Friday, April 02, 2004

Slow News Day 

Hope you all enjoyed the 2004 baseball season. Goodnight!

What a tease. Two games and then nothing . . . and a little more nothing.

The Yanks get some exhibition action in this weekend (Tigers tomorrow, Yankee "Future Stars" on Sunday). But the real season starts Sunday night at 8:05 on ESPN with the Orioles hosting the Red Sox (Ponson vs. Pedro). That will be followed by nine games on Monday, twelve on Tuesday (including the Yankees first game in the States), and a full slate on Wednesday.

In the meantime, why not fret over Giambi's knee. Sez Jason: "I made it through spring [training] hardly DHing. There was one stretch I played eight days in a row." Yeah, maybe that wasn't the best idea St. Joe ever had: "Lesseee, we've got our most valuable hitter [save it, Giambi at his best is more valuable at the plate than anyone else in the Yankee line-up--true fact] coming off of surgery to repair a knee injury that had a major effect on his ability to produce last season and we play in a league with a DH . . . I say we play him almost exclusively in the field during spring training and also on the awful Tokyo Dome turf during our four games in Japan. I mean, Bernie Williams can't play, so we can get Ruben Sierra lots of ABs if we put Giambi in the field!" Yeah, good one, Skip.

posted by Cliff at 4:07 PM

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Sayonara, Land of the Rising Sun; Hello, Sunshine State 

Bud's great experiment is over. The Yanks and D-Rays are back in Florida.

posted by Cliff at 4:09 PM

But the Minister Prime can lay laws, hey yo, Pete Nice, rip the mic and go for yours 

Yesterday I was trying to find some solid info on how Bernie's been doing back in Tampa but there was nothing to be had. Today, the AP has come through. Turns out Bernie, playing centerfield for the Clippers, went 3 for 5 yesterday against Roy Halladay, who got his last spring start in with Syracuse. The impressive part is that Halladay allowed just one hit to the rest of the Clippers' line-up in eight innings. The less impressive part is that all of Bernie's hits were singles, two of them ground balls through the infield. Sez Halladay: "He looked good. [He's] the same guy, fighting off pitches and has a good eye for the strike zone. He always puts the ball in play." Sez Bernie: "I think I'm getting closer to where I need to be, [but] I don't think I'm quite there yet." This was Bernie's third game in the field, he has played four others at DH.

Javier Vazquez is expected to start in a minor league game tomorrow. That would set him up to start Wednesday in Tampa on normal rest, or to start the home opener one week from today on an extra day's rest. Despite my ruminations over the way Torre will set up the rotation back in the states, I fully expect him to start from the top with Mussina and Brown on Tuesday and Wednesday in Tampa.

In injury news, El Duque could start throwing batting practice tomorrow. Travis Lee might take live batting practice today. I'm in no rush to see either of them activated.

There are some fascinating bits of news up today at Baseball Musings (starting here and moving forward) and The Transaction Guy, as well as an interesting piece from the Score Bard, though you'd be wise to check the date of these posts after reading them.

Lastly, thanks to my stepmother for the heads up on this New York Times article about Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Green-Wood is the final resting place of many of the key figures from baseball's development in the 1800s, most notably Henry Chadwick, the Bill James of the 1870s. This Sunday at 1pm, Peter J. Nash, a baseball historian who lives in Cooperstown, is hosting a two-hour tour of the cemetery based on his book Baseball Legends of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, which tells the stories of the men buried there (admission is $10, gather at the main gate at 25th Street and Fifth Avenue). Unfortunately, I won't be able to be there, but it sounds like a great way to spend the first Sunday afternoon in April. Nash's second book, a biography of Chadwick, was just published in March. Nash, by the way, is the man once known as Prime Minister Pete Nice of 3rd Bass.

posted by Cliff at 1:03 PM

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

News & Notes 

First thing's first. Led by the battery of Kevin Brown (7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K) and Jorge Posada (a pair of 3-run homers), the Yankees rocked the Rays this morning by a score of 12-1. Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera pitched two perfect innings in relief. Matsui went 2 for 5 with a 2-run homer and an RBI single. Tony Clark also cracked a 2-run dinger to add to a walk and another run scored. Kenny Lofton went 2 for 4 with a walk, run scored and a stolen base. Giambi and Sheffield combined to draw five walks and a hit by pitch (Giambi) and score five times. Sheffield also singled. Enrique Wilson collected a pair of singles. Jeter built a picket fence in the box score with a run, a hit, an RBI, a walk and an HBP. Bubba Crosby made his Yankee debut as a pinch-runner for Giambi. That just leaves A-Rod, who went 0 for 5 with six men left on base.

Rodriguez confessed to some anxiety after yesterday's game. That's to be expected. He'll settle down soon enough. For more of A-Rod's take on his move to the Bronx, check out this first-person article from ESPN the Magazine that appeared on ESPN the Web Site.

The reason that Tony Clark replaced Ruben Sierra in today's line-up, playing first and bouncing Jason Giambi to DH, was that, thanks to Joe Torre's brilliant decision to play Giambi in the field during the past three games on the dreadful Tokyo Dome turf, Giambi's knee is already "barking." The good news is the Yankees now have five day's off (not counting this weekend's pair of exhibition games). The bad news is that once they resume the season on Tuesday, they'll be back on turf for two games. Hopefully Joe will stick with Giambi at DH and Clark at 1B for the two games in Tampa.

But wait! Bernie Williams, who is now playing in the field in Tampa, could be ready to play on Tuesday. But Kenny Lofton is 3 for 7 with a triple, two walks and a stolen base in the first two games, and the Yankees are not expected to see the lone lefty in the Rays rotation next week (Piniella has suggested he'll go back to Zambrano and then jump ahead to Paul Abbott). What to do? I say give Bernie the extra two days to rest and/or get his timing down and let him make his debut in the home opener against the White Sox on Thursday the eighth. Whatever Torre does, he should avoid playing Giambi on the Tampa turf. End of story.

Joe Torre, meanwhile has not decided who will get the two starts in Tampa. If he goes with Vazquez and Contreras, the rotation will set up so that they'll only need their fifth starter once in April. If Torre goes back to Mussina and Brown, they'll need that fifth starter (Torre has yet to name Osborne or DePaula) twice (on the 10th and 21st). All three potential 5-spot starts would come against the Chicago White Sox.

One additional factor to consider is Mike Mussina's rest. As I pointed out during last year's playoffs (though with admittedly sketchy evidence), I believe that Mussina needs normal rest in order to stay sharp. His start on Tuesday was technically on "normal" rest (he threw 78 pitches in a minor league game last Thursday). His right arm was on normal rest. The rest of him, not so much. In order to keep him on schedule, Moose should start the Yankees exhibition game against their "Future Stars" on Sunday. Torre could then flip Moose and Mr. Nasty in the order to start Moose on normal rest on Friday against the Chisox. Otherwise, Moose would be throwing on six day's rest in Tampa. That's a recipie for failure with Mussina.

As expected, Paul Quantrill was not available for today's game, but is expected to be just another guy in the pen come Tuesday's game in Tampa. His knee was feeling better today and he wanted to get his running in, but Gene Monahan told him not to rush it on the Tokyo turf.

posted by Cliff at 2:06 PM

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Deviled Rays 

A couple of quick notes on the D-Rays in light of my preview from yesterday.

It turns out that Damian Rolls beat off new arrival Geoff Blum this spring to keep the third base job he had settled into at the end of 2003. As I had suggested in my preview, this should make little immediate difference to the Rays, though it seems to me that it's worth giving the 26-year-old Rolls the opportunity to prove himself. Should he fail gloriously, they can always put Blum, a 31-year-old proven dud, back at the hot corner. Rolls is yet another speedster who has yet to display any sort of talent (average, power, patience) at the plate.

Giving Rolls, who has started at second and all three outfield positions, a starting job has shortened the Devil Ray bench some (at least that's the theory, over his career, Blum has played more than 30 games each at third, short, second, first and left field). Add to that Jose Cruz's sore right calf (clearly he's hurting, all he did today was hit a home run and steal a base), and the D-Rays have decided they need an extra outfielder. Enter former Yankee and Piniella Pet, Captain Pick-off, Charles Gipson. Gipson can now resume the quest for his first major league home run (he's 0 for 347 plate appearances in the HR column thus far in parts of six seasons).

Ah, but the dominos keep falling. To make room for Gipson, the Rays have demoted Doug Waechter, one of the Rays' young fab four upon whose shoulders their epic quest for 70 wins rests in 2004. What's actually going on here is that the Rays have realized that they really only need four starters in April (much like the Yankees). Waechter is young, has options, and had an uninspiring spring. Thus he'll go down to AAA to get his work and straighten out a bit, hopefully to return around April 24 when the fifth spot on the Tampa rotation will come due. Sez Piniella, "Waechter made the team out of Spring Training. But he needs to pitch. So he'll go down and make some starts and get sharper."

It should also be noted that Piniella has inserted Rolls in the second spot in the line-up pushing down Baldelli, Huff, Cruz and Tino and moving Toby Hall down to Blum's vacated eight-hole. Moving Hall is just fine and dandy, but batting Rolls second , with his career OBP of .302 and 32 walks in 702 ABs, is insanity. Rolls should bat at the bottom of the order and earn his way up.

By the way, Will Carroll also had some fun running notes on this mornings game, check 'em out here and here.

posted by Cliff at 2:01 PM


4:00am: My alarm goes off, I subconsciously hit the snooze bar.
4:06am: My girlfriend tells me to turn off my alarm before it sounds again. Unaware that it had gone off the first time, I comply
4:12am: I finally drag myself out of bed and into the shower.
4:32am: Cleaned and dressed, I stumble down to the basement (so as not to disturb my sleeping beauty with the TV in the living room). After setting down my box of day-old donuts and glass of milk, I flip on YES for the first game of the 2004 baseball season between the Yankees and the Devil Rays.

[time elapses]

7:55am: Derek Jeter grounds out to Damian Rolls at third as the Devil Rays defeat the Yankees 8-3.
8:14am: I catch my usual train to work and an extra 50 minutes of shut-eye on the ride in.

That's how my morning went. How about you?

As for the game, Mike Mussina looked real sharp in the first inning, hitting Posada's glove and getting a good break on his offspeed pitches, but he tired quickly (blame the short spring and jet lag, if you like), leaving after giving up a home run and three doubles without recording an out in the sixth. Paul Quantrill came in and got three outs on three pitches (all ground balls), but left the game with a minor injury after throwing his fourth pitch of the game in the bottom of the seventh (more on that below). Felix Heredia finished out the game with what Joe Torre described as "bad counts and bad location." Curiously, all three pitchers left the game with a 2004 ERA of exactly 9.00 (Heredia allowed Quantrill's lone runner to score).

The Yankee offense is a lot more dangerous than it looked this morning. Watching Rodriguez, Giambi and Sheffield stride to the plate in order is like something out of a dream. Still, two called third strikes in A-Rod's first two at-bats combined with a pair of 0-fers by Jeter and Posada sucked quite a bit of excitement out of the order. That said, Matsui, Rodriguez, Giambi and Sheffield went a combined 6 for 14 with a home run (Giambi going opposite field) and four doubles (one a piece), driving in and scoring all three Yankee runs, walking twice (both Sheffield) and suffering only Rodriguez's two strikeouts. Of course, Sheffield's RBI double was a check swing fluke. Sheffield was actually turned away from the pitch and had no idea where the ball went when it accidentally hit his bat (answer: line-drive down the right field line). Kenny Lofton added a triple and a walk from his new home at the bottom of the order.

In the field, Giambi let a pick-off throw shoot through his legs for an error unbelievably charged to the pitcher (wah?!). Gary Sheffield proved at least as wild as Heredia with his throws from right, and Kenny Lofton's arm was giving up extra bases left and right. But then Lofton also covered a lot of ground in the Tokyo Dome's expansive center field. As for Alex Rodriguez's first regular season game at third base, there were a pair of hits, one to either side, that one could argue a better third baseman would have gloved, but he came through with three great plays: two charging the ball in on the grass (once cutting off Jeter) and firing side-arm to first to nail speedy Devil Rays Damian Rolls and Julio Lugo, and one snagging a hot shot up the line, turning and firing in the air to second. True, he didn't get an out on that last one, but he came darn close and probably saved a run by preventing an extra-base hit. Even more importantly, it showed a quick reaction to a ball hit to his right.

For more on the game, read the running commentaries on Baseball Musings and Yankees, Mets and the Rest, starting here and here, respectively, and moving forward. There's also some good chatter in the comments to this Bronx Banter post.

Quantrill's injury occurred on a Rocco Baldelli bunt down the third base line. Quantrill, quick off the mound, moved over and fielded the ball, but A-Rod, charging the play, failed to ease off in time. His knee hit the back of Quantrill's, forcing it, in Quantrill's words, to "move a little in a way my knee doesn't bend." The collision gave Baldelli enough time to beat the throw. With lefty masher Aubrey Huff coming up and Quantrill limping pretty badly, Torre yanked Ski-Doo for Felix the Cat. Reports are that it's just a bruise. I would expect Quantrill not to pitch tomorrow and to be at 100 percent next week.

Tomorrow I'm "sleeping in." I'll catch the game on rerun at 10pm.

posted by Cliff at 12:41 PM

Monday, March 29, 2004

AL East Preview (part 1) 

Okay, so the preview thing continues to be more idea than reality. All I managed to whip up prior to the Yankees opening game tomorrow morning is a two-team AL East Preview for the Yanks and Devil Rays. I'll add in the other three teams and hopefully get a few more divisions done after Wednesday's contest.

AL East Preview (part 1)

New York Yankees

2003 Record: 101-61 (.623)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 96-66 (.593)

Manager: Joe Torre
General Manager: Brian Cashman

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Yankee Stadium (96/97)

Who’s replacing whom?

Alex Rodriguez replaces Alfonso Soriano
Gary Sheffield replaces Nick Johnson
Kenny Lofton replaces Raul Mondesi, Karim Garcia and Juan Rivera
Tony Clark replaces Todd Zeile
Miguel Cairo replaces Aaron Boone and Robin Ventura
Bubba Crosby replaces David Dellucci
Javier Vazquez replaces Roger Clemens
Kevin Brown replaces Andy Pettitte
Jon Lieber and company replace David Wells
Tom Gordon replaces Antonio Osuna
Paul Quantrill replaces Jeff Nelson, Juan Acevedo and Jason Anderson
A full season of Gabe White and Felix Heredia replaces Chris Hammond and Sterling Hitchcock
Donovan Osborne replaces Jeff Weaver

The Yankees’ 2004 Opening Day Roster:

1B – Jason Giambi
2B – Enrique Wilson
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – Alex Rodriguez
C – Jorge Posada
RF – Gary Sheffield
CF – Kenny Lofton
LF – Hideki Matsui
DH – Bernie Williams


S – Ruben Sierra (OF)
L – Bubba Crosby (OF)
S – Tony Clark (1B)
R – Miguel Cairo (IF)
R – John Flaherty (C)


R – Mike Mussina
R – Javier Vazquez
R – Kevin Brown
R – Jose Contreras
L – Donovan Osborne


R – Mariano Rivera
R – Tom Gordon
R – Paul Quantrill
L – Gabe White
L – Felix Heredia
R – Jorge DePaula

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Bernie Williams (DH)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
R – Gary Sheffield (RF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Enrique Wilson (2B)
L – Kenny Lofton (CF)

One could argue that Sheffield and Rodriguez should be switched because Sheffield and Giambi are almost guaranteed to have higher OBPs than Rodriguez. That would probably be knit-picking. One could also argue that Lofton should bat ahead of Matsui to keep down Groundzilla’s GIDPs. That is a more reasonable argument, though it would result in Matsui facing a lot more lefty pitching, which could easily nullify the benefit. Against lefties, the line-up should look like this:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Bernie Williams (CF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
R – Gary Sheffield (RF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Tony Clark (1B)
S – Enrique Wilson (2B)

It should also be noted the Travis Lee lurks on the disabled list (along with Lieber, safety blanket El Duque Hernandez and Steve Hearsay), and will eventually threaten to push Tony Clark off the roster.

I’ve talked enough about the changes to the Yankee roster in this space as they happened, let’s try to quantify them some by looking at win shares. Converting 3 win shares in to a single team win we get this:

Alex Rodriguez is worth about two wins over Alfonso Soriano.
Gary Sheffield is worth seven wins over what the Yankees got out of Nick Johnson in 2003.

Using Cleveland’s Brandon Phillips (.208-6-33 in 370 ABs) as a reasonably awful comparison, giving Enrique Wilson something close to a full season worth of at-bats in place of Ventura and Boone and adding Miguel Cairo to replace Wilson’s contribution from last year should cost the Yankees three wins. Bringing Lofton in to replace the mess of players who manned right field in 2003 should earn all of those wins back. I’ll call the rest of the bench even. Dellucci never hit in pinstripes, and Zeile was good for the odd homer and little else, about what the Yankees can expect from Clark.

Vazquez is worth two wins over Clemens. I don’t expect Kevin Brown to stay healthy and repeat his season from last year, but he outdistanced Pettitte by two wins last year, so I’ll just call that one even and let it go at that. Replacing Wells with the injured Lieber, the inexperienced DePaula and whatever barrel scrapings are left (Osborne, El Duque) could cost the Yanks a couple of wins if not more.

That’s a net improvement of about nine wins and we haven’t even gotten to the tremendously improved bullpen (which could be worth a good six wins itself), or the possibility of Giambi and Williams rebounding from injury-plagued seasons (though Giambi’s 2003 OBP of .412 on top of his 41 homers and 107 RBIs hardly seems in need of a rebound). There’s also the possibility of Matsui improving his numbers now that he has a full season of major league ball under his belt. I’m skeptical of that one, so I’ll just let it wash with the minor correction Jorge Posada is sure to see in his offensive output.

Counting the bullpen wins, but not a healthy Giambi or Williams, the Yankees could, by these extremely rough calculations, win more than 110 games this year. Of course their competition has gotten better as well. Still, if they can stay moderately healthy, the Yankees seem like a lock to win in the triple digits.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

2003 Record: 63-99 (.389)
2003 Pythagorean Record: 68-94 (.420)

Manager: Lou Piniella
General Manager: Chuck LaMar

Ballpark (2003 park factors): Tropicana Field (100/100)

Who’s replacing whom?

Tino Martinez replaces Travis Lee
Jose Cruz Jr. replaces Al Martin
Rey Sanchez replaces Marlon Anderson
Geoff Blum replaces Rey Ordonez and Damion Easley
Eduardo Perez replaces Terry Shumpert
Robert Fick replaces Ben Grieve
Brook Fordyce replaces Javier Valentin
Matt Hendrickson replaces Joe Kennedy
Paul Abbott replaces Rob Bell
John Halama replaces Mike Venafro
Danys Baez replaces Travis Harper
Trever Miller replaces Al Levine
Damian Moss replaces Brandon Backe

The Devil Ray’s 2004 Opening Day Roster:

1B – Tino Martinez
2B – Rey Sanchez
SS – Julio Lugo
3B – Geoff Blum
C – Toby Hall
RF – Jose Cruz, Jr.
CF – Rocco Baldelli
LF – Carl Crawford
DH – Aubrey Huff


R – Eduardo Perez (1B/3B/OF)
L – Robert Fick (1B)
R – Damian Rolls (UT)
R – Brook Fordyce (C)


R - Victor Zambrano
R – Jeremi Gonzalez
L – Mark Hendrickson
R – Doug Waechter
R – Paul Abbott


R – Danys Baez
R – Lance Carter
L – John Halama
R – Chad Gaudin
L – Trever Miller
R – Jorge Sosa
L – Damian Moss

The BRB’s proposed line-up:

L – Carl Crawford
R – Rocco Baldelli
L – Aubrey Huff
S – Jose Cruz, Jr.
L – Tino Martinez
R – Toby Hall
R – Julio Lugo
R – Geoff Blum
R – Rey Sanchez

In Lou Piniella’s first year as manager, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays improved by seven and a half games (ten in the parallel universe of Pythagorean standings), avoiding a third 100-loss season by a single game and missing the franchise record for wins by yet another single win. Exactly how much credit is due Piniella for this modest achievement is hard to say. But one thing that certainly is responsible for a great deal of the improvement is the arrival of several young, home-grown players in 2003. In 2004, the exciting (“exciting” in a Devil Ray’s preview?!) young quartet of Aubrey Huff, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Doug Waechter (Toby Hall, eat my shorts) hopes to make an even larger impact.

Replacing Travis Lee with Tino Martinez is an even swap that simply ages the team by seven and a half years. Replacing Marlon Anderson with Rey Sanchez is a big step backwards in terms of both age and production. Yes, Anderson was a bit of a butcher with the glove, but the loss of production with Sanchez will more than negate the improvement in the field. Blum actually replaces, not the laundry list of lightweights listed above, but 26-year-old Damian Rolls, who could very well be just as uninteresting as Blum given the chance. Adding Fick, Fordyce and Perez to the bench is a nice move. Perez should work into a platoon with Tino at first, which could actually improve production from that spot. Fick, ignoring his foul play in the NLDS for a moment, should hit well off the bench. Meanwhile, Fordyce gives Hall a veteran back-up and could help greatly with the Rays’ unestablished pitching staff.

Replacing Joe Kennedy with fellow lefty Hendrickson in the rotation jettisons a young, established problem with an older, unknown one. Giving the ball to Paul Abbott every fifth day is the definition of a craps shoot. In the bullpen, Lance Carter yields his closers job to Danys Baez who had a higher strikeout rate and lower ERA in the same role for the Indians in 2003. Newly minted 21-year-old Chad Gaudin, who pitched fairly well in a late 2003 call-up, will challenge Carter for the primary righty set-up role. Otherwise, the only name worth mentioning on the pitching staff is 22-year-old Waechter’s. Waechter drew attention late last year by shutting out the Mariners on two hits in his first major league start. He pitched well in four more starts, including one against the Yankees, and has earned a spot in the rotation this year. If Waechter is the real deal, the Devil Rays could begin to ruffle the Orioles’ feathers this season.

Oh, then there’s this Jose Cruz Jr. thing. Just looking at win shares, Cruz brings an extra four or five wins to the Rays in the process of banishing Al Martin and Ben Grieve. That’s enough to make him team MVP before the season starts. But really, the D-Rays’ season rests on the continued improvement of Huff (who has improved in almost every offensive category in each of his four season, posted triple crown stats of .311-34-107 in 2003 and is just turned 27 in December), Baldelli and Crawford (both just 22, both hit for average and run like the wind, hopefully one or the other will learn to draw a walk this year), and Doug Waechter. Given the increased level of competition in the division this year, the Devil Rays most realistic goal is a franchise high 70 wins. If their fab four flourish, it just might be within their reach.

posted by Cliff at 10:08 PM

25 Men 

Joe Torre has set the Yankees opening day roster. The final three spots have been awarded to Bubba Crosby, Donovan Osborne and Jorge DePaula. Scott Proctor did not make the cut. Bernie Williams will not be placed on the DL. Here's the full list of 25:

1B: Jason Giambi, Tony Clark
2B: Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
C: Jorge Posada, John Flaherty
OF: Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui, Kenny Lofton, Ruben Sierra, Bubba Crosby

SP: Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras, Donovan Osborne, Jorge DePaula
RP: Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Gabe White, Felix Heredia

60-day DL: Steve Karsay
15-day DL: Orlando Hernandez, Jon Lieber, Travis Lee

I expect DePaula and Osborne to continue to battle it out for the fifth starting spot next weekend in the Yankees' exhibition games against the Tigers and Yankee Future Stars. If you ask me, this is fantastic news for DePaula, as Osborne seems to have remembered that he sucks. Of course, the Yankees should only need a fifth starter once in April, but it's still important that Joe Torre realize that he needs to cut Osborne loose. It will be interesting to see what happens when Lee or Lieber is ready to return. I would hope that they would replace Osborne and DePaula, in that order.

As for Proctor, he never did pull it together this spring, despite striking out 17 men in under 13 innings. In his last few appearances he entered the game at the beginning of an inning, only to work himself in to a heap of trouble before escaping relatively unharmed. That's not going to earn anyone a roster spot. Proctor, Darren Bragg, Felix Escalona and Homer Bush--the last men standing--will all go to Columbus.

As for Bubba Crosby, I’m glad he made the team, and I think he could be a valuable defensive replacement and (groan) pinch runner. But I offer these words of warning: Chris Latham and Charles Gipson. Latham made the team out of camp last year as the last outfielder on the roster. In just four games he never made an out (2 for 2, SB, 3 runs scored) or an error, but was designated for assignment on April 21. He was replaced by Charles Gipson, who needed five times as many at-bats to rack up the same number of hits and runs, and was repeatedly picked off of first base when making pinch running appearances. That last habit ended his Yankee days right quick. The point being that no matter how well or poorly he performs, Crosby may not be long for this team.

posted by Cliff at 10:21 AM

Dress Rehearsal 

I must say, when I first heard that the Yankees were going to open the 2004 season playing the Devil Rays in Tokyo, I was less than thrilled. If anything, I was upset that the first Yankee game of the season would be on at some godawfully early hour. I've got nothing against teams kicking off the baseball season in exotic locales, just not my team. Or so was my initial feeling.

But having just finished watching the Yankees play the Hanshin Tigers in an exhibition game, I gotta say I'm loving this. The last spring training game I saw on YES was the Yankees versus the Red Sox with Donovan Osborne starting and it bored me to tears. This game, again with Osborne on the hill for the Yankees, was fascinating. To begin with, it's very interesting to see the Japanese style of play. As advertised, it features a lot of scrappy singles hitters, small-ball tactics, and excellent defense, rounded out by the odd power-hitting Westerner (tonight played by Tigers' third baseman Mike Kinkade and first baseman George Arias). Beyond that, its endlessly interesting to see an event I'm so familiar with take place in a culture that is so different. From the spotless concourses and concessions to the elaborate rooting section in the left field stands, to the advertising on player uniforms, to the subtle variations in terminology and scoring (infield singles are fielder's choices in Japan, or so it seems).

I wish I had been able to catch this morning's game against the Yomuiri Giants (the Yankees of Japan, the Tigers are vaguely equivalent to the Red Sox), and hope that YES will rerun it in the future. For others who missed it, Hideki Matsui had a banner day against his old team as the Yankees defeated their eastern counterparts. The line:

6 - 9 - 4 Yankees
2 - 9 - 1 Giants


Kenny Lofton - CF
Derek Jeter - SS
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Hideki Matsui - CF
Gary Sheffield - RF
Jason Giambi - 1B
Jorge Posada - C
Ruben Sierra - DH
Enrique Wilson - 2B

Unlike the game against the Tigers, the Yankees were in this one to win it, subbing in just Bubba Crosby (RF), Tony Clark (1B), and John Flaherty (C), who picked up just one at-bat among the three of them. As I said, Matsui had the best day, going 2 for 3 with a home run and three runs scored. Posada (2 for 3, 3 RBI) and Jeter (1 for 5) also homered. Enrique Wilson went 2 for 4. The only other Yankee with a hit, or involved in a run was Jason Giambi (1 for 3, run scored).

On the mound, Jose Contreras allowed one unearned run on two walks and three hits, striking out six in five innings. Felix Heredia (walk, three hits), Paul Quantrill, Gabe White (hit) and Tom Gordon combined to shutout the Giants over three innings before Yomuiri reached Mariano Rivera for another unearned run on two hits in the ninth (more on the Yankees' four errors in a bit).

The box score isn't up for the Tigers game yet, but I can tell you what I saw. Donovan Osborne opened the door a bit wider for Jorge DePaula, giving up seven runs on seven hits in the second. On the day he went two innings, allowing nine hits and a walk and those seven runs. Walking through that door, DePaula followed Osborne allowing one run on four hits and no walks while striking out three in three innings. Jim Mann followed, creating more trouble, before Alex Graman put the lid on. Scott Proctor finished up by pitching the ninth, getting into and out-of another jam, and casting some doubt on his place on the 25-man roster come Monday at midnight (EST).

Speaking of which, if the YES crew can be trusted, it sounds like the final position player spot is indeed down to Crosby and Bragg, as Michael Kay quoted Homer Bush talking about accepting a trip to Columbus along with Felix Escalona. For his part, Darren Bragg misplayed a deep fly-out to center by the Tigers' catcher into an inside-the-park home run (or "running home run" as they say in Japan) in tonight's game. Crosby, meanwhile, went hitless despite playing the bulk of the game in relief of Gary Sheffield in right.

All of the players mentioned in that last paragraph appeared in this game, though with the exception of Enrique Wilson (who subbed in later) and Jorge Posada (who didn't), the Yankees began the game with their opening day starters. John Flaherty homered for the Yanks on a pitch over the plate and head-high. Tony Clark did something beyond homering by blasting a 492-foot blast into the diamond vision screen in center. The ball was barely beginning to sink when it took out part of the display and landed in a net below the screen. Clark hit that shot lefty, for what it's worth, then struck out on a ball that bounced in the dirt in his next at-bat. Miguel Cairo collected a pair of hits despite still being slowed by that tweaky hamstring.

Joe Girardi played what is likely to be his final game in a major league uniform. He will join Michael Kay and Ken Singleton for the 5:00am Tuesday broadcast of the opening game against the Devil Rays. That game will see Mike Mussina take on Victor Zambrano. It will also see Kenny Lofton bat ninth.

Yes, Kenny Lofton has been demoted to the nine-hole. In his place, Derek Jeter will lead off and Hideki Matsui will bat second. I for one am delighted to see this. I continue to stand firmly behind my assertion that the only logical batting order the Yankees could have at the beginning of this season starts with Derek Jeter leading off and Bernie Williams batting second, and finds Kenny Lofton hitting in the bottom three. Two down, one to go.

Of course, Lofton "earned" his demotion, hitting .174 this spring. It remains to be seen if Torre will replace him at the top spot should he get hot. I certainly hope not. This move also promotes Jorge Posada to the number six spot, where he belongs. Here's Joe Torre's already-announced opening-day lineup:

R - Derek Jeter (SS)
L - Hideki Matsui (LF)
R - Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L - Jason Giambi (1B)
R - Gary Sheffield (RF)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
S - Ruben Sierra (DH)
S - Enrique Wilson (2B)
L - Kenny Lofton (CF)

Not too bad there, Joe. I'll be very curious to see what happens when Bernie joins the party. Oh, and as for Lofton? Well, he don't likey: "I'm a leadoff hitter. That's where I feel comfortable. I don't feel comfortable anywhere else." Good professional attitude there, Hoops.

By the way, there are a few things you should know about the Tokyo Dome before flipping on the game Tuesday morning. 1) It has a roof like the Metrodome (read: ball-colored). 2) It's has some crazy turf that results in the occasional wacky bounce and allows balls to scoot around like greased pigs. 3) Although the city is practically at sea level, the ball seems to carry exceptionally well inside the dome (just ask Tony Clark). I would expect a lot of fielding miscues and two potentially high scoring games.

Also, a pair of uniform notes. In their two exhibition games, the Yankees wore large stickers on the non-flap sides of their batting helmets and patches on their right uniform sleeves advertising office-machine maker Ricoh. Such on-uniform advertising seems to be the norm in Japan. I hope and assume that these patches and stickers will be removed for Tuesday and Wednesday's games. The site of add space being sold on the Yankee pinstripes is not one I want to see again. And yes, I do mean the pinstripes. Uniform note number two is that the Yankees are wearing their home whites on the road in Japan because the Japanese fans want to see the famous Yankee pinstripes. Do not be confused, the Yankees are the road team against the Devil Rays in the Tokyo Dome (which only makes sense, as the Dome is quite a bit like the Trop, and nothing at all like Yankee Stadium).

That's all from me for now. If I don't get to bed now I'll never manage to get up for Tuesday's game. Speaking of which, if you are up and mildly alert for that contest, drop in on my pal Steven Goldman of Pinstriped Bible fame, who will be hosting a live chat on Baseball Propectus during the game. Due to the distance between my TV and computer, I won't be joining in, but Steve sure could use the company.

posted by Cliff at 1:17 AM

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