By Sweeny Murti
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A few thoughts from this weekend at Fenway:
*Late in spring training I was standing on the field in Fort Myers with Bobby Valentine. We were talking about the Yankees’ pitching staff and I remarked to him that the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation become much more important based on CC Sabathia’s starts. Every game Sabathia gives the Yankees a winning effort that doesn’t add up to a W will be the games that hurt more than a game started by Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia. Valentine agreed with me completely.
Sabathia has now started three games and the Yankees are 1-2. They have lost each of his last two, despite the big man allowing a total of one run in those two games. First was last week’s bullpen disaster that blew a 4-0 lead against the Twins. Then there was Sunday night when Sabathia could have easily given up seven or eight runs. In the end, his one was too much because of how good Josh Beckett looked.
But remember these games when you worry about where the Yankees are in the standings. They won’t win every time Sabathia pitches. But on the days when he pitches a winnable game that ends up in a loss, those games hurt more than any other.
*Derek Jeter will get attention all year long whether he goes 0-for-5 or 4-for-5, whether he is 9-for-his-last 20 or 4-for-his-last 20. This is just a simple fact of Derek Jeter at this stage of his career and the expectations on him.
But if you’re expecting Joe Girardi to be as reactionary as the rest of us, you better be prepared to wait a while longer. Jeter is 7-for-34 (.206 BA) to start the year. Girardi said Sunday he would reserve judgment on Jeter until he gets anywhere from 100 to 150 at-bats.
Keep in mind that last year it took until May 14th (34 games) before Jeter totaled 150 at-bats, after which he was hitting .267. However, over the next 17 games Jeter went 29-for-75 (.387) to raise his average to a season-high .307 on June 1st, eventually finishing at .270.
*If you needed a reminder how much averages can fluctuate this early in the year, look at Dustin Pedroia—came into the series batting .227, got 3 hits in each game, and today is batting .400.
*Talking to Phil Hughes you can tell he still is a bit mystified by his lack of velocity. He sees encouraging signs though: 1) He hit 92 once according to the Yankees game charts and he didn’t have that in his first game. 2) He felt better in his latest bullpen session after concentrating on using his legs and lower half more, a difference he can definitely feel. 3) Hughes knows he’s healthy and doesn’t think he needs even a precautionary check-up.
When I asked Hughes about 2008 when his velocity wasn’t there and a month later he landed on the DL with a stress fracture in his rib cage, he told me this isn’t even close. In 2008 it felt like “a knife sticking in my side.”
This time Hughes feels okay top to bottom, just waiting for his fastball to come back, which he hopes is the result of pitching in real game action this early in the calendar for the first time. When he starts Wednesday against the Orioles it will be April 13th, closer to the April 15th debut he made a year ago.
*A nice start for Russell Martin (9-for-30, .300 BA, 3 HR, 8 RBI), and it’s always important for the new Yankees to avoid slow starts and questions of whether they can handle New York. It’s obviously still early, but I was among those who wondered what the Yankees wanted in Martin. But he seems to have a renewed focus on baseball, and if that continues he could be what Brian Cashman envisioned when he signed him—this year’s Nick Swisher, meaning the guy who comes in off a down year and enjoys a career rebirth.
*Because of Boston’s bad start the usual anticipation for early-season Yankees/Red Sox was on the lighter side. Now comes a big week at home with the first-place Orioles and Rangers. One AL executive told me this weekend, “That is the first real test for the Orioles. They won’t be in first place all year, but that will still be a big series for them.”
*The Yankees media relations department is providing a daily feature called “This Date in 1961” in honor of the 50th anniversary of that team.
The famous 1961 team opened the season on April 11th with a 6-0 loss to the Twins at Yankee Stadium. Keep in mind that the Yankees were coming off the disappointing 1960 World Series loss to the Pirates and were playing their first game under new manager Ralph Houk. Twins pitcher Pedro Ramos tossed a 3-hitter, with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris a combined 0-for-7.
The next two days provided a scheduled off day and a rainout, so three days into the season Yankee fans were left to dwell on a 3-hit shutout loss at home and their two biggest sluggers without a hit. Did I mention there were only 14,607 in attendance?
Given the 2011 fan reaction on a minute-by-minute basis on WFAN, Twitter, and everywhere else you turn… what do you think the fan reaction would be to an opener like that?
What did you take from the Yankees’ series loss to Boston? Break it down in the comments below…