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.
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.
By Jon Lane
How good the Yankees bullpen turns out is obviously to be determined, but on paper it’s deep and offers a strong support system for Mariano Rivera. Behind Rivera are two locks, Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney. Figure on either Alfredo Aceves or Dan Giese making the team as a long reliever and the underbelly being determined among a group of candidates.
The sure things
Marte wasn’t the reliable set-up man he was in Pittsburgh. His ability to strike out a batter per inning is neutralized by his 4.04 BB per 9 IP walk rate. I’d prefer him as a LOOGY and to see Phil Coke emerge as the second left-hander who can pitch multiple innings and get key outs late in games.
Bruney has meant business since reporting to camp last season 25 pounds lighter, but his 2008 campaign was interrupted when he injured his right foot trying to cover first base on April 22 in Chicago. Although it was the same injury that put Chien-Ming Wang out of commission, Bruney not only defied the odds and returned on August 1, he was brilliant, pitching to a 1.83 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 18 hits allowed in 34 1/3 innings. Any concerns over Joba Chamberlain starting should be assuaged by Bruney’s presence.
The underbelly candidates
Edwar Ramirez has tendinitis in his right shoulder and will be examined today by Dr. Allen Miller. I’m not sold on him anyway. Yesterday I mentioned there’s no middle ground with him; once opposing hitters figured out how to read his change-up, Ramirez was unable to adjust. He’s either real good or real bad, as indicated my these monthly splits once he became one of Joe Girardi’s key relievers:
May: 1-0, 0.77 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 10 K, 11 2/3 IP
June: 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 10 H, 6 BB, 13 K, 11 IP
July: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 16 K, 11.1 IP
August: 2-1, 6.94 ERA, 15 H, 4 BB, 13 K, 11 2/3 IP
September: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 6 K, 5 1/3 IP
Coke was a pleasant surprise last year, holding opponents to a .160 batting average while allowing one earned run in 14 2/3 innings. He whetted the Yankees’ appetites to where he was considered a candidate to start before the team re-signed Andy Pettitte. I’m excited to see a lot more of Coke, 26, who showed me in a small sampling of work and through brief discussions he’s emotionally equipped to handle pressure situations.
Jose Veras is lights out when he’s on his game, but like Ramirez was vulnerable to the gopher ball (7 HRs in 57 2/3 innings) and issued 4.53 walks per nine innings pitched.
David Robertson will get a longer look for as long as Ramirez is on the shelf, but ultimately may fall victim to a numbers game. He turns 24 in April and may not be ready for significant innings, so more seasoning in Triple-A can only help.
The super sleeper
Mark Melancon earned a ton of press in today’s papers and for good reason. Despite the bevy of righty relievers vying for roster spots, Melancon showed off his electric stuff throwing 30 pitches during Sunday’s session, even getting Derek Jeter to whiff on a couple and breaking Robinson Cano’s bat. He is already being projected as the next Chamberlain in an eighth-inning role and perhaps Rivera’s successor in two years.
Melancon, the Yankees’ ninth-round pick (284th overall) in 2006, went 6-0 with a 1.81 ERA in 19 outings at Scranton – this after missing all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s probably ticketed for Scranton in April, but Girardi said he’s “in the mix” and you could see him with the big club sooner rather than later, especially if the Yankees are looking for another Joba-like spark to their bullpen.
By Jon Lane
Jerome Preisler offered a positive yet compelling take on Alex Rodriguez in his new Deep in the Red, while also looking back on a September 2005 game we worked together.
Meanwhile, some notes and nuggets from another day in Yankees camp:
• George Steinbrenner paid a visit. Asked by a New York Post reporter how he was doing, The Boss said, “I feel good.”
• Bernie Williams returned to his old digs and will remain with the Yankees until March 2 when he meets the World Baseball Classic’s Puerto Rican team. Tyler Kepner has the details with quotes from Williams and Joe Girardi.
From Peter Abraham’s LoHud Yankees blog:
• Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras (Dominican Republic) won’t be going to the WBC. You can probably count Damaso Marte (hamstring) out too. The righty reliever won’t be running for at least the rest of the week.
• CC Sabathia’s first Grapefruit start will be March 6 against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field. That lines him up for Opening Day on April 6 in Baltimore.