Albaladejo opening Yankees' eyes
Right-handed reliever the favorite to land final bullpen spot
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees originally planned to bring a long reliever north for the season opener, but Jonathan Albaladejo has forced them to reconsider.
Manager Joe Girardi staged a three-headed audition for a roster spot on Saturday, pitching Brett Tomko, Alfredo Aceves and Dan Giese in an exhibition contest against the Braves.
Afterward, Girardi admitted that it was possible none of the three might make the team, with Albaladejo a leading candidate to take the roster spot instead.
"I really don't want to think about it," Albaladejo said on Sunday. "It's not my job. All I can do is come to pitch every day, work hard and try to do the job."
A member of the Yankees' Opening Day roster in 2008, the 26-year-old right-hander has compiled a strong spring to state his case. Albaladejo has limited opponents to one run on eight hits in 9 2/3 innings (0.93 ERA), walking one and striking out eight.
Coming off a stress fracture in his right elbow, Albaladejo has had scouts buzzing again and says he is feeling as strong as he has since his early 20s.
"I've been throwing the ball well," Albaladejo said. "The important part for me is I'm getting outs. I feel like I'm going good."
The Yankees intended to take a long reliever with them last year, Girardi's first at the helm, and heavily considered both Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner.
But Karstens was eliminated with a groin injury on the club's final day in Tampa and Rasner instead started the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A similar situation could emerge this year, as the Yankees weigh carrying Albaladejo and left-hander Phil Coke as a pair of multiple-inning hurlers.
As he reflected during the Yankees' March 14 trip to play the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., Albaladejo's recent career tells the story of a gamble that may be about to pay off.
Originally a product of Pittsburgh's system, Albaladejo requested his release in April 2007, hoping for a better opportunity for advancement. Back home in Puerto Rico, Albaladejo found that clubs were not banging down his door with choices. His only option appeared to be a job in Mexico.
"After a week, I was really scared," Albaladejo said.
Albaladejo had already verbally agreed to pitch in Mexico when Bobby Williams, the Nationals' director of player development, offered a deal. Albaladejo accepted and made his big league debut in September, pitching in important games down the stretch as Manny Acta's club played spoiler in the National League East race.
His 1.88 ERA in 14 appearances drew the Yankees' attention, and on Dec. 5 of that year, general manager Brian Cashman dealt right-hander Tyler Clippard to Washington in exchange for the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Albaladejo.
"At first, I was really happy," Albaladejo said. "After three days, I started thinking, 'God, am I stuck in the Minors again?'"
As it turned out, he was not. Albaladejo made his first career Opening Day roster with the Yankees in 2008, but he appeared in only seven games before leaving a May 9 contest at Detroit with pain in his right elbow.
As Albaladejo described it, he had felt "a little needle" a week earlier in the elbow and continued to pitch, even though his velocity had dipped several miles per hour. Albaladejo pitched two innings relatively pain-free against the Tigers before being removed with what was later diagnosed as a stress fracture.
Albaladejo would not make it back to the big leagues, though he starred with Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican Winter League, allowing one run in 22 innings spanning 20 appearances. That performance, and his strong spring, have Albaladejo thinking he can contribute to the Yankees this season.
"In my mind, I think I can do it," Albaladejo said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.