At the end of spring training, brave David Wright acts healthy, and new, grayer Andy Pettitte pitches just like the old one
5:50 pm Apr. 4, 2012
The Mets and Yankees played a pair of exhibition games to close out spring training on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both featured welcome appearances by players on both sides, didn't mean much, and probably shouldn't have been scheduled, from the Mets' point of view. (The Mets now face a plane ride and no off day or workout day in a newly reconfigured park.)
But nobody got hurt, which, as explained by the wise veteran and new Yankee Hiroki Kuroda, is the whole point. Still, a number of performances stood out, with Opening Day now less than 24 hours away.
Any injuries to regular players for the Mets will be problematic, given the team's lack of depth, so simply seeing Andres Torres on the field was an excellent sign after he missed much of the past two weeks with a calf strain. Seeing him line a single to right field and race around the bases was even better.
Daniel Murphy continued to hit, which we all knew he could do, and succeeded in not being terrible at playing second base, which no one knew if he could do. (To be fair, his defensive struggles owe something to the Mets' failure to give him a single position and stick to it.)
Mike Pelfrey pitched well, and Jon Niese pitched poorly. But if you adjust your expectations on either based on a single spring outing, you've learned nothing about spring training results.
The crowd's biggest cheers on Tuesday, for the half of the home-and-home played in the Port St. Lucie spring location of the Mets, came for David Wright, who had another two hits and made a neat short-hop pickup of a tricky shot down the third base line.
Wright, like his teammates, is ready to play Opening Day, despite a muscle tear in his abdomen that delayed his spring debut by about a month. There's no telling how healthy he truly is: Remember, Wright stubbornly stayed in the lineup for weeks last year despite sustaining a stress fracture in his back. But his mere appearance at Opening Day will be heartening to Mets fans, at a time when they could really use it.
As for Ike Davis, his home run to end the 7-6 Tuesday win for the Mets was an epic shot over the large center field batters' eye. Davis, just a few years ago, opened eyes in spring training with home runs like that throughout 2010. Two weeks after getting sent down, he was the starting first baseman for good. Now, Davis simply has to prove that he can stay on the field for 150 games, after missing all but 36 last year with a leg injury, and getting diagnosed with valley fever early this spring.
If that Tuesday rundown seems devoid of Yankees, that's because it was. The lineup included Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher ... and a whole bunch of reserves. When George Steinbrenner isn't around, the Yankees know they don't have anything to prove on long spring trips to face the Mets.
The rematch on Wednesday featured the regulars on both sides, at least for a time. The Mets traveled as a team- after all, they would be heading north immediately following the game. And the Yankees, who train in Tampa, happen to open in Tampa on Friday. So from their scheduling perspective, the Mets could have been anyone. No wonder the fans followed suit, with plenty of empty seats in the ballpark. (Port St. Lucie had been booked to capacity.)
Freddy Garcia got hit a bit—Davis tagged him for a three-run home run—but the fifth Yankee starter (at least for now) got his work in. The Mets' fifth starter, Dillon Gee, completed a strong spring. The usual suspects were applauded—Jeter, A-Rod—and then, as the sixth inning began, fans who remained were treated to the sight of Andy Pettitte on the mound.
The hair at his temples have a bit of gray now. The stakes were precisely the opposite of when he last pitched for the Yankees, in the 2010 playoffs. But Pettitte's inning of work—he worked around a single by Cory Vaughn by holding him close, then letting Francisco Cervelli throw him out—reminded everyone that while spring was ending, a pitcher who'd appeared in so many Octobers was back in the Yankee fold.
Viewers of the game, which was only seen on YES, needed to recognize Vaughn themselves, of course, with the Yankee announcing team too caught up in Pettitte's appearance to give even the rudiments of the actual ballgame action. Still, their excitment was understandable, and more appropriate than whatever Suzyn Waldman was doing here when Roger Clemens appeared at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte really did look the same as he pitched. He needs to build up his arm strength, and will do so in the minor leagues, with an expected return in early May. But there's been no evidence so far that his year away from the game did anything to dull the skills of a man who, remember, was 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA back in 2010.
The Yankees and Mets gave way to the Trenton Thunder and Savannah Sand Gnats, and the Yankee prospects proceeded to beat up on their Met counterparts, winning Wednesday's game, 8-3. The next time the two teams face each other, it will be early June at Yankee Stadium.