Mark Prior allowed just one run while striking out 11 batters in 7.2 innings this spring, but his comeback will have to continue in the low minors after the Yankees assigned him to Single-A yesterday.
Prior’s minor-league contract with the Yankees includes an opt-out clause that would allow him to become a free agent if not satisfied with his situation at a later date.
However, the 29-year-old former All-Star told Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com that he has “no intention of using it”:
I want to be here. I’m still a part of this organization and I truly want to help this ball club win. And I think I can do that. I think I probably surprised a lot of people that I can still kind of hold my own at this level and I know I can. I know my stuff is not what it was, and I don’t expect it to be, but I know it’s good enough to play at this level still.
For now he’ll have to prove that he can dominate inexperienced hitters a decade his junior. Prior blitzed through the minors so quickly while coming up through the Cubs’ system that he has a grand total of just four career starts at Single-A, the most recent of which came in 2006.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.