New York Yankees: New York Yankees
"I appreciate a lot the teams and all of the people that have made this, my dream, possible, and I hope that this is an event that would repeat itself and that no one could forget," the legendary Panamanian closer said at the press conference room.
The "Legends Series" marks MLB's first visit to Panama since 1947 and Jeter didn't hesitate in taking advantage of the event's significance to joke about his former teammate's nearly 20 years with the Bombers.
"It is a privilege for me and for us as an organization to come here to Panama, which is an amazing place, and I can't think about a better person to honor than Mariano," indicated the Yankees' shortstop, who said that he had made two previous visits to the Central American nation.
"It is a great opportunity to come back here and once again bring baseball to Panama and I'm very happy that MLB made professional baseball games here come true since 1946 ... when Mo was a little kid", Jeter added before a crowded room broke into laughter.
Stanton also stressed the importance of being able to share the podium with the two legends, winners of five World Series rings.
"It is an honor to be here and honor Mariano, that's what we're here for, to honor him and bring the game of Major League to Panama and expand the sport," the 24-year-old outfielder said.
"I never had the opportunity to meet Mariano or Derek but they're ballplayers that I grew up watching ever since I was a kid and they made me love baseball, so for me it's an honor to be here."
Representing commissioner Bud Selig was the MLB executive vice president of labor relations, Dan Halem, who said the main mission of promoting professional games in diverse parts of the world is not only the globalization of the sport, but also to stress the importance of baseball as a positive influence in society.
"It's MLB's mission to continue the globalization of our game and we're committed to bringing games to our millions of fans on a worldwide scale," said Halem, who's been working under Selig since 2007.
"We're very happy to be here, and like the commissioner says, baseball is an important social institution and the best things is that these games and event will benefit the people through the Mariano Rivera Foundation."
Levine pointed out that for the Yankees it was a priority to have the opportunity to honor Rivera in his native country of Panama and he was very happy that finally all of the pieces had fallen into place.
"Once Mariano made the decision to retire last year, as big as his farewell tour was, we thought it was necessary that we needed to give him another honor and this has been a great event," said the Yankees president, who added that Marlins owner Jeff Loria also was of great assistance in putting all the pieces into place so that an event of such high magnitude could take place.
"The Yankees are an international brand and there are Yankee fans all over the world. Our players enjoy this type of event a lot and we always try to make it, so now we'll try to return and expand to other places."
Levine emphasized that he feels this has been the perfect moment and place to close and honor Rivera's and initiate what's going to be a farewell tour for Jeter, who announced back in February that the 2014 season would be his last in professional baseball.
"[It's the icing on the cake] because this is his country. When you go around there [with Rivera], you see how the Panamanian people adore him and the respect they have for him. It's very touching, for me, to honor Mo at the beginning of Derek's farewell and it's a pleasure for everyone to see Derek Jeter wherever he goes. Never again will we see two type of players like them two together, they're two of the biggest Yankees of all time."
The day kicked off with a tour of the Miraflores Locks at the Panana Canal, with Rivera himself serving as tour guide and joined by, among others, manager Joe Girardi, outfielder Brett Gardner, reliever David Robertson and bench coach Tony Peña.
"It's been fantastic seeing the guys and up until now we've had a wonderful time. I couldn't be any happier than what I am. It's a dream come true," Rivera said Friday night.
"We went sightseeing and toured the canal and everything was seen and it was very beautiful to be there. I think we all wanted to see a ship pass by but we arrived too late and couldn't see it. But anyways it was an unforgettable experience."
"The trip was overwhelming enough as far as how it works," said Girardi. "Getting to know the entire history and seeing how a new canal is being built is an experience I'll never forget."
"It's been an extraordinary experience. It's incredible how the world is united through a canal and it's good that it's a Latino country," said Peña, who joked that although Rivera has done a great job as a host, he should study a bit more to become a better tour guide.
After a traditional Panamanian lunch, Mo joined Derek Jeter and Robertson, his successor as closer, in a visit to the Children's Hospital.
"At first it was overwhelming getting to the hospital," Robertson said. "But it later on it was awesome to see so many smiling faces, although I would have liked to have learned a little more Spanish before having gone, being that it's a bit difficult with the language barrier. But it was fantastic to be able to have given them some toys and helped them put them together and see them have a very good time."
"It was a joy to see the smiles in the faces of the kids," Jeter said. "We're here to support Mariano and I know how special it is for him that we're here. All of you know the relationship I have with Mo. And this is important for him, it's important for me."
The busy day Friday concluded with a dinner at a gala in honor of Rivera which numerous Yankees and Marlins players attended to pay homage to Rivera and raise funds for the Children's Hospital.
The gala featured an auction of items signed by Rivera, including an oil painting of the Panamanian pitching from the mound at Yankee Stadium and a Panama jersey from the World Baseball Classic signed by the former closer.
"It's been a long time coming that I wanted to do this and at last it happened. For me it's an honor to welcome my teammates," Rivera said in front of more than 400 invited guests.
"I don't have the words to express the gratitude and happiness that I have that my teammates are here. This dinner we have is dedicated to the Children's Hospital and now I feel thankful that the teams arrived well, that there aren't any injuries and that it keeps being a great party in celebration of baseball."
On Saturday morning, the Yankees and Marlins held the official news conference of the "Legends Series," which, like the gala, took place at the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower.
A baseball clinic was also slated in the afternoon for underprivileged kids before the first exhibition game at Rod Carew Stadium.
It says here that Tanaka's first official major league start for the New York Yankees will come April 4 against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
I could be completely wrong about that, and it would hardly be the first time.
Or I could be completely right, and although that happens a lot less frequently, it wouldn't be a first, either.
There are caveats to that, of course. Game 3 would allow Tanaka to ease into the season against the weak-hitting Houston Astros on a natural grass field. Game 4 requires him to face the dangerous Blue Jays lineup, probably under a dome, on a billiard table-like artificial surface.
It could be that Girardi and Rothschild will opt for the easier game than the easier schedule. But knowing the cautious nature of both men, and their penchant for focusing on the big picture, it makes a lot more sense to send Tanaka out for Game 4 rather than Game 3.
"I think we weigh the schedule a little bit where he can get extra rest early in the season to try to keep him strong through the year," Rothschild said Saturday morning before the team left for its game in Sarasota. "We've got the 13 games in a row to start, so that's going to impact when we decide to pitch him."
That seems to say right there that Tanaka will be held back until Game 4, because the way the schedule lays out, he would face the Blue Jays on April 4, the Orioles on April 9 on four-days rest, and then not again until the opener of a two-game series with the Chicago Cubs at Yankee Stadium on April 15, the day after the first off-day of the season.
Take it further into the season and such a schedule would have Tanaka starting on four-days rest against the Rays in St. Petersburg on April 20 -- and then not again until April 26 because of a day off on April 21.
That way, the Yankees would be able to give Tanaka the extra days' rest twice in the first month of his first big-league season -- pretty much what Rothschild laid out in the above quote.
A residual effect of such a schedule would relieve Tanaka of having to face the Red Sox in a nationally-televised ESPN Sunday night game in the supercharged atmosphere of Fenway Park on April 13. Of course, you sign a guy like Tanaka to a $155 million contract specifically to pitch in games like that, but maybe not in his first month in the league.
"We're just getting him used to the fifth day and under different circumstances," Rothschild said. "That's why we did the [simulated] game last time, to try to let him get used to that and see what schedule works for him as far as throwing him in between and seeing how he feels on the day and just work toward that."
Clearly, the Yankees believe the transition from pitching once a week in Japan to once every five days in the U.S. will be the most difficult adjustment for Tanaka. Already, the Yankees have announced they will give Tanaka an extra day between Sunday's start and his next outing, which will not come until March 26.
None of this seems to concern the low-key Tanaka, who, when asked if he was excited about his start on Sunday said, honestly, "I’m not really pumped up right now, but tomorrow will be a different day."
He did acknowledge still adjusting to the new schedule -- he would like to throw more, not less, between starts -- and the slightly larger American baseball, which he said, surprisingly, might actually make his collection of breaking balls even sharper than they had been in Japan.
"If you really get the off-speed pitches right, I think it will give it more bite compared to balls in Japan," Tanaka said, words that might sound chilling to future Yankees opponents.
But on the subject of extra rest, Tanaka sounded as if he was in complete agreement with his manager and pitching coach.
"Once the season starts it’s gonna be every fifth day, so I'm making adjustments toward that," he said. "I just look at it if there’s an extra day I’m obviously happy with that. Just one day extra to work on a little bit something extra might help but basically I'm just adjusting to an every-five-days rotation."
It all seems to add up to the same conclusion: Tanaka will get that extra day, right at the beginning of the season and at least two more times during its first month. Save the date: The Masahiro Tanaka Era is (tentatively) scheduled to begin April 4 in Toronto.
After landing the Yankees, who will play two exhibition games against the Miami Marlins on Saturday and Sunday at Rod Carew National Stadium, boarded two buses that traveled approximately 12 miles from Tocumen International Airport to a luxurious hotel in the center of Panama City, where dozens of fans anxiously anticipated their arrival.
The games on March 15 and 16 between the Yankees and the Marlins, referred to as the "Legends Series," will be celebrated in honor of Rivera, who retired last season after an illustrious 19-year career in pinstripes that placed him amongst the best of all time.
Among the first to step out of the bus were manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Peña, closely followed by the captain, Derek Jeter, starting pitcher CC Sabathia and outfielders Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano, all of whom were guarded by a strong contingent of security guards that didn't allow them to stop to sign autographs for clamoring fans.
Girardi chose 28 players to represent the Bronx Bombers for the trip to Panama, among them Venezuelans Francisco Cervelli, Yangervis Solarte, Jose Pirela and Jose Gil, Dominicans Zoilo Almonte, César Cabral and Gary Sanchez as well as Cubans Adonis García and Robert Coello.
Many on the team arrived sporting classic straw hats known as "Panama Sombreros," which they received from the event's sponsor.
CERVELLI IN FOR MCCANN
Earlier in the week, Girardi named Brian McCann the starter for the exhibition games against the Marlins. On Wednesday night, before flying out to Panama City, Cervelli was told he'd be joining John Ryan Murphy behind the plate for starting pitchers Adam Warren and Sabathia.
The Yankees manager said he decided to send the Venezuelan backstop so that McCann could have the chance to catch for some starters that remained in camp in Tampa, especially Masahiro Tanaka.
"We switched McCann for Cervelli. Thought that it would be better for [McCann] to stay here working with our starters," Girardi said after a pair of split-squad games Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles, a 6-0 victory, and the Philadelphia Phillies, a 6-2 loss.
Upon arriving Thursday night, Cervelli told ESPNDeportes.com he felt extremely happy getting the opportunity to spend time again with one of his idols. "I'm looking forward to spending some time with Mariano because I feel like I was part of his career and I was very fortunate to have been behind the plate receiving his pitches," the 28-year-old Venezuelan said.
"I'll live the rest of my days with that image in my head of every time I caught Mariano."
The sudden adjustment to the roster for the trip coincided with the rise in production from the Venezuelan, who's become one of the team's best bats this spring with a .500 average, raising the strong speculation that the Yankees are contemplating a trade.
The Yankees have great depth at catcher, and because of that strong rumors have circulated with Cervelli being the key piece in a trade before the start of the 2014 season for an infielder or a setup man for new closer David Robertson.
A source close to the Yankees told ESPNDeportes.com that the team doesn't have any imminent trades. Even Cervelli himself has spoken on several occasions that he's ignored all the speculation.
"No calls have been received from any team nor have we been in any conversations with anyone about a trade [that would include Cervelli]," the source said about the rumors, which have mainly included the Chicago White Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Then, he was told by Joe Girardi that the Yankees had decided they were better off if he stayed home and did his homework instead of enjoying dinner with Mariano Rivera -- whom he said he had never met despite facing him a few times -- and seeing the Panama Canal.
McCann, who so far seems like the ultimate team guy, agreed it was a good idea.
"I think it gives me a chance to see more guys if I stayed back and I think it just made more sense to stay back here," McCann said this morning in the clubhouse while preparing to catch David Phelps against the Minnesota Twins this afternoon.
But the real reason Girardi left McCann behind is because he wants him to catch Masahiro Tanaka on Sunday against the Braves and Hiroki Kuroda on Monday in Bradenton.
“I’m going to start catching back-to-back, so I need to see everybody multiple times,” McCann said. "I have to. I need to. It’s a big deal to see them.”
But he was also quick to add, "I know their stuff and I know what they like to do. If the season started tomorrow I’d be comfortable calling a game for both of them. Just two more times will probably get me more acclimated to them and we’ll be ready to roll."
Girardi's -- and no doubt, GM Brian Cashman's -- sudden decision to swap out McCann for Francisco Cervelli fueled speculation the Yankees were looking to trade Cervelli and wanted to give McCann a crash course in Tanaka, who has thrown almost exclusively to Cervelli. But team sources told ESPNDeportes' Marly Rivera, who is in Panama, that the Yankees have had no conversations with any other team regarding a Cervelli deal.
It could simply be that as the everyday catcher, which generally means five days a week, McCann will have to be intimately familiar with everyone on the Yankees' pitching staff, including, and maybe especially, Tanaka.
As a result, McCann says he has been taking work home with him in the evenings, studying tapes not only of the Yankees' starting staff, but of AL East hitters to get to know their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.
One thing McCann has not studied is the Japanese language. Despite catching Kenshin Kawakami for two seasons in Atlanta, McCann said he hasn't picked up too many Japanese words, although he says communication with non-English speaking players has never been a problem.
"Whatever language they speak, it’s still baseball," he said. "Everybody knows the key words to get the job done. We all know, they all know fastball, curveball, split. We’re good."
McCann will get Saturday off -- he is not on the travel roster for the game against the Orioles -- but will go back-to-back for the first time this spring Sunday and Monday.
I was wrong, but I wasn't alone. I always thought Derek Jeter would be the last to know. He would play until they ripped the uniform off his back.
He has started spring training 4-for-24, which might mean nothing or could be telling. We truly don't know.
Let's be clear, no one is counting Jeter out in his retirement season.
We saw him rebound from being a .270 hitter from 2010 into the middle of 2011. He picked up hit No. 3,000 and magically turned back into Jeter again in 2012, leading the world in hits with 216.
The year ended with his ankle cracked, and 2013 never really started. He ended up playing just 17 games. So before we can predict how many hits Jeter will have in 2014, we have to guess on how many games he will play.
OVER/UNDER: 125 games
CASE FOR 125: Jeter has only played in fewer than 125 games three times in his career. In 1995, he appeared in 15 as a late season call-up, so we can throw that out. In 2003, he made Ken Huckaby famous on Opening Day, and his shoulder injury limited him to 119 games. And then last season, when he only made it out on the field 17 times.
So history is on Jeter's side, except that he has a lot of history. He turns 40 in June, which doesn't bode well for staying on the field.
Joe Girardi will manage Jeter's playing time. With the slick-fielding Brendan Ryan on the roster, I could imagine Jeter seeing a good amount of DH time with Masahiro Tanaka's and Hiroki Kuroda's splitters. This could save Jeter's health.
For his part, Jeter says he feels good because he was able to have a normal winter this year instead of rolling around on a scooter, as he did after he broke his ankle in October 2012. He seems to be moving around fairly well, even if his timing is messed up, according to Girardi.
CASE AGAINST 125: Jeter turns 40. His legs were a total mess last season. And did we mention that he turns 40?
By Jeter's age, baseball players' bodies tend to break down. We saw it last year with No. 2. It wasn't a coincidence that Jeter couldn't shake off the various ailments quickly. It happens to us all of us, even legendary ballplayers.
THE VERDICT: I'm going to go over, just over. It is not smart to bet against Jeter on the baseball field. He will prove you wrong. So I'll say he'll play 126 games, despite his age.
YOUR TURN: What have you got? More or less than 125 games for Jeter?
Carlos Beltrán y Derek Jeter pic.twitter.com/OLOaUqUjBN— Marly~ESPN Deportes (@MarlyRiveraESPN) March 14, 2014
Y ahí está el infielder venezolano Yangervis Solarte pic.twitter.com/SKZ7wwrY7v— Marly~ESPN Deportes (@MarlyRiveraESPN) March 14, 2014
Derek Jeter arriba al hotel en Panamá pic.twitter.com/UhdxATg18i— Marly~ESPN Deportes (@MarlyRiveraESPN) March 14, 2014
Here is the lineup interim manager Rob Thomson is sending out today:
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brian Roberts 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Eduardo Nunez SS
Russ Canzler 3B
Ramon Flores LF
Pete O'Brien DH
Mason Williams RF
David Phelps RHP
New Faces: Here are the guys whose names you might hear for the first time this weekend: C Wes Wilson; INF Rob Refsnyder; INF Carmen Angelini; INF Rob Segedin; INF Ali Castillo; OF Ben Gamel; OF Taylor Dugas; OF Jake Cave; LHP James Pazos; LHP Aaron Dott, and RHP Branden Pinder.
Tex goes back-to-back: Teixeira will play back-to-back games at first base for the first time this spring. Tex went hitless in two at-bats in yesterday's 6-2 loss to the Phillies in Clearwater, and has one hit, a double, in 10 at-bats while coming back off wrist surgery that limited him to just 15 games in 2013.
Trying harder: Phelps, who is probably running second to Michael Pineda in the competition for the No. 5 starter's job, is making his fourth start of the spring today. Phelps will probably go five innings or about 60 pitches.
Big chair to fill: I look forward to third-base coach Thomson's postgame interview session just to see how comfortable he looks sitting in Joe Girardi's chair. Thomson did get to manage the Yankees in three regular-season games in 2008 when Girardi was ill with a respiratory infection.
74 Bruce Billings R / R
64 Cesar Cabral L / L
62 Robert Coello R / R
38 Preston Claiborne R / R
40 Matt Daley R / R
57 Chris Leroux R / R
61 Jim Miller R / R
30 David Robertson R / R
52 CC Sabathia L / L
63 Yoshinori Tateyama R / R
43 Adam Warren R / R
83 Chase Whitley R / R
Catchers B / T
29 Francisco Cervelli R / R
80 Jose Gil R / R
66 John Ryan Murphy R / R
82 Gary Sanchez R / R
Infielders B / T
93 Dean Anna L / R
2 Derek Jeter R / R
72 Corban Joseph L / R
86 Jose Pirela R / R
89 Yangervis Solarte S / R
98 Zelous Wheeler R / R
Outfielders B / T
65 Zoilo Almonte S / R
36 Carlos Beltran S / R
95 Adonis Garcia R / R
11 Brett Gardner L / L
73 Antoan Richardson S / R
12 Alfonso Soriano R / R
But after tearing the labrum in his pitching shoulder during his first spring as a Yankee two years ago, it seemed as if he was one baseball dream that was unlikely to come true.
Until the past week, that is. Now, after seeing Pineda strike out Miguel Cabrera in a two-inning scoreless outing last Friday, and then watching him throw another 2-2/3 scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles today at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees are daring to dream again.
“He’s taking steps in the right direction, and I want to see him continue to go in the right direction," Joe Girardi said after the Yankees completed a 6-0 win in one of two split-squad games (they lost the other 6-2 to the Phillies in Clearwater). "It would be important for us, I tell you that.”
That is the epitome of understatement. A healthy Pineda throwing anywhere near the way he did as a rookie for the Seattle Mariners in 2011 could be the key piece in a Yankee puzzle that is far from complete despite this winter's $438 million spending spree.
And judging by a minuscule sample -- just 4-2/3 innings of spring-training competition -- Pineda has been the best starter in a Yankees camp with a former Cy Young Award winner (CC Sabathia), a seven-year veteran with a 3.40 career ERA (Hiroki Kuroda) and a phenom who's coming off a 24-0 season in Japan (Masahiro Tanaka).
But none of them has shown what Pineda has shown so far. In those 4-2/3 innings, Pineda has allowed just four hits (one of the three he allowed today was an infield hit), no runs and just one walk. He has struck out nine of the 18 batters he has faced, including the fearsome Cabrera.
And perhaps most importantly, he continues to report no pain in that surgically repaired shoulder after suffering the type of injury a lot of pitchers never come back from.
"I want to be ready every five days, for pitching in the game," he said. "Every five days, Michael Pineda, I want to be ready. Be strong for pitching my game."
That doesn't sound much like the confused, almost timid kid who showed up at his first Yankees camp 20 pounds overweight, with an extremely limited grasp of English and perhaps even less understanding of what it took to succeed in this organization, for this team, before this fan base.
“I think he figured some things out," Girardi said, which is manager-speak for maturation, both physical and emotional. In the two years since he arrived here, Pineda has shown both.
"I think when you’re rehabbing and you’re sitting down here in Tampa and you’re not doing what you want to do, I think you have some time to think about some things," Girardi said. "And he was a young kid. Sometimes you can see the people that are pitching in the big leagues, you see the work that they put in and you can talk to some people, and I think he’s grown up some, definitely.”
To be sure, Pineda wasn't facing anything close to the real Orioles. There was no Crash Davis or Adam Jones or Matt Wieters or Nick Markakis in this lineup. Delmon Young was about the best bat in the lineup, and he nearly took Pineda's head off with a line drive in the second. Somehow, the 6-7 Pineda shot his left glove into the air and plucked the bullet out of the air, but the ball was smoked.
"Oh my goodness," Pineda said, rolling his eyes. "I just see like a little thing, and I say oh my goodness."
And the issue that heralded his shoulder injury, an alarming drop in his fastball velocity, hasn't been completely laid to rest just yet. Although Girardi said the Yankees' radar gun caught Pineda's fastball at 93 mph, the YES network gun measured him no faster than 92, and only twice in his 48-pitch outing. There were a lot more 89s and 90s, and, it seemed, at least as many breaking balls as fastballs.
But the breaking ball, particularly a slider that ranged from 77 to 81 mph, was Pineda's consistent out pitch. He struck Quintin Berry out with a beauty on a 3-2 count in the third, and had no fear of throwing it for strikes to any hitter on any count.
"You know you’re feeling comfortable when you throw a 3-2 slider for strikes, to punch guys out," said Brian McCann, who caught him today. "That there is a pretty good indication that he’s doing whatever he wants with the baseball. He’s got some natural cut on his pitches, and he's just an uncomfortable at-bat. You’re not sitting in there getting really good looks on him."
The Yankees, however, are taking a long, hard look at Pineda and so far, liking what they see. “It’s still pretty early in spring training, but we never saw that before,” Girardi said of the kind of pitching Pineda showed them today. "We didn’t see a whole lot the first year we had him. He was struggling. He wasn’t feeling great. We never saw what we saw in Seattle that whole first spring."
But the Yankees are seeing it now, and hoping it's not just another spring training mirage.
They're even daring to hope that Michael Pineda turns out to be a dream deferred, one that might yet come true.
Here are today's lineups:
HOME GAME vs. BALTIMORE
Brett Gardner CF
Derek Jeter SS
Carlos Beltran DH
Brian McCann C
Alfonso Soriano LF
Eduardo Nunez 3B
Dean Anna 2B
Zoilo Almonte RF
Russ Canzler 1B
Michael Pineda RHP
AWAY GAME vs. PHILADELPHIA
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Kelly Johnson 3B
Francisco Cervelli C
Yangervis Solarte SS
Scott Sizemore 2B
Ramon Flores LF
Austin Romine DH
Ivan Nova RHP
Catcher switch: Joe Girardi decided to swap out McCann for Cervelli on the Panama trip, which might be an indication the Yankees are preparing to move Cervelli, who has been hot this spring, in a trade. Cervelli will now go to Panama, and McCann will stay behind in Tampa, Girardi said, to continue working with the Yankees' starting staff. But since Cervelli had exclusively caught Masahiro Tanaka to this point, it might mean Girardi wants to get McCann and Tanaka together because Cervelli won't be around much longer. Or, it may not. We'll see ...
Big day for Pineda: Girardi said he wants to get a close look at Pineda against the Orioles today, because after a strong outing last Friday against the Tigers, the 25-year-old righty may be in the lead for the No. 5 starter's job. Pineda will work three innings or 45 pitches today and Girardi said he expects he will make the customary six starts this spring despite coming off serious shoulder surgery two years ago. The manager did say, however, that the Yankees know they can't expect to get 30 starts or 200 innings out of Pineda this season and will have to manage him carefully, although he did not know if the Yankees would cap his innings or give him breaks during the season. "It's been talked about," he said. "We'll deal with that issue when we get there."
Tanaka adjusting: Tanaka threw his between-starts bullpen this morning but once again mentioned the lighter workload here in the States compared to Japan. “Gradually I think I’m getting used to it, but it’s actually hard to say because at this point, the number of pitches that I’m throwing is very limited," he said. "I think I’ll get a better idea once I throw in games with a lot more pitches and then see how I feel with the adjustment of the five days.”
Tanaka will pitch here Sunday against the Braves but then not again until the following Saturday against the Twins in Fort Myers. Still, Girardi said once the regular season starts, Tanaka will be on a customary five-day rotation.
Cashman goes crackers: Yankees GM Brian Cashman came into the clubhouse this morning with a package of cracker balls, which he proceeded to fire at the concrete floor, setting off a series of mini-explosions. Well, it has been a relatively quiet spring so far. Then he disappeared into Girardi's office for a closed-door meeting, so that could change.
Twelve's a crowd: The Yankees have had to import a phalanx of players from the minor-league complex to take the place of the Panamanian contingent for the weekend. Consequently, two lockers that had been empty in their clubhouse are now jammed with 12 players, whose names are listed on a piece of paper. It's worse than a college dorm room.
"It is uncomfortable standing in the box," New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann said.
Pineda takes the mound on Thursday (1 p.m. on YES), trying to build on his impressive performance a week ago in which he struck out Miguel Cabrera. If not for a Nets game that took up the YES TV window Friday, Yankees fans would have witnessed Pineda's return after two years of shoulder, weight and DUI issues.
McCann faced Pineda during the righty's All-Star rookie season in 2011. In his first at-bat against Pineda, McCann struck out swinging on four pitches. McCann described Pineda as "carving."
McCann said the tilt on Pineda's release point emanates from such a high arc that it is difficult to make solid contact.
"He looks like he is right on you," said McCann, who nonetheless picked up two singles in his next two at-bats against Pineda in that late June game.
But if it were just as easy as being tall, MLB teams would just pluck every 12th man off an NBA roster. Putting everything together on the mound at that height is rare.
What really was impressive for Pineda on Friday was the ability to throw strikes on 21 of his 27 pitches, including his go-to slider.
"I think he was throwing 97 then," McCann said, comparing the Pineda he saw as a batter in 2011 to that outing. "I think he is throwing 92-93, but he has more cut on his fastball than he did. [On Friday] he had such good command with all of his pitches, he could do whatever he wanted."
Alex Rodriguez (@AROD) March 13, 2014
That was the first time A-Rod had tweeted since right after the Super Bowl:
I'm really happy for the people of Seattle...the city and fans deserve a championship. Congrats @Seahawks!— Alex Rodriguez (@AROD) February 3, 2014
Even though A-Rod is back on Twitter, I don't think he will be congratulating Chelsea Handler on this bit of news:
I just found out Uganda Be Kidding Me is #1 on nytimes list. To all my fans- Thank you for giving me a life. pic.twitter.com/Y3tEF4o2tM— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) March 13, 2014
But if the game will be remembered at all, it will be for this: It was the first game at The Boss in which a Yankees manager exerted his right to challenge a call under baseball's new replay rule.
"I thought he was out, but I wasn't sure," Girardi said.
It took mere seconds for the umpires to confirm what the manager already knew. Roberts was out. And in truth, all Girardi really needed to do was ask Roberts, not the umpires.
"He did not ask me," Roberts said. "I would have told him no. I appreciate the effort, though."
Girardi, though, was trying out the manager's new toy while he still had the chance.
"I still had my challenge and we're through six innings, so I had nothing to lose, in a sense," he said. "You can't store it. It's not like vacation days. So I used it."
But would Girardi have challenged a similar play in a regular game? "Probably not," he said.
Interestingly, it was not Roberts' first time involved in a historic Yankees moment; he made the last out of the last game at the old Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008. "Jam shot to first off Mariano Rivera," he said. "Like a lot of at-bats against Mariano Rivera."
Road warrior: The Yankees have split-squad games Thursday, one at home against the Orioles and one in Clearwater against the Phillies. Girardi is remaining in Tampa to watch Michael Pineda start against Baltimore, and also for a very practical reason: He still needs to pack for the team's trip to Panama. The Yankees are leaving on a charter flight at 6 p.m. Thursday.
In his stead, Girardi is sending his bench coach, Tony Pena, to manage the squad that will play behind Ivan Nova in Clearwater. Pena is also going to Panama, and will have to rush back to pack, but that is just one of the differences between being the bench coach and being the manager.
Third-base coach Rob Thomson will manage the Yankees who remain in Tampa for the three games that will be played here over the weekend.
Mark of Zoilo: In addition to his game-tying home run, Almonte also had a single. His spring average is .389. Yangervis Solarte's hot spring continues; he had a hit to raise his average to .622. The magnificently named Zelous Wheeler, whom Girardi refers to as "Wheels," pulled the Yankees to within a run with a two-run, ground-rule double in the eighth. Once again, the Yankees' bullpen performed well. Seven relievers (Chase Whitley, Shawn Kelley, Jose Campos, Fred Lewis, Danny Burawa, Robert Coello and Yoshinori Tateyama) held the Tigers to three hits and one unearned run over the final 6 1/3 innings.
Get used to it, Cap: A sight we are likely to see replayed throughout the season? Derek Jeter's teammates asking him for autographs in the clubhouse, much as they did with Rivera last season. Today, it was Matt Thornton's turn to get the Captain's John Hancock on a baseball. Who will it be tomorrow?
The Yankees believe it is the former, that the 39-year-old right-hander they expect to hold down the No. 2 spot in their rotation just needs a little more time to refine his collection of splitters, sliders and two-seam fastballs before the season begins.
It is the same belief they hold about the end of last season, that is was simply a case of late-season fatigue, and not the beginning of a career decline, that caused him to become ineffective over the last two months.
Because as Joe Girardi acknowledged, rather bluntly, in both cases, the alternative is far worse.
“I think he’s going to have another good year for us. I do," Girardi said. “The arm speed is there and everything is there. I don’t make too much of spring training games."
In that case, don't make too much of Kuroda's outing Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers, when he was hit hard for 3-2/3 innings, allowing 10 hits and six earned runs in what eventually ended in a 7-7 tie.
But as in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Nationals in Viera, the overriding memory of the game was not the late-innings comeback by the kids, but the early struggles, once again, of a starting pitcher the Yankees are pinning a lot of their hopes on this season. Tuesday, it was CC Sabathia and Wednesday it was Kuroda.
"Mechanically, I was inconsistent and I was rushing a little bit, and the hitters took advantage," Kuroda said. "When my stuff is good, I tend to get a lot of groundouts, but today it didn't work. The location wasn't there."
Kuroda's splitter, which needs to end up practically on the ground to be effective, mostly loitered waist-high on this day, allowing a Tigers lineup minus Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson to tee off on him from the first batter of the game. Catcher Francisco Cervelli noticed the Kuroda seemed "uncomfortable" in the bullpen before the game, and he never really settled down.
"It seemed like he was having trouble getting the feel for his slider," Cervelli said. "It was the kind of day anything he throw they hit it. They hit a 2-0 split, a first-pitch split, a first-pitch slider, so it’s like, well, what you can do? Today was a day it just wasn't there."
Kuroda shrugged off the suggestion that today's outing was in any way related to August and September, when he went 1-7 with a 5.40 ERA over his final 10 starts.
"I haven't even thought about that," he said. "I think the velocity is pretty good. It's a matter of small changes mechanically, so that's what I'm trying to work on."
Girardi, an eternal optimist, chose to see Kuroda's struggles as magnified by the time of year they occurred.
“It was just a guy that went through a tremendous four months and then had a couple tougher months," he said. "If you have a tough month in May and a tough month in July, people probably don’t say much. Because of the way he finished, people are going to question what we’re going to have this year. I do feel good about him. I do think maybe he ran out of a little gas, but I can’t tell you that for sure.”
But he sure hopes so. And so should you.
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