February 2011

Late Meltdown Costs Yanks Victory In CC’s Spring Debut

Ryan Strieby stroked a two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning that broke a 2-2 tie as Detroit came from behind to down New York 6-2 on Monday in an exhibition game at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL.
Reliever Ryan Perry (1-0) pitched a scoreless seventh inning and got credit for the victory. Yankees left-hander Robert Fish (0-1) was fried for three hits and two runs and took the loss. Australian Chris Oxspring pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
The Tigers remained a perfect 3-0 on the young spring. The Yankees fell to 1-2.
  • Jorge Vazquez is making a bid for the title Mr. March or Grapefruit League Most Valuable Player. He entered the game at third base in the sixth inning and slapped a single in the seventh and slammed a ringing double off the wall in the ninth. Vazquez,28, is a perfect 5-for-5 with two homers, a double, two singles and three RBIs.
  • A 25-pound lighter CC Sabathia started for the Yankees and he pitched two scoreless innings. He gave up two hits, walked none and struck out two. Sabathia said he was pleased with his command on his fastball in his spring debut.
  • Mark Teixeira had a single and double and the double drove in Derek Jeter in the fifth inning that opened the scoring for the Yankees. It’s early but Teixeira is batting .600 after three games. He is determined to get off to a better start when the season begins.
  • Newly signed reserve outfielder Andruw Jones scored Teixeira with a single in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead they held until the sixth inning.
  • 20-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, the most-prized pitching prospect the Yankees have, threw a perfect inning in the fourth, striking out Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Inge looking at his knee-buckling curve. Banuelos is ticketed for Double-A Trenton this season.
  • Former Cubs star Mark Prior pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning, striking out one batter. Prior, 30, is a non-roster pitcher hoping to make the Yankees as a reliever. Prior has not pitched in the major leagues since 2006 due to severe shoulder problems.
  • A trio of pitchers not expected to make to make the Yankees roster gave up six runs over three innings and gave the Tigers a come-from-behind victory. Fish, Daniel Turpen and D.J. Mitchell combined to give up four singles, three doubles, a home run and three walks. 
  • Turpen was particularly bad. he gave up two hits and walked three in the sixth, surrendering the two runs that tied the score.
  • For some reason, Robinson Cano decided to steal third base in the first inning with Teixeira on first and one out off Tigers starter Justin Verlander. It did not work out too well. Cano was picked off easily by the Tigers’ ace.
  • Between that poor base-running and a failure to get big hits with runners in scoring position, the Yankees hurt their cause all day long. They were a miserable 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and they left 13 runners on base.
Outfielder Greg Golson was struck on the batting helmet by a pitch from A.J. Burnett on Sunday and he was unable to work out on Monday. He is expected to resume workouts on Tuesday and he could play in a game again on Wednesday.  . . .  Catcher Russell Martin made his spring debut on Monday. Playing as the team’s DH, Martin was 0-for-1 with two walks. Martin said he only feels slight tightness in his surgically repaired right knee and he could catch in his first spring game on Thursday or Friday.
The Yankees will travel to McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, on Tuesday to play the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees are scheduled to start right-hander Phil Hughes. The Pirates will start right-hander James McDonald. It will mark the spring debuts for both pitchers.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will not be telecast.

Super Nova Dazzles Phillies As Yankees Win In Romp

Curtis Granderson and Jorge Vazquez both blasted homers and Ivan Nova began his quest for a rotation spot with two perfect innings as New York defeated Philadelphia 7-3 on Sunday in the Phillies’ spring home opener at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Sergio Mitre (1-0), who also is vying for a rotation spot, pitched a scoreless inning to get credit for the victory. Phillies right-hander Justin De Fratus (0-1) took the loss.
With the victory the Yankees evened the weekend home-and-home series with the Phillies and both teams are 1-1 this spring.
  • Nova, 24, looked sensational in his two innings of work. He threw only 21 pitches and 14 of them were strikes, he fanned two and he did not allow a ball to get out of the infield. Five of the six batters he faced were Phillies veterans Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco. So to say that Nova made an early statement would be an understatement.
  • Granderson’s two-run homer to left-field off De Fratus with Brett Gardner aboard in the fourth inning opened the scoring for the Yankees. The opposite-field blast was aided by a 7 mile-per-hour breeze to left.
  • Vazquez, 28, a 10-year veteran of the Mexican League, is also making a statement by blasting his second home run in the Yankees’ first two spring contests. After launching a 440-foot blast over the batter’s eye in center-field at Steinbrenner Field on Saturday, Vazquez launched his second spring home run to left off Phils closer Brad Lidge in the ninth inning. Vazquez originally was considered a longshot to make the team because he is listed behind Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and non-roster veteran Eric Chavez on the depth chart at first base.
  • During a four-run explosion off Phillies right-hander Michael Schwimer, Swisher and Posada each contributed RBI doubles and 21-year-old catching prospect Jesus Montero added an RBI single.
  • 22-year-old pitching sensation Dellin Betances also had Yankees veterans shaking their heads in disbelief. The rookie right-hander struck out the side and walked one batter in the fifth inning. The Phillies could not catch up with his high heater clocked as high as 97 mph.
  • Former Atlanta Braves reliever Buddy Carlyle was roughed up in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving up a two-run home run to Ben Francisco. Carlyle, 33, is longshot to make the team this spring.
  • Francisco also spoiled 23-year-old right-hander Adam Warren’s spring debut. He stroked a RBI double off Warren in the seventh to make the score 6-1. Warren did not help his cause by walking two batters in his 1 1/3 inning of work.
  • Chavez debuted as a first baseman on Sunday and he almost made an error on a grounder in the second inning and he was 0-for-3 at the plate. With Vazquez hitting a pair of bombs, Chavez, 33, suddenly has some added pressure on his development as a backup corner infielder.
The Yankees enjoyed another day of beautiful weather. The game-time temperature was 78 degrees and 10,767 fans enjoyed a sun-splashed afternoon of baseball.  . . .  The Yankees have lost non-roster infielder Ronnie Belliard for about a week with a right calf strain. Belliard, 35, injured himself during pregame warmups and was scratched from the starting lineup. Brandon Laird started in his place at third base. Belliard did not endear himself to the Yankee brass by showing up for camp overweight.  . . .  Pitcher Andrew Brackman , who has been sidelined with a sore groin, played catch on Sunday and will be re-evaluated on Monday. He is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi indicated that catcher Russell Martin, who is recovering from right surgery, will DH on Monday and is expected to catch later in the week.
The Yankees will travel to Lakeland, FL, to face the Detroit Tigers on Monday. A much more svelte CC Sabathia will make his first spring start for the Yankees. The starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez is expected to make the trip and start.
The Tigers will counter with their ace, right-hander Justin Verlander, which will be a preview of the matchup on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 31. Miguel Cabrera will make his debut at DH in a spring already marred by a DUI arrest.
Game-time is 1:05 p.m. and the game will not be telecast. 

Bloop Single Sinks Yanks In Opener As ‘Boss’ Honored

TAMPA – Reserve catcher Dane Sardinha’s two-run bloop single to left with the base loaded in the eighth inning gave Philadelphia a 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees in the 2011 spring training opener for both clubs on Saturday.
Brian Schlitter (1-0), who blew a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, was credited with the victory. Eric Wordekemper (0-1) was tagged with the loss.
  • Joba Chamberlain was clearly the buzz after the game with his impressive one perfect inning of relief. The 25-year-old right-hander just needed 11 pitches (nine of them strikes) to retire the side in order in the third. He was clocked at 93 miles per hour. 
  • Francisco Cervelli drove in the Yankees’ first run of the spring with a two-out double off Phillies starter Cole Hamels in the second inning to score Robinson Cano.
  • Mark Teixeira drove in the second run with a ringing line-drive triple off wall in left-center to score Eduardo Nunez in the fifth.
  • Alex Rodriguez has two great at-bats but only had a double to right-center to show for it. His long blast to center in the first was caught at the wall by Ben Francisco.
  • Backup first baseman Jorge Vazquez temporarily became the big hero of the day with a two-run blast over the batters’ eye in center in the seventh inning gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead. But the Yankees lost the lead the following inning.
  • Reserve outfielder Justin Maxwell made the defensive play of the day with a diving shoestring catch of a line drive off the bat of Ross Gload in the seventh inning with two men on base, saving at least one run. Maxwell was acquired in a trade with the Nationals.
  • Starter Bartolo Colon did not look sharp in his spring debut. In two innings he gave up two hits, a walk and one run on 36 pitches. The 37-year-old former Cy Young Award winner did not have his sharp sinker today. However, Cervelli said he was encouraged because Colon was able to locate his fastball and keep the ball down. Colon is auditioning for a spot in the back end of the rotation as a non-roster invitee.
  • David Phelps was the Yankees best minor league pitcher last season but he looked a bit rusty in his spring debut. He was nicked by three consecutive hits after two were out in the fifth inning. That allowed the Phillis to take a 3-1 lead.
  • Wordekemper also looked shaky in his one inning of work. After allowing back-to-back hits to begin the eighth, the right-hander retired the next two batters. However, he walked Jeff Larish to load the bases and Sardinha hit a breaking pitch that echoed like a wet newspaper but the ball escaped the glove of a diving Colin Curtis and two runs scored.
  • The Yankees had many chances to come back on the Phillies and win the game. What did not help was the team was 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and they left 10 runners on base.
The Yankees paid a poignant tribute to late principal owner George M. Steinbrenner before the game. A video tribute was followed by a laying of three roses at the interlocking NY behind home plate by Steinbrenner’s late wife Joan and his two daughters. The marching band from George M. Steinbrenner High School in Lutz, FL entertained the crowd before the ceremony and Steinbrenner’s granddaughter Haley Swindal performed the national anthem. During the anthem there was flyover of two F-18 Hornets from the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. The day marked the first spring game since the death of “The Boss” last July at age 80. Fans who entered the stadium at the home=plate entrance were greeted with a huge statute of Steinbrenner erected in his honor.  . . .  The opener was attended by 11,122 and was played under perfect weather conditions. It was 77 degrees and sunny with just a slight breeze at game-time.  . . .  The Yankees fielded their entire starting lineup for the game except for starting catcher Russell Martin, who is easing back into catching this spring because he is recovering from surgery on his right knee. Cervelli started in his place. Manager Joe Girardi said Martin should begin starting behind the plate next week, barring any setbacks.  . . .  Phillies manager Charlie Manuel held shortstop Jimmy Rollins out of the game Saturday because he missed two workouts attending a Motown tribute in Washington, D.C. Manuel previously announced second baseman Chase Utley would not play because of sore legs. Manuel said he is not concerned but Utley ducked questions about it on Saturday. Rollins will play against the Yankees on Sunday at Bright House Field but Utley will remain sidelined indefinitely.
The Phillies will return the favor to the Yankees and host them for their home spring opener on Sunday. The Yankees will start 24-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova, who is in the mix for the back-end rotation spot. Rookie catching prospect Jesus Montero will start at catcher. The Phillies will start right-hander Joe Blanton.
Game-time is schediled for 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network. The MLB Network will broadcast the game nationally on tape-delay at 8 p.m.

Yankees Will Open Spring Slate With Tribute To Boss

The New York Yankees open their 2011 spring training schedule on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field at 1:05 p.m. Here is a preview of the game and some early camp notes.
The Yankees will open their 2011 home spring training schedule with a salute to late owner George M. Steinbrenner, who died last July at the age of 80.
The team will honor their principal owner with the unveiling of a statute of the man erected outside the home-plate entrance. A video tribute to him will be shown on the left-field scoreboard and the marching band from George M. Steinbrenner High School from Lutz, FL, will perform.
Steinbrenner’s daughters will escort their mother Jean to home plate for the placement of rose to honor their father and the national anthem will be performed by Steinbrenner’s granddaughter Haley Swindal.
There also will be flyover by two F-16 Hornets from the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA.
It is unclear whether Steinbrenner’s son will pay homage to those Yankee players who built “mansions” over the course of the 2010 season.
The Phillies have selected left-hander Cole Hamels to pitch their spring opener. Hamels was 12-11 with a 3.06 ERA last season. He will pitch two innings and will be followed by Vance Worley, Ryan Feieraband, Brian Schlitter and Mike Zagurski.
Manager Charlie Manuel also posted the lineup for the game:
1) Jimmy Rollins SS
2) Ross Gload DH
3) Raul Ibanez LF
4) Ryan Howard 1B
5) Ben Francisco CF
6) Domonic Brown RF
7) Jeff Larish 3B
8) Brian Schneider C
9) Wilson Valdez 2B
Second baseman Chase Utley will not play in the opener because of soreness in his legs and knees. Manuel said the problem is not serious and that Utley will be fine.
The Yankees will counter by pitching non-roster right-hander Bartolo Colon. Colon has not pitched in the major leagues since 2009 and is competing for a back-end rotation spot with the Yankees.
Manager Joe Girardi selected Colon, 37, to pitch the opener because he is coming off pitching in winter ball and is a bit further along than any of the other pitchers. He will pitch two innings up to a limit of 35 pitches.
Colon will followed to the mound by Joba Chamberlain, David Roberstson, David Phelps, Hector Noesi and Eric Wordekemper.
The Yankees also plan to open the spring home schedule with their regular starting lineup to face Hamels.
However, newly signed catcher Russell Martin will be held out of the contest as he continues to recover from surgery on his right knee. Francisco Cervelli will catch instead.
The game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and in the tri-state area by the YES Network.
Those Yankee fans hoping to let left-hander Cliff Lee how they feel about him will be out of luck, He will remain at the team’s complex at Bright House Network Field in Clearwater, FL. It is unclear if Lee will pitch Sunday at Bright House Network Field when the Phillies return the favor and host the Yankees.
Girardi has indicated that CC Sabathia will start Sunday’s game in Philadelphia and Sergio Mitre will follow on Monday at Lakeland against the Detroit Tigers. But plans for Tuesday and Wednesday have been switched.
Phil Hughes will start Tuesday’s game in Bradenton against the Pittsburgh Pirates and A.J. Burnett has been switched to pitch Wednesday at home Houston Astros. That would seem to indicate that Hughes is, for now, considered the No. 2 starter.
The Yankees will honor two minor leaguers before the March 19 game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Infielder Eduardo Nunez and right-hander David Phelps will be presented with the 2010 Kevin Lawn awards, dedicated to Kevin O’Brien Lawn , the son of longtime vice president and chief of operations Jack Lawn, who passed away in 1999.
Nunez, 23, batted .289 with 55 runs, 25 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 50 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010. he also was a midseason and postseason International League All-Star.
Phelps, 24, cobined to go 10-2 with a 2.50 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 26 games with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2010.
Former No. 1 pick Andrew Brackman will be sidelined until next week with tightness in his groin.
The 6-foot-10 right-hander is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Tuesday. But he will be unavailable to pitch in any of the early spring training games.
Brackman, 25, who the Yankees drafted in 2007 knowing he would be sidelined for a season to recover from Tommy John surgery, has been impressive with his command and velocity in early bullpen sessions at camp.

Soriano’s Signing Gives Yankees Formidable Bullpen

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
Cliff Lee’s loss was essentially Rafael Soriano’s gain.
When Lee spurned the Yankees’ more lucrative offer to rejoin a Philadelphia Phillies team that had traded him a year before, Soriano ostensibly was signed to a free-agent contract with some of the money Lee turned his back upon.
Though general manager Brian Cashman was not part of the deal, it actually makes the Yankees’ bullpen one of the strongest in baseball heading into the 2011 season.
That is a good thing, too, because the starters have a bunch of question marks hanging over the heads after CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes.
The Soriano signing gives the Yankees a setup man who was one of the best closers in baseball in 2010. With the Tampa Bay Rays Soriano, 31, was 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA and he converted 45 of 48 save chances.
This in only his second year as full-time closer.
The cash-strapped Rays could not afford to keep him so Soriano sought a closer’s role elsewhere. But the Yankees lured him with a lot of cash and a contract provision that will allow him to leave for another team in 2012.
Though that does look good for the Yankees down the road, 2011 promises to be much better with Soriano holding down the eighth inning and legend Mariano Rivera taking the ball in the ninth.
It is by far the best back end of the bullpen duo the Yankees have had since the days of Rivera and John Wetteland in 1996 before Rivera took over as the full-time closer in 1997.
Rivera, now at age 41, has managed to silence those who thought he was on the decline in 2010. He was 3-3 with a 1.80 ERA and converted 33 of 38 save opportunities. The sub-2.00 ERA was Rivera’s seventh such season in the past eight years.
But, to be honest, the Yankees were concerned about Rivera’s spells of numbness in his side last season, He also pitched with a balky knee at times. Nothing serious, but they are things that do worry a team when their closer is over 40.
So Soriano not only brings a very good setup man to the team. He also can be a nice substitute when Rivera is ailing or needs rest. That is luxury manager Joe Girardi loves to have going into the season.
The rest of the Yankee bullpen looks just as solid.
Though lefty specialist Damaso Marte, 36, is expected to miss most — if not all — of the 2011 season recovering from shoulder surgery, the Yankees have a holdover and free agent to replace him.
The Yankees signed former Met Pedro Feliciano, 34, to become the lefty specialist this season. Feliciano was 3-6 with a 3.30 ERA last season. In the past three seasons, Feliciano has made more appearances than any pitcher baseball with 344. The next closest pitcher, Matt Guerrier of the Twins, had 42 less.
Feliciano is a master at retiring right-hand hitters. They batted .211 off him last season. So Feliciano will come in every other day to face tough lefties like David Ortiz, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox.
Lefty holdover Boone Logan, 26, turned a huge corner in his development into a major-league reliever last season. Logan was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 51 appearances. The big change was Logan walked only 20 batters in 40 innings.
That number could come down some more but Logan showed an ability to pitch tough as the team’s only left-hander this season. This season he likely will be used to pitch more complete innings and could be used for multiple innings in middle relief.
David Robertson, 25, had another great season if you throw out his very horrible April and early May. Robertson was 0-1 with a 14.21 ERA on May 5. But he rebounded and became a reliable pitcher the rest of the season.
He finished with a 4-5 record and 3.82 ERA. Once again, he struck out more batters than innings pitched (71 Ks in 61 1/3 innings). Robertson will likely see a lot of action in the sixth and seventh innings.
It is hard to believe how far down in the pecking order that Joba Chamberlain has fallen. From kid phenom setup man in 2007 to promising starter in 2008 to a flop of a starter in 2009 to a flop as a reliever in 2010.
Chamberlain, 25, was 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA and he was so inconsistent that the Yankees were forced to acquire Kerry Wood from the Indians to set up Rivera. 
His velocity is not gone completely. It is just not what it was before he suffered a shoulder injury late in the 2009 season. More importantly, Chamberlain has not had the same command on what was a deadly slider.
Chamberlain actually enters a perfect scenario for him to rebound in 2011. There will be no pressure on him as a setup man and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a clean slate from which to start repairing the big right-hander.
There is no need for the Yankees to give up on him at this age but Chamberlain could easily be packaged in a trade for a starter at some point this season.
There is only one spot left in the bullpen and it likely will go to a pitcher who can both start and pitch long relief. That could be Sergio Mitre, who is in competition for the fifth starter job.
Mitre, 30, pitched poorly in three starts in 2010 but excelled as a long reliever. He was 0-3 with a 3.33 ERA. He also posted an excellent Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 1.09. He gave up only 43 hits and 16 walks in 54 innings.
If veteran non-roster right-hander Freddy Garcia, 34, shows he can pitch like he did in recording a 12-6 record with the White Sox in 2010, the Yankees would be content on starting Garcia and using Mitre as a spot starter and long reliever in 2011.
The only other reliever on the 40-man roster who pitched for the Yankees in 2010 is Romulo Sanchez and he pitched in just two games. He did pitch well in those two games and the Yankees like his power arm.
Among the non-roster invitees are a pair of former major-leaguers. One is 33-year-old Luis Ayala, who has not pitched in the major leagues since 2009. However, the Yankees were impressed with his work this winter in Mexico.
He had 14 saves and 1.99 ERA this winter, which earned him a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. The right-hander was a standout relief pitcher for the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals from 2003-2007.
The Yankees also invited Andrew Sisco, 28, to spring training. The 6-foot-10 right-hander was a coming star with the Kansas City Royals in 2005 but elbow problems have short-circuited his career. He has not pitched in the major leagues since 2007.
Ayala and Sisco enter camp as longshots.
One other interresting name in the mix is Mark Prior. The former Cubs phenom is now 30 and he has not pitched in the majors since 2006.
The former No. 1 pick was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 2003 and seemed headed to stardom but arm miseries have shelved him ever since. But Prior is hoping to make it back to the majors as a reliever. He hopes to prove to the Yankees his is finally healthy.
The Yankees are willing to see what he has at this point. He will be watched closely.
But the real truth is there are very few spots available on the Yankees’ staff and the bullpen looks stacked, barring injury.
There are not many teams in baseball that can boast two pitchers who combined to save 78 games in 86 chances with sub-2.00 ERAs. That means the Yankees hope to cover up a shaky rotation with a very good bullpen capable of shutting down teams from the seventh inning on.
With a good offense the Yankees could just make that a workable strategy in 2011.
So the Yankees’ opponents must be forewarned: If you want to beat the Yankees in 2011, you better score early or you won’t score much at all.

Starting Staff Looks Weak But Could Become Stronger

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
There is no way to sugarcoat it. There is no way to suggest something that is not there. It is obvious the Yankees’ starting pitching “on paper” looks pretty weak.
When spring training games begin this Saturday we will find how bad it is. But every March spring hope seems to blossom. The Yankees are left hoping their pitching will grow into the job just enough to push it toward their 28th championship.
Perhaps having former Rays manager and Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild can help whip this staff into shape. Rothschild will take over for Dave Eiland and he promises to get results out of this staff.
When it comes to ace left-hander C.C. Sabathia, Rothschild will not have to do any tinkering at all. Sabathia has been every bit what the Yankees have wanted him to be the past two seasons.
In his brief Yankee career, Sabathia, 30, has started 68 regular-season games and is 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA and 394 strikeouts. His postseason work in 2009 led the Yankees to their first championship in nine seasons.
However, Sabathia’s work in the postseason of 2010 was hampered by a torn meniscus in his right knee. The knee has been repaired and Sabathia arrived in camp 25 pounds lighter to take stress off the knee.
The Yankees are not thinking about Sabathia’s right to opt out of his contract after this season. They are focused instead on making sure their ace stays healthy and remains productive in 2011.
The Yankees biggest surprise of 2010 was right-hander Phil Hughes
Hughes, 24, was part of a five-man battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation last spring. He ended up winning the job and was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in his first season as a starter. By any standard, that is pretty good.
The Yankees hope Hughes builds upon that with an even better 2011 season. 
His win total was inflated largely because the Yankees made him the best supported pitcher in baseball. But Hughes is actually the poster boy for how the 2011 staff will have to operate. If the offense is clicking at more than five runs a game it might hide the fact this staff is not as good.
Hughes benefitted from the 2010 season and showed growth as a competitor and has become more of a pitcher rather than a thrower. The Yankees’ patience with Hughes paid off and Rothschild only needs to get Hughes to keep his pitch counts down to keep him games longer.
Hughes, towards that end, hopes to rely even more on the changeup he developed last season. 
A change of pace is also what is needed for A.J. Burnett. Signed to a lucrative four-year deal along with Sabathia two seasons ago, Burnett has seen good times and bad.
Last season was just plain bad as his 10-15 record and 5.26 ERA would indicate. Burnett was never a model of proper pitching mechanics but last season he lost all sense of his release point or where his pitches were going.
The effect of the beatings he took made the problem mental. It only got worse as the season wore on and Burnett has more pressure on him this spring than any pitcher in camp. 
Rothschild has some ideas to “fix” A.J. and Burnett can’t wait to show off the new look. Yankee fans would settle for his 2010 numbers of 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. Yankee fans also realize a confident and composed Burnett is capable to dominating any team in baseball when he is on.
The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies found that out in Game Two of the World Series. Burnett is the key to the Yankees’ success and Yankee fans hope to see more of Good A.J. and less of Bad A.J. in 2011.
Well, give me credit. I have not mentioned Cliff Lee or Andy Pettitte to this point. One reason is that it is hard to make a case for what the Yankees do not have. But these two veteran left-handers both decided they did not want to pitch for the Yankees in 2011.
They combined last season for a 23-12 record and a 3.22 ERA. Lee chose, surprisingly, to join a Phillies team that traded him away in 2010 and he signed for less money than the Yankees were offering.
Pettitte simply decided he had enough at age 38 and retired. There are some Yankee fans who believe Pettitte might consider a midseason comeback. But the Yankees can’t count on that to save them.
They instead will look to rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, who was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts and three relief appearances last season.
Nova showed promise at age 24 and the Yankees would like him succeed in the same way as Hughes did during his first full season as a starter. Nova’s strength is his competitiveness and he has a 93 mph fastball and a knee-buckling curve.
He only needs to learn to get through the batting order a second and third time. Last season he seemed to struggle with his command the second time through. That is where Rothschild will be of great help.
Veteran Sergio Mitre is penciled in as the No. 5 starter. Pencil being the operative word.
Mitre did pitch very well out the bullpen last season. He was 0-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 relief stints and three spot starts. 
But to ask Mitre, 30, to become a starter two years removed from Tommy John surgery maybe asking a lot. Mitre has only one full season as a starter under his belt. That was the 2007 season with the Florida Marlins with then-manager Joe Girardi.
He was 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA in 27 starts.
The Yankees have invited veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia into camp as a non-roster player. Garcia actually stands a very good chance of making the team as the fifth starter.
Garcia, 34, was 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA with the Chicago White Sox last season. He also has a q33-87 record and a career ERA of 4.13. So Garcia looks to have better credentials as a starter than Mitre.
The fastball is no longer what it was (about 87 mph now) but Garcia stayed healthy and showed he can win with his off-speed assortment if he gets run support. That should not be a problem with the Yankees.
Keeping Garcia as the fifth starter would allow Mitre to retain his long relief duties in the bullpen, which he succeeded at in 2010.
The Yankees also will be taking a look at 2005 American League Cy Young award winner Bartolo Colon as a non-roster starter this spring. 
Colon did not pitch in the major leagues in 2010 but impressed the Yankees with his work in winter ball.
Colon faces long odds because he has not pitched a full season in the majors since 2005 because of arm injuries. At age 37 and at about 250 pounds Colon also looks more like a beer league pitcher that a major leaguer.
But the desperate times call for desperate measures and Colon will get a look-see.
The Yankees also have a pretty full cupboard of young pitching prospects this spring. They include former Notre Dame star David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell. 
The Yankees also
have former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Brackman opening eyes after recovering from elbow surgery two seasons ago. Down the line the Yankees have a mage-prospect in Manny Banuelos, who Baseball America raves about as one of its best pitching prospects.
However, to expect any of these pitcher to step in and win at the major-league level may be asking way too much. Developing pitchers takes patience and allowing young pitchers to make mistakes and learn to escape from jams.
In the competitive A.L. East that is unlikely. But, out of necessity, the Yankees could promote one or two of these pitchers to either fill in for injured starters or take over for failing ones.
General manager Brian Cashman also is hopeful of finding more of a buyer’s market for starters at the midseason mark. Pitchers like Chris Carpenter, Edwin Jackson, John Danks and Carlos Zambrano may be available then and the Yankees may have a package of youngsters to trade to bolster the starting rotation.
So while the current makeup of the starting rotation may not conjure images of a championship rotation now, it very well could grow into one by season’s end.
There is no question there is concern here. But never count out the Steinbrenner family’s deep pockets and Cashman’s desire to put a winning product on the field for Girardi.
We will see how things develop. The Yankees only need time to work it all out.

Yankees’ Move Of Posada To DH A Bold Masterstroke

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
In all the Debbie Downer moments surrounding Cliff Lee’s decision to wear Phillies pinstripes instead of the Yankees, the decision to sign free agent Russell Martin to take over the full-time catching duties was a stroke of genius.
That gave the Yankees the luxury to make Jorge Posada a full-time DH. To say his placement in this position is a vast improvement from last season is an understatement.
Last season, general manager Brian Cashman eschewed budget-busting free-agent signings to bring in old friend Nick Johnson as the team’s full-time DH. At 31, Johnson had a reputation of being a good hitter with a great batting eye and a high on-base percentage.
That made him perfect fit for the No. 2 spot in the batting order, where he could advance runners and get on base for Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. It would have worked if only the one negative in Johnson’s game did not rear its ugly head — early.
On May 7, after only 24 games, the oft-hurt Johnson went down with what would become a season-ending wrist injury. He hit .167 with two home runs and eight RBIs. If it is any consolation, and it isn’t, Johnson did have a .388 on-base percentage because he drew 24 walks.
The rest of the season the Yankees used Marcus Thames, Lance Berkman and a collection of regulars like Posada who required days off in the field to fill the DH spot. 
But it hardly was the same as 2009 with Hideki Matsui hitting 28 home runs, driving in 90 runs and hitting .274. The Yankees got considerably less than that from their DH in 2010 and it showed.
The Yankees can’t undo the decision to let Matsui go but they can make the position stronger by using Posada there.
Posada never will be accused of being in the league of Ivan Rodriguez or Johnny Bench as a defensive catcher. He also was never great at throwing out runners after shoulder surgery after the 2008 season.
But Posada has always been able to hit. Now the Yankees are asking him to do just that and they hope they get what Posada averaged in his last three healthy seasons: 20 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .275 average.
Those totals are very close to those that Matsui posted in 2009 and the Yankees would be happy if the 39-year-old veteran can provide that for them this season. 
Because of the Yankees rich history in catchers, Posada is often overshadowed by greats like Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson. But 2010 will mark the first season since 2000 when Posada took over as the full-time catcher after sharing it for two seasons before with a fellow named Joe Girardi.
Posada became synonymous with Yankee success. He was part of the “Core Four” along with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. With Pettitte’s retirement it now becomes the “Spree Three” and Posada will be working under the final year of his four-year contract.
Posada’s 2010 season was a painful one. He went down in mid-May with a calf injury that placed him on the disabled list. When he returned he then had to endure a season of nagging injuries to his finger and foot from foul tips.
He hit an awful .248 but he did contribute 18 home runs and 57 RBis in 120 games. He made 78 starts behind the plate and committed eight errors. But what really hurt was the fact he committed eight passed balls and caught only 13 out of 85 base-stealers (15%).
With teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels determined to turn games into track meets, Posada and his lax starting pitchers gave up the most steals in baseball. So turning Posada into a full-time DH at this stage of his career seems to make sense.
Martin won the National League Gold Glove award in 2007. In his career, he has fielded at a .990 clip and he has thrown out 156 base-stealers in 496 attempts (31%). The Angels and Rays may think better of running wild on Martin in 2011.
So the theory goes that Posada, not burdened as a catcher, will be able to avoid a lot of the nagging injuries that sidelined him last year. Of course, Posada could still get hurt hitting or running the bases. But the Yankees think they have lessened the odds.
With Francisco Cervelli around to provide backup duties for Martin, Posada will likely catch very little this season, barring injury to Martin or Cervelli. The Yankees even have a 21-year-old star catcher in the making Jesus Montero around to call up from Triple-A, if needed.
So Posada’s days of catching. if not over, will be limited this season. That is a good thing.
The Yankees also have 33-year-old outfielder Andruw Jones to use at DH this season. Jones could be used to face tough left-handers on days when Posada may need a rest. But Jones also would take over as full-time DH if Posada is injured.
Jones hits for power and he had 19 home runs and drove in 48 runs in only 278 at-bats with the White Sox last season. He also owns 10 Gold Gloves and he still play either corner outfield spot.
Posada himself is also going to play some in the field this season besides at catcher. He is slated to be the backup at first base for Teixeira. Posada will not play anywhere close to the Gold Glove-quality defense Teixeira does but as a former second baseman in the minors, Posada handles the position better than you would think.
He has not made an error at first base since the year 2000. Of course, he has played in only 28 games at first and 14 of those he started.
Look to see Posada at first a lot this spring working on his skills.
The Yankees also will look to use the DH spot to give rest to Rodriguez, Teixeira and Jeter. It may only amount to a handful of games but Girardi is determined these veterans receive occasional days off to keep them fresh for the stretch drive.
Posada has always said he never liked to pinch-hit or DH because he felt he was not good at it. But now that the Yankees have asked their veteran catcher to put his mitt aside, he has embraced it and he is looking forward to the challenge.
Posada knows he is filling a valuable spot and he very well could succeed in his new role in 2011. He hopes it is a season with some champagne and his sixth World Series ring included.

Yankees Really Like Blend Of Talent In 2011 Outfield

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
What a difference a year makes. Last season the Yankees basically jettisoned their 2009 championship outfield by trading Melky Cabrera and star prospect Austin Jackson and allowed Johnny Damon and DH Hideki Matsui walk as free agents.
They acquired Curtis Granderson and installed Brett Gardner in leftfield to go with holdover right-fielder Nick Swisher. The results in 2010 were a mixed bag but substantially better than what would have happened if the Yankees stood on a pat hand.
Swisher re-invented himself by adjusting his swing to make more contact. The results were very evident. He raised his average from .249 to .288 and hit 29 home runs and drove in 89 runs. 
For a player Brian Cashman picked off the Chicago White Sox scrap heap for reserve Wilson Betemit, Swisher, 30, has turned into the unsung hero of this team for the past two seasons. His power, his ability to switch-hit and his exuberance in the field make him a valuable cog in the Yankees’ attack.
His fielding may leave a lot to be desired. He is not exactly ballet in motion but he does catch what comes what comes his way and he has a strong arm. He made only four errors last season but, more importantly, he registered 10 outfield assists.
Manager Joe Girardi is likely to have a plenty of opportunities to remove Swisher late in games for a defensive replacement. But more on that later.
The Yankees essentially acquired Granderson for Jackson and left-hander Phil Coke. His first season in the Bronx was not one to write home about. 
Though Granderson is a great individual who won praise for his charitable pursuits, his play in 2010 was not real good overall. He got off to a good start with the bat, slumped and then injured a groin muscle and missed a month.
Upon his return, Granderson continued to struggle and he looked hopeless against left-handers. But hitting coach Kevin Long took him aside and reworked his swing and a new Curtis Granderson emerged.
From Sept. 1 through the end of the season, Granderson hit .263 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. He also began to hit left-handers with his quicker and more powerful stroke. So Granderson’s 2010 totals of 24 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .248 average look pathetic but there is hope his new swing will carry through the 2011 season.
Granderson, 29, also would like to be more aggressive on the bases. He stole only 12 bases in 2010. He has stolen as many as 26 in his career.
Where Granderson struggles the most is on defense. He simply lacks good first-reaction instincts on fly balls. He has the speed to outrun his mistakes but Granderson will misread a ball or two in the outfield.
He made only two errors in the field last season and contributed five outfield assists. But the Yankees would like him to continue to work on his first step and make better reads on fly balls this season.
The Yankees rolled the dice by allowing Gardner to win the left-field spot in 2010 and the Yankees were happy with what they got overall. Gardner established he could get on base often enough to unglue a few pitchers with his blazing speed.
Gardner hit .277 with five home runs and 47 RBis. But, his true value was that he scored 97 runs primarily batting at the bottom of the order and he stole 47 bases. All this despite having been hampered by a recurring wrist injury that required surgery this offseason.
The Yankees hope the wrist surgery will allow Gardner to hit with more authority into the gaps of the outfield. Gardner also needs to work on his bunting. Blessed with such great speed it is a crime that Gardner has been slow in learning to how to bunt effectively.
Gardner, 27, also has a much too much of a safety-first approach on the bases that keeps him planted at first reading pitchers too deep into counts. The Yankees want him going more often and earlier in pitch counts in 2011.
There is no such safety-first mentality in the field. Gardner is, by far, the best defensive outfielder the Yankees have and he is close to Gold Glove status.
Comfortable in left and in center, Gardner made only one error last season and contributed an amazing 12 outfield assists. With Damon out in left Yankee fans forgot that outfielders could actually throw runners out on the bases. That mentality changed with Gardner.
Gardner’s superior defense in left is a plus to what is an excellent fielding team overall.
Last season the Yankees reserve outfielders left a lot to be desired defensively. Though Marcus Thames was signed mostly as a DH, when pressed into service it was a lot like the U.S. Navy. Every fly ball was an adventure.
Austin Kearns was not much better. He actually got struck in the head with a ball in Baltimore late last season.
The 2011 backup outfielders carry a much stronger reputation led by former 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones. Jones, 33, may not have the jets to play center like he did in his salad days, but he still can play the outfield with skill.
Jones will likely be a backup at the corner outfield spots and likely will be the late-inning replacement for Swisher in right field in games the Yankees are leading. 
Jones can also mash at the plate. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 48 runs in 278 at-bats with the White Sox last season. A right-hand batter, Jones hit eight home runs and drove in 23 runs against right-handers last season.
He can hit right-handers for power but his batting average against right-handers was a meager .219. Perhaps Kevin Long can help there, too.
The Yankees also have two holdovers from last season competing for a roster spot. One is speedster Greg Golson, who hit .261 in only 23 at-bats in 2010 but probably made the highlight reel play of the season in right-field.
It was Golson, 25, who threw out Carl Crawford at third base to end a one-run game against the Tampa Bay Rays last season. 
Golson’s strengths are his speed, his defense and his great right arm. Girardi loves to use him late as a pinch-runner or as defensive replacement.
Colin Curtis played a bit last season but he only hit .186 in 59 at-bats. Curtis is a plus defensive outfielder but he lacks the speed of Golson. At age 26, Curtis also is running out of time to impress the Yankees.
He will need a solid spring to stick. But Golson has a big edge on him.
The Yankees also will get time this spring to look at Justin Maxwell, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals.
Maxwell stirred up a lot of air in Washington, D.C. last season, literally. He struck out 43 times in 104 at-bats with the Nats. He ended up hitting .144 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. 
He is 27 and, like Curtis, is running out of time to stick with a parent club.
The Yankees also have supersub Kevin Russo in camp. Russo, primarily an infielder throughout his minor-league career, is trying to make the switch to outfield to become a ja
ck-of-all-trades reserve.
Russo hit just .184 last season with the Yankees.
The Yankees also have the what they hope is the second but the better of two outfielders named Melky. Melky Mesa, 24, was the Florida State League Most Valuable Player in 2010 and he was an All-Star with the Tampa Yankees.
But it appears Jones and Golson have the inside track on the two reserve spots this spring, unless there is somebody who steps up this spring.
The Yankees do go into 2010 with a nice balance in their outfield between the power of Granderson and Swisher (53 home runs) and the speed of Granderson and Gardner (59 stolen bases) and the fielding prowess of Gardner and Jones.
It is a nice mix of talent and should be a strength of the 2011 Yankees.

Jeter Puts 2010 Aside To Focus On Comeback In 2011

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
It is a good thing that Derek Jeter has two loving parents and his actress girlfriend Minka Kelly. Just about everything else in his life in 2010 and leading into the 2011 season turned sour.
First of all, Jeter’s 2010 was easily his worst statistically. He scored a team-high 111 runs but he hit only 10 home runs, drove in 67 runs and batted an anemic (for him) .270. At age 36 Jeter is fielding questions about whether he is getting too old.
Jeter did win his fifth Gold Glove award but the busy-body world of sabermetricians quickly vilified his selection, citing the fact that he had the range of the Rock of Gibraltar. The fact is Jeter committed only six errors in 553 chances.
So whether Jeter’s range is limited or not, players are asked to record outs on the plays they can make. I would think Jeter’s low error total shows he makes the plays he can. But the controversy was another off-season headache.
It would get worse.
Jeter’s illustrious and rich 10-year contract with the Yankees expired and, technically, Jeter was no longer a Yankee this winter. Jeter hoped the negotiations would go quickly, quietly and happily.
None of those three happened. 
First, Hank Steinbrenner fired off an opening salvo basically previewing the battle by saying he hoped the talks would not get messy. Then the Yankees offered their captain and what Vin Scully would say is “The Prince Valiant of the Yankees” a pay cut.
They also were not too keen on giving their shortstop a lengthy contract either.
Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, called the contract offer and posturing “baffling.”
Yankees general manager Brain Cashman fired back that the Yankees had made Jeter a wealthy man and he should be thankful for it. He also said the contract offer the Yankees were providing was “fair.”
Messy, indeed.
Knowing Jeter did not want to play anywhere else and knowing he would not look elsewhere, the Yankees basically chose to treat their star player rather rudely. Jeter did decide to accept a four-year deal with much less annual coin from the realm.
But the bigger issue was the hurt it inflicted on Jeter and he was not shy about making that hurt very public as his signing ceremony. I haven’t seen so many nervous smiles and tight lips this side of a Lindsay Lohan agent press conference.
Recently Cashman doubted publicly that Jeter could play the four years left on his contract at shortstop. He said a move to center-field may be necessary. 
Awkward to say the least.
But now that Jeter has signed and he has a bad season and contentious off-season over with, the question is will Jeter be able to return to the norms of his career: 110 runs, 15 home runs, 67 RBIs, 24 stolen bases and a .314 average.
To that end, Jeter came to camp early to work on his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long. Jeter refuses to talk about the past and is focused on bringing the Yankees back to the World Series to win their 28th championship and his sixth ring.
Anything less in 2011 will be a failure like 2010 was.
Needing only 74 hits to reach 3,000 in his career, Jeter has a lot riding on this season. He also carries the desire to shut up his detractors, even some in the Yankees’ front office. That can be a powerful motivating tool for a dedicated athlete like Jeter.
To Jeter’s credit, he started 150 games at shortstop last season and he played in 157 games for the Yankees last season. The Yankees will likely need to rest him more in 2011. But with Jorge Posada scheduled to the be the full-time DH, Jeter may not get chances to rest as the DH this season.
Ramiro Pena was Jeter’s primary backup in 2010. Though Pena carries an excellent glove and is a solid defender, his bat went south on him last season.
In his nine starts at shortstop, Pena, 25, made only one error but he hit a meager .227. The Yankees would like to see better offense from him this spring.
The Yankees also have a very athletic and very fast natural shortstop in Eduardo Nunez in camp. Nunez, 23, shows a lot of promise with his bat and and his legs. He hit .280 in only 50 at-bats last season and stole five bases in five attempts.
He has great range at short and he has excellent instincts in the field, but he is not as polished in the field as Pena. Both could possibly make the team as infield reserves, but it also is possible that Pena could lose his backup role to Nunez.
It will be one of the key battles in this camp.
The Yankees also have 30-year-old Doug Bernier in camp. But he is a longshot to make the team this spring.
With Jeter signed to a four-year deal, it is unlikely that the Yankees will need a shortstop anytime soon. However, Nunez has the potential to be an excellent shortstop for some team, if not the Yankees.
The critics of Jeter would like to see Nunez take over the position at some point and Jeter moved to the outfield or become the DH in 2012. That is all possible. But for now Jeter is the shortstop of the present and the Yankees’ 2011 chances of winning a world title come down to Jeter being able to bounce back this season.
Don’t ever count Jeter out on that. He is just a season removed from finishing third in the voting for American League’s Most Valuable Player. It also is not too smart to count out a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Hip Check: Yankees’ 2011 Hopes Ride On A-Rod’s Health

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:

This is, by far, the toughest analysis I will have to write this spring. The reason is because the Alex Rodriquez baseball has known is but a shadow of the post-hip surgery version.
For the past two seasons, Rodriguez has reached at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, which is something he has done for 13 straight seasons. However, his home run frequency is dropping, in addition to his batting average and his runs scored.
In his first five seasons with the Yankees, A-Rod averaged 119 runs, 42 home runs and 123 RBIs and batted .303. In his last two seasons, hampered by the hip injury, Rodriguez has scored an average of 76 runs with 30 home runs, 112 RBIs and he hit .277.
Rodriguez also averaged 21 stolen bases from 2004 to 2008. In the past two seasons he has averaged nine. Last season, he stole a career low of four.
Clearly, at age 35 and restricted by the hip injury, Rodriguez is not the same player he was. The question is can he still be good enough to lead the Yankees offense in 2011 to its 28th world championship?
His 125 RBIs last season suggest he can. 
Though Yankee fans would love to see a repeat of his 2007 season where he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs, they may have to be satisfied with the 42 home runs and 123 RBIs he averaged between 2004 and 2008 with fewer runs scored, fewer stolen bases and a lot lower batting average.
He also will play a lot fewer games. In 2009, Rodriguez missed the first month of the season and played in only 124 games. In 2010, Rodriguez spent three weeks on the disabled list with a calf injury and missed additional time with an unrelated hip injury and played in only 137 games.
In the field, Rodriguez committed only seven errors in 122 starts at third. Though Rodriguez is still able to field the balls he can reach, his range has been hindered by the hip injury. His lateral movement is still stiff and he is a step slow on coming in slow rollers and bunts.
But Rodriguez is still above average at the position with his cannon right arm and he is part of an infield that boasts Gold Glove recipients at every position. Rodriguez won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop before he joined the Yankees.
Manager Joe Girardi has already said he will have to monitor Rodriguez closely and make sure he gets plenty of rest throughout the season. With Jorge Posada expected to be a full-time DH, it stands to reason Rodriguez won’t be used much as a DH.
So it looks like the days off he will get mostly will be full days off. As a result, it is hard to expect Rodriguez to hit the huge numbers of home runs he needs to overtake Barry Bonds as the all-time home run leader.
He has 613 career home runs and he needs 150 more to pass Bonds. If he averages 35 home runs in the next five seasons he could pass Bonds easily. But if he averages 30 or less he may require six seasons to do it. It is obvious the hip injury has put in wrinkle in A-Rod’s hopes.
When Rodriguez was out of the lineup last season, Ramiro Pena started 27 games in his place. Though Pena fielded the position adequately, his batting average fell from .287 in 2009 to .227 in 2010.
This spring Pena, 25, faces a tough challenge from Eduardo Nunez, who started 10 games at third base late last season. Though Nunez is not as slick a fielder as Pena, he does have good range and he hit .280 in 50 at-bats and he stole five bases.
With the Yankees expected to rest both Rodriguez and shortstop Derek Jeter more this season, the Yankees might want to look at using the 23-year-old Nunez rather than Pena because of his superior athleticism, better bat and speed.
It will one of the more intriguing battles of camp.
Another possibility is among the Yankees’ non-roster invitees: Eric Chavez. At 33, Chavez is trying to resurrect his career after severe back and neck injuries have limited him to only 64 games the past three seasons.
Chavez is a six-time Gold Glove winner at third base for the Oakland Athletics and averaged 30 home runs and 98 RBIs from 2001 to 2005. He is coming to camp hoping to make the team as a reserve corner infielder.
If he and outfielder Andruw Jomes make the team, the Yankees will have seven Gold Glove winners on the roster. But Chavez could be of great help as a hitter off the bench. He only needs to prove he can still hit and, more importantly, he is healthy.
The Yankees also have a young power-hitting third baseman in the minor leagues.
He is Brandon Laird and he is coming off a season in which he hit 25 home runs and drove in 102 runs in 131 games between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He just needs to work a bit more on making contact.
At Trenton he hit a sizzling .291 but his average at Scranton was .246 and he hit a meager .236 in the Arizona Fall League.
But the 23-year-old brother of major-league catcher Gerald Laird is not far from being ready for the majors. With the Yankees that will be tough with Rodriguez around. The Yankees more likely are hoping Laird develops at Scranton this season.
He could emerge as an eventual backup to Rodriguez or he could be used in a trade general manager Brian Cashman may make to bolster the starting pitching. In either event, Laird bears watching as he develops in the minor leagues.
While actress Cameron Diaz may keep feeding her favorite player popcorn at the Super Bowl, the Yankees are hoping that A-Rod can feed a more potent offense this season for the Yankees. Jeter, Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira had poor 2010 seasons.
The Yankees are hoping the top part of the lineup rebounds in 2011 and Rodriguez is clearly the key to it all as the cleanup hitter. Doctors have said Rodriguez’s hip does not require any additional surgery so it just comes down to Rodriguez being able to produce under the limitations of the hip injury.
For the Yankees to have any hopes of becoming champions again, A-Rod’s season will determine if it happens.