Opening Day arrives Monday afternoon for a Yankees team accompanied by little preseason buzz and mostly, at least from the outside, low expectations. And for some players, including the one who generated the most buzz in spring training, that's OK.
"I'm really excited about the regular season. I'm excited about this team," Alex Rodriguez said. "I think this team has a good, workmanlike mentality [and] DNA. Kind of a quiet, under-the-radar team. It has a good feel to it. I like that a lot of people aren't expecting much from us. That's a different place for us to be."
A-Rod, expected to be in the Game 1 lineup at DH after missing all of last season because of his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, smiled and said, "What's better than Opening Day at Yankee Stadium?"
Indeed, on what is forecast to be an unseasonably warm and sun-splashed afternoon in the Bronx, hope and optimism will be in the air, as it generally is for all 30 teams at this time of year.
The Yankees will hear cheers -- A-Rod could be the exception; he's likely to hear at least a smattering of boos -- from a capacity crowd as they take their places along the first-base line during pregame introductions.
But how long that Game 1 positivity lasts will rest on the right arm, and in the right elbow, of Masahiro Tanaka. He missed 2 1/2 months last season with a slight tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow but -- following the advice of three of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country -- took the rehab route instead of surgery and returned to make two late September starts.
He pitched well enough in spring training -- a 3.07 ERA in 14 2/3 innings -- but acknowledged Saturday that his fastball velocity this season might not be what it was last year, when he finished 13-3 with a 2.77 ERA. Some of that has to do with a concerted effort to throw more two-seam fastballs rather than four-seamers, which come with slightly more velocity, but some of it has to do with lessening the stress on his elbow.
Plenty of questions persist besides Tanaka, such as the durability of rotation mates Michael Pineda and Sabathia and the transition to the American League of No. 4 starter Nathan Eovaldi, consistently banged around in the National League despite an arm capable of delivering 98-mph fastballs with regularity.
Joe Girardi, whose job security could become a hot topic if the Yankees miss the playoffs a third straight year, said he's comfortable going into the season without a defined closer.
Then there are the lingering lineup questions, many of them revolving around the necessity of rebound seasons from aging regulars such as Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran.
But for now, all of those concerns will take a backseat. "You look forward to it every year," Girardi said. "You look forward to trying to go after what we really want. The competition that you're going to experience in the next 180 days, that's what we love to do."
Warren still working. Adam Warren, slated to start Saturday against Boston, threw 86 pitches for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday in Tampa. He allowed two runs, nine hits and zero walks with four strikeouts in five innings against Double-A Trenton. "Just trying to throw strikes with everything and I felt much better than I did last time out," he said. "Just really trying to throw strikes with everything and feel a lot crisper, and I felt like I accomplished that today."
With Anthony Rieber in Washington
and The Associated Press