Vazquez jumps on second Bronx tenure
New Yanks righty throws first 'pen session three days early
TAMPA, Fla. -- There was a sense of excitement back home in Puerto Rico that Javier Vazquez was having a second chance with the Yankees, something he punctuated by throwing off a mound before officially putting the pinstripes back on.
When the right-hander finally arrived at George M. Steinbrenner Field, he was fine with the idea of subscribing to a more methodical pace this spring, even though he hadn't been pushed to pitch in October and November like most of his new teammates.
But when the Yankees gave Vazquez the option to kick the rubber on Sunday and get started a little sooner, Vazquez took the opportunity, throwing his first bullpen session of the spring three days earlier than originally expected.
"I let a few go at the end," said Vazquez, who threw 35 fastballs and changeups in the session. "In the beginning, I was just trying to get a feel. [I'm] just getting the arm ready until games start. Bullpens right now are just getting a feel for the mound, for the ball, everything."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he has to pay attention to Vazquez a little differently than other pitchers in camp, since he is the only new face among the starters.
Vazquez is slated to be the Bombers' fourth starter in 2010 after going 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA in 32 starts for the Braves last year, finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
"He works very hard, and I've always enjoyed his work," Girardi said. "I know he's a very tough competitor. I am curious to watch him pitch. I have a lot of faith in him. He's going to be a big part of our rotation."
While Girardi has stayed away from ranking his starters, noting instead that every starting pitcher is the ace of the rotation on their day to start, he said that Vazquez has the stuff to succeed.
He pointed to Vazquez's strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.41), his strikeouts per nine innings (9.8) and his ERA as statistical evidence that jumps off the page, and said that Vazquez could help the Yankees toward an ultimate goal of having each starter throw 200 or more innings.
"If you can get 1,000 innings out of your rotation, your rotation is doing its job and your bullpen is not going to be overworked," Girardi said. "That's a real good thing. Javy has shown that he can throw 200 innings and bounce back, and he's been pretty durable as a starter."
Vazquez's first season in New York was marked by an injury-marred second half of 2004 and a poor postseason exit, but he made it a point to say that he never actually wanted to leave. Instead, the Yankees dealt him to the D-backs in the Randy Johnson trade, but believed in his potential enough to bring him back this winter.
"It feels different, just because I know a lot of the guys and I've been here already," Vazquez said. "It feels better than the first time. It's kind of like I never left, seriously, because some of the guys are here. CC [Sabathia] and A.J. [Burnett], I've played against. It feels comfortable."
In addition, Vazquez also has a catcher he knows well in Jorge Posada, who received the bullpen session on Sunday morning.
"I knew this morning that he was going to catch me, so I asked him if he remembered the way I pitched," Vazquez said. "I've known Jorgie for a while now, and we've kept in touch, so it's good to have him back."
Perhaps more than anything, Vazquez was looking forward to the opportunity to finally become teammates with Andy Pettitte after just missing him in 2004. The two appear to be on the way to a fast friendship, already linking up for golf outings this spring.
"You can't ever have enough pitching," Pettitte said. "Not only is he a great pitcher, he's a quality human being. He's going to be great here. He's going to be here for a long time this time, I think. He'll have a great year and be a huge part of our rotation this year."
Many of the names and circumstances may have changed around the Yankees since Vazquez surrendered a grand slam to Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series -- his last game in pinstripes before departing -- but no refresher is needed to get his career in New York started all over again.
"The main thing here is winning," Vazquez said. "The only thing I can say is that I think I'm better prepared. I feel more mature. It's just the aura of playing with the Yankees.
"It's the most important franchise in baseball, and maybe the world. It's a great feeling. Being from Puerto Rico, the Yankees are huge. They have a great following, and being part of that is a blessing."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.