Yankees have rare dilemma: Rotation battles


Yankees have rare dilemma: Rotation battles

By Sean McAdam

TAMPA -- For most contending teams -- and especially ones with payrolls in the 200 million neighborhood -- spring training usually isn't a time for much competition.

Clubs with designs on a championship might have battles for a backup outfield spot or the final slot in the bullpen.

Yet here are the New York Yankees, with two spots available for the taking in their starting rotation. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes have the first two, and by virtue of his salary -- but not how he pitched last year -- A.J. Burnett will be the team's No. 3.

After that? Well, this year, that's what spring training is for.

A starting rotation that's 40 percent undecided? You'd expect that with Kansas City or Pittsburgh. But the Yankees?

"It is what it is,'' shrugged Yankee GM Brian Cashman, seemingly without worry. "We hopefully have the answers here in front of us. We'll have to find out over time. But there's some competition and that's not a bad thing. We do believe we have a lot people who are capable and we hope that they're up for the challenge.''

The list of candidates is long, but mostly undistinguished: Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Segio Mitre.

Nova, according to some officials, is virtually guaranteed one of the spots. He's already thrown five scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play. Garcia is the other likely starter, based on his 12-win season with the Chicago White Sox.

Mitre could make the staff as a swing man, while Colon, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2009 and has won just 14 games since 2005, could provide some depth at Triple A.

This is not, of course, how Cashman envisioned things. The Yankees focused much of their attention and resources on Cliff Lee, only to have Lee slip between their fingers for the second time in five months. They had a tentative deal in place to get Lee from the Seattle Mariners last July, only to have the Mariners change their minds and ship Lee to Texas.

Then, in December, Lee took less money to go to Philadelphia, and with little else available either by trade or free agency, the Yankees had to scramble. And they'll have to make good with their in-house candidates for a while.

"Normally,'' noted Cashman, "anything of quality doesn't become available until after the June draft. That's why you try to get as much accomplished as you can in the winter, because typically things don't evolve until after the draft and their seasons are more defined.''

While choosing from the arms in camp has its risks, Cashman believes that approach is preferable to panicking last December after Lee went with the Phils.

"That was a time when it was ripe to make a big mistake,'' said Cashman," by reacting and overpaying a starter you're not really excited about. Instead, we did some low-risk moves (Garcia, Colon) that wouldn't cost us much. And we do have a system we can rely on.''

Cashman has "publicly preached patience,'' with the rotation, admittedly not the easiest sell in his market.

"I know New York doesn't handle patience very well,'' said Cashman, "but I'm from Kentucky, so it's a little easier for me to deal with.''

The Yankees had an interest in retaining Alfredo Aceves, but wouldn't go beyond a minor league deal because of lingering concerns about his health in general and back in particular. Aceves got a major league deal with the Red Sox last month and has impressed them to date.

Of the Yankees' scramble to find enough starting pitching, Terry Francona said: "They're probably not going to get a lot of sympathy. We're not rooting for them.''

And the Red Sox expect that the Yankees will do something of note before Aug. 1. By then, a quality starter should be on the market, and the Yanks have a deep farm system from which to deal.

Until then, they'll hope a couple of pitchers emerge from their mix of young (Nova), versatile (Mitre) and experienced (Colon, Garcia), and figure a way to remain in contention until then.

That's not how it usually works in New York, where ordinarily, the jobs are spoken for and spring is for getting game-ready, not identifying 40 percent of the starting rotation.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night


Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - David Ortiz became one of the most celebrated players in Red Sox history during his storied 14-year run in Boston.

On the night he returned to Fenway to have his No. 34 take its place among the franchise's other legends, his former teammates did their part to make sure it was a memorable one.

Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Ramirez said he played with Ortiz on his mind.

"He's my mentor, my big brother. He's everything," Ramirez said. "Today when I saw him on the field crying, it made me cry."

He said his home run was in Big Papi's honor.

"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I was going to do his thing (pointing his hands in the air) but I forgot."

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

"It was vintage Porcello," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "A couple of pitches that cut his night short, but he was crisp throughout."

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Porcello said he isn't sure if he has completely turned a corner yet after his slow start, but he has felt better in his recent starts.

"Today was a step in the right direction," he said.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.