Murti's Yankees Notes: Happ Determined To Bury Last Season's Struggles

Clint Frazier Focused On Fixing His Defense, More

Sweeny Murti
February 24, 2020 - 9:01 am
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Here are some thoughts after the first exhibition games this past weekend.

HAPP'S MOTIVATION

J.A. Happ has moved from fifth starter to third starter pretty quickly with James Paxton and Luis Severino set to begin the season on the injured list. (Severino isn’t officially on it yet, but since he’s been shut down and there are only 4½ weeks until Opening Day, I’ll make the safe assumption.)

Happ had a good first outing when he threw two perfect innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday.

“My offseason routine was different,” Happ said. “I threw more, so from that perspective I was probably able to reach an intensity (Saturday) that I might not have otherwise this soon. I do feel different, for sure, but I’ve got to maintain that. That’s the challenge, but … Game 1 of spring, I feel good.”

The Yankees' J.A. Happ throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays on Feb. 22, 2020, at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.
Butch Dill/USA TODAY Images

Happ was 12-8 last season with a 4.91 ERA (his highest since 2011).

“Every emotion you could have, I had,” Happ said.

After the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, Happ heard the trade rumors. He even called general manager Brian Cashman to talk about it as he enters the second year of a two-year contract that includes a vesting option for 2021. 

Happ entered camp trying to shake off a season in which he gave up a career-high 34 home runs in 31 starts.

“You’ve got to do it because you want to do it,” Happ said.  “You don’t want to do it because somebody writes something that maybe you don’t like or you see something that you don’t like. I think that’s like a fleeting type of motivation. I think the motivation is I was in here doing what I needed to do because I want to do it for me and for my teammates and my family and to represent who I am a little bit better.”

FRAZIER FOCUSED ON IMPROVING DEFENSE

Clint Frazier and his “legendary bat speed” — thanks, Brian Cashman — never lacks confidence at the plate. But his defense needed a boost after last season, and Frazier spent some time working on it over the winter. 

“There was no secret as far as what I needed to work on,” Frazier said. “I felt like my back was against the wall in the offseason and I had to fight to come into camp and prove myself. And I feel good, I’m ready to fight.”

He made two plays cleanly in left field Saturday against Toronto.

“I feel better,” Frazier said. “In the offseason, you work on stuff and you feel good, but you don’t know what it’s going to be like until games come around. I worked on some stuff in the offseason as far my pre-pitch (routine) similar to the infielders, where I have a little hop in my step before the (pitch) just to try to help create a little athleticism for me. Because at times, I started to feel like my feet were concreted to the ground, just stagnant in the outfield. And I relate it to how I hit. If you watch in the box, I have a lot of movement. … I call it revving my engine.”

CAN ANDUJAR HANDLE FIRST BASE?

Miguel Andujar will see his first game action at first base later this week. I spoke to former Yankees first baseman and spring training special instructor Tino Martinez on the radio Saturday about Andujar’s ability to play first base.

Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar celebrates after hitting a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays on Feb. 23, 2020, at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Butch Dill/USA TODAY Images

“Well, he’s got the talent to do it,” Martinez said. “If you can play third base with that quick reaction, you can definitely play first base. The hardest part is maybe turning a double play. You’ve got to pivot the opposite way you do from third base to throw the ball to second base. You have to teach that little bit of footwork there. And besides that, really the hard part is learning where you have to be at all times — where your cutoffs are when the ball is hit into the left-center gap, the right-center gap, man on first base, where do you have to go … Once he gets all that down, it’s a lot of information, but he can do it.”

Andjuar will also see some time in left field, and the Yankees at this point are confident he can handle the moves. Now all he has to do is get his 2018 swing back. He got off to a pretty good start, slamming an opposite-field home run off Tampa Bay left-hander Anthony Banda on Sunday in Port Charlotte.

BRITTON IN A TOUGH SPOT

Zack Britton is the Yankees’ union representative, and that puts him in an unusual position. He’s the one fielding complaints from teammates who were on the 2017 team that lost to the Astros. So many players have spoken out, feeling MLB dropped the ball by not punishing the Astros players. But it is the MLBPA’s job to protect the Astros players, too.

“As a player that obviously doesn’t approve of what they were doing, (I’m) not happy about it, but I’m a big union guy and I support them being represented by our union,” Britton told me on the radio Saturday. He also broke down the reasons why the union would have been able to overturn any punishment levied on them.

“My wife’s an attorney,” Britton said. “You take this to a court of law, and it’s going to get thrown out immediately because (the Astros players) weren’t informed of it. Whether or not you know it’s right or wrong — we all know what’s right and what’s wrong. They knew what they were doing, but the fact that no one (from the front office) told them this is a rule now … that’s where they get away with not being disciplined, whether or not I believe they should. I think they should be. I think they definitely should be disciplined, but we have a CBA for a reason, and this doesn’t fall within those guidelines of (Commissioner Rob) Manfred being able to discipline the players. So the whole immunity thing, it really doesn’t matter, because they couldn’t be disciplined anyway within our CBA.  There’s no guidelines for disciplining them, and hopefully there will be now.”

As for the 2019 season and postseason, several Yankees have said they believe the Astros were still cheating then, too. Britton appeared in five of the six games in last year’s American League Championship Series, and he’s looked at the video from those games. Britton believes the Astros were playing it clean last year.

“We had a very sophisticated sign package, and I threw against them the most innings (of any reliever), and I threw a bunch of breaking balls,” Britton explained. “And that’s not a pitch I throw, and they didn’t take one swing on that breaking ball. If their system was working, they would have taken some aggressive swings. They took swings like they didn’t know it was coming.

“I can pretty confidently say I don’t think they were doing anything last year,” Britton concluded.

HOPES STILL HIGH FOR FLORIAL

Estevan Florial is in big-league spring training for the third straight year, but while he’s turned heads because of his athleticism, he still isn’t close to big-league ready, in large part because of wrist injuries that have held him to a total of 158 games in two seasons at Class A Tampa.

“But I think what hasn’t been lost is (he’s) still a special talent, still a very young man, and I still feel like he’s got a chance to be an impact player at the big-league level,” manager Aaron Boone said.

Florial is still just 22 years old, and Boone thinks he can begin to move quickly with an injury-free season. It’s possible he starts the year at Double-A Trenton.

“It’s important for him to be able to go out and kind of have that clean season where he racks up 400 at-bats … and then the development can start to happen,” Boone said. “It keeps getting interrupted, and that’s frustrating for him, obviously … (but) you see the dynamic player he’s capable of being, and that hasn’t changed.”

LEARNING TO WALK

In the eighth inning Sunday against the Rays, lefty Trevor Lane walked back-to back-hitters with two outs. Out came the pitching coach for a chat. Nothing unusual there unless you’re Matt Blake, the new Yankees pitching coach, whose only experience with mound visits was in his days at Lincoln-Sudbury High School in 2015 plus a stint in the Cape Cod League.

“I’d say just like all of us, spring training is for a reason,” Blake said. “I got critiqued heavily (by Boone and the other coaches) when I got back to the dugout about my gait. … They said I was consistent there and back, I didn’t get sped up out there — nice and smooth,” Blake said with a smile.

So what did he say to Lane in his first mound visit in a big-league game?

“He was jumping out of his delivery a little bit,” Blake said. “(I was) just trying to get him to think more about being aggressive through the middle of the zone and not get too animated.  Ultimately he got back in the zone and gave up a hard hit (a two-run triple), but that’s part of it.”

Blake, 34, is replacing the 65-year-old Larry Rothschild. And Blake showed an appropriate amount of humility when reporters questioned him about making a mundane mound visit.

“Until you’re out there with a real crowd and real things on the line, obviously that changes things a little bit,” Blake said. “I’ve done mound visits before, it’s just obviously a matter of magnitude and scale.”

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN.

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