Youkilis relishes chance to join Yankees

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 2:00 AM [General]

    Soon after Kevin Youkilis’ agent met with the Yankees eight days ago at the Winter Meetings, I spoke to one of the third baseman’s friends. The friend said Youkilis was very intrigued by the possibility of playing for the Yankees.

    Youkilis relished being immersed in the baseball cauldron that is Boston, an intense atmosphere that also exists in New York. Now that he has agreed in principle to a one-year, $12 million contract with the Yankees, which is pending a physical, he will experience the other side of the most ferocious rivalry in baseball.

    While cautioning that Youkilis’ deal won’t be official until the physical is complete, Joe Bick, the player’s agent, described him as being “some kind of fired up” about his new baseball home.

    Before the news that Alex Rodriguez needed hip surgery became public, Youkilis wasn’t expecting the Yankees to pursue him. Now, for the first time in Youkilis’ career, he will actually hear something besides boos at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox player who Yankee fans always disliked more than the others is Rodriguez’s temporary replacement. Once Rodriguez is healthy enough to play, Youkilis will still get at-bats while shifting between third, first and designated hitter.

    “There’s nothing he likes better than being in the middle of the chance to win a World Series,” said Bick about Youkilis. “He feels like that’s the case here.”

    In a 2012 season that began with the Red Sox and ended with the White Sox, Youkilis hit .235 with a .336 on-base percentage, a .409 slugging percentage, 19 homers and 60 RBIs over 122 games. Other than homers, those statistics were Youkilis’ worst numbers since he became a full-time player in 2006.

    But in Youkilis, the Yankees see a former Gold Glove third baseman who is a selective hitter and who still produces solid numbers against left-handed pitchers. Even in 2012, Youkilis, who was third in the Major Leagues while seeing 4.36 pitches per plate appearance, hit .275 with a .386 on base percentage and a .492 slugging percentage off lefties. The Yankees might rest Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, against some right-handers.

    By getting Youkilis on a one-year deal, the Yankees continued their trend of signing free agents to one-year contracts this offseason. Pitchers Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte have all signed for one year and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is expected to agree to a one-year deal this week. The one-year approach means the Yankees aren’t adding salary for 2014, which is when they have stressed that their payroll will be under $189 million.

    Because Youkilis was vilified by Yankee fans when he played for the Red Sox, there are some who have groused about his addition. I am amused by those complaints.

    Once the Yankees didn’t make offers to Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger and both signed elsewhere, the Yankees needed to find a solid third baseman. Youkilis is that solid player, regardless of where he played before. What matters to the Yankees is where Youkilis is playing now: in the baseball cauldron that is New York.

    “He likes being in the middle of the fight,” Bick said. “With this team and at this time, that will definitely be the case.”

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    VIDEO: Jack chats with Yankees GM Brian Cashman

    Friday, December 7, 2012, 2:15 PM [General]

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Yankees could pursue modest fix at third

    Monday, December 3, 2012, 7:42 PM [General]

    NASHVILLE – When Alex Rodriguez was removed for pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez in the American League Division Series, it was the first time he told Joe Girardi that his surgically-repaired right hip was bothering him. Rodriguez immediately had an MRI on the hip, but no problems were found. Oddly, it was the left hip that was actually troubling him.

    After the season ended, Rodriguez had a physical and a subsequent examination of the left hip revealed that he had a torn labrum, a bone impingement and a cyst. Rodriguez will have surgery on his left hip in January and is expected to be out for four-to-six months. For a team that needs a catcher and a right fielder, losing Rodriguez to start the 2013 season was a depressing development.

    “Right now, time is a problem,” said general manager Brian Cashman. “We’re going to be missing him for some time. It’s our job to find a way to withstand this.”

    Since the Yankees have been aware of Rodriguez’s status and hadn’t yet made a move to add a player who could play third base, I wonder if that’s an indication that they will look to replace Rodriguez in a modest way. Cashman called Rodriguez’s injury significant and serious, but also said that he will not overreact to try and fill the void at third.

    “If it’s not practical,” Cashman said, “we won’t do it.”

    Could Cashman be playing possum with his comments? Sure. But, again, the Yankees have had the opportunity to sign or acquire someone who could have filled in for A-Rod and they haven’t rushed to do that. The team is hopeful that Rodriguez could return by June. In what might have been another hint that the Yankees could pursue a modest fix, Cashman said Rodriguez “will be back. We have to plan accordingly.”

    The Yankees need Rodriguez to recover and return and produce. He is signed for five more years and is owed $114 million. Cashman said the doctors that examined Rodriguez believe his hip trouble was a contributing factor in his struggles at the end of the regular season and in the postseason. Rodriguez was 3-for-25 with no extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts in the playoffs.

    After Rodriguez’s first hip surgery, he came back in two months and knocked in 100 runs in 124 games. Cashman said Rodriguez’s second surgery is more complicated and that is why there is a longer recovery time. The Yankees remain hopeful that Rodriguez can once again be a productive player.

    “To what degree,” Cashman said, “you have to stay tuned and watch.”

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    A-Rod's injury creates hole in infield

    Monday, December 3, 2012, 12:09 PM [General]

    NASHVILLE – On the first official day of the Winter Meetings, Alex Rodriguez emerged as the most discussed player at the cavernous Opryland Hotel. It wasn’t for a good reason. Rodriguez has a tear in his left hip that will require surgery, meaning he will miss part of the 2013 season. The New York Post first reported the Rodriguez news while adding that it’s not the right hip previously operated on in 2009.

    Rodriguez injured the hip before the postseason, a dismal stretch in which he went 3-for-25 with no extra-base hits and 12 strikeouts. The hip problem could help explain why Rodriguez looked lost at the plate and showed no power in the playoffs. The Yankees had hoped that Rodriguez would return as a much more productive hitter, but now they will have to wait and see how he recovers.

    Without Rodriguez and with Derek Jeter recuperating from a fractured left ankle, the Yankees suddenly have an empty left side of the infield. There is no guarantee that Jeter will be ready to play by Opening Day, either. The revelation about Rodriguez’s hip intensifies the need for the Yankees to add a third baseman, something general manager Brian Cashman already had on his to-do list.

    As Cashman searches for infield help, he will definitely consider free agents Stephen Drew and Marco Scutaro. The Yankees also like Eric Chavez, but, because of his injury history, they don’t consider him someone who could play every day. Chase Headley of the Padres, a player who has been linked with the Yankees in trade talks, is another possibility. Rodriguez, who is 37 years old, has five years left on his contract.

    Because of the way Rodriguez’s season ended, there were going to be endless questions about him in Spring Training. Now those questions will multiply. After Rodriguez’s last hip surgery in 2009, he knocked in 100 runs in 124 games. After another surgery, can the Yankees even dream that an aging player will experience a renaissance? The Yankees would be content if Rodriguez could return and be reasonably productive. But that answer won’t come for a while.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    With Martin gone, Romine deserves a chance

    Sunday, December 2, 2012, 11:33 AM [General]

    A few hours before Russell Martin signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Pirates, I asked Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman how confident he was about re-signing the catcher. Cashman didn’t want to specifically answer the question, but his non-answer was enough of a response for me.

    It seemed obvious that Martin wouldn’t be back with the Yankees.

    By declining to offer Martin a similar two-year deal, the Yankees showed how they felt about a soon-to-be 30-year old catcher whose skills could be eroding. Martin is a tough player with solid power, but his average has dropped for five straight seasons.

    The Yankees also reiterated how serious they are about having their payroll under $189 million in 2014. They didn’t want to commit to Martin for a salary that would have impacted the 2014 payroll.

    If Austin Romine hadn’t been hampered by a back injury and had played an entire season at Triple-A  in 2012, he would presumably be in a better position to become the starting catcher. But Romine only played 17 games for Scranton Wilkes-Barre. When I mentioned how Romine might have been a candidate to start in 2013 if he hadn’t been hurt, Cashman said, “Maybe he still is.”

    While Cashman wasn’t ready to announce his starting catcher before the calendar turned to December, the Yankees should allow Romine to compete for the job. When he was still at Double-A, the Yankees felt he was Major League ready from a defensive standpoint.  If Romine is healthy and can handle the defensive workload, the Yankees should be able to live with whatever he does offensively. In Romine’s Minor League career, he has hit .278 with 43 homers in 458 games.

    Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski are free agent catchers, but those two players are more about offense than defense. The Yankees don’t seem interested in either. A trade is always a possibility, but what team is going to deal a front-line catcher?

    Besides Romine, the Yankees have Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart as catching options. But both Cervelli and Stewart are viewed as backups. Romine profiles as someone who is expected to be a starter. 

    Entrusting the most important defensive position on the field to a 24-year old who has played a total of 21 Triple-A games would be a daring move. Still, I think it would be a worthwhile move. As the Yankees march toward a world where their payroll will be under $189 million, they need some talented players who are also inexpensive. Romine can be one of them. Why not give him a chance to show it?

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Pettitte ready to produce for Yankees

    Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 9:09 PM [General]

    Once Andy Pettitte scooped up a baseball this month, the same feelings that he had after the season ended were still there. It didn’t take Pettitte many pitches or many minutes to realize that he wanted to return to the Yankees for the 2013 season.

    “It was pretty easy,” said Pettitte, in describing a decision that allowed the Yankees to exhale.

    Now that Pettitte has agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract, the Yankees will slot him behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in the rotation.

    While Pettitte will turn 41 years old in June, he made a bold prediction in saying that he hopes to make 34 starts. To accomplish that goal, he would need to be injury-free for the entire season.

    “I think I can do that,” said Pettitte. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t try to do it again.”

    Before Pettitte fractured his left fibula when he was hit by a line drive last June, he was pitching extremely well. Pettitte explained how he had excellent command of all four pitches and how his return following a one-year retirement didn’t hamper him. He likened it to riding a bike. Pettitte went 5-4 with a 2.87 earned run average in 75 1/3 innings. He had a 3.29 ERA in two post-season starts.

    But, in order for Pettitte to have a successful season, he needs to pitch a lot more than 75 1/3 innings. Although Pettitte hasn’t pitched more than 129 innings since 2009, he said that his left arm has felt fresher because of the three months that he missed last season. Pettitte said he has a “great desire” to compete and help the Yankees win another title.

    As excited as Pettitte is to return and as excited as the Yankees are to have him back, the focus of their relationship isn’t about this being a feel-good story. The focus is about production. The Yankees need Pettitte to stay healthy, to give them innings and to put them in position to win most of his starts. It was easy for Pettitte to decide to return. Now he needs to make efficient pitching look easy again, too.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Yankees making the right offseason moves

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 6:10 PM [General]

    When teams re-sign their own players in the offseason, those moves don’t always resonate with some observers. There are fans who clamor for something different and new, even if something different and new isn’t the smartest decision. There’s a tendency to think different must be better.

    By signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $15 million contract, and closing in on one-year deals with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees will have three crucial pitchers returning for 2013. While bringing back three aging pitchers might not seem sexy, these were the right moves for the Yankees.

    As long as Rivera and Pettitte decided they would pitch in 2013, the belief was that they would return to the Yankees. But, with the winter meetings less than a week away, the Yankees felt an urgency to sign both pitchers so general manager Brian Cashman would know how much he could spend in other areas (catcher, right field, bench). Pettitte is expected to sign for $11 million. Rivera will get about the same.

    No matter what the Yankees do for the rest of the offseason, it will be difficult for them to top the signing of Kuroda. Kuroda is a legitimate No. 2 starter who was the Yankees’ best pitcher last season. He is a no-nonsense performer who wanted a one-year deal, which worked well for the Yankees because they don’t want to sign any pitchers to multi-year deals. That’s because the Yankees are intent on keeping their payroll under $189 million in 2014 to reap the massive financial benefits.

    In keeping Rivera, Pettitte and Kuroda, the Yankees will have three pitchers who will be 43, 41 and 38 next season. Should that be a concern? Age is always a concern. Rivera must prove that he can rebound from knee surgery, but, even if Rivera is 85 percent of what he has been recently, that would mean he’s still a stellar closer. Pettitte had a 2.87 earned run average last season, but a fractured fibula limited him to 75 1/3 innings. He needs to stay healthy and pitch 200 innings, something he hasn’t done since 2008. Kuroda needs to carry the consistency of 2012 into 2013.

    With CC Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte as their top three starters, the Yankees have a reliable front end of the rotation. Obviously, they must avoid injuries. But, for anyone who doubts what those three can do, where would the Yankees be if Kuroda signed elsewhere and Pettitte retired? The Yankees would have been in deep trouble. Instead, Phil Hughes is now the favorite for the fourth spot while Ivan Nova and David Phelps will compete for the fifth spot. Michael Pineda won’t be ready to start the season.

    For the Yankees to exceed what they did in 2012, they still need significant contributions from Kuroda, Pettitte and Rivera. These pitchers are part of the solution, not part of the problem. When the Yankees forecast how they would be best assembled to win it all in 2013, the plan always included the three veteran pitchers they are welcoming back.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Sweet relief for Yankees with Kuroda's return

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 10:36 PM [General]

    A relief. That was how general manager Brian Cashman described the signing of Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $15 million contract with the Yankees yesterday. It was the perfect description. Kuroda was a smooth, confident and low-maintenance pitcher last season. He was also the Yankees’ best pitcher so it was definitely a relief for them to know that he will return in 2013.

    The relationship between Kuroda and the Yankees is an appropriate one. The Yankees strongly prefer to sign any starting pitchers to one-year deals because they are insistent on keeping their payroll under $189 million for 2014. Kuroda prefers to sign one-year deals because, eventually, he wants to return to Japan and finish his career in his native country. So, in pursuit of these goals, the pitcher and the team have a perfect marriage.

    “The bottom line is, yes, it’s a relief to know that Hiroki is back,” Cashman said. “And it fits the criteria that we put forth and it’s a short-term deal. It provides flexibility as we move forward. It gives us an important, valuable arm to our rotation. So, as long as he can stay healthy, with what we have, we feel we know what we’re going to get.”

    What the Yankees got from Kuroda was a four-pitch pitcher who went 16-11 with a 3.32 earned run average in a career-best 219 2/3 innings. Before and after the Yankees signed Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal last January, there were questions about how he would transition from the National League to the American League. Those questions quickly faded. Kuroda was as solid for the Yankees last season as he had been for the Dodgers in 2011.

    “A seamless transition to New York,” Cashman said.

    As the Yankees navigate through what should be a busy offseason, the signing of Kuroda is the first step toward a productive offseason. If Andy Pettitte decides to return next season, which appears likely, the Yankees would add him to their rotation as well. CC Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte would be a reliable threesome at the top of the rotation, provided the veteran pitchers can dodge injuries. Sabathia and Kuroda were in the top 10 in the league in ERA while Pettitte, who didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify to be among the leaders, had a better ERA than both of them at 2.87.

    By signing Kuroda, the Yankees made one of their most crucial moves of the offseason before we have reached Thanksgiving. Kuroda is a dependable pitcher, a pitcher who is worth the investment. Because the free-agent market has been very aggressive, Cashman said he suspected that Kuroda “left money on the table” by returning to the Yankees.

    “I feel fortunate that we were able to acquire him last year,” Cashman said. “I feel the same way this year.”

    Cashman feels relieved, as he should.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Righetti a champion as a pitching coach

    Monday, October 29, 2012, 1:06 PM [General]

    Dave Righetti pitched in the World Series in his first full season of a stellar 16-year career. He didn’t make it out of the third inning for the Yankees in a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981. That was it. Just two innings and then two more batters in the third and Righetti was done. That outing proved to be forgettable and unforgettable.

    After that debacle of a start and a six-game loss to the Dodgers, Righetti kept trying to get back to the World Series with the Yankees, the Giants and in cameo appearances with three other teams. He made it there as a 22-year old. Surely, there would be another chance, he thought. But that next chance never came. Righetti retired with a 13.50 earned run average in his lone appearance in the World Series.

    “If you ask me if I remember it, I remember everything,” he said two years ago. “You don’t forget those things.”

    When Righetti told me that in San Francisco, he was wistful about that one and only start in the World Series. He recited specific pitches and recalled his deep disappointment. The Giants were three victories away from snaring a championship as we spoke, but Righetti, their pitching coach, flashed back to 1981 and what had gone awry for him as a pitcher. There was a void in his career and empty fingers on his hand.

    “I remember,” he said, in describing the game, “I wasn’t very good.”

    I wonder what Righetti’s World Series memories are like now. I wonder if Righetti can stomach those two innings with the Yankees much easier now that his club has won two of the last three World Series. The Giants edged the Tigers, 4-3, to sweep the series in four games on Sunday night, a series that was dominated by Righetti’s pitchers. San Francisco had two shutouts in the series and compiled a 1.46 ERA across 37 superb innings.

    While Righetti hasn’t tossed a pitch for the Giants across the last three seasons, he has played a part in virtually every pitch the team has thrown. When FOX’s Ken Rosenthal interviewed Buster Posey after the game, the catcher quickly mentioned how Righetti deserved praise for devising the game plans that silenced Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and the toothless Tigers. But Righetti deflected the praise.

    “I didn’t do it; they did it,” Righetti told The New York Daily News. “For the last four or five years, they’ve been pretty darn good and, when they put their minds to a series or they have a couple of weeks to get through, they’ve been pretty good with that challenge.”

    As I watched Righetti hug manager Bruce Bochy in the dugout on Sunday, I thought about his journey. He pitched for the Yankees for 11 seasons, winning 74 games, saving 224 and twirling a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on July 4, 1983. He has been with the Giants for 13 seasons, making him the longest tenured pitching coach in the Major Leagues. He has reminded his pitchers that being aggressive and letting your adrenaline push you is a positive approach in the postseason, something he forgot in 1981.

    Every player longs to win a championship. Righetti came close to doing it as a kid pitcher with the Yankees, but never returned to that same precious position. Now Righetti has won it all twice as a coach. Righetti didn’t throw a pitch for the Giants, but he still had an impact. Those are unforgettable baseball memories, too.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Sandoval's sweet swing makes history

    Thursday, October 25, 2012, 12:27 PM [General]

    Pablo Sandoval was about to play an exhibition game against the Chinese Taipei National Team in Taiwan last November, but he wasn’t comfortable. Sandoval needed to get some swings. He needed to find a batting cage. So, as his teammates relaxed in the dugout, Sandoval bolted past them to find a place to hit.

    Sandoval’s determination to get his pre-game hacks was surprisingly intense. As important as it was for Major League Baseball to send a team to play in Taiwan, Sandoval’s at-bats weren’t going to be scrutinized. No one was going to criticize or praise Sandoval for what he did against a bunch of 20-year olds. But Sandoval, the San Francisco Giants’ third baseman, treated those at-bats seriously.

    As I watched Sandoval’s magical three-homer performance against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series, I recalled what I had witnessed in Taiwan. If Sandoval treated some meaningless at-bats in Taiwan that intensely, how seriously would he treat his chances on Wednesday night? Sandoval answered that simple question with two homers off Justin Verlander and another off Al Albuquerque to power the Giants to an 8-3 victory.

    “Man,” Sandoval said, “I still can’t believe it.”

    Detroit’s starters allowed only two earned runs in sweeping four games from the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. That stretch of dominance didn’t last against the Giants. It didn’t last because of Sandoval. He hammered an 0-2 fastball for a homer in the first and then hit Verlander’s 2-0 fastball for another homer in the third. Both pitches hummed in at 95 miles per hour. He also belted Albuquerque’s slider for a homer in the fifth and singled in his fourth at-bat, completing a hitting clinic of a game.

    In Taiwan, I watched Sandoval and Robinson Cano have animated hitting discussions. They would show each other their swings and then mimic each other’s swings. If there was a point that needed to be emphasized, they would stop each other in mid-swing and make it. This happened on planes, on buses and at the ballpark.

    If you had told me back then that one of them would hit three homers in the first game of the next World Series, I would have guessed that it would have been Cano. If you asked for a percentage, I would have said 75-25 for Cano. Remember, at that juncture, Cano had hit six homers in his last 45 postseason at-bats. But I would have been wrong, way wrong, with that guess.

    Sandoval is the fourth player to hit three homers in a World Series game, joining the legendary names of Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols. By having such a memorable game, Sandoval changed the enduring image I had of him. That image was linked to music and bleary eyes, not hitting.

    When we left Los Angeles for Taipei on the MLB tour, the media members sat in the back of the plane. It was extremely comfortable since about 10 reporters were scattered in 50 seats for the 14-hour flight. Eventually, word of our spacious digs trickled forward. Sandoval and a few others joined our neighborhood.

    Several hours later, the lights were dimmed. It was time for everyone to sleep for a few hours, but not Sandoval. He busted out his music docking station and pumped up the volume. The back of the plane turned into a house party. There was singing and dancing and little sleep. When you lose sleep, it’s hard to forget how you lost it.

    Now that Sandoval had his magical game, I’ll naturally think about those three homers more than I’ll think about how he turned into Skrillex on the flight. I’d rather watch his swing than listen to him sing. So would the Giants.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    Girardi went with his gut -- and he was right

    Thursday, October 25, 2012, 9:33 AM [General]

    It was bold, gutsy and daring. When Joe Girardi decided to use Raul Ibanez as a pinch-hitter for Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, it was one of the more delicate decisions he has made as a manager. It was also one of the smartest decisions he has made.

    Even before Ibanez drilled a game-tying homer off Jim Johnson and a game-winning homer off Brian Matusz in the 12th inning, inserting Ibanez for Rodriguez was the proper move. Even if Ibanez had made an out and the Yankees had lost to the Orioles, I believe Girardi did the right thing. The manager’s job is to give his team the best chance to win. That’s what Girardi did.

    Because Ibanez had a dream of a postseason game, the Yankees defeated the Orioles, 3-2, in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees need to win one of the next two home games to advance to the A.L. Championship Series. If not for Ibanez, the Yankees would be facing elimination in Game 4 on Thursday night. If not for Girardi’s decision, Ibanez never would have batted in the ninth.

    “I just had a gut feeling,” Girardi said.

    It wasn’t easy for Girardi to simply go with his gut. This isn’t Strat-O-Matic where the manager replaces one player card for another. This was Girardi telling a player who has won three Most Valuable Player Awards and has 647 homers that he preferred the 40-year old who had been sitting in the dugout for eight innings.

    While Girardi explained how Ibanez was a low-ball hitter who could shoot for the right field fence against Johnson, a low-ball pitcher, his initial words to Rodriguez were, “You’re scuffling.” If Rodriguez was right, Girardi would have never considered replacing him. But Rodriguez isn’t right. He is 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts, a proud hitter who can’t catch up with fastballs and who has turned into a guess hitter. So Rodriguez was told to put his bat in the rack and become a spectator, the rarest of demotions for such an accomplished player.

    “It’s about 25 guys,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about whatever it takes to win.”

    Once Ibanez was told he would be pinch-hitting, he took swings in the batting cage behind the first base dugout. As patient as Ibanez is, he becomes more aggressive in late-inning situations. I think Ibanez outwits pitchers. Since the scouting report is that Ibanez will take pitches, I think he intentionally changes his approach to try and attack early in the count.

    On a 1-0 count, Johnson, who didn’t want to fall behind 2-0 while protecting a one-run lead, threw a two-seam fastball that ran across the middle of the plate. Ibanez clubbed it into the right field seats. Rodriguez, who admitted that he became a cheerleader, gave Ibanez a two-handed high five near the dugout. It was a signature moment for Ibanez and Rodriguez, but for much different reasons.

    After Ibanez’s amazing homer, the next eight Yankees were retired. Then Ibanez loped to the plate in the 12th. Ibanez had hit .197 with no homers in 61 at-bats off left-handed pitchers, but, once again, he was in attack mode. When Matusz unleashed a first-pitch fastball that was up in the zone, Ibanez pounced again and hammered it into the second deck in right. In two at-bats, he saw three pitches and hit two homers. It was a night where Ibanez reserved a cool spot in Yankee postseason discussions. 

    “It was kind of a blur what happened,” Ibanez said. “I think sometime down the line I’ll kind of remember it and recall it.”

    After the dramatic victory, Girardi was asked how his decision to bench an iconic player could impact his relationship with Rodriguez. Those are interesting questions, but not for Wednesday. During the postseason, there’s no time for wounded feelings. Rodriguez was correct when he said it is about the team and that he was happier than anyone for Ibanez. If Rodriguez uttered anything that was selfish, he would have looked foolish. The manager made a decision. It worked. Everyone should move forward.

    Will everything be copasetic on the Yankees? Rodriguez never forgave Joe Torre for batting him eighth in a 2006 postseason game. But, again, there’s no time and no need for Rodriguez to review that history. The Yankees are trying to win a title. What Girardi did, as bold, daring and gutsy a move as he’s ever made, worked and the Yankees won. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters.  

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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    A-Rod hopes to 'contribute to winning team'

    Thursday, October 25, 2012, 9:32 AM [General]

    Before Alex Rodriguez took his first swing against the Orioles in the American League Division Series, I exchanged text messages with an AL scout. I asked the scout for his evaluation of Rodriguez, who had been repeatedly beat on fastballs as he faltered at the end of the regular season. His response was blunt.

    “A-Rod will only show up if the pen does not have good stuff,” the scout wrote.

    In one brief and damning sentence, the scout gave an accurate appraisal of what has happened in the first two games of the best-of-five series. While Rodriguez is 1-for-9 with five strikeouts overall, he is 0-for-4 with four strikeouts against Baltimore’s relievers. He is 0-for-2 off Darren O’Day and 0-for-2 off Jim Johnson.

    With each unproductive at-bat by Rodriguez, the questions about him hitting third in the lineup have intensified. The Yankees can’t afford to have Rodriguez doing little to nothing in front of Robinson Cano, who is their most ferocious hitter now. Since manager Joe Girardi didn’t guarantee that Rodriguez would hit third when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday, my guess is he will demote Rodriguez to fifth in the order, shift Cano from fourth to third and bat Mark Teixeira in the cleanup spot for Game 3.

    It makes sense for Girardi to drop Rodriguez, who hasn’t homered in 77 at-bats. Yes, Rodriguez drilled a line drive that a slick-fielding Robert Andino turned into a double play and also lashed a single in his first two at-bats against Wei-Yin Chen on Monday. But he hasn’t looked comfortable in these two games or over the last month. Sometimes, Rodriguez seems as if he is guessing instead of attacking at the plate, which isn’t the sign of a confident hitter. By batting Cano third, the Yankees will get him to the plate earlier and more often.

    On the workout day at Yankee Stadium last Friday, I asked Rodriguez what his expectations were for himself in the ALDS. Rodriguez said, “I just want to help contribute to a winning team.” Obviously, I wanted more insight so I asked Rodriguez about his personal goals for the series. Rodriguez didn’t want the focus to be on him. He mentioned the importance of continuing to get on base in front of Cano and helping the offense in any way he can.

    On that workout day, Rodriguez didn’t want to be the focus. But, after two games, a lot of the focus is on Rodriguez. Rodriguez isn’t the only Yankee who has sputtered, but he is the only $30 million Yankee that seems overwhelmed about hitting in the three-spot. It’s time for Girardi to make a change.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES

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