Yankees hope aged team is team for the ages

October baseball is almost a divine right in the view of the New

York Yankees. They’ve made the playoffs in 17 of the last 18

seasons, their fans block out autumn nights for baseball months in

advance and clubhouse celebrations break out with regularity.

But there are doubts this year. Lots of them.

Nick Swisher is gone. So are Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric

Chavez and Rafael Soriano.

Derek Jeter will start the season on the disabled list. He’ll be

joined by Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Phil

Hughes.

”Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” ace CC Sabathia said.

”We’ve got guys in here who can hopefully step up and try to fill

the void until these guys get back.”

The power supply seems a bit depleted, especially while they

wait for the return of Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and A-Rod, who

combined for 100 home runs last year. Add in Swisher, Martin and

Ibanez, and that’s 164 of the team-record 245 hit by the

Yankees.

”I anticipate it’s going to be different because we don’t quite

have the home-run hitters that we’ve had in the past,” said Joe

Girardi, starting his sixth season as manager. ”So, we’re going to

have to find different ways to score runs. I think when you look at

our club this year, there’s more speed.”

Older clubs generally aren’t known for swiftness, and the

Yankees once again will be among the majors’ elderly. Hoping their

veterans age like wine and not become akin to rotary phones in the

wireless era, New York counts on the health of a pitching staff

closer to AARP than MVP.

Mariano Rivera, the 43-year-old reliever who is the greatest

closer ever, returns for a valedictory season after missing most of

2012 with a torn knee ligament. Just hearing Metallica’s ”Enter

Sandman,” Rivera’s introductory music, makes the Yankees and their

fans feel better.

”I can’t say anything else other than he has been absolutely

amazing to watch,” Andy Pettitte said. ”You don’t have to worry

about him when he walks out there and takes that mound.”

Pettitte, who turns 41 in June, was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12

starts last year, when he missed almost three months because of a

broken lower left leg, sustained when he was hit by a line drive

off the bat of Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman on June 27.

Hiroki Kuroda, 38, became the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher

last year and went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in his first season in

pinstripes, leading New York with 33 starts and 219 2-3

innings.

More is expected of Sabathia, who turns 33 in July. He was 15-6,

3.38 ERA, slowed by trips to the disabled list for a strained groin

and an inflamed elbow – which needed postseason surgery. With

Hughes still coming back from a spring training back injury. Ivan

Nova (12-8, 5.02) and David Phelps (4-4, 3.34) also will be in the

rotation when the season starts.

”There’s been a lot of talk about our age, but I like having

those veterans,” owner Hal Steinbrenner said. ”I like the age. I

like the experience. And I think it’s great for the young players

to have that around. Injuries are a big part of it. We’re just

going to have to keep our fingers crossed that we don’t get any

strange injuries like Andy last year, and Mo.”

With the departure of Soriano, who signed with Washington, a

larger bullpen burden will fall on David Robertson, who never

completely bounced back from a strained left oblique last May, and

Joba Chamberlain, who returned in August from 14 months of

injuries.

On the offensive side, all the major additions are members of

the 30-plus club. Kevin Youkilis (34) was brought in to play third

base while A-Rod’s hip heals, and Vernon Wells (34) was added in

the final week of spring training to fill a corner outfield spot

while Granderson’s broken forearm gets better. He’ll be joined in

the outfield by Brett Gardner, limited to 17 games last season

because of an elbow injury, and Ichiro Suzuki (39), who revived his

career after he was acquired from Seattle last summer.

Travis Hafner figures to get a lot of at-bats at designated

hitter, if he avoids injuries that have limited him to fewer than

100 games in four of the last five seasons. Juan Rivera is the

fill-in at first base until Teixeira returns from a wrist injury

and Eduardo Nunez until Jeter’s left ankle recovers sufficiently

from surgery last October.

Francisco Cervelli, dropped to Triple-A for almost all of last

season, is likely Martin’s replacement behind the plate.

Even the general manager is wounded. Brian Cashman broke a leg

and dislocated the ankle skydiving in Florida during spring

training while raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.

He knows George Steinbrenner wouldn’t have tolerated any

whining. He’d insist an aged team become a team for the ages.

”I was raised under the Boss, and with the Boss there’s no

excuses,” he said. ”So these are the obstacles you deal with, and

you find ways to get over. No one cares about anything else. All

they care about is the bottom line is what you put in that win

column. We’re not going to allow this to bury us. We’re just not.

We can’t.”

AP freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.