Yankees Pregame Notebook: Torre, Tanaka and Beltran take center stage
"Joe's demeanor was always the same during good times and bad; that's my personality normally, but I saw the importance of it from Joe, how your mood doesn't change as long as the effort is there," Girardi said of his mentor. "I've often talked about Joe's ability to make people believe everything would be okay no matter what we were going through - and we went through a lot the years he was here, both on and off the field - and those are the things that I've tried to take the most from Joe. I sat in his office as much as I could when I was the bench coach, trying to get a feel for what it was like to be the manager, but I don't think you really understand until you sit in his chair."
Torre's celebration notwithstanding, there's also a game to play (and a very important one at that), with Hiroki Kuroda set to take the mound against the Chicago White Sox (noon pregame, 1 p.m. game time on YES) and looking to keep the momentum going after a huge walk-off victory Friday.
Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup, batting fifth and serving as the designated hitter, which could be a big boost to the starting nine. Beltran hasn't played since Tuesday after having a third cortisone shot in his troublesome elbow, but Girardi was so pleased with his progress into swinging a bat on Friday that he didn't feel the need to check with the switch-hitter about his availability.
"I talked to him last night and we talked about pinch-hitting him last night, that's how encouraged we were by how he felt," the skipper said. "But, if he comes in and says the elbow doesn't feel good, then I'll switch it."
Derek Jeter will, however, be getting the day off with a day game after a night game, meaning that Jacoby Ellsbury will lead off and Brett Gardner will hit second. It's a somewhat radical change for a lineup that usually sees Gardner lead off and Ellsbury hit third behind The Captain, but there's a method to Girardi's madness there, too.
"Gardy's a guy that works the count, so if Jake's on it gives him a chance to do some things," he said. "(The White Sox) also sent their lefty reliever out today too, so I don't have to worry about stacking lefties today."
That reliever is Eric Surkamp, who was optioned to Triple-A this morning, and Chicago's lack of a bullpen southpaw was a big reason why the top three hitters (with Brian McCann third) are all lefties and the combo of Stephen Drew and Ichiro at the bottom makes it five in a row as the lineup circulates.
"(The lineup) probably would've been different (if Surkamp weren't optioned), yeah, but I didn't have to worry about it," the Yankees skipper joked.
Of course, when it comes to the top two themselves, Gardner's season-long power surge obviously helped the decision a bit, and the skipper spoke to just how Gardner has almost doubled his career-high homer total with five-plus weeks still to go.
"I just think maturing as a player, understanding what he's capable of doing, and probably being healthy is the biggest thing," Girardi said. "He's been feeling pretty good all season; I know everyone is a little beat up at this point, he's not beat up to the point where you worry about it."
Time will tell just whether or not the entire southpaw surge will overwhelm Chicago starter Scott Carroll today, but surely, everyone would love to win one for the old skipper.
A few other notes and quotes from a relatively quiet Yankees clubhouse:
-Masahiro Tanaka threw a 35-pitch live batting practice session early this morning, with the feel looking more like a simulated game; he threw 20 pitches to Brendan Ryan and Zelous Wheeler, sat down for a bit, and then threw 15 more to simulate a second inning.
-After watching that outing, both Girardi and Larry Rothschild were pleased, with the skipper especially thrilled that he appeared to be looking at a full-bore Tanaka: "I thought he was pretty good, and he felt good, which is the most important thing; the big thing is that he doesn't have pain and the ball is coming out okay. The guys were talking about how hard it was to pick up the split and his arm motion, and that's a good sign because that means he's not babying it."
-Tanaka's take on the session: "I felt that I wasn't able to hit my spots as much as I wanted to, and I was a little rusty, but there were some good balls I was able to throw and it's a good step, so I want to keep moving forward."
-Wheeler, who saw 20 of the 35 pitches, had a pretty similar assessment: "He looked like everything was normal. He threw all his pitches and they all looked the same arm speed to me. His splitter stood out, too; I faced him early in spring training and I faced him today, and it looked exactly the same."
-Last word goes back to the skipper, giving the crowd a laugh when asked if he ever saw Joe Torre get more fired up than one would expect: "Let's face it, he's a New York Italian, you're gonna get upset and show it! But he always talked about how as he grew older and managed more, he learned to keep his emotions more in check. There was a lot of fire in Joe, but he probably did it a different way when he was here. There were times he'd get upset with us in the clubhouse and we knew it; it was probably calmer than other people's rants and raves, but it was heightened from what we were used to seeing, so he got his message across."