Fun with Yankees "paces"

    Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 12:45 PM [General]

    One of the best parts about the beginning of the MLB season is the “on pace” debate. You know, the one that starts when a guy hits three homers on Opening Day and we’re reminded he’s on pace for 486.

    With the calendar flipping to May 1, the first “month” of the regular season is in the books, and those debates are usually cooled off by now. But, really, why not continue them? After all, the regular season is six months long, so why not just multiply numbers out a bit (by, say, 6.1, since there are three games in October this season as well) and see where people stand?

    I did just that, and in addition, broke the same totals down into a per-game average, then multiplied that by 162 in order to get the “true” pace. After doing the math and rounding up (because you can’t hit half a home run), what I found was that several Yankees are “on pace” for outstanding seasons. To wit:

    Derek Jeter: Through April 30, Jeter had 37 hits in 22 games. Multiplied by 6.1, he is “on pace” for 226 hits, and if you multiply his per-game average (1.6818) by 162, the pace is 272. The latter would be an MLB record (with a .389 average to boot if he continues to average 4.32 AB per game), and even the former would still be a career-high for The Captain.

    Nick Swisher: Despite sitting out his first full game last night, Swisher currently has a team leading 23 RBI. His “monthly” pace has him set for 140, and his per-game puts him at an even better 170. Again, the latter would be in the Top 10 totals of all time, and the former would still likely lead the league and best Swish’s career high by 45 RBI.

    Curtis Granderson: The “Grandyman” has drawn 16 bases on balls so far this season, a total that paces him out to 98 (monthly) or 118 (per game). Neither of those are records, but Curtis just set a career-high with 85 BB last season, a number he would shatter with either total.

    David Robertson: Pitchers are harder to pace out somewhat, as they don’t play every day. But through 22 games, Robertson has pitched 11 innings in 11 appearances, so if you do simple math, he’s pretty much pitched an inning every other team game. He has 18 strikeouts in those 11 innings, putting him on pace for 110 (“monthly” pace) or 133 (per game pace assuming 81 games). Either of those totals is a huge one for a reliever, and on the latter’s 81 inning pace, the 133 would give him a 14.78 K/9 average. That’s what fans and media alike call “Nolan Ryan territory.”

    You could have a lot more fun with a lot lesser categories as well, but the most fun of all for Bombers fans might be this stat: as of May 1, the Yankees are on pace to win 96 games – just one less than last season, when they led the AL East by six games.

    And, although it might seem unlikely for the foursome profiled above to reach the high end of their projections, any or all of them reaching a closer “milestone” certainly could happen. Vote below for which one you think is most likely to happen!

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    Don't Forget the "Other Guys"

    Thursday, April 26, 2012, 2:44 PM [General]

    When Michael Pineda first went on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis at the end of Spring Training, conspiracy theorists among Yankees fans were ready brand the trade that sent uber-prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle a colossal bust.

    So now that Pineda has been revealed as having a torn labrum and will miss the entire 2012 season, then anything (good or bad) that Montero and Hector Noesi give the Mariners is above and beyond what the Yankees got.

    And thus, the panic sets in again.

    The Pineda debate has been belabored over the last 36 hours or so, and everything that can be said has – especially that it will take years to fully evaluate this trade, as Hector Noesi is the only one who has reached his 25th birthday.

    So what I urge you to do, Yankees fans, is what I urge everyone to do in trades larger than one-on-one: Don’t forget about the ancillary effects.

    Case in point is Jose Campos. To many fans, he was just a “throw-in” in the Pineda deal. But through his first four starts at Class-A Charleston, Campos was 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts (against five walks) in 22 innings, and the South Atlantic League is hitting just .163 against him so far.

    Sure, it’s low-A, you might say, but you have to start somewhere – and for Campos, that somewhere may be Advanced-A Tampa sooner rather than later, and eventually could be the Bronx.

    Such is life for many “throw-ins” and “prospects.” Hindsight is 20/20, and if foresight was too, then the Mariners likely would never have traded Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Cliff Slocumb, the Red Sox would have kept Jeff Bagwell, and John Smoltz’ 213 career wins may have come in Detroit.

    If that’s not proof enough, look at a couple of past trade deadline deals involving current Yankees.  

    Matt LaPorta was the centerpiece of the deal that sent CC Sabathia from Cleveland to Milwaukee in 2008, but four years later, it’s the added player to be named later, Michael Brantley, who could be the Indians’ breakout star. Elsewhere, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the key piece acquired when the Rangers sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta in 2007, but while Salty is long gone, the “other guys” were lesser prospects named Andrus, Harrison (as in Matt, who is currently 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA), and Feliz (who was only the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year as their closer).

    Yes, first base has been a carousel in Arlington since Tex left, and yes, it took them three more years and a handful of candidates before they finally found a solid everyday catcher in Mike Napoli – but do you think the Rangers (or Braves, for that matter) would still take that one back?

    I don’t, and that’s why you shouldn’t be ready to destroy the Pineda trade either. These things take time, especially when young players are involved.

    Pineda will be back…and if Campos keeps tearing up the Minors, he could be pitching alongside the guy who was “thrown in” with him in a few short years.

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    Pudge makes you appreciate longevity

    Monday, April 23, 2012, 2:08 PM [General]

    Ivan Rodriguez is hanging it up for good today, nearly 21 full calendar years after he first set foot on a Major League Baseball diamond.

    You can read about his stats and accolades anywhere, and from them you can clearly tell that he was one of the best catchers of all-time…but when you go beyond that, you realize that maybe he was one of the best players of all-time.

    To play at an elite level for 21 years isn’t easy, and doing so while spending the entirety of your career behind the plate is even more of a rarity – and that has to make you appreciate just how great a player Ivan Rodriguez was even more.

    To many baseball fans, it may seem like just yesterday that a baby-faced Pudge was getting ready to make his Major League debut and put on the chest protector and shin guards for the first time. But it wasn’t yesterday; it was June 20, 1991, and Pudge was just 19 years old, a virtual child on a field among men.

    A lot has changed since that day, which was three Presidents, four franchises worth of MLB expansion, and the entire lifetime of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl Kate Upton ago, and every other player who took the field for the Rangers or White Sox that day (including the ageless wonder himself, Julio Franco, who was already 32 years old at that time) has long since retired.

    Two of Chicago’s position players in that game, Ozzie Guillen and Robin Ventura, are now Major League skippers, and a third, Joey Cora, is likely soon to be after years of apprenticing as Guillen’s bench coach. Both starting pitchers (Jack McDowell for Chicago, Kevin Brown for Texas) later both became Yankees, as did the man who finished the game for the Sox, Melido Perez. Same goes for Ventura, Ruben Sierra (Texas’ DH that day), and Pudge himself.

    All that future Bombers-related history involved, and to think, that day was more than three full years earlier than even the most league-tenured of the Yankees made his Major League debut.

    It may “seem like yesterday” when an 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez made his MLB debut, but it was really July of 1994. Same goes for the “Core Four,” but none of them made their debuts until 1995. Andruw Jones didn’t show up with the Braves until 1996, Raul Ibanez debuted in Seattle that same year, and even Hiroki Kuroda, who was 33 when he came to America, didn’t make his debut in Japan until 1997.

    Makes you appreciate just how long you’ve been watching them play at an elite level (and how much longer they possibly can), doesn’t it? It seems like we’ve been watching A-Rod, Jeter, Rivera, et al forever, and we may take that for granted…but they’re all still more than 1000 days from catching up to I-Rod in terms of longevity.

    And so, today it is so long, Pudge. We’ll see you tonight in Arlington, and then we’ll likely see you again in Cooperstown in 2017 – more than a quarter-century after you took your first steps towards there.

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    Curse of the Defense?

    Friday, April 20, 2012, 2:28 PM [General]

    Yankees vs. Red Sox is upon us for the first time in 2012, and when you mention that phrase, you can’t help but think of the “Curse of the Bambino.”

    That curse was broken in 2004 of course, but does anyone else feel as if the Yankees have a bit of a curse so far this year, specifically when it comes to Joe Girardi’s plan to rest his starters more often?

    Thursday night’s series finale against the Twins saw Robinson Cano take a turn as the designated hitter, meaning Eduardo Nunez got the start at second base – and right away, that defensive decision put the Yankees in a hole.

    Nunez made a wide throw to first base on Joe Mauer’s first inning ground ball, which could have been the second out of the inning, and after Phil Hughes struck out Josh Willingham for what could’ve been an inning-ender, the Twins ended up scoring four unearned runs with two actual outs in the frame.

    It happens, and you can’t crucify “Nunie” for one mistake, especially since the Yankees won the game.

    But, this is not the first time that a field replacement for a resting starter has made a somewhat-costly mistake this season…and it’s not even the second or third.

    On the season’s second day in Tampa, Nunez (that day filling in for DH Derek Jeter at shortstop) was the first victim of the curse, as his E6 in the first inning allowed the Rays to score the game’s first run.

    The following day, Raul Ibanez in right field to spell a DH’ing Nick Swisher DH’ing, and in the very first inning Ibanez misplayed a Matt Joyce looper that allowed Evan Longoria to score from second and left Joyce standing on third. The play was scored as a hit (and thus a triple and an RBI for Joyce), but may have turned out differently if Ibanez was able to play the ball on a hop.

    And then, of course, just Wednesday night, there was a moment that many fans saw as a mistake even though it meant little in the grand scheme of the game: Andruw Jones’ somewhat-casual play on an Alexi Casilla double. The play earned Jones some boos from the crowd at Yankee Stadium, but Denard Span immediately grounded out to end the inning and render it moot.

    So that’s four games (and three Yankees losses) in the first two weeks that saw a momentary lapse of reason, all of which came from someone who doesn’t play the field every day.

    With Brett Gardner now on the 15-day disabled list, the Yankees will be filling in for for one usual starter for the next two weeks at least. Friday it’s a pair, as in addition to Ibanez in left field, Eric Chavez will get the start at third base as Alex Rodriguez is the designated hitter.

    Maybe three games at Fenway (and perhaps a spectacular catch by Ibanez, Chavez, Jones, or Nunez) can break the curse?

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    Jeter and A-Rod keep on keepin' on

    Thursday, April 19, 2012, 12:03 PM [General]

    Joe Girardi talked all spring about how he planned to rest his aging stars (specifically Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez) more often this year to keep them fresh.

    Injuries, both minor and major, are unavoidable throughout the marathon that is a Major League Baseball season, so it was a very valid thought. Yet, through two weeks and so much scratching that Girardi’s lineup card might soon need some calamine lotion, it’s Jeter and A-Rod who are among the five Yankees to have appeared in all 12 games so far.

    Life is weird sometimes, no?

    Brett Gardner was scratched against the Angels Saturday due to flu-like symptoms, Mark Teixeira sat out Tuesday for the same reason (actually getting Jeter a “half-day off” as the DH as a result), and Wednesday saw Gardner once again removed due to elbow soreness – which later turned out to be a strained muscle that will make him the first Yankee to hit the disabled list during the regular season.    

    Add in Boone Logan’s balky back on Opening Day, Rafael Soriano’s split nail in Baltimore, and the heavy use of both Cory Wade and David Phelps over the first 14 days, and Steve Donohue has certainly had his hands full already this season.

    And yet, here are Jeter and A-Rod, chugging along without a full day off as of yet. 

    Okay, so both have them have had a pair of turns as the DH, and Rodriguez had 95 percent of Wednesday off before pinch-hitting for Russell Martin in the ninth inning, but still: five Yankees have appeared in all 12 games, and they are two of them.

    They’ll eventually get their time off, but with The Captain hitting .389 with eight extra-base hits through Wednesday and A-Rod playing stellar defense at third despite a slow start, they’ve looked the least weathered of the rocks in the Yankees lineup so far.   

    Maybe it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; after all, 2011 was just the second time in 16 full seasons that Jeter didn’t reach 145 games played, and the third year out of 16 where A-Rod didn’t play at least 135.

    So far, it looks like 2012 might just be a return to form after all.

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    "Jeter 4K" isn't so crazy a thought

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 11:50 AM [General]

    Think it’s crazy to ponder the thought of Derek Jeter reaching 4,000 hits in his career?

    Maybe, given that it’s been less than a season since he even got to 3,000. And if you mentioned it to   Yankees manager Joe Girardi might agree with you.

    “I think that’s kind of crazy to think about,” Girardi said prior to Monday’s game with the Twins. “You’re talking about five years of having to get 200 hits in a sense … I’m not ready to dive into that one yet.”

    But all that said, it might not be as unachievable an accomplishment as you (or Girardi) might think.

    Yes, he is far away. Through Monday’s game, Jeter had 3,105 career hits. So, even if he just maintained his career average of 192 per full season, he would, at that rate, reach 4,000 somewhere in the second half of 2016.

    Sure, he’d be 42 years old at that point…but so what?

    Skeptics thought he was waning down in 2010 and “done” at this time last year – but The Captain finished 2011 on a tear and has carried that into 2012. Jeter is hitting .378 through the season’s first 10 games, and as John Sterling pointed out during Monday’s radio broadcast, he entered Monday hitting .342 since last July 9 (aka the day he reached 3,000), a mark that even went up after his 2-for-4 night against Minnesota.

    In addition, Jeter has had somewhat of a power surge this April. He has four doubles in 10 games – meaning he is on pace to match last year’s total of 24 by mid-June – and his leadoff home run on Monday was his third of the season. For reference, he hit six all of last year, and the third was that historic 3,000th hit on July 9, so what took him 87 games to accomplish in 2011 took him 10 in 2012.

    For those who like to follow the “on pace” numbers, Jeter is on pace for 275 hits this season. That would be an MLB record, and it’s almost 100 percent likely he won’t get there…but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see him get to 200 for the seventh time in his career and close in on 10th place all-time.

    And then, who knows? Players like Paul Molitor, Cal Ripken, George Brett, and even Pete Rose – all members of the 3,000 hit club – hit just as well in their late-30s and early-40s as they did in their 20s. In fact, the former three of those men were older than Jeter when they hit 3K; Molitor, Ripken, and Brett were 39, and Rose was 37 (but a little deeper into age 37 than Derek).

    So then, don’t be surprised if come a few summers from now, the first man to reach 3,000 hits in a Yankees uniform also becomes just the third ever to reach 4,000.

    Sure, even in the likely best case scenario, he’d need to play through age 42 to do it. But Rose was 43 when he played his final game, Molitor was 42, Ripken was 41…and heck, if you want to extend it further, Dave Winfield was roughly two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday when he hit 3,000.

    In that same Monday press conference, Girardi said (albeit in a different context) that he would “never, ever doubt Derek Jeter and what he could possibly do.”

    Hey, they don’t call him “Captain Clutch” for nothing, right?

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    A Milestone Tuesday for Jeter and Rivera

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 6:18 PM [General]

    Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter hit the biggest milestones of their careers in 2011, but after 17-plus years in the Bigs for both men, it’s understandable if you expect every one of their latest on-field accomplishments to be landmark ones.

    Tuesday night, at least, that thought rang true, as both The Captain and The Sandman officially etched their names at the top of another record book.

    In taking Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen deep to start Tuesday’s game, Jeter smashed his 25th career leadoff home run, pulling him one ahead of Rickey Henderson for the most in Yankees franchise history (Rickey hit 24 leadoff bombs as a Bomber from 1985-89).

    Four-plus hours later, when Mariano Rivera notched his first save of 2012, he not only extended his MLB record to 604, but he also gave himself 39 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards – which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, tied the MLB record for the most all-time by a visiting player at one ballpark.

    The man he tied? None other than the same man he passed last September for the career benchmark, Trevor Hoffman, who recorded 39 saves at Dodger Stadium during his career with the Marlins, Padres, and Brewers.

    On top of that, Rivera’s 39th save at Camden Yards tied him for second-most all-time in that stadium – quite the feat considering that unlike Randy Myers (39) and Jorge Julio (the leader with 43), “The Sandman” has never worn the orange and black of the Orioles.

    Just another day, another record for a pair of surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers.

    UPDATE: Hours after this blog was originally penned, Rivera earned a save in Wednesday night's game at Baltimore that: A) extended his MLB career record to 605, B) gave him sole possession of the "visiting park" record, and C) moved him past Myers and into sole possession of second place on the "saves at Camden Yards" list. Again, just another landmark day for "The Sandman."

    Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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    It's Opening Day in the Minors

    Thursday, April 5, 2012, 5:56 PM [General]

    Yankees Opening Day is of course Friday in Tampa…but Thursday is the beginning of the season for the Minor Leagues, and four Yankees affiliates kick off their 2012 campaigns at 7 p.m. tonight.

    The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees – who this year will also go by the moniker “Empire State Yankees” – start off the International League schedule against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies affiliate) in Allentown, Penn., tonight, and former Red Sox reliever turned Yankees non-roster spring invitee Manny Delcarmen will be on the hill.

    About 90 minutes southeast of the Lehigh Valley, the Trenton Thunder will kick off their Double-A Eastern League slate at home by sending Schaeffer Hall to the mound for their game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays affiliate) at Mercer County Waterfront Park.

    Both teams on the Single-A level are also home tonight; the Florida State League’s Tampa Yankees will have lefty Nik Turley on the mound when they host the Lakeland Tigers at Steinbrenner Field at 7 p.m., while the South Atlantic League’s Charleston Riverdogs send William Oliver to the bump for their opener against the Rome Braves.

    Other Minor notes:

    -When the Triple-A Yankees released their official roster earlier today, Francisco Cervelli was still the most surprising name on it, but outfielder Dewayne Wise was the most surprising omission. Wise was still in camp with the Yankees for Wednesday’s Grapefruit finale, as no one had claimed him prior to the 1 p.m. Wednesday deadline. He was expected to report to Triple-A, but there is no word so far as to why he was not on that official roster.

    -In addition to Delcarmen, the Triple-A pitching staff currently includes four of the Yankees’ top prospects – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren – as well as switch-pitcher Pat Venditte.

    -Gustavo Molina, who was set to be in Triple-A before Chris Stewart’s acquisition bumped Francisco Cervelli to the Minors, was listed on Trenton’s official roster today. Brian Cashman said yesterday that the organization would speak to Molina about whether he would drop down to Double-A or seek a release, and it appears that Molina has accepted assignment to Trenton.

    -Among the top prospects in A-ball, OF Mason Williams, 3B Dante Bichette, Jr., and C Gary Sanchez will start the year in Low-A Charleston, with C J.R. Murphy behind the plate for Luis Sojo’s squad in Tampa.

    Play ball!

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    Yankees' 25-man roster set

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 6:59 PM [General]

    9 P.M. EDIT: Spring Training is complete, and so is the Yankees’ 25-man roster. When the team begins regular-season play in Tampa on Friday, they will be carrying 13 position players and 12 pitchers.

    On the mound, the last two spots on the staff went to David Phelps and Clay Rapada, who were recalled from Triple-A Empire State and signed to a Major League contract, respectively. Phelps will serve as the long relief man, and Rapada will be the lefty specialist - although his role may increase depending on the health of Boone Logan's back.

    Among position players, the only "surprise" is at catcher, where newly-acquired Chris Stewart will back up Russell Martin. Stewart, who played one game with the Yankees in 2008, was acquired from San Francisco just before the 5 p.m. roster deadline in exchange for RHP George Kontos. With Stewart on board, last year's backup, Francisco Cervelli, was optioned to Triple-A.

    The full official 2012 Opening Day roster:

    PITCHERS (12): Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Clay Rapada, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade

    CATCHERS (2): Chris Stewart, Russell Martin

    INFIELDERS (6): Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira

    OUTFIELDERS (5): Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher

    In addition, RHP Joba Chamberlain, RHP Brad Meyers, and C Austin Romine were placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 26, while LHP Cesar Cabral and RHP Michael Pineda are on the 15-day DL retroactive to March 31.

    Other late team notes:
    -Non-roster invitee Bill Hall requested and was granted a release after being told he wasn't making the team. So, instead of being sent to the Minors, the utilityman will go home while looking for a Major League job elsewhere. The same could happen to catcher Gustavo Molina in the wake of Stewart's acquisition, as Cashman said the organization would speak with Molina about whether he would accept an assignment to Double-A Trenton or prefer a release.

    -OF Justin Maxwell, who was out of Minor League options, was designated for assignment (which opened up a spot on the 40-man roster for Rapada). It is likely that he will be claimed by another team, but if he clears waivers, he can either elect free agency or agree to report to Triple-A Empire State.

    -Pitcher Ramon Ortiz was signed to a Minor League deal late Wednesday. Ortiz, 39, is an 11-year MLB veteran who posted a 4.83 ERA in 33 1/3 innings for the Cubs last season, and could be a wildcard in the Yankees bullpen mix at some point in the near future.

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    4/2/12 Preview: Yankees vs. Marlins

    Monday, April 2, 2012, 3:22 PM [General]

    Hiroki Kuroda will get his final pre-season tune-up when the Yankees play the back end of a two-game set against the Marlins in Miami tonight at 7:10 p.m.

    The Yankees and Marlins christened the new Marlins Park on Sunday afternoon, with the Bombers winning 10-8 in a game that saw most of the regulars (and starter CC Sabathia) off the field by the sixth inning or so.

    For Monday’s tilt, the Yankees will turn to their free agent righty, who looks to put the finishing touches on a strong spring. So far, Kuroda has a 2.91 ERA in 21 2/3 spring innings, fanning 15 and holding opponents to a .247 batting average. Kuroda is coming off a strong start against the Braves last Wednesday where he allowed two runs, six hits, and no walks in seven innings.

    Kuroda will likely be on a shorter limit tonight (as Sabathia was on Sunday), and behind him, Phil Hughes, now penciled in as the No. 3 starter, was slated (at least according to initial weekend plans) to see relief action. David Robertson is also expected to pitch after two days off as well.

    The infield in Marlins Park will hopefully be a little better tonight as well, as roof issues allowed the field to get soggy before Sunday’s game, making it “play like sand” according to Nick Swisher.

    The Yankees lineup for tonight’s game is the same as Sunday's, with just a couple defensive changes; Curtis Granderson is the DH tonight, so Brett Gardner will move over to center field and Raul Ibanez starts in left.

    The order:

    Derek Jeter SS
    Curtis Granderson DH
    Robinson Cano 2B
    Alex Rodriguez 3B
    Mark Teixeira 1B
    Nick Swisher RF
    Raul Ibanez LF
    Russell Martin C
    Brett Gardner CF

    That lineup will face Carlos Zambrano, the former Cub who will be Ozzie Guillen's No. 5 starter in Miami this season. The Marlins' starting nine is almost exactly the same as yesterday as well, with Greg Dobbs replacing Austin Kearns as the only change. Dobbs will be the DH, and Logan Morrison (who was yersterday's DH) moves back to his regular spot in LF after DH'ing Sunday while Kearns played the outfield.

    Following the contest, the Yankees will head to Port St. Lucie, where they will play their penultimate game of the spring against the Mets on Tuesday afternoon at Digitial Domain Park, before returning home to Tampa for a noon-time start on Wednesday against those same Mets in the Grapefruit League finale.

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    3/30/12 Preview: Pineda set to tackle Phillies lineup

    Friday, March 30, 2012, 3:32 PM [General]

    Michael Pineda gets perhaps his last chance to solidify a rotation spot when the Yankees host the Phillies tonight at 7 p.m. on YES.

    Pineda has had an up-and-down spring. He has allowed just six earned runs in 16 1/3 innings (a 3.31 ERA) while striking out 16, but his velocity has been lower than ideal and he has reached his “pitch limit” earlier than expected in his last few starts.

    With the battle for the final three rotation spots between Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia coming down to the wire, a solid performance against a strong Phillies lineup that contains most of their expected Opening Day starters is essential for Pineda – especially given some of the conclusions once could draw from information released today.

    The Yankees posted their travel rosters for the next four days of Grapefruit League games in Kissimmee, Miami, and Port St. Lucie, and there were two items of note: Hughes, who was assumed to be in line to start Saturday’s game at the Astros, is not on the list to travel to Kissimmee (Adam Warren will start instead), while Ivan Nova will be traveling east to start Tuesday's game against the Mets at Digital Domain Park.

    Freddy Garcia, meanwhile, has apparently been told that he will start Wednesday's Grapefruit League finale against the Mets in Tampa.

    Given that CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, the known No. 1 and No. 2 starters, will face the Marlins on Sunday and Monday, where does this leave Pineda? Is he in, or is the battle simply down to Pineda and Hughes for the final spot? Is the youngster ticketed for Triple-A?

    There is no public answer to any of those questions, but Pineda surely knows that tonight could still hold the key to his immediate future in pinstripes. The lineup behind the young righty tonight:

    Derek Jeter SS
    Curtis Granderson CF
    Robinson Cano 2B
    Alex Rodriguez 3B
    Eric Chavez 1B
    Russell Martin C
    Andruw Jones DH
    Justin Maxwell RF
    Brett Gardner LF

    Left-hander Antonio Bastardo, normally a reliever, will get the nominal start for the Phillies tonight (with a familiar face in Jonathan Papelbon also scheduled to pitch), and the Yankees lineup looks a lot like the one that will likely face lefties during the regular season with a couple exceptions; Chavez slots in at first today in place of Mark Teixeira (who has the day off), and Maxwell, who is hitting a robust .333 this spring, is in right field for Nick Swisher.

    Swisher played in his third straight Minor League game this afternoon, logging five innings in the outfield and reporting no soreness in his groin. He should return to Grapefruit League action over the weekend and be ready for Opening Day.

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    Could a six-man rotation work?

    Friday, March 30, 2012, 12:32 PM [General]

    It’s an idea that CC Sabathia doesn’t like, Joe Girardi would rather not use again, and Yankees fans might groan about.

    But would going to a six-man rotation – at least through the first week of the regular season – be beneficial to the Yankees?

    Sabathia will pitch on Opening Day in Tampa, and Hiroki Kuroda will likely follow him next Saturday night. Beyond that, well, perhaps not even Joe Girardi knows who will pitch the opening weekend finale at Tropicana Field or the first two games in Baltimore.

    There are reports flying everywhere about the state of the rotation. Some have Phil Hughes definitely in the final five, some have Freddy Garcia as a lock, and others have all four candidates making the team with Garcia or Hughes going to the bullpen.

    But none of those mean that Girardi has made a decision…and no one has really helped make it for him, either.

    Michael Pineda is set to start Friday night as the Yankees begin what will be the final round of “auditions” for the final three spots in the rotation, but coming into the final week, none of those auditions so far have been blowaway impressive, at least in terms of sheer numbers.

    Look at the facts:

    -Pineda has allowed just six earned runs in 16 1/3 innings (a 3.31 ERA) while striking out 16 – but his velocity has been low, his last few starts have been truncated due to him reaching pitch limits quicker than anticipated, and some reports now say that Girardi would consider sending him to Triple-A to begin the season.

    -Hughes has a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 Grapefruit innings, looked sharp in a Minor League game on Monday, and has likely matched every criteria the team set for him this spring – but given his bullpen experience in 2009, his arm fatigue issues in 2011, and Joba Chamberlain’s injury, some might see him as best suited to late-inning relief.

    -Garcia, who is the most experience yet most expensive of the bunch, has pitched well – but is a little “behind” after missing 10 days with a bruised hand, and because of his experience, repertoire, and contract status, seems like an ill fit for the bullpen but would likely be the only one the Yankees could move via trade.

    -Ivan Nova, last year’s breakout rotation star, has had the roughest spring of the bunch, allowing 15 runs in 19 2/3 innings and struggling with command on his fastball – but still, he did win 16 games last year, looked good in a Minor League game on Thursday, and already experienced demotion to the Minors as the “odd man out” of a six-man scramble last summer.

    So theoretically, would giving each one of them a last chance to shine when the lights are on and the games count for real be a bad thing?

    The Yankees’ schedule is set up perfectly for it; after three games in Tampa and three in Baltimore, the Yankees have a day off on April 12 before heading home for their Friday the 13th Yankee Stadium opener.

    Six days, six men, one chance?

    If Girardi has at least decided on one man who will definitely slot in behind Sabathia and Kuroda, then he could start the finale in Tampa, with the remaining three candidates going in Baltimore. Cory Wade and Boone Logan both pitched multiple innings on a handful of occasions last year, so not having a “long man” for the first week isn’t as much of an issue – especially if the final bullpen slot goes to a lefty specialist who would free up Logan for more early work.

    Then, come April 12, a final decision could be made before the team comes home. If Pineda or Nova is the odd man out, they can simply be optioned to Triple-A. If it’s Hughes, he can go to the bullpen and will have had one, two, or three days off since his start, so he'll be "relief ready" within a day or two. And if it’s Garcia, he can either do the same as Hughes, or the Yankees can use his start (if it is solid) as a bargaining chip while looking to trade him to a team that might already be in panic about their rotation.

    As mentioned at the top, the six-man rotation isn’t ideal in most circumstances, especially when your ace prefers pitching on three days’ rest over five.

    But for Joe Girardi, it might be the best decision he could make to help him make the best decision about his 2012 rotation.

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