Game 13: ARI vs. NYY — Comeback to win

Two outs already notched on the board in the 7th inning, the Diamondbacks up 3-0, 2 Yankees on base due to an earlier single and double, and Nunez walks to load the bases. Then the pitcher walks Jayson Nix to walk in a run. A rather lousy way to get on the scoreboard, but when you’re down 3-0, you’ll take whatever you’re given. Back to the top of the batting order as Brett Gardner steps up to the plate. On a 2-2 count, he bloops a single into shallow left field and proceeds to see 2 runners tagging home plate to tie up the game at 3-3.

CC Sabathia comes in for the 8th inning. After a rough 31-pitch 1st inning (including a 2-run homer), Sabathia seemed to find his stride throwing shorter innings and keeping his total pitch count to 108 (77 were strikes), saving the bullpen for tonight except for closer Mariano Rivera who pitched a 17 pitch 9th inning for a quick 3 outs to keep tonight’s win at 4-3. (For all those doing the pitch count thing for Rivera’s innings, my number is always 17, so I guess I win tonight. Now can someone tell me what exactly I win?)

But what put the Yankees firmly in the lead was the 8th inning pinch hitter Travis Hafner. On the first pitch he saw tonight (a 96 mph fastball, I might add), he bombed it right out to right-center field, right into Section 103 (or right next to the bullpen for those not familiar with Yankee Stadium). Hafner continues to prove himself worthy of a Yankees uniform. His bat is certainly making up for any “lost power” that the critics seem so easy to remind everyone. And yet, looking across the league, our “replacements” seem to be out-playing most of the “lost power” (at least the ones traded or released). Yet another reason why all these predictions and assumptions pre-season and early in the season are total hogwash. Too many human factors can just blow all those statistical print-outs right out of the water.

Speaking of human factors, there have been a few injury update reports…

Mark Teixeira is now cleared to start baseball activities and was swinging a bat underwater yesterday and took some dry swings today from both sides of the plate (remember, he’s a switch hitter). He’s hoping to take batting practice with the team when they travel to Toronto this weekend before heading back to Tampa next Monday with the team to finish his rehab. As of now, they’re projecting a May return. I suppose an exact date will be determined once he begins his Tampa rehab, and they can gauge exactly how far he still has to go before he’s an everyday player again.

Derek Jeter is consistently working out in Tampa, running, fielding, batting, hitting, etc. The date of May 1st will come and go, but like Girardi said earlier this week, “[Jeter will] be ready when he’s ready.” They don’t want to make a promise of a date that they’re not sure is reasonable for his recovery. Like I’ve said before, I think we’d all rather have him ease back in slowly to the roster than rush him back and then risk losing him when we really need him in September-October.

Curtis Granderson has been busy being an ambassador for his Grand Kids Foundation, including honoring Jackie Robinson Day by meeting with a New York high school and taking them to see a special screening of 42. This high school was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and Granderson’s organization (and others) helped rebuild their sports field, getting the teams back their home field advantage. Oh, and in between all his special events, he’s been rehabbing in Tampa and will continue to do so until his projected early May return.

We wish them a continued get well soon! And we continue our support and prayers for Boston.

Go Yankees!

Game 11: BAL vs. NYY — Excellence at work

Tonight’s 3-0 shut-out win against Baltimore was all about Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda threw 113 pitches through all 9 innings, allowing only 5 hits and striking out 5 batters. He really threw just a solid outstanding game, something you normally don’t see until much later in the season, hitting the momentum and keeping the game tight and strong.

It was in the 5th inning that the Yankees scored all three of their runs. The first one was due to a Jayson Nix sacrifice fly to score Brennan Boesch. The final two were a 2-out 2-run home run by Brett Gardner, also scoring Francisco Cervelli. On the defensive side, in the 8th inning, there was a rather fun 6-4-3 double play, a quick flip by Nix to Robinson Cano who almost Jeter-esque stepping on 2nd, tossed it over to a waiting Lyle Overbay at 1st.

And while there is no wins if no one scores, tonight just really belongs to Kuroda. The first Yankee pitcher of the season to go an entire game and was impressive throughout. And if I think back even to his time in Spring Training, Kuroda always turned in an excellent performance, no matter what the game was. I know some people slough off the spring games as no big deal because they don’t count for anything, but at least for Kuroda, it seemed as if he was always on his A-game, regardless of what game was being played and who his opponent was — an example truly for all the players, especially those trying to make their way to the regular roster.

Perhaps that is the true necessity of the veteran, “experienced” players on the team, to be a great example of excellence to the younger players. I was talking with a friend tonight during the game about the hype around some young players around the league, and while they are very good in some (often flashier) ways, they still lack the polish, the instinct, the heart that comes with “experience” of time, repetition, and determination. The younger players may do something amazing, they may even end up in Cooperstown in 20-odd years, but they aren’t there yet. And the advantage of being on a team full of classy, excellent, well-seasoned players is the first-hand learning experience for the younger, often unpolished players.

And for that, I’m excited for the Yankees this year. While critics seem to almost romanticize what they see as the aged fall of the dynasty, I see as the greatest opportunity to pass on the continued legacy that is the New York Yankees. Perhaps I am romanticizing a bit now, but I’d rather wax poetically about something positive, holding out for all possibilities, instead of dooming everything to some abyss of infinite impossibilities. I like that so much is still possible, and it always is. Hope isn’t foolishness or naivety because I’ve seen the supposedly crumbling Yankees do the impossible for so long, and I expect nothing less from a team full of “experienced” players and those that hope to be one day.

Go Yankees!

Game 3: BOS vs. NYY — A win is a win is a win

The cold may be around for a while, but the Yankees sure showed up tonight and won the game 4-2. I must begin with starting pitcher and legend Andy Pettitte, who began his first 2013 start with his usual elegance. He went a full 8 innings, only giving up 1 run, an RBI double in the 7th inning. He seemed to have fun spraying his pitches all over the plate and getting batters to hit at nothing for those ground outs and fly outs — in other words, a return to Andy-style in the Bronx. And tonight, he had a great team backing him up and making those outs.

In the 1st inning, a pitch got away from tonight’s catcher Francisco Cervelli, who went to retrieve it and had to hustle back because the runner (who started the play at 2nd) got greedy and thought he could steal home. Cervelli wasn’t about to let that happen and promptly kept Boston at bay. The Yankees also racked up 3 double plays. The defense was alive and kicking tonight.

As far as the offense goes, the bats were present tonight (actually, both teams each got 8 hits). In the 2nd inning, a Hafner single and a Nunez ground-rule double set the stage for Lyle Overbay’s 2-RBI single to put the Yankees on the board. And then, in the 3rd inning, Brett Gardner takes a swing at the 1st pitch and hits it into the right field first row for a solo home run. It is now 3-0. Going into the bottom of the 7th inning, the score is 3-1, when Cervelli steps in to hit the ball into left center field (into the Red Sox bullpen) for another solo home run.

Mariano Rivera steps into the 9th inning to save the 69th Andy Pettitte-Mariano Rivera match-up game. He was a bit uneven tonight, allowing a walk, a hit, and a run, but ultimately he closed the game on that wonderful strike-out looking, ending the game at 4-2.

All in all, it was still nice to see a win. And more importantly, it was nice to see the Yankees again. Perhaps it was the veteran presence and command on the mound or maybe some behind-the-scenes pep talk. Perhaps, we’ll never know why it finally clicked, but it was like finally exhaling after holding one’s breath for so long, even without realizing it. And it worked. Home runs from non-home run hitters, in the frigid cold no less. But a win is a win is a win.

And now, it’s off to Detroit and more cold, but for now and tonight, the Yankees can breathe and smile. A job well done, team.

Go Yankees!

Developing the 25

First of all, a very Happy Easter to everyone! It’s only right (at least in my mind) that baseball season should start the day after a holiday celebrating new life and spring time.

Rosters have been submitted for Opening Day, which means that the 83 men who showed up back in February have now been whittled down to the select 25. Regular roster members that will begin the 15-day Disabled List are starting pitcher Phil Hughes (back), infielders Derek Jeter (ankle) and Mark Teixeira (arm), and outfielder Curtis Granderson (arm). All of these guys are estimated to see official play time end of April or May. Previously placed on the 60-day DL are pitchers Cesar Cabral and Michael Pineda and infielder Alex Rodriguez.

That being said, that leaves 25 spots to fill. So the starting rotation is CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, and David Phelps. Manning the bullpen this year then are pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Adam Warren, and closer Mariano Rivera. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are slotted in the catcher’s role. The bench is filled with infielders Robinson Cano, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Youkilis and outfielders Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Vernon Wells.

To make room for Overbay, the Yankees designated pitcher Clay Rapada for assignment. In other words, another one bites the dust.

And that got me thinking again. I was reading a book recently about the development of specialized players. Its unfortunate side effect is that it actually weakens a player. They specialize in one particular area, so they never end up working on and strengthening all these other areas of a player and actually develop into a weaker player. So when the team needs someone who can, for example, pitch more than a handful of pitches every few days to get some solid return on their investment, they can’t depend on someone so specialized that they don’t have the stamina and longevity to do that job.

Perhaps there’s an overall life lesson in that after all. If we focus too much on strengthening one area (like work), we can actually weaken another area (like family). Of course, we can’t do everything perfectly all the time at the same time. But there is a lot to be said for finding a balance and exerting excellence in every aspect as you come across it, not neglecting all else to focus in on one part.

And maybe in baseball (at least on the Yankees), we’re shifting from specialized players to a team of well-rounded ability and skill players. Similar to previous championship teams, the Yankees may have developed a 25-man (or 40, really) roster that can work as a team, without focusing on the individual needs and whims of the superstars or divas-in-training. Of course, where we land somewhere in August may have a completely different look or feel. But for now and today, before Sabathia throws the first pitch of the season tomorrow afternoon, there is such hope and dreams for another championship team and that 28th ring.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 28: NYY vs. MIN — Away with a win and flexibility

In what seemed like another messy game, the Yankees were able to pull things together and win today’s away game against the Twins 9-7. A high-hitting game (Yankees 14 – Twins 11), the Yankees also made 3 fielding errors, something that is becoming a common theme recently and something I’m guessing needs a little polish before Opening Day.

Ivan Nova started the game today with some trouble, going 5 innings, allowing 7 hits and 5 runs (2 were home runs), and striking out 3 batters. Fortunately, Nova looked to a stronger offense to help even the score, and the Yankees roster nearly matched the Twins’ starting pitcher’s stats at the end of the 5th inning, trailing 5-4. This was in part due to DH Robinson Cano’s 1st inning RBI sac-fly and 3rd inning RBI-double to score Corban Joseph who had just RBI-tripled. Actually, the Twins were giving RBIs out like candy to the Yankees — Cano, Joseph, Melky Mesa, Juan Rivera, Chris Stewart, and two to Ronnier Mustelier (on 2 outs).

In fact, Corban Joseph found several opportunities to make a dent, including a double and some decent fielding at 2nd base all 9 innings today. His skills at 2nd and behind the plate aren’t going unnoticed, but with a strong Cano cemented there, Joseph may have to find a home elsewhere on the diamond if he wants to play in pinstripes permanently in the next few years. That is all based on the supposition that Cano will re-sign with the Yankees before some other team snatches up what will be the hottest free agent come this winter.

And that got me thinking once again about the guys in the minors who are looking for a permanent home (like Joseph). I think we spend so much time talking about the holes on the team, like we find due to recent injuries (Teixeira, Granderson, and Jeter), but we forget that some of the spots we don’t need are more than amply covered by soon-to-be stars. And perhaps that is part of the issue with today’s players. Have we gotten so specialized in the training that a particular position player can never play another position?

For example, I noticed that Girardi is playing Addison Maruszak now in the outfield, but technically, he is listed as an infielder. (I should note that he seems happy to perform at his best no matter what position he is on the field.) To me, this says he is willing to play wherever they want him to play rather than stand his ground at a particular place.

Look, I understand being totally comfortable with one position over another. But I don’t think that can lead to longevity, or for that matter availability and value to your club for any length of time. I like that they are playing Kevin Youkilis, for example, at both corners and that Jayson Nix can perform well at any place at all on the infield. I like that Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki can be in left and right fields (respectively) on Monday and then on Tuesday be at center and left fields (respectively).

Of course, I don’t see much flexibility with some positions like catcher or pitcher (except for maybe starter or bullpen). But especially at a younger age, while they’re still trying to make it to the Show, players should be more adept to adapting to a similar position (the outfield, the corner infields, and the center infields) no matter which one they may prefer. Because then when you get hired at the big league level, you can stake your claim over, say, 2nd base because that’s where you play best.

And besides, who knows if you don’t find out how happy you could be in right field when all you’ve ever determined to play is 1st base? And you can make easy and great cover when the 1st baseman gets injured unexpectedly. Right, Nick Swisher?

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: BOS vs. NYY — No rain on this semi-rivalry

In today’s two hour and seventeen minute game, the Yankees effectively shut-out the Red Sox in the 2nd inning, scoring all 4 of their total runs today off of only 5 hits. Overcast and calling for rain that never appeared, the air was thick and really put a damper on what could have been several home run balls for both teams. I think people forget how much the weather affects the game more than the obvious rain-outs. The cloudy skies kept what could have been another hot day for the fans cooler, surprisingly without being too muggy (which is often the case in semi-sunny Florida).

It was fun to see the Opening Day match-up, but I must say I was a little disappointed in the Red Sox. Usually, to a rivalry game, they are much better competitors, but we were missing some of the “big boys” today like Pedroia, Ortiz (who is still out with a nagging injury), Saltalamacchia, Middlebrooks, and Ellsbury. And while there was a handful of Red Sox fans scattered about the stadium, Yankees fans came out in droves clearly to keep the home fires burning strong for our team. So the rivalry is still there, but it was rather subdued for a game, even if it was only Spring Training.

Vidal Nuno started today’s game strong, keeping the Sox scoreless and only allowing only 2 Boston hits and walking 1 batter. His follow-up bullpen in Robertson, Chamberlain, Spence, Eppley, and Montgomery also kept Boston at bay. But the entire pitching staff was backed by some excellent fielding like the two double plays between Nix, Nunez, and Rivera and various outs all over the field.

But I would say the day belongs to Brett Gardner, even though he went 0-for-3 with a walk at the plate. His defense was on display from the first inning all the way up to this impressive 7th inning catch. His coverage and speed was very much needed today in left field, where it seems Boston was hitting quite a bit of their longer balls.

Derek Jeter, however, continues to lead most people’s conversations of today. Scratched from yesterday’s game following warm-ups, Jeter got a cortisone (anti-inflammatory) shot in his stiff left ankle and is set to be out for a few days to rest up. This is, of course, causing all sorts of jabber about him being out for a while, or possibly on the Disabled List come April 1st, or even the end of his career altogether. But this seems out of character to me. We need to remember that Mariano Rivera wasn’t going to let some ACL tear stop him from going out under his terms, and as Jeter is cut from that same competitive cloth, if it takes 3 days or 3 months, he will be back.

And like Cashman was quoted as saying today, “We’ll have to see how he [Jeter] is responding. Hell, he could come here doing the jig. This guy’s ridiculous.” And it would not surprise me in the least to see that happen. Meanwhile, we continue to wish him a fast, complete healing.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 25: NYY vs. PHI — A scratch and a whole lot of potential

The biggest news of today isn’t the 4-1 loss to the Phillies, but rather Derek Jeter being scratched from today’s lineup following batting practice. Recovery from any injury is always a rough road, so as it hits the inevitable bumps, we wish him quick and perfect health. Jeter is quick to remind everyone that the goal isn’t this Spring, but rather Opening Day in two weeks. And barring continuous stiffness or further injury, he should be ready to set-up camp between 2nd and 3rd bases come April 1st, greet Section 203 with his standard glove flap, and pirouette his way to that tight 6-4-3 double play.

Ichiro Suzuki continued settling into the Florida Spring Training momentum with a nice RBI double to knock in Brett Gardner. Having Gardner back full and healthy is also helping the team. With those two on base early, the power middle of the order with (eventually) Robinson Cano and Kevin Youkilis (and perhaps Granderson and Teixeira when they return from the DL) could easily see some higher scoring potential. Perhaps the power isn’t what needed to be replaced then, but rather it’s where you place the power. For example, loading the bases with Gardner, Jeter, and Suzuki could have great scoring potential when say Cano steps up and even just hits a double. Maybe the home run high-hitters are missing, but the possible runs scored is more alive than ever.

I have been playing with a potential line-up and roster for Opening Day. And while I won’t post it on here, as I feel it would require too much explanation, it’s something to think about. We are missing some key players, and while some analysts argue for one solution or another, we are going to see a varied field than one perhaps we are used to seeing in pinstripes. And isn’t that the point of a team any way — to evolve with the circumstances and time?

I guess we might all like to freeze one team or another for eternity to play the exact same way. Most long-time Yankees fans may talk about 1927’s Murderer’s Row or the 1951 season with DiMaggio’s exit and Mantle’s arrival or the superb 1961 team with the Mantle and Maris 61 home run competition. Or perhaps, more recent fans might prefer the 1996 or 1999 teams with the Core Four on top and Joe Torre at the helm. And while most baseball fans love to reminisce about the “way it used to be” (some Yankees fans can still be heard lamenting the old stadium), the basic fact is that time doesn’t stand still, and as it marches on, the faces on the field and names on the roster are going to change.

We have so many potential pinstripes in Spring Training this year that it gives me hope that with the changing of the guard over the next few short years, we have guys waiting on the farm to step up and fill in and find themselves a permanent home in the clubhouse. So as we see retirements and retired numbers collect over the next few years, let’s get excited for the good seasons we have yet to see come out of the Bronx, starting with this one.

Go Yankees!