed something out of place, specifically with the larger piece of discarded wood that lay near home plate. Freehan recognized that the inside of the stained brown bat contained a foreign substance, a fact to which he alerted home plate umpire Lou DiMuro. After inspecting the bat, DiMuro called Nettles out for using an illegal bat.

 

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