Sunday, March 4, 2012

Yankees notes from their first exhibition game

Here are some of the notes from today as the Yankees began their grapefruit league schedule.  They will have two days off this month.  They will finish the exhibition schedule with four games in Miami.  They will play the Miami Marlins twice to open their new stadium and then the Mets twice.  They will then open the season on April 6th in Tampa against the Rays.  The opener is on Good Friday.  Here are some of the notes from me and Chad Jennings of the Journal News and great Lohud Yankees blog.

A year ago, Curtis Granderson’s first spring training home run came on the road, against the Phillies, in his second at-bat, during his second game. Here he is playing the Phillies in his second game since he played against USF yesterday and homerun on the road. If he’s looking to repeat last year’s results, today was certainly a good way to start.

“Gotta take advantage of the elements out there, that’s pretty much it right there,” Granderson said.  It was a wind aided opposite field homeruns but he will take it. 

He was laughing because the wind helped him get that ball out, but even so, he’s 3-for-3 this spring with a single, a double, a home run and two RBI. Way too early to mean anything, obviously, but for a guy who says he’s still fighting his mechanics in the batting cage, it’s a good start.

“I felt like it was a good pitch to hit,” Granderson said of the home run. “I missed it, but the approach and everything was good, which is all we’re trying to work on right now… (In the cage) I’ll get one good swing and then a bad swing, or two good swings and two bad swings. I want to get it where nine times out of 10 the swing always feels good and I have a chance. That’s where the mechanical stuff comes in. Kevin Long and myself are trying to work at it. Every time I have a chance to attack the ball, we give ourselves a chance.”

Really nice reception for Raul Ibanez coming back to play his old team. The crowd cheered when he was introduced and every time he came to the plate. There were also plenty of people yelling his first name, which sounded like “boos” if you didn’t know better. “I’d like to think that they were Rauuul’s,” Ibanez said, laughing. “I think that those were good ones.”  Ibanez is considered the nicest or second nicest guy in baseball by just about everyone so I am not suprised by this at all. 

David Phelps looked pretty sharp today, but Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances struggled a little bit with their mechanics and their control. Betances and especially erratic in his two-walk inning. “I just felt that I didn’t have my legs under me as good as I wanted to,” Betances said. “I was yanking, opening up, and I’ve got to have better concentration. I’ve got to be able to focus pitch by pitch instead of worrying about the pitch before.”  This is the biggest knock on Banuelos and Betances who may be the top two pitching prospects.  They are both still very young though and will be starting at AAA.  They have time to develop. 

 Girardi has said Banuelos looks better this spring than last spring. “I feel the same,” Banuelos said. “I don’t feel different. Last year was better command of the fastball. That’s easy when I have my fastball command. If I get that again, I know I will do good again.”

Yesterday was Zoilo Almonte’s day, today it was Cole Garner’s. The new guy who came up in the Rockies organization went 2-for-2 with a double, home run and two RBI. Almonte also had RBI, Chris Dickerson also had a double and Dewayne Wise also had two hits. Good day for backup outfielders, I guess.  If anything these guys are trying to make an impression for later in the year if an injury happens. 

Girardi gave a quick evaluation of every pitcher who got into today’s game: “Nova, I thought he had three pretty good pitches today,” Girardi said. “The error kind of led to the couple of runs he gave up, but his changeup was good today, and that’s a big pitch for him to somewhat improve. Phelps, much different guy than what we saw last year. Much more relaxed. Much better command. I thought he did a nice job. Banuelos, a little around the zone. He got behind on some hitters. Same thing with Betances. Made pitches when they had to, basically. Cabral looked pretty good, and O’Connor struggled a little bit.”

 Granderson and Ibanez were the only sure-thing big leaguers who had a hit today. Bill Hall had a bloop single and Jorge Vazquez — who made a big impression last spring — had an RBI single.

Terrific gesture by Girardi before the game. It was Michael Kay who pointed Girardi toward Matthew Smith, a fan holding a sign behind the Yankees dugout. Smith’s son Steven — who some of you might have known through Twitter — died tragically in December of 2010, and the sign was covered with pictures of Steven wearing Yankees gear. Girardi brought Smith onto the field for batting practice, then took the sign to have all of the Yankees sign it. It was Smith’s first game since his son died. “I’m not really looking for anything today,” Smith said. “I just didn’t want Steven to be forgotten.”  You have to love stories like this, good job by Kay to point it out and good job by Girardi to act on it.  The Yankees and I will be back at it again tomorrow with another game against the Phillies. 

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