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Monthly Archives: March 2008

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Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting

Behind a member of the actual starting rotation, Yankees B-team crushed the Blue Jays’ starters hitting behind a replacement pitcher. Final score: 7-2.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
R – Shelley Duncan (RF)
S – Wilson Betemit (1B)
R – Cody Ransom (SS)
R – Jose Molina (C)
R – Nick Green (3B)

Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Dan Giese, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Albaladejo, Chris Britton

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzaelez (SS), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Jason Lane (PH/LF), Matt Carson* (PR/DH)

Opponent: The Blue Jays’ starters, including Alex Rios.

Big Hits: Consecutive RBI doubles by Wilson Betemit (2 for 4, BB) and Cody Ransom (2 for 3) in the second inning, a two-run double by Shelley Duncan (2 for 5) in the third, and a monstrous two-run jack to right field by Betemit (batting lefty, of course) in the fifth. Johnny Damon was 2 for 3 with a walk, Robinson Cano was 2 for 4.

Who Pitched Well: Ian Kennedy had a monster curve working as well as a good changeup and used those pitches to limit the Blue Jay’s starters to one run on six hits and no walks over 4 1/3 innings while striking out four. If there’s a knock on his outing it’s that he was a bit inefficient, using 75 pitches and throwing only 56 percent of them for strikes. Chris Britton pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one. Jonathan Albaladejo pitched around a single for a scoreless eighth. Dan Giese walked back-to-back batters in relief of Kennedy in the fifth, but one came on a questionable full-count call and he managed to strand both men.

Making his first short-relief appearance of the spring, Joba Chamberlain looked like the guy who posted the 0.38 ERA down the stretch last year by striking out the side on 11 pitches (nine strikes, of course). Just like last September, Joba was firing laser-guided rocket fastballs and unhittable sliders. Of course, he faced a trio of low-minors nobodies, but the performance was so dominant that it almost made me worry that Joba’s become a bit too fond and too comfortable in this new role, which could prove to be an obstacle to his return to starting. Indeed, check out some of these quotes:

Kennedy: “He looks like a different guy when he starts and relieves. He just goes after guys. I don’t know if he was holding back too much, but he looked like a different guy today.”

Joba: “It felt great . . . it’s like riding a bike. . . . You just attack the zone. You stop worrying about your mechanics and your abilities take over. It was back to the slider that I’m used to throwing, and not babying it. . . . If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Admittedly that bit about “if it ain’t broke” was in reference to his relief repertoire, not the role itself, but I do worry about the fact that Chamberlain suggests he might have been overthinking and babying things while working as a starter this spring. Joba seems to relish the big bad reliever role, but he absolutely must return to starting or he’ll be denying the Yankees and himself a chance to realize his full potential.

Who Didn’t: Kyle Farnsworth struck out two in his lone inning but also allowed a single, a double, a walk, and a run. Many point to Farnsworth’s failings as another reason why Chamberlain needs to be in the pen. If Chamberlain does wind up sticking in relief long-term, Farnsworth’s Yankee legacy will be even worse than his numbers will show.

Nice Plays: A relay from Shelley Duncan in the right-field corner to Robinson Cano to nail David Eckstein at third base trying to stretch a double in the first inning.

Ouchies: A week from tomorrow, Humberto Sanchez will throw off a mound for the first time since his Tommy John surgery.

Roster News: Catcher Kyle Anson was reassigned to minor league camp. He’ll land in A-ball somewhere depending on where Austin Romine and Jesus Montero wind up. In the Cody Ransom article linked to above, Bryan Hoch suggests that Brett Gardner will not make the Opening Day roster:

. . . there may be no room at the inn for Gardner, who could benefit more from playing every day in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre than by riding the bench in New York. Girardi said he has encouraged Gardner along those lines, telling him to keep his head up and wait for his chance.

“I think he’s got a chance to be a really good big league player,” Girardi said. “It’s like the pitching staff here, obviously, we can only take so many when we leave [Florida]. If you don’t go with us when we break camp, you need to be ready at all times, because you never know when that call is going to come.”

*Matt Carson, on loan from minor league camp, got in the game as the Yankees brought a limited roster on the road. Don’t sweat Carson. He’s a 25-year-old outfielder with a career .250/.307/.397 line after six pro seasons. He hit about that in his first full season in double-A last year and won’t crack the starting lineup in Trenton or Scranton this year.

More: In order to avoid giving their divisional rivals an extended look at their starting pitchers with little more than a week left until the regular season, the Yankees will have Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte pitch minor league games tomorrow and Saturday while Darrell Rasner and Kei Igawa start against the Rays and Jays (who also happen to be the first two teams the Yanks will face in April). Indeed, the Jays did the same with Roy Halladay today, using Kane Davis against the Yankees in Halladay’s place. Speaking of Davis, there was a nice moment early in the game when he threw a looping curve up in the zone to Cody Ransom who crushed the pitch just as it began to break, hitting it so hard that he pulled it well foul. Ransom hit the ball like he knew he was getting a curve, and a close up of Davis on the mound soon after showed him trying and failing to suppress a giggle. Speaking of the broadcast, YES has used Bob Lorenz in the booth twice this week, first at Virgina Tech alongside Michael Kay, then again today alongside Ken Singleton. I don’t imagine the network plans to use Lorenz that way during the regular season, but I’d take him over Kay in a heartbeat (though that has more to do with Kay than Lorenz).

Yankee Panky #45: Doing Their Joba

"It’s a combination of innings, success and where we feel he fits best now. It’s just something we decided as an organization, that this is the best place to start him this year." — Joe Girardi

Pearls of wisdom from the new Joe that set the local press aflame yesterday afternoon and into this morning. I’ve said in this space for months that Joba should be the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. Whether that happens is something we’ll see a couple of years down the line, obviously, but the speculation will continue as long as he maintains anything close to the success level he demonstrated in his lightning-in-a-bottle debut from August through October.

In general, the reviews were mixed, as noted below:

Newsday‘s backpage: BREAK THE RULES

Breaking the rules, at least, in Ken Davidoff’s opinion, means moving him to the starting rotation at some point, perhaps even going to a six-man rotation at the end of the season.

The Post‘s George King (who this year has decided to use the pseudonym George A. King III), summed it up thusly:

"The Yankees look at Chamberlain’s four-pitch arsenal and believe he could be their ace for a long time. Nevertheless, they made the right move yesterday in leaving Chamberlain where he was last year, because until Chamberlain surfaced, the bridge between starter and Mariano Rivera had too many rotten boards."

Interestingly, no Joba-centric stories appeared in the Times, who instead focused on The Virginia Tech exhibition, C.C. Sabathia’s rejection of the Indians’ offer and speculation of his interest in the Yankees, and a meaninglessly hyped spring training game with the Red Sox (Confession: I hated having to hype these in my previous gig).

Today’s spate of Joba columns and articles — which you know will be picked up over the weekend when the Lupicas of the world return to Baseball from their vacation in Bracketville — on top of the numerous features written about him during the offseason, have made it clear to me that the media has anointed him the face of the New Yankees. Going back to the various dynastic years, you can look at Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio in 1936, then Mantle, Ford, Munson, Mattingly and most recently, Jeter as the names most closely identified with the team.

It’s happened quickly, and it can be dangerous. From the looks of things, Chamberlain has the perfect temperament to withstand the scrutiny.

And judging from the coverage, Joba Rules.

AS A FORMER EDITOR MARRIED TO AN ENGLISH TEACHER, THIS BOTHERS ME…

From GAKIII, referencing the Joba Rules: "This year, they aren’t in affect."

Folks, this is why spellcheck is a waste of time, and why we need to be teaching grammar and usage all the way through high school. I don’t blame George for the usage error noted above, because I know the perils of writing on deadline, and when you’re bleary-eyed, you miss things. I blame the copy editor. That’s a basic one that should have been corrected.

T-minus 11 days until Opening Day. Next week, a review of the Previews and Pullout Sections.

Enjoy the egg hunt …

This Just In: Yankees To Wear Pinstripes At Home This Year

The Yankees admitted to the worst-kept secret in baseball yesterday by officially announcing that Joba Chamberlain would start the year in the bullpen. Shocker.

I largely avoided the What To Do With Joba debate over the winter, in part by avoiding blogging in general more than I should have, and in part because, to my mind, there’s no debate. Save for two months of last year, Joba Chamberlain has always been and should continue to be a starter. Peter Abraham said it best last week, using a pitcher with Chamberlain’s talent in relief is a waste equal to using Alex Rodriguez as a pinch-hitter.

That said, here’s the point everyone seems to have missed thus far: The decision to put Chamberlain in the pen to start the year isn’t about how to get the maximum value out of Joba, it’s about how to get the maximum value out of the team. The Yankees have six legitimate starting pitchers. Three of them have no innings limit this year and of the remaining three, Chamberlain has the fewest innings to work with. Chamberlain also has the most and most recent bullpen experience of the six. Putting Chamberlain in the bullpen is best for Joba because it will help limit his total innings (though the team will also have to make sure he gets right up to that limit so he can increase that total next year), and it is best for the team because it allows the Yankees to maximize the value of their roster.

The second thing is that putting Chamberlain in the bullpen in April of what is still officially his rookie season does not mean he’s going to be a reliever for the rest of his career. Someone in the rotation is going to get hurt, or is going to stink up the joint, and when that happens, Chamberlain’s going to get his shot (unless he’s hurt or stinking up the joint himself). Remember, the Yankees used 14 starters last year, six of whom made a dozen or more starts. In 2006 they used 12 starters, six of whom made nine or more starts. In 2005 they used 14 starters and nine of them made nine more starts. Even going back to the “five aces” rotation of 2002 (Clemens, Mussina, Pettitte, Wells, El Duque), the Yankees used ten starters, six of whom made 11 or more starts and seven of whom made eight or more. Remember all of the debate about how and when to work Phil Hughes into the rotation last year? That worked itself out, didn’t it? Joba will start games this year. Mark my words.

As for the words of Joba himself and of manager Joe Girardi, have fun: MLB.com, Girardi audio from Pete Abe. Key points: there will be no Joba Rules this year, and the Yankees still think of Chamberlain as a future member of the rotation.

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Yeah, I Gotta Rash, Man

Did anyone catch the segment on Lenny “Nails” Dykstra on the latest edition of HBO’s Real Sports? Ex-ballplayer-turned-shrewd-businessman. It’s worth watching for the highlight clip they show of Nails throwing bolos at Dodger catcher Rick Dempsey back when he was with the Phillies. It’s also interesting to see how Dykstra looks and sounds like a troll, almost as if he’s drugged. (And if you want to get good and steamed, wait around until the post-segment interview between reporter Bernie Goldberg and host Bryant Gumbel, and dig how Goldberg cops out of telling the truth about Dykstra’s alleged use of PEDS.) Pat Jordan wrote a piece on Dykstra for Fortune.com back in December of 2006. The published version concentrates mostly on the nuts-and-bolts of day trading, but Jordan’s original (“The Dude Abides”) focused more on what it was like to hang out with Dykstra.

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Done Good

Watching the Yankees stomp Virginia Tech 11-0, allowing just two hits to the Hokies along the way, my wife asked me how exactly it was supposed to lift the spirits of the students to have their asses handed to them by the Yankees. I explained that, for most of those on campus, it was in part the gesture and in part getting to see a major league team on their own turf and performing on their intimate ball field. For the players, just getting to meet and compete against major leaguers as equals was a tremendous thrill, as few if any of the Virginia Tech players are likely to make it to the major leagues themselves. Indeed, the Yankees did their best to make themselves available to the students and players and put their starting lineup on the field, with only Hideki Matsui staying behind from the expected Opening Day starting nine.

Beyond all that, there were small victories enjoyed by the Hokies throughout the game. In the first inning, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs, bringing Alex Rodriguez up in a situation that had me wondering if maybe my wife had the right reaction to the game in the first place. Rodriguez swung at the first pitch and hit a sac fly to right field and Jason Giambi followed by grounding into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play that was started beautifully by VT second baseman Matt Hacker, surely a great moment in the life of Hokies’ starter Andrew Wells.

In the second inning, the Yankees again loaded the bases and this time pushed across three runs, one on a boot by Hokies’ shortstop Ty Hohman that was ruled a hit and two more on walks to Bobby Abreu and Rodriguez. Jason Giambi then lifted a ball to deep right, but it fell short of the wall for the final out. Despite having given up three runs, Hokies’ pitcher Dave Zappacosta had stranded three Yankees on the bases and was received enthusiastically by his teammates out in front of their dugout.

These small victories repeated themselves throughout the game as Rob Waskiewicz retired Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Shelley Duncan in order in the third and, in the fourth, redshirt freshman Brandon Fisher struck out Jason Lane and Morgan Ensberg to wrap up his own scoreless inning of work. Rob Whitley then retired the Yankees in order in the fifth, setting down Greg Porter, Chad Moeller and Cano.

The Yankees scored seven runs in the final two frames of the seven-inning contest, but I don’t think the Virginia Tech players or their classmates, teachers, or families much minded. Obviously having a major league baseball team come to the campus and romp to a mismatched victory in no way compensates for the thirty-two lives lost last April, but though they may seem painfully insufficient and even disturbingly illogical, random acts of kindness can go along way toward restoring the spirit. Sometimes it helps just to know that someone cares enough to do something. Exactly what that something is doesn’t matter nearly as much as the gesture. The Yankees done good.

Sweeny Murti has some Yankee audio from Virginia, while the Virginia Tech site has a great photo gallery.

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Many Ways To Have A Good Time

To be honest, I’m sick of spring training. Sure it’s great, in the middle of winter, to get those first photos and videos of the players out in the sunshine… but it’s sort of like watching a singer practice scales or something: interesting enough for a little while, but pretty soon, you just want the show to start. I’ve therefore been tuning out most of the desultory news from Tampa and, instead, thinking about the really meaningful things. Things like entrance music.

You know you’ve thought about it: if you were a baseball player, what would your at-bat song be?

Originally I was going to write this post about my own ideal selections. (You know, assuming I were good at baseball. And a guy). But every time I sat down to write, I got hopelessly bogged down in iTunes. This is not a simple question. Because first of all, what kind of imaginary baseball player are you? A home run hitter, or a speedy on-base guy? Are you slumping, or on a hot streak? These things matter. Then, of course, it has to be a song that can hold its own in a stadium – Radiohead may be a great band, but nothing from The Bends is going to fire up a crowd of 55,000.

I finally had to admit defeat for the time being, though I did manage to narrow it down to a list of 47 possible songs. (…And just think, my editors wonder why I have trouble making deadlines). So I’m taking the more general approach here, and hoping to get a good discussion going.

 

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Bragging Rights

It may have been meaningless, but it was awfully sweet to see the Yankees torch the Red Sox in their first 2008 meeting. It was particularly sweet to have it happen on St. Patrick’s Day and to have the Yankees rough up the Sox’s non-roster starter Bartolo Colon, who was trumpeted heading into the game as a great low-risk find for the Sox and a possible replacement for the injured Curt Schilling in the rotation (the Sox seem to want Clay Buchholz to start the season in the minors).

It’s funny to think that several years back the Yankees organized a three-way deal that cost them Orlando Hernandez primarily for the purpose of keeping Colon away from Boston. Colon was throwing in the mid 90s with good movement on both his fastball and breaking pitches, but was wild and hittable and got bounced in the first inning. Colon struck out Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, but the other Yankees in the order combined for three hits (including a Hideki Matsui double) and three walks for four runs, sending Colon to the showers after eight batters, but just two outs. The Yanks went on to win the game 8-4

Lineup:

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

Pitcher: Andy Pettitte, Heath Phillips, Jonathan Albaladejo, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, Scott Strickland

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (PH/1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Nick Green (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Jason Lane (PH/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Cody Ransom (LF)

Opposition: The Red Sox’s starters minus Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew.

Big Hits: A no-doubter two-run homer by Bobby Abreu (2 for 2, BB) who also doubled, both hits coming off Julian Tavarez. Doubles by Hideki Matsui (3 for 4), Jason Giambi (2 for 3). Robinson Cano was 2 for 3.

Who Pitched Well: Andy Pettitte allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings, but one of those runs came on a wind-blown fourth-inning homer when Pettitte was past his pitch count, and one of the other two hits was a fly ball that Johnny Damon lost in the sun allowing it to drop for a double. That “double” plated one of the two runs Pettitte allowed in the third, the other of which scored on a wild pitch in the dirt that went right through Posada’s legs. Pettitte said he didn’t feel quite right on the mound, but reported no pain. He looked pretty sharp in the early innings and struck out three. Billy Traber retired all five men he faced, striking out two. Scott Strickland struck out two in a perfect ninth, though it’s likely too late for him to enter the competition for the final bullpen spot. Brian Bruney, hitting 100 miles per hour on the YES gun (for context, Pete Abe says the Yankees themselves had him at 96 mph–if that’s true, what has Mike Mussina been throwing?), faced four batters in the eighth, walking one, striking out two, and getting the third to strike out.

Who Didn’t: Heath Phillips faced five batters in the fourth and gave up a run on three singles. Jonathan Albaladejo pitched a scoreless inning and a third, getting all of his outs via grounders and a strikeout, but also allowed a single, a double, and walked a batter.

Oopsies: Kyle Anson skipped a throw to second past Alberto Gonzalez, who was utterly unprepared to block the ball. Anson got the error. Jacoby Ellsbury got the stolen base and went to third, but was stranded by Bruney.

Ouchies: Chris Woodward, whose early bid for a roster spot seems to be appropriately receding, has a tight hamstring and will rest for a few days. Derek Jeter was plunked on the elbow by Tavarez, but stayed in the game. Andy Pettitte later made David Ortiz jump out of the way of an inside pitch near his hands, but the pitch was not seen as retaliatory by either team.

Upcoming: With the Yankees playing in Blacksburg, Virginia tomorrow, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera will stay behind and pitch in a minor league game in Tampa with Jose Molina catching and Hideki Matsui likely DHing to get more at-bats (Matsui played all of today’s game). The rest of the Yankees (save Woodward) are expected to make the trip. Looking further ahead, the Yankees will have to decide on a fifth starter for Thursday’s game, which mean’s Joba Chamberlain‘s much anticipated return to the bullpen could be imminent. As long as the plan remains to return him to the rotation by year’s end, I’m fine with it. Ian Kennedy has looked good this spring, as have the other four starters, and things tend to happen. Most likely, an injury will draft Joba into the rotation sooner than anyone expects.

More: Mark Feinsand has an exclusive Q&A with Ian Kennedy on his blog. Dan Graziano has a conspiracy theory about Pettitte’s elbow soreness.

Green With MVP

That’s a terrible headline I just couldn’t resist as Nick Green knocked in the winning run for the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth to give them a meaningless 7-6 win over the visiting Indians. Heck, I’ll probably never have another occasion to use it.

Lineup:

S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
R – Jason Lane (LF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (DH)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
R – Shelley Duncan (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Wilson Betemit (SS)
R – Jose Molina (C)

Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Patterson, Darrell Rasner

Subs: Cody Ransom (PR/1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Nick Green (PR/3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Justin Christian (LF), Kyle Anson (DH)

Opposition: Cleveland’s starters and ace C.C. Sabathia.

Big Hits: A monster two-run homer by Shelley Duncan (1 for 3) off Sabathia, Duncan’s third tater of the spring. Doubles by Jose Molina (1 for 3), Chad Moeller (1 for 1), and Kyle Anson (1 for 1). Alex Rodriguez was 2 for 3.

Who Pitched Well: Scott Patterson just keeps getting it done, this time getting five outs from four hitters by entering with runners on in the fifth and inducing an inning-ending double play, then pitching a 1-2-3 sixth, striking out one. Patterson has allowed just one baserunner in six innings this spring, striking out five. He and Billy Traber are the only pitchers still in camp who have yet to allow a run this spring, though even Traber has allowed a few inherited runners to score.

Who Didn’t: Working in his slider and changeup, Chien-Ming Wang struck out seven men in 4 1/3 innings, but also allowed four runs on six hits and two walks and four of the other six outs he induced came in the air. Darrell Rasner allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in three innings. Both Wang and Ranser allowed solo home runs to Grady Sizemore, who now has five on the spring.

Leaders: There’s not much else to say about today’s game, so for yucks, here are some of the statistical leaders in Yankee camp thus far:

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Splitsville

The Yankees split a pair of split-squad games yesterday. Since the home game against the Rays got all of the coverage, let’s start with the road game against the Tigers.

Yankees 11, Tigers 7

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
R – Jose Molina (C)
R – Morgan Ensberg (3B)
R – Jason Lane (RF)
R – Cody Ransom (1B)
R – Alberto Gonzalez (SS)

Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Ross Ohlendorf, Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Strickland*, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras

Subs: Juan Miranda* (1B), Reegie Corona* (2B), Chris Woodward (SS), Kyle Anson (PH/C), Colin Curtis* (RF), Tim Battle* (CF), Justin Christian (LF), Carlos Mendoza* (DH)

Opposition: The Tigers’ starters.

Big Hits: A solo homer by Kyle Anson (1 for 2) off Jason Grilli. Doubles by Jason Lane (1 for 3) and Robinson Cano (2 for 4) off Justin Verlander. Doubles by Morgan Ensberg (3 for 5) and Cody Ransom (2 for 3). Melky Cabrera was 2 for 4, Jose Molina was 2 for 3.

Who Pitched Well: Brian Bruney pitched around a single for a scoreless inning, striking out two and walking none. Kyle Farnsworth pitched around a single and a Miguel Cabrera double for two scoreless innings. Though he struck out none, he did get five of his six outs on the ground.

Who Didn’t: Joba Chamberlain walked three men in three innings, gave up a single and a solo homer to Curtis Granderson, and allowed a pair of singles. All totaled, he gave up three runs in those three frames, though he did get seven of his nine outs via strikeout (2) and groundball (5). Ross Ohlendorf allowed two runs on three hits, including a solo homer by Granderson (who had 11 total bases on the day), however an error rendered both runs unearned and Ollie got two of his three outs on the ground. Jose Veras gave up a solo homer to Timo Perez in the ninth. That was Veras’s only baserunner, but Timo Perez?! For the curious, minor league loaner Scott Strickland gave up a run on two hits in the seventh.

Nice Plays: The 4-6-3 trio of Robinson Cano, Alberto Gonzalez, and Cody Ransom turned three doube plays.

Oopsies: An error by Cano.

Ouchies: Jason Giambi returned to action after complaining of back stiffness and went 0 for 3, but scored a run and drove one in.

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Bad Day

The Yankees and Reds were interrupted by rain twice, the second time with the game tied 7-7 in the tenth inning, which ended the contest there. Phil Hughes got lit up, and Shelley Duncan and Melky Cabrera (who apparently punched Evan Longoria in the back of the head during Wednesday’s mele) were both suspended for the first three games of the regular season. All in all, not the Yankees’ best day.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
R – Shelley Duncan (1B)
R – Jason Lane (LF)
R – Cody Ransom (2B)
L – Brett Gardner (LF)

Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Heath Phillips, Chris Britton, Dan Giese

Subs: Wilson Betemit (1B), Bernie Castro (2B/CF), Nick Green (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Chris Woodward (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Greg Porter (PH/RF), Justin Christian (LF), Jason Brown (DH), Brett Gardner shifted to center field before coming out of the game.

Opposition: Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Joey Votto and filler.

Big Hits: A three-run homer by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 3). Doubles by Derek Jeter (2 for 3), Johnny Damon (1 for 4), and Jorge Posada (1 for 3).

Who Pitched Well: Edwar Ramirez retired all five men he faced, striking out four of them. Jonathan Albaladejo retired four of the five men he faced, the one exception being a hit batsman. Dan Giese pitched around a double for two scoreless innings, striking out two.

Who Didn’t: Phil Hughes was flat out lit up. He gave up four runs on nine hits, five of them doubles, in 2 2/3 innings. This after having held his competition hitless over his previous five spring innings. Hughes threw 72 percent of his 66 pitches for strikes, which suggests he was missing in the zone, thus the hard hits and no walks. Heath Phillips, last seen getting rocked and ejected against the Rays, faced five men, two of whom walked, two of whom singled, and two of those four scored. Oh, and he tossed a wild pitch somewhere in the middle there. Chris Britton was good by comparison to those two allowing one run on a single and a double in one inning of work.

Oopsies: A bad throw by Alberto Gonzalez, his third error of the spring.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte threw 47 pitches in the bullpen before the game and reported no discomfort in his elbow.

Hot Wheels: Two more steals by Brett Gardner (1 for 2, BB) who has five on the spring. “He’s an exciting player,” sez the skipper. “He creates havoc.”

More: More LaTroy pranks here. Props to Tyler Kepner for this great find. As for those suspensions, Melky might get his reduced to two games on appeal, but whatever happens, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have said they won’t change who they’re going to take north to compensate for the suspensions, which means Jason Lane and Brett Gardner won’t get an extra boost from the fact that the Yankees will have to play their opening series against Toronto with just three outfielders on the roster. That’s good news for Morgan Ensberg, who will have to decide whether or not to opt out of his minor league deal with the Yankees if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. Shelley Duncan, however, sounds devastated. Listening to that audio clip from Pete Abe, my heart kinda breaks for the guy. He’s like Lenny from Of Mice and Men; the poor guy just doesn’t know his own strength. (“Tell me about the World Series, George.”) Despite the split squad today, Duncan will be in the lineup facing the Rays, which seems like a good move on Girardi’s part to deliberately defuse this thing. Nonetheless, the umps will be on high alert.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Yeah, so the Yanks vs. Rays battle continues on YES this afternoon, but those of you in north Jersey should tape it and come see Steven Goldman, Derek Jacques and myself at the Borders at (or rather, outside of) the Rockaway Mall at 2pm today where we’ll be discussiong Baseball Prospectus 2008, as well as fielding your questions on the Yankees, Mets, your upcoming fantasy draft, or whatever else is on your mind these days. [Update: Bad day for me, too. My car crapped out, so I won’t be able to make this event]

Card Corner–Thurman Munson

 

This is the second of a two-part series.

 

August 2, 1979. I remember that day too well.

In the midst of one of my bad habits, I was staring at the television while eating dinner. I was watching "Gilligan’s Island," of all things, a show that I wouldn’t watch today if you paid me at a rate of $10 a hour. Suddenly, Metromedia Television in New York (Channel Five, for those who grew up in or near the city) interrupted the program with a news update. (I used to hate those updates, especially when they happened to interrupt one of the funniest scenes in a show.)

Within a few moments, the annoyance turned to disbelief. The announcer—I believe it was veteran newscaster John Roland—described a plane crash. I assumed that it involved a politician or someone like that. It didn’t. This crash had killed Thurman Munson.

I had trouble finishing that dinner. Each gulp became more difficult than the last. The meal just didn’t seem to matter. All that seemed important was the real tragedy of a Yankee hero lost. My favorite Yankee, no less.

I remember telling my father when he came from work a little bit later that night. I couldn’t even wait until he had entered the house; I shouted the news from a window that overlooked our driveway. I don’t think my father heard me at first. Maybe he thought I was making it up, but I’ve never had that kind of sense of humor. Or maybe he just couldn’t believe what had happened

I couldn’t believe it for days. Munson’s death—that’s all I thought about for the next three days. It still didn’t sink in—not even in those three obsession-filled days.

Most of the summer, my father and I watched baseball games together on TV. Back then, it was pretty much WPIX, with a few nationally televised games on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights. We might attend a game or two at the Stadium per season, usually not more than that. Simply by happenstance, my dad had bought two tickets several weeks earlier to the game scheduled for the night of Friday, August 3. That happened to be the first game the Yankees played after Munson’s death.

Prior to the game, the Yankees honored Munson by showing a video tribute on the old black-and-white replay scoreboard at the Stadium. As images of Munson flashed by, the fans cheered, then stood, then cheered more and more loudly. The cheers came in waves, medium and then large, becoming less and then rising in volume again. At first, my father and I remained seated. But it just didn’t seem right for us to do that, so we stood up and joined the rest of the Stadium in paying homage to the fallen Yankee.

Even when the video on the scoreboard came to an end, the fans continued to stand and cheer. Standing as part of that Yankee Stadium crowd, I couldn’t believe the length of that applause. That standing ovation lasted for at least ten minutes, maybe 12. It lasted so long, it was hard to keep track.

The length of that cheer—along with the energy and the intensity that sustained throughout—reflected the admiration we had for Munson. He was no longer the best player on the Yankees—he had long since given up that title to Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage—but he was still the most beloved. That was partly because he had played so well for so long, bridging the gap to those years of mediocrity in the early seventies. More importantly, it was because of the way that he played, often racked with pain in his knees, yet never failing to make his best effort at blocking a pitch and never—not once that I can remember—failing to hustle his way on the basepaths. To this day, Munson remains one of the main reasons I get mad watching a healthy ballplayer fail to run hard on a groundball or a pop-up.

Moments before that Friday night game, I remember seeing Reggie Jackson crouched over in right field, crying openly. He and Munson had clashed badly at first, just two seasons earlier, but by now they had reconciled. Make no mistake about it, they weren’t friends, but they respected each other as teammates. Given how Jackson felt the loss of Munson, the other Yankees, the ones who had played with him much longer, must have endured nothing short of devastation.

I remember Luis Tiant pitching beautifully that night, but losing to the Orioles, 1-0. Ordinarily, I might have lost my temper watching a frustrating game like that. Not this night. It was heartbreaking to lose that game, but not as heartbreaking as losing Thurman Munson.

 

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

Mr. Thursday Afternoon

Leading off the game for the Yankees, Billy Crystal fouled off Paul Maholm’s second pitch, grounding it just outside of first base up the left field line. Maholm then fell behind 3-1 to Crystal on some borderline pitches up and away. That’s when the Pirates starter got serious and came in down and hard on the lower inside corner with a pair of fastballs that Crystal swung through and struck out. It was over in an instant, and I’m sure for Crystal it happened even faster than that.

I have to say, I softened up a bit actually seeing Crystal at the plate. As much as the at-bat was another privilege for the privileged, looking at the 5-foot-7 Long Island native up there at the plate, I saw the kid, not the millionaire movie star. Sometimes it really is nice to see a dream come true, even if it happens to someone whose already realized all of his other dreams. Hell, I’ve lived a good life thus far. I have no complaints. Why begrudge anyone else a moment of pure happiness like that.

As for the game (or, rather, the rest of it) . . .

Lineup:

R – Billy Crystal (DH)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Shelley Duncan (1B)
R – Jose Molina (C)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Jeff Karstens, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Alberto Gonzalez (2B), Cody Ransom (SS), Nick Green (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (PH/RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Justin Christian (PR/LF), Johnny Damon (DH)

Big Hits: Seventh-inning homers by Cody Ransom (1 for 2, solo shot) and Robinson Cano (1 for 3, two-run shot) off Byung-Hyung Kim (who wound up vulturing the win). Doubles by Hideki Matsui (1 for 2), Brett Gardner (1 for 1), and Justin Christian (2 for 2).

Who Pitched Well: Mike Mussina was perfect for five innings, striking out two, throwing 64 pitches, and again benefiting from a strong curve. Jose Veras pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one. Brian Bruney retired the only man he faced to end an ugly eighth inning. Mariano Rivera allowed his first two runners of the game on a pair of singles, but managed a scoreless sixth inning anyway.

Who Didn’t: Jeff Karstens got lit up for five runs on seven hits and two walks in just 1 1/3 innings. Billy Traber didn’t help matters. Following Karstens in the eighth inning, Traber was brought in to face lefty Doug Mientkiewicz and gave up a single, then after a fly out, gave up a two-run single to righty Jorge Velandia and was pulled from the game. Combined with Heath Phillips’ struggles on Tuesday, those three performances complicate the bullpen battles considerably.

Nice Plays: Brett Gardner nailed a runner at home. Shelley Duncan made a nice play in the third, ranging behind first for a hard hopper and flipping to Mussina for the outh, and another in the sixth. With men on second and third and one out, Duncan fielded a grounder, looked the runner at third back to the bag, and forced the batter for the second out. Then the runner at third broke for home and Duncan fired to Chad Moeller, who chased him back and tagged him out to end the inning.

Ouchies: Andy Pettitte (elbow) played catch before yesterday’s game without any discomfort and should make his scheduled start on Monday. Johnny Damon (toe) took three at-bats as the DH. Hideki Matsui (knee) played the field for the first time. Stump Merrill (face) is back in camp minus a tooth, but in good spirits.

More: The Yankees play a pair of split-squad games on Saturday when tandem starters Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain are due to pitch, but rather than have Kennedy face the rival Rays, they’ll have him pitch in a minor league game, with Joba pitching against Detroit on the road and Kei Igawa getting the start for the game that will actually be on TV back in Tampa. On Tuesday, the Yankees will play an exhibition at (and against) Virginia Tech. That will also be on TV, but scheduled starter Mike Mussina will pitch in a minor league game back in Florida while Jeff Karstens is left to deal with the “unfamiliar college mound.” Set your DVRs, folks. At least we’ll get to see Pettitte vs. Boston on Monday.

Shameless Self-Promotion: For those of you in north Jersey, I’ll be joining Steven Goldman and Derek Jacques at the Borders at (or rather, outside of) the Rockaway Mall at 2pm on Saturday to discuss Baseball Prospectus 2008, as well as field your questions on the Yankees, Mets, your upcoming fantasy draft, or whatever else is on your mind these days. Come out and say hi if you’re in the area.

Clown Town

Yesterday was just embarrassing. Home plate umpire Chad Fairchild should have been embarrassed for ejecting Heath Phillips for a wild up and in pitch that lightly brushed Evan Longoria’s jersey and loaded the bases with the Yankees already trailing 2-0 in the first inning. Crew chief and first-base ump Jerry Crawford should be embarrassed for tossing Bobby Meacham for keeping the peace in the second-inning fracas. Indeed, the umpires were so embarrassed they didn’t even talk to the media after the game.

Shelley Duncan should be embarrassed for spiking Akinori Iwamura, even if all he was trying to do was recreate his glove-punting slide against John McDonald in Toronto last year (though that could have been seen as part of the ongoing “Ha!” dispute surrounding Alex Rodriguez).

Rays manager Joe Maddon should be embarrassed for calling Duncan’s slide “borderline criminal” after defending Elliot Johnson’s collision with Francisco Cervelli over the weekend.

Joe Girardi clearly was embarrassed and had a chat with Duncan about it (though Tyler Kepner has a slightly different interpretation than Pete Abe’s).

The embarrassment continues today as the Yankees’ starting lineup features Billy Crystal leading off at DH on the day before his 60th birthday. Crystal cracked that DH stands for “Designated Hebrew.” You know Crystal’s career is in trouble when he’s stealing material from Ron Blomberg. Still, credit Girardi with coming up with the best way to minimize the Crystal distraction. Crystal will lead off, not play the field, and should be replaced by Johnny Damon when the lineup turns over (Damon, still nursing his bruised toe, has said he’s to follow Crystal at DH today). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Damon pinch-run for Crystal if by some miracle the actor finds his way on base (most likely by taking one to the ribs from Pirates starter Paul Maholm, which is how our buddy Goose says he’d approach the at-bat).

Most embarrassing of all, however, is the fact that all of this has distracted anyone from updating us on Stump Merrill’s condition after the 64-year-old coach took a thrown ball to the face during batting practice yesterday. Well, almost everyone. Brian Hoch wins the good guy award today by letting us know that Stump is resting comfortably at the hospital. Sounds like he’ll be just fine. Hopefully after today’s first inning, Yankee camp will be back to normal as well.

Child’s Play

Well, the Yankees certainly had an eventful trip to St. Petersburg today. It all started a few hours before game time, when the team announced that Andy Pettitte would be skipping his scheduled start today due to some tightness on the outside of his pitching elbow which was also described as muscle irritation and by Pettitte as a bit of tendonitis (more below). Then, during batting practice, 64-year-old special adviser and former Yankee manager Stump Merrill took a thrown ball to the mouth and was taken to the hospital on a stretcher, awake and alert, but with his head immobilized and a trickle of blood running down his left cheek.

As if that wasn’t enough, replacement starter Heath Phillips was rocked in the first inning and clearly rattled as evidenced by a rare balk. With two out, two on, and the Yanks already trailing 2-0, Phillips came up and in to seventh-place hitter Evan Longoria. The pitch brushed the Rays’ third base prospect across the chest and, given the rising tensions between the two clubs ever since Yankee catching prospect Francisco Cervelli had his arm broken in a home plate collision in the ninth inning of their last meeting on Saturday, home plate umpire Chad Fairchild tossed Phillips from the game.

Shelley Duncan, who had issues some veiled threats to the Rays over the last three days, led off the top of the second with a single off Longoria’s glove and attempted to stretch it into a double as the ball trickled away from the third baseman. Duncan was out by a lot and thus resorted to plan B, which, depending on who you believe, was either to kick the ball out of second baseman Akinori Iwamura’s glove, or to use this opportunity to get even with the Rays by spiking the second baseman in the thigh. Regardless of his intent, the latter was what actually happened. Seeing this, hot-headed right fielder Johnny Gomes charged in from the outfield and body-checked Duncan from behind. The hit sent Duncan out toward shortstop and both Duncan and Gomes were immediately restrained as the benches cleared. Duncan and Gomes were subsequently ejected along with Yankee coaches Bobby Meacham and Kevin Long (though no word yet as to why those two also got the thumb).

The game proceeded without further incident from there and the post-game quotes, as one might have expected, saw the Rays and Yankees switch roles, with the Yankees defending Duncan as simply playing hard and aggressive baseball, and the Rays being appalled and offended. I’ve only seen snapshots of the play, but given Duncan’s comments over the last few days, his at-times dangerous enthusiasm, and those incriminating photos (though this one is both less damning and a more accurate snap of the actual slide), I am willing to call this a much dirtier play than the one Elliot Johnson made on Cervelli on Saturday, though thankfully one with less dire consequences (Iwamura got a gash on his thigh, but stayed in the game). I just hope all this foolishness ends here, as the Yanks and Rays will meet again a week from Friday.

Update: Here’s some (poor) video of Duncan’s single.

As for the rest of the game . . .

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Look at Me! I Can Be, Centerfield (Really, I Can!)

Billy Crystal will suit up and play in an exhibition game with the Yankees tomorrow. It’s a frivolous, ego-driven stunt, that is being promoted as a good, light-hearted time for all. The Yankee players, management and announcers, seem to fawn over celebrities like Crystal, and, as we well know, stars like Crystal just love being around jocks. Maybe I’m turned off by it because I wish I was Crystal, being able to live out my fantasies. More than that, though, I’m embarassed by his need to fulfill his every desire. Color me a spring training Scrooge.

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Chien Up

Chien-Ming Wang made a nice rebound from his ugly second start as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 6-1. Lots more below, so let’s get to it . . .

Lineup:

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

Pitchers: Chien-Ming Wang, Edwar Ramirez, Kyle Farnsworth, Darrell Rasner, Brian Bruney

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Wilson Betemit (2B), Cody Ransom (SS), Nick Green (PH/3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), Chris Woodward (LF), Jorge Posada (DH)

Opposition: The Jay’s starters save for Alex Rios.

Big Hits: A pair of no-doubter homers; a two-run shot to the right of dead center by Alex Rodriguez (1 for 2) in the first inning and a solo shot far over the left field wall by Jason Lane (2 for 3) in the sixth. Also doubles by Bobby Abreu (2 for 3), Cody Ransom (1 for 1), and Melky Cabrera (2 for 3). Melky’s double came batting lefty, of course. His other hit was a perfectly placed bunt single to lead off the game, which came batting righty. Jose Molina was 2 for 2.

Who Pitched Well Everyone, really, but the big news was Chien-Ming Wang, who tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings showing good velocity, late movement, and improving as the game went on. After getting roughed up in his last start, Wang worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland to tweak his mechanics, incorporating a double tap in his glove just before separating his hands. Apparently the problem in his previous outing was that he was overstriding and thus leaving his pitches up–death for a sinkerballer–the same problem he was having in the ALDS last year. In the first inning, David Cone, announcing his first game of the year for YES, and John Flaherty commented that Wang’s arm appeared to be dragging and, indeed, his pitches were still staying up, but he was popping the mitt in the mid 90s and as the game progressed he found his arm slot and rediscovered his sink. The two hits he allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were both singles, one a broken bat shot into left by Vernon Wells, the other a hard grounder up the middle by Lyle Overbay. He also got eight of his eleven outs on the ground and ended his day by striking out Scott Rolen on three pitches. Along the way, Wang worked on his slider and changeup and threw a total of 58 pitches, this after throwing a 75-pitch bullpen session a couple of days ago.

Beyond Wang, Edwar Ramirez got his only batter, Frank Thomas, to pop out. Brian Bruney pitched around an infield single and struck out two in 1 2/3 innings, though two of his three outs on balls in play were hard line drives that were caught.

Who Didn’t: Kyle Farnsworth allowed a double and walked one in a scoreless inning, struck out none and one of his three outs was a hard fly to the warning track in right center. Darrell Rasner retired the first five batters he faced in order and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings, but with two outs in his second inning of work issued a walk and allowed an RBI double. He was pulled with one out in the next inning following a Reed Johnson single. The outing was enough of an improvement over his last two to earn Rasner another outing in major league camp, but he remains on a short leash.

Nice Plays: A perfect throw by Jose Molina to catch Vernon Wells stealing in the first inning. A nice diving snag of a line drive off Bruney by Morgan Ensberg at first base. The best play of the game, however, was a catch against the wall in dead center by Toronto’s Buck Coats off a booming drive by Jorge Posada, who has just one single in 15 spring at-bats.

Ouchies: Johnny Damon fouled a ball off his right foot in Monday night’s game and skipped yesterday’s contest to get x-rays of the foot, which came back negative, which is a positive. The official diagnosis per his manager is a “bruised toe.” He’ll likely sit out until the toe’s feeling better. He’s not listed on today’s travel roster. Francisco Cervelli, who has been in a full-arm hard cast, will have surgery on his fractured right wrist/forearm (I’ve yet to see mention of the actual bone that was broken) today. Finally, some news on the rehabbing Humberto Sanchez. He’s playing catch from 120 feet and hopes to start throwing bullpens at the end of the month.

More Cuts: Juan Miranda was optioned to triple-A, where I expect he’ll be the starting first baseman. P.J. Pilittere, who should be the starting catcher for Trenton until Cervelli’s back in action, and outfielders Jose Tabata, Austin Jackson, and Colin Curtis, who will be the Thunder’s starting outfield, from right to left, were reassigned to minor league camp. Jackson and Tabata are the top two position-player prospects in the system right now, but did nothing of note in camp. Curtis showed a great glove in camp and went 2 for 6 with a double. Miranda was hitless in camp, but was victimized by a few excellent plays on drives deep in the gaps and could find himself called up as an injury replacement later in the year if he performs well for Scranton.

More: As expected, Joe Girardi is setting about busting Billy Crystal’s hump. Joba Chamberlain is working on adding a Chien-Ming Wang-taught sinker to his arsenal. In fact, he got three groundball outs with it in Monday’s game. That pitch would be his fifth after his unhittable slider, high-90s fastball, above-average curve, and developing changeup. Wow. Speaking of Joba, Pete Abe sums up the starter/reliever debate perfectly. Meanwhile, the YES crew was pounding the regrettable “Generation Trey” nickname for Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy during today’s broadcast, but Hughes says the three of them would prefer “The Three Amigos.” Hughes was born the year that film came out, which means he probably doesn’t remember that the Denver Broncos beat them to it. Speaking of the YES crew, Cone sounds like he’s going to be a headache on the air this year. He spent a lot of time talking about how pitch and innings limits are unnecessary (come back Jim Kaat, all is forgiven!) and praising the Blue Jays for focusing on “chemistry” by signing “character” guys like David Eckstein and Scott Rolen, while failing to note that Rolen’s such a great character guy that he’s bitched his way off both of his big league teams. You might remember that Cone was also the guy who thought Scott Strickland was likely to make the team out of camp. Strickland was reassigned without throwing a single exhibition pitch. Off to a great start, Coney.

Battles

Last night the Yankees played the tenth game of their exhibition schedule, which means they’ve gone through their starting rotation twice and are a third of the way through their pre-season slate. With that, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at how the battles for the final spots on the roster are shaping up.

There are 53 players left in camp, not counting the trio of rehabbing pitchers (Andrew Brackman, Humberto Sanchez, and Glass Pavano). Twenty-one of those players are all but guaranteed to head north with the club, as per my initial camper’s post of a month ago:

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

Bench:

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

Rotation:

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

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Joba Chamberlain
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – LaTroy Hawkins

Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy have been sharing the fifth starter’s spot thus far, Kennedy getting the start the first time through the rotation with Chamberlain appearing later in the game, and Chamberlain getting the start last night with Kennedy appearing later in the game. Their turn will come around again on Saturday, when the Yankees have their only split-squad games of the month, thus allowing each pitcher to start one of the two games. After that, the decision to bounce one of them to the bullpen will have to be made. There’s no reason for Chamberlain not to be the pitcher moved into relief. All of the other pitchers in the rotation have pitched well in at least one of their two starts thus far (the most recent stinker was from Chien-Ming Wang, who will start against the Blue Jays this afternoon). Kennedy has been better than Chamberlain in both of their games thus far, and, perhaps most importantly, Chamberlain will have a much lower innings limit this season, which all but requires him to spend some time in either the bullpen or the minors.

When I wrote my camper’s post, Shelley Duncan’s spot on the 25-man roster seemed tenuous. Since then he’s torn the cover off the ball. He’s slugging 1.063 and leading the Yankees in total bases this spring with 17 while his closest competitors have 11. He could probably go hitless for the rest of camp and still make the team.

As for the fourth and final spot on the bench, my initial characterization of the matter suggested it would come down to what sort of player Girardi wanted to fill that final spot, with the top contenders being corner infielder and solid righty bat Morgan Ensberg, outfielder and righty power bat Jason Lane, or any of a number of weak-hitting utility infielders, with speed/defense center fielder Brett Gardner as a longshot.

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Yankee Panky # 44: Hanky, and the Unwritten Rules

Being sick has its advantages. For one, it allows you to relax and catch up on some reading. While the Mets have taken hold of the back pages — it’s the Spring, they’ll have their time in the spotlight again when they’re blowing a 7-game lead in September – the feature writers have had some fun projecting next steps for the Yankee organization.

After all, this is a season of combined firsts and lasts: the last year in “old” Yankee Stadium, the first season with new manager Joe Girardi, the first season with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner at the helm, which could mean the last year of Brian Cashman as general manager. (There has been only speculation; Cashman has been mum on the topic. We’ve seen and heard this song and dance before.)

Two pieces most notably caught my attention, both for their similarities and for the differences. Both are profiles of Hank Steinbrenner. Ryan McGee’s piece in ESPN the Magazine traces Hank’s path to the Yankees, then to Kinsman Farm, and then back to the Yankees, capturing his bluster and portraying him as his father’s son. The New York Times Magazine also traced the lineage – what profile doesn’t? – and hinted that certain members of the organization believe that Hank is trying too hard to be the kind of managing partner, at least in the press, that his father once was.

The greatest difference was that the PLAY brought the siblings into it as if to demonstrate that the Yankees want to show a unified management front with the Steinbrenner children. Hank is the liaison to the press and handles the baseball decisions, Hal is the brains behind the business decisions, and Jennifer is helping on the real estate side, assisting in oversight of the New Yankee Stadium project.

Which portrayal is correct? You never know with the Yankees. I’m shocked they allowed such access to two relatively unknown writers, especially an ESPN writer, given the volatility of the Yankees-ESPN relationship in the last eight years.  

Both stories were well written and are interesting reads, but ultimately came to the same conclusion: George II is named Hank.

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Hit The Lights

The Yanks shut out the Reds 4-0 in their first night game of the spring, while Hideki Matsui picked up his first hits.

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
R – Nick Green (2B)
L – Brett Gardner (LF)

Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Billy Traber, Mariano Rivera, Ian Kennedy, LaTroy Hawkins

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Chris Woodward (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Jason Lane (RF), Justin Christian (CF), Colin Curtis (LF), Wilson Betemit (DH)

Opposition: The Reds’ starters.

Big Hits: Doubles by Alex Rodriguez (2 for 3) and Colin Curtis (1 for 1). Hideki Matsui was 2 for 3 in his second game of the spring.

Who Pitched Well: Everyone, as the Yankees didn’t allow a run nor an extra-base hit and walked just one man, but in order: Mariano Rivera stayed perfect in his second spring inning and has yet to allow a ball out of the infield. Ian Kennedy lasted four innings allowing just two singles and a walk while striking out two and retiring his last eight hitters in order. LaTroy Hawkins pitched around a single in the ninth, though he only got one out on the ground. Billy Traber faced three men, allowed a single, struck out one, and got the third to fly out. Joba Chamberlain was inefficient, lasting just 2 1/3 innings while throwing 49 pitches, and only struck out one, but he also allowed just two singles and walked none. He also threw more strikes as the game went on, throwing only 57 percent of 23 pitches for strikes in the first inning, but 73 percent of 26 pitches for strikes over his remaining inning and a third. Pete Abe reports that the lone strikeout came on an “unholy” curve ball to Edwin Encarnacion, but that it was the 14th pitch of that at-bat as Encarnacion kept fouling off sliders. More on Kennedy and Chamberlain, plus audio, from Pete Abe here.

Nice Plays: Chamberlain picked rookie Jay Bruce off first base.

Oopsies: A wild throw by Alex Rodriguez.

Ouchies: Rodriguez and Posada both played the field and picked up hits, though one wonders if that wild throw had something to do with the sore lat muscle the limited Rodriguez to DH duty over the weekend.

New Faces: In need of an extra backstop following Francisco Cervelli’s injury, the Yankees have signed veteran Chad Moeller to a minor league deal. Moeller is a 33-year-old major league vet with a career .224/.284/.346 line. He split last year between the Reds and Dodgers, picking up just 56 at-bats along the way (while posting an OPS+ of 3, yes, three). He was available because he’d just been released by the Nationals, who had him in camp as an NRI. He’s purely minor league filler, but will be the triple-A starter and thus the Yankees’ third-string catcher. Chad Jennings called him this year’s Raul Chavez. Bingo. Meanwhile, the Yankees are giving Billy Crystal one hell of a 60th birthday gift. Crystal will do his best not to get killed in Thursday’s game. Frankly I’d be surprised if Joe Girardi isn’t drawing blood from biting his tongue over this stunt.

Other: Andrew Brackman got pranked. Back when Brackman was in grade school, Mo was getting advice from Steve Howe.

The Gerbil Bites Back

Joe Girardi and Don Zimmer are close friends but they disagree about what went down the other day at the end of the Yankee-Rays exhibition game. Over the past three or four seasons, the Rays have occasionally been pesky against the Yanks, though there has never seemed to be any hard feelings between the two teams, not like the ones the Rays have developed with the Red Sox. But it is never too late to start. Who knows? This could be the year. I see that many experts expect the Rays to be much-improved. Maybe this’ll keep Zimmer on-point, poised and ready to rustle up another serving of his inimitable brand of moral indignation.

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