A member of the grounds crew blows ice chunks off the field before a baseball game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Tuesday, April 5, 2016 in New York. The opener between the Astros and Yankees was postponed Monday because of rain and cold. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
I’m here at Yankee Stadium for opening day against the Astros. Joe Girardi recently wrapped his pregame press conference and here are some highlights.
NEW YORK — Bryan Mitchell figured to be one of the Yankees’ breakout stars in 2016. The 24-year-old right-hander was the team’s best pitcher in spring training, going 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 15 2/3 innings. Mitchell seemed to fit the role previously held by Adam Warren, who was traded to the Cubs for second baseman Starlin Castro this offseason.
Mitchell, however, will be out for at least four months as manager Joe Girardi confirmed in Tuesday’s pregame press conference. Miller broke his left big toe at the end of spring training and underwent surgery on Monday.
“He had surgery yesterday,” Girardi said. “He will be out at least four months. We’re waiting for an exact timetable when Stevie (Donohue) gets to talk to the doctor. We have to find out exactly what that four months means. Can he begin throwing or should he be back?”
Rookie righty Luis Cessa, acquired from Detroit in an offseason trade for reliever Justin Wilson, and Ivan Nova could be contenders for that spot start-long man role out of the Yankees’ bullpen.
“Cessa is a guy who you possibly look at to do that but we have to make sure, in a sense, that he stays built up, as well as Nova. How many one inning stints does he get compared to longer stints? That’s something that, in a sense, the games will determine, but he’s a guy who could probably do it too.”
SUNNY BUT FREEZING
With Monday’s game postponed by snow and rain in New York, Mother Nature was a bit more kind with plenty of sun in the forecast for Tuesday’s rescheduled opener. Tuesday’s projected high temperature is 39 degrees, with winds around 15 MPH that will make it feel like it’s in the 20s.
“The difficulty is dealing with the baseball and having a good grip on the baseball,” Girardi said. “The other things are, your hands are cold and you hit one off the end and it really stings or if it’s a foul ball and you get jammed, you have to get back in there. Just staying warm. Your mind drifts a little bit and at times you’re trying to block out the cold.”
The Yankees have a heated bat rack, which will help the hitters as they step up to the plate. Pitchers in the bullpen can stay warm in the enclosed portion and position players can sneak back into the clubhouse area between innings to stave off the chill.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TANAKA?
Masahiro Tanaka has been a solid pitcher for the Yankees in his first two seasons in the major leagues. He’s 25-12 with a 3.16 ERA but has dealt with some injury scares to his right elbow that have limited him to 44 starts.
Will Tanaka continue to develop into the ace that the Yankees hoped they had signed to a $22 million-per-year contract after the 2013 season?
“You expect to see a guy who’s going to pitch with top-of-the-rotation type of stuff who gives you 30 to 32 starts,” Girardi said. “Obviously, we have to see how he’s doing, as well as all of our pitchers as we go through the season. He pitched a lot of good games last year and that’s what we expect.”
Tanaka relies heavily on his splitter, sinker and slider and also mixes in a fastball, curveball and cutter. His average fastball has been consistent between his two major league seasons, clocking in at 92.75 miles per hour.
“The only thing that I see different is that maybe you don’t see the top end of the velocity, the 96s,” Girardi said. “The average velocity is basically the same. It remains to be seen if we see that this year. I think he topped out at 94-95 last year but we didn’t see the 96.”
HICKS GETS OPENING DAY START
Outfielder Aaron Hicks was one of the Twins’ top prospects for many years but was traded to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy this winter.
Hicks, a switch-hitter, gives the Yankees some backup for Carlos Beltran in right field and could steal some at-bats from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury against tough left-handed pitchers. Hicks gets the start on Tuesday with Gardner on the bench.
“He provides power and speed and has had a lot of success off left-handers in his career,” Girardi said. “He’s a switch-hitter. He’s a guy that runs really well so there are different things he can do.”
Hicks is a .272 hitter against lefties in 228 career at-bats. He has hit .206 against right-handers in 591 at-bats.
MATSUI RETURNS TO THROW OUT FIRST PITCH
Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, will throw out Tuesday’s first pitch. Matsui hit 140 home runs and was a .292 hitter in seven seasons in New York. He finished his MLB career with one-year stints with the Angels, A’s and Rays, respectively.
“As a teammate, as a manager and as a fan, you talk about what you want out of a player and he was it,” Girardi said. “He was tough and he worked extremely hard. He was a leader on the field by the way he played and he was a leader in the clubhouse because of who he was and how he went about his business. He was well-loved in the clubhouse. People wanted to be around him.”
The West Point Cadet Color Guard will present the flag before the national anthem.
EXCITEMENT, OPTIMISM FROM THE SKIPPER
The Yankees get a 2015 Wild Card game rematch in the season opener, facing reigning American League Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros.
The American League East figures to be competitive as ever this year, with Boston having improved its rotation and Toronto featuring a power-packed lineup. Still, Girardi is hopeful that the Yankees have done everything they could to get ready for another season.
“I’m excited about this club, about the work they put in and the additions that we’ve made,” he said. “I’ve said all along that I feel we’re better on paper although that doesn’t really mean much until you go out and play the games but because of that, I’m excited.”