News, Views and What-Have-Yous

At last, Yankee fans have some baseball stuff, not related to steroids, to talk about.  Well, at least, not all of it anyway.

First off, the continuing saga of Alex Rodriguez’s not so excellent adventure has to be addressed.  Everyone was wondering the reception A-Rod would get in his first game experience of spring training when the Yankees visited the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.  It turns out that not all of the noise coming out of the crowd was boos.  There was a smattering of cheers when A-Rod’s name was announced as he approached the batter’s box for the first time.

A-Rod apparently didn’t let anything distract him as he homered and walked twice in three plate appearances as the Yankees defeated the Jays 6-1.  Rodriguez’s home run came in the 4th inning when he connected on a pitch left up in the strike zone by LHP Ricky Romero and drove it over the centerfield wall.

“It was just a fastball I left up and he’s a great hitter,” Romero said after the game to reporters. “He’s going to hit mistakes and I made a mistake. I was just trying to be aggressive.”

Rodriguez left the game after the fifth inning to a lot more cheers than boos, and later stopped to sign autographs for fans.  He was asked he felt about the reception he got from the crowd on his first game played since admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs.

“When you’re playing, it’s hard to focus on standing ovations or boos. You’re just trying to go out there and do your job,” Rodriguez said. “Again, I didn’t see anything that was bad at all.”

A-Rod had plenty of support before he took his first cuts of the season.  Tuesday night he had dinner with Hall of Famer and Yankees’ consultant Reggie Jackson.   Jackson told reporters what advice he gave the Yankee third baseman on the eve of his first game.

“I told him to hit the baseball. It’s really an old story. It never really changes,” Jackson said. “Hit the baseball, and hit it like heck. That’s really about all that really matters.”

A-Rod evidently heard Jackson’s message.

On the team bus ride over to Dunedin manager Joe Girardi talked to A-Rod about what to expect.

“We weren’t quite sure what it would be like today. It was a mixture of both,” Girardi said. “We talked a little bit about today. Told him, we’re with you the whole way. We’re going to be here no matter what happens. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be in Alex’s shoes.”

So, all-in-all, things in A-Rod’s world didn’t come off too badly Wednesday.

That is until, even by A-Rod standards, he did a dumb thing.  After he finished signing autographs he got into an SUV being driven by his cousin Yuri Sucart, whom the Yankees refused to identify at the time.  This is the same cousin who allegedly provided the “juice” A-Rod used during his years playing for the Texas Rangers.

Since yesterday the Yankees informed A-Rod that his cousin is no longer welcomed on or around any Yankees’ property.  Obviously, having the guy that did PED’s around the team and their most expensive asset is going to make management nervous and probably upset.  The question I have for A-Rod is didn’t you think this thing out before allowing your cousin to show up at the game?  Sucart is probably the last person A-Rod should be wanting around the Yankees right now or ever for that matter.

Somebody needs to sit this guy down and give him a lesson in dos and don’ts.  A-Rod has enough on his plate without inviting more scrutiny.  If he ever wants to get the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla off his back he has to stop shooting himself in the foot with these mental mistakes.

On the good news front, the Yankees made it two in a row with a 5-1 victory over the defending AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

A-Rod was still the story as he received more cheers than boos before a friendlier home team crowd.  Rodriguez played 5 innings and went 0-for-2 with a strike out to minor league pitcher Wade Davis in the second inning and later hit into an inning ending double play.

Principal owner George Steinbrenner was in attendance, along with 10,693 paying customers.  Steinbrenner arrived in a golf cart, and was transferred to a wheelchair before disappearing into the stadium elevators.  When he later appeared in his box the crowd gave him a loud ovation.

Jorge Posada made his first appearance at the plate since having season ending shoulder surgery last July.  He has yet to throw in a game situation and is not expected to catch a game until mid-March. Posada thrilled the crowd with a solo home run to left off pitcher Chad Orvella.  Posada has been doing throwing drills and so far no pain has been reported in his throwing shoulder.

RHP Phil Hughes made his spring debut and pitched two innings.  He had a mixed outing.  Hughes didn’t allow a run, but hit two batters, while striking out two and walking one.  Lefty Phil Coke also pitched two innings and earned the victory.

Hughes has lots to prove to the Yankees coaching staff and brass.  Once considered a “can’t miss” prospect Hughes has had several setbacks.  Hughes showed promise in 2007 when he went 5-3 in 13 games started.  On May 1 Hughes faced the Texas Rangers and was pitching a no-hitter for 6-1/3 innings before pulling his left hamstring. He ended up on the disabled list before returning on August 4 against Kansas City.

During the off-season several teams contacted the Yankees regarding Hughes.  Most notably was the Minnesota Twins who wanted to make him part of a deal for LHP Johan Santana.  GM Brian Cashman made Hughes “off limits,” and Santana ended up with the cross-town rival New York Mets.   Hughes had a disappointing start to the 2008 season as he went 0-4 in 8 starts.  He went on the disabled list on April 30 with a strained oblique muscle and a fractured rib.  He returned to the Yankees in September, but didn’t gain a victory as the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Hughes could be pitching for his baseball life this spring.  As of now he isn’t projected to make the starting rotation, which will consist of C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.  He could make a bid for a bullpen slot, but he has to show durability and shed the wildness that has plagued him.  Hughes has the goods, but must harness it all in order to make a roster spot.

The battle for centerfield is still raging between Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera.  Gardner slammed a solo home run on Wednesday, going 1-for-3 with an RBI, but had an error in center.  Cabrera sat out Wednesday’s spring opener.

In Thursday’s game Gardner played left and Cabrera made his debut in center.  Both players went 0-for-2.  It’s important for Cabrera to get off to a strong start.  After having a sparkling 2007 season where he hit .273 with 8 home runs and 73 RBI in 153 games, Cabrera’s numbers fell way off in 2008.  His average plummeted to .249 with 8 home runs and 37 RBI.  He was demoted to Triple-A in August.  Cabrera was mentioned in a lot of trade talk, so proving he belongs is monumental for him.

Another guy who needs to step it up in 2009 is Robinson Cano.  Cano, who debuted for the Yankees in 2005, gave the Yankees hope for a productive player to replace Alfonso Soriano who was traded to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez in 2004.  In his first 3 seasons Cano averaged a 315 batting average with 16 home runs and 79 RBI.  In fact, he came in 3rd for the A.L. batting title in 2006.

Prior to the 2008 season Cano was rewarded with a 4-year, $30 million deal.  He faltered out of the gate batting only .151 in April.  He heated up after the All Star break, hitting .307 and had an .815 OPS.  One of the concerns about Cano is his lack of concentration and his lackadaisical attitude.  It’s important for Cano to get serious, start out hot and stay there the entire year.

After two games it looks like Girardi’s plan of taking the team to a pool parlor Tuesday is paying off.  The Yankees look loose and haven’t appeared bothered by any of the distractions that have bothered them for the past couple of weeks.

Lastly, I want to address the World Baseball Classic.  I know Major League Baseball wants to promote their brand globally, but doing so during spring training is just ridiculous.  Yes, teams have been told that pitchers will be on pitch counts and players platooned, etc., etc., but having your best players like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez playing for other managers in a tournament that in the end means nothing, but a great exhibition.  It gives the winning team like Japan 3 years ago bragging rights, but that’s about it.

The season is long enough as it is.  Adding more games to the spring isn’t in the best interests of the teams or the players.  It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye, and in this case if the Yankees lose Jeter (who already has a balky hamstring) or an A-Rod and they miss the playoffs again there will be H-E-double tooth picks to pay.  If you want a WBC tournament, how about doing it in November and December?  There are plenty of warm spots on the planet to play in at that time of year.

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