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Monday, February 18, 2013
First Pitch: Time to get better

By Wallace Matthews

TAMPA, Fla. -- That will be theme of Joe Girardi's inspirational message to his team this morning, before today's first full-squad workout at The Boss.

"The message is, 'Let's get better,'" Girardi said Sunday. "I mean, that's the bottom line. Let's get prepared and let's get better. That's what we're here for."

As far as pep talks go, it's not quite Rockne's Gipper speech, but maybe it'll get better in the actual delivery.

As for the team getting better, I must tell you that no one had the heart to ask the obvious follow-up: Namely, how do the Yankees go about getting better?

When Girardi steps up on his soapbox, or from wherever he chooses to deliver his message, he will be looking at a lot of the same faces. A lot of the same, old faces.

He wasn't given any shiny new toys to play with this winter, no young, hungry and flashy kid to spark his aging roster, no established "big hairy monster" from another team to strike fear into the hearts of the Yankees' opponents.

What he does have are two superstars, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, coming off serious injuries, a first baseman (Mark Teixeira) who last week publicly predicted his own imminent decline, a center fielder (Curtis Granderson) who strikes out nearly once in every three at-bats and two corner outfielders (Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) who can't hope to hit as many home runs together as the departed Nick Swisher did alone.

Girardi's ace, CC Sabathia, is coming off elbow surgery, his No. 2 starter, Hiroki Kuroda, is 38, and his No. 3, Andy Pettitte is over 40. He has no real backup for Jeter or Teixeira and, right now, no right-handed hitting DH.

Still, Joe Girardi will stand up in front of his players this morning and exhort them to "Get better."

If he can make that happen with words alone, I already know where my Manager of the Year vote is going.

Up now: Andrew Marchand's news story on Jeter's news conference Sunday, as well as my column dealing with why it is time for the Yankees and their fans to rediscover -- and newly appreciate -- their 39-year-old captain.

In the hole: Robinson Cano gets his time in the tent this morning, and Ichiro is slated to meet the media as well. Since there's only six days before the first game, the regulars will be thrown in for some live BP this morning, so that could be interesting. Marchand and I will be there when the clubhouse opens at 8:40 a.m. so check in early and often, and, as always, thanks for reading.

QUESTION: Do you think the Yankees can be better in 2013 than they were in 2012?