Big Yankee Victory, but Ailing Johnson Will Miss a Start

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Sept. 25 — The Yankees collected a season-high 20 hits Monday night in a 16-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It should have made for a joyous ride back to New York, but one of the passengers was ailing.
Randy Johnson will miss his final start because of back spasms he experienced in Saturday’s loss here. Johnson has dealt with back tightness all season, and it nearly cost him a start in early September. Now, with the American League East title secured, he needs a break.
“My back’s locked up right now,” Johnson said. “So I’m getting treatment from the trainers, and the rest will hopefully do it well.”
Johnson, who normally declines to elaborate on injuries, said his back had become progressively worse. Manager Joe Torre said Johnson could have kept pitching, but Johnson believed rest would be better.
“Obviously the regular-season start doesn’t mean much, so we’re going to get ready for the postseason,” Johnson said. “That’s why I chose to not make my next start.”
Torre indicated after the game that Johnson would move back in the playoff rotation to start Game 3, on 12 days’ rest. Chien-Ming Wang is lined up to start in the opener Oct. 3, followed by Mike Mussina.
Jaret Wright, who tossed six strong innings Monday, is Torre’s preference to start a possible fourth game, though Torre said he would also consider Cory Lidle, who starts Tuesday at Yankee Stadium against Baltimore.
Johnson had been scheduled to start Thursday, and he will miss a start for only the second time in two years with the Yankees. That durability is important to Johnson, who turned 43 on Sept. 10.
“To think that I’ve made essentially every start since I’ve been a Yankee, at 43, says enough right there,” Johnson said last week in Toronto. “I’m proud of that.”
But Johnson saw no reason to push himself after a disjointed outing here Saturday. That night, he retired his first seven hitters but ended up allowing five runs and seven hits in six innings. He has allowed five runs in three consecutive starts for the first time since late in the 1991 season.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Johnson said Monday. “The last couple of starts, I was fine. This start, it just bothered me. So we’re just getting the treatment, doing things accordingly and maybe the time off will help.”
Johnson finished the regular season 17-11 with a 5.00 earned run average. He exceeded 200 innings for the 14th time in his career.
The news about Johnson comes precisely as another future Hall of Fame pitcher is regaining his health. Closer Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless seventh inning Monday, throwing 9 of his first 10 pitches for strikes.
It was Rivera’s second appearance this series after missing the first three weeks of September with a muscle strain near his right elbow.
“It looked good today,” Rivera said. “It looked much better today. I felt real good. Everything is in place where it should be.”
Rivera took 21 days to rest his arm, and with the playoffs approaching, Johnson will have much less time to rest his back. Under the circumstances, Rivera said, Johnson was being smart.
“Randy is a veteran,” Rivera said. “He knows how to control his body. If it’s something he can manage, I think he will do the right thing. Missing his next start to get ready for the playoffs, I think, is the right thing to do.”
Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui led the Yankees’ offense Monday, each hitting a three-run homer against Jae Seo in the first inning. Abreu finished with four hits, Matsui with three.
Matsui’s home run came on the 14th pitch of his at-bat, which included the ejection of the Tampa Bay pitching coach, Mike Butcher, and Manager Joe Maddon for arguing balls and strikes.
The Yankees’ 6-0 lead in the first inning was plenty for Wright, who allowed five hits and four walks. Though Torre would not commit to starting Wright in the playoffs, it was telling that he used Jorge Posada as the starting catcher.
Torre saidd that although Sal Fasano had caught Wright recently, Posada would do so in the playoffs, and he wanted the two to work together.
If Wright starts in the playoffs, he would pitch on the road and follow Johnson. That is assuming Johnson is healthy enough to pitch, an assumption the Yankees are making for now.
“I’ve been on teams when you clinched and got everybody healthy,” Wright said. “If that’s what it takes, I know he wants to be out there and I think he’s going to be fine.”