Mailbag: To catch a thief
Yankees reporter Bryan Hoch fields questions from fans
The series against the Mets showed the Yankees' vulnerability to speed and aggression. It seemed like guys like Jose Reyes and Carlos Gomez had no chance of being thrown out against Jorge Posada. Do you think the Mets have exposed the Yankees' weaknesses in the series?
-- Mitch G., Middletown, N.Y.
There's no question that the three-game Subway Series at Yankee Stadium had to be one of Posada's least enjoyable experiences, at least defensively. In the first two games of the series, the Mets were just running wild, stealing five bases in each game to tie a season high set against the Yankees; also accomplished by the Mets across the bridge at Shea Stadium.
That's the kind of team that Willie Randolph has molded the Mets into, and they can afford that luxury with burners like Reyes and Gomez on the roster. It really reminds you that while power gives you the firepower to blow teams out, speed can change a close game.
But Posada insisted, at least in the context of Roger Clemens' start Friday, that the Mets were mostly stealing off the pitcher and there was little he could do to counter them. Manager Joe Torre seemed to agree, saying on Saturday that Clemens has historically never been exceptional at holding runners and shutting down running games.
The suggestion that was made on Saturday afternoon was to focus on getting the speedsters out at home plate rather than worrying about picking them off the bases. Chien-Ming Wang seemed to do a pretty good job of taking care of that order of business on Sunday, and Reyes even was gunned down stealing and thrown out on a very rare (for Reyes, anyway) 3-6-3 double play that earned a tip of the cap to fill-in first baseman Miguel Cairo.
Speaking of whom ...
Is Miguel Cairo for real? I can't imagine that the Yankees would go into the postseason playing Cairo every day at first base, but for right now, he's looked better than Josh Phelps. Are the Yankees serious about staying with Cairo or can they upgrade?
-- Jerry B., San Diego, Calif.
Right. October is a long way off to consider -- the Yankees have just reached three games over .500 for the first time -- but if you told me back in Spring Training that Cairo would be the Yankees' starting first baseman by mid-June, I either would have laughed or said that the Yankees would be in a heap of trouble.
Part of that statement -- the trouble part -- actually would have been true, I suppose, given their early struggles. But Cairo has been surprising in his adjustment to first base, even though numerous Yankees voices insist that if a player can capably play shortstop, they can play first base.
The Yankees decided to sacrifice a little bit of the power potential that Phelps could provide in order to have a better gloveman on the right side in Cairo, and so far, it's looked like a great decision. You wonder if the Yankees are trying their luck with Cairo -- Torre admitted recently that they're "pushing the envelope" -- but until he gives them a reason to look elsewhere, it's working.
Doug Mientkiewicz may have been a little more polished on certain aspects of game play around the bag, just based on pure experience, but Cairo is doing a heck of an impersonation. It's completely possible that the Yankees will eye the trade market at first base, even if Cairo doesn't falter, but for right now they seem content with the production.
What's the deal with Johnny Damon? Is this guy ever going to be healthy again? It seems like every day there's something new going wrong. Do you think the Yankees regret signing him?
-- Phillip J., Pensacola, Fla.
I'm not sure it's a matter of regret, but it's probably safe to say the Yankees would like to see the player they believed they were signing. To this point in 2007, Damon hasn't been that player, and he even admitted in a spot of honesty this weekend that he's been "embarrassed" by just how beat up he's been.
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It looks like the most recent injury, termed a mild abdominal strain by the team, won't be a long-term ailment. Damon said Saturday that he was going to cut down his swing and sacrifice some power (he said that the long ball hadn't been part of his game anyway, so he wasn't giving too much up) in order to stroke some hits and help the team.
Then what does he do Sunday? He goes and hits a home run off Orlando Hernandez. The problem is going to come on the upcoming six-game journey to National League parks in Colorado and San Francisco, where Damon may or may not be available to play defensively. The general thought process is that serving as a designated hitter is keeping Damon's legs fresher. The Colorado outfield in particular is a spacious one that would figure to be infinitely better covered by Melky Cabrera.
Why should Mike Mussina get a personal catcher? What's the logic behind this? If anything, I would think that Mussina should have the benefit of Jorge Posada in the lineup every time he pitches. Mussina needs all the help he can get and Wil Nieves isn't much with the stick.
-- Jose R., New York, N.Y.
You're right, but the arrangement with Nieves and Mussina only figures to come into play twice here, in Mussina's starts at National League parks. Otherwise, Posada can always DH in those games that Nieves starts defensively.
To be clear, this was not a battery that Mussina suggested. Torre paired Mussina and Nieves in early May for two wins (Texas twice), then Mussina lost two starts with Posada receiving him (at Chicago, vs. Boston).
Put back with Nieves on May 27, Mussina seemed to respond, allowing the Angels two runs in 6 1/3 innings. The arrangement worked in two of the three outings that followed, with Mussina beating the D-backs and pitching well against the White Sox. They do seem to work well together, though Nieves compared it to a relationship in its infancy -- he's still vying to earn Mussina's trust.
I'm not sure that Posada is thrilled with the idea that Mussina is no longer on his rotation -- over the weekend, he made a comment to the effect that he guesses Mussina is more comfortable with Nieves -- but long-term, this could be a good thing for Posada, one of the Yankees' most irreplaceable players.
At least mentally he knows that he won't be catching when that fifth turn comes around the rotation, which allows him to better relax for pending days off. Torre has said that he likes it when Posada really enjoys those days, not even getting out of his clubhouse slippers until the middle innings.
When is Phil Hughes expected to be back? It's my opinion that the Yankees could really use him now. They seemed to get a huge lift from him and I would love to see him and Roger playing off each other in the same clubhouse.
-- Maureen M., Trenton, N.J.
Clemens got to spend a little bit of time with Hughes while he was on his tour of the Yankees' Minor League system last month, but as far as seeing Hughes back at Yankee Stadium, it could be about a month to six weeks more. Hughes rolled an ankle in late May while performing conditioning exercises and isn't expected to throw off a mound until somewhere from late June to early July.
Thanks everybody. See you soon.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.