By Sweeny Murti
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It’s Leap Year. And this is your Leap Day, an extra day on the calendar. So here are some extra thoughts on the Yankees as we get ready for exhibition baseball this week.
* Ivan Nova just feels like the odd man out when considering the six starting pitchers for five spots. He finished poorly last year, going 2-8, 6.58 ERA in his final 10 starts.
But after another full offseason Nova is basically back to full strength, 22 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Nova said his arm feels “lighter.”
I know Nova can count. He’s not taking anything for granted, and we still have to see if there are six healthy starters at the end of spring training or if something will happen to make Joe Girardi’s decision for him. But Nova feels like he has to win his job, and that’s a good thing.
Don’t forget that he will be a free agent after this season, and no doubt Nova took notice of the money being thrown at pitchers this winter. If he can improve on his career record of 46-33, 4.33 ERA he will be looking to make a lot of money. And that’s always a good motivator.
* Meanwhile, Girardi named only Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi as sure bets for the rotation. Nova’s case is above, and CC Sabathia needs to earn that spot again despite his big salary. But Luis Severino? He could be the best pitcher on this staff.
Severino is 22 years old and with only 11 major league starts under his belt. Girardi is basically telling us he wants the kid to earn it. If for any reason Tanaka isn’t ready for opening day, I would think Severino is next man up. But I found it interesting that Girardi didn’t include him in the sure thing category.
* Pineda is impressing many with his pitching and his conditioning. He’s a big boy for sure, but when the Yankees’ pitchers were scaling Mount Krause last week it was Pineda who surprised with his speed up the hill.
Pineda has proven he’s a good pitcher. Now the Yankees would like him to prove he’s durable.
* How big is Aaron Judge? His listed size of 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds really doesn’t do him justice. His locker is filled with size 17 cleats. Sabathia and Dellin Betances wear size 15. Maybe more impressive are the 3XL batting gloves. Equipment manager Rob Cucuzza told me most players go with large and in some cases extra-large. Cucuzza has never seen anybody wear the triple XL and he’s been doing this for three decades.
* The crowds in Tampa haven’t been as large or as enthusiastic as they used to be for these early spring training workouts. I’m of the opinion that a few thousand people always showed up here because every one of them believed they could get Derek Jeter’s or Mariano Rivera’s autograph that day. There isn’t anyone that draws people’s attention quite the same way, and, frankly, there may not be for quite a while.
There is, however, a definite positive buzz for Alex Rodriguez. It’s quite noticeable that he gets the loudest applause of any Yankee during these early workouts. In fact, it’s so noticeable that one of the newer players walked over to me during BP and commented how things have turned around for A-Rod.
“Hit 33 home runs and things change,” I told him. To which the player simply nodded and smiled.
* Carlos Beltran could play a very important leadership role for the Yankees this year. He occupies a corner locker here at spring training, the same one that Bernie Williams had for many years.
Beltran requested that Judge have a locker near him and is very interested in teaching the young man the Yankees hope will take his job next year. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro have lockers right next to each other in Beltran’s vicinity, too. And even though both infielders have been in the majors a few years now, both are still young enough to learn a little something from Beltran, who is about to enter his 19th major league season.
Beltran knows this might not only be his last season with the Yankees but also in the majors, but he is eager to pass on what he has learned, telling me veteran infielder Luis Alicea did the same for him during his early years in Kansas City.
Beltran is within reach of 2,500 hits and 400 home runs and 1,500 RBIs this year. He was the Yankees’ best hitter after May 1 last year. I’m excited to see how he goes out this year.
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN