March 2009

Tracking the Yankees in Fort Myers

By Jon Lane
Well, I’m not IN Fort Myers, but I am following Phil Hughes and those who made the long trip via the airwaves. At Yankees home base in Tampa, Chris Shearn and Joe Auriemma are working hard to provide the latest news and special features. Stay logged on to the new-look YESNetwork.com throughout the day and weekend for exclusive updates and interviews.

Hughes is eager to bounce back from his first rough start of the spring last Saturday in Bradenton, Fla. He may be a victim of a numbers game in the rotation, but he’s had an impressive Grapefruit season and will only benefit from extended action at Triple-A as a starter. Even if you don’t see him up north until at least September, is that such a bad thing? That would mean the starting five will have remained healthy and Hughes will benefit even more from the experience. In June he turns a mere 23 years old, so there’s plenty of time and limitless upside.

Following Hughes against the Twins is Jason Johnson, Dave Robertson, Anthony Claggett, Kei Igawa. Remember that Johnson is batting eye cancer and Igawa has tossed 12 scoreless innings. That’s not a typo, folks.

Brett Gardner led off with a single against Glen Perkins before left fielder Delmon Young robbed Robinson Cano with a diving catch while fighting the wind. Gardner stole second base but Mark Teixiera grounded out and Hideki Matsui flew out to deep center to end the top of the first. I’ll have more updates as the game progresses.

1:22 p.m. Hughes shook off a one-out walk to Alexi Casilla to get Jason Kubel to ground into a double-play.

1:40 p.m. Three up and three down for Hughes, all on ground-ball outs. Give an assist to Teixiera on the third out. He scooped up a low throw to help retire Young. No score after two.

1:48 p.m. Gardner is 2-for-2. Kudos to Joe Girardi for not declaring a winner in the center field battle. Besides the fact that there are two weeks left in Spring Training, you want to keep Gardner and Melky Cabrera looking over their shoulders. Gardner has to hit consistently and Cabrera show he’s more than just a fourth outfielder.

1:59 p.m. Hughes held the Twins hitless until Mike Redmond’s one-out double. Nick Punto singled Redmond home, but Hughes recovered to retire Denard Span on a 3-3-6 double play.

2:24 p.m. Hughes is pulled with one out in the fifth. He must have reached his pitch count cap. Another good outing for the right-hander: one run on three hits with a walk and no strikeouts. Jason Johnson is in the game.

2:43 p.m. Teixeira blasted a solo shot in the sixth to tie the game, but the Twins have regained the lead at 2-1. Teixeira finished 1-for-3 and is batting .414.

3:13 p.m. Todd Linden’s solo homer ties the game 2-2 in the top of the eighth.

3:23 p.m. Yankees enter the bottom of the eighth leading 3-2 after a Francisco Cervelli sacrifice fly.

4:03 p.m. Yankees win 4-2, but not without some drama. Kei Igawa relieved David Robertson with one out in the ninth. He walked two Twins to load the bases and ran the count to 3-2 to Denard Span unil Span grounded into a game-ending double play. Igawa has now pitched 12 2/3 scoreless innings, but his location was terrible. In short, it was shades of the Igawa everybody knows.

The 411 from Steinbrenner Field

By Joe Auriemma

Joe Girardi spoke to the media and talked openly about the center-field job and who has the edge on winning it — Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera. Girardi seems to feel that both Gardner and Cabrera could split time at the position when the season begins. He likes how both players are very good defensively, and with the bolstered rotation, these two players would add a spark to the team.

It’s just been announced that Nick Swisher is day-to-day with a bruised lower left calf.

I’ll be blogging again in a little bit.

Madonna? Try Carly Simon

arod_details.jpgBy Jon Lane
The April issue of DETAILS magazine has a piece out on Alex Rodriguez, America’s favorite Lightning Rod. Their release promotes the story as an exclusive interview done hours before the steroids scandal broke wide open. You can read it here:

Among the takes shared by A-Rod:

“We live in a world right now where everyone’s keeping score. And it doesn’t stop when the games end … They’ve crossed over. And you have the Internet stuff, and all these phones … It’s very intense.”

“New York is one of a kind. It’s made me ask all the tough questions. It’s brought out the best in me. There are some things I have to work on. And that part is fun. Revealing the truth about yourself is always good.”

On Madonna: “Well, we’re friends … I have a lot of respect for her … She’s very smart and she’s passionate about everything she does … if there ever was any situation, she’s a great ear to have, you know?”

The picture provided is the real kicker. I think it speaks for itself.

Case closed: Joba is a starter

Joba-2-28-(2)-250.jpgBy Jon Lane
This debate will never end. And there are plenty of you passionate enough in your belief that the Yankees are best served with Joba Chamberlain as part of a one-two lockdown with Mariano Rivera by virtue of our homepage poll which suggests that Phil Hughes should start over Chamberlain (1,063 votes to 1,039).

Ain’t gonna happen. Chamberlain threw three scoreless innings on Monday. That was his second consecutive solid outing in which his fastball showed live, his breaking pitches bite and the moxie that’s part of his makeup. That’s something you need through the course of a 150 innings and a full season, rather than cameo appearances that aren’t guaranteed every day or every other day.

Straying from the quick-fix approach that has brought them names like Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kenny Lofton and Tony Womack (to name only a few), the Yankees aren’t building just for 2009. They’re building a program, one that in the age of revenue sharing that in part kicked them off their perch as kings of baseball, will keep them competitive for years and years. Joba Chamberlain, who has all the makings of an ace, is part of that program and his development should not be stunted in any way.

If you don’t take my word for it, Mark Feinsand lays it all out in The New York Daily News. And in his blog, Feinsand asks pertinent questions to pitching coach Dave Eiland to justify the organization’s belief that its best interest lies with Joba the starter.

For those of you who will always believe in Joba the reliever, you’re justified and have evidence to back you up. The problem I had with a few tabloids calling for the Yankees to put him back in the bullpen was that it came off his first few Spring Training starts. Spring Training, folks. If it were anyone else you’d chalk it up to building arm strength, experimenting with new pitches and getting into a rhythm that will best serve you over a long season. Because it was Chamberlain, unproven as a full-time starter yet amazing in an eighth-inning role, he was deemed a failure as a starter.

Imagine if Chamberlain were to pitch out of a the bullpen and he’d blow two or three one-run leads in the eighth over a stretch of a couple of weeks. Would anyone demand the Yankees move him back into the rotation? It doesn’t work that way. It was determined after the 2008 season that Chamberlain was to be a starter, and that he’d have all winter and a full Spring Training to prepare with the mentality of being a starter. You cannot yank him in out of roles like a yo-yo. That’s when you’re really asking for trouble.

Fear not though, loyal members of the Joba-to-the-bullpen army. He may end up in the bullpen again – as part of the Yankees’ postseason roster. To echo Feinsand, Chamberlain would reach his innings cap by October and since he’s the fifth starter, you’d have your top four guns start playoff games while Chamberlain contributes from the back end of the pen. The Yankees have to get there first and that’s far from a guarantee. Just look at last season: The Yankees won 89 games but finished third in the AL East and were deemed a failure. Like it is every year, 2009 is winning time. The best way to get there is to have a future No. 1 as your No. 5

Joba Time

joba_250_031609.jpgBy Jon Lane
The Yankees play the third of a four-game homestand this afternoon when they welcome the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Joba Chamberlain is back on the mound to face off against Kyle Kendrick.

Chamberlain looked sharp his last time out, throwing three innings of one-run ball with no walks and three strikeouts to bounce back from a terrible start to the Grapefruit season. But even though Phil Hughes produced his first bad start of the spring Saturday in Bradenton (two hits — both solo home runs — three walks, two strikeouts in three innings), Hughes led our homepage poll as of 11 a.m. by a slim 932-895 that asks whether he or Chamberlain should be the Yankees’ fifth starter.

Will another strong performance from Chamberlain assuage more concerns that he’s better off in the bullpen? We’ll have this poll up one more day, so we’ll see where you stand by this time tomorrow morning. Don’t forget to also sound off on our message boards about this and other topics surrounding the Yankees.

Today’s lineup
Brett Gardner CF
Cody Ransom 3B
Nick Swisher 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Xavier Nady RF
Jose Molina C
Angel Berroa 2B
Todd Linden LF
Eduardo Nunez SS

Storylines
Pitching after Chamberlain:
Brian Bruney (Today’s Quick Cut and in my view the Yankees’ best choice to set up Mariano Rivera)

Kei Igawa (Your 2009 New York Yankees fifth starter — insert sarcasm wherever you prefer)

Dave Robertson (Fighting for a spot in the front end of the bullpen)

Robinson Cano (right shoulder tendinitis) and Damaso Marte (left shoulder inflammation) will have MRIs done today and be examined by team physician Chris Ahmad. Brian Cashman referred to these injuries as “yellow flags” and hopes rest and recovery will do the trick. Then again, Jorge Posada’s shoulder was no big deal and Alex Rodriguez was supposed to only have a cyst drained. Historically, the Yankees are overly cautious when it comes to diagnosing injuries, and rightfully so.

UPDATE: Each MRI revealed no structural damage. Cano has bursitis and Marte inflammation. According to The Journal News, Cano will DH or pinch hit before returning to full-time action on Friday, while it’s unknown when Marte will pitch again. 

Three years ago, George Steinbrenner denounced the World Baseball Classic, but Cashman took the high road despite seeing two of his players return from the competition nicked up.

“You have some great storylines going on,” Cashman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Of course we’d love to have our entire team here together, working every day.”

Seeing Posada catch four innings on Sunday was reassuring. Although his throwing arm wasn’t tested, it was another big step forward. Next for Posada is catching CC Sabathia Tuesday against the Pirates, the same night Mariano Rivera will make his spring debut. The YES Network will air these two significant steps as part of its live telecast beginning at 7 p.m.

Ian Kennedy was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday, a blip on the radar, but notable considering he remains a vital part of the Yankees’ future. Cashman predicted “a big year” for the right-hander, but this shows you how much further both Hughes and Chamberlain are ahead of the team’s first-round pick (21st overall) in 2006. That said, Kennedy is 24 years old and unless the Yankees are blown away (or desperate) at the July trade deadline, there’s no reason to cut the cord.  

Reliever Mark Melancon was also among eight players reassigned to the Minor League camp. Looking for another Joba Version 2007 or possibly Rivera’s successor? Melancon is your man.

1:28 p.m. Following a four-pitch leadoff walk to Eric Bruntlett, Chamberlain whiffed Jason Donald on three pitches and caught Ryan Howard looking to strand Bruntlett at second base.

1:47 p.m. Another good inning for Chamberlain, who retires the first two batters and survives Geoff Jenkins’ two-out double to escape the second unscathed.

2:06 p.m. Another scoreless inning for Chamberlain, though he had some help when Jose Molina gunned down Bruntlett trying to steal second base. Joba also hit the next batter (Donald), but showed some mettle. This, folks, is a very good sign being that it’s a Spring Training game in which Chamberlain is experimenting with different pitches and techniques while still working his arm into season shape.

2:22 p.m. The line on Joba Chamberlain: three innings pitched, two hits, no runs, no walks, three strikeouts, one hit batsman. He threw 48 pitches, 27 for strikes. Yankees lead, 2-0.

How one Yankee spent his day off

By Jon Lane
Something pretty cool courtesy of Busch Gardens in Tampa:

burnett_420.jpgYankees pitcher A.J. Burnett tosses a few treats to Karnaubi, a 7,300-pound Asian elephant at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on Thursday (photo by Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa Bay). After 34 starts as a Toronto Blue Jay and leading the American League with 231 strikeouts in 2008, Burnett used his day off from Spring Training to enjoy time with his family at Busch Gardens.

Asian elephants are highly endangered, and Karnaubi is one of five Asian elephants living in the park’s Nairobi area.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is the ultimate family adventure park, featuring an unparalleled combination of animal encounters, live entertainment and world-class thrill rides. As one of the top zoos in North America, Busch Gardens brings you face-to-face with more exotic and endangered animals than any destination outside of Africa.

Back in business

cityofpalms_420.jpgBy Jon Lane
Refreshed after an off day in the Florida sun, the Yankees return to action tonight against the Red Sox in Fort Myers.

I’ll never forget my first trip to City of Palms Park, which made a one-way, two-hour-plus drive from Tampa seem like 10. It was 2004 and the Yankees’ first meeting with the Red Sox since Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. There was an overflow crowd outside the ballpark. People looking to make extra bucks were selling souvenir pins for $6 and tickets for at $100-$500 for the privilege of viewing what the Boston media was calling “Game 8.”

Mind you, this was a Spring Training game. The biggest names on the trip for the Yankees were Jorge Posada and Jose Contreras. What certain people sacrifice and put themselves through for the minuscule of pleasures.

Tonight will be different. The rivalry has simmered down (at least for now). There’s neither bad blood spilling over from a near brawl nor heartache over Aaron “Bleeping” Boone. And don’t forget the small detail that the Red Sox have lad this game of one-upmanship since Game 4, 2004 ALCS. Last season they fell to the Rays in seven games of the ALCS in defense of their second World Championship in three years, while the Yankees come off missing the postseason for the first time in 13 years.
 
For those making the trip, living in New England, subscribers to the MLB Network and/or MLB.TV, or those who get a kick out of refreshing box scores, it’s Chien-Ming Wang against Tim Wakefield. Each will work three innings and the Yankees’ biggest name player on the trip is Xavier Nady. After tonight, the Yankees have an immediate turnaround thanks to afternoon games in Bradenton (1:05) and Tampa (1:15). The YES Network will carry the latter affair against the Astros with A.J. Burnett on the mound (Phil Hughes goes against the Pirates). Be sure to stay logged on all weekend for the latest as Opening Day draws closer.

Storylines

  • Wang comes off allowing a run on three hits with two strikeouts in three innings on March 7, his second start since missing the final 3 1/2 months of last season with a torn Lisfranc ligament of the right foot suffered in Houston on June 15. Before the injury he was 8-2 and won 19 games each of the last two seasons. Not a bad resume for the Yankees’ No. 2 starter.

  • Robinson Cano, Damaso Marte and Francisco Cervelli, each returning from the World Baseball Classic, all will likely play tomorrow. For Cervelli, Italy’s ouster is a blessing in disguise. There’s still time to show the Yankees if he’s a reliable option should an injury fell Jorge Posada or Jose Molina.

  • The Yankees bullpen is deep, and if one arm falters
    others are waiting, writes Mark Feinsand.

  • Very interesting story from Kat O’Brien on what Joba Chamberlain, CC Sabathia, Brian Bruney and Burnett have in common: Tattoos.

Thanks to everyone who shared their takes on this Hughes vs. Chamberlain debate. There were certainly a lot of passionate opinions on both sides. As of 12:25 today, Chamberlain holds a slim lead over Hughes (540-520) in our homepage poll, which will remain active throughout the weekend. I’m wondering whether Hughes’ start on Saturday will further influence the discussion either positively or adversely.

2:22 p.m. Tonight’s Lineup
Brett Gardner CF
Cody Ransom 3B
Juan Miranda 1B
Xavier Nady RF
John Rodriguez DH
Jose Molina C
Shelley Duncan LF
Angel Berroa 2B
Ramiro Pena SS

Injury updates
Robinson Cano has a sore right shoulder and Damaso Marte has pain in his left pectoral muscle, which he told reporters he hurt lifting weights before appearing in the Dominican Republic’s final WBC game. Both were to play tomorrow, but that’s out and instead each will visit a doctor.

The Joba Must Start vs. Must Set up armies

joba_250.jpgBy Jon Lane
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this re-ignited Joba the starter vs. Joba the reliever debate, one that truly never went away. As of 1:45 p.m. Chamberlain earned 346 (53 percent) of your votes compared to Phil Hughes’ 312 (47 percent). We’ll have this on the homepage a bit longer, and you can also vote to your right.

Peter Abraham, a staunch Joba the Starter supporter, has this:

The “Joba to the pen” crew is at it again. Here is all I ask of them: Prove to me that 200 innings is less than 70 and we can talk. I want my best pitchers trying to get 600 outs, not 210. It is not really complicated. You know who would make a good pinch hitter? Albert Pujols, he’s a really good hitter. But you want him up four times, not once.

Bob Klapish, however, presented the most compelling case for Joba the Reliever to date. Among the highlights:

He’s not the pitcher he was in 2008; even while blanking the Reds, something seemed amiss.

Clearly, Chamberlain isn’t the horse the Yankees projected while he was crushing the competition in the Minor Leagues. Joba might have the unbreakable mentality of a latter-day Goose Gossage, but he’s fragile.

GM Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi should consider the possibility that Chamberlain’s 80 innings in the pen might be more valuable than 150 innings in the rotation. His outings will be shorter, more explosive, and he’ll only pitch when it’s critical.

With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Chien-Ming Wang anchoring the pitching staff, how much would it really hurt the Yankees to use the reconstructed [Phil] Hughes in the No. 5 spot?

Will anything happen between now and April 6 for the Yankees to change their mind? Only a Joba breakdown that’s catastrophic. Another strong effort or two and this debate will [momentarily] be put to rest, but one reader had a radical suggestion: Pedro Martinez.

That will never – repeat – never happen.

Is a 2010 rotation featuring Chamberlain AND Hughes a bad thing? I think not. Even in the face of such a pressurized win-now mentality, Cashman is committed to building not just a winner, but a winning program like Gene Michael did in 1995.

_______________________

CC Sabathia was pounded for five runs and a walk in 12/3 innings by the Tigers on Wednesday.

So?

Some comments in this thread reek of sarcasm. Others are downright ridiculous.

History lessons: Last year, Sabathia’s spring ERA was 4.50. Last April with the Indians, he was 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his first three starts and 1-4, 7.76 in five. His overall April numbers are 11-10, 4.47. Of course, some people will already label him a bust if he again starts slow because of his large contract.

Some free advice: Chill.

_______________________

The Yankees are off today – completely. That means no bullpens, no BP in the indoor cages, no Minor League tune-ups and no meetings. There’s nothing like a free day in the Florida sun. In case you care, New York City will see a high of 40 degrees.
 
Some relevant stats through 12 Spring Training games (excluding the exhibitions against Team USA and Canada). Take them for what they’re worth.

Mark Teixeira – batting .529
Brett Gardner — .417 with three homers, five RBIs and six runs scored.
Melky Cabrera – .238-0-2
Cody Ransom –.346 with two RBIs and five runs scored
Jorge Posada –.353 with four RBIs
Mark Melancon — five innings pitched, allowing just one unearned run on three hits, two walks and four strikeouts.
Kei Igawa — five scoreless innings, two hits, no walks, four Ks. (Here’s your fifth starter.)
Phil Hughes — five scoreless hitless innings, six Ks
Joba Chamberlain – 1-0, 6.75 ERA, six hits and three Ks in four innings, 

Joba or the Franchise?

hughes_250_022309.jpgBy Jon Lane
Two terrible starts in Spring Training suddenly put Joba Chamberlain against the ropes. Yes, the same Joba Chamberlain who burst upon the scene as an electric set-up man in 2007 and a projected front-line starter was in a bit of danger of actually losing his grip on the fifth starter’s role with the Yankees in 2009.

Chamberlain shut up the naysayers, at least for now, with a nice performance Tuesday night. But because he’s not a five- or 10-year veteran, and since the Yankees were burned by handing starting jobs to Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy last season, the message is clear that Chamberlain is not receiving a free ride. Newsday reported this morning that some teammates let him know that it was time to step up.

This job is Chamberlain’s to lose. Should he stumble again, the likely scenario is not a demotion to Triple-A, but a rehashing of a debate that just will not go away. John Harper was the latest to suggest that while Chamberlain showed why the Yankees want him to start, there’s something about having that lock-down back end of a bullpen, an idea that was actually endorsed by our own Jim Kaat in Harper’s column.

Besides Chamberlain’s poor start to the spring, the impetuous to this discussion is Hughes’ impressive camp to date. The one Peter Abraham coined “Phil Franchise” is locating his breaking curveball to perfection and looks more motivated than ever to prove he’s for real and not a 23-year-old version of Carl Pavano. This led Harper to write: “If Hughes does have a strong spring, and CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte are all healthy, you can make a strong case for putting Joba in the bullpen again.”

I’ve made my case before: Chamberlain belongs in the rotation. He’s ahead of the curve compared to Hughes and more time in the Minors for the latter is not a bad thing whatsoever. But what do you think? Would the Yankees be better off with Chamberlain back in the pen and Hughes as the fifth starter? Be sure to comment on this thread and vote on our homepage poll.

As of 12:30 p.m., Chamberlain received 53 percent of the votes. Here’s some information to help you decide:

Key Stats
Chamberlain: 2.17 ERA in 61 appearances (12 starts) and 124 1/3 innings since his 2007 debut.

Hughes: 5-7, 5.15 ERA in his career; 0-4, 6.62 in an injury plagued 2008.

Big games
Chamberlain: Recorded countless big outs as the eighth-inning reliever in 2007; out-pitched Josh Beckett at Fenway Park on July 25, 2008, by allowing three hits and striking out nine over seven shutout innings, a tell-tale sign he has the goods and the moxie to be a front line starter

Hughes: No-hit Rangers for 6 1/3 innings May 1, 2007 before pulling up lame with hamstring injury; tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Roger Clemens in Game 3 of 2007 ALCS

Injury issues
Chamberlain: Rotator cuff tendinitis forced him to the disabled list in early August before he returned the next month to work out of the bullpen.

Hughes: A torn hamstring derailed Hughes in 2007. The following year it was a fractured rib. 

CC looking to deal aces at Joker Marchant

By Jon Lane
It’s the Big C on the mound today against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. CC Sabathia pitched two scoreless innings in his Spring Training debut last Friday and is right on track for Opening Day April 6 in Baltimore.

From where I sit, Sabathia is already earning his big bucks by establishing himself as an ace with his work ethic and attitude. He’s gone out of his way to integrate himself with his new teammates and has been completely relaxed throughout camp. Yeah, Alex Rodriguez’s tribulations have had Sabathia flying under the radar, but the heat will intensify and Sabathia has shown throughout his career he can handle it.

If the Yankees do not skip Joba Chamberlain’s turn in the rotation, Sabathia will also start the home opener April 16 against his old friends from Cleveland.

Today’s lineup
Melky Cabrera CF
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Jorge Posada DH
Nick Swisher RF
Cody Ransom 3B
Angel Berroa 2B
Ramiro Pena SS
Kevin Cash C

Storylines: Alfredo Aceves, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, Mark Melancon and Steven Jackson will follow Sabathia … Joe Girardi said on Tuesday that Veras, Edwar Ramirez and Phil Coke have the inside track for bullpen spots based on their performances last season. Ramirez threw batting practice this morning after shut down for two weeks with bursitis in his pitching shoulder. Preceding Ramirez was Mariano Rivera, who told reporters he will throw BP again on Saturday and then should be ready for a game … The Brett Gardner hit parade continued Tuesday night. The spark plug went 2-for-3 with an RBI and is batting .417 (10-for-24). Melky Cabrera, meanwhile, is batting .278 and needs to string together a few good games just to keep pace … Neither Xavier Nady (.211) nor Nick Swisher (.133) are distinguishing themselves in the battle for right field, but being that they’re veterans they’re afforded more slack … The Dominican Republic’s shocking elimination from the World Baseball Classic means Robinson Cano and Damaso Marte are expected back by Friday.

2:15 p.m. Rough day at the office for Sabathia, who was lifted with two out in the second. The Tigers bombed the left-hander for five runs on six hits in 1 2/3 innings, including a two-run shot from Gary Sheffield.

3:48 p.m. Melky Cabrera went 0-for-3 with a walk, dropping his average to .238. It’s March 11 and there are a lot of spring games left to be played, but Brett Gardner is running away with the job of starting center fielder.