Posada's value goes beyond hot bat
Catcher guides rookie pitchers in 12th big league season
NEW YORK -- Everyone talks about Jorge Posada and his eye-popping start to the 2007 season. It's hard to ignore a .367 batting average in late May, especially for a catcher who takes a beating every day behind the plate.
That's why it's easy to forget that Posada is facing a challenging task this season -- one that he's never come up against in his career.
It's a chore he probably never thought he'd be doing this season. And who could blame him for being taken by surprise? This hurdle he's up against made history.
Seven rookie pitchers have suited up in pinstripes to start games for the Yankees so far this year. No Major League team in the past 50 years has used so many rookie pitchers within the first 42 games of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"It's tough not having a set rotation -- a five-man rotation -- where you develop consistency of what to call and things like that," Posada said. "It's been tough not knowing who's pitching the next day, but it is what it is -- I'm not complaining."
The list has grown long, but due to injuries and demotions, only two remain on the Yankees active roster: Tyler Clippard and Matt DeSalvo are ready for duty, while Phil Hughes, Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner have fallen to injuries. The other two, Kei Igawa and Chase Wright, are trying to work their way back up from the Minor Leagues.
To put things in perspective, when Clippard became the seventh Yankees rookie called on to start this season, no other Major League team had started more than two rookie pitchers.
But this experience, at least to manager Joe Torre, has shown just what Posada does outside of catching and hitting a ball.
"It's important that the young pitchers have somebody they can lean on," Torre said. "Jorge grew up in a hurry, as far as I was concerned. He went from this guy who would overact sometimes emotionally -- not that that was bad, except he would fight himself a lot -- then all of the sudden, especially these past few years, [he's turned into] this maturing leader of a pitching staff."
"That's quite a feather in your cap when you can do that -- not only have the veteran guys count on you, but to have kids come up and trust you the way they do."
Posada said that Clippard, the latest rookie to join the club, made it fun to work together last Sunday against the Mets, noting that the right-hander brought energy and life to the game.
Clippard three-hit the Mets over six innings, due in part to the way Posada prepped with the young hurler before the game and then helped Clippard maneuver through a potent Mets lineup.
"Jorge knows his way around Major League hitters as well as anybody, and he made it easy on me as far as calling pitches and stuff like that, which is real nice to have to take the thinking out," Clippard said.
The routine Posada and backup catcher Wil Nieves go through with the pitchers usually goes like this: talk about each batter in the opposing team's lineup, go over scouting reports and, finally, encourage the youngsters not to change the approach that carried them to the Major Leagues.
"The most important thing for them is to stay with their strength," Nieves said. "When in doubt, that's what you do, and that's what we tell them. Obviously, they're here for what they were doing."
When it comes to working with veterans, Posada said he knows what might help Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina or Chien-Ming Wang on a given day. But with a rookie on the mound, he tends to draw from what he remembers of the pitcher in Spring Training and goes from there.
Is it a fatherly role of sorts?
"No," Posada said. "But I'm making suggestions still, pretty much how to attack a lineup and get a guy out, and pretty much they go along with what I'm calling."
One of the catcher's best assets, Torre said, is that he lets the rookies work with what's feeling best for them, even though Posada will always tell them when a certain pitch should be thrown.
"I think it's the fact that he's not back there saying, 'You have to do this; you have to do that,'" Torre said. "He wants to work within their ability."
Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.