By Jon Lane
Odds and ends in the midst of the Yankees’ road trip:
? In an uproar over Brett Tomko shutting down the Yankees Monday night? Once he reverts to form, nobody will be playing hindsight 20-20 over why Tomko wasn’t given a shot at being their fifth starter.
? A.J. Burnett drives you nuts at times, but he’s been clutch and accountable. During the fateful fourth inning – he balked in the second of Oakland’s three runs that left he and Jorge Posada discussing mixed signals – Burnett refused to put any blame on Posada, despite this being the second straight start the two had similar issues.
“We’ve been using the same signs all year. It’s just a matter of me not seeing it, or seeing something different,” Burnett said. “There’s really nothing to correct. We’ve been doing wonderful, but two games in a row, I’ve crossed him up. I don’t know who’s fault it was tonight, but I’m pretty sure it was mine.
“Don’t do it again,” he added. “Pay more attention, I guess. Not be an idiot.”
That’s more than what I can say about Randy Johnson during his time here. And honestly, why would anyone want someone other than Posada as the Yankees’ everyday catcher? I’m dying for an explanation.
? Brett Gardner will see a doctor Wednesday and if cleared will begin a rehab assignment, reports Peter Abraham. Melky Cabrera is buckling under the pressure of playing every day. He’s six for his last 52 and his batting average has plummeted 21 points since Gardner was disabled July 26. The duo has been an effective tandem, giving each other a blow and providing different elements to the game. The Yankees have also missed Gardner’s breakneck speed and grit, crucial components to a stretch run.
By Jon Lane
Inclement weather, part of the absolute worst June ever in terms of never-ending rain, compromised my time away, but only a little bit. I enjoyed quality time with the family and the week that was, from a landmark live streaming announcement, to Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, to a one-sided Subway Series and capped by the great Mariano Rivera, it was seven eventful days, along with a few to pause and mourn the tragic losses and reflect upon the legacies of two cultural icons.
Strictly in the confines of baseball and the Yankees, many props to the newly-wed Joe Auriemma, and fellow colleague Glenn Giangrande, for filling the YES Blog. You’ll be reading plenty more from them and seeing the duo on Pinstriped Weekly as the season progresses. Wrestling fans are familiar with this expression from Jim Ross: “Business is about to pick up.”
? Turns out that’s what happened late this morning with the Yankees’ acquisition of veteran Eric Hinske (pictured) from the Pirates for two Minor Leaguers. It was only yesterday when Brian Cashman provided his usual GM-speak when discussing the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31 by saying, “We’ve got the pieces in place.” When you spend $400 million on people, you expect to have the pieces in place, yet Cashman is best at flying stealth before pulling the trigger. Expect him to look into Huston Street’s availability to buff the bullpen.
Since losing Xavier Nady for the season hurts, Hinske will help share the load with Nick Swisher in right field and even help spell Alex Rodriguez; last season for the Rays, he started 47 games in right, 37 in left, nine at first base and four at third. He’s never hit for average, but the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year slugged 20 homers with 60 RBIs and 21 doubles for the AL Champions and won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2007. This is a guy whose value goes beyond subpar numbers. He’ll provide intangibles and grit, which even the high-priced Yankees need.
The team will need to make a corresponding roster move today, which means either Brett Tomko will be designated for assignment or Ramiro Pena optioned to Triple-A so he can play every day. This morning I figured Shelley Duncan’s return was imminent, but that won’t happen.
? The Yankees are winners of five straight – albeit three came against the New York Mess, er, Mets – while having busted out offensively. The numbers from their last three games against a Quadruple-A lineup from Flushing are staggering: The Yankees outscored the Mets, who never led, 33-3 and held them to a .102 batting average. Jerry Manuel’s men were atrocious defensively and lifeless all around; only Livan Hernandez and Gary Sheffield showed any kind of heart and soul. Worst of all, Francisco Rodriguez issued a bases-loaded walk to Mariano Rivera. Embarrassing. And word had it Carlos Beltran may need microfracture surgery, which would mean his season is over and career in jeopardy. Whoa boy.
It turned out Beltran won’t need surgery. But still, there are big problems in Queens.
? Rivera is the greatest closer to ever play baseball. Period. I don’t care if you love or hate the Yankees, this is as close the truth gets to opinion. Jim Kaat and Steven Goldman each ruminate on the magnificent Mo.
? In case you bring up that the Yankees bullpen owns a 1.60 ERA in their last 13 games and how well Phil Hughes has pitched, would you honestly trust this current collaboration against the Red Sox in late September? The Yankees are in decent shape: They lead the surging Rays by a game-and-a-half in the Wild Card race and are 3 ½ behind the Red Sox in the AL East while having outscored opponents 37-13 since Joe Girardi’s ejection last Wednesday. But neither that nor anything masks their insidious 0-8 record against Boston. The Red Sox have an elite bullpen from top to bottom, the Yankees don’t, and that’s been the biggest factor in this one-sided rivalry.
By Jon Lane
T-minus seven days until the start of the Yankees’ 2009 regular season in Baltimore on April 6. However, the team breaks camp on Wednesday and will be in the Bronx Thursday for a workout at their plush new digs. Me and my YESNetwork.com colleagues will be there to document the latest news and initial impressions of the new Yankee Stadium. The next night, the palace receives the first of two dry runs when the Yankees play the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition affair (YES HD, 7 p.m.)
First, the Yankees play another Spring Training game today in Dunedin, Fla., against the Blue Jays. This is their lineup:
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Brett Gardner CF
Pitching: Andy Pettitte, Damaso Marte, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras , Edwar Ramirez.
Gardner made news this past weekend when he was formally named the Yankees’ starting center fielder. Joe Girardi made it clear that this will not be a platoon situation between Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Gardner will be playing every day until further notice, thus his chance to follow in the steps of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, Mickey Rivers and Bernie Williams – at least until Austin Jackson is proclaimed Major League ready.
Gardner’s been a great story. He’s a spunky 5-10 package who was a walk-on at the College of Charleston. His big-league debut was inauspicious: .153 (9-for-59) in 17 games last season before he was demoted. And while he owns a paltry .228 average (29-for-127) in 42 games, he batted .294 (20-for-68) from August 15 until the end of the 2008 season.
This spring, Gardner hit .385 (20-for-52), with two doubles, two triples, three home runs, six RBIs, with a .448 OBP and was 5-for-7 in stolen base attempts. By way of comparison, Cabrera’s line through Sunday was .340 (18-for-53), 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 2-for-3 in SB attempts, .417 OBP, but his regression (.249 in 2008, including an August demotion) was virtually impossible to ignore.
Gardner provides elements not seen around the Yankees in recent years and his lefty bat adds balance to the lineup, but don’t count out Cabrera. He’ll make the team as a valuable reserve outfielder who can spell Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady or even Gardner (who could shift to one of the corners) late in games with an arm that can be the difference between winning and losing. He’s also only 24, so whether it’s with the Yankees or elsewhere as midseason trade bait, Cabrera still has a chance to prove that last season was an aberration.
Girardi said he’s thinking of eschewing a long reliever in favor of Jonathan Albaladejo. Why? Nothing against Albaladejo, who’s had a fine spring, but even elite starters get shelled early and there’s that innings limit on Joba Chamberlain. The rest of the bullpen will be feeling the heat, literally and figuratively, once the weather warms up. Brett Tomko, Dan Giese or Alfredo Aceves are better suited to eating innings and keeping the Yankees in the game should they face an early deficit.
Don’t look now, but Ramiro Pena has a realistic shot of making the team as the utility infielder who helps hold the fort until Alex Rodriguez returns. Pena’s glove has been world class since Day 1, but his bat showed tremendous improvement this spring. His chief competition, veteran Angel Berroa, is batting .358, compared to Pena’s .321, but you cannot underestimate the value of a slick glove, especially at shortstop. And giving a homegrown prospect a taste of the Majors bodes will for his future, too.
Bill Madden cites Pena’s progress and Derek Jeter’s declining range to his left. Also, I covered Pena and fellow prospect Jesus Montero at last summer’s Futures Game, when Pena showed off his defensive skills and discussed overcoming a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
According to Peter Abraham, Girardi said no decisions on these roster spots have been made yet and this could carry into the Cubs series.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees announced this afternoon in Clearwater that Kei Igawa has been reassigned to the Minor League camp. Such ends the worrisome thought that the left-hander would make the big club.
My guess is that they’ve been trying to buff Igawa’s trade value, which right now is the pits. Allow me to offer assistance: He was 14-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) with 45 walks and 117 strikeouts in 156 1/3 innings pitched for Scranton last season. In 25 of those 26 appearances, he allowed four runs or fewer.
Well, um, he has good stuff when harnessed correctly. At best (generously), he’s a Quadruple-A pitcher who flat-out gets bombed by big-league hitting, but he could have some success as a fifth starter in a quiet market.
Hey, I’m just trying to help. Remember that the Brewers almost took him off the Yankees’ backs as part of a proposed deal for Mike Cameron that flamed out.
Igawa’s demotion leaves Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese and Brett Tomko as contenders to make the team as a long man (Jason Johnson was reassigned over the weekend). The Phillies belted Giese for three runs on four hits in an inning (Chris Shearn’s live blog). Aceves is 1-1, 4.97 in five spring appearances (two starts). Tomko is 0-1, 1.46 in six games after pitching a scoreless inning in Clearwater.
At this point, with two weeks’ worth of exhibition games left, Tomko may be the one to stay north, but he’ll be neck-and-neck with Giese. Yeah, Giese may sport a 7.42, but he was also beaten up by heavy rains as well as the Phillies’ bats and has equity with Joe Girardi after stepping up as his long reliever and spot starter last season.
Aceves is a promising right-hander would only benefit from more work at Triple-A and would be called up should the bullpen require reinforcements.
Who should be the Yankees’ long man and why?
By Jon Lane
1:04 p.m. First report from Dunedin, Fla., courtesy of Peter Abraham: Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner blasted Brett Cecil’s second pitch over the right field fence to make it 1-0 Yankees. Stepping up to the plate, Alex Rodriguez was booed loudly and jeered about Madonna and steroids before drawing a walk.
Numbers game: Melky Cabrera now wears Bobby Abreu’s old No. 53. Brett Tomko, today’s starter, took Cabrera’s No. 28.
1:20 p.m. Tomko pitched a 1-2-3 first. Talk about a difference of opinion. This from Mark Feinsand of The New York Daily News: Tomko is “a decent pitcher during his career, and could be a find as a long man. It appears to be between Tomko, Dan Giese and Alfredo Aceves for the spot.” Steven Goldman wrote about Tomko this morning and pulled no punches.
Tomko’s line: two scoreless innings, one hit. Jose Veras in.
1:48 p.m. Tied at 1 after Alex Rios’ sacrifice fly. Veras got into immediate trouble after allowing a double, hit a batsman and threw wild pitch. He’s looking smart for declining the Dominican Republic’s invite to play in the WBC. Spots in the underbelly of the Yankees bullpen will be scarce.
2:05 p.m. A-Rod smacks a two-run homer off Ricky Romero to put the Yankees ahead 3-1 in the top of the fourth. Yankees fans cheer, everyone else boos. One pitch before the blast, writes Feinsand, a fan shouted, “That was a steroid-induced foul ball!”
2:18 p.m. 4-1 Yankees at the end of 3 1/2 thanks to Todd Linden’s RBI single off Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan. This morning, commenting on an earlier entry, The Max touted Linden to start Opening Day in left field. These boys live in an alternate universe, but are a lot of fun.
2:25 p.m. Quick Mets update: Luis Castillo has driven in four runs. Castillo for NL Comeback Player of the Year and Jerry Manuel for Manager of the Year.
2:37 p.m. 6-1 Yankees, bottom 5. A-Rod went 1-for-1 with two walks and two RBIs thanks to that fourth-inning homer. The Bergen Record‘s Pete Caldera gauged a 70-30 cheers-to-boos ratio when Rodriguez stepped up for his final at-bat of the day.
Dan Giese pitched a scoreless fourth, allowing one hit. Hold your breath, Kei Igawa is next in line.
2:49 p.m. Stop the presses! Kei Igawa allowed only a hit in the fifth, striking out one without walking a batter. Igawa = AL COY.
4:02p.m. Yankees win 6-1. David Robertson finished up with two strikeouts and a walk in a scoreless inning. Looks like Robertson and Giese moved up the bullpen pecking order while Veras was knocked down a few pegs.