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Jacoby Ellsbury's calf problem not serious

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Yankees' Jacoby Ellsbury strikes out during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury skipped Thursday's road trip to JetBlue Park, the spring training home of his former team. But Ellsbury, a frequent visitor to the disabled list with the Red Sox, still wound up in a familiar place that afternoon when the Yankees sent him to an MRI tube for a precautionary test on his ailing right calf.

After the relentless stream of injuries last season, the Yankees have been conditioned to fear the worst from the mere mention of an MRI. This time, however, Joe Girardi was relieved to announce before Thursday night's game that Ellsbury's test came back negative. "This is good news," Girardi said.

Ellsbury's leg may be structurally sound, but the worrisome part is how an injury that initially was described as minor "tightness'' in his right calf wound up resulting in an MRI visit five days later. Clearly, Ellsbury is not healing as quickly as the Yankees expected -- or the calf issue was more serious than previously thought.

Girardi said he is hopeful that Ellsbury will be able to take batting practice Friday, with a possible weekend return. But with Monday's break in the schedule, it seems more likely that the Yankees will wait until Tuesday, when the Phillies visit Steinbrenner Field.

"We want to make sure he's 100 percent before we send him out there,'' Girardi said. "I think he feels it a little bit -- that's why we're just being cautious. We want to make sure he's healthy.''

Given Ellsbury's medical history, that could be difficult to pin down. In two of the past four seasons, he was limited to 18 games and 74 games because of injured ribs and a dislocated shoulder, respectively.

Those were the result of collisions -- much more serious incidents than what he is dealing with now.

The problem with Ellsbury's calf injury is the timing. After this weekend, the Yankees will have only five Grapefruit League games left before the April 1 opener, and Girardi would like to get a few looks at his regular lineup in the last remaining days leading up to Houston.

"I think if he gets three or four games in, he'll be fine,'' Girardi said, adding that Ellsbury could stack up at-bats in minor-league games if necessary.

Ellsbury wasn't available in the clubhouse after his MRI, but he has said getting ready for the season won't be a concern. Through Thursday, he was batting .174 (4-for-23) with two doubles and a home run in nine games. "I'm very confident he'll be ready April 1," Girardi said.

Ryan "in jeopardy" for opener. Brendan Ryan, who last played March 4 because of lower-back stiffness, was scratched from Thursday night's lineup with upper-back spasms and could begin the season on the disabled list because of time lost to injury. Ryan has only eight at-bats to this point and is not expected to play this weekend, raising the possibility he could miss Opening Day. "It's in jeopardy," Girardi said after the Yankees' 3-2 win over the Red Sox. Ryan felt his back tighten up Thursday on a throw during pregame infield practice, and if he's unable to start the season, that will force the Yankees to choose between Eduardo Nuñez, Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte as Derek Jeter's primary backup.

Masahiro Tanaka will start Saturday against the Twins in Fort Myers, but Girardi refused to reveal when Tanaka will make his regular-season debut. "We're just not ready to share it yet," he said. "I want to make sure that everything goes according to plan, that everyone feels good before we decide to do it." Recent comments by pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggest that Tanaka will start April 4 in Toronto.

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Various Spring Training Photos

Nik Turley
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Preston Claiborne
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Rob Thomson, Third Base Coach.
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Scott Sizemore, Infielder
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Shawn Kelley

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Ichiro Suzuki's role in flux for Yankees and packed outfield

The future Hall of Famer was in the lineup Thursday night against the Red Sox and was 1-for-4 with two RBI in the leadoff spot as the Yanks won, 3-2. But it remains to be seen what type of role Ichiro will have.

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Ichiro Suzuki could find himself the odd man out in a crowded Yankees outfield.

FORT MYERS, Fla. - With the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury’s lingering calf issue, things have pretty much gone as well as the Yankees could have hoped during the past five weeks.

Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have been healthy, Masahiro Tanaka seems to be making a smooth transition to the big leagues and the players fighting for jobs are playing well, giving Joe Girardi plenty to think about.

“Don’t jinx anything, man,” Jeter said when asked about the state of the team less than two weeks from Opening Day. “We’re working our way there and headed in that direction.”

With 10 days left until the Bombers break camp, Girardi still has some big decisions to make.

The fifth starter job remains open, as do four spots in the bullpen. The position players appear to be set, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things for Girardi to figure out.

Take Ichiro Suzuki, for example.

The future Hall of Famer was in the lineup Thursday night against the Red Sox and was 1-for-4 with two RBI in the leadoff spot as the Yanks won, 3-2. But it remains to be seen what type of role Ichiro will have during the season, assuming he has one at all.

“When the offseason started he was an everyday outfielder, and then some things changed,” Girardi said. “We signed some outfielders and his role has possibly changed now. But you have to prepare guys as if they’re going to play every day because you don’t ever know what’s going to happen. And we’ve done that.”

With Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran inked in as the regular outfielders and Alfonso Soriano tabbed as the primary designated hitter, there isn’t much room for Ichiro to find at-bats.

If Ellsbury’s injury carries into the season, Ichiro would help make up for his loss. But the Yankees insist Ellsbury will be fine, turning the 40-year-old Ichiro into a $6.5 million fifth outfielder who may occasionally spell the 38-year-old Soriano and 36-year-old Beltran.

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Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda also finds himself with an undefined role with the Bombers.

“I have some couple of outfielders who have a little age in them, and you kind of look at that, see how the guys are doing,” Girardi said. “You look at some matchups and if you think a guy needs a day off, you might do that. Maybe if a guy’s a little nicked up you give him a couple of days off. There is no exact plan on how I’m going to do it. It’s just managing a season and how guys are doing.”

Michael Pineda looks to have the inside track on the No. 5 starter job, though David Phelps continued his own impressive spring with six innings of two-run ball against Boston, which played most of its regular lineup.

“I’m not going to try to handicap it,” Phelps said. “I’m happy with the way I’m throwing. Hopefully they are, too. We’ll see what happens.”

Should Pineda get the spot, it would relegate both Phelps and Adam Warren to the bullpen, filling five spots along with Dave Robertson, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton.

That would leave two spots open for Dellin Betances, Preston Claiborne, Cesar Cabral, Vidal Nuno, Fred Lewis, Matt Daley, Danny Burawa or Chris Leroux, all of whom have done their part to make a case.

“I think ironing out your pitching staff is a big one, because that’s half of your team,” Girardi said. “What happens to your rotation, and then what happens to your bullpen is a big thing.

“We’re starting to formulate it. Obviously it will be much clearer for us when we decide who our fifth starter is. I don't know if we'll decide it by the end of the weekend, or if we'll wait a little bit longer."

Robertson is locked in as the closer, while the Yankees hope Kelley can step up into the eighth-inning role. Thornton will be the primary lefty out of the bullpen, but the rest of the roles are up for grabs and look to be a fluid situation heading into the season.

“I think that’s something that’s going to have to work its way out a little bit,” Girardi said. “Will it be as clear-cut as last year? Probably not. Not in the beginning. Part of the problem right now is I don’t have all the pieces in the bullpen yet in mind to be able to do that.”

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Various Spring Training Photos

Tony Pena, Bench Coach.

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Zoilo Almonte, Outfielder.

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And taking this year off for personal reasons, Alex Rodriguez.

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I have a picture of Yankee catcher Pete O'Brien. It's in .jpg format just like these other ones that I have posted in here and I keep getting a message that "this format is not allowed in here." Very odd.

Let me see if I can do this as an attachment.

Pete O'Brien, Catcher

EDIT: What the hell, this one worked. If anyone wants this photo just click on it and you will see it full sized as it was meant to be.

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Weight of following Mariano closing in on Robertson

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David Robertson heads out of the dugout and onto George Steinbrenner Field earlier this spring.

TAMPA — David Robertson is barely more than a week away from officially taking over for one of the most iconic players of all time.

He just doesn’t think it actually has happened yet.

“Do I feel like the closer? No,” said Robertson, who is inheriting the role of Yankees closer from Mariano Rivera. “I feel like I’m just another part of the team, kind of like I always have.”

That’s all well and good, but even Robertson knows it’s not true.

“I absolutely know how big a deal this is,” Robertson said before he threw a perfect ninth inning in the Yankees’ 4-0 victory over the Pirates Friday night at Steinbrenner Field. “I’m up to the challenge, that’s for sure.”

Once the team gets to Houston for Opening Day, Robertson believes reality will set in.

“I don’t think I’ll really feel like I’m the closer until then,” Robertson said. “It won’t happen until the games get started.”

Really, though, it has been clear Robertson would be Rivera’s successor since the Yankees didn’t add a closer during their free agency spending spree this past offseason. That eliminated the possibility of a competition in camp.

Manager Joe Girardi said he’s fine with Robertson at the end of the bullpen.

“I’m very comfortable,” Girardi said. “We said all along with the people that we had, it was basically his job. Sometimes through free agency, people are added and then it changes the dynamic. You never commit to someone completely until the offseason’s over. He’s our closer.”

Regardless of the confidence both Girardi and Robertson have that he’ll fit into the role, Robertson enters the season with only eight career saves.

“I plan on doing the same things I did when I threw in the eighth inning,” Robertson said. “Just a little later in the game.”

Robertson didn’t get to spend much time with Rivera during the team’s recent trip to Panama, since as Robertson said: “He had more important people to talk to.”

Rivera did have some words of wisdom for his successor, according to Robertson: “Stay healthy.”

That’s one key, but that’s far from the only thing Robertson has to do to prove he’s capable of doing the job after having mixed results when called upon to fill in for Rivera at various times throughout his career.

Don’t expect Robertson to change how he approaches the game.

“I can’t pitch with an angry mentality,” he said. “I try to stay controlled and keep everything calm.”

No matter how simple he keeps things, Robertson will have to deal with a brighter spotlight than in the past.

“Hopefully nothing changes,” Robertson said. “That would be good. It’s nice to be able to go places and not be noticed.”

Those days are likely over.

One of the things that will stay the same, Robertson insisted, is his music.

He has been trotting into games to “Sweet Home, Alabama” as the setup guy, which is about as different from Rivera’s “Enter Sandman” as one can get.

“I’m sure they’ll want me to change, but I don’t really need to get fired up before I pitch,” said Robertson, who has bigger things to worry about.

“First, let me get some saves before I start thinking about anything else.”

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The "don't let the door hit you on the way out club."

Curtis Granderson

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Joba Chamberlain
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Phil Hughes
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Robinson Cano
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Joe Girardi not ready to say if Francisco Cervelli is Yankees' backup catcher Also, Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) remains on track to return Tuesday, but that could come in a minor-league game, Girardi said.

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Francisco Cervelli (r.) is greeted by Zoilo Almonte after scoring on a two-run RBI double in the fourth.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Francisco Cervelli made the two-hour trip to Fort Myers on Saturday to catch Masahiro Tanaka, and will catch Ivan Nova in a minor-league game on Monday’s off day. Are those signs that Cervelli has the backup catcher job locked up, and is preparing to work with the Yankees’ pitchers?

Girardi was highly complimentary of Cervelli, batting .455 this spring, but was not ready Saturday to announce a decision. “We’re continuing to evaluate,” the manager said. “He has had a great spring. He probably has the most experience of any of these guys. He looks really, really good.”

FURTHER REVIEW

Girardi won a replay challenge in the third inning, after second base umpire Marvin Hudson called Aaron Hicks safe on a steal. Two umpires donned headsets, and overturned the call; the replay process, which did not officially include the time Girardi was on the field, waiting to hear from his clubhouse whether the call was worth challenging, was announced at 44 seconds. Girardi said it was nice to know that a manager finally had a chance to win an argument. “It feels pretty good, actually,” he said. “I actually think it’s going to work good. I do. There will be glitches every once in a while, and some things might take a little bit longer than they want, but I actually think it’s going to look good.”

CALF THE BATTLE

Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) remains on track to return Tuesday, but that could come in a minor-league game, Girardi said. Ellsbury has not played since March 14. He took batting practice and participated in other baseball activities Saturday. ... Girardi said he will likely announce his fifth starter Tuesday. Michael Pineda, the leading candidate, starts on Sunday. ... The Yanks beat the Twins, 5-4.

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Jacoby Ellsbury set to play for Yankees Tuesday Keeping Ellsbury out of Grapefruit League action will allow the Yankees to backdate a disabled list stint if the outfielder experiences a setback.
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Jacoby Ellsbury is still downplaying his calf issue.

TAMPA ­— Jacoby Ellsbury did running exercises and took batting practice on Sunday and said that the right calf that has kept him out of games since March 14 “feels good.”

Joe Girardi said that Ellsbury will play in a minor league game on Tuesday.

Keeping Ellsbury out of Grapefruit League action will allow the Yankees to backdate a disabled list stint if the outfielder experiences a setback.

Ellsbury continued to downplay the issue.

“I told you from the start, I thought I could play” Ellsbury said. “But it’s one of those things, we have the luxury of spring training and getting100%. That’s pretty much — at this point you don’t want to feelanything in the calf. I play center field, I run the bases, I used my legs.

“So why not be 100 %?”

BETANCES’ BIG DAY

The Yankees lost to Toronto, 3-1, but Girardi was impressed by reliever Dellin Betances, who entered in the seventh with the bases loaded and one out, and struck out Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Betances is trying to make the bullpen, and has enjoyed a strong spring.

NOVA TIME

The Yankees have an off day on Monday, but Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor-league game at 11 a.m., with Francisco Cervelli catching.

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Masahiro Tanaka set to make Yankees debut April 4
Joe Girardi also said he had decided on a backup catcher, but was not ready to say who it will be. Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez were all competing for the job.

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Masahiro Tanaka will pitch for the first time in the Majors on April 4.

TAMPA — Joe Girardi did not exactly announce his rotation on Monday, but the Yankees manager left virtually no room for confusion that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova will pitch in the opening series in Houston, and Masahiro Tanaka will make his MLB debut on April 4 in Toronto.

Girardi said that Sabathia will pitch this Thursday, Kuroda Friday and Nova Saturday (possibly in another minor league game). Asked if it was safe to read into that the order of his April rotation, the manager grinned and said, “You can read, yeah.”

As for the fifth spot in the rotation, all signs point to Michael Pineda winning the job. Girardi said he and his staff had made a decision, but needed to talk to all parties first (David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are also competing for the final spot, and at least two of those pitchers will likely land in the bullpen). An announcement will likely come on Tuesday.

BACKUP PLAN

Girardi also said he had decided on a backup catcher, but was not ready to say who it will be. “That’s another thing that we may wait to announce, but it’s something that we’re pretty sure what we’re going to do,” he said.

Francisco Cervelli appears positioned to win the job over Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy.

CALF THE BATTLE

Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) remains on track to play in a minor league game on Tuesday. The outfielder has not appeared in a game since March 14. ... Chris Leroux will start for the Yankees in Wednesday’s Grapefruit League game. ... Brendan Ryan (back) has improved, according to Girardi, but there is no indication yet when he will return. Ryan is expected to begin the season on the DL.

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Yankees name Michael Pineda fifth starter

Joe Girardi made the announcement on Tuesday, giving the fifth spot in the rotation to the former All-Star over David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

pinedaweb26s-1-web.jpgOver 15 spring innings, Michael Pineda gives up two earned runs and strikes out 16.

TAMPA — Michael Pineda has taken the fifth.

Joe Girardi tabbed the former All-Star as the Yankees’ No. 5 starter, giving Pineda a chance to make the Bombers the big winners of the much-maligned 2012 trade that sent Jesus Montero to the Mariners. Pineda had an outstanding spring, beating out David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno for the right to round out the starting rotation behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka. “He threw extremely well,” Girardi said. “It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved with each outing, and at times was dominant. We really liked what we saw.”

In four outings, Pineda allowed two earned runs over 15 innings, a 1.20 ERA. He gave up 14 hits and walked only one batter, striking out 16 as he flashed the form that prompted the Yankees to give up their top prospect for him in January of 2012.

Upon hearing the news, Pineda called his mother back home in the Dominican Republic, then reached out to several other friends and family members. “Everybody is excited because they know I’ve been working hard for the last two years and I want to go back to the majors,” Pineda said. “Today is a big day for me.”

Phelps and Warren are near-locks to open the season in the bullpen, while Nuno might find himself as part of that relief corps or as a starter at Triple-A.

Phelps admitted his disappointment, but he plans to adapt to whatever role the Yankees have in store for him. “My preference is just to help the team win,” Phelps said. “Whatever role they need me, I’m willing to do. Like I’ve been saying from Day 1, it’s a matter of going and getting outs and helping this team win another championship.”

Pineda’s two years in pinstripes have been a disaster to this point, as he struggled during his first spring before blowing out his right shoulder. He returned from surgery to throw 40.2 innings in the minors last season, but it wasn’t until this spring that he looked like the pitcher that had burst on to the scene during the first half of 2011 with Seattle. “He has worked very hard the last two years,” Girardi said. “He’s excited about it but understands he has a job to do.”

Pineda’s problems extended off the field. His work ethic was called into question after he arrived out of shape two springs ago, then he was arrested for driving under the influence in Tampa in August of 2012 while rehabbing from his surgery.

Pineda said he’s learned a lot from “situations that happen with me in the last two years,” and while he never cited the DUI bust specifically, it was clear he was not talking only about his arm trouble. “I learn because I’m a professional player, I need to focus on baseball every day,” Pineda said. “Here, in the Dominican, all the time in the offseason, whatever. I have to continue my work every day and be ready all the time.

“I’m a young guy, but I’ve grown a lot. I’m a better person right now.”

Pineda has thrown his fastball as high as 95 mph. Although he hasn’t reached the 97-98 he did during his rookie season, the 25-year-old seems confident that his shoulder issues are behind him.

“When I’m on the mound I’m not thinking about my shoulder; I feel ready to go,” Pineda said. “The only thing I think about on the mound is making a good pitch and getting an out. I’m not thinking nothing about my shoulder. I’m putting everything in the past. I want to continue my career and I want to be here for a long time.”

Girardi said he knew early in camp that Pineda had a chance to win the job. “Watching him throw his bullpens, I kept saying the ball was coming out easy,” Girardi said. “He looked really good. I’m not surprised the way he’s pitched from what I saw five or six weeks ago.”

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