For the second straight Friday, the Yankees have been faced with worrisome injury news. Last Friday, the Yankees announced that Joba Chamberlain injured himself while playing on a trampoline with his son, which was just a freak injury. I can't say anything bad about him because he was being a father who was having fun with his child.
Last night two new stories surfaced, both affecting the Yankees in the immediate future. RHP Michael Pineda felt soreness in his right shoulder throughout the game. He was yanking the ball in an effort to throw with more velocity. The carelessness displayed by Pineda is baffling. It's understandable that he does not want to miss time with an injury but when he keeps it to himself, he runs the risk of hurting himself even further in the future. I believe that the soreness that he felt has been around for some time. Initially, Girardi and Cashman were very concerned and fans everywhere were calling for Cashman's head. The results of the MRI came back better than expected today, only showing tendinitis in his right shoulder. The Yankees will place Pineda on the 15 day DL and shut him down for 10-15 days. Afterwards, he will begin the rehab process in an effort to join the Yankees rotation in early May, perhaps when Pettitte is ready to pitch.
In addition, Cesar Cabral, who was probably going to win a job with the Yankees, has suffered a left elbow fracture, and will be placed on the 60 day DL. A huge blow for Cabral, who said he didn't sleep nights believing that he would have gotten a job as a lefty specialist for the Yankees.
This leaves Clay Rapada as the likely man to win the second lefty job. Also, with Pineda's minor injury, the Yankees rotation is officially set. Freddy Garcia can breathe a sigh of relief.
The likely scenario for the Yankees bullpen will be:
Clay Rapada ?------------------?
The last spot in the bullpen is the kids' to win. David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell all have a chance to win the long-relief role. My personal favorite is Adam Warren. He has been very impressive this spring, with an amazing performance against the Red Sox "A" lineup last week.
With Girardi's decision with the starting rotation expected to come within the next couple of days, there has been speculation regarding who will be the odd man out. The Yankees are facing a situation that they don't usually have to deal with, but nevertheless it is a good problem to have.
So comes the Yankees dilemma: do they put Garcia in the bullpen as a long man and let Pineda begin the year in the Bronx, or do the Yankees slate Garcia as the number five starter and send Pineda to the minors to work on his fastball and further develop his changeup? These questions plague the Yankees as they head into the final week of spring training. Of course, the questions will arise once again in a month when Andy Pettitte is ready to join the Yankees rotation.
My take? I feel that Garcia, as the proven commodity should start the as the number 5 starter and Pineda should be sent down to the minors to work on his pitches. It worked for Nova last year and he never lost a game after his demotion. Also, it is a good idea to keep Garcia in the rotation until Pettitte arrives in the Bronx at which point, the Yankees can entertain offers for the right-hander.
The Blue Jays enter the 2012 season with a loaded lineup and a marginal rotation. When breaking them down from top to bottom, there are a few gaping holes that need to be addressed if they want to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.
The Jays offense is frighteningly good. From top to bottom, they have pieces that are irreplaceable. Most free agents don't seriously consider Canada as an enticing destination, given that they play on artificial turf and also because they are outside the United States. An organization like Toronto needs to build within, whether it be through the draft or through trades. The three main staples in their lineup are Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, and J.P. Arencibia. Another big name is Adam Lind, but he hasn't had an all-around strong season since 2009. Bautista gives the fans something to look forward to. A remarkable story, with the slugger getting designated for assignment several times before finding his stroke in Toronto. Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus give the Jays a younger set of guys whose futures look especially bright. Lawrie always plays at 100% and it shows with his energy and passion for the game. Lawrie is someone to watch out for. After he fully develops, I can see a season from the youngster where he hits for major power and average.
If there is an area that the Jays seriously need to address, it's the starting rotation. Outside of Ricky Romero, their rotation is a bunch of question marks. Kyle Drabek, whom they thought would be an ace when they traded him for Doc Halladay, has not shown signs of dominance. Brett Cecil needs to show that he can be a dominant lefty starter. After a promising 2010 season, he disappointed in 2011 to the point where he was optioned to the minor leagues for some time. Morrow has a power arm but needs to throw better strikes. He was susceptible to getting hit hard in some starts and dominating in others. His ERA has approached 5 in the last two seasons, leaving people to wonder whether he will figure it out. With a solid front three, the Blue Jays would be a force in the AL East, giving the other big two teams in the division a run for their money.
The key to the kingdom is pitching, starting pitching in particular. The offense for Toronto is there, and with a better rotation, they would be ready to take on the playoffs, somewhere they haven't been since the year I was born. I see the Jays improving on their .500 record from 2011, but it won't be enough to clinch a playoff berth this year. This is an 85 win team. Who knows, they could surprise us and be the Diamondbacks of 2011 in 2012.
The majority of Spring Training is over. The Yankees have a week's worth of games left, with the final four games against the Marlins in their new park, and the Mets, respectively. The Yankees have made it through Spring Training with almost no injuries and the opening day lineup will likely be the one we were all expecting.
The Joba Chamberlain trampoline injury shocked all of Yankee Universe, but it was not as bad as initially thought. Chamberlain and the team remain optimistic that Joba will be ready by July, but many writers are saying that he is done for the 2012 season. The Yankee bullpen without Chamberlain is already a strength, but Joba provides depth in an already dominant pen. The Yankees are in no rush to bring Joba back before he is physically ready to return.
With all of the bases covered, this is Girardi's probable Opening Day lineup against the the Rays next Friday:
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Raul Ibanez DH
Russell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF
Stay tuned for my MLB wins predictions as well as how I feel the Yankees optimal lineup and rotation should look like.
Tampa Bay should have an interesting year. They are favorites by most to win a wildcard spot and come behind the Yankees in the AL East standings. There are two sides to every story. In this case, one is pitching and the other is offense.
The Rays starting pitching staff is loaded with ammo wherever you look. When your ace is James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson is your number three or four, you know that your pitching is deep. If Shields has a year remotely close to what he did last year, I can see him as a serious contender for a Cy Young award. David Price had an off year by his standards in 2011. He only won 12 games and pitched to a 3.49 ERA. Once considered the ace of the staff, Joe Maddon has made it known that James Shields will be starting opening day. Look for Hellickson to have some growing pains this year, but still win 11-13 games. His ERA will increase a tad because the league will have adjusted to his pitching. Matt Moore is the early favorite for ROY honors. The powerful lefty has an enormous upside that will be displayed in his first full year in the majors. A cup of coffee with the Rays last year, Moore won a game against the Yankees in late September and pitched seven shut-out innings against the Rangers in the first game of the ALDS. The bullpen is much like it was one year ago, which people believed would be marginal. They caught lightning in a bottle and had an overall good season as a group. Kyle Farnsworth was the biggest shock of them all. After frustrating Yankee fans while in the Bronx, Kyle pitched to a sparkling 2.18 ERA and racked up 25 saves. I don't see them having as dominant of a year in 2012, but it will be enough to garner one of the wildcards. The starting pitching for Tampa Bay is just too deep.
Longoria walking off the Yankees on the final day of the 2011
regular season to steal the wildcard from the Red Sox.
Offensively, the Rays need a miracle to keep up with the big boys of the east. Evan Longoria remains a staple in the lineup, and I firmly believe that he will bounce back, big time. B.J. Upton is what he is. He is a very streaky player who can be a true asset to an offense when he is on. Matt Joyce should put up solid numbers and will carry the offense at times. With the addition of Carlos Pena, expect many home runs but like Upton, a very streaky hitter.
The Rays remain one of the strongest defensive teams in baseball. Upton and Jennings play a good outfield. The infield however, is sparking and deserves a collective gold glove. Longoria and Pena are some of the best at their positions and the middle infielders also play great, regardless of who Joe Maddon runs out there.
The Rays have a strong starting rotation and their defense is outstanding. They also have a core group of hitters who will carry the team. Expect Tampa Bay to walk away with one of the wildcard spots, winning 93 games.
According to Jack Curry who first broke the story, Andy Pettitte has signed a 1-year minor league contract worth $2.5 million. This comes as a huge surprise as nobody expected Pettitte to come out of retirement. He was so set on spending time at home and decided not to return mid-season last year that everyone ruled him out to ever pitch in the major leagues again.
Pettitte has been throwing bullpens at his home in Texas, but feels that he still needs to get his legs to the standard that his arm is at. He feels that he could pitch very soon but Cashman has made it clear that Andy will not advance north with the team in April. Pettitte will get as much time as he needs to prepare and will probably make a couple of starts in the minors (probably at AA) before joining the Yankees starting rotation, which finds itself with many more pitchers than slots.
This brings another question into play: who will be the odd man out? It's difficult to predict where pitchers will be in April by the time Pettitte returns to the Bronx, but make no mistake; Andy Pettitte will be part of that rotation. The move that make most sense would be to send Nova or Pineda to the minors, probably more likely Pineda than Nova, so Pineda can regain his fastball velocity and continue to work on his changeup, which has progressed well in ST. Girardi on the overcrowded rotation, "You never know. We might need all 7." The Yankees don't need to make any decisions right now, but it is sure to get interesting in April when they will have seven pitchers fighting for five spots. CC, Kuroda and Pettitte are the only locks in the rotation when Pettitte joins the Yankees.
Spring training has gone without any major injuries for the Yankees. What was a scary situation with David Robertson turned out to be a bone bruise and should only keep him out for another week or two.
The Yankees have played good baseball thus far. Their approaches at the plate have been good, and have yielded good results. Someone who has opened my eyes in camp is Clay Rapada. He is a lefty specialist who has only pitched a few innings, but he has made the best of those limited innings, leading the pitchers with strikeouts. His stuff is not overpowering, but the arm angle at which he throws is deceptive and very difficult for left handed hitters to pick up. With Boone Logan locked as a lefty specialist going into April, the Yankees should take a serious look at Rapada. His career statistics are hardly impressive, but I feel that he could be the key to the Yankees already deep bullpen until Joba comes back.
Clearly, I didn't keep up to my end of the bargain over the weekend. The Yankees played three games against the Philadelphia Phillies from Saturday until today. There are a few things that are worth noting.
On Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod clearly wants the season to start judging from his at-bats on Sunday. He hit a first pitch home run off of Roy Halladay to right center field, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. It is difficult to get excited over Rodriguez because last Spring, he had an amazing March and the end result was the worst offensive season of his career. The three hits that he crushed on Sunday certainly make it hard for fans not to get excited, however.
On Michael Pineda's debut: Pineda is a really big guy. He is a force on the mound and can intimidate a lot of hitters. His fastball explodes out of his hand and he has a nasty slider. He still needs to develop the changeup. He threw it a few times and it looked like it could be a promising pitch for the big right-hander. Victorino looked foolish swinging at the change and he struck out Thome on a high heater.
On Freddy Garcia: He was hardly impressive in his Spring debut. He is a guy who doesn't have over-powering stuff and relies on deception to get outs. Garcia is a smart pitcher, but I don't see him cracking the rotation if Hughes is healthy. He has a better chance to break camp as a long man out of the bullpen.
On Eduardo Nunez: Nunez was hit by a pitch on the hand in today's game. It was classified as a hand contusion (bruise). He exited the game afterwards and went to get a precautionary x-ray in Tampa. The Yankees have a ton of infielders who would love Nunez's job, but I don't see it as anything serious.
On David Robertson's Debut: Robertson came into the season wanting to decrease his walk totals. After starting the inning with two consecutive outs, he walked Rollins on four pitches and ended up giving up a run. Still needs to work on that control. Then again, it was his first game of the Spring. Wouldn't make sense to make much of it.
Overall, the weekend was a success. Aside from the wins, we got to see the Killer B's pitch on Saturday, Francisco Cervelli has not suffered his annual Spring Training injury (yet), and you liked what you saw from A-Rod.
Derek Jeter SS Curtis Granderson CF Mark Teixeira 1B Alex Rodriguez 3B Raul Ibanez DH Nick Swisher RF Brett Gardner LF Eduardo Nunez 2B Gustavo Molina C
RHP Adam Warren
The regulars will get only 1-2 at bats and last a couple of innings. Ibanez gets his first start of the spring hitting behind A-Rod. Cano is not in the lineup because he missed a few days of workouts because he attended the funeral of his great grandmother.
Spring is in the air and I can't wait until tomorrow's game at 1:05 because it will be televised on MLBN.