The Evolution of Bartolo Colon in Pinstripes

Welcome back to the big club, big guy. Stay a while. Throw some strikes. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

As we inch closer to Opening Day, things become settled. The AA and AAA kids are down at their respective camps, besides Manny Banuelos. The great mystery of Yankees Offseason-Spring Training ’11, the starting rotation, has been solved. Bartolo Colon is in the bullpen. That’s okay, though: if you thought that he would even have a fraction of a chance of making the rotation when we signed him, I’m calling BS until you show me proof. I don’t think anyone had anything other than, ‘eh, minor league deal, we’ll cut him in March,’ to say when this first happened. Understandably so, of course: Colon was an aged pitcher with an injury history who pitched only in winter ball last year and spent a grand total of 97 days on the 15-day DL in 2009, more than half of that with elbow problems. But Colon knew there was something still left in the tank. He was still a two-time 20-game winner and had a Cy Young award perched on his mantle, after all.

The first time Colon was mentioned on MLB Trade Rumors was November 15th, where he was said to continue to “maintain conversations” with Rockies, Cardinals, Tigers, and our very own Bronx Bombers. Keep in mind, though, that Cliff Lee didn’t sign till December; at this point, the Yankees probably had very few eyes on Colon and were full steam ahead at working on wooing Lee, while we all pounded F5 on our computers waiting for the announcement that a deal was in place. Between then and January 26th, Lee would sign with the Phillies, shunning his AL Champion Texas Rangers and the giant bags of cash offered by the Yankees. While we waited on Andy Pettitte to return to the team like a knight in shining armor, Colon signed a minor league deal worth $900K and the ability to be cut if he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster. Our article on this, written by the lovely Joe Pawlikowski, is about as skeptical as you’d expect. Joe wrote “there is little indication that Colon can handle a starting job in the majors at this point,” and that he “[found] it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.” I think it’s safe to say that many people, if not everyone, was on this bandwagon. The comments ranged from a handful of “eh, minor league deal, who cares” all the way to “Mark Prior has better odds of starting a regular season game for the 2011 Yankees than Colon” and “I would have taken a shot at Pedro.” There were questions regarding his position on the ‘Better than Mitre’ scale. There were also, of course, the requisite fat jokes.  At that point, Justin Duchscherer was the pitcher most Yankees fans wanted to see the club sign.

Of course, about ten days later, Andy Pettitte retired, sending shockwaves through both the organization and the fans. There were suddenly two rotation spots open for Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Colon, and the newly-signed Freddy Garcia. Let the pitching battle begin.

Out of everyone, Colon surprised me (and I imagine many of you) the most. While he could no longer pump out the high-powered gas he’d had before the bone spurs in his elbow, his reduced velocity hardly hindered him at all. In Colon’s first outing, he threw what Mike referred to as “meh,” allowing one run in two innings, walking one and striking out none. It was his second outing, on March 4th, that would raise some eyebrows: against the Boston’s admittedly mostly minor-league team, he struck out five in three innings, giving up only two hits and no walks. While the hitters were not exactly the biggest challenge to throw at a guy, Colon located his pitches well and proved he was worth consideration. He followed this up with another fairly decent outing on March 9th, throwing four innings and allowing two runs on four hits, and striking out seven. According to his game log, every one of his 30 pitches was a strike save for a single ball.

His crowning Spring Training achivement, though, would be his start against the Rays. Tampa Bay rolled out most of (if not all) their major leaguers, including Evan Longoria, Johnny Damon, Reid Brignac, BJ Upton, and noted Yankee killer Dan Johnson. Even against familiar names, Colon threw six strong innings, giving up two hits, a run, striking out five, and throwing all of his 32 pitches for strikes. Small sample size and Spring Training caveats apply, but had there been a true competition, I find it hard to believe this wouldn’t win him a rotation spot: in his 15 IP (fourth-most on the team), he has a 2.40 ERA with 17 strikeouts, one walk, and one home run. He’s getting the ground balls. He’s pounding the strike zone. Even if he gets injured sometime during the season, the stuff itself is there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m personally ready to give up my bias against Bartolo Colon. It’s hard to get one’s mindset back into the groove of thinking positively about a player when they’ve been racking up the disappointing numbers, but everything about Colon’s spring performance is positive. Let’s see if he can take these strong Spring Training numbers and turn them into something that counts. I’ve decided rather than spitting on everything he does, it’s more fun to look forward to it.

Yankees announce pitching plans

Via Marc Carig, the worst kept secret in camp has been made official: Ivan Nova will start the season in the Yankees’ rotation. Joe Girardi called the right-hander into his office and gave him the news this morning. Girardi also announced that Freddy Garcia, not Bartolo Colon, will be the fifth starter to start the season. Colon will be the long man, and the skipper plans to use him like he did Al Aceves in 2009. Good luck with that.

There’s also a chance Pedro Feliciano will start the season on the disabled list, reinforcing the belief that multi-year deals for even the most durable of relievers is sketchy at best.

Friday Open Thread

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

It’s Friday, and you know how I know that? Because my Twitter feed has been filled with references to some lady named Rebecca Black, like they have for the last few Fridays. I don’t know what that’s all about, nor do I care. Anyway, go out and have fun, otherwise use this thread as you see fit.

Sounds like Gustavo Molina might actually make the Yankees

Via Chad Jennings, it’s sounding more and more likely that Gustavo Molina will be Russell Martin‘s backup come Opening Day.  “[Molina]’s a guy we’re looking at,” said the skipper. “With Cervi going down, and you have young kids that you really consider as everyday players, prospects. You want them to play everyday … The determination is, do you want to take them out of that for a month, a month and a half and retard their development a little bit?”

I’m on the record as saying I want to see Jesus Montero start the season as the backup, but I can certainly see both sides of the argument and honestly don’t have a problem either way. Just so you know, the 29-year-old Molina is a .122/.159/.146 (.142 wOBA) career hitter in 45 career big league plate appearances. That means he’s really awesome defensively. And no, he’s not related to the other Molinas.

The RAB Radio Show: March 25, 2011

The Yankees have been active during the last 24 hours, adding some pitching and outfield depth. That leaves us with plenty to talk about. We bring on Jay, whom you might know better as @jaydestro, to talk through the series of moves.

We also hit on some other topics, including our favorite surprises of the spring.

Podcast run time 40:33

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Oh noes! Hughes’ velocity reportedly down

Via Danny Knobler, scouts are “stunned” by Phil Hughes‘ lack of velocity this spring, noting that he’s sat 87-89 with more 87’s than 89’s. Joel Sherman backs up the report, but says the Yankees and Hughes himself aren’t concerned because his velocity was down last spring as well. We seem to get a story on Hughes’ velocity at least once a year, though this year it’s a bit more of a concern considering his 80.1 IP jump from 2009 to 2010. The conspiracy theorists among us will probably think the Kevin Millwood signing indicates that the team is worried about their young right-hander, but I’m not sure I buy that.

Bottom line, if the Yankees were worried about Hughes at all, he wouldn’t be pitching this spring. His 22 Grapefruit League innings lead the team, and it’s not like he’s getting hit around either. If he’s still throwing 87-89 in May, then I’ll worry.