Mailbag: Too many options for first?

Mailbag: Too many options for first?

For a player, Spring Training is one of the best times of year, especially once the exhibition games get going. When else can you report to the ballpark, play a few innings and then leave, off to fill the rest of the afternoon with a few quick holes at the golf course?

But there's work to be done as well down in the Florida sunshine. Bit by bit, the Yankees are moving closer to March 31, building up pitch counts and getting their at-bats in. Let's see what questions you have as Opening Day draws nearer:

Isn't there a danger in having too many first basemen -- Jason Giambi, Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane, Wilson Betemit, Juan Miranda -- and not being able to get a good enough look at any of them?
-- Donald A., Barnegat, N.J.

I thought there might be, too, especially when manager Joe Girardi said that he doesn't have any set plan for getting guys into games. The only thing we know right now is that Giambi appears to be the front-runner and will start at least every other day, as the Yankees really want to find out if he can be counted on to play regularly. He'll never win a Gold Glove Award, but the splits that show he's a much better offensive player when he plays the field.

You figure that in the Yankees' lineup, a typical Giambi game involves him taking a walk, maybe getting hit by a pitch, scoring a run or two, and once in a while, he'll mash one in the upper deck. He's also working on slicing the ball the other way and being less pull-happy. If that's what you're talking about, then the Yankees can live with that, especially since they're paying him $21 million no matter what.

As for the other candidates, they'll whittle down as the games go by. Ensberg said he was promised by Girardi that he'll get enough at-bats to prove himself, and Duncan isn't worried about needing to stand out until the third or fourth week of camp. The Yankees are looking at Lane more as an outfielder, Betemit is pretty much cemented as a backup infielder and Miranda's chances of being on the Opening Day roster are slim.

Do you believe the loss of Larry Bowa as a coach will hamper the success of Alex Rodriguez and/or Robinson Cano? As everyone knows, Bowa was instrumental in keeping A-Rod in check, as well as helping Cano grow as a well-rounded second baseman.
-- John L., Bayside, N.Y.

There's no doubt that Bowa had a great impact on both players. Yet the investments the Yankees just made in both players -- $275 million-plus for A-Rod, $30 million for Cano -- seem to indicate confidence that they'll know what to do when the bell rings, no matter who's on the coaching staff.

I think it's a much better question for Cano, who really leaned on Bowa to develop. Those early-morning drill sessions with Bowa are no more, although Cano has looked fine defensively so far this spring.

Bobby Meacham is effectively replacing Bowa as the infield and third-base coach, and Meacham knows a little bit about playing the middle infield at Yankee Stadium. It's definitely worth a follow-up later in the season to see how Cano takes to Meacham. At this point, it's really just too early to tell.

So what was wrong with Mike Mussina last season -- age, injury, mechanics or was he just out of gas?
-- Victor L., Newark, N.J.

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Is this a multiple choice question? Seriously, a lot of the answer has to be traced to the left hamstring injury he suffered in Minnesota. If you think about it, pitchers report to Spring Training weeks before anyone else so they can prepare for the season. When a pitcher is injured midseason, he doesn't have the luxury of taking six weeks to build up his strength again.

Most times, the demand is to get back as soon as possible, because the team needs you. That's essentially the position Mussina was in last year, and while it doesn't excuse those back-to-back-to-back awful games in August, you can understand his troubles a little more.

Mussina insists he can still pitch at the big league level, and the Yankees are going to give him the opportunity to prove it. He's 39 and isn't going to get away with many mistakes, but I'd still take Mussina's pitching smarts over most. There's a reason Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are huddling up near his locker this spring.

Will A-Rod repeat his performance or will we see some of the aging lineup start to affect his numbers this year? And what exactly is Hideki Matsui's health status?
-- Matt M., Boston

A-Rod predicts that Derek Jeter will win the AL MVP this year, not him. We'll see. That said, there are plenty of big league hitters who would love to be surrounded by the Yankees' lineup, even if it's a year older. Ensberg was just saying that the other day, calling it "a joke" how potent it is.

Matsui is coming along from right knee surgery. He's doing all of the running except the hard cuts and appears on track to play sometime in the second week of exhibition games.

With three of the Yankees' pitchers being very young, why is the attention with innings limitations all on Joba Chamberlain? Aren't the Yankees also worried about burning out the other two youngsters?
-- George S., Ridgefield, N.J.

That may be true for some fans -- and some in the media, let's be fair -- but the Yankees are watching all three closely. It's most prominent with Chamberlain because he threw only 112 1/3 innings in his first pro season. You figure Chamberlain won't go far past the 140 mark and can't possibly serve six months in the rotation. Hughes was at 146 in 2006, though his left hamstring injury kept him from equaling that in '07, and Kennedy threw 165 1/3 innings last year. Still, you can't say it enough. As with everything, the plan is subject to change.

What happened to Colter Bean? He doesn't show up on the roster of any Yankees affiliate.
-- Brian S., Poulsbo, Wash.

The Beaner is in camp with the Braves this spring. I couldn't help but notice that the two final Atlanta pitchers in Joe Torre's first win as Dodgers manager on Feb. 28 were Matt DeSalvo, who allowed four runs and took the loss, and Bean, who gave up the game-winning hit.

What's up with Chase Wright? Is he in the plans for this season? He had trouble with that one game in Boston last season but overall looked like a promising lefty.
-- Joe S., Westchester, N.Y.

The Yankees still think so. Wright will probably open the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will be available if there's a need at the big league level. One thing that stood out about Wright was that he wasn't rattled. After he gave up the four consecutive homers at Fenway Park, he actually selected uniform No. 4 in the Minors. His reasoning: "I've got to wear it anyway, so I might as well wear it for real." You like to see that kind of attitude.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.