Yankee Baseball is Almost Here: Pitchers and Catchers to Tampa in 12 Days

A.J. MartelliSenior Analyst IJanuary 31, 2009

With roughly two weeks until the start of Spring Training, the New York Yankees will be going into camp with a stockpile of new arms and new faces, and hope to make a run at the 2009 World Series Title.


Young pitchers, veterans, and pitchers in the prime of their careers will fill the pitching holes the Yankees left open down the stretch of the 2008 season.


The first move the Yanks made was the blockbuster signing of 28-year-old C.C. Sabathia in December. Sabathia will head the Yankees’ rotation as the ace and front man, and look to get the Bronx Bombers off to a solid beginning.


The lefty veteran, who will be in pinstripes for the next eight seasons, is looking to make his mark with his deep arsenal of pitches, which include a 94-99 mph fastball, a devastating slider (which he calls a cutter), and an 11-5 curveball.


Sabathia exhibits good command of his pitches, and is a workhorse. In his 2007 Cy Young award-winning season, he led the American League in innings pitched with 241. Sabathia will be the Yanks’ number one man, and set the table for the other hurlers.


Another young man making his Yankee debut will be 32-year-old A.J. Burnett. Another off-season acquisition, Burnett is out to prove his worth and be the number two man in the Yankees’ starting rotation. He has already accomplished many feats in his career thus far, including a no-hitter in his days with the Florida Marlins on May 12, 2001 against the San Diego Padres.


Unfortunately, injuries have been an integral part of Burnett’s career, and he missed out on the Marlin’s World Series run in 2003. After leaving the Marlins in 2005, Burnett spent 2006-2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays.


The Yanks saw something in Burnett after 2008, when he set a career high in wins with 18, led the American League in starts with 34, and also led the AL in strikeouts with 231. In addition to those stats, Burnett also pitched 221 1/3 innings last year. If he follows suit and stays healthy in 2009, Burnett will be a force to be reckoned with on the mound, and the Yankees will have a chance to win each time he takes the ball.


The third man in the Yankees’ starting five will most likely be Chien-Ming Wang, the 28-year-old hurler from Tainan, Taiwan. Wang sat out the majority of the 2008 season, as he was injured on June 15 in Houston running the bases during an interleague match with the Astros.


Because of the injury, Wang only compiled an 8-2 record for himself. The previous two seasons, however, Wang has puzzled his opponents with his sinker, and won 19 games in both 2006 and 2007, while only losing a combined 13 games in those seasons. If Wang returns to his normal form in 2009, the Yankees will certainly be in good shape every time he goes out.


Just this past week the Yankees announced an agreement with their veteran left hander Andy Pettitte. The 36-year-old pitcher will probably occupy the fourth spot in the rotation, and has been the pitcher with the most experience on the staff. Pettitte was a member of the Yankees’ dynasty, winning World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.


Despite being with the Astros from 2004-2006, Pettitte returned home to the Yanks in 2007. Since then, he’s gone 29-23 in his second stint in pinstripes. He was also the last man to start a game at the original Yankee Stadium. While he may or may not be the first pitcher to start a game at the New Yankee Stadium, he will indeed be back as a Yankee for what could be his last year as a pitcher. He undoubtedly wants to make his potential final year a memorable one, capped off with a championship.


The final spot in the starting rotation will probably be occupied by Joba Chamberlain. He was converted from a relief pitcher to a starter in the middle of the 2008 season. However, there were several restrictions placed on him, such as innings limits and pitch counts. Chamberlain, 23, went through hard times during the season, as his father Harlan was hospitalized April 18. Chamberlain was notified in the middle of a game against the Red Sox in Boston, and was granted a leave of absence to be with his family. He returned on April 19 and kept working out of the bullpen.


He finally made the full transition from reliever to starter on June 3, but did not last long, only going 2 1/3 innings in his first start, a game the Yanks dropped to the Blue Jays. Although he had a forgettable first start, Chamberlain improved and had some much better games. A notable start included a 1-0, pitcher’s duel win in Boston over Josh Beckett and the Red Sox on July 25.


He was injured on Aug. 4 against the Texas Rangers, and was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendonitis. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, but didn’t return to action until Sep. 2—and went back to the bullpen.


On the Jan. 29 edition of “Yankees Hot Stove” on the YES Network, Chamberlain announced that he would indeed be in the starting rotation in 2009. How he pitches in comparison to last season is, as they say, to be determined.


The Yankees will also be with a solid bullpen going into camp. Phil Hughes, who can also be used as a starter, will most likely be a long reliever from the ‘pen while Chamberlain has the fifth spot in the rotation.


Hughes, 22, owns a decent repertoire of pitches, including a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a 12-6 curveball, and he is developing a changeup and a cutter. While he has not had much experience in the majors, being injured for the better part of the 2008 campaign, Hughes provides good backup for the Yankees.


His best game to date arguably was his relief appearance in the 2007 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. Hughes relieved Roger Clemens, tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings, and struck out four. Being a young man as he is, Hughes is certainly primed for a good run in pinstripes.


Along with Hughes, the Yankees have youngsters such as Phil Coke, David Robertson, and Dan Giese who all showcased their brilliant talent last season.


Coke went 1-0 with 0.61 ERA in 12 games for the Yankees in 2008. The lefty fanned 14 batters over that span and gave up only one earned run over the 14 2/3 innings he pitched. If the Yankees see numbers like that from him, they can expect bigger and better things from the 26 year-old.


Robertson provides the Yankees with solid middle relief, and proved that in 2008. From the bullpen, he went 4-0 with a 5.49 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. He gave up his share of runs with 18 and issued 15 walks, but aside from that he is looking to make a statement in ’09.


Giese offers middle relief as well as long relief for the Yankees’ ‘pen, and did some good things for the club last season. Arguably his best performance came on June 21 when he started against the Cincinnati Reds at home. He allowed three unearned runs over six innings, walked no one, and struck out five.


Only time will tell if these three young men make the team, but the option of their services is always present.


Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez, and Jose Veras give the bullpen maneuverability, and Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi will be able to mix and match with these three pitchers. Marte gives the Yankees a lefty specialist to pitch to the likes of David Ortiz and Carlos Pena. Ramirez has work to do with his pitches in terms of velocity and accuracy, but can always get a huge out when called upon. Veras might just be the man who sets up the great one.  

Of course without question, Mariano Rivera will be the one who closes out ballgames for the Yankees. The greatest closer in the history of baseball will look to continue his unreal ways, saving games for the Yankees whenever he gets the call. Using his legendary cut fastball, Rivera will put forth the same effort he exhibited in the original Yankee Stadium year in and year out. Carrying the momentum, Rivera may have a big year in 2009.


With all the new players and new faces young and old, the Yankees head into Tampa for training on Feb 14.


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