Inbox: A-Rod poised for MVP-type year?
Yankees beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers fans' questions
With Alex Rodriguez looking much better in Spring Training, do you think this could be a major comeback season for him? And could he possibly be as much of a major threat as he was four years ago?
-- Jack C., Westport, Conn.
Rodriguez does look good this spring, and there hasn't been any reason to question whether he will be physically ready to bring this performance into the regular season. It's important to remember, though, that Rodriguez also looked great last spring, and the Yankees were blindsided by the injury problems he wound up having.
There's no getting around the fact that Rodriguez's days of playing all 162 games are in the rearview mirror, and there is going to be necessary management as his contract continues. If Rodriguez can be kept healthy, however, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently that he believes Rodriguez is still capable of competing for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
"I think he can," Girardi said. "But a lot of that depends on us keeping him where he feels good. I think it's a guy that can put up big numbers."
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The Yankees are going to have to be creative with the designated-hitter role and off-days to keep Rodriguez's legs fresh, but it's not impossible to think that he can and should get back to the levels of 30 homers and 100 RBIs, given more than 500 at-bats. It seems unfair to ask more of him, though of course the Yankees would gladly sign up for his 2007 AL MVP numbers again.
"I haven't had [another] year like '07 in my whole career," Rodriguez said this spring. "The thing is, you have to stay healthy. You have to avoid the injury bug. I'd like to go out and play north of 145, 150 games and let the chips fall where they may, but at this point in my career, it's, 'Go out and avoid the injury bug, stay focused and stay healthy.'"
From what we've seen from Michael Pineda, do you see him starting the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or the Yankees' bullpen?
-- Bryan P., New York
I expect to see Pineda as part of the Yankees' starting five when they break camp, though nothing has been officially written in stone. In fact, it has been rather amusing to see the club try to manage expectations for Pineda in the weeks following the blockbuster January trade with the Mariners; if you didn't know better, you'd think general manager Brian Cashman was trying to reassure the Mariners what a great trade they'd made in dealing for Jesus Montero.
Here in Yankees camp, the questions about Pineda's velocity seem overblown, especially after he touched 94 mph in his last outing, against the Tigers on Sunday, and has done a good job of making hitters uncomfortable all spring. I believe the Yankees wouldn't hesitate to send Pineda down if they didn't think he could help at the Major League level, but that's not the case.
As for all of the so-called panic about Pineda's velocity, it's possible that he didn't work out as hard as he could have over the winter and may have used Spring Training to get in shape. That may have been acceptable decades ago, but it's less so now -- look at how the Yankees still talk about Phil Hughes' conditioning from last spring. But Girardi said that Pineda gets a pass in that department, because he's new to the organization.
With the surprisingly good spring that Dewayne Wise is having, and the pretty poor spring that Brett Gardner is having, do you think Girardi would consider starting Wise over Gardner?
-- Gary V., Otisville, N.Y.
I don't. Unless there is a significant injury between now and Opening Day, you can figure on Wise opening the season at Triple-A and providing depth as an excellent fielder who offers versatility if the Yankees need it. Having a good spring certainly doesn't hurt Wise, but he arrived understanding that he wasn't necessarily competing for a job in camp -- not with starting roles assigned to Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, with Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez also on the bench.
Gardner joked recently that he was bottling up all of his hits for the season. The old saying about not buying any stats you see in March or September comes to mind in his case; Gardner can still help the Yankees and likely will.
I haven't seen any changes in Mark Teixeira's left-handed hitting. Have you seen any different approach to raising his batting average?
-- R. Hart, Tioga, Pa.
It's difficult to convey progress in Spring Training, where every at-bat isn't televised back home, but there have been encouraging signs. Twice last week, Teixeira ripped doubles to the gaps with authority, which is what he really needs to do to beat the shift and raise that average. The occasional bunt single would be a neat parlor trick, by comparison.
Wouldn't it be smart for Girardi to use Andy Pettitte as a lefty out of the bullpen until he gets his stamina or if one of the bottom three starters doesn't come through?
-- Kris B., Osprey, Fla.
If the goal was to get Pettitte to the big leagues as soon as possible, the Yankees might consider using him as a reliever, but that's not the idea. They want him to be capable of throwing 100 or so pitches every fifth day, and he wouldn't be able to build up for that by sitting in the bullpen and pitching an inning now and then. They're happy to wait until early May, and perhaps even longer, to make sure this comeback can go smoothly.
We hear a lot about how Pineda has struggled with the New York media thus far. How is Hiroki Kuroda dealing with it?
-- Matt O., Cleveland
The word that comes to mind is "professional," and that's what Kuroda has appeared to be. There's more interest in his starts than some other pitchers because Kuroda is covered by the Japanese media as well, but he has reminded some of Hideki Matsui, as far as his demeanor and drive.
Girardi said recently of Kuroda, "Everything is calculated -- when he's going to do it, when he's going to get it done. It seems that he's always got a plan. I would say that translates [on the mound], too, for him."
About Pettitte, when was the last time anyone returned in a similar situation?
-- Ron L., Willits, Calif.
There was a great chart in the Wall Street Journal recently, showing the last five pitchers who'd returned to the Majors in their age-40 season or later after missing at least one full year. Kent Mercker was the most recent, coming back with the 2008 Reds and posting a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.
David Cone's 2003 comeback with the Mets didn't go well; he announced his retirement that May. John Franco had three more seasons left after sitting out all of '02, Dave Stieb missed four years before returning to the Blue Jays in 1998, and Bert Blyleven had a last hurrah with the Angels in '92.
How many at-bats do you expect Eduardo Nunez to get this year? Also, will he get some playing time in the outfield?
-- Vinnie D., Vero Beach, Fla.
The Yankees see Nunez as more valuable than just a prototypical backup infielder, and they believe he can play a major supporting role for them. Because of injuries to Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, Nunez wound up with 338 plate appearances last year. They'd like to see less of Nunez and more of Rodriguez and Jeter, but that shouldn't be taken as a slight. Nunez can see some occasional time in the outfield -- he started in right field on Sunday -- and continues to work out there.