Inbox: Why hit Jeter leadoff?
Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers Yanks fans' questions
Is Derek Jeter going to bat leadoff instead of Johnny Damon this year, and, if so, why? Do you see this change as a positive for the Yankees?
-- Neil G., Yonkers, N.Y.
That's the plan right now. The idea came from something manager Joe Girardi saw when the Yankees were hitting Jorge Posada leadoff in Spring Training so he would get more at-bats. Damon showed an ability to consistently hit the ball to the right side and move runners along, so they kept trying it when Jeter came back from the World Baseball Classic.
Girardi also likes how the right-handed Jeter breaks up the left-handed hitting No. 9 hitter, Brett Gardner, and Damon in the late innings, complicating the situation for opposing clubs that might want to bring in a lefty to face Gardner or Damon. Also note that Jeter has hit into 45 double plays over the last two years, ranking among the league leaders.
So what does it all mean? Baseball researcher David Pinto figures the lineup switch improves the Yankees' lineup by 0.02 runs per game, or about three runs over the course of the season. Could that mean one more victory in the long run? If so, it's a good idea.
Why are the Yankees starting CC Sabathia at the new Yankee Stadium opener? Andy Pettitte deserves that start over anyone. Finishing the old Yankee Stadium with a win, shouldn't he be given the chance to win the first at the new one?
-- Floyd G., Pleasant Valley, N.Y.
Joe Girardi did say at the time that Pettitte had been considered for the April 16 start, but the timing did not set up. Girardi said it certainly was not a slight on Pettitte, who has provided the Yankees with so much service over the years and -- as you mentioned -- had the opportunity to make that last start across the street last Sept. 21.
Pettitte started the exhibition game against the Cubs on Saturday and will pitch on his fifth day on Friday at Kansas City, setting him up to go on regular rest on April 15 at Tampa Bay -- he just missed it. Sabathia started the Grapefruit League finale to set his Monday start at Baltimore. He'd pitch April 11 at Kansas City and then April 16 in New York on regular rest.
Sure, it would have been nice to see Pettitte out there, book-ending the two ballparks. But at the end of the day, Sabathia is the Yankees' ace and it will be appropriate to have their biggest offseason pitching acquisition on the mound when they open up the new building. Pettitte will have plenty of chances to take the ball there this year -- at least, the Yankees hope he will.
When the Yankees play the home opener on April 16, will Girardi use Mariano Rivera regardless of what the score is in the ninth inning, sort of like the final game at the old Yankee Stadium?
-- Andrew H., Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
Can't imagine that would be the case. Last year, the Yankees were already eliminated at the time of the finale, and pitching Rivera with a 7-3 lead against the Orioles was the proper, sentimental call to make. Of course everyone wanted to hear 'Enter Sandman' and see him record the last three outs. But it wouldn't make any sense to burn Rivera in a blowout on April 16, because these games count for real and there's always a chance Rivera would be needed the next day in a much more important situation.
What are the chances the Yankees will keep Hideki Matsui?
-- Tim, Albany, N.Y.
It seems evident we may be looking at the last year of Matsui in a Yankees uniform. He may very well be productive this year, but a DH who can't play the field because of his knees is a luxury the Yankees can't afford. There may come a day when Jorge Posada cannot be an everyday catcher, and there's no shame in that -- it happens. Jeter may also begin seeing more time as a DH, and having Matsui in the mix beyond 2009 could complicate that. Matsui said this spring he hasn't thought about this as his last go-round, but said he would love to win the World Series that has thus far eluded him.
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What are the Yankees' plans for Melky Cabrera now that Gardner has been named the starting center fielder? Would he be more valuable in the trade market or as an option off the bench?
-- Vinny J., Inverness, Fla.
As of right now, Cabrera remains as one of the Yankees' reserve outfielders and Girardi said he could see Cabrera making as many as four starts a week, backing up all three positions and remaining productive. A platoon situation is not in the cards, so the Yankees would certainly listen to offers for Cabrera, but there's no hurry to make a trade just because he's not in the Opening Day lineup. As Brian Cashman would say, if it makes the team better, the Yankees would consider it.
Why don't the Yankees give Phil Coke consideration for the eighth inning setup role? He has an impressive ERA, good strikeout ratio, and doesn't walk many batters.
-- David H., Coral Springs, Fla.
First things first -- for as sharp as Coke looked last September and this spring, he's still relatively a newcomer to the big leagues. The Yankees believe that Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte, two arms with a little more experience, can fill that role. If it doesn't work, open up the competition. But for now, they'll ask Bruney and Marte to get the ball to the ninth inning.
What has happened to Phil Hughes? He had a very good spring. Has he been sent down with the intention of getting in innings, then bringing him up if needed?
-- Henri G., Las Vegas, Nev.
That's basically the idea. Hughes came into camp knowing that things didn't work out on paper for him if the rotation stayed healthy. After various injuries, Hughes' most important need right now is to build up innings, which is why the Yankees didn't consider carrying him as a long reliever -- pitching sporadically would hinder his development. Hughes probably will be up at some point this year, but there are no guarantees. Essentially, the Yankees will call up the pitcher performing the best in Triple-A when the need arises in New York.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.