Friday, April 3, 2009

Trial Run

There was plenty to rave about after a first peek at Yankee Stadium on TV, and the team on the field provided some reasons for optimism, as well as some causes for concern.

First the stadium. It looks majestic, embracing the features and cathedral-like feel of the old Yankee Stadium, while providing all the modern amenities fans have been craving. Truly a palace. The HD video board is impressive and there finally is a scoreboard in left center. Bringing back the frieze to the top of the stadium was a great addition and helps return the stadium to look of the original -- the one before the 1970s renovations.

On to the team. The offense showed pop without Alex Rodriguez. Robinson Cano continues to look comfortable with his altered stance and seems locked in, hitting the first homer at the stadium and his fourth of the spring. A strong start by Cano, who has started extremely slowly in each of the last two seasons, would go a long, long way toward helping the team ride out A-Rod's absence.

Hideki Matsui's stroke continues to come along. He popped a ball off the foul pole in right, his fourth homer of the spring, most of them in the last week. The Yankees would love for him to come close to his pre-injury hitting form, but that will depend on how well those surgically repaired knees hold up.

Derek Jeter looks to have his stroke down with two hits out of the leadoff spot and Cody Ransom got into the act with a homer. The Yankees aren't counting on much offense from Ransom, but the occasional pop would be a bonus.

But it was not a perfect night. Chien-Ming Wang threw 70 pitches over five shaky innings, allowing four runs and raising questions. Is the lisfranc injury still bothering him? Does he have a dead arm? Was he working on his changeup? Was he going full-bore in his last spring start? My gut tells me his foot is fine. If he was having trouble pushing off with that foot, pitching coach Dave Eiland would have spotted it given Wang some rest.

While Jeter was solid at the plate, his defense was less than stellar. He failed to get to a couple of grounder others likely would have snagged and he made a couple of poor throws. His range limitations are growing to point where I'm wondering if a position switch for the Captain might be closer than I previously would have liked to admit.

I was also annoyed by the Yankees' failure to drive in Jeter from third with less than two outs in the first inning. Yes, it's one game and an exhibition game at that. But a major reason the offense struggled so much last season was its inability score that run in that exact situation. That needed to a point of emphasis this spring and it needs to be throughout the season. If not, then if the team makes the playoffs, it will be another quick exit. You just can't wait for the three-run homer against good pitching.

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