After another shaky outing, Garcia's rotation spot in doubt

    Sunday, April 29, 2012, 4:30 PM [General]

    After Freddy Garcia's fiasco of a start on Saturday, he sounded exasperated. As Joe Girardi discussed Garcia's brief outing, the manager sounded puzzled. Those reactions explained how everyone involved with the Yankees felt, too.

    Even before Garcia was drubbed for six earned runs in a 7-5 loss to the Tigers, he was close to losing his fragile spot in the rotation. Now it might finally be lost.

    The Yankees can't keep starting a pitcher with a 12.51 earned run average and a pitcher who has allowed opponents to bat .403 against him. Basically, Garcia has turned everyone into the equivalent of Ted Williams, circa 1941, this season.

    While Girardi didn't say whether Garcia would make another start, he offered enough evidence to indicate that the pitcher will be bypassed. Girardi noted how Garcia's velocity has decreased on all of his pitches and how his pitches don't have their typical sharpness. Teams are taking pitches against Garcia early in counts, causing him to fall behind and further inhibiting his ability to exploit them with his splitter or slider.

    "Freddy knows what's going on," Girardi said at one point, which seemingly meant that Garcia knows he is in a precarious spot.

    If the Yankees decide to jettison Garcia from the rotation, there's an easy way for them to set up their pitching. The Yankees could start David Phelps against the Royals on May 3, which is the next time Garcia's spot in the rotation comes up. Phelps tossed three scoreless innings on Saturday and has a 3.57 E.R.A. Right now, he would give the Yankees a better chance to win than Garcia.

    After that start on May 3, the Yankees can utilize an off day on May 7 to insure that they won't need that spot in the rotation again until May 12. By then, Andy Pettitte will have made two more minor league starts and would presumably be ready to return to the Yankees.

    Since Garcia has notched just five outs in each of his last two starts, it makes sense to give him a break and give Phelps a start. If Phelps pitches well, he could even end up staying in the rotation because Phil Hughes has also struggled.

    When Girardi fielded questions about Garcia's future, he said he needed "to sleep on it" before making any decisions. With or without the extra sleep, Girardi knows that he can't keep starting a pitcher who is that ineffective and who taxes his bullpen. That will only lead to more exasperation and more puzzlement.

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    Yankees have no choice but to cope with Pineda's injury

    Thursday, April 26, 2012, 5:07 PM [General]

    One day later, there was still a sobering quality to Brian Cashman's voice. He sounded forlorn and fatigued, which was apt. Thursday was a difficult day in Yankeeland, a day when Cashman announced that Michael Pineda had an anterior labral tear in his right shoulder and would miss the next 12 months.

    The excitement that Cashman felt after acquiring Pineda from the Seattle Mariners in a four-player trade three months ago had been replaced by the frigid reality that Pineda won't throw a pitch in 2012. So the power pitcher who was supposed to be an essential part of a rotation that could guide the Yankees to the postseason has become a bystander.

    "It is what it is," Cashman said. "And it's not good."

    Cashman believes that Pineda injured himself on the final pitch that he threw in extended Spring Training last week. After Pineda's setback, Cashman admitted that he wondered "if something was there" and if something was wrong. Cashman said, "You hope you're not going to get that kind of news," but, of course, the Yankees did get the news that Pineda would need arthroscopic surgery.

    For the second straight day, Cashman recited the extensive tests that the Yankees did on Pineda's elbow and shoulder, and emphasized that they didn't get a damaged pitcher from the Mariners. Cashman called Pineda's medical records "very clean" and said that Pineda injured himself while he was a member of the Yankees.

    "The guy," Cashman said, "was healthy."

    As the Yankees move forward without Pineda, they must hope that Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia, who are a combined 1-4 with an 8.68 earned run average, can be much more productive. Hughes's velocity has returned, but he has been inefficient and ineffective. Garcia, who was so reliable last season, hasn't fooled many hitters. 

    "Our first priority is to get these guys to correct themselves on the run," Cashman said. "You can't expect to pull the plug on them after four starts."

    Since Cashman thinks Andy Pettitte needs at least two more Minor League starts before the Yankees will even consider promoting him to the Major Leagues, both Hughes and Garcia are going to get more opportunities. As distressing as Pineda's injury is to the Yankees, it provides a chance for Hughes or Garcia to redeem themselves. While Cashman mentioned David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell as potential options in the rotation, his preference is to see Hughes or Garcia rebound.

    In the 365-24-7 world of instant analysis, there are many fans and media members who have already declared the Yankees the losers in the Pineda trade. To get Pineda and 19-year old pitcher Jose Campos, the Yankees moved Jesus Montero, their top prospect, and Hector Noesi. To me, it's a foolish notion to select a winner and a loser in a trade that involves four players who are 24 years old or younger, and a trade where the players have yet to even play one month with their new teams.

    If Pineda didn't get injured and won 15 games and had a 3.50 ERA, if Montero hit .240 with 10 homers and if Noesi had a 4-10 record and a 5.50 ERA, it would also be silly to say that the Yankees won the trade. A trade like this takes several years to evaluate, but Cashman accepted the instant analysis of the marquee trade.

    "Right now, I understand it," Cashman said. "I understand people are frustrated and they have the right to express their frustration. I'm frustrated, too."

    That frustration over losing Pineda will linger, but it can't define the Yankees or throttle the Yankees. Without Pineda, the Yankees still have enough capable starters. It's simply a matter of those starters performing at a higher level than they have this season. Ivan Nova is the only starter that has thrived, as the rotation has a 5.73 ERA and has been a weakness.

    In assessing Pineda's loss, Cashman rightfully noted that "this team isn't built around Michael Pineda." With those words, Cashman meant that the strength of the team is "the sum of its parts."

    The Yankees are a talented team, a club that should be able to withstand the loss of one talented pitcher.

    "My job is to collect assets and pool them together so that we have a winning team," Cashman said. "Unfortunately, one of those assets isn't available. And it hurts. It makes the journey a little tougher."

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Yankees seeking energy boost in Boston

    Friday, April 20, 2012, 10:21 AM [General]

    As Russell Martin discussed the rekindling of the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, he had a look of anticipation on his face. It was the look of a boxer before an important bout against a despised rival. It was the look of someone who was anxious to try and spoil Boston’s 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park on Friday.

    “When you play Boston,” Martin said, “the only thing you care about is beating them.”

    Obviously, that is the same attitude the Yankees have when they play any team. Whether it is the Red Sox, the Rays or the Rangers, the Yankees want to win every game. But Martin meant that the conquests between the Yankees and the Red Sox are a bit different. There is a different type of intensity when the Yankees roll 200 miles north and end up as guests at Fenway.

    “It starts with the fans,” Martin said. “There’s energy when you take the field. Every play is magnified. The fans give us that energy.”

    Maybe this trip to Boston will be timely for the Yankees. Maybe that boost of energy will help a team that has looked stale in starting the season with a 7-6 record. The Yankees have been burdened by ineffective starting pitching (5-5, 5.59 ERA) and inconsistency in clutch hitting situations. For the Yankees to flourish in a difficult American League East, they need their starters to be much more reliable. The rotation was supposed to be a definite strength, but, so far, it’s been a weakness.

    After CC Sabathia’s last Spring Training start, he was worried about his fastball command and those concerns have lingered as he has labored in his first three starts. Ivan Nova, who will face the Red Sox on Friday, has actually been the Yankees’ most consistent starter with a 2-0 record and a 4.15 ERA. Phil Hughes notched his first victory on Thursday, but he continues to struggle with deep counts and the inability to bury hitters. Hiroki Kuroda has made three starts: one was superb, one was decent and one was poor. Freddy Garcia has looked lost in both of his starts. Andy Pettitte, who is supposed to be another pitcher and not a rotation savior, can’t arrive soon enough.

    If not for a tremendous bullpen, which leads the Major Leagues with a 1.83 ERA, the Yankees would be in a more perilous situation. While the Yankees are focused on their own pitching, sometimes it’s impossible to ignore what is transpiring with the Red Sox. If the Yankees think their pitchers have been problematic, they should realize that the Red Sox pitchers have been worse. Boston has a 6.79 ERA, its worst ERA through the first 12 games since 1928. Fenway celebrated its sweet 16 back then.

    The Red Sox want to celebrate Fenway on Friday, as they should. But manager Bobby Valentine also wants to begin transforming a team that is 4-8. Valentine caused a ruckus in Boston by saying he didn’t think Kevin Youkilis was as emotionally and physically prepared as he had been in the past. The words stung Youkilis. Dustin Pedroria defended Youkilis and took verbal jabs at Valentine. Guess what? The Red Sox better get used to potential firestorms like that. Valentine is only one answer away from the next one.

    Both Martin and Derek Jeter sidestepped questions about Valentine, saying that they didn’t know him very well. Like Martin, Jeter spoke about how the Red Sox fans “are on top of you” and how that is “good and bad.” Jeter and Alex Rodriguez get booed as much as any Yankees, although Martin pushed himself into contention for the most vilified Yankee by saying he hated the Red Sox last year.  

    “Do I still hate them?” Martin said, repeating a question. “I never really hated them. It made for good paper.”

    And it was also good for the rivalry, a rivalry that continues on Friday. The Yankees will watch as Boston sings a 100th Happy Birthday to Fenway, but, as Martin stressed, the only thing they care about is beating the Red Sox.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Derek Jeter's success stems from confidence

    Friday, April 13, 2012, 1:41 PM [General]

    The final games of spring training were disappearing off the schedule for the Yankees. So, naturally, thoughts were drifting toward the games that mattered. Well, almost everyone was thinking about the regular season. Derek Jeter was still thinking about getting hits in meaningless spring games.

    As Jeter placed his bats in a dugout rack one steamy afternoon, Ken Singleton, the former All-Star outfielder and my YES Network colleague, asked Jeter if he was hoping to save some hits for the regular season. It was a playful question, one hitter talking to another hitter. But Jeter didn’t view the last swings of the spring so cavalierly.

    “Nope,” Jeter said, “I’m trying to get a hit every time up.”

    After Jeter declared that he was still grinding through spring at bats and still trying to get more hits, he dashed on to the field for batting practice. This brief exchange between Jeter and Singleton was another example of who Jeter is and how he treats the game of baseball. Of course, Jeter knows that he won’t come close to getting a hit in every at bat. But Jeter plays the game as if he can. Until Jeter makes an out, he believes he is going to get a hit. And, if he makes an out, he thinks he’s going to collect a hit in the next at bat.

    Since Jeter started the season by going 10 for 27 (.370 average) in the first six games, I have thought about that scene by the dugout bat rack. You need to be greedy to be a good hitter. You need to be confident, too. Jeter is both of those things. He has also been the team’s best hitter, a 37-year old shortstop who is hitting the ball robustly and who doesn’t look anything like the 36-year old who struggled at the beginning of 2011.

    Paul O’Neill has said that Jeter was as confident as any teammate he ever had. Of all the players I have ever covered, Jeter is as indomitable as any of them. Jeter believes he is going to succeed. There’s no fear, no doubt and no anxiety permeating Jeter’s world. Long ago, Jeter told me that he refuses to be afraid to fail because, if he was, that would prevent him from succeeding. Prepare, prepare, prepare and then have fun playing the game. That’s Jeter’s simple approach.

    “That’s how you see a player when you have that kind of determination and desire and hunger to do what is right and accomplish what you accomplish,” said Mariano Rivera, in describing Jeter. “And why he has accomplished it is because he put it in his mind and he went for it.”

    While Jeter was hitting .260 and compiling an endless stream of groundouts last season, there were doubts about whether he could return to being a formidable hitter. He did. Jeter notched his 3,000th career hit and hit .338 across the last three months of the season to finish with a .297 average.

    But here’s the thing about Jeter’s mindset. Even if Jeter had hit .260 in 2011, he would have started 2012 as confidently as he did after hitting .297. He wouldn’t have let one disappointing year convince him that he was destined to have another disappointing year. In the same way that Jeter expects to be successful in that next at bat, he would have expected to rebound in the next season. Someday, Jeter’s confidence will be misplaced. Not yet. He’s got another at bat and he expects to get a hit.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Unquestionably, Sabathia steers Yanks' staff

    Friday, April 6, 2012, 10:33 AM [General]

    When the Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series last October, the defeat stung CC Sabathia for several weeks. The season ended abruptly, too abruptly for Sabathia. He was hoping the Yankees could power their way to another World Series title. Instead, the Yankees limped home.

    Six months later, the Yankees are trying to replace the disappointment of 2011 with a different ending in 2012. Sabathia will throw the Yankees’ first pitch of a new season against the Rays on Friday, which is the tiniest of steps in what he believes can be a championship season. There will be thousands of pitches thrown before the Yankees can prove if they can make another title a reality.

    With Sabathia, the Yankees have an ace they can trust. While every Major League team has a No. 1 starter, not every No. 1 is truly as elite as pitchers like Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum or Clayton Kershaw. When a No. 1 pitcher starts a postseason game, his team has no doubt about the outcome. He might lose, but that confident feeling never fades.

    That’s what Sabathia gives the Yankees.

    “I take being an ace very seriously,” said Sabathia, who had a subpar final two months in 2011.

    Still, in analyzing the 2012 Yankees, there’s little reason to wonder about what Sabathia will do for them. He is reliable and productive, and can be expected to pitch 230 innings, win close to 20 games and have an earned run average around 3.00. The Yankees won’t sweat over Sabathia. To me, there are three players who will be scrutinized more than any Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda.

    For Rodriguez, the most important goal is staying healthy. Rodriguez was limited to 99 games in 2011 because of knee and thumb injuries and had the worst statistical season of his career. After an offseason in which Rodriguez had blood-spinning procedures on his shoulder and knee, he is confident that he can return to being a premier hitter again.

    “I feel very good about what I did in the spring,” Rodriguez said. “Now it’s time to get started.”

    If Rodriguez can stay on the field and be an effective offensive player, the Yankees’ lineup is deeper and more fearsome. When Rodriguez is producing, Kevin Long, the batting coach, said that Rodriguez’s teammates simply have to be themselves, not exceed expectations. That’s how valuable the third baseman can be.

    During Hughes’ career, he has been a valuable pitcher for the Yankees, but he has also been an erratic pitcher. After an unsettling 2011 in which Hughes was plagued by a fatigued arm, he worked out diligently in the offseason and dedicated himself to getting into better shape. Hughes understood that he needed to fight to win a job in the spring. He did that by pitching as well as any Yankee starter with a 1.56 ERA. Now Hughes must use his rediscovered fastball and pitch with the same swagger he displayed in the first half of the 2010 season.

    “I feel like I’ve done the things I had to do this spring,” Hughes said.

    The same cannot be said of Pineda. Even before Pineda went on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, this was certain to be a challenging season. General manager Brian Cashman said Pineda reported to Tampa, Fla., about 20 pounds overweight, which didn’t delight the Yankees.

    The Yankees implored Pineda to develop his changeup, a pivotal third pitch to accompany his fastball and slider. Pineda refined his changeup, but his fastball lacked velocity. The pitcher who was supposed to throw 98-mile per hour fastballs was mostly throwing in the low 90’s. The Yankees hope Pineda will rediscover that velocity after his shoulder heals.

    With Pineda sidelined, the Yankees have a rotation of Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Hughes, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia. Andy Pettitte will probably be ready for the Major Leagues by May. Pineda’s timetable for returning is uncertain.

    Whichever pitchers wind up following Sabathia in the rotation throughout 2012, Sabathia is confident that the Yankees have a talented enough team to win it all. In 2009, Sabathia’s first year in New York, he helped steer the Yankees to a World Series championship. The memories of that season provide motivation for Sabathia.

    “After having the parade and going through that whole experience,” Sabathia said, “you want that again.”

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Yankees best served with Garcia in bullpen

    Friday, March 30, 2012, 12:26 PM [General]

    Freddy Garcia is a reliable starter, a back-end-of-the-rotation pitcher who wins with guile and a fastball that averages around 87 miles per hour. Garcia isn’t someone whose presence should stunt the growth of pitchers that are at least a decade younger than him, pitchers named Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda.

    When the Yankees assembled for Spring Training last month, I expected that Garcia would end up as the sixth starter and the man without a spot in the rotation. The Yankees signed Garcia to a one-year, $4 million contract last November, but then they acquired Pineda from the Seattle Mariners and added Hiroki Kuroda as a free agent. Garcia’s grip on a rotation spot vanished.

    With one week left before Opening Day, I still think the most sensible thing for the Yankees to do is to shift Garcia to the bullpen. Nova’s statistics haven’t been pretty (6.86 earned run average), but he won 16 games last year and emerged as the No. 2 starter. It would be careless to ignore what Nova did in 2011 because of some shabby spring innings. Pineda’s velocity isn’t where the Yankees want it to be, but he has averaged about a strikeout per inning, has a 3.31 ERA. and is refining his changeup. An invigorated Hughes has been so effective that he should be the third starter behind CC Sabathia and Kuroda. Garcia is 35 years old, Hughes and Nova are 25, and Pineda is 23.

    As the Yankees go forward, Nova, Pineda and Hughes are much more important to their future than Garcia. Garcia is an insurance policy in case any of the starters gets injured or falters and he could also become a trade chip. Once Andy Pettitte returns in May, the Yankees will need to bounce a starter from the rotation. That will be a difficult decision. For now, the rotation decision is easier: Move Garcia to the bullpen, and let Nova, Pineda and Hughes continue to grow.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Andy Pettitte returns to the Yankees

    Friday, March 16, 2012, 12:35 PM [General]

    TAMPA – Andy Pettitte has ended his retirement to sign a 1-year, minor league contract with the Yankees that will pay him $2.5 million. Less than three weeks after Pettitte visited spring training as a guest instructor here, the 39-year old will soon rejoin the team as an experienced left-handed starter.

    The Yankees needed starters last season and had hoped Pettitte would pitch for them, but he retired after going 11-3 with a 3.28 earned run average in 2010 and stayed retired. But the Yankees have always communicated to Pettitte that they would be interested in re-signing him if he ever wanted to rekindle his career. That is exactly what Pettitte wants to do.

    When Pettitte visited here in late February, I asked him if being around some of his former teammates gave him an itch to try a comeback. Pettitte, who looked as lean as he did when he played, acknowledged that he did have some of those feelings.

    “I’m sure I could,” Pettitte said, about returning. “You start training, working out and get yourself into shape. I would imagine I could.”

    But then Pettitte dismissed the possibility of coming back.

    “I retired after one of my better years,” said Pettitte, who is 240-138 in his career. “I felt like I was at the point where I just kind of knew what I was doing mechanically out there on the mound and stuff like that. But I retired to go home and be with my family, and that’s why I retired.”

    Now Pettitte is coming out of retirement to be with the Yankees, his second family. By signing a minor league deal, Pettitte can take his time in getting prepared to pitch in the Major Leagues again. The Yankees view Pettitte as an excellent addition to a deep rotation, a familiar face and, more importantly, a familiar arm to have for the 2012 season.   

    More Andy Pettitte: Top 9 Moments  |  Trivia  |  Video  |  Stats

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    Dewayne Wise determined to make a contribution

    Friday, March 16, 2012, 11:19 AM [General]

    TAMPA – There are hundreds of stories in the Yankees’ clubhouse here. There are superstars and players who are trying to become superstars. There are solid players, useful players and marginal players. There are players who are trying to prolong careers.

    Dewayne Wise is one of those chasers, a player who is trying to snatch some more games and more paychecks.

    Two lockers away from Derek Jeter, there is a locker for Wise, a 34-year old outfielder with a lifetime average of .219 and a scar alongside his nose. He made one of the most memorable catches in history and he has twice appeared in the postseason, but he acknowledged that his career “is winding down.” Wise wants to end it on a championship team, which is why he signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees.

    The roster situation on the Yankees isn’t encouraging for Wise, who will almost definitely open the season at Class AAA. Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher are the starting outfielders, and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are the reserves. Unless someone gets injured, Wise, who has played 445 Major League games across the last 12 seasons, will be a Minor Leaguer in April.

    “If I don’t start out with the team, I’ll go down to the Minors and fight my way back here,” Wise said. “That’s what I’ve always done.”

    Before Wise signed, he knew it would be difficult to muscle his way into a roster spot. But Wise, who was 7-for-16 (.438 average) before Friday’s game against the Nationals, still chose the Yankees over other teams. Why?

    “Because,” Wise said, “I’ve heard for the two years that the Yankees wanted me.”

    Wise was right. The Yankees have had an interest in adding Wise for outfield depth.

    “We’ve been trying to sign him for the last few years,” said general manager Brian Cashman.

    Cashman explained how arduous it can be to find a reserve outfielder who plays above average defense in center. Wise is that type of player. If Granderson or Gardner ever missed an extended period with an injury, Cashman said he could rely on Wise to provide solid defense in center or left. While Wise isn’t an offensive force, he has a .264 average and three of his 22 career homers are against the Yankees.

    But it’s Wise’s defense and versatility that impressed Cashman.

    “He’s insurance,” Cashman said. “If something happens, he gives us insurance.”

    Wise plays very shallow in center, a product of being a wide receiver in high school. Because of Wise’s roots as an All-State receiver in South Carolina, he has always been comfortable with retreating to retrieve baseballs. In some exhibition games, Wise has looked as if he was close enough to take a few steps forward and tap Jeter on the back. He knows he is extremely shallow, but smiled and said, “I have no problems going back on balls.”

    The most indelible moment in Wise’s career came when he rushed back on a fly ball and made a phenomenal catch to help preserve Mark Buehrle’s perfect game on July 23, 2009. Wise was inserted for defense in the ninth and he was immediately needed.

    With Tampa Bay’s Gabe Kapler batting, Wise was, as usual, playing shallow. Kapler hammered a ball to left center field, a shot that looked like it would spoil Buehrle’s bid for perfection. Wise took his eye off the ball, sprinted toward the fence, recovered to find the ball again and leaped over the fence to snare the ball. The ball popped out of his glove as he fell, but Wise snatched it with his bare hand before tumbling on the warning track. It was a remarkable catch which was made even more remarkable because of the situation.

    “Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask me about that play,” Wise said.

    Now Wise is just trying to get on the field to make a play, any play, for the Yankees. Wade knows he will likely have to push his way through the Minor Leagues to make that happen later this season.

    Playing baseball is what Wise does and what he wants to keep doing. When Wise was in the third grade, he wrote an essay about how he would become a Major Leaguer. As part of the assignment, he drew a stick figure baseball player. That stick figure still hangs from his mother’s Christmas tree every year.

    “Got my thumbprint and everything on it,” Wise said.

    The third-grader who drew the stick figure did become a big leaguer. Now Wise’s hope is that he gets to add some pinstripes to his resume. Yes, there are hundreds of stories in the Yankees’ clubhouse. Wise is one of them, a very cool one.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    David Robertson has bone bruise

    Friday, March 9, 2012, 4:12 PM [General]

    TAMPA – The Yankees can exhale. David Robertson has a bone bruise on the top of his right foot, which is an encouraging development for the Yankees. He will continue wearing a walking boot until Monday before removing it and resuming some baseball activities.

    After two anxious days in which Robertson underwent several medical tests to determine the extent of his injury, the Yankees were relieved that their superb setup man isn’t expected to miss any meaningful games.

    “It’s a huge relief,” said manager Joe Girardi. He added, “This is as good as it gets for us.”

    While Girardi said he couldn’t predict how quickly Robertson would heal, he said he “would think” that Robertson would be ready for the season opener. Before the Yankees said that Robertson had a bone bruise, he spoke optimistically about throwing by Monday or Tuesday. Now it appears as Robertson will probably be able to do that.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Yanks say Pineda -- with changeup -- can be 'elite'

    Monday, March 5, 2012, 6:11 PM [General]

    CLEARWATER, FLA. – Michael Pineda uncoiled his right arm, moved it forward as if he was about to throw a pitch and then pushed ahead in a forceful way. He made a sound like someone who had just belted a punching bag. Pineda was showing how aggressive he needs to be when he throws a changeup. He has to mimic the way he throws a fastball.

     “Every pitch,” Pineda said. “Every time.”

    This scene occurred near Pineda’s locker at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on one of the first days of Spring Training. A conversation with Pineda had shifted to how vital it will be for him to add a reliable changeup to his superb fastball and slider combination. Soon after Pineda arrived in a four-player trade that sent Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees started lecturing him about the value of a third pitch. Those lectures will continue.

     “He’s already shown he can win with the two pitches he’s got,” said catcher Russell Martin. “If he can develop a third pitch, that’ll be something.”

    That is something the Yankees are aching to see. The Yankees believe that Pineda can eventually become an elite pitcher, someone who can slide in behind CC Sabathia as the number two starter in the rotation. But GM Brian Cashman has said that Pineda needs a third pitch to make that leap from a pitcher who can potentially be elite to a pitcher who actually is elite.

    On Monday, Pineda took small steps in his pursuit of an effective changeup while tossing two scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. Pineda estimated that he threw about five changeups, including one that struckout Shane Victorino in the first. He looked comfortable going to the pitch as he even used it against Jim Thome, a left-handed hitter with 604 career homers.

    It was one Spring Training outing, one sliver of a draining season, but it was a solid start. Pineda needs to throw the pitch now to develop a trust in it and to believe in it enough to use it in a game that really matters, not just a Spring Training game. According to, Pineda threw his changeup 6.3 percent of the time last season. Essentially, 19 out of every 20 pitches were fastballs or sliders.

    “It’s not easy,” said Pineda, about honing the changeup. “Right now, I’m a little bit surprised because my changeup was good.”

     The mission for Pineda is to deceive batters, making them think they are swinging at his 95-mile per hour fastball when they are instead swinging at an 87 M.P.H. changeup. That is why Pineda needs to use the same delivery, the same release point and the same exertion on his fastballs and changeups.

     “You make them guess,” Johan Santana of the Mets has said. “That’s the whole point. You want to keep them off balance.”

    To do that, Pineda must unleash his fastballs and changeups the same way every time. Pineda must also continue building more and more confidence in a pitch that he barely used last season. The Yankees will keep lecturing Pineda about why a third pitch is so crucial, lectures that he can silence by mastering the changeup.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Bobby V. has a knack for creating havoc

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 2:48 PM [General]

    I’ve sung karaoke with Bobby Valentine in Tokyo, I’ve eaten lunch with him at his restaurant in Connecticut and I’ve seen him console a 9/11 family during a memorial event for their son, who was a friend of mine. In every setting, which ranged from hilarious to casual to somber, Valentine was always on. He was on stage and on display because he is comfortable with being in the middle of any situation.

    Sometimes, Valentine creates the situation unnecessarily. That is what happened on a sleepy Tuesday in Florida when Valentine questioned aspects of Derek Jeter’s famous flip play and also took a swipe at Alex Rodriguez. While speaking with reporters, the Red Sox manager didn’t need to inject Jeter or Rodriguez into the discussion, but he did. My guess is Valentine knew exactly what he was doing.

    Valentine is a savvy manager, someone who understands that anything he utters about Jeter or Rodriguez will be dissected, devoured and evaluated. And, if Valentine offers a smidgen of negativity in his remarks about those Yankees or any Yankees, it will be newsworthy. Since the Yankees and the Red Sox are such ferocious rivals, the manager’s words are always analyzed. Valentine made sure his words spoke dismissively of the Yankees. Yes, Valentine was saying, I will shoot some spitballs in this rivalry.

    As Valentine spoke about the relays and cutoffs that the Red Sox had practiced, he suddenly decided to critique Jeter’s flip play against the Oakland Athletics in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series. Jeter scampered in from shortstop to retrieve Shane Spencer’s throw, which had soared over two cutoff men, near the first-base line. He used a back-handed flip to get the ball to Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi. It was an outstanding, athletic play, but Valentine claimed Jeter wasn’t in the right spot. Say what?

    “We’ll never practice that,” Valentine said. “I think (Jeter) was out of position and the ball gets (Giambi) out if (Jeter) doesn’t touch it, personally.”

    As someone who covered that game and has watched the replay dozens of times, I can tell you that Valentine is wrong. Spencer’s throw was dying and would have been up the first base line. Posada would have had to move up the line to retrieve the ball and wouldn’t have had enough time to hustle back and tag Giambi on the third base side of the plate. Without Jeter, Giambi is safe. Bobby needs to watch the replay again.

    Valentine also questioned whether the Yankees practiced the play, which Jeter disclosed after the game. Why would Jeter lie about that? It doesn’t make any sense. Still, Valentine, making sure he strengthened his status as a Yankee-hater, tweaked Jeter. Jeter wondered why he had to flash back a decade.

    “We do practice it, but not the flip home,” Jeter told reporters. “But who cares? Why are we talking about this? He must be bored over there, huh? I don’t understand.”

    Jeter had a much more clever response to Valentine when the Yankees practiced cutoff drills on Wednesday. As Jeter recreated the flip play, he told some reporters, “See, we work on it.”

    Besides Jeter, Valentine verbally smacked Rodriguez while he was supposed to be praising the recently retired Jason Varitek. As Valentine lauded Varitek, a player he never managed, he veered in an interesting direction and added, “He was able to beat up Alex, all that stuff.”

    In July of 2004, Rodriguez and Varitek had an altercation after Rodriguez was hit with a pitch. Varitek, who never removed his mask, pushed his catcher’s mitt into Rodriguez’s face to start a crawl. Showing much more restraint than Valentine, Rodriguez dodged the topic with a dose of humor.

    “Like I’ve said, guys, I’m not gonna win my battles here when it comes to words, especially against Bobby,” he told reporters. “But I will tell you this, I got my new press secretary that should be landing in a couple of days, Reggie Jackson, so I’ll let him handle it, all right?”

    The Yankees were smart to be just as dismissive of Valentine’s comments as he was toward them in dragging them into things that had nothing to do with them. It is puzzling that questions about cutoffs and Varitek’s retirement caused Valentine to reference Jeter and Rodriguez. But, with Valentine, these messy situations can happen. Sometimes, like this time, Valentine even creates them.  

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Robertson desires to close, but not replacing Rivera

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 11:35 AM [General]

    TAMPA – As David Robertson stood on a mound here in December, the conversation switched to the possibility of him being a closer for the Yankees. Sure, Robertson said, he would love to succeed Mariano Rivera at some point, but Robertson stressed that he didn’t want Rivera to retire anytime soon.

    “I don’t need to do it right away,” Robertson said. “I want Mo to hang around a few years.”

    Two months later, Rivera walked into Spring Training and strongly hinted that he would retire after 2012. Rivera acknowledged that he has already decided what he will do after this season. While Rivera wouldn’t divulge his plans to reporters, he sounded like a player who was prepared to cede the ninth inning to someone else.

    Someone like Robertson.

    It was sensible to speculate that Robertson, who might have been the best reliever in the American League in 2011, could be Rivera’s heir apparent. With a faster-than-it-looks fastball and a knee-buckling curveball, Robertson was an electrifying setup man. He was 4-0 with a 1.08 earned run average and struck 100 and walked 35 in 66 2/3 innings. No one will replace Rivera, that is understood, but Robertson at least has the ability to do the job. He must prove that he can handle the mental side of the tensest job in baseball.

    Still, Robertson, who was a closer at the University of Alabama and aspires to be a closer, has doubts. Not about whether he could do the job, but about whether Rivera would really leave the job.

    “I’ll believe it when I see it,” Robertson said. “When you talk about replacing Mariano Rivera, I don’t think that can be done.”

    How much of a doubter is Robertson? Robertson doesn’t plan to watch Rivera any more closely or ask him any more questions across the next several months, just in case it is Rivera’s last season. He intends to treat 2012 like 2011, believing that Rivera will return. Robertson heard that Rivera hinted at retirement, but dismissed the word “hinted” as quickly as he dismisses a lame hitter.

    When Robertson discussed Rivera, he marveled about how efficient the 42-year old pitcher is. Robertson said Rivera, the often perfect pitcher, “doesn’t chase perfection” and “just finds a way to get outs.” By that, Robertson meant that Rivera doesn’t need to secure three strikeouts in an inning. Rivera would prefer to have a six-pitch inning.

    Robertson would love to emulate Rivera’s efficiency. Despite Robertson’s success in wriggling out of bases-loaded situations, he dislikes being in those precarious spots. Someday soon, Robertson could be in more precarious spots. He could be the pitcher who succeeds the best closer ever. It might even happen in 2013, whether Robertson wants to admit it or not.

    “Like I said, I’ll believe it when I see it,” Robertson said. “You never know. He could Brett Favre us.”

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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