March 2011

Can Mark Prior be This Season’s Comeback Kid?

 

I love a good comeback story.

Some of the best stories in sports are the stories of comebacks. Most people are familiar with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, who was a highly touted prospect but fell victim to temptation and drugs. He worked as hard as he could and made it back to become one of MLB’s best players.

If you are a football fan, David Tyree’s name comes to mind. He was arrested and lost everything, becoming another athlete with a drug addiction. Yet he exorcised his demons and eventually had the huge “helmet catch” to help propel the New York Giants to a 17-14 Super Bowl victory in 2008 over the undefeated New England Patriots.

The so-called “rise up from the ashes” tale is one everyone enjoys – not just sports fans.

At 30, life in baseball has seemingly not yet begun for Mark Prior. Stemming back to his debut in 2002 with the Chicago Cubs, he has a history of injuries and he has never really been able to recover from them. You name it, Prior has been through it.

Hamstring injuries, Achilles injuries, shoulder surgery, elbow strains, a tweaked oblique, tendinitis – he has not had an easy career considering all these problems.

Mark Prior has not had an easy career

Although he has been hurt most of his career, he still holds a lifetime record of 42-29 with an ERA of 3.51, and he has fanned 757 lifetime batters. He was the second overall pick (in the first round) by the Cubs in the 2001 draft and he even made the National League All-Star team in 2003. That being said, he has the makings of a very good pitcher.  

Now, if he can only find a way to translate it to his career without getting hurt.

Since leaving the Cubs after 2007, Prior has bounced around baseball. He tried to make it with the San Diego Padres, but never pitched a Major League game for them. He was released by the Padres in August of 2009 and in June of 2010 he went back to USC, where he had previously attended College.

He worked out for a Major League scout, but was deemed “just all right.”

Prior has bounced around baseball because of his injuries

In September of last year Prior agreed to a deal with an independent team – the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. Exactly a month after he had agreed to play for the Flyers, he signed a Minor League contract to pitch for the Texas Rangers. He made it clear that he wanted to pitch for a Major League club and hoped to catch on with the Rangers in a middle or long relief role.

Obviously he didn’t get a roster spot on the Rangers, but that didn’t mean he was giving up.

This past off-season the Yankees signed Prior to a Minor League deal. He has only pitched one inning this spring- a perfect frame against the Detroit Tigers on Monday March 1. He has also been working out with the team consistently and hopes to accomplish what he didn’t with Texas – receive a spot in the bullpen as a middle or long reliever.

The Yankees signed Prior this off-season

In a recent interview with the YES Network, Prior described his arm strength as “good” and stated that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy. One of his goals this spring is to show everyone what he is made of.

“I want to show everybody that I can stay healthy and I can still pitch,” he told YES. “I know how to pitch. My stuff may not be what it used to be, but it’s still good enough to get guys out at this level.”

Prior added that he wants to get comfortable pitching in games.

At the trade deadline last season, the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood, who was Prior’s teammate for five years on the Cubs. At one time the two were considered a “dynamic duo,” if you will, being the Cubs’ top tier starting pitchers. Like Prior, Wood sustained a number of injuries and analysts and fans questioned his ability to return from them and effectively pitch.

At one time, Prior and Kerry Wood were the tops around the NL

Wood proved to everyone that he can indeed still pitch, as he went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA down the stretch for the Yankees. He was also instrumental in fortifying the Yankee bullpen, acting as the bridge to Mariano Rivera for the second half of 2010.

Prior was happy to see his former teammate succeed in pinstripes.

“I know Woody had a great time here, he really enjoyed himself here, and I think it revitalized him to continue on and keep playing,” he said.

“He pitched outstanding the last two months of the season for the Yankees and hopefully I can do just as good a job as he did.”

Everyone loves a comeback story. And this year Prior might be the guy the fans look at and say, “He’s the guy who rose above; the guy no one believed in, but he proved us wrong.”

The fans should be rooting for him. I am.

Yanks’ Rooks Stage Comeback vs. Houston, Burnett Strong

 

Yanks win a sloppy one, 6-5

You know it’s Spring Training when you witness what happened in the ninth inning of today’s Yankees vs. Houston Astros exhibition game. Down 5-1 in the ninth, the Yankees capitalized on some sloppy defense by the Astros and won 6-5 on the strength of a walk-off bases-loaded walk drawn by Russell Martin.

Martin scored earlier in the frame on a throwing error by Jiovanni Mier, cutting the lead to 5-2. Then Astros’ pitcher Douglas Arguello, who labored in the ninth, tossed a wild pitch allowing Daniel Brewer to score.

Melky Mesa came up and singled to plate Austin Romine and Jordan Parraz to tie the game at five. In the bottom of the second the Yankees scraped their first run across the plate on a RBI groundout to third by Andruw Jones, which scored Alex Rodriguez.

But the game was secondary. There were bigger pictures to look at coming into today:   

 

A.J. Burnett

A.J. Burnett pitched well in his spring debut

Obviously he was the biggest storyline coming into his first start of the spring today. A.J. Burnett had the worst statistical season a Yankee starter has ever had, going 10-15 with an ERA of 5.26 in 2010. In an interview before the game, Burnett said “he can never have another season like he did last year” and “he could throw fastball after fastball to every hitter this year and still do better.”

On Sunday it was documented that Burnett beaned Greg Golson in the head throwing batting practice. Faith may have waivered in Burnett after learning of his HBP to Golson on Sunday, but he quickly renewed his credibility with a good outing today.

Burnett pitched two innings and threw 21 pitches (15 for strikes) while only allowing two hits. He induced five groundball outs and recorded one strikeout. He did not issue a walk.

It was only Burnett’s first appearance of the spring, but there’s no doubt that he looks like a different pitcher. As Ken Singleton described on Saturday, his delivery has been “re-visited.”

Singleton was correct.

Today Burnett’s motion was smooth and he pitched the ball; he didn’t fling it. He didn’t turn his back to the batter as he normally does in his usual delivery. It was smooth and side-to-side, almost like Mariano Rivera’s delivery. He kept his front leg toward home plate and wasn’t swinging it around toward second base in the wind-up.

If today was any indication about the type of season Burnett might have, he just might be able to pull off a turnaround year. Burnett added that he wants to “close people’s mouths” about his ability to win games.

Maybe he can. We’ll have to wait and see.

 

Derek Jeter


Derek Jeter is adjusting his strideThe Captain only has two hits this spring and has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately. Analysts have been talking about Derek Jeter’s adjustment in his stride. So far he hasn’t shown much of that adjustment and has been frequently grounding out. He did have a hit today, although he grounded out to short and flied out to center.

Jeter himself has stated that his swing and batting stance aren’t going to change. He is simply eliminating the stride with his front leg. Today it looked like he used a bit of a toe-tap, something Bernie Williams used and perfected over the course of his career.

Joe Girardi said that eventually Jeter will get it right and make the adjustment completely. In the manager’s words, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

When it comes to Jeter there is very little to worry about. The Captain will come around. He is 2-for-9 at the plate to this point in the spring.

 


Yankee notes! 

Notes & Things to Look Out For

·         The Astros started a kid named Bud Norris (if that isn’t a name meant for someone in Texas, I don’t know what is. Notice the Walker, Texas Ranger reference. Norris!) It was revealed that his actual first name is David, but he got the nickname Bud because he was at a restaurant when he was a kid and his parents ordered Budweiser. He said he wanted a Bud (even though he was too young) and from there they called him Bud.

 

·         Relieving A.J. Burnett today was Sergio Mitre. His line: One inning pitched, no runs, one hit, no walks, one K. He is working hard, I’ll give him that.

 

·         After Mitre was Joba Chamberlain. He pitched an inning and only gave up a hit while not allowing a run. No walks and no strikeouts for him, but he looks pretty good this far. Like Burnett he still has to prove himself, though.

 

·         Russell Martin didn’t even have to record a base hit to be called a winner. In his first game of the spring he had two at-bats, no hits, the game-winning walk, an RBI, and he left two men on base. He didn’t catch behind the plate, as he is still nursing his surgically repaired knee, but he will be back behind the plate eventually.

 

·         Mark Teixeira went 1-for-2 with a walk and a double. After he came out of the game he went to the batting cages and got some extra work in. And that’s Tex for you: always looking for improvement and working hard. He is in mid-season form, batting .571 through the first five Spring Training games.

 

·         Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner did not start today.

 

·         Michael Kay compared centerfielder Justin Maxwell to Alex Rodriguez during the broadcast. Looking at Maxwell’s mannerisms at the plate and his batting stance, I understand where Kay was coming from. He did look like a miniature version of A-Rod. Maxwell drew a walk and recorded a base hit, but he did make the first out of the fifth inning at third base, trying to reach third from first on Jeter’s single. Rookie mistake: never make the first or third out of an inning at third base. I learned that in Little League.


Maxwell's swing is like A-Rod's 

·         Francisco Cervelli fouled a ball off his left foot during an at-bat today in the second inning. He was noticeably hurt, limping before getting back into the batter’s box. He is likely to miss a couple of days and will probably undergo x-rays.

 

·         Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-2 with a walk, a double, and a run scored. He is batting .429 so far this spring.

 

·         2010 Pitcher of the Year David Phelps gave up four runs in the seventh inning after tossing a perfect top of the sixth. All four of the runs he surrendered were unearned.

 

·         Hector Noesi (two innings pitched, no runs, one hit, no walks, and two strikeouts) registered the win. As noted, Arguello struggled mightily in the ninth (threw 37 pitches and was charged with five runs ) and as a result took the loss.   

 

·         The Yankees will play the Tampa Bay Rays in an exhibition tomorrow and then will come back to Steinbrenner Field Friday night to host the Boston Red Sox–which is the next televised game on the YES Network. Bartolo Colon will start Friday vs. Boston’s Clay Buchholz.   

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