Sunday, May 13, 2007

Looks like Clemens is on

The Yankees just announced that Roger Clemens is tentatively slated to make his first minor league tune-up start on Friday for High-A Tampa against Fort Myers. While nothing has been announced beyond that, one only needs to look at the schedules for Tampa, the Thunder, and Triple-A Scranton to see when and where he would be slated to pitch next: Wednesday, May 23 at Waterfront Park against the Portland Sea Dogs.

Get your tickets now.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Paying the piper

The Eastern League, in its typically clandestine and media-un friendly way, lowered the boom on the Rock Cats and Thunder yesterday for their bench-clearing brawl last Sunday at New Britain Stadium:

Rock Cats reliever J.P. Martinez, who threw high and inside to Thunder backup catcher Jason Brown to begin the ninth inning, was suspended three games and fined $300. So was Brown, who promptly charged the mound after the buzzing.

Thunder reliever Edwar Ramirez and New Britain infielder Luke Hughes also got three-game suspensions and $300 fines. Sunday's incident began at the end of the 8th inning, when Hughes struck out swinging at a Ramirez changeup. Hughes complained about Ramirez throwing him changeups, and the two got into it, albeit without punches being thrown.

Also given the same penalties were infielders Aarom Baldiris (Thunder) and Brock Peterson (Rock Cats). Every player who got involved, which basically means every player except those who were in the stands charting pitches, were fined $100.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

More on Clemens

The first part of Roger Clemens' tune-up schedule is reportedly set. He'll report to the Yankees' minor league complex on Monday and throw in the bullpen on Tuesday.

The Yankees aren't committing to anything more than that at this point. If they decide he is ready to pitch in an actual game after that bullpen session, the rest of his schedule could unfold like this (and please remember that this is just an educated guess):

May 17, 18, or 19: Start for High-A Tampa at Legends Field
May 22, 23, or 24: Start for the Double-A Thunder at Waterfront Park vs. Portland (the game on the 24th is at 11:05 a.m., so don't count on that one)
May 27, 28, or 29: Start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at PNC Field
June 1, 2, or 3: Return to the major leagues at Fenway Park (as if the Yankees just being in town wasn't enough to get Red Sox nation riled up)

So it looks like it will come down to that bullpen session on Tuesday. If he's ready to go in a game after that, the Thunder can start to make their plans for a Rocket Landing.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Rocket Re-launch

The Yankees just announced that they have brought back Roger Clemens. And they made the announcement in style too: during the seventh inning stretch, they posted the announcement on the jumbotron in center field and Clemens addressed the crowd.

Like he did during his re-launch with the Astros last year, Clemens will make several tune-up starts in the minors (possibly including with the Thunder, but obviously no word yet). Clemens said on YES that he'd like to make his first major league start by the beginning of June.

Two thoughts on this:

1. How the heck were the Yankees able to keep this a secret from the press? There are a lot of damn good, well-connected reporters on that beat, and while many predicted this would happen, no one had reported it as fact.

2. Clemens will no doubt help the Yankees rotation a great deal, and he can be a good mentor for Hughes and their other young guys. But don't expect Clemens to put up the gaudy ERA numbers he had with the Astros the last couple of seasons. The American League, in particular the AL East, is far tougher to pitch against than the National League.

UPDATE: GM Brian Cashman just said that a plan, including when and where he'll make his tune-up starts, will be worked out in the coming days. He'll begin his tune-up work at the Yankees complex in Tampa.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Tough break

CF Brett Gardner broke a bone in his right hand last night when he tried to swing at a Brian Duensing pitch and got hit by the ball. He went on the DL yesterday and will be out 4-6 weeks.

As fortune would have it, the Yankees sent OF Jamal Strong down from Triple-A Scranton before last night's game to take the roster spot held by the promoted Chase Wright. Gardner's spot on the roster was filled by RHP Rob Zimmerman, a free agent signee. From everything I've looked at, Zimmerman last pitched at the end of last season for Double-A Arkansas in the Angels' organization.

I've been told that Zimmerman will be a reliever, as he has been for much of his pro career. The Thunder will still need a starting pitcher for Tuesday's doubleheader at Portland. Since the Yankees need to clear a spot in the Tampa rotation for Joba Chamberlain to come off the DL, logic had suggested that 2006 top draft pick Ian Kennedy, or possibly Elvys Quezada, would be promoted to make that start. Now who knows what is going to happen.

UPDATE: I learned this morning from a source in Tampa that Zimmerman has been at extended spring training, and hasn't been particularly impressive. Also, Scott Patterson is slated, as of right now, to start the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader. So it looks like no Ian Kennedy for now.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Ehlers to the DL

The Thunder have placed Cody Ehlers on the disabled list with a sore right elbow, retroactive to yesterday. Carlos Mendoza came off the DL to take his spot on the roster.

Wright is Scranton-bound

According to one of the Yankees' beat writers, Chase Wright will be promoted to Triple-A Scranton. With Phil Hughes going on the DL and a doubleheader today at Texas, the Yankees need starters for Sunday and Monday, so they're calling up Darrell Rasner and Matt DeSalvo.

While he hasn't gone deep into games, DeSalvo has put up great numbers at Triple-A so far: 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA in five starts. During spring training, I wrote about DeSalvo's hellish 2006 season, which began with him nearly making the major leagues out of spring training and ended with him losing his spot on the Yankees' 40-man roster. I'm happy to see that he got himself straightened out.

As for Wright, he was scheduled to start for the Thunder tomorrow night at New Britain. My guess is that Jeff Marquez will now make that start (on normal rest), someone will get called up from High-A Tampa to fill in the gap. If it's Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' top 2006 draft pick, he last pitched yesterday, so he won't be able to go again until Monday.

UPDATE: Scott Patterson will make another spot start (his second of the season) tonight at New Britain, with Marquez staying on his previously scheduled day on Saturday. My guess is Kennedy gets promoted, with the transaction, as per the Yankees' habit post-Masse, not being completed until the last moment.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

When it rains, it pours

One moment, Phil Hughes is eight outs from a no-hitter. The next, he tries to rev it up on a 0-2 pitch to Mark Teixeira, pulls his left hamstring, and is probably done until early July.

As great a story as a no-hitter would have been, the best part for the Yankees was that they finally were having a starter go deep into the game and give the bullpen a breather.

Hughes is now the sixth Yankee (along with Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Bobby Abreu) to be sidelined with a muscle strain since spring training began. Think those new performance enhancement coaches GM Brian Cashman hired are feeling the heat right now?

UPDATE: Just learned, courtesy of Peter Abraham of the Journal News, that the Yankees have fired "Director of Performance Enhancement" Marty Miller. He was one of the two new strength and conditioning gurus that Cashman hired before this season. Amazingly, he was hired with no prior experience in major league baseball, and several Yankees reportedly weren't enamored with his methods.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

He's Baaaacccckkkk!

He'll be wearing a different uniform, and he'll be working out of the visitors' dugout and clubhouse. But Bill Masse will be back at Waterfront Park tonight when the Thunder open a three-game set with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.While Masse said in spring training that he's happy in New Hampshire and happy with the Toronto Blue Jays (the Fisher Cats' major league affiliate), he's still bitter over being fired by the Yankees for reasons that weren't true.

It's no secret that his personality didn't mesh with some at the top of the Yankees' player development hierarchy, in particular minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras. Masse has even admitted that much. Heck, he reportedly wasn't even their top choice to manage the Thunder when they first promoted him to Double-A before the 2005 season. But he said the Yankees claimed he put winning over player development, specifically top prospect Phil Hughes' development, an accusation he vehemently denies.

Anyhow, that story has been beaten to a pulp. Of more immediate importance, the Fisher Cats are in second place in the Eastern League Northern Division at 12-7, five games behind the 17-2 Thunder. While both team's strengths and weaknesses (good pitching, weak offense) are similar, their compositions are very different -- Trenton is laden with young prospects (especially pitching-wise), while New Hampshire is loaded with veterans (three Fisher Cats spent all of last year in Triple-A!).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

RIP Josh Hancock

Former Thunder pitcher Josh Hancock, now with the St. Louis Cardinals and one of three Thunder alums on their World Series championship team last year, was killed in a car accident in the wee hours of this morning. According to the Associated Press, he was alone in his 2007 Ford Explorer when his car struck the rear of a tow truck that was in the left lane assisting another vehicle.

Hancock pitched for the Thunder during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, going a combined 11-10 with a 3.63 ERA in 215 1/3 innings. He made his major league debut with the Red Sox at the end of the 2002 season and was traded that winter to the Phillies for Jeremy Giambi.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mussina nixed

The rain today (or, specifically, the forecasts for rain late last night) nixed Mike Mussina's planned rehab start with the Thunder tonight in Harrisburg. According to the AP, he'll throw a simulated game in New York instead.

No word yet on whether or not he'll still make a minor league rehab start before being re-activated, or when or where it will be.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Tonight's game was rained out. No makeup date was announced, but it almost certainly be during Connecticut's next trip here June 12-14.

The Yankees were also rained out, but Phil Hughes still will start tomorrow night against the Blue Jays. Andy Pettitte has been pushed back to Friday, and from what I've heard, the Yankees are still undecided on Saturday's starter; it will either be Jeff Karstens or Kei Igawa.

Pre-game 4/25

Carlos Mendoza (strained oblique) remains day to day, but is getting better, according to manager Tony Franklin. He has been doing some light swinging and fielding drills, but has yet to take live BP.

Chase Wright seems in good spirits. He joked that his neck was stiff from watching the four consecutive home runs the Red Sox hit against him on Sunday. He'll start on Saturday, the day after Mike Mussina's rehab start.

Brian Horwitz RF
John Bowker CF
Carlos Sosa DH
Eddy Martinez-Esteve LF
Travis Ishikawa 1B
Simon Klink 3B
Jake Wald SS
Steve Holm C
Trey Webb 2B
Ben Cox P

Ramiro Pena SS
Russell Raley DH
Cody Ehlers 1B
Shawn Garrett RF
P.J. Pilittere C
Justin Christian LF
Aarom Baldiris 3B
Matt Carson CF
Gabe Lopez 2B
Alan Horne P

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mussina is on for Friday

The New York papers are reporting that Mike Mussina will indeed make a rehab start for the Thunder on Friday night in Harrisburg. The Thunder aren't confirming it officially yet, and it's probably bigger news for the Senators than it is for the Thunder.

This probably means that Chase Wright will now start on Saturday.

Showtime for Phil Franchise

Joe Torre just dropped the bombshell to Yankees beat reporters - Phil Hughes will make his major league debut on Thursday against the Blue Jays.

I'm very surprised at this move. The Yankees have been saying since last season that they were going to bring Hughes along slowly, let him get time at Triple-A to work on his changeup and otherwise get ready for a long and hopefully successful big league career, regardless of the state of the major league rotation. When they brought him up, it was going to be for good.

Why do I get the feeling that it's not a coincidence that this move was made while the Yankees were in Tampa to play the Devil Rays, and coming off a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox? This move reeks of George Steinbrenner's fingerprints.

Anywho, it should be an interesting night on Thursday at the Stadium.

Chase Wright optioned down

I just learned that Chase Wright was optioned down to Trenton make room for Hideki Matsui, who is coming off the DL tonight. That lines him up to pitch Friday night in Harrisburg. But with Mike Mussina being in line for a rehab start that night for either the Thunder or Scranton, he might get pushed back to Saturday.

The safe bet is on the Thunder deactivating C J.T. LaFountain.

Scott Patterson makes the spot start tonight. It's his first start since 2005, when he was in the independent leagues.

Here are tonight's lineups:

Alex Requena SS
John Bowker DH
Brian Horwitz RF
Eddy Martinez-Esteve LF
Carlos Sosa 1B
Patrick Dobson 2B
Simon Klink 3B
Todd Jennings C
Jake Wald SS

Garrett Broshuis P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Cody Ehlers 1B
Shawn Garrett DH
P.J. Pilittere C
Justin Christian LF
Aarom Baldiris 3B
Matt Carson RF
Gabe Lopez 2B

Scott Patterson P

Moose Calling in Harrisburg?

Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina will throw another bullpen session tomorrow in Tampa. If that goes well, he reportedly will make a rehab start on Friday before being reactivated.

According to Sunday's New York Post, Mussina would prefer that the rehab start be anywhere but in Tampa, where he has been rehabbing since going on the DL a week ago and recently also spent seven weeks of spring training. That means either a visit to Columbus, Ohio with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or one to Harrisburg with the Thunder.

Harrisburg's stadium has to be the worst in the Eastern League; it's certainly the worst one that I've seen. I can't imagine that the Yankees would want to send a rehabbing major leaguer there unless they had absolutely no other choice. Plus they know Columbus from having had their Triple-A affiliate there for over 25 years. So my guess is he goes to Triple-A.

Not So Wright

Logic suggests that Chase Wright will be sent back to the Thunder when his services are no longer needed in New York. If that happens, his stay in the major leagues will consist of a win and a historically bad inning.

By giving up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to Manny Ramirex, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek in the third inning last night, he became just the second pitcher to achieve that dubious distinction in major league history, and the first since Paul Foytack of the Los Angeles Angels against Cleveland on July 31, 1963.

All told, it's tough to really complain about what Wright did in his major league call-up. He had made only two starts above Class-A ball before that, and he had to face a good lineup in the Indians and an outstanding lineup in the Red Sox, the latter in Fenway Park. Hopefully, he'll learn a lot from this experience and come back a better pitcher.

Wright being optioned back to Trenton sounds like a safe bet whenever the time comes. But there are two other questions the Yankees have to answer on the pitching front:

1. Darrell Rasner was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when Jeff Karstens was re-activated on Saturday. Does he go into the rotation or the bullpen? And if it's the rotation, who if anyone gets sent down here? Is it Steven Jackson, who got rocked by Ottawa on Saturday? Is it Tyler Clippard, who had a 5.14 ERA in his first three starts but dominated this level the final half of last season? Is it Ross Ohlendorf or Matt DeSalvo?

2. Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' top draft pick last year, has a 1.42 ERA in his first four appearances (three starts) for High-A Tampa. The numbers suggest he might be ready for Double-A. But even if he is, who would you move out of here to create a spot?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

4/21 lineups

I'm not at the game, but here are the lineups:

Miguel Negron RF
Jose Coronado SS
Fernando Martinez CF
Mike Carp 1B
Nic Jackson DH
Jose A. Reyes C
Caleb Stewart LF
Mark Kiger 3B
Enrique Cruz 2B

Michael Devaney P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Cody Ehlers 1B
Shawn Garrett LF
Matt Carson RF
Russell Raley DH
Aarom Baldiris 3B
Jason Brown C
Gabe Lopez 2B

Brett Smith P

I understand them giving Justin Christian a day off (especially since he hit into a pair of double plays last night), but having Garrett hit fourth is surprising, to say the least. Raley is making his Trenton debut, while Brown is making the usual day game after a night game start at catcher.

A comical game with another dramatic ending

Both teams looked like they could use some time watching Tom Emanski videos, especially the one on defensive fundamentals. Hitters got too greedy and ran themselves into outs. Even P.J. Pilittere, the Thunder's intelligent catcher, gave up a sure out at first when he tried and failed to go for the lead runner on a sacrifice bunt.

But the ending was a dramatic one for those who remained in the crowd and a happy one for Cody Ehlers, who finally ended things with a two-out, bases loaded single in the bottom of the 12th. He had been batting .179 entering the game and was 0-for-4 at the plate when he came up in the 12th.

Of course, he did this (and the Thunder scored 7 runs) after I wrote my notebook on how the offense had been struggling. Such are the joys of this business - deadlines are deadlines, no matter how many twists the plot takes.

BTW, this makes the Thunder 4-for-4 in extra-inning games, with all four going at least 12 innings.

Friday, April 20, 2007

4/20 pregame

Nice to be back at a game again. Nice to have great weather too.

Miguel Negron RF
Jose Coronado SS
Fernando Martinez CF
Mike Carp 1B
Brett Harper DH
Mike Nickeas C
Caleb Stewart LF
Mark Kiger 2B
Corey Ragsdale 3B

Jose Sanchez P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Justin Christian LF
Cody Ehlers 1B
P.J. Pilittere C
Shawn Garrett DH
Aarom Baldiris 3B
Matt Carson RF
Gabe Lopez 2B

Alan Horne P

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mendoza on DL; Raley up

Sorry I didn't have this up earlier today, but IF Carlos Mendoza was placed on the DL today. Mendoza strained an oblique muscle early in the second game of last Saturday's doubleheader.

The Yankees are sending up Russell Raley to replace him. Raley was the Yankees' 21st round draft pick last year and had a very good season at Short Season-A Staten Island. But he began this season on High-A Tampa's DL and had been at extended spring training.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Now THIS is more like it

Here is Phil Hughes' line from Scranton's game against Syracuse tonight:

6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10K

As nice and polite as he sounds when you talk to him, think Hughes might have been a little P.O.'ed by Chase Wright being the first Yankee minor league pitcher called up this season?

Even if that wasn't really the case, this is what he did last year after coming to Trenton. He was uneven for his first few starts here, then dominated the rest of the season.

So long, series

Today's attempt at a doubleheader has already been nixed as well. The three postponed games will be made up as follows:

Doubleheader on Tuesday, May 8 @ 6 p.m.
Doubleheader on Tuesday, Aug. 28 @ 6 p.m.
Doubleheader on Wednesday, Aug. 29 @ 6 p.m.

Those last two are a killer if Trenton and/or Portland are fighting for a playoff spot. Nothing like burning out your pitching staff when the games mean the most.

Anyhow, the Thunder are scheduled to open a four-game weekend set at Waterfront Park against Binghamton starting tomorrow night.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not great, but all Wright

OK, I admit. That was a very bad and very predictable pun. But it sums up Chase Wright's major league debut:

5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3BB, 3 K

Not Cy Young-caliber, but he didn't implode the way Sean Henn did when he made the Double-A to major league jump two years ago. And if the Yankees can hold a five-run lead, he'll get the win.

Now the question is whether he gets another start on Sunday night at Fenway against the Red Sox. You would think he's earned it, and it's not like the Yankees have a lot of other options anyway. But we'll see.

Also, I learned this evening that Scott Patterson will make a spot start in the second game of the doubleheader tomorrow, assuming they play it. It will be his first start in two years.

Still no luck

Just got word from the Sea Dogs that the doubleheader scheduled for tonight has already been rained out. According to this morning's Portland Press-Herald, Hadlock Field suffered some minor damage in the Nor'easter the last couple of days and more rain is hitting the area today. The Sea Dogs have now lost seven home dates (their franchise record is nine), and we're not even two weeks into the season.

According to the game notes sent out this morning, Jeff Marquez had been the scheduled starter for tomorrow's series finale at Portland and Alan Horne for Thursday against Binghamton at Waterfront Park. But with today's action being wiped out as well, who knows what will happen.

UPDATE: Marquez and a still TBA reliever will go in a scheduled doubleheader tomorrow afternoon. Horne will go Thursday and Brett Smith on Friday, with Jason Jones pushed back to Saturday.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More sitting around

To the surprise of no one, this afternoon's series opener in Portland has been banged (actually, it was banged by 10 a.m. this morning). The weather still looks dubious for tomorrow, but if they can play, they will play a doubleheader beginning at 6 p.m.

If they do play tomorrow, they'll obviously need another starting pitcher then, as Marquez would be on 3 days rest. If not, they won't need one until Saturday.

Meanwhile, Chase Wright is in transit to New York, but the actual transaction to recall him has not gone through yet. So as strange as this sounds, as far as the Thunder are concerned, he's still on their roster.

UPDATE: Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' top draft pick last year, pitched tonight for High-A Tampa, and Saturday is his next day to pitch. So if tomorrow's doubleheader is rained out, he certainly seems like a possibility. Again, though, nothing official yet.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Chase Wright to New York

The YES Network's Kim Jones just reported that Chase Wright will be tabbed to take Pavano's place Tuesday against the Indians.

I've also heard that GM Brian Cashman said that they are waiting to notify the pitcher they selected (presumably Wright) before officially announcing the move.

UPDATE: The Yankees just officially announced this. No word yet on who if anyone will be coming here to take his spot on Tuesday (though the weather may make that a moot point).

Pavano, Mussina to the DL

According to Peter Abraham of the Journal News, the Yankees have placed Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano on the disabled list. Both tried to work out today before the Yankees' game in Oakland, but neither made it very far.

Chris Britton has reportedly been called up from Triple-A, and now the Yankees will obviously need a starter for Tuesday's game against the Indians. Chase Wright is on the 40-man roster and in line to pitch on Tuesday. Steven Jackson was scheduled to start today for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but that game was also rained out, so he too is a possibility. Tyler Clippard pitched for Scranton on Thursday, making Tuesday his next day to pitch.

I'll post more info once I find it out.

Another rainout

Today's series finale at Connecticut has been rained out. And this storm isn't making things look too promising for tomorrow and Tuesday up in Portland.

Here is the game story from yesterday's doubleheader sweep. The shutout streak is now 46 innings, or the equivalent of more than five regulation-length games.

Also, Thunder manager Tony Franklin got victory #600 in the nightcap.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wright to the show?

Were two starts above A-ball enough to prepare Chase Wright for the major leagues?

They may have to be.

Before the Yankees lost in extra innings in Oakland last night, Carl Pavano (surprise, surprise) became the latest Yankee to be bit by the injury bug when his next start was pushed back from today to Tuesday due to muscle soreness and spasms in his pitching elbow. Both he and manager Joe Torre told reporters last night that he expects to be ready to go on Tuesday. But if he isn't (and his history gives little hope that he will), the Yankees will need to call up a minor leaguer.

One of the possibilities, according to this Daily News report, is Wright.

Bringing up Wright would be the easiest logistically, as he's already on the 40-man roster, while neither of the other likely possibilities (Triple-A righties Steven Jackson and Tyler Clippard) are on it. While there is one open spot on the 40-man roster, are the Yankees ready to start the options clocks on either of those two?

Then again, both Clippard and Jackson have a full season of experience at the Double-A level and are already in Triple-A. And when the Yankees promoted Sean Henn directly from Double-A to the major leagues two years ago, he already had pitched a full season for the Thunder. And even then it turned out to be a disaster.

Jackson's next scheduled start is tomorrow; Wright and Clippard on Monday. If any of them get scratched from their starts, we'll obviously know what the Yankees' backup plan is.

The Yankees have already said Phil Hughes is not an option, and that's a smart move.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Up in arms

Thunder pitchers have pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings after tonight's 2-0 win at Connecticut.

To update my previous post, I was told today that Alan Horne will go in Game 1 of the doubleheader tomorrow and Brett Smith in Game 2. This means that either one of the relievers will need to make a spot start next week or a starter will need to go on short rest. That is, unless, it rains again on this road trip, in which case things should get back on track.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Game banged

Tonight's game at Connecticut has been postponed. It will be made up as part of a single-session doubleheader (two 7-inning games) on Saturday, still starting at 2:05 p.m.

Jeff Marquez will start tomorrow (still a 6:35 p.m. start). My guess is that Alan Horne will start the first game on Saturday and a reliever will make a spot start in the second game, but I haven't heard anything official on that yet. I'll let you know when I do.

Here are links to my game story and notebook.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More of the Wright stuff

Here is Chase Wright's line through his first two Double-A starts:

14IP, 3H, 0R, 0ER, 1BB, 19K

One long-time Thunder observer told me tonight that the last time he can recall the Thunder having a lefty look this good was Jason Sekany, who won 14 games for the 1999 team that posted the best record in all of Double-A at 92-50. If Wright keeps pitching like this, he might not be here long enough to match Sekany's '99 performance.

Speaking of starting pitchers, Mike Mussina became the latest one from the Yankees to go down with an injury when he left tonight's game in Minnesota with a left hamstring strain. That gives the Yankees four players (along with Chien-ming Wang, Hideki Matsui, and Johnny Damon) who have suffered muscle strains in the last three weeks. Not good news for Gene Monahan and Co. It's not a big deal right now, however; the Yankees don't need a 5th starter again until the 21st, by which time Jeff Karstens should be back.

Now the Thunder go on the road for the first time this season (and get a break from me). Four in Connecticut (Norwich, to be exact) beginning tomorrow, followed by three in Portland. I'll post news that I find out, but I'm not going to have game details because I won't be there.

Howard now with Phillies

I learned tonight that Kevin Howard signed with the Phillies earlier this week and was assigned to High-A Clearwater. While Howard was a borderline Double-A/Triple-A guy, he was released by the Yankees on the final day of spring training, limiting the teams with the roster space for him. So it's very likely that his Florida State League assignment is very temporary, and he should be up in Reading sooner rather than later.

Pre-game 4/11

Final game of the season-opening six-game homestand.

Roger Bernadina RF
Dan Dement 2B
Frank Diaz CF
Tony Blanco LF
Devin Ivany C
Juan Melo 3B
Christian Guerrero DH
Josh Whitesell 1B
Seth Bynum SS

T.J. Nall P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Justin Christian LF
Cody Ehlers 1B
P.J. Pilittere C
Shawn Garrett DH
Matt Carson RF
Aarom Baldiris 3B
Juan Francia 2B

Chase Wright P

UPDATE: Diaz apparently was a last minute scratch. Robin Jennings is batting third for Harrisburg and playing right field. Roger Bernadina is playing center.

Deadline killers

The Thunder sure have a knack for messing us reporters up on deadline. Nothing like being ready to put together your gamer with over an hour to spare before deadline, then having to scrap it and piece together a running gamer that you have to frantically finish when the game finally ends.

Normally, we have as many as four or five reporters in the locker room after a home game. Tonight, there were only two, because the others had already passed their final deadlines.

For the second straight night, the Thunder trailed in the bottom of the ninth against Harrisburg. This time, it was especially daunting - two outs, nobody on, and down 4-1.

Of course, the Thunder rallied, getting four hits and a walk to force extra innings, then winning it in the 12th when they loaded the bases with one out, Cody Ehlers hit a grounder to third, and Harrisburg third baseman Juan Melo inexplicably threw to first instead of going home for the forceout. But that was just the last play of a bizarre final few innings.

After the Thunder rallied, Harrisburg got the go-ahead run into scoring position in each of the final three innings. Each time, the Senators couldn't get that run home. In the 10th, Tony Blanco was nailed on the same rule that Ramiro Pena was caught on in the 9th inning last Thursday - stepping out of the batter's box without getting timeout from the umpire. Under rule 6.02b (put into effect before last season but very rarely enforced until now), the umpire can call a strike if the batter violates that rule. Like Pena, Blanco had two strikes, and hence was called out, ending the inning.

A few thoughts:

*While consistency with enforcing (or not enforcing) a rule is much appreciated, I hate to see players being nailed on technicalities at critical moments of the game, which has been the case both times the Thunder have been involved in it. When I'm watching a basketball game, and the game is coming down to the final possession, I don't want to see a ticky-tack foul called that could decide the game. Ditto for a ticky-tack penalty in the final minute of a tied or one-goal hockey game. If it's a blatant violation of a major rule, that's one thing. But ending an inning, and possibly a game-turning rally, on a rule designed to do nothing more than speed the game up a little is unfortunate.

*The bullpen was stellar again - six shutout innings after Jason Jones left trailing 4-1 (though the last two runs were unearned, courtesy of a pair of Cody Ehlers errors). Kevin Whelan, Paul Thorp, and Edwar Ramirez combined to allow only four hits in that span. While Ramirez was a bit wild, he got the outs when he had to.

*Juan Francia made his first start of the season and was great - 3 for 4 with the tying RBI in the 9th and scoring the winning run in the 12th.

*If it's any consolation to the Senators (and I'm sure it isn't right now), they need only look at last year's Thunder to see that hope is not lost. That team started 0-10 and 1-13 and, like this year's Senators, lost a lot of close games in pretty much every way possible. They ended up winning 80 games and the Northern Division regular season title.

Chase Wright goes again tomorrow. Will he be able to match what he did last Thursday in the season opener?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pre-game 4/10

Here are the lineups:

Roger Bernadina CF
Frank Diaz RF
Robin Jennings LF
Tony Blanco DH
Josh Whitesell 1B
Juan Melo 3B
John Suomi C
Wade Robinson 2B
Seth Bynum SS

Anastacio Martinez P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Justin Christian LF
Cody Ehlers 1B
P.J. Pilittere C
Shawn Garrett RF
Carlos Mendoza DH
Aarom Baldiris 3B
Juan Francia 2B

Jason Jones P

Pre-game notes
*Francia is making his first start of the season tonight. His only previous appearances this season were last Thursday and last night as a pinch runner. He has yet to play in the field or bat. ... Garrett is playing in the field for the first time tonight while Matt Carson, who got the game-winning hit, sits. ... Ramiro Pena didn't get his first hit of the season until last night and is only 1-for-15 on the season, but manager Tony Franklin still likes his skills enough to bat him second.

Role reversal

A year ago tomorrow, the Thunder took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning at Harrisburg, needing only three more outs for their first win of the season. They couldn't get those three outs then, or in the 10th inning when Caonabo Cosme hit a home run to put the Thunder back ahead. They wound up losing 2-1, the sixth of their 10 straight losses to open the season.

I remember heading down to the sardine can that passes for the visitor's clubhouse at Commerce Bank Park (Harrisburg's stadium) about 10 minutes after that game and seeing Justin Christian sitting on the dugout bench, staring towards right field in disbelief that they could lose again.

A couple of hours ago at Waterfront Park, Christian and the Thunder switched roles with the Senators. It was Harrisburg that was looking for its first win and came within three outs (two, actually, this time) of getting it. And it was the Thunder who played spoiler, with Christian tying the game with a one-out, two-run single in the ninth, and Matt Carson winning it with a bases loaded single in the 12th.

While Brett Smith wasn't great in his Double-A debut, he kept his team in the game. And the bullpen was phenomenal. After the Senators scored an insurance run in the seventh to go up 4-2, Jeff Kennard, Gerardo Casadiego, and Scott Patterson combined to retire the last 15 Harrisburg batters. The five Thunder pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts, and the entire pitching staff has 54 strikeouts in the first four games against only seven walks. It was obvious for months that pitching would be the strength of this team, but those numbers are still impressive, especially early in the season.

The Thunder will complete their first turn through the rotation tomorrow when Jason Jones faces Harrisburg's Anastacio Martinez. Interesting subplot here - Martinez was one of the Red Sox top prospects earlier this decade and came to Trenton in 2002 (its last year as Boston's Double-A affiliate), but had a miserable season with a 5-12 record and a 5.31 ERA.

More tomorrow.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Scranton gets Strong-er

I just learned that the Yankees filled Kevin Thompson's spot on the Scranton roster by signing former major leaguer Jamal Strong. He spent most of last year at Richmond, the Braves' Triple-A affiliate.

So the Thunder roster got spared in this deal.

4/9 Pre-Game

Roger Bernadina CF
Wade Robinson 3B
Frank Diaz RF
Robin Jennings 1B
Devin Ivany C
Josh Whitesell DH
Christian Guerrero LF
Dan Dement 2B
Seth Bynum SS

Beltran Perez P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Justin Christian LF
Cody Ehlers 1B
P.J. Pilittere C
Shawn Garrett DH
Carlos Mendoza 3B
Matt Carson RF
Gabe Lopez 2B

Brett Smith P

Pre-game Notes
* As of now, the Thunder have not lost anyone to Scranton to take Kevin Thompson's place. The Yankees may not want to disrupt rosters this early in the season. And it's not like any of the Thunder outfielders are sure-fire candidates for promotion - Garrett and Carson have done nothing, and the team has played only three games.

* Carlos Mendoza is starting at third, allowing Gabe Lopez to once again get the start at second.

Matsui to DL; KT to New York

Apparently wanting to be cautious with Hideki Matsui's strained left hamstring, the Yankees put him on the 15-day DL yesterday and brought up Kevin Thompson from Triple-A Scranton. Given that it took Robinson Cano six weeks to come back from a hamstring strain last season, this course of action is understandable.

This obviously means that the Thunder could be losing an outfielder to Scranton.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all of you observing the holiday today.

I was needed in the office last night, so Rob covered for me. Here is his game story and sidebar.

Also, here is a nice feature in the Orangeburg (S.C.) Times & Democrat on Brett Gardner.

The team is off today for the holiday, but returns tomorrow night against Harrisburg.

Friday, April 6, 2007

A little offense, and a win

The pitching was there once again, as Jeff Marquez (and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Whelan) shined in their Double-A debuts. This time, they got a little help from their offense (and Bowie) and got win #1.

Marquez didn't work as efficiently as Chase Wright did on Thursday, but still had a no-hitter through five. Problem was, it took the Thunder close to half an hour to score three runs in the bottom of the inning. By the time Marquez went back out for the 6th, he had lost his rhythm and momentum. But Jeff Kennard and Whelan made sure the lead stood up.

In other developments in the Yankees' farm system, Phil Hughes was solid in his Triple-A debut tonight, pitching five innings of two-hit, two-run ball with six strikeouts and getting the win. 2006 top draft pick Ian Kennedy was stellar in his first start for High-A Tampa, allowing only two hits and one run in five innings while striking out 8.

UPDATE: Here is the link to my game story.

Pre-game 4-6

Here are the lineups:

Paco Figueroa 2B
Jeff Fiorentino LF
Val Majewski CF
Brandon Sing 1B
Oscar Salazar 3B
Nolan Reimold RF
Matt Cepicky DH
Ryan Hubele C
Luis Hernandez SS

Chris Waters P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Justin Christian LF
Cody Ehlers 1B
P.J. Pilittere C
Shawn Garrett DH
Carlos Mendoza 2B
Matt Carson RF
Aarom Baldiris 3B

Jeff Marquez P

Pre-game notes
*Same lineups as last night, despite the offensive ineptitude from both sides. Another cold night expected, which favors another pitcher's duel. ... The defense will need to be far better than last night. Marquez's fastball has a lot of sink, which means a lot of ground balls.

Gotta love Portland

Gotta love this hillarious picture from the Sea Dogs' website. They got 14 inches of snow up there and have to postpone tonight's game, on top of losing last night's season opener. So someone went out and built snowmen at each of the field positions.
This happened to the Thunder four years ago. They were slated to open the season in Portland, but had the entire series wiped out by snow. Made for a lot of pitcher-killing doubleheaders later in the season.
When will the Eastern League learn not to schedule Portland (and Erie) to open the season at home?

Today's links

My game story on the 2007 season opener.

My sidebar on Jim Hoey.

More when I get to the park.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Post-game notes from the season-opener

*A fairly new and seldom previously enforced rule hurt the Thunder in the bottom of the 9th. Ramiro Pena fell behind 0-2 while trying to get down a sacrifice bunt, then stepped out of the box without calling timeout. The home plate umpire called another strike, and he had "struck out."

As an aside, you saw the big difference between Tony Franklin and Bill Masse right there. Tony calmly went down for an explanation from the umpire, got it, and returned to the third base coach's box. Billy might still be having a temper tantrum out there.

*The cold weather no doubt played a part, but the lineup certainly did nothing to refute the impression that they seriously lack pop. You don't need to hit a ton of home runs to win, but you better be great at executing the little things, because you'll need to string a lot of those together then. The Thunder didn't until the ninth inning, and then came up one play short.

*Chase Wright was phenomenal. He still needs to work on the curve, but his other stuff, along with his location, was great. About as good as a Double-A debut can get.

That's all for now. I have to get going. Talk to ya in the morning.

Thunder lose 1-0

The Thunder got the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Ehlers could have redeemed himself with a game-winning single, but struck out.

Pilittere did likewise four pitches later, and that was that.

Back with more later.

Ehlers' rough night continues

With one out in the top of the ninth, he threw away a ground ball while Gerardo Casadiego was getting over to cover first. That error led to a run on Nolan Reimold's single to right when Matt Carson couldn't come up with the ball.

Bowie leads 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th. Hamilton and Rider alum Jim Hoey is on to try to nail it down.

Wright done after 7

7 IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 9K. 76 pitches.

Couldn't have asked for more from him, especially in his Double-A debut. Jason Jones now in (strange, since he's slated to start on Tuesday). But his offense has only one hit.

0-0 as we begin the 8th.

We have a hit!

P.J. Pilittere just got the first Thunder hit of the season, a single to left. But he got no farther, as Shawn Garrett, Carlos Mendoza, and Matt Carson followed with a strikeout, flyout, and another strikeout.

Still scoreless thru 5.

Still scoreless through 4

Ehlers commited another error by letting the ball play him, then just struck out to end the 4th. The Thunder still don't have a hit.

Wright escapes first trouble

An infield hit that bounced just over Chase Wright's glove and an error on Cody Ehlers (yeah, I know, I trumpeted this team's defense) put two runners on in the top of the third. But he got Val Majewski to line out to center to get out of it.

He also got lucky in the third, when Luis Hernandez hit a comebacker that bounced off of Wright's left foot...and right to Ehlers for the putout.

Still scoreless as we go to the 4th....

Strong first inning for Wright

1-2-3 with 2 called strikeouts. 10 pitches, 8 strikes.

The thing to watch with him is the development of his curveball. He'll need that third pitch to make it to the next level.

Pre-game notes

*The New Jersey Air National Guard 108th refueling wing just did a flyover. Problem was, the timing was off by five minutes. Everyone had to stay on the field after introductions waiting for the C-130 to make its way to the field.

*At least the Thunder are getting this game in, cold though it is (38 degrees). Akron, Erie, New Hampshire, and Portland all postponed their openers tonight due to snow. I'm told Erie had the added problem of having their tarp freeze to the field. Not surprising that they messed that up, given that they didn't put the tarp before an overnight rain storm last August, resulting in a game against the Thunder being postponed despite conditions that were playable.

*Charlie Manning apparently is not coming back to the Thunder, at least not now. According to the Scranton Times-Tribune, the Yankees had recent free agent signee Erick Burke deactivated to make room for Ron Villone and kept Manning in Triple-A. So the Thunder still don't have a lefty in their pen.

*Big surprise to see Gabe Lopez not in the starting lineup. Lopez was penalized by the fact that he was in Triple-A camp until just before the end of spring training, while manager Tony Franklin got a much more extended look at Carlos Mendoza. Gabe seems to be taking it well, though.

Season Opening Lineups

Greetings from Waterfront Park. Here are the starting lineups for tonight's 2007 season opener:

Paco Figueroa 2B
Jeff Fiorentino LF
Val Majewski CF
Brandon Sing 1B
Oscar Salazar 3B
Nolan Reimold RF
Matt Cepicky DH
Ryan Hubele C
Luis Hernandez SS

Beau Hale P

Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Pena SS
Justin Christian LF
Cody Ehlers 1B
P.J. Pilittere C
Shawn Garrett DH
Carlos Mendoza 2B
Matt Carson RF
Aarom Baldiris 3B

Chase Wright P

Back with pregame notes later.

The day is here

It has been 209 days since Portland's Brandon Moss sent that 3-0 pitch from Scott Patterson flying over the right field wall at Hadlock Field to end the Thunder's 2006 season in heartbreaking fashion.

In a few hours, it will begin anew. The spring training drills are over. It's time to get another season started.

I plan to blog frequently during the course of the game, starting after I get to the park. Be sure to check back this afternoon and evening.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Over before it starts?

Poor Charlie Manning looks like he'll be squeezed out of a Triple-A job again.

According to Newsday Yankees beat reporter Kat O'Brien, Ron Villone did accept the Yankees' minor league offer and is heading to the Triple-A Scranton bullpen. While team officials haven't made anything official yet (and possibly won't until tomorrow, when minor league rosters have to be set), the likely scenario now has Manning being sent back here for the fifth consecutive season.

I'll post more when I hear it.

UPDATE: The signing has now moved on the transaction wire, so I guess this makes it more or less official. According to the Scranton Times-Tribune, Villone is supposed to join the SWB Yankees for their opener tomorrow night. Now I just have to find out exactly how this will affect the Thunder.

Today's links

My general story on media day, led by the aforementioned anecdote on Kevin Whelan.

Rob Chakler's story on Chase Wright, the opening night starter.

In an hour or so, I'm off to the office to finish putting together the preview section.

News and notes from media day

*Chase Wright is officially the opening night starter, as expected. Here are the pitching matchups for the opening series:
Thursday: Chase Wright vs. Beau Hale
Friday: Jeff Marquez vs. Cory Morris
Saturday: Alan Horne vs. Chris Waters

*Tony Franklin is certainly a very nice man, but he is clearly the anti-Bill Masse (and that's probably what the Yankees wanted). He's very polite, but he doesn't reveal information easily and he certainly isn't a quote machine the way Masse was (who can ever forget his comparison of his team and its pursuit of Portland to Top Gun?).

*Franklin wouldn't reveal his whole starting lineup for Thursday, but said that Brett Gardner would lead off (no surprise), Ramiro Pena would hit second (definitely a surprise, at least until he proves he can get on base consistently), Justin Christian would hit third, Cody Ehlers would hit cleanup, and P.J. Pilittere would hit fifth.

*He also hasn't set a closer yet, but noted that Paul Thorp is a strong candidate to fill that role.

*Talked for a bit to Kevin Whelan. He found out that he was being traded to the Yankees the day of his rehearsal dinner, and the day before he got married. He's the highest-rated prospect on the Thunder (if you believe Baseball America), and he may not be here long, so make sure you get out to see him.

*Pitching coach Scott Aldred said the starters will be on a 85-90 pitch limit their first turn through the rotation. That probably means at most five, maybe six innings. Makes having seven relievers all the more important.

Be sure to check in here starting Thursday afternoon. We'll have plenty of blogging on opening night at Waterfront Park.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

And here it is....

Just out of the mouth of Yankees VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman, the Thunder's 2007 expected Opening Day roster:

Outfield (4): Justin Christian, Brett Gardner, Shawn Garrett, Matt Carson
Infield (6): Cody Ehlers, Gabe Lopez, Ramiro Pena, Aarom Baldiris, Carlos Mendoza, Juan Francia.
Catchers (2): P.J. Pilittere, Jason Brown
Starters (5): Chase Wright, Jeff Marquez, Alan Horne, Brett Smith, Jason Jones
Bullpen (7): Kevin Whelan, Gerardo Casadiego, Scott Patterson, Jeff Kennard, Paul Thorpe, Michael Gardner, Edwar Ramirez.

As expected, Newman warned that this wasn't set in stone, and that some moves still could happen between now and Thursday. The most significant caveat is with the bullpen; if Ron Villone accepts the Yankees' offer to pitch in Triple-A, the likely scenario is that Charlie Manning gets sent back here while Ramirez goes back to High-A Tampa.

No really big surprises, except for Howard. Newman wouldn't tell me why he isn't in Double-A or where he is going instead. If I find out more, I'll post it.

As for last night, it was a fairly uneventful flight home from Tampa. A few of the Yankees reporters (Ed Price from the Star Ledger, Pete Caldera from the Bergen Record, and Bryan Hoch from were on my flight after covering the Yankees' final spring training game that afternoon.

Now that things appear to have fallen into place, I must get back to matters such as laundry and preview stories, not to mention a story for tonight's paper. Barring breaking news, my next post will probably come on Tuesday night, after media day.

UPDATE: I heard this morning that Kevin Howard was released. I know he didn't have that great a year in Double-A last season, but this is still surprising, especially since the Yankees signed the likes of Baldiris as free agents.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Taking it to the limit

No, this post isn't an ode to The Eagles. And I hardly feel like singing.

Right now, I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Clearwater. In less than three hours, I will board a flight home to New Jersey still without knowing the entire Thunder roster. The Yankees are apparently waiting until at least tomorrow, the end of spring training, to finish their minor league rosters.

Manager Tony Franklin gave me lists of players who potentially fill the remaining holes on the roster. But I get the feeling that there could be more shifting around tomorrow before camp breaks, and even a move or two on Monday or Tuesday. If only the Yankees decision makers would show some consideration towards us scribes who have preview stories to write. Grrrrr.

Here are the players I know are on the team, as of today:

Outfielders (4): Brett Gardner, Justin Christian, Matt Carson, Shawn Garrett. The first three all played in Trenton last year. Garrett is a veteran who has spent the last two seasons in Triple-A with the A's, Cardinals, and Phillies.

Infielders (3): Cody Ehlers, Gabe Lopez, Ramiro Pena. Kevin Howard could also come back to be the starting third baseman, but he still hadn't been moved to Double-A as of today; the other candidate is Aaron Baldiris. I've also been told that Carlos Mendoza and recent acquisition Juan Francia are also candidates.

Catcher (1): P.J. Pilittere. He'll be the starter. My guess is Jason Brown returns once again as the backup.

Starting Pitchers (5): Chase Wright, Jeff Marquez, Alan Horne, Brett Smith, and Jason Jones. Expect Wright to get the ball for Thursday's opener.

Bullpen (2): Kevin Whelan, Gerardo Casadiego. From what I've been told, as many as seven guys are candidates for the other five spots. My guess is Scott Patterson (who was called up for the major league game today), Jeff Kennard, Paul Thorp, Edwar Ramirez, and Michael Gardner. But this could change entirely due to the wild card here - Ron Villone. He has reportedly received a minor league offer to pitch for Triple-A Scranton after losing out on a major league spot to Sean Henn. If Villone accepts, I'm afraid Charlie Manning will get squeezed out of Triple-A once again.

So that's 15 out of 24 players. This really sucks when you're trying to write preview stories.

Oh well. Talk to you again tomorrow, after I get home, start my laundry, and hopefully find out more.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Here's what we know

On the second to last full day of spring training, Thunder manager Tony Franklin would only confirm Brett Gardner for his opening day roster. That makes 1B Cody Ehlers, C P.J. Pilittere, SS Ramiro Pena, and pitchers Chase Wright and Jeff Marquez, and relievers Kevin Whelan and Gerardo Casadiego as the "confirmed" members of the opening day roster.

Obviously, common sense can figure out some other likely selections. With the news today that Jeff Karstens will begin the season on the DL, the starting rotation appears to be locked into place - Wright, Marquez, Brett Smith, Alan Horne, and Jason Jones (though not necessarily in that order). Wright, who pitched solidly for the Yankees today in Lakeland (six innings, three runs), is the favorite to be the Thunder's opening night starter.

Since Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese, and Bronson Sardinha will be the Triple-A starting outfield, Justin Christian is an obvious guess to return to the Thunder outfield. The same would seem to be true for Gabe Lopez, but he's been in Triple-A camp (and not playing much) all week. More indications are pointing toward Howard going to Triple-A and former Mets farmhand Aaron Baldiris starting at the hot corner for the Thunder.

Paul Thorp, Scott Patterson, and Jeff Kennard are three guys who could either go to Triple-A or return to the Thunder bullpen.

Here are the positions still to be settled:

*Right Field
*Reserve outfielder
*Second Base
*Third Base
*Fifth and sixth infielder
*Backup catcher
*Three middle relief spots

Yankees set roster

The Thunder still featured a work group today consisting largely of players who definitely won't be on the team when camp breaks on Sunday. But the Yankees roster is set.

*Will Nieves will be the backup catcher, beating out veteran Todd Pratt.
*Thunder alum Sean Henn will join Mike Myers as the team's lefty relievers, beating out the struggling Ron Villone
*Josh Phelps will be the righty in the first base platoon, beating out Andy Phillips

The Henn and Nieves picks are surprising only because of Joe Torre's tendency to favor veterans over youngsters who may be performing better. But while Henn hasn't been dominant in spring training, Villone has an ERA of over 14. The Nieves-Pratt debate from all accounts was very close. Phelps was the obvious choice over Phillips.

Henn's selection means that Charlie Manning is ticketed to start the season in Triple-A. I'm happy for him; he's a great guy and this is the first time he's really gotten a shot at that level. After spending most of the last four seasons in Double-A, he deserves that chance.

Today could be the day

Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday. The big news around the Thunder yesterday was that there was no news.

That should change as soon as today, as the Yankees will set their major league roster and start the final tricke-down process that will set the minor league rosters. Kevin Reese and Kevin Thompson were optioned to Triple-A after last night's spring training game in Dunedin, so Justin Christian should be back in Thunder camp today, ready to go north with the Thunder. It will be interesting to see who fills the other spots. Here is where I see the openings, entering today:

Infield: Third base, second base, and the two reserve spots. I've talked about Gabe Lopez and Kevin Howard, but both have been in Triple-A camp all week. Another name I've heard is Aaron Baldiris, a former Mets prospect.
Catcher: Backup catcher.
Outfield: Right field and the reserve spot. Matt Carson will likely get one of those, but I hope the Yankees send someone better for the starting position.
Bullpen: Three middle relief spots and closer. As I reported in Wednesday's paper, the Yankees plan to use Kevin Whelan in multiple-inning stints, like J.B. Cox and T.J. Beam were mostly used last year. That means they need a closer. Gerardo Casadiego has been in Thunder camp for several days, which leads me to believe he's a candidate for a Thunder bullpen spot.

My main in today's paper was on West Windsor native and Peddie grad Fernando Perez, who is the 15th-ranked prospect in the Devil Rays farm system. He's ticketed for Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League this season. Very nice, and extremely bright kid.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Some major league action

After filing my pieces for tomorrow's paper, I went to the major league game at Legend's Field. I got to say hello to a few Thunder alums that I covered who have since made their way to the show. Jeff Karstens said his elbow is doing better. He'll play catch tomorrow, and Joe Torre said that he could still go north with the team, instead of starting on the disabled list.

Karstens' replacement, Darrell Rasner, got shelled by the Astros - nine hits and seven earned runs in only 4 2/3 innings. Ron Villone, whom Torre ran into the ground last year (the same way he did Tanyon Sturtze and Steve Karsay in the past), fared no better, retiring none of the three batters he faced before being lifted for Sean Henn, who gave up another hit before mercifully ending the inning.

Torre said he would be open to only taking one lefty reliever (Mike Myers), though it seems hard to believe he would actually do that, since they have to face David Ortiz 19 times a year. Henn has performed better than Villone overall, but Henn has the option, and Torre tends to favor experience. If he does take Henn, Charlie Manning is pretty much assured of getting a spot in the Triple-A bullpen.

The other two major positions for the Yankees to resolve are backup catcher and the righty in the first base platoon (Josh Phelps or Andy Phillips). I expect Torre to go for experience again, meaning he'll take Todd Pratt, which means Will Nieves goes to Triple-A. That could mean the end of Omir Santos's run in the organization, as P.J. Pillitiere is ticketed to be the starting catcher for the Thunder and it's hard to see Santos being a backup here or a third-stringer in Triple-A.

Cox undergoes elbow surgery

This bit of news doesn't really affect the Thunder, since he wasn't expected to be ready to start the season anyway with Triple-A Scranton. But according to one report, reliever J.B. Cox underwent surgery this week to repair a ligament in his right elbow. Note that it was repaired, not replaced, as in Tommy John surgery. He could return this season, but likely not until at least the latter part of the summer.

As I wrote in my notebook in Tuesday's paper, Cox first experienced elbow problems when he returned from the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Cuba last September. The Thunder had planned to reactivate him for Game 3 of the Northern Division Championship Series at Portland, but he complained of a stiff elbow and didn't pitch at all.

A change in plans?

Steve Swindal may no longer be the heir to the Yankees.

Owner George Steinbrenner's daughter Jennifer filed divorce papers Tuesday in Hillsborough County (Fla.) Circuit Court Family Law Department, Yankees spokesman Howard Rubenstein said in a statement today.

This means Swindal, who was arrested for DUI in St. Petersburg on Feb. 15, could be out of the picture to run the Yankees. According to the Journal News, Steinbrenner's other two sons have not exhibited much interest in the past in owning the team. So once he dies, the possibility exists that his family could sell the team.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Notes from Day 2

*Chase Wright has got "a pretty good chance," according to minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras, to get the ball for the Thunder on opening night a week from Thursday. He was the Florida State League's pitcher of the year last season. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch at this level.

*Talked to Phil Hughes today after he had a rough (by his standards, anyway) outing in the Triple-A game. Again, he understands that he still has work to do and that his time will come. The Yankees plan to cap him at around 180 innings this season, or roughly 30 more than he pitched last year. That cap, and the pitch counts that the Yankees enacted in the second half of last season to keep him under that limit, became a story in and of themselves last summer. Former manager Bill Masse's questioning of the idea of such limits led to his dismissal from the Yankees last October.

*Jeff Marquez got rocked in the Double-A game today: eight runs on nine hits (including two home runs and two other extra base hits) in only three innings. He should join Wright at the top of the rotation. The Yankees won't publicly commit to anyone but those two and reliever Kevin Whelan yet for Trenton's pitching staff, but regardless of the specific names, that staff will include at least four or five players who have never pitched above High-A ball. Getting them to make that transition will be one of the big challenges facing new pitching coach Scott Aldred.

*Speaking of Kevin Whelan, the Yankees plan to use him in much the same way they used T.J. Beam and J.B. Cox last year: less frequent, longer outings that better allow him to develop and deepen his arsenal, rather than just coming in for the ninth inning. That seems to be the Yankees' philosophy now for developing top relief pitching prospects; they did the same thing two seasons ago with Eduardo Sierra before they sent him (along with Ramon Ramirez) to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon.

*As I posted on here last night, Randy Ruiz was not re-signed by the Yankees, and ended up in the Pirates' camp. According to Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror, Ruiz was indeed assigned to the Altoona Curve today, meaning he'll be playing for his third Eastern League team in as many years.

*Another Thunder alum, Mitch Jones, has caught on with the Dodgers. He'll likely be assigned to Triple-A Las Vegas.

Monday, March 26, 2007

So much for easing into things!

As expected, it was a very busy first day of camp, and I couldn't fit everything that I learned into print (hence, one of the reasons for this blog). I got over to Legends Field at 9 a.m. to get my credential, then promptly headed over to the minor league complex. It was nice getting to see the players, coaches, instructors, and head honchos for the first time in months.

I also got to meet new Thunder manager Tony Franklin and pitching coach Scott Aldred. Both seem like nice people.

*Matt DeSalvo pitched in the Triple-A game, going two batters into the fifth inning while giving up two runs on three hits and three walks. In his typical elaborate but circuitous fashion, he talked about his problems last year, which were mental in origin but quickly affected him physically. Both he and the Yankee coaches feel he's back on track after his lost season. A week ago, I would have been very confident in him being sent to Trenton to start the season. But with the rash of injuries, there is a strong chance he'll start in Scranton.

*Despite the injuries, Phil Hughes will still start in Triple-A, as has been expected from the beginning. While his fastball and curveball are major-league ready, he still needs to work some on his changeup, as was evidenced by his uneven showing in major league camp. To Phil's credit, he understands this. Shows how mature he is, despite the fact that he won't even turn 21 until the end of June.

*All of the pitching injuries (Sanchez, Wang, Karstens, Jose Veras, Steven White, and J.B. Cox) have left the Scranton and Trenton pitching staffs in flux in the final week of camp. As I wrote on here before leaving, the starting infield appears mostly set, as does two of the outfield spots and the starting catcher. But the pitching, aside from starter Chase Wright and reliever Kevin Whelan, remains very wide open. One of the candidates for Trenton's rotation, Jeff Marquez, is slated to pitch in the Double-A game tomorrow.

*The Yankees decided not to retain 1B Randy Ruiz, but he may make an appearance at Waterfront Park after all. He was picked up by the Pirates, and could be assigned to the Double-A Altoona Curve if things break right. That would bring him to Trenton July 4-6.

Mark Newman told me that they didn't re-sign Ruiz because they wanted other players in their system to get those at-bats, not because of anything Ruiz did wrong, performance-wise or behavior-wise. In fact, he praised Ruiz for the way he helped turn Trenton's season around last year and his behavior.

*Another Thunder player who wasn't retained by the Yankees, pitcher Matt Childers, is in the Phillies minor league camp and will likely be assigned to Ottawa, the Phillies' temporary Triple-A locale. That franchise, which was purchased by a group led by Thunder president Joe Finley and Reading Phillies owner Craig Stein, will move into a new stadium in Allentown, Pa. for next season.

*The Thunder won the Double-A game, 7-5 over Reading, although most of the roster consisted of players who almost certainly will not be sent here. Half of my expected Trenton starting infield - Kevin Howard and Gabe Lopez - actually played in the Triple-A game today.

OK, enough blogging for tonight. Catch ya on the flip side.

Greetings from Tampa

After a relatively uneventful trip (aside from the automated shuttle between the gates and baggage claim stopping short of the terminal and needing to be restarted manually), I arrived in Tampa last night and had dinner with a friend who is in town for Yankees spring training. My hotel leaves something to be desired physically, but the location is excellent.

In about an hour, I'll head over to Legends Field to pick up my credential, then I'll go on to the minor league complex to start getting the lay of the land this morning. After that, it's off to Clearwater for the Double-A and Triple-A exhibition games this afternoon. I'll be back later tonight with the news from today (and there will be plenty).

I'm looking forward to a week of sunny, 80+ degree weather.

Here's the link to my column in today's paper.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Some wild guesses

I fly to Tampa this afternoon. Before I arrive there, here are some wild guesses for players who will come north with the Thunder a week from today. Bear in mind that, when I say "wild guesses," I really mean wild.

Infielders: Cody Ehlers, Gabe Lopez, Ramiro Pena, Kevin Howard, Grant Plumley. This is the area of the team that appears most set. Ehlers was the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year last season and I predicted last September that he would be here to start the season (I was hardly going out on a limb, of course). Andy Cannizaro is firmly entrenched as the second baseman in Scranton, squeezing Lopez out of Triple-A once again. Pena was demoted to High-A Tampa after hitting .178 with the Thunder, then got hit with the injury bug. He'll get another chance, and at age 21, he still has time. Howard had only a so-so year with the Thunder last year. Plumley saw some time here as a utility infielder, a role he'll likely fill again. A sixth infielder, likely a DH-type, should also be assigned here before camp breaks.

Outfielders: Justin Christian, Brett Gardner, Matt Carson, Edwar Gonzalez. Barring an injury, the Triple-A outfield is set, meaning that Christian and Gardner won't get promoted right away. Gonzalez, who hit .260 last year in Tampa and has reportedly had a good camp, could compete with Carson (a combined .248 between Tampa and Trenton) for the third starting outfield spot.

Catcher: P.J. Pillitiere. From what I've heard, Pillitiere is ready for Double-A. But there is the possibility of Omir Santos getting squeezed out from Triple-A, especially if Wil Nieves and Raul Chavez are kept in Triple-A. There will obviously be a backup catcher, which could be Jason Brown.

Starting Pitching: Chase Wright is the only one I feel very confident about, especially given the injuries to Wang and Sanchez. Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and Brett Smith are also strong possibilities; at least 2 will likely make it, and all three could. Steven Jackson, one of the prospects the Yankees acquired in the Randy Johnson trade, was also a possibility before the injuries; now he's likely ticketed for Scranton. Matt DeSalvo is a good possibility for the fifth spot, but it could also go to Jason Jones if they decide not to make him a reliever, which one person I talked to said was a possibility.

Relief Pitching: Also very tough to predict. Kevin Whelan, one of the pitchers acquired for Gary Sheffield, should be the Thunder closer. Scott Patterson was signed out of the independent Atlantic League and was a very pleasant surprise last year; the Yankees re-signed him and will likely send him back to Trenton. While Charlie Manning is currently in Triple-A camp, he's never been able to stick in Triple-A or above before, so it wouldn't shock me to see him sent back here. Another possibility is Cory Stuart.

There will inevitably be some surprises this week, as there always are. This will be especially true with the pitching.

Talk to ya in Tampa!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wang to the DL

The fact that the Yankees' starting rotation has injury trouble as spring training winds down is no surprise. What is surprising, however, is who has been struck.

Former Thunder star and 2006 AL Cy Young runner-up Chien-Ming Wang will start the season on the disabled list. According to published reports, Wang was diagnosed with a Grade 1 tear of his right hamstring after pulling up during a workout on Friday, and isn't expected to return until at least late April.

Combined with Humberto Sanchez's health problems, and the Yankees' minor league starting rotations are now really in flux. Jeff Karstens is now pretty much a lock to start the season in the Yankees' rotation. If Joe Torre decides to keep a long reliever, Darrell Rasner would appear to be the guy there too.

This leaves Phil Hughes, Tyler Clippard, and Ross Ohlendorf as the only certainties to start for Triple-A Scranton. Steven White and Matt DeSalvo, given their prior experience at Triple-A, would appear to be the most logical candidates to fill the other two spots. Or the Yankees could sign a free agent in this final week of spring training.

White and DeSalvo were two guys who, as recently as earlier this week, had a chance to be sent back to Double-A to start the season, if for no other reason than getting caught in the numbers game (especially in White's case). Ditto for Jeff Marquez and/or Alan Horne in A-ball. And I had heard that there was also the possibility of Jason Jones being assigned to Trenton's bullpen, which is where he finished last season.

Now all of that is up in the air. Just one more thing to make things interesting when I arrive in Tampa tomorrow night.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A familiar face

New Hampshire manager Bill Masse isn't the only former Thunder skipper to be back in the Double-A ranks this season.

Billy Gardner, Jr. will lead the Montgomery Biscuits, the Devil Rays' Double-A affiliate this season. Gardner managed the Thunder in 2000 and 2001, and spent the 2006 campaign leading Dayton, the Low-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

The Thunder beat the Biscuits today, 12-3, in spring training action. Former Princeton star Ross Ohlendorf pitched for the Thunder, but forget about him starting the season near his college stomping grounds. The Yankees have tagged him for Triple-A pretty much from the time he arrived from the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson trade.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Welcome to the Thunder Report, the Trentonian's Thunder blog. I'll be using this space to supplement the newspaper's print coverage of the Yankees' Double A affiliate.

Our coverage will kick into high gear on Monday, when I head down to Florida to chronicle the assembly of the Thunder's 2007 opening day roster. But the pieces are already beginning to fall into place. The Yankees have begun making cuts from major league camp, starting the "trickle-down effect" that will help shape the rosters for all four of their full-season minor league affiliates.

One thing I can tell you right now - the Thunder pitching staff should be very good. An outstanding draft last year, along with the Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson trades this past winter, have given the Yankees plenty of pitching depth in their farm system. A number of those prospects will make their way to Trenton this season, either for opening night or down the road.

This is great news for Yankees fans. Aside from former Thunder star Chien Ming Wang, the Yankees' pitching staff isn't exactly young. Even the great Mariano Rivera isn't going to be closing games forever. And since free agent pitching is very overpriced ($7 million a year for Jason Marquis?!?!), it really helps if you can develop your pitching from within.

As Thunder fans, you got to see some of the Yankees top pitching prospects last summer in Phil Hughes, Tyler Clippard, J.B. Cox, Jeff Karstens, and (during the two months he was here) T.J. Beam. This summer, you'll get to see even more.

More on this and other things to watch this season in the days, weeks, and months to come. It should be an interesting summer for new manager Tony Franklin's team and the 400,000 or so who will pack Waterfront Park to see it play.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Coming Soon!

Stay tuned at for the launch of this blog, starting with live updates from the Trenton Thunder at spring training in Florida.