First cup of Joe: Girardi meets the media
If you think about it, today marked the first of the hundreds of press conferences and interviews that Joe Girardi will give during the season — usually two a day during the 40-plus days of Spring Training, two a day for each of the 162 regular season games, and we’re not even counting his appearances on the YES Network and other news outlets.
So it’s safe to say we’ll all be hearing Girardi’s voice quite a bit for the rest of the year, but there’s only one official report day for pitchers and catchers. Girardi’s flight from New York to Florida was delayed by weather, so he went directly from the airport to the podium at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Here are the highlights of his 20-minute session:
What was your reaction to Derek Jeter’s announcement, and did you know it was coming?
“I had not heard before that, so I think we were probably all a little bit taken aback by it. You’re never sure how someone’s going to do it, but I had no inkling that that’s what he was thinking, so I was a little taken aback by it. I listened to some of his comments on the article that he had written about how more difficult to get ready and he said when it becomes more of a job than playing then it’s something you have to think about. I can remember a long time ago, Kevin Tapani telling me that it wasn’t the day he pitched. It was the work the four days prior to pitching that became so much more difficult for him. He’s played a lot of games and played a long time, and obviously he’s been so important to this organization. We’re going to miss him.”
Did you get a sense last year about how difficult it was for him?
“That was really clear. We all know how much he loves to be out there. Even when he was trying to fight through it, he would tell me he felt great. His words that he always uses to me: ‘I feel great.’ But you could see how frustrated he was that it just wasn’t healed completely. I’m looking forward to this year.”
You saw what it was like last year with Mariano Rivera… what will this be like?
“I’m not sure how he’ll do it. I thought Mariano, the way he went through it, was special. Mo was in a different situation because Mo doesn’t start to get ready until the fifth or sixth. As a position player, you can’t necessarily do that. I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different. I think watching Mo, he really enjoyed his final season, and I hope Derek is able to do that as well.”
You’ve had to transition established stars into the later phase of their careers. You don’t have to do that with him now. Is that easier on you?
“I don’t know if it makes it easier. It’s clearer. The picture is clearer. This is a guy that’s going to be hard to replace in your clubhouse and on your club. It’s the nature of the business where people age and they move on and they go and do different things in their life, and in our life it’s a little bit quicker than some of the other working people of this world. It’s not something that we’ll think about all year. ‘Is this going to be it? Is this going to be it?’ Because he said it’s going to be it. From that standpoint, that will be easier.”
Any sense how much he can play this year?
“I’ve said all along that he’ll basically determine that on how he’s doing and how he’s feeling. Obviously as a manager, you would love to be able to run out Derek Jeter out there every day, but we know that’s not the case and you don’t do that with many players today anyway. There will just be constant communication like it has been the last few years.”
‘Taken aback’ means you were surprised. Were you saddened or disappointed?
“Yeah. I was there in 1996 when he broke in as Rookie of the Year. And to be able to play alongside such a great player and be able to coach a great player and manage a great player has been a thrill for me — and what he’s meant to this organization. Yeah, I think about the guys that I played with that have retired while I’ve been the manager, these guys were really important to their club and it saddens you. I remember coming to spring training when Jorge wasn’t in that first group hitting. It was like shocking not to see him there. It’ll be strange next year without Derek. So it does sadden you, and you hate to see players get older, but unfortunately it happens.”
Will you resist the pressure to play Jeter more because it’s his last year?
“I’ve got to do what’s best for our team and best for him, is the bottom line. As I’ve said, he’s going to play as much as he’s capable of playing. That’s the bottom line for me. We want him out there, we want him out there every day. I know it won’t be every day, but I want to run him out there most of the time. I’ve just got to do what is best. I kind of had to deal with it with Mo a little bit, I had to deal with it with Andy a little bit. I’ll just do what’s best for our club.”
Do you know how much you can play Jeter?
“I think you’ll have a pretty good idea. At no point in Spring Training will I run him out five or six days in a row, but I think that you’ll be able to tell running him out there two and three days in a row how he’s responding and how he’s bouncing back. It’ll give you a pretty good inkling.”
What has it been like to manage the final days of the Core Four?
“It’s been a thrill. I think about playing alongside these guys and watching these guys go out on their own terms, it’s been pretty exciting. I feel like I’m really blessed to have that opportunity to manage these guys and watch them end their careers the way they want. You wish you could bring them back, and I joked with Mo when I saw him a couple of times at some events this winter, but I feel like I’ve been able to experience so many great things at the stadium because of these guys and I love it.”
Will Jeter hit second?
“That would be the ideal thing, if you could break up your left-handers, but we’ll just have to see. We’ll play with lineups during spring training.”
Did CC Sabathia’s weight affect his velocity last year?
“I think that could be part of it. I think not having a normal offseason because he was rehabbing his elbow is part of it as well. I can’t tell you exactly where his velocity is going to be, but the bottom line for his success is not his velocity. Obviously it helps a little bit, but it’s his location. I think he got behind the eight-ball a little bit because of the injury last year, but I think he’s had a normal winter. I think his location will be much better and I do think his velocity will be better, I do.”
Without Robinson Cano, do you have a ‘best hitter’ to build your lineup around?
“I think we have a collection of very good hitters this year. I think our lineup is much deeper than it was last year from top to bottom. There’s more balance with some of the switch-hitters; Tex coming back and Beltran. Having Soriano the whole year, bringing Jeet back, I think there’s much more balance in our lineup. But as far as having that one guy that maybe you center the lineup around, I would say no.”
Will Michael Pineda be the fifth starter?
“When we traded for him, we expected him to be in our rotation. He’s had some injury-plagued seasons the last couple years. Obviously you want someone to rise to the top to become the fifth starter. It’s an interesting year as a manager. I’ll say it tomorrow when I speak with the pitchers; don’t try to make the team in the next few days because there are some open spots. There is some really good competition here where you have the competition for the fifth starter, and the guys that aren’t necessarily the fifth starter could be in your bullpen. I want to make sure these guys aren’t pushing too hard, too early where they have a setback. If you have a setback, that could cost you a spot on this club. It’s really important to me that I stress to all these guys – Michael Pineda, Phelps, Warren, Nuno and all these young kids that have a chance to earn a spot in our bullpen – you can’t do too much in the next couple weeks. Get your arm in shape, get strong and then we’ll go from there.”
With changes all over, how is your job different?
“It’s trying to learn your pieces from a mental and a physical standpoint. From a mental standpoint, what gets them going, can you read when they need a day off, are they honest about when they need a day off? Physically, how many days in my mind should I play a guy? What makes me think that they need a day off? Bringing the guys close together as a team. A lot of times, people say, ‘What comes first? The chemistry or the winning?’ Winning can help chemistry a lot. We’ll do some of those things and I’ll pay attention to signs from players, try to listen really carefully and use some of my coaches and other people to find out sometimes what a player is really saying. I think that’s important.”
What are your thoughts on Masahiro Tanaka?
“I did spend some time watching video of him this offseason and watching his ability to turn it up a notch when he needed to. Being able to add velocity; to having a couple of different fastballs; a couple of different sliders, a curveball, a split, a changeup. I even saw him get a hit. I don’t know if that will come into play if he gets to in a National League ballpark. What I like is his competitiveness. I’ve been a guy that is careful about labeling people. Is he your No. 1 starter? Is he your No. 4 starter? Is he No. 5? Two? Three? I believe that every day, the guy that pitches is your No. 1 starter. That’s how I think of it, because that’s your guy. That’s your guy that day, and one of the other guys can’t really sub in for him unless you happen to have some days off. I like his ability. I like his competitiveness. Now it’s just making some adjustments to American baseball. We’ve seen where it’s taken American players a little time to adjust to New York. He seems to really enjoy the stage and the spotlight and being a big part of a club. Let’s give him a little time to adjust.”
Could Pineda begin the year in the bullpen?
“We envision him as a starter, but I think that when we take a look at this, we’ve got to see how he’s doing as a starter. Then, once we pick our starters, we’ve got to pick what we believe is our best bullpen. So the answer to that is, I think anything is possible, but we envision him as a starter.”
Who is your backup first baseman, and what reports have you received on Mark Teixeira?
“I would say right now our backup first baseman would be Kelly Johnson if Tex needed a day off, and he’s going to need some days off. Everything has been positive signs for Tex. At times I talked about, it’s one thing to go through minor league rehab games and your workouts and your BP, because it can be a little bit guarded. But it’s another thing when you get into a big league game and it’s not so guarded. So I think you just have to pay attention to what he’s saying and the signs that he’s giving off. But I feel pretty good about his wrist, and I’m really looking forward to having him back.”
Would you play Brian McCann at first base?
“It’s not something that we’ve talked about. I guess it could be, though.”
Why do you think David Robertson will be ready for the ninth inning?
“I think he has all the ability in the world. You think about closers, and you want pitchers that are strikeout guys, and that’s exactly what he has. I think for Robby, I remember coming in at a much smaller stage and you’re compared to someone (Mike Stanley). And then Tino was compared to Don Mattingly. And it’s important for Robby that he’s just himself, and that if something does go wrong one day, you’re going to be compared to Mo. You know what, I think Mo blew six or seven saves last year. Mo was human too, and you can’t get too caught up in just one game. I would love to say he’s going to go 45-for-45, but even the greatest closers of all time don’t do that. So for us, it’s just if it does become a media buzz or something, we just have to help him control it.”