The past week’s talk about MLB was dominated by the season ending injury to Mariano Rivera, continued hot starts by surprising teams, the debut of Bryce Harper, and an epic game in which position players finished as pitchers.
It was about a decade ago when Derek Jeter was asked by a reporter who the Yankees’ best outfielder was and he responded “Mo”. MLB’s greatest relief pitcher never considered himself “just a pitcher”. Mariano always thought of himself as a baseball player before he thought of himself as a pitcher. Mariano’s work ethic and conditioning has always been incredible. To those who question why he has been allowed to shag balls and put himself at undue risk? The answer is pretty simple, it was part of what made Mo what he always was.
Here is a quote from Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter, who was Mariano’s first manager when he came up to the Yankees from Bombers Beat: “He was our best center fielder. We used to play a game in Extended Spring Training, on Sunday camp day, we’d let the pitchers play a game off the coaches. … I remember telling our farm director, if we figure out that this guy can’t pitch, he can play center field. He and Bernie (Williams) used to go back and forth about who was the best center fielder. It was part of his conditioning, part of why he’s been so good, his routine. I actually think if he hadn’t down it that way for so many years, who knows what would have happened?”
The conditioning routine and Mariano’s tireless enthusiasm about being an athlete and ballplayer made Mariano what he is. To speculate on why he was out there in the field in Kansas City shagging balls is foolish unless you are willing to take a look back and wonder if he’d still be pitching in the manner that he was before the injury this past week. There is no bad guy here, neither Mariano nor Girardi deserve the slightest bit of second guessing in this situation. It’s unfortunate, but it happened, and it just may extend Mariano’s career.
In the preseason Mariano issued a cryptic quote about when his career would be over and just about everyone read it to mean that this year would be his last. Since the injury occurred Mariano has stated in the strongest possible terms that he will return and that his career will not end like this. I believe 100% that Mariano will return from his torn ACL and close for the Yankees in 2013 and even beyond. This is what Mariano had to say about his future: ”I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this,” he said. ”This has me thinking, I can’t go down like this. If it takes two, three, four, five, seven more (seasons), whatever it takes.”
If anyone has the strength of mind and body to rehab this injury and return to pitching at the highest level at age 43 it is Mariano Rivera. Anyone betting against him is making a bad bet.
Daniel Simpson Day… HAS No Grade Point Average
That famous line from Dean Vernon Wormer in the classic movie Animal House was on my mind this weekend. The other day a friend, who is a Yankee hater, called me to ask what the Yankees were going to about a closer now that Mariano was out for the year. He used a fake sad voice in asking that question that seems to be very popular with Yankee haters. I’d heard that same fake sad voice last year from someone when Derek Jeter was struggling and went down to an injury. We all know how that situation has worked out don’t we? In any case when my friend asked that question I simply responded that the guy replacing him was the best reliever alive right now, David Robertson. He asked me what Robertson’s earned run average was and I replied: “Robertson has no earned run average”.
Robertson’s 2011-2012 performance has been nothing short of amazing . In 2011 Robertson appeared in 70 games and over 66 2/3 innings allowed only 8 earned runs, 1 home run, and 6 walks while strikeout 100 batters and compiling a 1.08 ERA. Thus far in 2012, Robertson has allowed no home runs, no earned runs, and only 3 walks in 12 innings and 12 appearances.
Filling the shoes of the best closer in history is no easy task, but the Yankees are fortunate to have the best possible replacement available in the business. Robertson has been eerily reminiscent of Mariano Rivera when he was the Yankee setup man before he stepped into the closer’s role. Making the transition smoother for Robertson is the situation in which he has inherited the role. Had Rivera gone on to retire after the 2012 season as was anticipated, Robertson would have faced an entire offseason of interviews and questions about his readiness to accept the role as the man who replaced the greatest ever. Robertson would have had an entire offseason to think about what he was about to undertake and felt more pressure than anyone should have to deal with. Robertson has the total support of fans and his teammates, who understand the difficulty of what he is about to undertake. It’s very unlikely that Robertson will have any difficulty carrying his immense talents to the next inning.
Friday The 13th An Unlucky Day For Cashman
January the 13th was a Friday that is looking like a day that will live in infamy for the Yankees and Brian Cashman. After two years of Jesus Montero trade rumors, Cashman finally decided to cash in his chips on the can’t miss hitting prospect and sent Montero and Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. By now everyone knows that Pineda had to have surgery on his pitching shoulder and is lost until at least May of 2013. This past weekend Campos, who was burning up single A ball, was shut down with elbow trouble that an MRI has revealed may require Tommy John surgery. Montero started slow but is now hitting .287 with 4 home runs and 15 RBI’s while playing half of his games in a park that’s much harder to hit in than Yankee Stadium. Noesi went 7 strong innings yesterday to improve his record to 2-3. Noesi possesses a 1.40 WHIP. While Noesi’s numbers certainly aren’t sterling, they aren’t much different from the guy who was given a 10 million dollar one year deal to pitch in the Yankee rotation by Cashman on the same day he traded Montero and Noesi. Hiroki Kuroda is now 2-4 for the Yankees this year with a 1.39 WHIP after being shelled by the last place Royals this week. Kuroda has already allowed 4 home runs in 2012, a very troubling but not at all surprising statistic.
I was adamant that both Cashman moves on January 13th were huge mistakes, and wrote about it extensively in the preseason. Kuroda was tied for 8th in the NL last year in home runs allowed despite pitching in the light hitting NL West in incredibly pitcher friendly ballparks. Why anyone would be surprised that he’s on pace to allow over 20 home runs is beyond me.
As far as the Montero trade goes, it has always been my contention that young power pitchers are far more likely to suffer injuries than position players and that if you are going to trade a can’t miss hitting prospect away that you don’t do so for “maybe”. That’s exactly what Cashman did and he got burned badly. There was no good reason to trade Montero before the 2012 season. Montero didn’t project to be the Yankees’ everyday catcher of the future but his bat would certainly have been very useful in a Yankee lineup that’s suffered in the 5-9 spots this year, stranding runners at a scary rate. Montero’s trade value would likely have been higher after one full MLB season under his belt and most likely could have been traded for even more at the end of this season. This trade will most likely go down in Yankee history with McGriff for Dale Murray and Buhner for Phelps.
The Bryce Era Has Begun
The first place Nationals decided that they could wait no longer to bring the most heralded prospect in 20 years to the big club and early returns seem to favor their decision.
Harper has already displayed dazzling fielding skills and speed. Harper’s steal of home on a nationally televised game against the Phillies was pretty amazing. In his first 8 games, Harper is hitting .308 with a .424 OBP. Harper already has 5 doubles in only 26 AB’s.
It’s certainly not premature to expect Harper to be playing in the All Star game in July. He’s a five tool player with no boundaries on what he can accomplish.
Still On Their Perch
The Baltimore Orioles have completed 28 games and still lead the deepest division in MLB. The Orioles are certainly MLB’s biggest surprise so far this year and while it’s still unlikely that the Orioles can win the AL East, don’t be surprised if they hang around in contention until after the All Star break. Two weeks into the season I wrote here that I expected parity in the AL East this year, and nothing I’ve seen since then has done anything but solidify my opinion. The Orioles possess the starting pitching to contend and have been bolstered by Matt Wieters finally displaying the hitting potential he showed in the minors.
A key stat in the Orioles success, one that bodes well for their 2012 season, is their road record. The Orioles just won 5 consecutive road games in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and now possess the best road record in MLB at 11-5.
Yesterday’s Orioles-Red Sox game was an amazing 17 inning battle that ended with Chris Davis on the mound for the Orioles and Darnell McDonald on the mound for the Red Sox. Davis’ awful day at the plate was overshadowed by his relief appearance that netted him a win. McDonald allowed a three run home run to Adam Jones and took the loss as the Red Sox dropped to 11-16.
Everyday I’m Struggling, Struggling, Struggling
Albert Pujols‘ homerless streak for the Angels was finally broken yesterday when he homered in his 111st at bat in an Angels uniform. Despite his first home run of the year, Pujols has never looked worse in his MLB career. Pujols is hitting .196 with a .237 OBP and .295 slugging percentage. Ironically, the Angels best hitter so far has been Kendrys Morales, their former first baseman who missed two seasons due to a freak walk off home run celebration. Morales is hitting .318 and it’s not too early to wonder if the Angels may wish that they hadn’t entered the Pujols bidding at the last moment.
Mark Teixeira‘s slow start continues. Teixeira is hitting .222 with an OBP of only .271 and has only 4 home runs.
Hanley Ramirez‘s and Jose Reyes were supposed to be a dream team on the left side of the Miami infield in 2012 and so far its more like a nightmare. Reyes, winner of last year’s NL batting title, is hitting .234. Ramirez is hitting .218.
What in the world is going on with Toronto’s Jose Bautista? Coming off two incredibly productive seasons, Bautista is hitting .183 and has only 5 home runs so far. Having hit 97 home runs in 2011-2012, and coming off a .302 year at the plate, Bautista was expected by many to be an MVP candidate this year.
The Incredible Derek Jeter
The lack of total insanity over a soon to be 38-year-old player having a season like Jeter is having is a testimony to just how revered he is. Normally if a soon to be 38-year-old player was hitting .397 with a .439 OBP, 1.040 OPS, 5 home runs and 15 RBI’s from the leadoff spot it would be cause for an inundation of coverage and praise. In Jeter’s case, he is so extraordinary that I’ve heard fans ask in a very casual manner lately ”Is Jeter still around .400?” with the same tone of voice they might use to order a coffee at a Dunkin Donuts drive though window.
When people can largely take a start like this for granted from a player of a Jeter’s age? That’s about the best compliment he’s ever been paid.
Tweet Of The Week
“That fills me with confidence”
@kschmidt2 commenting on someone else’s tweet that Eric Bedard had the same surgery that Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was going to have.