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Yankee Panky: Oblique Outlook

Dictionary.com lists 13 definitions for the adjective form of the word oblique. As it pertains to anatomy, oblique muscles are those that run at an angle, as opposed to transversely (horizontally) or longitudinally (vertically). In the abdominal wall, the obliques are the muscles that form the side cut of a six-pack. They’re the love handles.

Synonyms, as listed within the aforementioned link, include “indirect,” “covert,” or “veiled.” But oblique strains have directly, overtly and obviously affected the Yankees this Spring, with Greg Golson, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain and now Curtis Granderson all falling victim to the injury. Granderson’s injury may put his Opening Day availability in question. This is no surprise, given that recovery time ranges from 10 days up to 3 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain.

Chamberlain missed 10 days. He returned to action Tuesday and was throwing 95 miles per hour. Golson also returned Tuesday, after missing 15 days of action. Mitre, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since March 14. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, in a mid-afternoon post Tuesday, reported that Mitre thought he had a roster spot secured when he arrived in Tampa 6 weeks ago. Tuesday’s start, Mitre’s first since he suffered his oblique strain, may be giving the Yankees pause about adding him to the 25-man roster. The following quotes are priceless.

First, Mitre is confidently unsure:

“I don’t look at it as a setback. I’m hoping they don’t base everything off of one spring start. If that’s the case, then we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think that’s the case — at least toward me. They know I can get people out and they know they can rely on me, I hope.”

Let’s examine this: two home runs yielded, a sinker that didn’t sink, Nova and Colon basically acting in full carpe diem mode. But this wasn’t a setback. Fans have little to no confidence that he can get anyone out. The numbers over the past two seasons prove as much. Plus, he wears the accursed No. 45. From Steve Balboni to Cecil Fielder to Chili Davis to (gulp) Carl Pavano, that number never helped anyone in a Yankee uniform over the last 25 years. And yet I digress …

More from Mitre:

“I don’t think there should be any reason why not. If I still have to worry about that, then I’m probably not doing something right.”

(Insert laugh track here)

Joe Girardi’s reaction was telling. Not usually one to tip his hand, Girardi was non-committal, telling reporters “there are still decisions to be made there,” when asked of Mitre’s current status as a starter, reliever, or roster member.

Given that Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, Damaso Marte are injured, Mitre might be in the bullpen. Sunday morning, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti said his belief was that Ivan Nova was definitely in, and in all likelihood, so was Bartolo Colon. Given the choice between Colon, Mitre and Freddy Garcia, Colon has pitched the best and has earned the spot. If given a choice, Garcia could serve as a Ramiro Mendoza type out of the bullpen as a better option than Mitre. Despite Garcia’s recent hiccups, he struck out nearly a batter per inning this Spring, and has a much more positive track record than Mitre.

As for the oblique strains, strength and conditioning coordinator Dana Cavalea may want to examine the program and how the players are responding to the regimen being set forth. Four years ago, after Cavalea and Marty Miller replaced Jeff Mangold, a number of Yankees suffered muscle injuries in March and April, and the Yankees got off to a 9-14 start in April. The following appeared in a Tyler Kepner post at Bats on April 13, 2007:

…General manager Brian Cashman replaced him (Mangold) again before this season. Cashman obviously wants the controversy over Mangold’s replacements — Marty Miller and Dana Cavalea — to go away. But that will only happen if the injured players return and stay healthy when they get back.

Some players don’t participate in the program, including Bobby Abreu, who has a personal trainer and Johnny Damon, who opted out after straining his right calf. Others, such as Mariano Rivera, think it’s fine.

As Kepner alluded to in his post, Mangold was fired in 1989 after a five-year stint as the Yankees’ strength and conditioning coach because upper management believed too many players were injuring themselves. It’s one thing for players to have various muscle injuries in their legs, but should Cavalea be on notice here, with four players in a span of two weeks suffering the same injury?

If it was 1989, he would be.

Batting Leadoff for the Yankees …

… will be Derek Jeter against lefties and Brett Gardner against righties, reports ESPN New York’s Wally Matthews. The lineup, specifically Jeter’s place in it, has been a recurring story this Spring. Jeter batting leadoff — or, more accurately, the push for Gardner to bat leadoff — was a hot topic in the blogosphere for much of the last two months of the 2010 season.

Gardner’s OBP was .380 last year, to Jeter’s .340. His speed and ability to take walks makes him a better fit, just as Johnny Damon’s ability to see anywhere from 4 to 9 pitches per at-bat made him an ideal leadoff man when the Yankees acquired him. (NOTE: At the BBWAA dinner not long after the Yankees signed Damon, Tom Verducci and I discussed this exact subject and agreed Jeter should have batted leadoff, using OBP as the argument.) If the concern for Jeter batting second is to avoid a double play, then hit and run with Gardner to avoid the GIDP, so that a groundout is the equivalent of a sacrifice.

I will call you … Number Two

Yes, we’re referring to AJ Burnett. Anthony McCarron wrote Sunday that the decision was made, in part, because “the mental part of pitching has strained Burnett in the past and the Yanks would take any jolt of confidence this move might bring him.”

Let’s just hope he doesn’t pitch like Number Two.

And in a win for the blogosphere, two of the first four links that appear in a Google search “AJ Burnett Number Two” are from blog posts. One of them, from Bleeding Yankee Blue … Well, I can see I’m late to the Austin Powers joke party. However, some good points in here about the rotation, particularly comparing it to the Opening Day rotation in 2009, which only helped win a World Series title.

What are the odds Burnett strains an oblique between now and next Saturday?


1 monkeypants   ~  Mar 23, 2011 7:00 am

A bit of bad luck for Mitre. Damn shame, really.

2 monkeypants   ~  Mar 23, 2011 7:05 am

[0] just as Johnny Damon’s ability to see anywhere from 4 to 9 pitches per at-bat made him an ideal leadoff man when the Yankees acquired him.

Except his OBP was lower than Jeter's, both for his career and during his stay with the Yankees. In fact, Johnny was a less than ideal leadoff man, at least when compared to Jeter. Of course, on the grand scheme, it didn't really matter all that much.

3 RIYank   ~  Mar 23, 2011 7:25 am

Jeter/Gardner: yeah, it's not really going to matter. Not worried. I'll trust Girardi on the psychological factors, which could easily be much more important.

Obliques: I'm pretty sure I used to have those, but I can't find them. What do you think might have happened to them, Will?

4 The Mick536   ~  Mar 23, 2011 10:56 am

45 worked for Pedro and Bob Gibson. Also was one of the best years ever for Champagne.

A leadoff guy who turns a trip to first base into a double gets my vote. First ball, fast ball got Henderson lots of homers. Jete benefits from that, too. But since he is working out of first ball hitting, his lead off homers may drop off, eh?

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