Results tagged ‘ Phil Coke ’

The dark side of Wagner

wagner_250_082509.jpgBy Jon Lane
Well, it was a thought.

On Friday I floated the idea of the Yankees making a move for Billy Wagner and how he’d be an asset down the stretch. Alas, minutes later Wagner was claimed on waivers and that night it was revealed the claimant was the Red Sox.

After days of will-he-or-won’t-he posturing, after the assumption Wagner would not waive his no-trade clause due to Boston’s refusal to meet a few conditions, this deal is done. Wagner is headed to the Red Sox for two players to be named later.

I asked last week for you not to go So Taguchi on me and review the benefits of Wagner in pinstripes. He would have rode shotgun to Mariano Rivera and possibly serve as a situational left-hander who’d share the load with Phil Coke and Damaso Marte. In Boston he’ll spell Hideki Okajima, Terry Francona’s lone lefty reliever, and his team-leading 56 appearances, and take a passenger seat to Jonathan Papelbon.

Wagner will help the BoSox and their recently overworked bullpen, counting on the return of Tim Wakefield and eventually Daisuke Matsuzaka to eat innings rather than spit them out. But as a public service to my readers, many loyal followers of the New York Yankees, here’s  why the Red Sox are also taking a chance adding Wagner to the mix.

In the interest of fairness, I would have done the same had Wagner officially become a Yankee, but I read your minds. The first time Wagner takes the mound wearing red, white and green, you’ll be having Taguchi flashbacks. You’ll see visions of Ramiro Pena or Jerry Hairston Jr. taking Wagner deep late September at Yankee Stadium, the Indians’ Luis Valbuena crushing Boston’s playoff hopes Sunday, October 4, at Fenway Park, or perhaps the Angels’ Maicer Izturis going yard in Game 5 of the ALDS in Anaheim.

Besides an inspiring comeback from Tommy John surgery, hitting the upper 90s on the gun and his bravery in big spots, here’s what the Red Sox may have to endure the next month or maybe two:

? Wagner was awful in his last postseason appearance of 2006 and not just because of Taguchi. His ERA was 10.38 and in 11 career playoff games, he’s 1-1 with an 8.71 ERA.

? The Red Sox’s front office was cheering when it beat out the Yankees on Trade Deadline day of 2007 when the team acquired Eric Gagne from the Texas Rangers. Gagne, who four years earlier saved 55 games, was supposed to form a lockdown duo with Papelbon. In his first 15 appearances, Gagne allowed 14 earned runs in 14 innings (a 9.00 ERA) with three blown saves and an opponents batting average of more than .350. Okay, the Red Sox won a World Series despite Gagne, but a few of their core players are a bit older this time around.

? Papelbon, the king of restraint who once had the gall to suggest that he and not Mariano Rivera close the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, will have to welcome Wagner days after saying his services weren’t needed.

“I don’t have anything to say about somebody like that,” Wagner said in response. “When he walks in my shoes, then I’ll say something. Let him be 38 and have Tommy John surgery and come back.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Red Sox aren’t dead yet. They remain the favorites to capture the AL Wild Card in my book. Yet this team has endured enough between injuries and David Ortiz. Two outspoken egos won’t help the clubhouse culture.

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Johan Santana is out for the season with bone chips in his left elbow. He’ll have arthroscopic surgery and expects to be ready for Spring Training. If you’re the Mets, no regrets trading for him. If you’re the Yankees, you’re taking a tremendous sigh of relief that you did not accept the Twins’ proposal of Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and two mid-level prospects.

The Yankees would have made the playoffs last season with Santana, who in turn would have won at least 20 games and possibly his third Cy Young Award. However, the goal here – at least under Brian Cashman’s watch – is rebuilding and maintaining a program. Since 2002 the organization reverted back to overspending for a quick fix, a philosophy that led to a steady decline in the late 1980s and 67-95 record in 1990. One look at what Cabrera and Hughes have done – and optimism over how Hughes still can be – and you realize such a price was too steep.

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.

Street sense

street_350_052609.jpgBy Jon Lane
For those new to following the Yankees, or ones who skim past the transactions section, Brian Bruney was signed by the Yankees in May 2006 shortly after the Arizona Diamondbacks designated him for assignment. In layman’s terms, Bruney was plucked off the scrap heap. There was no break out the fancy buffet press conference welcoming him to New York City and shirts/jerseys stitched with BRUNEY 38 weren’t made for sale up and down River Avenue or at your local retail outlet.

There’s that old as Angel Berroa saying about one man’s trash. The Yankees took a flier on Bruney and caught lightning when the right-hander’s explosive fastball made him an important member of the bullpen. In the last few weeks we’ve all learned just how important. This is not the older than cavemen expression, “Don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The Yankees are feeling the effects of Bruney’s absence and bracing for what may turn out the worst possible news.

Bruney has pain in his right elbow and has no clue why. He’s been disabled for the second time in a month and is visiting with Dr. James Andrews, synonymous with the famous procedure called Tommy John surgery. Dr. Andrews’ recommendation will be the difference between a suspension bridge to Mariano Rivera, and one made of fraying rope and decaying wooden planks that connect two ends of a mountain.  

David Robertson is back with the Yankees. Mark Melancon could get another shot. Others (read Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves) will see further action in the seventh and eighth innings. In short, the Yankees will evaluate internal options and not make a panic move, which is the right thing to do. But that’s not stopping the speculation. Our partners at River Ave Blues run down a list of options that could be made available in a trade. One name in particular intrigues me, Huston Street.

Street’s career is regaining traction four seasons removed from his Rookie of the Year campaign in Oakland. He was traded to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal and earned back his closer’s role after Manny Corpas pitched poorly. He’s 25 years old, has pitched in the postseason, and is now working for a last-place team that may be sellers at the trade deadline. That means he’s going to cost the Yankees at least one high-end prospect (Zack McAllister?). Street is 7-for-7 in save opportunities with the Rockies and currently has a scoreless streak of 11 innings in 12 games.  He’s a free agent after the season, so it’ll behoove the Rockies to not lose him for nothing.
 
If you’re the Yankees, do you make a play for Street? Yes. He’s young and battle-tested (only time will tell if he’s New York tough), and this won’t turn out to be an Eric Gagne situation. For those who forgot, the Red Sox acquired Gagne from the Rangers for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre, and to say he was a failure in Boston is a compliment. (Of course, in spite of Gagne, the Red Sox won their second World Series in four seasons.)

One more nugget, Street’s 101 career saves are the fifth-most by any player before the age of 26. If he pitches well enough in New York, the Yankees could decide to extend him and groom him as Rivera’s successor, which finally (you’d think) would end this Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to the bullpen nonsense. The one player in the organization that has the look of the post-Rivera closer is Melancon, but give me production over potential any day, as long as that production is young , still peaking and a cost that doesn’t tear apart the farm system Brian Cashman is painstakingly rebuilding.

Street hits all those checkpoints and more.

Maybe players will finally be scared straight

manny_250_050609.jpgBy Jon Lane
Maybe the suspension of Manny Ramirez is the best thing for the Yankees in some twisted, convoluted way. As Peter Abraham notes, the news broke one day before Alex Rodriguez makes his season debut. A lot of the heat is off of A-Rod – for now – and this topic is expected to share space with life as a sub-.500 team in the Yankees clubhouse before tonight’s game.

Ramirez said in a statement that he saw a physician for a personal health issue who gave him a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay. Multiple reports have stated that it’s an agent “customarily used for performance enhancing” and neither a steroid nor human growth hormone. Too many players are pointing fingers and not accepting blame. If you’re given a prescription for an unknown drug, or visit your local GMC for some strange supplement, why on earth do you assume – especially in this day and age – that it’s perfectly okay? What’s so hard about seeing your team physician and taking it up with the office of Major League Baseball to receive a second and third opinion?

Manny being Manny just took itself to an entirely different level, writes Chris Shearn.

Baseball’s new drug policy can improve, but it’s good and it’s tough. Phillies reliever J.C. Romero was given the benefit of the doubt when MLB never said he tried to cheat, yet he was ruled guilty of “negligence” and issued Strike 1. Here’s hoping players are finally scared straight into taking more responsibility for what they put in their bodies. A little accountability helps too. A-Rod’s explanation may have been shady, but he manned up and said, “I did it” without any excuse.

As far as the Dodgers, 21-8, off to their best 29-game start since 1983 and owners of a new record for consecutive home wins to begin a season (13), it’ll be easy to write them off. Don’t even think about it, third base coach Larry Bowa told Colin Cowherd today on ESPN Radio. Bowa looks at this as a challenge to his young players tired of hearing the Dodgers are winning because of Manny. Joe Torre’s Dodgers feature rising stars Andre Either and Matt Kemp in the outfield, and James Loney at first base. Veteran Juan Pierre slides into Ramirez’s spot in left field. Chad Billingsley (5-0, 2.21 ERA) anchors a rotation with promise (Clayton Kershaw), veteran stability (Randy Wolf) and supported by a lockdown closer (Jonathan Broxton).

And don’t forget the Torre effect. He’s the right guy to handle this crisis. Anyone who’s followed the Yankees since 1996 knows how Torre cemented his reputation.

“It’s time for some of our young kids to grow up now,” Bowa said.
 
3:03 p.m.
Two sources told ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada that the drug used by Ramirez is HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a women’s fertility drug typically used by steroid users to restart their body’s natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle. It is, reports the duo, similar to Clomid, the drug Bonds, Giambi and others used as clients of BALCO.Yahoo! Health explains that HCG is used to cause ovulation and to treat infertility in women, and to increase sperm count in men.

The operative words are “steroid cycle.”

“It’s not infrequently part of the mix of the poly-drug approach to doping,” Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency, told The Associated Press. “It typically is used most when people are coming off a cycle to restore to normal biophysiological feedback mechanisms.”

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At least until first pitch, most of the focus is off another terrible loss from the Yankees and how they did nothing against Andy Sonnanstine, off whom opponents were hitting .366 and owned a 1-3 record with a 6.75 ERA. Blame the bullpen all you want; Phil Coke made one bad pitch, and Edwar Ramirez and Jonathan Albaladejo did their jobs. Second-guess Joe Girardi about not sending Mariano Rivera out for the 10th inning. But this is a problem which becomes more insidious with every loss: The Yankees went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and are 4-for-32 (.125) during their four-game losing streak. This team has showed little fire and passion, along with the obvious knack of failing in the clutch, but you have to love the mettle A.J. Burnett showed after the game.

“When it clicks, it will be ridiculous,” Burnett said. “When it clicks, it will be fun to watch.”

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REACTION TO RAMIREZ SUSPENSION
Derek Jeter

“I’m still surprised. It’s not like you assume everybody’s doing it so you’re still surprised when you hear about it.
 
“It doesn’t look good. It seems like it’s a never-ending thing. That’s what it seems like as of late. So you want to put it behind you and then you have something like this come up.”
 
Mark Teixeira
“I don’t like to give too much reaction until more details are out there. It’s just disappointing that it happened.
 
“I can only speak for myself. There’s no resentment because I can sleep really good at night and at the end of my career I can look my kids in the eyes and say I [kept clean].
 
“IWe’ve done a lot. Ever since 2004, I’ve been at the union meetings talking about what we can do. It’s almost every year like we try to test more and have it more strict. That’s the only thing we can do.”
 
Joe Girardi
“I don’t have all the specifics and I don’t know if we’ll ever get all the specifics. But the commissioner has vowed to crack down. The rules are very stringent and we’re seen another guy suspended 50 games.”
 
Johnny Damon
“I’m just surprised somewhat but everything that comes out with baseball it seems like it’s mostly negative stories and unfortunately, Manny’s one of them, a former teammate of mine and it’s disappointing to hear.

“This game has been able to withstand the test of time and this game has been able to I believe thrive so far this year. This is another black cloud and hopefully we can weed all this stuff out of the game in the upcoming years. Unfortunately, some very good baseball players have to go down with it.
 
“I think Manny’s going to be the one that can answer that the best. That’s all I have to say about that, I don’t know. These guys want to be the best and to us they did look like the best and now they’re paying for it.”

Death By Bullpen

melancon_250_050609.jpgBy Glenn Giangrande
I just can’t take it anymore. The Yankees bullpen is like a train wreck that I DON’T want to watch.

In defense of Joe Girardi, he was dealt a tough hand when he lost Brian Bruney to the disabled list and Damaso Marte apparently was pitching hurt. That being said, about half the active ‘pen at minimum is downright unreliable right now. Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Jonathan Albaladejo can’t be trusted in big situations, but they also can’t be counted on to keep games close when the Yankees are down. Girardi also doesn’t seem to trust David Robertson much, and I can’t imagine Mark Melancon helped himself by walking the bases loaded in the ninth against Boston Tuesday night. Aside from Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera, it’s ugly out there.

So where on the planet is there to turn? For starters, Alfredo Aceves and his career .228 BAA deserve a chance to pitch some meaningful late innings. I’m not counting on Chien-Ming Wang’s return, so I’ll leave Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the equation for now. Casey Fossum was signed to a Minor League deal after being cut loose by the Mets, a team that like the Yankees are dealing with a bullpen in dire straits. I guess Fossum is no worse than the current options, but anyone out there think he’s a real solution to the problem? Is there even an realistic external solution to be had? It’s too early to talk trade, not that the relief market is going to be any better than usual, and Fossum is clearly the best the Yankees could do via free agency.

On a brighter note, did anyone out there catch Family Guy this past Sunday? I was dying. Lauren Conrad-Bill Cosby sex tape, Mr. Magoo driving with Lindsay Lohan … there was some tremendous stuff. If you want your mind taken off the Yankees’ relievers, check it out on your preferred Internet TV portal of choice. 

By the (ugly) numbers

By Jon Lane
The Yankees are 9-8. In five of those losses they’ve allowed at least 10 runs and have been outscored 73-27.

On Wednesday, the Yankees played baseball for four hours and 57 minutes covering 14 innings. Saturday, it took 4:21 to complete the sixth-longest nine-inning game in Major League history.

Think the bullpen is tattered and torn? Brian Bruney is on the disabled list and there are big problems with everyone not named Mariano Rivera. Jonathan Albaladejo,
Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras have a combined
ERA of 7.08. Marte has been a disaster and there’s no middle ground with Ramirez or Veras. Both are either real good or flat-out unwatchable. (No, Joba Chamberlain is not being moved to the bullpen.)

The past two losses have been galling. Rivera blew a two-run lead in the ninth on Friday and A.J. Burnett a 6-0 advantage yesterday, a game that required 385 pitches, 28 hits, two errors, 15 walks, a catcher’s interference and two hit batters in those four hours and 21 minutes.

What hasn’t changed is the Yankees’ biggest problem offensively last season, delivering with runners on base. Saturday they slugged 15 hits but left 12 men on base and are a combined 7-for-36 with runners in scoring position in the series.

The Rays are 7-11. The Angels, 6-11. The Indians, 6-12. The Mets, 8-9. The Cubs, 8-8. Moral of the story: seasons do not end in April and none of those teams’ managers are on the hot seat. The Red Sox have won nine in a row, yet are one game behind first-place Toronto with the Yankees three behind the pace.

Enjoy your Sunday.

When 50 grown men became five years old

stadium3_450.jpgBy Jon Lane
We were let in at 11:55 a.m. For many of us, it was our first eyewitness account of the new Yankees clubhouse. My first glance is best summed up by a radio friend of mine who muttered, “Joe Girardi will need a megaphone to hold team meetings.”

I then turned to my left and saw Nick Swisher; his locker next to the main entrance. I heard a lot about Swisher’s glowing, infectious personality from my YES colleagues and saw it as the perfect time to introduce myself. After a handshake, all I needed to do was move my eyes from right to left. He picked up on what I was about to ask.

“I tell you, this is UN-BE-LEAVE-A-BLE!” Swisher said. “Last night when we got off the bus to come here, 50 grown men became five years old. I didn’t think they could top the last Yankee Stadium. They did that.”

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Phil Coke was one of many who passed on an immediate trip home after living in Florida for seven weeks, not wanting to wait any longer for a look at his new home away from home. “We were drooling when we first got here,” he said. “I’m still wiping it off.” Coke’s locker neighbor, Brian Bruney, then cut in with an important question.

“How does this computer work?” inquired Mariano Rivera’s primary set-up man. Each locker is affixed with a lap top kiosk with an internet connection and individual message centers used to relay information on team meetings, workouts, batting practice, or if the manager wishes to speak to you. Behind the machine, Coke unveiled a cubby hole that resembled a place to put a hot plate, but better used for vast storage.

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For an instant, Bruney wore a glum look on his face. After Saturday, the Yankees won’t be here until April 16 as their first nine games are on the road.

“It’s gonna suck for us to go on the road,” Bruney said, noting his belief that the new Stadium is “the best sports venue in the country.”

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The 2009 season will be Andy Pettitte’s 15th in Major League Baseball. You may think he’s seen it all, until you hear about his adventures just getting to the new place. Because he was sitting in traffic, a few people noticed him, which left the left-hander wondering to inquire about the legality of tinted windows.

“That was awkward,” said Pettitte on sitting his car on River Avenue waiting to make a left. For the first time ever, he was right under the No. 4 train. “The subway goes by, rocks are falling on my car. They have all cars parked on the side of the road and all commercial vehicles are delivering stuff in the morning. Literally the only way to get by them is to go into oncoming traffic, and they’re backed up at the red light. People were honking.”

Once he finally made it inside, Pettitte admitted getting used to his new surroundings will take some time. However, he already has his favorite spot staked out.

“I’m a big whirlpool guy,” Pettitte said. “There are unbelievable facilities to help keep the old body loose!”

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A couple of pitchers, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte, told Joe Girardi they felt the mound was a bit closer to the fans. Pettite said it felt like they took the old mound from Yankee Stadium and just brought it over and it might feel even closer once those seats are filled up.

“It looks beautiful,” Girardi said. “To hear our pitchers feel they’ve been on the mound already when they haven’t been there is a good sign.”

One reporter compared exploring the new surroundings to the anticipation of the old game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” when contestants would learn what’s hidden behind certain doors. The first door Girardi opened was …

…”the kitchen. That was the first door I opened to get to the clubhouse. I love to eat. It’s my passion in life.”

Girardi will have his chances. The Yankees have employed two chefs to cook and serve Yankees players and coaches.

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Derek Jeter was not among the group who visited here last night. In fact, before working out, he hadn’t seen the place, period.

“I walked in, came in the trainers’ room and been sitting here and you guys blocked off the whole view, so I can’t tell you how the clubhouse is,” Jeter said.

This morning, the team bus dropped them off and the players entered the clubhouse through a secret passageway. Freddy Schuman, known to longtime Yankees fans as “Freddy Sez” who carried a pot and teaspoon around the stands of the old Stadium, told me at the Hard Rock that fans won’t be able to see players come in and out of the new Stadium, unlike the old place where a crowd would wait behind a barricade as their favorites entered through a press gate.

Jeter will miss that interaction, but that’s not all. At the old place, his locker was next to Thurman Munson’s, which was left empty after the former captain’s death in 1979.

“You miss it but you appreciate it,” Jeter said. “It was special for me to be next to his locker.”

He’ll also miss Bob Sheppard, who hasn’t officially announced his retirement, yet chances of him appearing in the new building are slim. Jeter, though, will continue to step into the batter’s box to the backdrop of Sheppard’s recorded introduction.

“When I grew up, that was the one voice you always heard,” Jeter said. “That comes along with Yankee Stadium. People talk about tradition. He’s a part of that tradition as any of the players. I wanted to be introduced by him because that’s the only person I’ve ever known. I wanted to have it recorded just in case there was one day he decided to retire. He will always announce it.”

Jeter first heard Sheppard’s voice in person in 1986. A kid from Michigan, Jeter spent his summers in New Jersey and his grandmother took him to his first game. The only thing he remembered was that everything was big, but not as big as when he appeared on the field and worked out with Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Mike Gallego and Pat Kelly five years later, after completing rookie ball.

“For me growing up watching all these guys play, like Mattingly, and then being on the same field with him, it was kind of weird,” Jeter said. “Dave [Winfield] was the guy I looked up to growing up and when you get to meet him and all of the guys, you really get spoiled.”

Inevitably, the dismantling of the old Yankee Stadium will begin, first with the removal of the seats before the city takes apart the venerable building piece by piece. Like the rest of us, that’s something Jeter will never be able to let go.

“That will definitely be tough, especially when you think about all the things that’s happened there,” Jeter said. “It’s one thing to get adjusted to a new Stadium, but when you see the old one getting torn down, I’m sure it will be … what can you do? This is the good and that’s part of the bad, seeing that Stadium go.”

Pen looks good, but far from complete

bruney_250_022309.jpgBy 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.