The season has begun … in the States. (BTW, thanks MLB for starting the season last week in Japan while we were sleeping.) The New York Yankees kick off on the road (seems like they always do; need to fill those ballparks) and play their first game of 2012 against the Tampa Bay Rays. As the Bombers begin their run for title number 28, here are six Yankees to watch in the first half of the season:
- Derek Jeter. Reports of the Captain’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Jeter began 2011 quite literally limping to hit number 3,000 thanks to a calf injury. His slow start sparked rampant speculation he was nearing the September of his career. After returning from the DL and hitting a home run to reach the hits milestone, Jeter’s second half was, well Jeterian. Jeter had a solid spring, so I look for him to get off to a hot start this season even if he has a tendency to hit into more than his fair share of double plays … and, of course, he still can’t field to his left.
- Andy Pettitte. He’s baack! Pettitte, who retired before last season, will begin this season in the minors getting ready to take someone’s spot in the rotation when his arm is deemed major league ready. While I’m hoping it won’t come at the expense of one of the young pitchers being robbed of their much-needed development, count me in as someone who is excited to see the lefty take the mound again at the Stadium. Barring injury, I expect him to be the Andy of old.
- David Robertson. Robertson was chosen for the All-Star team last year and much deservedly so. The reliever notched 100 strike outs in 66 innings pitched with a 1.08 ERA and was a solid bridge to Mariano Rivera, owning the eighth inning. He has the stomach to pitch out of jams (both those he inherits and those of his own making). Robertson should continue to perform well even though he may not be as dominant as last year. Fans may also again hear his name mentioned as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.
- Mark Teixeira. Teixeira arrived at spring training leaner, having dropped 15 pounds, and determined to improve on last year. Teixeira was not happy with his .248 batting average even if he did slug 35 home runs. The switch-hitting first baseman is trying to hit the ball to all fields and not be a victim of the extreme shift that opposing teams use against him. Teixeira says he will not be opposed to laying down a few bunts to counteract that shift. I would love to see him do that, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Tex will likely have another slow start to the season.
- Ivan Nova. Nova was a real savior in his rookie season for the rotation last year when he came back from the minors in the second half. He was a key component to the Yankees winning 97 games. But Nova has not had a good spring. He pitched to an ERA over 6.00 and got knocked around by the hapless Mets in his last spring tune up. Even though spring training numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, I expect a sophomore slump for the young righty.
- Phil Hughes. Hughes spent much of last year on the DL, and when he did return to the mound late in the season, everyone was monitoring his fastball velocity. That velocity is back where it should be (93-94 mph), and the righty came to spring training in tip-top physical condition. This will be a bounce-back year for Franchise Phil as I look for him to finally solidify his place in the Yankees rotation.