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    CC Sabathia shows why he's Yankees ace

    Monday, April 8, 2013, 10:17 AM [General]

    CC Sabathia understood the importance of Sunday's game against the Detroit Tigers, even if it was only the sixth game of the season. The Yankees were wobbly, a team that was still trying to play a reliable brand of baseball, so the Yankees needed Sabathia to be a stabilizer and help guide them to a win. He did.
    In a titanic matchup where Justin Verlander was the more celebrated pitcher, Sabathia ended up as the more successful pitcher. Sabathia tossed seven scoreless innings in silencing a talented lineup and powering the Yankees to a 7-0 victory. For the Yankees, a 2-4 record felt a lot better than 1-5, especially because of the significance of Sabathia's performance.

    Sabathia's fastball was a bit more robust as he maxed out at 92.5 miles per hour and averaged 90 to 91, but his command was improved and he also featured a dependable slider and a more ubiquitous changeup. Sabathia has thrown his change 20 percent of the time, up from 12.6 percent in 2012.

    Still, Sabathia's most impressive numbers were holding Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez hitless in nine at-bats and limiting Detroit to one hit in 11 at-bats with men on base. Sabathia's effort allowed the Yankees, who were aching for a victory, to exhale.

    "It's the first week in April," said Sabathia. "It's hard to say this was a must-win game, but it feels good to win."

    Throughout a draining Spring Training in which the Yankees were hampered by injuries, they continued to stress how their pitching would help carry them. Everyone from general manager Brian Cashman to Derek Jeter said that the Yankees would be successful because of their pitchers.

    "Our pitching," said Jeter, "is outstanding."

    But, before Sunday, the Yankees' pitching hadn't been outstanding. The Yankees had a 6.49 earned run average and had yielded 61 hits, which tied a franchise worst for the first five games of the season. Other than Andy Pettitte, no other pitcher had exceeded five innings in a start. Pettitte worked eight one-run innings last Thursday in defeating the Red Sox for the Yankees' first win of the season.

    As much as the Yankees have focused on replacing the likes of Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, and having a sturdy offense, their potential recipe for success has been simple. In the two games where the Yankees received stellar outings from a starter, they have won. Obviously, getting solid starting pitching is a recipe for success for any team. Sabathia reminded the Yankees of that on Sunday.  

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Ichiro Suzuki in perpetual motion

    Thursday, March 21, 2013, 10:45 AM [General]

    TAMPA - Ichiro Suzuki was listening to my questions intently. At least that's what I wanted to believe. He nodded over and over as Allen Turner, his translator, told him my questions. He answered them quickly. We were talking about the Yankees' offense and Suzuki seemed engaged with the topic.

    An interview with Suzuki can be an interesting experience. He might suddenly mention how he once pitched in a professional game in Japan 17 years ago, which is the curveball he tossed at me. We'll cover that compelling tidbit later, but Suzuki can be intriguing because he is in perpetual motion. He did a lengthy interview while doing a series of stretching experiences on the clubhouse carpet last October.

    On this recent morning, Suzuki was sitting in a folding chair. But, as the conversation continued, he maneuvered his body so that his feet were planted on the seat and he was crouching like a catcher in the chair. Not only was Suzuki flexible enough to do this, and do it as easily as he snapped his fingers, he appeared quite comfortable.

    When I asked Suzuki his preference in the Yankees' lineup, he smiled and said he would be satisfied in any spot "as long as it's not tenth." Before the Yankees acquired Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners last July, they told him he would have to be willing to hit in the bottom of the order and to play anywhere in the outfield. He accepted those parameters and hit .322 in 67 games.

    "Last year, I came over and hit in many different spots in the lineup," Suzuki said. "That was a good experience. I wanted to be ready for anything. Not just in the lineup, but also in left field, center field or right field. I want to be prepared and do well."

    While Suzuki has hit third several times this spring, manager Joe Girardi isn't expected to use him there this season. I thought the Yankees might use Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Suzuki as their first three batters and put Robinson Cano in the fourth spot, especially because the Yankees don't have an obvious cleanup batter. But Girardi dismissed that possibility. Girardi has hit Suzuki third in Florida as a way to make sure Suzuki gets enough at-bats. Cano is the best choice to hit third, but he's also the best candidate to hit fourth.

    Wherever Cano hits, he will be the most lethal hitter in a revamped and leaner lineup. The Yankees belted 245 homers last season, but Cashman and Girardi have acknowledged that the 2013 Yankees will not have as much power. Of the Yankees' 10 leading home run hitters from 2012, eight won't be with them at the start of the season because they are playing elsewhere or they are injured. The Yankees won't be able to rely on the long ball to rescue them and will need to be a more creative offensive team.

    Since Suzuki was with the Yankees for less than half a season and Gardner only had 31 at-bats last season, the Yankees are hoping those two players can combine to give their offense a boost. Home runs can cure a lot of headaches. Without as much power, the Yankees hope Suzuki and Gardner can combine to score 200 runs, steal 90 bases and create some headaches for opposing teams.    

    "Home runs can change the momentum of the game," Suzuki said. "The Yankees had a team that did that and this franchise has been known for that. But you don't have to win games by 10 runs. You can win by one run. Baseball is so deep. There are many different ways to score runs."

    And there are different ways to get outs, too. Seventeen years ago, that included using Suzuki as a pitcher. As Suzuki stressed how he would play any outfield spot for the Yankees, he added, "I played third base and pitched in Japan." I thought Suzuki was being playful about the pitching part, but he was serious. In fact, the evidence is on YouTube.

    In the 1996 Japanese League All-Star Game, Suzuki was brought in to face Hideki Matsui and try to secure the final out for the Pacific League. As the thin-as-a-foul-pole Suzuki warmed up, he threw 90 mile per hour fastballs. Matsui watched from the on-deck circle, seemingly amused. But the manager of Matusi's Central League team wasn't amused. He thought that having Suzuki, an outfielder, pitch to Matsui was disrespectful to the game. So he inserted Shingo Takatsu, a pitcher, as a pinch-hitter for Matsui. Suzuki explained what happened next.

    "One batter, groundout to shortstop, game over," he said.

    Interview over, too. We weren't going to top that story.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Derek Jeter to miss Opening Day?

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 2:05 PM [General]

    TAMPA - Derek Jeter has repeatedly said that playing for the Yankees on Opening Day was an achievable goal following surgery on his left ankle.  But, after Jeter felt some stiffness in the ankle and was removed from Tuesday's starting lineup, general manager Brian Cashman said on Wednesday that Jeter could open the season on the disabled list.

    Cashman said Jeter received a cortisone shot in his ankle on Wednesday and won't play for at least a few days. With 12 days left before the season opener against the Red Sox on April 1, Cashman acknowledged that Jeter might run out of time to be fully prepared to play.   

    "It's possible he might not be ready," Cashman said.

    The Yankees still need to have Jeter play nine innings at shortstop and also play back-to-back games at the position without difficulties. Jeter played in consecutive games on Saturday and Sunday, and then the Yankees were off on Monday. But, when Jeter was scheduled to start on Tuesday, he felt the stiffness. Tests revealed mild inflammation in Jeter's ankle.

    "It's not serious," Cashman said. "It's a time issue."

    If the Yankees decide to have Jeter begin the season on the disabled list, he would miss at least the first six days of the season. Clubs are allowed to back date a player's stint on the DL until March 22, which is nine days before the season begins. But, in order to back date Jeter's potential DL stint to that date, he can't appear in a Spring Training game after Thursday. Cashman said Jeter could play in Minor League games to get prepared for the season, which would protect the Yankees' ability to back date the DL stint. Eduardo Nunez would replace Jeter at shortstop.

    While Cashman was candid about Jeter's race against the calendar to play in the opener, he added that the shortstop could show up at Steinbrenner Field on Thursday "doing the jig." Cashman praised Jeter's ability to play through pain and expressed confidence that Jeter won't be hampered by ankle trouble all season.

    "If anybody can do it," Cashman said, "Derek Jeter can."

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Tomorrow arrives for Mariano Rivera, Yankees

    Friday, March 8, 2013, 1:54 PM [General]

    TAMPA - Even from about 100 feet away, the man's confident walk looked familiar. Even in a darkened concourse outside the Yankees' clubhouse, it was easy to peek at the man's back and realize exactly who it was. There is style in everything Mariano Rivera does, even when he is walking from the clubhouse to the parking lot.

    On this sunny Friday at Steinbrenner Field, Rivera's stroll was interrupted when reporters caught up to him and inquired about the press conference he is having on Saturday. Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time, is expected to announce that he is retiring after the 2013 season. But, naturally, Rivera wasn't ready to disclose that one day early.

    "I told you guys that I would talk one day," Rivera said. "Tomorrow is the day."

    Tomorrow is the day the Yankees knew would eventually arrive, a day that will be filled with questions. Why is Rivera retiring after 2013? Is there anything that would ever change his mind? How difficult was this decision? Who will succeed Rivera as the closer? On and on, the questions will keep flowing on Saturday and for every day throughout the season.

    But, on Friday, Rivera politely deflected all retirement questions. He was in a good mood as he walked with one of his sons, whose presence was another sign that a major announcement is imminent. When we asked Derek Jeter about Rivera, Jeter wouldn't comment until after Rivera spoke. Then Jeter said that Rivera might be "announcing an extension," before smiling and adding how that would violate team policy. Rivera laughed at Jeter's playful theory.

    "You never know," Rivera said. "A lot of things happen. Maybe we'll get an exception."  

    Interestingly enough, Rivera is scheduled to make his spring debut a few hours after he reveals what his future plans are. Since Rivera, 43, is recovering from right knee surgery, his first outing would have been covered extensively. Now that Rivera has added his pre-game announcement into the stew, there will be dozens of reporters here to chronicle every word and every pitch. Saturday promises to be the most memorable day of the spring in Yankeeland.

    While Andy Pettitte opposed Jeter in a simulated game, an appealing storyline on any other day, the focus was on Rivera. I expect to see Pettitte and Jeter at Rivera's press conference since both players have deep connections with him. Jeter and Rivera first became teammates when they were at Class-A Greensboro in 1993. Pettite and Rivera both played for Class-AA Albany in 1994.

    Pettitte couldn't remember the first time he met Rivera, but he gave a detailed scouting report on Rivera's evolution as a pitcher and called him "the greatest closer to ever play." Like Rivera, Pettitte has relied on a cut fastball in his career. But Rivera's cutter is different. It is basically the only pitch that Rivera has ever thrown, and it's more devastating because of how dramatically it moves and how adeptly Rivera controls it.

    "He's made it into a Hall of Fame pitch," Pettitte said.

    Without Rivera's excellence, the Yankees might not have won five World Series titles since 1996. The Yankees had superb teams in their championship seasons, but Rivera always gave them a huge edge at the end of games. He is 8-1 with a 0.70 earned run average and 42 saves in the post-season, dominant statistics that amaze everyone.

    "I've never seen anything like it," Pettitte said. "I don't think we'll ever see anything like it again."

    Pettitte is right. We won't.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Mariano Rivera's final chapter

    Thursday, March 7, 2013, 3:45 PM [General]

    TAMPA - We all knew this day was coming. Someday soon, Mariano Rivera would sit down, thank everyone for attending his news conference and then tell the world he wasn't planning to play baseball anymore. When Rivera first arrived for Spring Training with the Yankees last month, he strongly hinted that 2013 would be his final season. Now he is expected to finally confirm that decision.

    After ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that Rivera could announce his retirement as early as Saturday, Joel Sherman of The New York Posttweeted that Rivera would have a news conference at 10 a.m. on Saturday. While Rivera's retirement announcement is probable, one source added that there was a remote chance that Rivera could change his mind.

    Rivera has a rarified place in baseball history. He is the greatest closer ever, a stoic assassin with a cut fastball whose postseason statistics are absolutely ridiculous. There are so many layers to Rivera's legacy, so many different numbers and stories that make him such a memorable player. But what he has accomplished in the postseason will always be as remarkable as anything else he did. So many relievers have fizzled in October. Rivera has flourished.

    Video: Rivera saves No. 602

    Whenever people ask me which player I like interviewing the most, I always say Rivera. When you speak to Rivera, it is more of a conversation than an interview. He looks you in the eye, he answers questions politely and, most of the time, he educates you. When Rivera retires, he will take a world of wisdom out the door with him. The clubhouse will be an emptier place.

    The Yankees will find a successor for Rivera, whether it is David Robertson, Mark Montgomery or someone else. But they will never replace Rivera. How could anyone be as dominant as Rivera? With Rivera in the bullpen, the Yankees believed that they simply needed to get the lead by the eighth inning and they were guaranteed to win. As Derek Jeter often said, "When Mo comes in, we feel the game is over."

    At the age of 43, Rivera has apparently decided he has one year left in his amazing arm. He will pitch on a surgically-repaired right knee, the knee he destroyed last May. I never thought Rivera would retire after that injury. He had to return and craft a more suitable final chapter. That chapter will unfold throughout 2013. Cherish it. This story won't be written again.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Teixeira's injury further complicates Yanks' plans

    Thursday, March 7, 2013, 1:00 AM [General]

    TAMPA, Fla. -- The words spilled out of Joe Girardi's mouth, quickly and disgustedly. Mark Teixeira will miss 8-10 weeks with a strained tendon in his right wrist, the Yankees' manager said.

    Those were the discouraging words that Girardi never wanted to utter on Wednesday, but they were words that fit the theme of this excruciating Spring Training.

    So Teixeira will join Curtis Granderson as another linchpin player the Yankees won't have for at least the first month of the season. Granderson strained his right forearm on Feb. 24 and is likely to miss 10 weeks. The Yankees have been evaluating Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte to determine how they will replace Granderson in the outfield; now, they must figure out how to replace Teixeira at first base, too.

    "It's not what you want, but it's what you've got to deal with," Girardi said. "It's life."

    Life has become more complicated for the Yankees because of these injuries. Without Teixeira and Granderson to begin the season, the Yanks will be without eight of their top 10 home run hitters from 2012.

    The Yankees knew they would be without five players that signed elsewhere, and have admitted their offense won't have the same muscle. But they never anticipated they would be without Granderson and Teixeira, too.

    "It's a tough loss," said general manager Brian Cashman, "like all these are."

    When Cashman discussed Teixeira's injury, the general manager was sitting in a wheelchair in the Yankee clubhouse because of his own leg injury. Cashman broke his right fibula and dislocated his ankle after he landed awkwardly during a skydiving endeavor for the Wounded Warrior Project. It was a painfully appropriate scene for the Yankees: the injured GM talking about another injured player.

    While Cashman focused on how the Yankees could address their issues internally and said "it's not the time of year to make a move," he will surely investigate possible replacements from outside the organization. Carlos Lee and Aubrey Huff are free-agent first basemen, but neither is terribly attractive.

    Even if it will be difficult and costly to pry away a solid position player, Cashman probably began making calls soon after he received the news about Teixeira. Without Granderson (43 homers in 2012) and Teixeira (24 homers), the Yankees, who were second in the Major Leagues in runs last season, are staring at a much more toothless lineup in 2013.

    If the Yankees don't make a deal, their best option could be to move Kevin Youkilis from third base to first and insert Eduardo Nunez at third. Youkilis won a Gold Glove at first for the Red Sox in 2007, so his versatility gives the Yankees some flexibility. Girardi told Youkilis to begin taking grounders at first.

    If the Yankees don't shift Youkilis across the diamond, Dan Johnson is a candidate to start at first. He played in 14 games with the White Sox in 2012.

    Travis Hafner won't be asked to play first. The Yankees lack the depth that they had last season, which is already impacting them.

    Before the spring began, the Yanks understood that Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia would have to prove they had recovered from surgeries. Since the spring began, Granderson and Teixeira have been lost for extended periods, Phil Hughes has been sidelined by a back injury and Boone Logan and David Robertson have also been slowed by achy arms.

    Any major injury is challenging to a team, but the Teixeira news definitely stung the Yankees. Girardi said the team must "find a way" to compete without two of its best players. That will be easier for the Yankees if they find a way to add another reliable player.

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    Curtis Granderson to take fly balls in LF

    Thursday, February 21, 2013, 12:41 PM [General]

    TAMPA -- Curtis Granderson began working out in left field for the Yankees on Thursday, which is a precursor to Granderson moving from center field to left. Brett Gardner will move from left to center.

    There has been speculation about the Yankees starting Gardner, who is the better defensive player, in center this offseason. While manager Joe Girardi has addressed questions about the possible switch, it didn't come to fruition until he spoke to both players about the plan.

    According to defensive metrics, Gardner has been one of the best defensive left fielders in the Major Leagues while Granderson has been one of the worst center fielders. Gardner considers center field his natural position. The Yankees aren't concerned about Gardner transitioning to center, but they do want Granderson to get acclimated to playing left.

    General Manager Brian Cashman said Granderson and Gardner will both play center and left during the spring, and the Yankees will decide which alignment works best for them. If the Yankees were to make the move with Granderson going to left, Cashman said, "We have to decide if it weakens us or makes us better."

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Phil Hughes' injury reinforces value of depth

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 6:44 PM [General]

    TAMPA– On Monday, Phil Hughes explained how his five-day-a-week workouts at Athletes’ Performance in California in the off-season had helped him get a jump start for the 2013 season. On Tuesday, the Yankees announced that Hughes had stiffness in his upper back. On Wednesday, Hughes revealed that he had a bulging disc in his back. He will miss at least two weeks.

    In the span of 48 hours, Hughes went from discussing how prepared he was for the season to speculating on whether he will be ready for the start of the season. Hughes’s injury occurred when he ran to cover first base during pitcher’s fielding practice, routine drills that aren’t supposed to result in injuries. Hughes’s early injury reinforced the value of depth because every team will have to deal with some injuries.

    When I asked General Manager Brian Cashman what excited him about Spring Training last week, he said he wanted the Yankees to stay healthy and get their work done. It might have sounded like a simple response, but it isn’t simple to avoid injuries. Sometimes, a pitcher hurts his back while doing something he has done a thousand times. Who would have predicted that?

    While Hughes spoke about trying to throw again in six or seven days, Cashman said the pitcher would probably need a “two-week timeout.” Cashman said he was hopeful that the pitcher’s off-season conditioning would help Hughes from falling behind the other starting pitchers.

    In a rotation that features a 40-year old Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, 38, and CC Sabathia, 32, Hughes, who is 26, was the first starter to be throttled by an injury this spring. Hughes forced a smile and acknowledged that some teammates had reminded him how the youngest of the first four starters is now the starter who is expected to miss about two weeks.

    If Hughes’s back issue prevented him from opening the season on time, the Yankees would use Ivan Nova and David Phelps at the back end of the rotation. As of now, Nova and Phelps are competing for the fifth spot. The Yankees would much prefer to have Hughes in the fourth spot, staying healthy and getting his work done.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Andy Pettitte ready for a big season

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013, 6:52 AM [General]

    TAMPA - One year ago, Andy Pettitte came to Spring Training as a guest instructor. As Pettitte stood near the first base dugout at Steinbrenner Field and discussed his new role, he looked as athletic as ever. Pettitte looked like someone who could still pitch. Soon, very soon, we all learned that he could.

    That gig as an instructor didn't last too long for Pettitte. He came out of retirement about three weeks later to pitch for the Yankees and he is back again in 2013. When Pettitte pitched in 2012, which was only for 75 1/3 innings because of a broken fibula, he was very good. This season, Pettitte expects to be just as reliable.

    For Pettitte, being a 40-year old pitcher trumps being a 30-year old pitcher since he suggested that he is a better pitcher than he was a decade ago. Pettitte, who is excited about the baseball detour that took him from retired instructor to dependable starting pitcher (again) has lofty goals. He stressed that he wants to stay healthy, make each of his starts and also log at least 200 innings.

    "Heck, I want to win 20 games," Pettitte added. "That's what I want."

    As long as Pettitte avoids injuries, the Yankees trust that he will be effective. He was 5-4 with a 2.87 earned run average and averaged 8.2 strikeouts and 2.5 walks per nine innings last year, excellent statistics for a left-hander who was a spectator throughout 2011. Pettitte was honest about how much the Yankees need him stay on the mound and produce. The same is true for CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, the two starters that precede him in the rotation, and Phil Hughes, who follows him and who already has a stiff upper back this spring.

    "It's a big responsibility," Pettitte said. "I want to uphold that responsibility."

    Watching the animated Pettitte pitch can be entertaining. He scolds himself on the mound, essentially talking himself through innings. One of Pettitte's former catchers said he sometimes had to suppress laughter when he heard Pettitte's self-criticism about throwing a poor pitch.

    While Pettitte still has a solid repertoire, his intelligence and intensity help make him an elite pitcher. According to fangraphs.com, Pettitte's fastball averaged 87.8 miles per hour last season. He doesn't overpower hitters. He outwits them. Pettitte, who used his nasty cutter to stifle hitters for so many years, now throws a slider that has a bigger break than the cutter. The slider is the cousin to the cutter and Pettitte's reliance on it shows how he has evolved.

    On a sunny morning in February of 2012, Pettitte, the instructor, joked about how he planned to help Ron Guidry, a fellow instructor, catch baseballs during pitcher's fielding practice. But, when Pettitte was asked if he could still pitch, he said, "I'm sure I could." Soon, Pettitte proved that he could. In 2013, the Yankees need Pettitte to keep proving that.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    With expectations 'same as always,' Yanks need a healthy Jeter

    Sunday, February 17, 2013, 4:38 PM [General]

    TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter is almost always dismissive when he's asked about injuries, preferring to say that he is fine, just fine, while providing scant details. That has been Jeter's stubborn approach for his entire career, a routine stemming from his refusal to make excuses.

    But on Sunday, when Jeter and the Yankees' position players reported to Spring Training at Steinbrenner Field, he elaborated on how deeply he was impacted by breaking his left ankle in the postseason.

    Four months after he was carried off the field at Yankee Stadium, Jeter understood there would be a plethora of questions about his injury and his future, so he addressed them more descriptively than he usually does.

    Since Jeter's ankle is healing, and he is poised to start running on the field for the first time on Monday, it naturally made it easier for him to discuss his injury. Jeter reiterated that his goal is to start Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox on April 1, a goal that will be measured on a day-by-day basis as the 38-year-old eases into baseball shape.

    "Why wouldn't it be realistic?" Jeter said about playing on Opening Day. "I broke my ankle in October. I'm right where I'm supposed to be up until this point. The ankle has healed perfectly. Now it's just a matter of getting everything else in shape."

    Then, he added, "I'm going to have to push myself. But, Opening Day, yeah, that's been a goal all along."

    Jeter, who normally wouldn't disclose if his temperature rose to 99 degrees, said he had a plate and screws inserted in his ankle to help stabilize it. But he stressed that he wasn't concerned about his mobility and joked that it's not as if his ankle is "just going to fall off." Still, when a shortstop is four months shy of his 39th birthday and playing on a surgically-repaired ankle, the questions about his future will persist.

    After Jeter bruised a bone in his ankle, he said, at some undisclosed point, it eventually "turned into a stress fracture" and then "broke in half." Doctors told him that if he hadn't broken his ankle scampering to his left in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, he would have suffered the same injury at another point. While Jeter admitted that he probably shouldn't have been playing on the fragile ankle, he said he "would do the same thing all over again."

    The Yankees need Jeter to do the same thing all over again this season, meaning they need him to have the same productive season he had one year ago. That is a hefty request.

    The captain led the league with 216 hits, batted .316 and had a .362 on-base percentage. How Jeter progresses will be one of the dominant themes of the spring. But, not only do the Yankees need Jeter to be healthy, they need him to be an offensive linchpin again, too.

    "If I didn't break my ankle, I'd still be answering similar questions about getting older," Jeter said. "It's not like I go out and say I have to prove something. I just go out and try to improve. That's the approach I take.

    "I don't think about age. I don't. I think, if you get caught up in thinking how old you are, those are negative thoughts."

    In an offseason recuperation that Jeter described as "terrible, absolutely terrible," he spent about five or six weeks confined to a couch. Jeter actually conceded that he used a motorized scooter for transportation when he wasn't on the couch. After saying that he didn't want to be overly dramatic, Jeter explained how he had to "learn to walk again" and how challenging that was.

    Eventually, questions about Jeter's ankle were replaced by questions about the 2013 Yankees. That's when Jeter returned to being the same, old Jeter. He said the expectations for the Yankees are "the same as always. You have to win."

    For that to happen, Jeter must be a major part of it. For Jeter to be a major part of it, he needs to rebound from the ankle injury. So, in 2013, Jeter and his ankle need to be just as effective as 2012.

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    Mariano Rivera determined to return to form

    Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 3:22 PM [General]

    TAMPA, Fla. – Mariano Rivera never throws on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, a fact that he mentioned with a sly smile. But Rivera threw on Wednesday, smoothly navigating through a 25-pitch bullpen session. It was the most scrutinized session in the state with about 40 reporters watching every pitch that Rivera uncorked.

    When it was over, Rivera exhaled. So did the Yankees. It was the first step in a process that the Yankees hope will end with Rivera returning to his dominant form as a closer. Rivera, who wore a light-weight brace on his right knee, said that it felt "wonderful to be out there again." For the Yankees, the feeling was mutual.

    It was only one bullpen session, only 25 pitches to Minor League catcher J.R. Murphy, but seeing a healthy Rivera on the mound brought some peace to the Yankees. Manager Joe Girardi praised Rivera as a pitcher, but also cited how crucial Rivera's presence is to his teammates. Andy Pettitte spoke about the value of Rivera's enthusiastic personality and called Rivera "a difference-maker" for the Yankees.

    "You got to have him," Pettitte said.

    Now the Yankees do. They have Rivera, their ninth-inning security blanket, back. Rivera still has to complete Spring Training and prove that his surgically-repaired knee, which he injured while shagging fly balls in Kansas City last May 3, is sound. But Rivera estimated that the strength in his knee was a nine on a scale of 1 to 10, saying that he needs to complete running and agility drills to push that number to a resounding 10.

    "I'm definitely expecting good things," Rivera said. "That's what I demand of myself. I'm looking for that or else I wouldn't be here."

    Since Rivera is 43 years old and hasn't pitched in a game in nine months, even Girardi is eager to be told that he doesn't need to be concerned about Rivera's knee anymore. I wouldn't doubt Rivera. I think Rivera, who is as impressive and dedicated as any athlete as I've ever covered, will return and be as good as he was in 2011 (1.91 earned run average with 44 saves in 49 chances) and in his truncated 2012 (2.16 ERA with five saves in six tries). And, even if Rivera is 90 percent of what he was, he will still be one of the best closers in baseball. Rivera said he may wear a knee brace all season as a precaution.

    How long Rivera will continue pitching remained an unanswered question, although Rivera promised that he would give the answer soon. Rivera said he would reveal his plans for the future at "the right moment" and added that it wouldn't hurt reporters to wait another day or another week for the information. Later, Rivera said he will disclose if he is retiring after the season before Opening Day.

     "I will give you that," Rivera said.

    Rivera's injury occurred while shagging fly balls in batting practice, a routine he doesn't expect to change. That pregame ritual was Rivera's way of strengthening his legs and staying in shape. While Rivera said he would be careful, he stressed that he wants to do "whatever it takes to be myself again." The Yankees want the same thing this season, the same, dominant Rivera. Especially since this sounds like it could be his final season.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Joe Girardi with high hopes for 'old' team

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013, 3:53 PM [General]

    TAMPA, Fla., – Before Spring Training, there's a snap shot or an assessment of every team. That snap shot is a quick way of deciphering who that team could be or should be. It's not always accurate, but it's the theme that follows the team into camp.

    In Joe Girardi's association with the Yankees as a player, as a coach and now as the manager, those evaluations have invariably involved the team winning at least 90 games and qualifying for the postseason. Actually, in 17 of the last 18 seasons, the Yankees have reached the playoffs, eclipsing 90 victories in 15 of those seasons. Girardi was part of 10 of those teams.

    So when I asked Girardi for his snapshot of the 2013 Yankees, he naturally didn't hesitate.

    "This team could win 95 games and get to the World Series," Girardi said.

    Why did Girardi speak so confidently?

    "Because," he said, "there's a lot of talent in this room."

    After an offseason in which the Yankees acted early to retain Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, and then signed Kevin Youkilis and re-signed Ichiro Suzuki, there was also considerable focus on the players they lost. Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Rafael Soriano and Eric Chavez were all important players last season and they have all departed. The Yankees have some uncertainty about replacing those productive players, especially at catcher.

    Of the players the Yankees lost, I think Martin will be the most difficult to replace. While Martin only hit .211 a year ago, he was actually one of the Yankees' better hitters late in the season. Martin was also a tough, reliable player at the most difficult position on the field. General Manager Brian Cashman called him the toughest Yankee he had ever seen. Now Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, who profile as backups, and Austin Romine, who has only played 21 games at Class AAA, are fighting for the starting spot.

    Still, Girardi, the eternal optimist, preached optimism. The manager emphasized how the Yankees have the same starting rotation, essentially the same bullpen (with Rivera replacing Soriano) and the same infield back. Since the departures of Martin, Swisher, Ibanez, Chavez and Andruw Jones mean that almost 100 homers have left the building, Girardi acknowledged that the Yankees must be a different offensive team. The Yankees led the Major Leagues with 245 homers in 2012.

    "I believe we're going to score runs," Girardi said. "It's just going to be in a different fashion."

    By that, Girardi meant the Yankees would rely more on Brett Gardner, who missed most of last season, and Suzuki to help create some offense with their speed. It won't be easy. Some fans groused that the Yankees hit too many homers. Cashman has already said that those fans will get their wish and will see a time with less power. By the way, hitting homers was never a problem for the Yankees. Every team wants to blast homers. It was the lack of situational hitting that buried the Yankees.

    If CC Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte can remain healthy and effective, the Yankees will have a stellar 1-2-3 in their rotation. Phil Hughes, who can be a free agent after the season, is a solid fourth starter while Ivan Nova probably has the edge over David Phelps for the fifth slot. The Yankees had a 3.85 earned run average last year, which was fifth-best in the American League. Yes, the Yankees will have a different look on offense. But they would be satisfied with a duplicate performance from their pitching staff.

    When pitchers turn around, which player will they see manning center field? Although there has been speculation that the Yankees might flip-flop Gardner, the left fielder, with Curtis Granderson, the center fielder, Girardi hasn't discussed the possibility with either player. Girardi didn't sound like someone who was poised to make that switch.

    On the day where Yankee pitchers and catchers reported to camp for the first time, Girardi answered the most questions about a player who is rehabilitating his hip in New York: Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, Cervelli and other players were mentioned in the documents of Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Miami.

    Both Major League Baseball and the Drug Enforcement Agency are investigating Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis for allegedly providing performance enhancing drugs to players. In a statement, Rodriguez said the Biogenesis records, which were first reported by the Miami New Times, are "not legitimate." Girardi, who said he has only spoken to Rodriguez about his rehab, said the Yankees are "used to having distractions."

    Lane: Yankees out to defy age | More from Jack Curry

    This club is also used to hearing about age, an issue that is prominent again as Derek Jeter and Rivera try to rebound from surgeries. Girardi said he will be relieved when he knows he doesn't need to worry about the comebacks of Jeter and Rivera, but Girardi won't have a chance to experience that relief until later in the spring. Girardi said having aging players is always "a concern," but noted that age has been a topic swirling around the Yankees for the last decade.

    "We were old last year," Girardi said, "and we won 95 games."

    Now Girardi thinks they can win 95 again. The journey toward that goal has begun. It will be an interesting ride. 

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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