NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – No Cliff Lee? No Andy Pettitte? No problem.
After an admittedly less-than-stellar offseason, optimism is running high in Tampa as pitchers and catchers are set to officially report on Monday.
“I’m excited about what we have here,” outfielder Curtis Granderson said. “There are a lot of pieces that aren’t here that everyone in baseball would want to have – example, Cliff Lee, Pettitte, other free agents.”
Although Philadelphia landed the big fish, Granderson said that health, not the absence of Lee, will be key to New York’s season.
“What we had last year in coming up short against Texas is pretty much coming back to get us over the hump,” he said. “The main thing, of course, is going to be health.”
New York’s new pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, said the Yankees have “done a good job of developing” young arms capable of helping the team this year.
“I could throw some names out there, but it’s not fair,” Rothschild said. “There’s a group of five, six, seven guys that I think you’ll see in spring training who have a chance to help us out some time this year or hopefully next year.”
The Yankees, barring a trade, have two open rotation spots behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes. The trio of returning starters are being counted on to help pick up the slack following the offseason retirement of Pettitte.
“Things always tend to work themselves out,” Hughes said last week. “There’s always going to be that one guy that steps up and does a great job.”
Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon are among the rotation candidates.
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Burnett has been the focal point of fans’ ire, Bombers’ faithful sick of not knowing whether “Good A.J.” or “Bad A.J.” will show up during any given start.
The righty is coming off a disappointing season in which he went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 33 starts, including 4-13 with a 6.48 ERA over the final four months and 1-7 from Aug. 1 on.
Rothschild says not to worry.
“His arm is healthy and his head is in a good spot,” Rothschild said Thursday. “There’s a lot of positives there. Where it goes from here we’ll see. I think he’s coming in with the right intention in mind and that’s a good place to start.”
Of course, what would a story on the 2011 Yankees be without a little controversy. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admitted to the Post on Sunday that Joba Chamberlain is “not a lock” to make the roster.
“I fully expect Joba to be in our bullpen,” said Cashman. “If not, he would have worked his way out of it.”
In 73 relief appearances in 2010, Chamberlain was 3-4 with three saves and a 4.40 ERA.
While most of the attention is on the Yankees’ pitching staff, new starting catcher Russell Martin is hoping to get off on the right foot with his battery mates.
“He wants to close the gap as much as possible,” Cashman told ESPN. “It’s a new league, a new staff. He wants to be the best he can possibly be and reclaim what used to be said about him, that he was one of the best catchers in the game. He’s hungry to return to being one of the premier catchers in baseball.”
Although Martin is projected to be New York’s primary catcher, top prospect Jesus Montero is ready to show the Yankees what he’s made of.
“I want to be behind the plate,” Montero said last week. “I want to show everybody that I can catch with the Yankees.”
The prospect had a good 2010 season at the plate, slugging 21 homers while maintaining a .289 batting average for Scranton.
Battling with Montero for New York’s backup job is Francisco Cervelli.
“I can’t control what the general manager’s decision is or the manager’s decision,” Cervelli said on Wednesday. “I’ve just got to do my job on the field and they decide what to do on the field. I came here fresh and I just want to play baseball like I play, have fun and give everything to my team.”
Do the Yankees have the arms to make a run at the AL East? Who will back up Russell Martin behind the plate? Sound off in the comments below!
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