Results tagged ‘ Mariano Rivera ’

Wagner would be worthwhile

wagner_275_082109.jpgBy Jon Lane
In case you haven’t heard – how was life on Jupiter? – it’s Yankees vs. Red Sox this weekend. Stay with YESNetwork.com all weekend for the latest from Fenway Park.

Many believe a three-game sweep would be a knockout punch to the Red Sox and their division title homes. A 9 -game deficit would be virtually insurmountable. It’s never over until … you know … but I truly think the Yankees are too talented and disciplined to pull a 2006 Mets, 1995 Angels or 1964 Phillies and blow this thing.

Speaking of the Mets – I’ll leave the folks from Flushing to deal with the latest Gary Sheffield mess – Billy Wagner made his return to the Majors Thursday night. He looked great, perfect in fact, hitting 96 MPH on the gun and whiffing two in the Mets’ 3-2 loss to the Braves. Not too shabby in his first big-league appearance coming off Tommy John surgery.

How much longer Wagner will remain a Met is the next question. Wagner today was claimed on waivers, reports SI.com’s Jon Heyman, which leaves the Mets three days to work out a deal with the claiming team. Francisco Rodriguez is the closer and the Mets have no intention on picking up Wagner’s $10 million club option for next year.

Prior to Heyman’s story I had a thought: Yankeeland.

Right now the Yankees have one left-hander in their bullpen, Phil Coke, and there will be two if Damaso Marte is actually activated. But does anyone actually trust Marte in a big spot? In any spot? And as well as Coke has pitched this year, how much pressure do you think his young shoulders will handle facing David Ortiz or Jacoby Ellsbury in the ALCS? Or for that matter, Curtis Granderson, Josh Hamilton or Bobby Abreu in October pressure situations?

Enter Wagner, and before you start going So Taguchi on me, remember that the only Sandman in the Bronx is Mariano Rivera. That means the final fate of the game won’t be on Wagner’s repaired left shoulder. He’ll give Coke and Phil Hughes a blow. He’ll face one or two hitters in big spots, and he’ll work against lefties or righties (Wagner has held right-handed hitters to a .186 lifetime average).

Moreover, you get a fresh arm, albeit one you handle with care, but one with loaded bullets.

Brian Cashman has more than a week to evaluate. There’s little to complain about the Yankees these days (though to some complaining is the spice of life). But Wagner, despite the 10.38 ERA he compiled in the 2006 postseason, is your standard low-risk, high-reward investment. The Mets won’t ask for the world in prospects, only some help in Steinbrenner dollars. That’s a good deal.

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There’s more than one big series this weekend. The Rangers, trailing the Red Sox by a game in the Wild Card race, are in St. Petersburg for a critical three-game set with the Rays. If the Yankees and Rangers are able to take their respective series, it’s a tremendous boost to the men in pinstripes. The Rays’ postseason hopes would take a dive straight towards South Beach while the Red Sox would be buried in the division race and out of the playoff picture, but not out cold. Beginning with the Rays and continuing next week in the Bronx, the Rangers will play 15 of his next 19 games on the road.

Joba limit painful, but necessary

arod_250_081309.jpgBy Jon Lane
Life in the penthouse as winners of 20 out of 26 is good, especially when one of the perks is having the luxury of dealing with injuries without succumbing to desperation.

Four major players left for Seattle with barking body parts, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees were close to falling off a cliff, you’d bet on all of them “manning up” and playing tonight, the first of a four-game set at Safeco Field that begins a seven-day excursion out west and a 10-day road trip that concludes next weekend in Boston.

The Yankees own a 5 game lead over the Red Sox, far from safe, but currently a luxury. X-rays on Jeter’s sore foot were negative, but considering the team had to immediately board a plane and fly across the country and further north, I’d be surprised if Jeter is in tonight’s lineup, and near shocked if Posada – he took a foul tip off his right hand and was beaten up chasing A.J. Burnett’s three wild pitches and many others in the dirt – will play. Remember yesterday he played after catching the night before.

Joe Girardi said A-Rod was already getting tonight off, but as luck had it, A-Rod was hit by a Shawn Camp pitch in a most minute spot, the part of his left elbow slightly unprotected by a huge pad.

Rivera’s status was unknown until after the game and anytime you learn about soreness in his pitching shoulder – the one that underwent a procedure to remove calcification from a joint – that’s frightening. Both player and manager insisted Rivera would be ready to go. Rivera, incidentally, did not leave with the team, but that was to attend a personal matter and unrelated to his heath.

These are the advantages of having a nice-sized lead in your division and a deep bench; you have the capability to manage nagging ailments correctly and be smart about resting your starting pitchers. This brings me to the latest obsessive-compulsive debate about Joba Chamberlain. First he belonged in the bullpen. Now he’s coddled and overprotected, which will adversely affect the rest of his career. Chamberlain is 8-2 with a 3.85 ERA and despite annoying inconsistency hasn’t lost a decision since June 18.

joba_250_081309.jpgThis isn’t complicated and it’s a not a big deal. This is the case of a 23-year-old ace in the making that in 2006 dealt with triceps tendinitis and was disabled late last season with rotator cuff tendinitis. It’s fair to debate that not being on a consistent schedule affects one’s rhythm – and Chamberlain is at the top of his game when working at a swift pace. I buy that, but don’t complain based on precedents. Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson are from a different era. Justin Verlander has averaged roughly 189 innings through three full seasons and 2009, but he has no history with injuries, but everybody is different. Just because Verlander and Felix Hernandez have gone unscathed doesn’t mean Chamberlain will survive the strain and stress of a way-too-soon heavy workload.

The Mariners, incidentally, were also careful with King Felix, deciding in 2006 to cap his innings to 205 (he threw 191). They did this by skipping his turns after falling out of contention and lifted the cap the following season. The Yankees aren’t out of contention, but the Red Sox are far from finished and division titles are won in September. News flash: The rivals collide in a three-game series September 25-27 at Yankee Stadium. Something tells me those meetings will decide who captures the AL East flag.

Giants ace Tim Lincecum was shut down in September 2007 after his innings count rose to 177 1/3 between the Minor and Major Leagues. The following season he was ordered not to throw bullpen sessions typical of an offseason routine. Manager Bruce Bochy told The San Francisco Chronicle they were being careful due to studies showing that pitchers who throw 200 innings early in their career were more susceptible to injuries.

Fausto Carmona finished fourth in 2007 AL Cy Young voting after going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA and 215 innings pitched – and threw 15 more in the playoffs. The following season he plummeted to 8-7, 5.44 in 120.2 IP and this season the Indians demoted him to their Rookie League when he was 2-6 7.42, 41 walks and 36 strikeouts in 60 2/3 IP.

Chamberlain pitched 88 1/3 innings in the Minors before he was called up in August 2007. He entered this season with 124 1/3 Major League innings pitched and will match that total with eight more outs next Wednesday. Because this is New York and Chamberlain’s team is the Yankees – anything less than a World Championship is a failure – many are in an uproar. Girardi told reporters last night, “This is not just about the next two months. This is about years and years to come.”

If this is Kansas City or Pittsburgh, it’s a mere subplot. Here in the Big Apple, this is “ruining” Joba Chamberlain, just like taking him out of the bullpen is traumatizing him and Brian Cashman is paying for his decision to rebuild a program with non-contending seasons.

Girardi’s later statement is most telling: It’s “all hands on deck” for the postseason, when The Joba Rules I, II, III, IV, V and so on are tossed away like trash. A fresh Chamberlain gives the Yankees their best chance to win it all this year and in future years, when every April the “This team stinks” and “What have you done for me lately” tsunami of complaints arrive with the Yankees’ first three-game losing streak.

Never too early for award talk

teixeira_250_081009.jpg

By Joe Auriemma
Johnny Damon made a statement after the Yankees’ completion of their four-game sweep over the Red Sox Sunday night that made me think a bit.
Damon said that Teixeira should be considered as an MVP candidate this
season. Now, I know there are 51 games left and there is
a lot of baseball to be played, but I still think it’s not to early to
talk about Yankees who are possible candidates for awards in
recognition of their 2009 regular season performance.

MVP Candidates
Mark Teixeira

Damon had it right when he proclaimed that Teixeira is an MVP candidate. The Yankees have the best record in the Majors and Teixiera’s play has a lot to do with that. His .286
average, league-leading 29 home runs and team high 83 RBIs are
astounding. He is proving that his offseason signing might be what the
Yankees everyday lineup has been missing for quite some time.

In some of the key clutch stats, he also comes up big. With two outs
and runners in scoring position, he is hitting .357 with two homers
and 20 RBIs. Seven of his homers have broken a tie, 12 of his 29
have come when the game is within one run and 19 have
come when the game is within two runs. In the close-and-late category,
which is after the seventh inning when the game is tied, within one run
or the the tying run is at least on deck, Teixeira is hitting .302 with
four home runs and 19 RBIs. He’s also having a tremendous second half.
Since the All-Star break he is hitting .326, with eight home runs and
20 RBIs in 23 games.

If that didn’t already make him a legitimate MVP candidate, then his
sparkling defense should put him at the top of the list. The two-time
Gold Glove-winning first baseman has proven why he has been
bestowed that honor in the past. He has range, leaping ability and can
really pick it over at first. He is certainly their best defensive
first baseman since Don Mattingly (no offense to Tino Martinez) and has
saved many potential errors this season. His presence alone has upgraded
an infield that has been in need of this type of player since the
dynasty days.

Alex Rodriguez
People may think I’m crazy for bringing up A-Rod’s name in MVP
talk, especially that he missed more than a month this season and
his numbers don’t really look MVP worthy. To me, A-Rod can stake as
much claim to being a candidate for the award as almost anyone in the
league. He may be batting .259 this season, he does have 21 home runs
and 63 RBIs in just 80 games. 

The MVP award is exactly what it stands for, the Most Valuable Player in the American League to his team. Well Alex can make a claim
that he is. The Yankees are 56-27 since his return on May 8 and 53-27
when he’s in the lineup. That means they’re a mediocre
16-15 without him in any game and were 13-15 before his return. 

The lineup has really been terrific with him. A-Rod changes the
complexion of the game. He disrupts a pitcher’s game plan and makes managers change their whole way of
thinking when you see his name penciled into the cleanup spot. Just
look at Teixeira’s numbers before A-Rod returned. To
start the season, Teixeira was hitting .198
with five home runs and 15 RBIs. Since the return of A-Rod,
Teixeira is batting.312, with 24 home runs and 68 RBIs in 82 games.
He’s seeing better pitches to hit because A-Rod is hitting behind him
in the order.

Let’s not forget to mention how clutch Rodriguez has been. In close-and-late situations, he is hitting .310 with eight home runs and
16 RBIs. He has also hit nine of this 21 home runs in tie ball games and
14 of his 21 round trippers are when the game is within one run. He
also has two walk-off wins this season, including one that ended a 15-inning marathon in a scoreless game against the Red Sox, which is as
pressure packed as it gets.

Johnny Damon – Honorable Mention
Johnny, don’t sell yourself short in the MVP talk. To this point , Damon has been brilliant in the No. 2 spot. When
opposing managers have to take a look at the top four in the Yankees’
order, it should make them cringe. Damon already has 21 home runs, only three off his career high from his first season with the
Yankees in 2006. He’s hitting .281 with 65 RBIs and is on pace for
another 100-run season (79). He’s already set the
single-season Yankees record with Teixeira with six back-to-back
home runs.

With that being said, I don’t think that he will be a candidate when it’s all said and done, but my question is why not?

Cy Mo
Don’t you think it’s time that Major League baseball rewarded the
greatest relief pitcher of all time with some hardware? Why can’t Mariano Rivera
win the Cy Young Award this season? I know that many critics are going
to bring up Mark Buehrle and his perfect game, Josh Beckett and his
13-4 record with a 3.12 ERA and Roy Halladay (12-5, 2.73
ERA) but Rivera is right there with them.

Rivera has not allowed an earned run since June 12 against the
Mets. Over that span, he has pitched in 21 games, 21.1 innings, allowed 10 hits, earned 18 saves, with 21 strikeouts and just four
walks. He has also lowered his ERA from 3.38 to 1.88. 

Even more astonishing is that Rivera has converted 32 of 33 save
opportunities this season and has not blown a save since April 24
against Boston. With all of the talk of the five home runs
he allowed earlier in the season, he has not given up a dinger since
May 20th.

Rivera’s total numbers on the season stand at 1-2, with a 1.88 ERA,
those 32 saves, 53 strikeouts and only seven walks in 48
innings pitched and 47 games. He’s only allowed 37 hits,
nine of which were for extra bases and opponents are hitting just
.206 against him. If that doesn’t wow award voters, I don’t know
what will.

HOPE Week: Day 1

By Jon Lane
The Yankees kicked off HOPE Week today when Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Joe Girardi paid a visit to the Chiappetta family. Each helped donate athletic equipment and food vouchers to their organization, the Patchwork of Young Leaders Society.

In the summer of 2006, Marco and Jennifer Chiappetta were married and
returned to their roots in Washington Heights.
While taking walks together, they were saddened by the sight of local
schoolyards that had been abandoned by children. Inspired to make a difference, Marco visited a park near his home to engage in athletics with whomever
wanted to play. His hope was that emotional connections on the
schoolyard could eventually spark a change in the culture of the
neighborhood.

Within a month, upwards of 60 teenagers began showing up to enjoy the
camaraderie and positive atmosphere of Marco’s activities. The couple
also opened their home to these children, offering stability and
encouragement many had never experienced. Even
for kids whose parents took an active interest in them, Marco and
Jennifer served as a bridge between the generations.

As time has
passed, the original children have become mentors themselves. As for Marco and Jennifer, who personally funded many of the group’s grassroots efforts from their own personal savings, they formalized their activist work into the Patchwork of Young Leaders Society. For more information or to donate, click here.

Tonight, the Chiappettas, the teenagers and some of the teenagers’ parents will attend the Yankees-Orioles game as special guests of the team.

Random post-vacation thoughts

hinske_250_063009.jpgBy 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 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.

Phil Huge

By Glenn Giangrande
Me thinks it’s time to proclaim Phil Hughes a reliever for the remainder of the 2009 season.

A few days ago while driving to the New York Islanders Draft Party at Nassau Coliseum, a.k.a The John Tavares Spectacular, Joe Girardi was on WFAN talking about how the Yankees will, in a few weeks, lose the ability to stretch Hughes out as a starter down at Triple-A. There’s no doubt that his Major League future lies in starting. He was the top prospect in all of baseball just a few years ago. He should help the Yankees’ rotation for a long time to come.
 
As far as the here and now is concerned, his performance out of the ‘pen should speak for itself.
 
By throwing 1.2 scoreless innings against the Mets on Sunday night, Hughes lowered his ERA as a reliever to 1.50 in 12.0 IP. He’s pitched in seven games, allowing runs in just one of them – a pair of them at Fenway Park on June 10th, when he threw 3.2 IP in relief of an ineffective Chien-Ming Wang. His fastball is humming in the mid-90s. He’s been close to unhittable. Given the other options the Yanks have for the rotation, Hughes’ power arm in the ‘pen is a major asset.
 
Let’s assume the Yankees make it to October. They’ll only need four starters, with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte the locks. Joba Chamberlain has made big strides in the rotation in recent outings, and Wang appears to be making his own steps in the right direction. Why mess with a good thing?  If Brian Bruney can stay healthy for the remainder of the year, he and Hughes would be a formidable 1-2 late inning punch in front of Mariano Rivera. Then Alfredo Aceves can stay in his “swing” role of being able to set-up or settle things down early. If David Robertson and his 2.60 ERA are able to handle some high leverage innings, the Yanks will have cobbled together a pretty solid bridge to Mo.
 
There’s no reason Hughes shouldn’t be a part of it, if only for this year.

The Pulse of New York

Every Tuesday, YES Blog takes the pulse of New York on the hottest
topics being talked about right now in the world of sports. What’s your
take on the below issues?

Would you have asked Mariano Rivera to intentionally walk Evan Longoria on Saturday?(polls)

Which of the below options is best for Phil Hughes right now?(survey)

How interested are you in the MLB draft?(surveys)

Have you bought into the Twitter in sports craze?(polls)

Last week, 36 percent of those voting thought the Magic would win the NBA title. One week later, who will win the NBA title?(polling)

Passionate defenses

joba_250_052809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Wow! Such fervor on YESNetwork.com these days. The source of it is a 23-year-old kid from Nebraska who set a standard so high as a set-up man that everything he does is measured against it. And each time he fails or simply takes his lumps, his destiny has to be altered permanently.

Yeah, here we go again. Joba Chamberlain belongs in the bullpen. It’s a topic that just won’t go away (at least we’re not discussing PEDs, the height of annoyance, this time) and right now it’s hot. Chamberlain has labored as a starter, Chien-Ming Wang is not in the rotation and everyone in the Yankees ‘pen not named Mariano Rivera can’t be completely trusted. Since we live in a town that demands instant gratification, Joba to the ‘pen will solve all the Yankees’ problems.

I’m not suggesting this is an argument without merit. It is. Chamberlain was fantastic in his eighth-inning role and only midges off Lake Erie dented him in 2007. Pitching out of the ‘pen allows him to go from zero to 100 using his best two pitches (2 > 4, writes Chris Shearn) while thriving off his emotion. Somebody has to eventually replace Rivera and Chamberlain is currently the best candidate to do it. Many made their points and they’re all valid. Kim Jones is practical. Mike Francesa is angry. Jerome Preisler combines passion with historical precedent. You the readers are speaking too. At last check of our homepage poll, it was 171-5 with the belief that Chamberlain will be back in the bullpen before season’s end. I can’t scientifically prove it, but there are probably many who initially believed in Joba the starter have since changed their tune, which is their right.

I’m not budging. Why are we drawing conclusions after 21 career starts? Does Joba have to be Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander, two guys off the top of my head who instantly met (or meeting) success as rookie starters? Do enough people study the cases of Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine or Zack Greinke, the latter who four seasons ago was 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA and now 8-1, 0.84 with five complete games? (Greinke also overcame social anxiety disorder and depression, another layer to his amazing story.)

Another question: Does anyone notice if Chamberlain was pitching in Kansas City?

Look, Joba the starter has been a tease and often frustrating, but 99 out of 100 young starters pegged for greatness experience a learning curve, and some longer than others. If Chamberlain is moved back to the bullpen, you stunt his development and reduce the innings pitched the Yankees are trying to limit anyway. Furthermore, each time Phil Hughes is lights out, he’s the phenom everyone was dreaming about. Every time he bombs – which will happen again – he’s a bust and belongs either in the ‘pen or the Minor Leagues. You can’t have it both ways and the Yankees have made the choice to build not for only this year, but rebuild a program they hope will come close to winning four World Championships in five seasons.

A big part of that is learning from failure and learning how to lose. Chamberlain deserves the same education. Once he’s a finished product he’ll have four dominant out pitches and a fully matured state of mind. I’ll take an elite starter over someone who only gets three outs and isn’t assured of pitching in every close game.

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Another perspective: The problem isn’t Joba the starter. It’s the construction and handling of the current bullpen. Alfredo Aceves needs a defined role and why Jose Veras is continually asked to get big outs I’ll never figure out. David Robertson is back in the bigs. Use him and not just for mop-up duty. Thankfully for the Yankees, Brian Bruney will be back, and this time every extra precaution will be taken. That will leave you with Bruney – not Chamberlain – as your eighth-inning guy, and young guns Robertson, Mark Melancon and Phil Coke as the underbelly.

A nicely-laid plan unless the Yankees manage to swing a deal for Huston Street.

_______________________

About Wang: Use him too. Don’t wait another nine days to dust him off, but don’t just shrug your shoulders and put him back into the rotation. Injury or not, Wang’s ERA was still 34.50 after three starts and that’s your judge and jury. Hughes got hurt and failed last year. He’s earning his way back. Now it’s Wang’s turn.

Rebuilding the bridge

By Jon Lane
Expect Brian Bruney to return on Tuesday, a welcome and much-needed addition to the Yankees bullpen. Since Bruney was disabled, the bridge to Mariano Rivera was a wooden plank weathered by rain and fierce winds. If it’s up to me, and it’s not, here’s how I’d reconstruct the bullpen:

Closer: Rivera (obviously)

Eighth-inning man: Bruney (obviously)

Underbelly: Alfredo Aceves. In case you didn’t notice, he won both games this weekend and deserves to pitch in key spots.

Jonathan Albaladejo. Five 2/3 scoreless innings in last five appearances, fanned Jason Kubel for the third out with the bases loaded to end the seventh on Sunday. Albaladejo earned equity with that effort.

Phil Coke. Forget about the home runs allowed Friday and Saturday, Coke bailed Jose Veras out of a second and third, one out situation in the seventh on Saturday; this in the second of consecutive games coming off a bad back.  

David Robertson. When he was here he was relegated to mop-up duty. He deserves a longer look.

Long man: Brett Tomko. A veteran arm that can calm the waters during early blowouts and contribute in big spots.

Out: Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras

On the Radar: Damaso Marte. The Yankees have no choice with the three years invested in him. To be fair, Marte hasn’t been healthy since the World Baseball Classic, but when he’s back should be relegated to a LOOGY role.

Mark Melancon. A potential successor to Rivera, Melancon’s successes and failures will help him grow. 

TGIF: Random Yankee thoughts

hughes_250_051509.jpgBy 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 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.