NY Sports Day

Posada Makes Catching Debut

It’s no secret that from the time catcher Jorge Posada headed to the disabled list last July the New York Yankees have missed him.  Posada, a home grown Bomber favorite, ended his 2008 season with shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and a damaged rotator cuff that refused to improve with rest and rehabilitation.  His backup, Jose Molina, did a wonderful job standing in for the 37-year old Posada, but where he could cover Posada on the defensive side of the ball he couldn’t come close on the offensive side.

From 1998 through 2007 Posada averaged 21.2 home runs and 83.6 RBI.  His high water mark was in 2003 when Posada hit .281 with 30 home runs and 101 RBI.  The home run mark tied the Yankees single season record for a catcher previously held alone by Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.  As a career .277 hitter, Posada notched his best overall season at the plate in 2007 by hitting .338 to lead all catchers in the majors.  He added 20 round trippers and 90 RBI, and recorded career highs in OBP (.426) and SLG% (.543).  The Yankees rewarded Jorge with a new contract at the end of the season by signing him to a 4-year, $52.4 million contract.

The promise of a going into a new season armed with a new contract faded quickly as it became apparent Posada wasn’t performing at his usual high level.   It became obviously clear that Posada was hurting.  He had no zip on his throws when trying to nail runners trying to steal on him.  In 41 attempted steals Posada was only able to gun down 7 of them for a .171 percentage, which was far and away the poorest showing in his career.

On April 9 the day after a game against the Kansas City Royals where he complained of having “dead arm” Posada had an MRI performed on his right shoulder area.  Originally the MRI revealed a strain on the hinge and Posada was happy he wasn’t headed for a place he’d never been…..the disabled list.

“I am really happy it’s not bad,” said Posada at the time. “It’s good news it’s not worse.”

Posada tried to work through the pain and attempted to strengthen the area, but no improvement came forth.  On April 28 Posada shut it down and headed for the basement.

“It’s the biggest disappointment of my career, probably,” Posada said after making his decision. “Being on the D.L., not being able to participate in games, it’s really tough for me. I thought it was coming along, but it’s not. We have to find out what’s really bothering me.”

Posada returned to New York and later met with Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala. who operated on Posada’s labrum in 2001.  Posada said that he thought surgery wasn’t needed, but was worried the injury wasn’t getting any better.

“It’s not getting any better, so we’ve got to find out what it really is,” Posada said. “The M.R.I. showed a strained muscle, and I think it’s more than that.”

While on the DL Posada rested, took batting practice and playing long toss, trying to strengthen the shoulder enough for him to return to the team.  He was expected to DH and play first base in order to get his bat back into the lineup.

On May 31 Posada threw to twice to second in an extended spring training game and reported no pain in the shoulder.

“The second one was better than the first one,” Posada said. “It felt good throwing the ball. I’m happy with it. I’m happy the way I felt.”

Posada returned from the disabled list on June 5, but didn’t start the game.  The next day Posada told the press that he would have labrum surgery performed at the end of the season.

“It’s good enough. I think it’s good enough to get going here… There’s no discomfort. Obviously something’s messed up in there. We’re going to have to get that fixed after the season,” Posada said.

However, things were not “good enough to get there.”  Posada, when he was allowed to catch a game, continually had trouble throwing runners out.  Teams caught on and they purposely ran on Posada, because he was a defensive liability.  That forced manager Joe Girardi to play backup catchers (especially) Jose Molina and Chad Moeller more.

Not only did Posada’s defense suffer, but his hitting started suffering as well.  By July 19 Posada was hitting only .268 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI.

The next day, Posada went on the DL for the second time and the Yankees went hunting for a bat.  They found one in Pittsburgh in the person of Xavier Nady.  The Nady trade sealed the deal for Posada who said with Nady on board there wasn’t the pressure to return before the end of the season.

On July 30 Posada underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery to repair the labrum, and then began a six month rehabilitation and strengthening program in order to get back to catching for the Yankees in 2009.

The Yankees for their part have brought Posada along slowly.  He reported with pitchers and catchers in mid-February and it was decided Posada wouldn’t catch a game until mid-March.

“If everything goes according to plan, the first month might be a little slower than the other months to ease him back into it, but we have plans for him to be our everyday catcher,” Girardi said.

The Yankees stuck with that plan as Posada had been a DH going 9-for-22 (.364) so far in the spring.  Yesterday Posada saw his first action behind the plate in nearly 7 months.  Posada caught four innings; 3 with Andy Pettitte and one with reliever Phil Coke as the Yankees beat the Houston Astros 5-1 in Tampa.

Posada didn’t have a baserunner attempt to steal on him in the game.

“Today was very important,” Posada said to reporters. “I wasn’t nervous; I was excited. I was really looking forward to catching. It felt surprisingly good.”

The closest Posada came to having a chance to test his arm was when the Astros speedy center fielder Carlos Gomez stood at first base.

“I was hoping he would take off so I could make a throw,” Posada said. “Not try to rush anything, just make a throw, be under control and see how it felt.”

The times Posada did throw, like throwing down to second in between innings, to third after a strikeout and throwing back to the pitcher, he reported no pains or problems with his shoulder.  His teammates seemed just as pleased to see No. 20 behind the plate.

“It was good to see him back there,” Pettitte said to reporters after yesterday’s game. “He seemed normal to me. I guess I’m so used to seeing him back there; the way he sets up is embedded in my head. He said he felt great. The biggest thing for him is going to be when guys try to steal, seeing how his arm reacts.”

So far it’s good for both Posada and the Yankees.  According to Girardi the Yankees are hoping to work Posada into catching between 100 and 110 games this season.  Posada didn’t want to put a cap on the possibilities.

“Let’s not put a number on it,” Posada said. “Today is one of many. I have no idea how much I’m going to catch. I feel good, and if I’m healthy, I’d like to catch a lot more than they’re talking about. We won’t know until we play games and get to that point.”

General Manager Brian Cashman put it this way.

“It’s good that we got to this day,” Cashman said. “We thought we wouldn’t be ready until mid-March to start catching in games – and here we are. So we got to this point, that’s an important first step of many more. These next few weeks, we’ll really see how he’s getting through this.”

At least now, not all of those steps are uphill.


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