Long: I expect big things from Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner won’t be patrolling centerfield this season, but hitting coach Kevin Long didn’t let that stop him from comparing the Yanks’ speedster to another former Yank, Kenny Lofton. “If I seem overly excited about him, I am,” said Long “Kenny was a bigger, more physical player, or [physical] looking player. But Gardy could do what Kenny Lofton did. I wouldn’t see why he couldn’t,” Long told The Post. “That would be a good comparison.”

In case you only view the world through Yankee goggles, Lofton was an absolutely tremendous player for more than 15 years. At his peak, he was a .316-.390-.443 (.374 wOBA) hitter who averaged 52 steals and 44 extra base hits a season. Long also mentioned Juan Pierre when talking about Gardner, which seems a bit more realistic.

Spring Training Game Thread: Home and home

After winning a 2-1 game in Lakeland yesterday, the Yankees and Tigers travel to Tampa this afternoon to complete a home and home set. The game is on YES at 1 p.m., so enjoy baseball on TV for the second day in a row. This time you’ll get to see the A lineup. It’s going to be a treat to watch this season.

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Johnson, DH
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Nick Swisher, RF
9. Brett Gardner, LF

Pitching: Andy Pettitte

Joba’s future as a reliever

Though the Yankees made us wait through over a month of Spring Training before deciding on their fifth starter, it appears that the decision had been made before the players even arrived at camp. We had seen reports during most of February and March proclaiming Phil Hughes‘s advantage, and that he would have to bomb in order to lose the job. Many of us, I think, didn’t want to believe it at the time. Why go through a year of restricting Joba’s innings and not give him a chance to pitch without limits? Reports this morning suggest that we’ll never get to answer that question.

It starts with Joba’s role on the 2010 team. The Yankees have played lip service to the notion that Joba could open the season in AAA to keep his arm stretched out, but again that doesn’t appear to have ever been a real option. Chamberlain’s job is pretty much guaranteed, in that he’ll pitch out of the bullpen. Whether he locks down the primary setup role remains to be seen, though I’m sure he’ll get every chance to prove he can handle the high leverage situations. In terms of playing for this year, that kind of usage makes sense.

This morning we learned a bit more about the Yankees’ plans. Steve S at TYU points to an interview with pro scouting director Billy Eppler, who said that while Joba could be a starter, he’ll be a reliever not only now, but in the future as well. “Yeah — in the here and now, I don’t feel I don’t foresee any situation. I mean, obviously that’s for Brian and Joe, but but I don’t think they foresee a situation where he would go into the rotation. He is going to be a reliever.” When asked if we’ll see the situation arise again next year, Eppler said that he “wouldn’t consider that likely.”

As Marc Carig reports, pitching coach Dave Eiland backs up Eppler. While he wouldn’t explicitly commit to this being a permanent move, he pretty much said it. “He’s in the bullpen, and he’s there to stay, period,” said Eiland. He did make it clear that there will be no stretching out of Joba’s arm should the Yankees need another starter mid-season. It appears Sergio Mitre and Al Aceves will be starters Nos. 6 and 7. With Chad Gaudin gone, it appears the Yankees’ depth has thinned considerably in the last week.

In regards to Joba’s role, I just wish they had given him a lengthy shot to prove he can start. But while I’m disappointed that they didn’t, obviously they believe that they can get more out of him as a reliever. In terms of 2010 the Yanks will certainly benefit. Joba will be another piece in a solid looking bullpen that will save plenty of games for the starters. In terms of 2011 and beyond, it means the Yankees probably have to go overpay for another starter, something Brian Cashman said he wanted to avoid. The plan, I guess, is to worry about that when the situation arises.

Open Thread: Random stuff

That’s a video of Ichiro pitching in the 1996 All Star Game in Japan, which may be the coolest thing ever. He may just be a glorified singles hitter with the bat, but damn, is he fun to watch.

In other news, Andy in Sunny Daytona took a bunch of pictures from minor league camp the other day, which you can see here. Make sure you click “Show Info” in the top right corner so you know who you’re looking at. Now we have some good shots of Slade Heathcott in a Yankee uni. Neat.

And lastly, a couple of people have emailed in asking about this Jayson Werth report at MLBTR, which of course I wrote. I’m pretty sure at least a few of them realize that. Anyway, it turns out that Reggie Jackson has a longstanding relationship with the Werth family, which could be helpful if the Yanks decide to pursue the outfielder when he becomes a free agent after the season. We’ve talked about the possibility of the Yankees signing Werth before, but what does everyone think about this new development?

Other than that, use this sucker as your open thread. The Rangers, Devils, Isles, and Nets (going for win number ten, w00t!) are all in action, plus you’ve got college hoops. I’m in 85th place out of 149 teams in our Yahoo! pool. Sigh. Enjoy the thread and the night.

TMZ: World Series rings coming April 13th

Although many Yankee fans have assumed that the team would be getting their 2009 World Series rings at the team’s home opener on April 13, a recent report suggests otherwise it turns out they’re right. According to gossip site TMZ, the Yanks will be receiving their rings on April 13th at home against the Angels, the team they vanquished in the ALCS to reach the World Series. TMZ originally said they would receive their rings on the 14th, but they changed their story earlier today. The team, though, has yet to confirm this report.

A tier-y goodbye

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I sat in that section. More than I care to count.

Spring Training Game Thread: Surprise!

Well look at that, today’s game is on TV. It wasn’t originally scheduled to be, but apparently YES picked it up after all those rain outs in the past few weeks. Color me surprised, especially since it’s a road game. But then again Lakeland’s not really that long of a haul.

About the only exciting thing to look for in today’s game is Joba Chamberlain‘s one inning relief appearance following starter A.J. Burnett. Let’s see if he breathes fire and snorts and grunts and farts and all that other manly stuff great relievers are required to do. It’s all about looking scary, amirite?

I guess the other thing to watch for today are Marcus Thames‘ at-bats against lefty Nate Robertson. He picked up a knock off famed flamethrowing southpaw Jamie Moyer last night, which I guess we should consider progress. Anyway, here’s the lineup…

Gardner, LF
Johnson, 1B
Posada, C
Thames, DH
Granderson, CF
Winn, RF
Pena, SS
Russo, 2B
Laird, 3B

Scheduled Pitchers: A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain. Chan Ho Park, David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Al Aceves are also available.

Available off the bench: Abe Almonte, Neall French, Austin Krum, P.J. Pilittere, Justin Snyder, David Winfree, and Jon Weber.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and as I said, YES will have it live. Enjoy the game.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP