By Jon Lane
Here’s something cool to check out during your down time. WWE.com compiles a “Field of Themes” feature that examines entrance themes that would fit certain players in Major League Baseball.
The first time I heard a player step into the batter’s box like he was walking into the squared circle (minus the pyrotechnics and theatrics of course, but I’d like to see someone do that just once) was Jason Giambi coming to bat to the old nWo (New World Order) Wolfpac theme. It’s taken off since then. Johnny Damon bats to Batista’s “I Walk Alone” and last year someone suggested that Cubs closer Kerry Wood use the theme music of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon — “No Chance in Hell” — when entering games.
The Yankees have adopted somewhat of a WWE persona this season. Every team-selected Player of the Game receives a replica WWE Championship belt and each walk-off hero gets a pie in the face from A.J. Burnett. Having fun playing a kid’s game never hurts.
By Jon Lane
I spent yesterday afternoon at Citi Field working on a feature running tomorrow here on YESNetwork.com about how, from a certain point of view, the Los Angeles Dodgers have become Yankees West. You have, of course, Joe Torre as manager and a coaching staff that includes Yankees alumni Don Mattingly (hitting coach), Larry Bowa (third base coach), Mariano Duncan (first base coach) and Mike Borzello (bullpen catcher, also Torre’s godson). Also in Dodgertown are former Yankees players Jeff Weaver (active pitcher), Doug Mientkiewicz (on the 60-day DL with a dislocated shoulder) and 2000 World Series Game 1 hero Jose Vizcaino (special assistant).
By the time Torre took over as Yankees manager in 1996, the rebuilding plan constructed by Gene Michael and Bob Watson had bore fruit. The Yankees contended late in the ’93 season, were in first place before the strike of ’94 and earned their first postseason berth in 14 years the following year.
Four seasons ago, the Dodgers finished 71-91, fourth in the NL West, plummeting from a 93-win season the year before, and have been rebuilt into a contender through homegrown players (Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Jonathan Broxton, James Loney, Russell Martin), stealing Andre Ethier from the A’s (for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez) and dealing for some fruitcake with long dreadlocks who carried the Dodgers back to the postseason, yet also one whose reputation as being one of the game’s greatest pure hitters is tarnished. Torre’s first Yankees team had more experience, but like the young Dodgers also learned by losing in the playoffs. The 1995 Yankees dropped a heartbreaker to the Mariners in the Division Series, the Dodgers fell in five games to the eventual champion Phillies in the NLCS.
Still, there are a few parallels which you’ll read about tomorrow. And while loving life in L.A., a piece of Torre’s heart remains in New York. Speaking before yesterday’s game against the Mets, Torre addressed various topics with the media, starting with Hideki Matsui’s contract status. It was just like old times.
On Matsui playing in final year of contract and what lies ahead: “The one thing about the Yankees is that they have to make a lot of tough decisions when these high-profile people run out. (Johnny Damon’s pact is also in its final season.) It’s not always a popular decision they make, but they have to do what’s best for the organization. He’s been a special player and it’s not affecting his play, so he’s not worrying about it now.”
On Matsui’s early struggles (Matsui is batting .455 with three homers and 11 RBIs in July. His average has climbed 20 points since June 30.): “You’d never know it by being around him. He’s a pro. I respect him a great deal and I miss a lot of those guys, there’s no question.”
On the time Matsui took him out for sushi: “I told him if I’m going to try it, you’re taking me. I wish I really enjoyed the sushi part; my daughter does and my wife does. I ate everything they put in front of me and [Matsui] was kind enough to order a couple of bottles of champagne, which helped the medicine go down. It was an enjoyable evening.”
On whether he’ll visit the old Yankee Stadium before it’s torn down. He’s been asked by the Yankees if there’s anything he wants from the old place. He told them he made arrangements for a couple of seats, which will add to his collection from his other stops in Flushing (Shea Stadium), Atlanta (Fulton County Stadium) and St. Louis (Busch Stadium): “When I left there I knew it was going to be my last time. I took everything in. I had so many great memories there and really sadness. Everything that went on there was enough for me, it really was. It was a very special place when I used to go in there playing in the Mayor’s Trophy Game as a player and a manager. You always knew you were someplace special.”
Torre won’t be seeing the new Yankee anytime soon – the Dodgers are playing the Yankees next season, but at Dodger Stadium – that it unless special circumstances dictate otherwise:
“I wouldn’t mind seeing it in October,” Torre said. “To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing any ballpark in October. I remember people saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this team and this team …’ I said, ‘Let’s just pull for the one side, that’s all.'”
Torre’s Safe at Home Foundation also raised $450,000 (before expenses) at its sixth annual golf classic on Monday.
By Glenn Giangrande
With Xavier Nady seemingly done for the year, do the Yankees need another corner outfielder?
Let’s assume that Brett Gardner’s red-hot June continues, giving him the starting job in center that he lost to Melky Cabrera earlier this year. Melky COULD slide over to right, but would having Gardner and Cabrera together in the lineup be detrimental to the offense? Say yes for the sake of argument. Nick Swisher is an adventure out in right, and Johnny Damon’s defense has clearly taken a step back in left. The Yanks would do wise to bring in one more outfielder with the versatility to handle left or right.
The perfect fit? Mark DeRosa.
A New Jersey native, DeRosa was a guest on Batting Practice Today earlier this season, saying he’d love to play for the Yankees before his career ends. He’s in the final year of a three-year contract that he signed with the Cubs, who traded him to the Indians over the winter. Cleveland appears headed for a rebuilding phase, with ace pitcher Cliff Lee being rumored to be on the block. If he was on the Yankees right now, DeRosa’s bat would qualify as the second best among players able to handle the outfield behind Damon’s – I’m not counting Hideki Matsui, whose knees have betrayed him. DeRosa is probably best known as an infielder, but he’s got a fair amount of experience in the outfield, having started a total of 179 games in right field and left field combined. In 216 total games counting those in which he moved to one of those positions, he’s made only two errors.
Prior to the news developing concerning Nady’s likely need for Tommy John surgery, Brian Cashman was quoted as saying that the Yankees didn’t need a bat and that “all the bats are here.” If his perspective has changed, the idea of DeRosa is one the Yankees would do well to pursue.
By Jon Lane
“Friday is the day when everyone gets their motivation and energy back.”
– ‘Vice’ the coffee, bagel and danish vendor, 15th & 9th, Manhattan.
Nothing like a nice late-spring Friday morning to get you going and fill you with optimism. Our Steven Goldman, who can be a tough critic, gives props to the Yankees for taking two of three games from the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees haven’t gained traction yet, but there are reasons for hope. They have won 4 of 6 and are home for 10 games. CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are looking like, well, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera, and the team has received surprising contributions from Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli.
Just like that, people are feeling good about the Yankees again. It’s truly amazing how in baseball the story changes every day, even every hour. Wasn’t two weeks ago when the Mets were declared finished because they lacked an “edge?” Last I looked they’re 10-3 this month.
“It’s a nice little shift for us,” said Joe Girardi. “This is something that you can build on.”
Back at .500 and trailing the Blue Jays by 4 ½ games, the Yankees face the Twins, Orioles and Phillies these next 10 days. Lots of baseball left to be played, but the time is now to take three of four here, two of three there – if not compile a winning streak. Girardi’s bunch wants to be both winning and fully healthy by the time they tackle the Rays and Red Sox from June 5-11.
Onto a few random thoughts hours before Alex Rodriguez test drives the new Yankee Stadium tonight against the Twins (YES HD, 7 p.m.).
- Big start for Phil Hughes, 0-2 with a 17.49 ERA after silencing the Tigers for six innings on April 28. Good or bad, I see Hughes headed to Triple-A if Chien-Ming Wang pitches well in his second rehab start for Scranton on Sunday and cleared medically, but a strong effort would be one of those “nice problems to have” and build Hughes’ confidence back up. There are people who are still expecting Hughes to throw zeros every time he pitches. Yeah, he gave up eight runs, eight hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings – the shortest start in his three-year career – last Saturday in Baltimore. Many are tempted to declare him a bust who will never live up to his promise as a first-round, can’t-miss prospect. He also turns 23 next month. What’s the rush? Not every youngster makes an immediate impact. Let him get more work at Scranton and allow him to mature as a pitcher. Then we can evaluate.
- Big day for Xavier Nady, out since April 15 with a partially torn elbow ligament and rehabbing in hopes of avoiding a second Tommy John surgery. Nady will swing a bat this afternoon and provided he feels no pain is hoping to begin a Minor League rehab assignment before the end of the month. The plan is for Nady to be a DH and ease him back into the outfield. Where that leaves Hideki Matsui is another story for another day. For Nady’s sake, let’s hope we have a chance to debate it.
- A-Rod is excited to play in his first game at the Bronx Mahal (© Chris Shearn). He’s 3-for-14 since returning last Friday, but hasn’t missed an inning. Look for him to be the designated hitter and for the home crowd to provide a nice response. Hometown fans have high thresholds for players who admittedly or allegedly dabble in PEDs (just ask Barry Bonds’ loyal following). Only if A-Rod continues to not hit or fails in a big spot will boos grow long and loud.
- Sabathia’s last two starts: 2-0, 17 innings, two runs, nine hits, five walks, 13 strikeouts. The left-hander got the Yankees going on the road with a complete-game, four-hit shutout in Baltimore, overshadowed when A-Rod hit the first pitch he saw over the left field fence, but also healing balm for an appalling 2-5 homestand.
- Cervelli (.316) has been impressive at and behind the plate, writes Tyler Kepner. At this rate it’ll be another one of those “nice problems” once Jose Molina is eligible to come off the disabled list.
- How great has Johnny Damon been? The reigning American League Player of the Week has at least one extra-base hit in 10 consecutive games, matching a single-season franchise record held by Don Mattingly (1987) and Paul O’Neill (2001). He’s 18 for his last 42 (.429), with at least one run scored in those 10 games. River Ave Blues analyzed Damon’s run and desire to stay in the Bronx once his contract expires at the end of the season.
By Jon Lane
George King of the New York Post dissected the numbers:
- Overall, the Yankees’ 5.79 ERA ranks 29th out of 30 teams. Only the Indians (5.83) are worse.
- The rotation is 28th in the Majors with a 9-10 record and a 5.64 ERA, leading only the Red Sox (14-10; 5.81) and the Phillies (7-10; 6.28), and Yankees starters’ .289 batting average against is the fifth-highest in baseball. Why are the Red Sox 20-12 and the Yankees where they are? Simple, the Yankees’ putrid bullpen is 28th with an ERA of 6.04.
- The Yankees deserve credit for a few big hits in big spots, especially from Johnny Damon, named the AL Player of the Week. Overall, however, the Yankees are 14th with runners in scoring position at .244 (70-for-287). Mark Teixeira, a career .324 hitter in the clutch, is batting .192 (5-for-26).
- Too many times have runners been stranded early in games and has haunted the Yankees in the later innings. It’s a problem that hasn’t gone away and needs to be stopped, immediately. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett have been singled out for uneven beginnings, and now it’s time for Teixeira to show his true colors. Otherwise, even Alex Rodriguez will fly under the radar while everyone wonders what’s wrong with the $180-million man.
By Joe Auriemma
The Yankees are 27 games into the season and under .500. They already have two four-game losing streaks and are playing exactly like their record states. This team has problems and it’s the type of problems that won’t just disappear with the return of Alex Rodriguez into the middle of the order.
As was the case with last season, the Yankees already have had major injury issues. The loss of A-Rod was just the tip of the iceberg when they lost two of their big money relievers in Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte. Now Marte had not been good before he was injured, but he is an experienced pitcher. Bruney has not had a full season with the Yankees since his 58-game performance in 2007. He has been lights out every time he’s been in there and he seems to be what’s missing from what has been a subpar bullpen this season. There are many inexperienced arms out there that give up the big hit at the worst possible moment.
I never like to blame injuries, but it has ravaged the bullpen, the lineup and the bench. The Yankees lost A-Rod, then his replacement Cody Ransom went down, Xavier Nady has been out and then they lost their leading RBI man in Jorge Posada. To make matters worse, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui have been playing hurt and let’s not forget about Chien-Ming Wang, who was just putrid in three starts this season. Every team has injuries, but the Yankees’ situation is pretty bad.
Could the injury bug for the second straight season be blamed on age? Yes, I think the advanced age of these players has a lot to do with the injuries. The Red Sox and Rays have a pretty young core of players and they don’t seem to be going through this same problem over the last two seasons.
After the injuries and the bullpen issues, the Yankees have had a tough year defensively. That seems to be the difference between a lot of the upper echelon teams to how they are playing right now.
This team also is not manufacturing runs. They don’t move runners over and when they do, they don’t drive them in.
With all of this being said, the Yankees can still snap out of this with the talent that they have and win their share of ballgames. However, when you combine everything that’s going on with the team right now, it really is true, “You are what your record says you are.”
By Jon Lane
The secret to Jonathan Albaladejo’s success? Simple. After taking his warm-up pitches on the mound, he has a way of blocking out all distractions (fans taunting, piped-in stadium energizers, what have you). He shouts to himself, “SHUT THE [HELL] UP!” Over his last couple of appearances Albaladejo escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam and was part of Wednesday’s yeoman effort by the bullpen. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.
Before the game, it was my turn to get punk’d. I’m exiting the visitors’ clubhouse and let the door close behind me. Suddenly I hear a loud thud and an angry cry. I was made to believe that I failed to realize that someone was right behind me and did not hold the door open. The security guard who prevents riff raff from entering sacred ground shoots me a dirty look. I open the door worried about the person behind it. He shoots me a smile, points and says, “Nothing happend. I’m okay.” The guard let out a laugh that reverberated through the vast hallway.
Every game a Yankee Stadium employee parks himself into an open seat on press row and through a walkie-talkie communicates runs, hits, errors, runners left on base and the current line score, to the people manually updating the old-school scoreboards in left and right field. I’ve never seen that at Fenway Park. There must be a tried and true system that’s done right by Red Sox employees since 1912.
Imagine yourself in the zone, working feverishly to beat deadline off a 4:57 game and you’re interrupted by the piercing sound of a fire alarm. This wasn’t a drill, nor was it an actual emergency. Yet this went non-stop for about 15 minutes. A few fed-up writers made phone calls and implored on-site security to rectify the situation.
Poor Johnny Damon. A fan reached for a ball hit by Kurt Suzuki in the second inning, denying him of any chance to make a play. Instant replay upheld the original home run call, but that didn’t stop a few fans from briefly giving this one person the Steve Bartman treatment. Well, maybe not that bad, but why this yearning for a souvenir when it can break a difference-making play, especially when it goes against your team?
As for Damon, he misplayed Jason Giambi’s fly ball in the third, which led to the Athletics’ fourth run after homers by Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera trimmed the A’s lead to 3-2. For the rest of the game, fans sitting in left field gave Damon sarcastic ovations with every catch and chanted his name during the rest of his at-bats. This wasn’t the usual roll-call, folks.
From the for what it’s worth department: CC Sabathia lifetime against the A’s: 3-7 with a 6.26 ERA, the highest against any AL team. He starts Monday in Detroit, and is 13-9, 4.70 versus the Tigers and 7-2, 3.80 in 11 starts at Comerica Park. His one start there last year wasn’t pretty: nine runs on eight hits (two homers) in four innings pitched.
Has anyone noticed Robinson Cano is on a 10-game hitting streak and batting a team-high .367? The player many wanted traded has 22 hits this month. Last April Cano was 15-for-106 (.151) in 29 games.
By Jon Lane
T-minus one day until the official home opener. We were on hand for the workouts and the exhibition games, taking you for tour and providing anecdotes from around the Stadium and in the clubhouse. Expect a lot more Thursday afternoon. Fans will be jacked, CC Sabathia will be on the mound and the Yankees will thrilled to enjoy their new spoils for the next seven days. I’ll be keeping a diary and filing a postgame report. Chris Shearn and Co. will be producing exclusive videos, and Friday, Steven Goldman will provide a unique take on the Stadium’s amenities and dining experiences. This will be a lot of fun and knowing the Yankees there will be plenty of surprises. Gates will be open at 10 a.m. and the team is encouraging everyone to be in their seats by noon for the opening ceremonies.
A.J. Burnett was amazing Tuesday night. Better than his six no-hit innings was how he, locked into a pitchers’ duel with Matt Garza, kept his composure after the Rays tied the game in the seventh. After the Yankees regained the lead off the Rays bullpen, Burnett pitched a clean eighth inning, the Yankees broke it open in the ninth and Brian Bruney struck out the side to finish it off. Through two games, Burnett is proving wrong those skeptics (me included) who thought it was a risk giving him $82.5 million over five years. There are tell-tale signs he’s no longer a thrower, but a mature pitcher. Shearn has more on Burnett and Brett Gardner, who to date is making him look like a genius.
Hold your breath and cross your fingers: Xavier Nady is having an MRI done today to examime his right elbow, injured Tuesday in the seventh when he felt a sharp pain while throwing Carlos Pena’s single back to the infield. It’s the same area where he had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2001.
From the sound of it, Nady is headed for the disabled list. That means Nick Swisher will play every day, mostly in right field. Melky Cabrera will be counted on even more to spell Johnny Damon in left. Shelley Duncan, batting .300 with a homer and five RBIs in four games at Triple-A Scranton, would add pop off the bench. None, however, can replace Nady, a steady veteran and a good fit in the bottom of the lineup. The Yankees are wishing Hideki Matsui can play some outfield right now.
It’s Andy Pettitte against Andy Sonnanstine this afternoon (YES HD, 4 p.m.) as the Yankees finally finish their season-opening nine-game road trip. They’d love to officially open the new Yankee Stadium one game above .500, which considering having to go back on the road after just coming back from six weeks in Florida wouldn’t be too bad. Pettitte is the right guy to have on the mound. He was great in his 2009 debut at Kansas City, yielding one run and three hits over seven innings, and is 15-4 with a 3.63 ERA against the Rays, including 8-2 with a 3.72 ERA in 12 starts at Tropicana Field.
Just like it was silly to go insane over an 0-2 start, it’s completely premature to draw conclusions based on eight games. The best you can do is look at things in stages. Right here, right now, Burnett has been gold and Pettitte is a great bargain.
Yankees great Bernie Williams’ new CD, “Moving Forward” has been released. You can meet Williams and receive a signed copy of the CD at 6 p.m at Borders – Penn Plaza. Williams played one of his songs on Good Day New York this morning. His first CD, “The Journey Within” is excellent. Expect more of the same with his second helping and tune into YES next month for his live concert at New York’s Nokia Theatre.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees bid farewell to their Spring Training base in Tampa, Fla., this afternoon following their game against the Philadelphia Phillies. CC Sabathia is on the hill for his final tune-up before taking the ball Monday in Baltimore for Opening Day. The team flies back to New York later and will work out at the new Yankee Stadium tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. It’s about time too. I wholly agree with my colleagues Joe Auriemma and Jim Kaat that Spring Training is just too darn long.
Thursday morning marks the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe at Yankee Stadium with a celebratory guitar smash, not a bad way to kick things off. For the record, the HRC sent me its hours of operation:
Non Game Days
11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
10:00 AM – 10:00 PM (for 1:05 games)
11:00 AM – 12:00 AM (other start times)
Phone Number: 646-977-8888
Beginning with the HRC opening, I’ll be on location keeping a diary of the day’s events as well as Friday night during the new Stadium’s first dry run, the exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs. Word has it Cubs fans are equally stoked to see the new place and it’ll be interesting to hear thoughts from manager Lou Piniella (a popular Yankees star and manager in the 1970s and ’80), and former Yankees Ted Lilly, Alfonso Soriano and Luis Vizcaino.
News and notes
Xavier Nady, hit on the left elbow yesterday in Sarasota, Fla., was a precautionary scratch.
According to Peter Abraham, these players have been added to the roster for the Cubs games on Friday and Saturday:
It’s official, Derek Jeter will lead off and Johnny Damon will bat second on Opening Day and beyond.
Former Yankees right-hander Jeff Karstens, traded to Pittsburgh in the deal that brought Nady and Damaso Marte to New York last July, won the final spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation. Good for him. He’s a good guy who though soft-spoken always had something intriguing to say. He’s been vexed by injury, so let’s see what he can do to keep his job secure.
Ross Ohlendorf, another player the Yankees sent to Pittsburgh in the trade, will be the Pirates’ No. 4 starter after a lights-out spring. Ohlendorf posted a sparkling 0.87 ERA and is in position for a breakout season from where I sit.
3:13 p.m. The Yankees released a statement from Joba Chamberlain, who today pleaded guilty to a Nebraska charge of drunken driving and was given probation.
“I am glad to put the legal aspect of this behind me. I made a mistake and hope over time to turn this into a positive learning experience for me and others.”
Chamberlain will rejoin the team tomorrow for the workouts at Yankee Stadium before returning to Tampa., Fla., to pitch in a Minor League game on Sunday. His first regular season start is April 12 in Kansas City.
By Glenn Giangrande
Let me start by saying Hideki Matsui has been the consummate professional in pinstripes and I believe he has given the Yankees everything he possibly could during his tenure, which goes far beyond what he’s done solely on the ball field.
Now that I’ve said that, I’m saying it’s time to cut the cord with him.
Matsui appears to be a major albatross on this roster. It is pretty well known that he will be little more than a DH this season given his knee problems and he’ll turn 35 in June. I’m not going to say his power is officially in decline just yet because he turned in a very solid .285-25-103-100 season the last time he was healthy in ’07, but at his age and with his health problems, Godzilla might be at the tipping point.
My main concerns actually have more to do with players around Matsui than Matsui himself. Jorge Posada has already had one setback this spring in his return from shoulder surgery, and given his age\health issue, he will probably need more than a few at-bats as the DH to keep him fresh for his time behind the plate. Johnny Damon will need the occasional day off from left field as well. Joe Girardi is said to be a huge fan of Nick Swisher, so if he happens to lose the right field battle with Xavier Nady, he and his positive clubhouse presence can slot right into the DH position. It just seems like a number of players offer more to the Yankees than Matsui does right now.
Baseball is a business though, and maybe the Yankees think that dealing Matsui would hurt their brand in Japan. I say their flag has already been planted firmly enough there. They’d probably have to eat a fair amount of his remaining $13 million salary, maybe half of it. At this time though, dealing Matsui might be addition by subtraction when talking solely about roster makeup, and isn’t that what matters when a World Championship is the main goal?