By Sweeny Murti
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Two weeks until the baseball season begins for real. Here are a few thoughts:
— Masahiro Tanaka has been every bit as impressive as his numbers show. In three official games, Tanaka has totaled 9.1 innings, seven hits, two runs, two walks and 10 strikeouts.
His ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes has catcher Brian McCann raving. On Sunday against the Braves, Tanaka was dropping splitters over the plate for strikes, almost akin to a changeup, along with his other more lethal splitter that dives into the dirt. His fastball has been clocked in the low 90s, but I imagine he will get some more life on that too as he gets stronger and pitches in more meaningful games.
This probably isn’t the perfect comparison, but Tanaka seems to have an array of pitches somewhat like Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Styles are different, and Tanaka is younger and throws harder than El Duque when he first arrived in 1998. But so far hitters are reacting as if Tanaka will be tough to hit, and that’s what the Yankees are hoping they paid for.
— Michael Pineda has looked good so far this spring. With three more outings left (the next one on Tuesday), Pineda appears to be in firm control of the final rotation spot. He is healthy and has upside that the other candidates don’t offer at this stage. Given that he’s hasn’t yet thrown a meaningful pitch since being acquired in 2012, it’s been good to see what he’s done so far this spring.
“I didn’t know what to expect to be honest,” Brian Cashman said. “I’ve just been very happy with what we’ve seen from him. More importantly, (when you ask him) ‘How do you feel?’ a big smile goes up. So he’s telling you how he feels about himself. That goes a lot farther than whatever I’m seeing myself. He’s feeling really good. And when someone with his type of ability feels good about what he’s doing, obviously its’ going to say a lot.”
Pineda could present a dilemma for the Yankees this year because he can’t be counted on as a 33-start, 200-plus inning guy because he simply hasn’t pitched in the last two years. Exactly how the Yankees will handle his — gulp — innings limit will remain a mystery for now. Cashman has no desire to spell out a plan to media and fans because of the endless controversy that brewed over the famous Joba Rules:
It could be that the Yankees seek to limit Pineda’s innings either in the middle or toward the end of the season, rather than the beginning like they did with Joba Chamberlain in 2008. For now, you should simply hope Pineda is pitching well enough for limiting his innings to even become part of the discussion.
— Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit a home run yet this spring. When I asked him a few days ago if it would be nice to get one just so he knew he could still do it, Teixeira smiled and replied, “I know I can.” It was a telling response, if only for the fact that it means he physically feels good and the timing aspect of hitting will come around eventually.
— Jacoby Ellsbury’s right calf tightness is being treated like every other Yankee injury situation in spring training — it is met with extreme caution, so he sits out Monday and perhaps Tuesday (against the Red Sox) as well. While anything that creeps up for a player with Ellsbury’s past could be considered a red flag, so far this is only a minor issue, the type that nearly every player has at some point in spring training. If this lingers more than a day or two, then it can become a bigger deal. Until then, no reason to panic.
— The Yankees played in Mariano Rivera’s home country of Panama this past weekend. They ended last season and will begin this season in Andy Pettitte’s hometown of Houston, Texas. It would only seem to reason that the Yankees have to play a game in Kalamazoo, Michigan next year right?
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