Wally Matthews Interview
I recently had about a 30 minute chat with ESPN New York.com Yankees beat writer Wally Matthews. It was very productive and he gave great detailed answers. Here is a paraphrasing of the highlights of our interview.
Q: How long do you think Phil Hughes’ leash is? When Andy comes back and if Hughes is still struggling is there a chance David Phelps or D.J Mitchell take his place?
WM: If you follow the Yankees you know they are not married to anybody. They need to do what puts them in the best position to win. Hughes has shown in the past that he can perform in the bullpen. The Yankees will not hesitate to put him there if it gives them the best chance to win.
Q: What is your take on Derek Jeter’s hot start? Do you buy Girardi’s theory of it having to do with less pressure after achieving his 3,000th hit or is it more mechanical?
WM: It is hard to say because Jeter would never admit that it was on his mind whether it was or not. I think it has a lot more to do with mechanics. Kevin Long’s new approcach for him last year was not working. Now Jeter is getting around on fastballs, staying on the ball better, keeping his hands in and driving the ball the other way. Jeter has not felt pressure the first 15 years of his career, so I do not see why he would feel it when he was going for his 3,000th hit.
Q: With Gardner out why has Girardi not given Nunez a chance in the outfield with Ibanez struggling out there and having no future role with the team?
WM: Nunez is horrible in the infield and balls always seem to find him there. The Yankees are afraid he would boot balls in the outfield as well. Ibanez is getting better in the outfield. The Yankees signed him because they thought he could play the outfield better than Damon or Matsui so they do have some confidence in him out there. Nunez is an infielder and he cannot even handle that. The Yankees have said part of his problem is he is playing too many positions so why make him play more?
Q: With the Yankees wanting to get below $189 million before 2014 what are the chances Nick Swisher resigns with the Yankees?
WM: Swisher’s future depends on October. Not winning the World Series is a team failure for the Yankees. If Swisher continues to put up the same stat line he has his whole Yankees career it will never matter. His regular season numbers will only help the Yankees win the division, which is nice but not the goal.
Q: You wrote a column in Spring Training about how Rafael Soriano should be the closer when Mariano Rivera retires instead of David Robertson. Can you elaborate on that?
WM: Whoever follows up Mariano will have trouble. That spot should be used more for a sacrificial lamp, which is why Soriano would be better for the job than Robertson. Since Robertson will be a part of the Yankees future for many years to come it does not make sense to give him the almost impossible task right away. If Soriano succeeds he will get a big contract to close elsewhere and Robertson can then become the closer. Robertson will soon realize it is better to be the guy after another a guy takes over for Rivera. A pitcher with Robertson’s future should not be exposed to the wrath that the pitcher who succeeds Mariano will get.
Q: What do you make of Cano’s early season slump? Have you heard anything around the team about a reason for it?
WM: Cano’s bad start has fallen under the radar due to Jeter’s hot start, Granderson being on pace to even surpass his numbers from last season if you can believe that, and the Yankees doing pretty well for the most part. Cano is so talented and the way he does things looks so easy. The last few years he has shown improvement in his plate discipline and he will be fine. It is not like when A-Rod and Jeter struggle with their age and you wonder if they could be loosing it. Slumps at the start of the year get to much press because the numbers look bad. If Cano was slumping in May or June people would notice less because the numbers would not look as bad.
Q: Should Brian Cashman be blamed for the Pineda trade or was it just bad luck?
WM: It is more due to bad luck than anything else. When teams trade guys like Montero and Pineda they make sure to know everything they can about them. The Yankees were going to sign Hideki Okajima to a minor league deal but he did not pass his physical so they did not. The fact that Pineda tore his labrum is not Cashman’s fault. A dye contrast MRI is only done when something is seriously wrong, especially since most players are afraid of needles anyway. If Pineda was injured when he was traded it would have shown up on the MRI the Yankees gave him then. What Cashman should have done better was keep better tabs on Pineda and his workout schedule yo avoid him coning to Spring Training overweight. Deep down the Yankees know Montero’s flaws. It is not like he is lighting it up in Seattle anyway right now. Obviously his defense is one of them but Montero’s work ethic and maturity came into question at times as well. Montero admitted to a story that said Alex Rodriguez had to bribe him by paying him $100 to get in the batting cages one time last year. If you want to be the next great player of the Yankees no way should that occur.
Q: What is your overall assessment of Joe Girardi as a manager?
WM: Girardi is a terrific manager. He is great at handling the bullpen and knows when to rest guys and is good at communicating with them about it. He is one of the best clubhouse managers in MLB. Hoverer he is not as personable as Joe Torre was. Torre handled personalities much better. Also, Girardi cares way too much about what the media thinks and what their perception of him is. Media guys have even asked him why he cares so much. As the Yankees manager Girardi cannot care about perception as much as he does.
Q: How much concern do you have about the rotation and how much can Andy Pettitte help?
WM: You never have enough pitchers. Some guys were laughing when the Yankees kept saying that in the spring but of course here we are and they have pitching issues. There definitely should be some level of concern about Andy Pettitte being the savior. Andy is a pro and will throw strikes as long as he stays healthy. However he did miss 2 full months at the age of 37 so it may not be the best idea to bank. There is also concern over Cashman’s long term pitching hopes with Pineda hurt and Banuelos and Betances having their issues. You have to wonder about Banuelos because he is only 5’9. There is a reason why the Yankees and other teams look for big guys. They tend to be more durable and can throw harder. Banuelos has control issues as well as Betances. Betances has had control problems on all levels including his brief stint with the Yankees last September.
Q; What advice would you give to somebody who wants to be a sportswriter?
WM: Being an expert in what you are talking about is more important than being a good writer. You cannot be a sports writer with just a service knowledge. When I covered basketball and hockey I was not an expert at those sports so it made it difficult. The job is a lot harder than people give it credit for. If somebody is only covering the Yankees once a week, and ARod goes 0-4, and doesn’t come through in the clutch that person does not know enough about the situation to truly tell the story. That person doesn’t know the other factors surrounding ARod. For example how the hitters around him are hitting, the level of the pitcher he was facing, and how he has been hitting for the last week. It is very important to give information that regular fans would not know otherwise. You have to know everything about everything.
Q: What is your routine day like covering the Yankees?
WM: The clubhouse opens at 3. My routine is first talking to the players who are there, go to Girardi’s press conference, take down my pre game notes, write while watching the game, and I have to have all my stuff done 30 minutes after the game. I usually get home about 2 or 2 ½ hours after the game, go to sleep, get up and take my kids to school, go to the gym, and do it all over again. It is not as easy as people think. The web even has a harder deadline than newspapers. If I do not have my stuff up a half an hour after the game and people go to ESPN New York.com and it does not have the information they are looking for they will go somewhere else.
Q: Are players always willing to talk to you or do you first have to develop a relationship with them?
WM: Establishing a relationship with the players is very important. The Yankees are very civil and quiet. There are no trouble makers on this team and they very committed. Some will take a liking to you and it is important to find something you have in common with them. I play guitar and am a big boxing fan so that is something I looked for in players. Spring Training is an important time because they’re only the 11 beat writers there so we have a chance to build relationships without the outsiders being there. I am not really looking for any big secrets. My main focus is what is happening on the field.