Commentary

Colon continues improbable comeback

The former Cy Young winner may look out of shape, but he continues to get batters out

Updated: March 5, 2011, 10:05 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the scale of improbable-comeback stories in the Yankees clubhouse this year, Bartolo Colon's would rank no higher than third.

[+] EnlargeBartolo Colon
AP Photo/Kathy Willens Bartolo Colon had his second consecutive impressive outing on Friday night.

Nobody in the room comes close to what Mark Prior is trying to do, having not pitched in a major-league game in nearly five years.

Then there is the Andruw Jones Story, the Eric Chavez Story, the Freddy Garcia Story. The place is chock-full of used-up guys trying to prove they have one more good summer left in their once magnificent careers.

And yet, the chapter Colon is writing is as compelling as any of them so far. The guy was a Cy Young winner five years ago, out of the game two years ago, and busting out of his uniform now.

He came to training camp with a body David Wells would snicker at, and probably does, and a truckload of questions about why he was here and whether he should be in the first place.

But with the Yankees perilously thin at starting pitcher, they had no choice but to give the little round man a shot to make their rotation, along with Garcia, Ivan Nova (just 42 innings out of Triple -A) and Sergio Mitre, whose name and reputation are synonymous with long relief.

In their first go-round, the four candidates plus CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett threw 19 innings, allowed 13 hits and just one run -- that run allowed by Colon after Nick Swisher allowed a single to get by him and become a triple last Saturday, with the runner eventually scoring on a double-play ball.

"They're making it tough to make a choice,'' manager Joe Girardi said. On Friday night, Colon only made it tougher.

We can make all the jokes about his body we like, but so far, there has been nothing fat about Colon's pitches.

On Friday, the Yankees handed him the ball against the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, the team even their GM has admitted is the favorite to win the American League East. It was Colon's second straight unenviable assignment -- he was also given the ball for the first game of the spring last Saturday against the formidable Philadelphia Phillies -- and it turned out to be his second straight impressive performance.

Using a fastball that kissed 92 mph and a sinker that not only dove through the strike zone but veered away from lefties, Colon worked three scoreless innings, allowed two hits -- one an infield single -- and striking out four.

True, it was only one-third of a game, but it was enough of a tantalizing glimpse to make you want to see how long he can keep this up.

Russell Martin, working his first game behind the plate this spring, could barely contain how impressed he was by what he caught from Colon.

"He didn't pitch at all last year, did he?'' Martin said, almost in disbelief. "He's good. I never realized how much movement he has on his two-seamer, especially to lefties. He throws it in on them and it moves about six inches, and late, too, so they give up on it. Your first reaction is to get out of the way, and the next thing you know the ball's on the corner. That's going to be tough on any left, I don't care who it is."

Colon got Jed Lowrie, a lefty, to swing over one in the first inning, and Daniel Nava, another lefty, to back away from the same pitch for strike three in the second.

In the third, he allowed a sharp single to left and an infield hit, then shut down the Red Sox by getting Darnell McDonald to tap to first base, scurrying off the mound to cover first in plenty of time to make the play.

"One thing you got to remember about Bartolo is he's a terrific athlete,'' Girardi said.

That athletic ability certainly has helped Colon as he tries to overcome a nearly two-year absence from the game. He last pitched in the major leagues on July 24, 2009, and spent more than a year recovering from elbow surgery.

He pitched this winter in the Dominican League on a team managed by Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, who recommended the Yankees give him a look. So far, once you get past the Bobby Baccala physique, they can't help but like what they see.

"I thought he was real good,'' Girardi said. "I thought he had real good movement on his fastball and was able to locate it as well, thought he had a good changeup tonight as well.''

As befitting a former Cy Young Award winner, Colon betrays no sign of lack of confidence despite the improbability of what he is trying to do here.

"I feel real happy, but I gotta keep working real hard in order to make this thing work,'' Colon said through an interpreter. "I have no control over what the management is going to decide at the end. I can only continue to do what I have to do. For me and the team, it's a good day. I feel like I had a few more innings left in me.''

As crazy as it sounds, Bartolo Colon may have more innings left in him than anyone -- including himself and the Yankees -- ever could have imagined.

NOTES: The Yankees lost, 5-3, when Boone Logan and Eric Wordekemper combined to allow three seventh-inning runs -- all of which were charged to Logan -- before what was announced as the largest crowd in the history of Steinbrenner Field: 11,325. The entire regular starting infield played -- all four got three plate appearances, and all four got at least one hit. Alex Rodriguez had two, including a double off the wall in the fourth. Derek Jeter had a single to right, and Robinson Cano -- hitless in his first nine at-bats -- doubled in the sixth ... Manny Banuelos had another outstanding outing (2 IP, 1 H, 3 K), prompting some glowing praise from catcher Russell Martin: "You forget he's only 19. He's not scared at all. He has as good stuff as I've ever seen. I could compare him to a [Clayton] Kershaw, or even more polished than a Kershaw, which is pretty good.'' Kershaw, a former teammate of Martin's in Los Angeles, won 13 games for the Dodgers last year ... CC Sabathia will start Saturday afternoon's game against the Nationals at The Boss, facing old pal Chad Gaudin. First pitch: 1:05 p.m., radio only (WCBS-AM 880).

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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