Baby steps, not giant leap for Brackman

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Before the nearly 7-foot Andrew Brackman made his 2011 debut, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi had a simple message: Keep it simple.

"I don't want you to try to make up time today," Girardi told Brackman, who had been set back 10 days by a groin injury, hurting his chances at the No. 5 starter's job. "Just go out and throw strikes and relax and go about your business. I know you missed a couple of outings, but we can't make up those outings so don't try to make those up."

Missing a couple of outings early in spring should be no sweat for Brackman, considering he missed a couple years after Tommy John surgery cost him the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Brackman, 25, was the original, young Killer B for the Yankees, who had selected the right-hander with the No. 30 pick in 2007. Since then, Manny Banuelos and Brooklyn-bred Dellin Betances have sprinted by Brackman.

Brackman, though, is still considered an intriguing, top-100 prospect in baseball. Of the three, Brackman was the only with a chance this spring to win a major league starting job.

On Tuesday, Brackman threw a scoreless seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves. He showed the low- to mid-90s velocity. He nearly nailed Martin Prado with a fastball that got away high and in. He unleashed a nice curve when he got Shawn Bowman looking. And, maybe most important for where his 2011 could be headed, Brackman did it all from the stretch after allowing a leadoff single.

Girardi said there are four starters vying for the Nos. 4 and 5 spots, adding he didn't think anyone has separated themselves.

Freddy Garcia appears to be in the lead after retiring all nine Braves he faced Tuesday. Ivan Nova has an inside track because Yankees officials love his potential. Bartolo Colon has looked good. And Sergio Mitre is in consideration, but his candidacy is not strong.

Brackman? He may be the Yankees' bullpen addition at some point this season, following in the Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes first steps.

"I would be open to anything that would get me in a pinstriped uniform," Brackman said.

Brackman understands the Yankees' plan for him. His two years in pitching purgatory taught him patience. After being picked in the 2007 draft, he signed a four-year, $4.55 million major league contract.

When he finally came back from surgery, it seemed as though it might be Kei Igawa money the Yankees had spent. At Single-A Charleston in 2009, Brackman was 2-12 with a 5.91 ERA. The Killer B looked like an F.

Even last year, it didn't seem as though Brackman might have a future. But 6-foot-11 pitchers don't put all their parts together quickly. There was no eureka moment -- it just happened.

After going 5-4 with a 5.10 ERA at Single-A Tampa, he vaulted back into being a top-100 prospect, according to ESPN scout expert Keith Law.

"Confidence and control, he got it all together," catching prospect Austin Romine said.

He went 5-7 at Double-A Trenton, but his ERA dropped to 3.01. He struck out 70 in 80 2/3 innings. He walked just 30.

"There wasn't really a turnaround," Brackman said. "It was repetitions and innings. The more innings I get this year, the better I'll be."

Brackman is actually six months older than Phil Hughes. His age, height and injury history have mixed together to give him perspective that is likely going to be in line with the Yankees'.

While he wants nothing more than to go north with the team, Brackman realizes that he needs the repetition to really combine with Banuelos and Betances to form the actual Killer B's one day.

"I'd rather be getting innings at Scranton," Brackman said of a scenario in which he is not getting into games, but it is on the major league squad.

It was by no means a petulant demand. (Of course, "Put me in Triple-A!" seldom is.)

It was instead a wise one. Brackman battles confidence issues. Even on Tuesday, he noticed that there were nearly 11,000 fans in the stands.

"It is different when there are people in the seats and there are not people in the seats," said Brackman, who mentioned twice he was happy to get the first out of the way. "As a player, you are supposed to block that out. First time out there, you notice it a little bit."

Brackman has played in front of large crowds for a long time. At North Carolina State, he was a two-sport athlete and he played at Cameron Indoor and the Dean Dome. He has been the center of attention for a long time.

When Brackman was at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, he could blow away inferior talent, which he did. In high school, he led the Crusaders to a state title by striking out nearly two of every three batters he faced. In 47 1/3 innings, he had 83 strikeouts. He finished 7-0 with a 0.60 ERA.

The Yankees think he can one day dominate on the major league level. They'll settle for just a major league contribution. The big man took a small step on Tuesday.

"Each time I put on a Yankee uniform, it sinks in more and more that I'm finally here," Brackman said.

The Yankees know all that Brackman has been through. They know he has finally gained his confidence. They think he can be a part of the 2011 team. But it will probably be later than sooner.