So, will Manny Banuelos debut before the All-Star break? Or after?
The Yankees’ spring sensation shut out the rival Red Sox over 2-2/3 innings on Monday night. He flashed a dizzying array of pitches that kept Boston’s varsity lineup off balance. He hit locations with veteran savvy. He showed poise.
Barring injury, the lefty from Monterrey, Mexico, will pitch in the big leagues this year. In fact it might be that the two landmark events at Yankee Stadium this summer will be (a) Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit and (b) Banuelos’ arrival.
“I don’t know what his timeframe is,” said teammate Eric Chavez, a 13-year veteran. “But whatever it is, it’s not long.”
And to think, Banuelos’ starting assignment at City of Palms Park was something of an accident. Sergio Mitre was due to pitch, but those plans were scuttled because of his oblique injury. So, Banuelos took the ball — against New York’s archrival, in front of a national television audience, one day after his 20th birthday.
“I didn’t feel any,” Banuelos said afterward. “That’s natural.”
I believe him. Banuelos allowed five baserunners, including three walks. Less than 53 percent of his pitches were strikes. But his performance was better than that. Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg held him to a tight zone, particularly with a big-breaking curveball that seemed to snap in for a strike more often than Kellogg acknowledged.
Banuelos was a few favorable calls from a much easier night. He still managed to strike out Carl Crawford (fastball) and Kevin Youkilis (changeup).
Banuelos’ lone disappointment? He didn’t fan David Ortiz, too.
“He’s a big, really good hitter,” Banuelos explained, when asked about the fascination with Big Papi. “A lot of people know him.”
As you can see, the young man doesn’t lack confidence. And with 7-2/3 scoreless innings this spring, he has every reason to believe he belongs. When I asked him if he can have success in the majors this year, he answered immediately and matter-of-factly.
“Yeah,” he said. “I think I’m ready. Just get a little better at things, and I’m ready.”
The story line already is there: Banuelos is the charming backup quarterback. The bleachers will chant his name after the first interception in the season opener. For a team with well-known pitching concerns, the rookie with a spotless career record always is the convenient solution.
Even the pragmatic Joe Girardi let his mind wander a little before Monday’s 2-1 loss.
“It’s been talked about that he’s going to the minor leagues, but I don’t ever say anything’s 100 percent,” the Yankees manager said. “Sometimes your needs change in a hurry around here. I don’t want a guy to think there’s no hope. He’s in big league camp. Show us what he can do.”
General manager Brian Cashman, Girardi’s boss, is less enthused about the possibility that Banuelos will make the team out of spring training. In fact, Cashman reiterated to reporters on Monday that Banuelos is going to start at Class AA.
I don’t think Cashman is fibbing. But after watching Banuelos stand tall against Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and the rest of Boston’s “A” team, I’m convinced that he can help the Yankees at some point this year. His fastball ranged from 92 to 94 mph — “firm,” Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said.
I wouldn’t put too much stock in the different spin the GM and manager put on Banuelos’ immediate future in their comments Monday. Girardi is charged with winning games now, while Cashman knows that Banuelos must prove he possesses major league durability. According to this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook, the left-hander never has thrown more than seven innings in a professional game.
And the Yankees don’t need to put Banuelos on their Opening Day roster. That’s why they have the likes of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. The appeal of Colon and Garcia is that they are veteran hands who know how to prepare themselves for a season. If one or both of them can offer semi-reliable performance between Opening Day and July, they will have fulfilled their obligation to the Yankees.
If they wear down at midseason, it will be time for Manny to be Manny.
Red Sox fans are among the most clued-in anywhere, but it didn’t seem that they paid much mind to Banuelos on Monday. The New Englanders (and Red-clad snowbirds) spared him their booing during pregame introductions. Only a dull murmur, along with cheers from a cluster of Yankees fans, rippled through the crowd when he exited during the third inning.
That’s OK. This isn’t the last that Red Sox Nation will see of Manny Banuelos. On some night in the not-too-distant future, he’s going to visit Fenway Park and make the home team feel hung over with that magic changeup.