Commentary

Yankees put Rivalry's future on display

By showcasing battery of Banuelos and Montero, Bombers send message to Boston

Updated: March 15, 2011, 9:23 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Yankees were showing the Red Sox the coming attractions. The blockbuster prospects that could be center stage for the next 15 years were under the brightest lights spring can serve.

Yankees vs. Red Sox on national TV.

Manny Banuelos joined Jesus Montero to form the battery of the future. The future keeps feeling closer and closer. It is not tomorrow or March 31. But it is coming. There were back-to-back moments that made you feel like this is what the rivalry could look like real soon.

Manny Banuelos
AP PhotoManny Banuelos wasn't perfect, but he showed the Yankees the poise they hope to see in the Bronx someday -- or on the road at Fenway Park.

Banuelos -- the 20-year-old lefty that Mariano Rivera, of all people, calls the best pitching prospect he has ever seen -- was escaping a bases-loaded jam in the second by forcing Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to third.

In the top of the third, Montero, who could be the backup catcher to start the season, drove a double into right-center field. It was a Mike Piazza-like cut.

It was a one-two punch that could project all the way from some point this year until the 2020s.

In the 2-1 Yankees loss, Banuelos was wild, but he showed off his 95-mph fastball and changeup that moved more than an Army brat.

He didn't allow a run.

He did it all against Boston's "A" lineup. Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz were all in there.

"It was a big day," Banuelos said.

He went 2 2/3 scoreless innings and left with no one on base. Walks plagued Banuelos -- he had three of them -- but Banuelos left two men on in the first and the bases loaded in the second. He struck out Crawford and Youkilis.

The Youkilis strikeout came on a 3-2 change, which is something that Girardi can only imagine CC Sabathia even trying.

"He believes himself," Girardi said. "He believes in his stuff."

It is now 7 2/3 scoreless innings for Banuelos. Manny Mania isn't fully here yet, but you can hear the roar getting louder and louder.

"I feel ready for this," Banuelos said.

In the first, it appeared he might not be. Banuelos, who only found out he was starting before the bus ride, said he didn't feel nervous. Girardi the walks could have come because he felt a bit uneasy.

Banuelos walked Ellsbury, the leadoff man, which gave him an immediate chance to show what he can do when he finds himself in trouble. Banuelos forced Pedroia into a fielder's choice and then struck out Crawford.

Banuelos first showed great movement on his change and a fastball that lights the night up in the mid-90s. Still, he was not out of it. He walked Youkilis before making Gonzalez ground out to second to end the inning.

In the second, a couple of singles by Ortiz and Mike Cameron preceded a one-out walk to Marco Scutaro. Banuelos, in a scene the Yankees dream about happening at Fenway Park, bared down to force Ellsbury and Pedroia to ground out.

Inning over.

The Red Sox know that the Yankees are not just buying high-rent sky rises anymore, but are building from the ground up. Red Sox manager Terry Francona even had some friendly advice for his rivals about when Manny Mania should come to the Bronx.

"I hope he is too young to make their team," said Francona, thinking 2015 might be a good year. "With this young man's future they should go slow, very slow."

Cashman is in line with Francona's tongue-in-cheek advice on Banuelos. Banuelos just turned 20 on Sunday and the Yankees have him ticketed for Double-A Trenton. Girardi wouldn't totally close the door on Banuelos being the fifth starter, but the manager likes to always leave a little opening. Even Cashman warned the Yankees could change their mind. They probably won't.

But it is very conceivable that if Banuelos can dominate at Double-A, Manny Mania could be in the Bronx at some point this season.

That is why Monday night was important. The same way the Yankees may make Montero their backup so he can get a feel for being a Yankee before being a starter, Banuelos was given a chance to have a better feel for the rivalry before he is in the middle of it.

"I saw him when he came in and I said, 'Make a promise that you won't try to do too much,'" Girardi said.

Banuelos wasn't perfect, but said he wasn't nervous. He struck Youkillis on what he described as a "great pitch," one of his magic changeups.

"I think I'm ready," Banuelos said.

The Yankees are going to wait a little longer, but everyone is starting to know how to say BAN-U-A-LOS.

"Put it this way, probably most people couldn't pronounce his name before camp," Cashman said. "I think everybody can pronounce it now."

Especially the Red Sox. They know what is coming.

NOTES: Dellin Betances was wild, pitching 1 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. He also hit a batter. ... Mark Prior didn't make the trip because he is under the weather. ... On Tuesday morning in Tampa, Bartolo Colon will try to further his case for the fifth spot when he pitches in a simulated game. CC Sabathia will also pitch.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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