New York Yankees: Francisco Cervelli

Postgame notes: Gardner and the record

April, 15, 2013
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Brett Gardner has traded in stolen bases for home runs.

Gardner clubbed his second home run in Sunday's 3-0 win over the Orioles and now has two more home runs that he does steals. The speedster is known for wrecking havoc on the bases, but it's been his power that's done the job thus far.

[+] EnlargeBrett Gardner
Al Bello/Getty ImagesBrett Gardner hit his second home run of the season, giving the Yankees breathing room in the fifth.
The center fielder's two-run shot Sunday gave the Yankees breathing room as they were up 1-0 in the fifth before he careened a ball off the right-field foul pole.

"Nice to be able to come through in a situation like that," Gardner said.

As Gardner's feet have yet to steal a base, failing in both his attempts, it's this rarely-seen power that's instead been on display. Coming into the year, Gardner had just 15 career home runs and had never hit more than seven in a season. This year, he's been able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium's dimensions, pulling both of his homers into the right-field seats.

Sunday, with a man on and two outs, Gardner looked to capitalize if Baltimore's Wei-Yin Chen threw a first-pitch strike. Gardner pulled the first pitch down the line and banged it off the foul pole, helping the Yankees to their fifth win in the past six games. The Yankees are now 15-2 when Gardner homers.

"Obviously I was looking for a good pitch to hit," Gardner said. "He was looking away and he left it in, and I kept it fair."

STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM:
The bottom of the Yankees lineup came through in a big way Sunday as the No. 6-9 hitters, consisting of Brennan Boesch, Francisco Cervelli, Lyle Overbay and Jayson Nix, went 5-for-10 with two runs scored and set in motion the three-run fifth inning.

In a scoreless game in the fifth, Boesch and Cervelli singled to open the inning. Overbay then moved Cervelli to third on a deep fly to right, and Nix gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to right. Gardner then turned on the next pitch and blasted it off the foul pole to put the Yankees up 3-0.

"It's just timely hitting," Overbay said. "Guys got on and we did the little small things that kind of helped out and Gardner ended up kind of sealing the deal."

THE RECORD:
After a 1-4 start, the Yankees have rebounded to win five of their last six. After struggling through the first two series, the Yankees have found a way to get above. 500 as they wait for the reinforcements to arrive.

"I think our guys have done very well and responded very well to a slow start," Girardi said. "We didn't play very well the first five games. At times we didn't hit, at times we didn't pitch. I'm happy with what these guys have done so far with the way they've shown their character and guys have stepped up and done a good job in some people's absence."

Cervelli starts, is off to a good start

April, 1, 2013
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The Yankees were pounded by the Red Sox on Opening Day. But you can't blame Francisco Cervelli for feeling good, despite the defeat.

After spending almost all of 2012 in the minors, Cervelli officially returned to the big leagues on Monday, started behind the plate and drove in the Yankees' only two runs in an 8-2 loss to Boston.

[+] EnlargeFrancisco Cervelli
AP Photo/Matt SlocumFrancisco Cervelli, who spent most of 2012 in the minors, was behind the plate at Yankee Stadium on Monday afternoon.
"I feel happy. It means a lot to me," said Cervelli. "But at the same time, I've gotta keep working. I've gotta keep doing my thing."

The 27-year-old Venezuelan made his major league debut with the Yanks in 2008, and was the team's backup catcher from 2009-11, including appearing in a career-high 93 games in 2010. Cervelli got 266 at-bats that season, and hit .271 with 38 RBIs.

He hit .266 in 43 games and 124 at-bats in 2011. But the Yankees sent him down to Triple-A just prior to the start of the 2012 regular season, choosing instead to go with the duo of Russell Martin and the newly acquired Chris Stewart behind the plate. Cervelli still had minor league options, so he was the odd man out.

The Yankees finally recalled Cervelli last September, but he appeared in just three games and had one at-bat.

When Martin signed with the Pirates in the offseason, the door re-opened in the Bronx. Manager Joe Girardi said before Monday's season opener that he plans to split the catching duties pretty evenly between Cervelli and Stewart to start the year. Cervelli got the nod on Opening Day, and rewarded his skipper with a clutch two-out single in the fourth inning, bringing home Kevin Youkilis and and Vernon Wells and cutting the Yankees' deficit to 4-2.

Cervelli finished 1-for-3 with a walk. The game ended in disappointing fashion, but Cervelli is fired up for what lies ahead.

"Any time the manager needs me," he said, "I will be there."

Cervelli catching on

March, 12, 2013
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The question seemed like a dumb on as soon as it left my mouth.

"So," I asked Joe Girardi after the Yankees' 3-1 win over the Rays on Tuesday, "is it safe to assume Cervelli will make the ballclub?"

"That's fair to say," the manager muttered, before adding, "We'll see."

Considering what happened to Francisco Cervelli last spring, when he seemed to have played well enough to nail down the backup catcher's spot behind Russell Martin only to have the rug yanked out from under him on the last day of camp with the arrival of Chris Stewart, it's really not a dumb question at all.

Cervelli's not hitting much, just .227, but defensively he is having a terrific spring and, judging by the criteria Girardi said he's looking for in his everyday catcher, should be way ahead of Stewart in the competition. Cervelli has thrown out five of seven base-stealers, and although he did not get credited with a caught-stealing Tuesday, he threw out two runners trying to advance to second on balls that bounced away from him, which were key plays in getting starter Ivan Nova out of jams.

Cervelli also had a single that started the Yankees' three-run eighth-inning rally.

"He's worked really hard," Girardi said. "His blocking the baseball was outstanding today, and coming up and making those two throws. And he didn't try to do too much, put the ball right on the bag, so that's good. I've liked what he's done so far."

With Austin Romine being optioned to Triple-A Scranton on Monday, it would seem Cervelli has nothing to worry about this season, although Bobby Wilson is still here and had a two-run single that wound up being the game-winning hit Tuesday.

"I'm going to be happy when I see my name on the first game, but I'm not thinking about that," Cervelli said. "It's different because of what happened last year; my expectations are a little lower now. I just come every day, play, work and that's it. Let them decide what's going to happen. I know I can do the job, but I'm just ready for anything."

QUESTION: Do you think the Yankees can win with Cervelli as their everyday catcher?

MLBPA head: $189 million? Yeah, right

February, 27, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Add Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, to the list of those who are skeptical of Hal Steinbrenner's edict to cut the Yankees' payroll to $189 million by 2014.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Weiner said after meeting with the Yankees in their clubhouse Wednesday morning.

It would benefit Weiner for Steinbrenner to rescind the order, and as ESPNNewYork.com reported last week, the Baby Boss might be backing off already.

Weiner reiterated many of the points I made in the story last week, especially the fact that the Yankees are unlikely to reap the financial benefits they expected from getting below the luxury tax threshold for 2014. But even if the Yankees go through with their plan to cut payroll, it would be for only one season, which would reduce their luxury tax rate from 50 percent all the way down to 17.5 percent.

"If the Yankees decide to drop their payroll to do that, I'm not concerned, because they'll put themselves in position to greatly increase their payroll the next year," Weiner said. "And we'll see. The Yankees are the Yankees, and I'm sure it will depend on a number of factors. I'm really not overly concerned."

He said part of his address to the players concerned the Biogenesis scandal, and revealed that members of his staff had met with Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli, two Yankees whose names have appeared in the records of the "anti-aging clinic" being investigated by Major League Baseball as a possible source of performance-enhancing drugs.

Weiner declined to give any specifics about what the union told A-Rod and Cervelli, other than to say, "We are expeditiously meeting with any player whose name has surfaced to see whether there is anything there. MLB will have its opportunity to investigate these people, and if more names come out, we'll follow that, as well."

Morning Notes: Mo, Cervelli and Phelps

February, 14, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Not much happened in the morning session at Yankees camp, but here are the highlights:

1. MO: NOT YET On Tuesday, Mariano Rivera opened the door to being asked every day if he was ready to announce his plans, so of course I walked through it when I saw him this morning. "Is today the day?," I asked him. "Not today," he said. "I'll let you know." We'll have an update tomorrow.

2. CERVELLI CLARIFIES: Francisco Cervelli seemed to contradict himself yesterday when he said he left Anthony Bosch's Biogenesis clinic "without nothing in my hand," after having previously Tweeted that he bought some legal supplements. So I revisited him this morning and he said the Tweet had been poorly worded, that he had bought some legal supplements to help rehab his broken foot, but not from Biogenesis. Would not say, however, what he bought or from whom.

3. PHELPS' NUMBER IS UP: David Phelps, in a competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with Ivan Nova, came to camp yesterday to see he had been assigned No. 35, but when he arrived this morning discovered he had been re-assigned No. 41, the number he wore last season. "Nobody told me anything," he said. "I just assume Michael (Pineda) wanted it back." Told 41 was a better pitcher's number anyway, Phelps said "Seaver over Mussina, huh? Both pretty good to me." Smart kid.

4. PEN PALS: David Robertson and Dellin Betances will throw their first bullpens this morning, and Nova and Joba Chamberlain will throw side sessions. CC Sabathia, who had said he would throw a bullpen today, was not on the list. We'll try to find out why when the clubhouse re-opens later.

OVER/UNDER: Does Mo reveal his plan before or after, say, March 1?

State of the Binder, Day Two

February, 13, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Here are some highlights from Joe Girardi's brief (9 minutes) media briefing today:

MO CAN SHAG: Only not in Kansas City. Girardi had his little joke but then said Mariano Rivera, who tore up his knee chasing batting practice flies in KC last May, can go back to shagging this year if he likes. "That’s part of who he is. That’s part of his game that has made him great. It’s his time to relax, have fun and prepare for the day, so I don’t want to take that away from him.”

NO ROAD TRIPS: The manager said Mariano, who rarely makes spring training road trips, would not make any this spring despite a slightly-heavier workload to rehab his knee. "I busted his chops about it. I said, ‘We’re going to be gone two days March 7-8 in Jupiter); what are you going to do?’ I’m sure he’ll have it strategically planned that neither one of those days are his throw days.”

EXPECT MO-MENTUM: “I don’t think that Mo is going to be any different than he would have been if he didn’t have the injury. What he was going to be in 2013 if he played 2012 is what we’re going to get in 2013. I don’t think his knee injury is going to hinder his ability or who he is.”

THE DAILY CERVELLI: Girardi said he doesn't think the Biogenesis affair is distracting Cervelli, but "I’ll watch as we start to play games and we go through all this in spring training. If I feel he’s distracted, I’ll say something to him, but I watched him go about his work today and he seemed pretty good to me.”

Report: Cervelli's name on clinic's list

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
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Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli’s name appears in the records of the Miami clinic suspected of supplying performance-enhancing drugs to major league baseball players, according to a Yahoo! Sports report.

Cervelli and former National League MVP Ryan Braun, who tested positive for PEDs following the 2011 season, are the latest major leaguers whose names have surfaced in connection with the Biogenesis clinic, run by Anthony Bosch, that is currently under investigation by Major League Baseball.

Neither Cervelli’s nor Braun’s name are alongside any written reference to any specific PED. Last week, the New Times, a Miami-based weekly, published an investigative story that reproduced pages of Biogenesis records in which Rodriguez’s name appeared alongside notations for HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Through a spokesman, Rodriguez denied any relationship with Bosch and challenged the legitimacy of the records. He also denied an ESPN.com story by T.J. Quinn and Mike Fish that quoted sources as saying Bosch had injected Rodriguez with PEDs at his home in Miami.

The Yankees have refused to comment on the matter pending the outcome of MLB’s investigation, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment about Cervelli’s alleged involvement in the case.

Cervelli, a career .271 hitter with five home runs in parts of three big-league seasons, spent most of last season in the minor leagues but is expected to compete for the Yankees starting catcher’s job at spring training beginning Feb. 17.

UPDATE: Cervelli tweeted his response to the Yahoo! report, saying:

Countdown: 17 days to spring training

January, 26, 2013
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We continue our march to February 12, the day pitchers and catchers report to Yankees spring training camp in Tampa. Each day between now and then, Andrew Marchand, Mark Simon and I will present a list of specific issues facing the Yankees this season.

Today, we look at the three-headed monster known as Stew Rominelii. The team is counting on him to replace Russell Martin behind the plate.


FIVE REASONS WHY THE YANKEES WILL BE OK WITH A COMMITTEE OF CATCHERS

1. RUSSELL MARTIN LIVED BELOW THE MENDOZA-LINE IN 2012
In case you've forgotten, or had your memory blurred by his decent September, the Yankees starting catcher did not get his batting average above .200 for good until Sept. 5, in the 136th game of the season. By contrast, Chris Stewart was up to .269 by mid-August, in admittedly a much smaller sample size. But the guy's never had more than 162 ABs in a season. Let's see what he can do if given a full slate of plate appearances. And while Francisco Cervelli may not have much pop in his bat, he put up a more-than-respectable .271 BA and .359 OBP in 93 games in 2010.

2. THERE AREN'T MANY YOGI BERRAS OUT THERE
Or Jorge Posadas, for that matter. Yankee fans have been extremely lucky to often have an offensive force behind the plate, but traditionally, teams look for a defensive minded-catcher. Any hitting they get out of the position is considered a bonus. Martin was a very good defensive catcher and so is Stewart. Cervelli works hard back there and has a good arm but his footwork needs improvement. Austin Romine, who has yet to play an entire season of AAA ball due to a back injury last year, must be considered a longshot in this race. He comes with the reputation of a solid defensive catcher and a so-so bat. All three fit the mold favored by Joe Girardi, who in case you have forgotten was a pretty good with the glove, not so hot with the bat.

3. THERE HAD TO BE A REASON WHY CC SABATHIA DIDN'T THROW TO MARTIN FOR MOST OF THE SEASON
Despite all the denials, you've got to figure there was more to Girardi's decision to separate his ace from his No. 1 catcher from April to September. It's possible, that in spite of his athleticism and quickness pouncing on balls hit in front of the plate, there was something about the way Martin called a game, or handled his pitchers, that didn't sit right with Sabathia. (Some Yankee pitchers haven't been crazy about Cervelli's "enthusiasm,'' either. Freddy Garcia once said, "The catcher needs to calm down out there.'') Stewart is a steady hand back there who the pitchers, especially, the No. 1 guy, seem to trust.

4. IT'S A YOUNG MAN'S GAME
Although Martin is a year younger than Stewart, it always felt as if his body was on the verge of giving out, especially late in the season. He played hard all the time and it seemed to wear on him down the stretch. And certainly his history -- missing a big chunk of the 2010 season after a hip injury with L.A., after which he has never been the same hitter -- must have factored into the Yankees decision not offer Martin a long-term deal.

5. GARY SANCHEZ MIGHT ONLY BE A YEAR OR TWO AWAY
And if you buy the hype, the next Posada -- or even Berra -- is right around the corner.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think the Yankees can survive the season with the committee of Chris, Fran and (maybe) Austin behind the plate? Or should Brian Cashman be looking for help?

How would a team of '25 Cervellis' do?

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
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Francisco CervelliUSA TODAY Sports, AP PhotoSo Butch Wynegar would like to have 25 Francisco Cervellis on his team. We decided to have some fun and crunch the numbers.
So Yankees Triple-A hitting coach (and former Bronx Bombers catcher) Butch Wynegar says he would take a roster full of Francisco Cervellis on his team any time. "I wish I had 25 Cervellis," Wynegar said of the Yankees' potential starting catcher for 2013.

We can’t necessarily tell you how a roster full of Cervellis would do -- he's not a pitcher, after all. But we can tell you how a lineup of Cervellis would fare at the major league level.

A few decades ago, the sabermetrician Bill James came up with a stat that he called “Offensive Winning Percentage.”

James used it to estimate how many runs a lineup of nine copies of a particular player would produce, given average pitching and average defense.

James incorporated all aspects of a player’s offensive performance (ability to hit, hit for power, draw walks, run the bases) to come up with the number, the calculation for which can be found here.

Baseball-Reference.com lists the offensive winning percentage for every season for every player.

In his 184-game Yankees career, Cervelli was credited with creating 60 runs and making 394 outs. That converts to 4.1 runs created per game.

In Cervelli’s time in the bigs, a team that scored 4.1 runs per game and had average pitching and defense would win about 43 percent of the time, or about 70 games in a 162-game season.

Cervelli’s numbers are hurt by his rough numbers in 42 games in 2009. Combine his 2010 and 2011 stats together and his team would win about 75 games.

Cervelli: Pain in the neck

January, 7, 2013
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Francisco Cervelli, who seems to make getting hurt in the off-season or in spring training an annual ritual, suffered a whiplash injury on a foul tip while catching in the Venezuelan Winter League and was flown back to Tampa by the Yankees last week for an examination.

According to GM Brian Cashman, Cervelli had an MRI in Venezuela, which came back clean, but since Cervelli is in the mix, along with Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, to be the Yankees' starting catcher in 2013, the club preferred to conduct its own checkup. A source in Tampa tells ESPNNewYork.com that Cervelli was at the Yankees complex today playing catch.

"It was just a case of us being overly cautious," Cashman said. "He's fine and we're sending him back to Venezuela to finish out the season."

In past springs, Cervelli has suffered concussions and a broken foot, missing valuable time. Last year, he remained healthy and had a good spring but was demoted to Triple-A when the Yankees acquired Stewart as the backup to Russell Martin. This year, with Martin having left for Pittsburgh via free agency, the job is once again Cervelli's to win or lose. Provided, of course, that he remains healthy.

Hitting coach: I wish I had 25 Cervellis

January, 4, 2013
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It took Francisco Cervelli a month to get over the pain of being sent down last spring training. But it left some residue, which might not be a bad thing.

Cervelli is determined to win the Yankees' starting job this season. While pitchers and catchers may not have to report for another 37 days, Cervelli said on Sirius/XM's MLB Network he is already in Tampa.

With Russell Martin in Pittsburgh, the Yankees' starting catching situation is a two-man battle between Cervelli and Chris Stewart.

Joe Girardi may eventually just have a less traditional 1 and 1A setup, but Cervelli wants to win the job outright -- and he wants it badly. Austin Romine will need to show the rust is completely gone after missing nearly all of '12 with a bad back and. So while it is not impossible, it is unlikely he breaks camp with the big club if Cervelli and Stewart are healthy.

Former Yankee catcher and current Triple-A hitting coach Butch Wynegar believes in Cervelli, who hit .246 with two homers and 39 RBIs in '12 for Scranton. Cervelli's OPS was .657.

"I wish I had 25 Cervellis," Wynegar said.

Wynegar talked about Cervelli's infectious attitude -- his trademark smile and grit.

"There is no doubt he is a big league catcher," Wynegar said. "My only thing is offensively."

Sometimes Wynegar said Cervelli tries to hit for too much power and he is not a power hitter. Wynegar stressed the old adages of going up the middle and the other way.

"That is true for 95 percent of hitters," Wynegar said. "It is especially true for him. The kid can hit."

Cervelli, who will turn 27 by the time the season starts, had terrible luck in '12. If Romine's back was fine, Brian Cashman would not have felt the need to trade for Stewart to improve the catching depth in the organization. If Cervelli hadn't had minor league options, he likely would have been the choice over Stewart as Martin's backup.

None of that happened, but by ending up in Triple-A Cervelli got more playing time than Stewart or Romine, which might lead to him being better positioned to be the everyday catcher in '13.

"I've always been a believer that good things come out of bad things," Wynegar said.

QUESTION: Would you like to see Cervelli as the everyday catcher?

The Daily Cervelli

April, 29, 2012
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The Daily Cervelli is a regular feature of the blog on which we chart the progress of Francisco Cervelli, the popular former Yankees backup catcher, as he attempts to play his way back to the big show as a member of the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Cervelli had a big day at the plate as he went 3-for-5 with a double and a RBI in Scranton's 8-4 win over Lehigh Valley. He's now batting .213 on the season.

Cervelli shook up by demotion

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
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Francisco Cervelli did not try to hide his emotions after being blindsided by the news that the Yankees had obtained a new backup catcher, Chris Stewart, from San Francisco in exchange for George Kontos and that Cervelli would now be getting his mail in Scranton.

"I don't understand their reason,'' Cervelli said, his eyes red and his voice choked. "I think maybe you have to ask [Brian] Cashman or somebody else. Maybe the other guy is better than I am right now.''

Stewart, the "other guy,'' batted .204 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 67 games for the Giants last year; he played in one game for the Yankees in 2008 and went 0-for-3. At 30, he is four years older than Cervelli, who batted .266 with four homers and 22 RBI in 43 games for the Yankees last season.

The explanation Cashman gave was that Stewart was out of minor-league options but Cervelli was not, and with a lingering back injury sidelining Austin Romine, the AAA Scranton Yankees needed Cervelli as their everyday catcher.

"I'm disappointed with this, but that's never going to change anything,'' Cervelli said. "All my life I've had to do things double, triple. If they want me to prove I can catch in the big leagues, I'll go and prove it. I'll show them I'm a big-league catcher. That's it.''

Notes: Pettitte takes next step Tuesday

March, 26, 2012
3/26/12
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Andy Pettitte will throw his second live batting practice session of the spring on Tuesday, as he continues his comeback after 18 months away from the game.

It's possible he will pitch in a spring training game before the Yankees break camp next week, and the approximate target date for his return to the majors is May 1, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Monday that he prefers not to set hard and fast goals with Pettitte.

"We’re taking it day by day with that, and seeing how he feels the next day and then deciding where we want to go with things," Rothschild said. "It’s a very different situation."

That being said, Rothschild has really enjoyed working with Pettitte so far. This is his first opportunity to do so, since he was hired following the 2010 season.

"Very impressive. Very professional," Rothschild said of Pettitte. "The stuff is there. You can see it clearly, he’s commanded everything really well.

"I don’t think I need to tell you, but he knows what he’s doing, and he knows how to do it, and he hasn’t lost that. A really good feel for his delivery, and the arm speed’s been good. There’s a lot of things that are really good to see with him."

The Yankees are having a hard time deciding on their five-man starting rotation for Opening Day, with six strong candidates at the moment. When Pettitte returns, things will get even more interesting.

BUSY AFTERNOON: Since Francisco Cervelli came over to the minor league complex to catch Phil Hughes on Monday, he also got four at-bats against the Phillies' Single-A squad. And in the bottom of the third inning, he smacked a home run off the right-field foul pole.

Cervelli also had a great day behind the plate, throwing out three players attempting to steal second base.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Yankees will be back in action on Tuesday evening, playing host to the Toronto Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field at 7:05. CC Sabathia will be on the mound -- one of the two Yankees starters who doesn't need to worry about their spots in the starting rotation, along with Hiroki Kuroda.

Nick Swisher is expected to make his return to the lineup -- he's been out for a week, after tweaking his groin against the Pirates last Monday. For Derek Jeter, it will be his third game back after missing several days with a calf injury.

Everybody's off -- except Hughes, Cervy

March, 26, 2012
3/26/12
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Kim Klement/US PresswireWhile his teammates were off on Monday, Phil Hughes was on a mound. Will his stellar spring be enough to win him a spot in the Yankees' starting rotation?
The Yankees had their second and final day off of the spring on Monday -- but it was Phil Hughes' turn to pitch, so the young righty went across the street to the Yankees' minor league complex on Himes Avenue to throw in a minor league game.

With Francisco Cervelli behind the plate, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild keeping a close eye behind the cage, Hughes went six innings against a Phillies Single-A squad, giving up two runs on six hits. He threw 91 pitches, 66 for strikes, and had four strikeouts, no walks, and hit a batter.

(Manager Joe Girardi took advantage of the day off to visit his ailing father.)

"The changeup wasn’t as good as it was last time," said Hughes. "But I was able to make some in-game adjustments -- with my breaking ball especially, my cutter, and just arm slot stuff. After that, it was pretty good."

"What we’re looking for is the power," said Cervelli. "I think the whole game he had the power fastball."

"I thought he did fine," said Rothschild. "Fastball was good, he located some down good. Worked on a couple pitches we wanted to work on -- the curveball, and some changeups to right-handers -- and overall he got a lot of good work in."

Hughes, 25, is trying to win one of the five prized slots in the Yankees' starting rotation come Opening Day. He is also trying to regain the form he had back in 2010, when he won 18 games for the Yankees and appeared to be developing into a top-of-the-line starter.

So far, so good. At this point Hughes appears likely to be one of the five, considering he has a 2.03 ERA in four major league appearances this spring before today -- the lowest ERA of any of the six candidates.

Hughes said Monday that he felt confident coming into camp, knowing that he was in better shape and had started throwing earlier. "I just wanted to come out and pitch well," Hughes said. "And I feel like I’ve done that for the most part. Obviously nobody’s gonna be absolutely perfect. Everyone’s trying to get ready, nobody’s gonna be in mid-season form. Overall I felt like I did what I wanted to coming to camp."

"He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, as far as the offseason and coming in and continuing to work," Rothschild said. "He’s pretty much improved every time out. And the changeup’s come a long way, which is something that we really wanted to see and we worked on. There’s some things we still need to get done, but pretty good improvement."

Spring training is winding down -- the Yankees' first regular season game is a week from Friday. Only CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have guaranteed spots in the rotation. The others -- Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Hughes -- are still trying to prove they belong.

Rothschild admitted on Monday that he still isn't sure who the top five are, and wants to see more. "You’d like to have as much information as you can before you make a decision," Rothschild said. "But the day’s gonna come when we have to make a decision, and that’s coming quickly. So we’ll do the best we can with it, looking at every aspect of the whole thing."

"I’ve done everything I can do," Hughes said. "Whatever direction they want to go in is their call. I feel like right now that I’m doing everything I can to make that decision as hard as possible, and that’s all I really wanted to do."

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
CC Sabathia
WINS ERA SO IP
2 5.19 27 26
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Solarte .373
HRC. Beltran 4
RBIC. Beltran 9
RA. Soriano 9
OPSY. Solarte 1.017
ERAM. Pineda 1.00
SOM. Tanaka 28

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