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NY Daily News: Pitcher Mark Melancon springs up the charts at Yankees camp


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Pitcher Mark Melancon springs up the charts at Yankees camp



Sunday, February 22nd 2009, 10:54 PM

TAMPA - Mark Melancon looked at the workout schedule Sunday morning, a daily ritual for virtually every player in camp. He knew he was penciled in for live batting practice, but when the 23-year-old saw Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano were in the group hitting against him, he texted his father back in Colorado.

"He said, 'Just picture your mom standing in there,'" Melancon said. "I said, 'No thanks. I'll be fine.'"

Melancon was right. He threw 30 pitches during his session, getting Jeter to swing and miss a couple times and breaking Cano's bat with a filthy four-seam fastball.

With Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman watching the pitcher many think could be Mariano Rivera's successor, Melancon took advantage of an opportunity to impress, something he hopes to do every time he takes the mound this spring.


"I think I'm ready," Melancon said when asked if he feels he belongs in the majors. "I still think I have a lot of learning to do. I'm definitely not at the level I want to be at."

Confident words from a pitcher with just 12 games of experience at the Triple-A level. But having worked his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery, Melancon doesn't come off as arrogant. It's more a case of ... he's good, and he knows it.

With Joba Chamberlain's future seemingly locked in as a starter, there are those - both inside and outside the organization - who believe Melancon will be Rivera's successor when the Hall of Fame closer finally hangs up his spikes.

While Girardi tried to quell any talk about Melancon succeeding Rivera, the topic didn't seem to faze the youngster.

"It's not overwhelming, because I know it's not true unless I make it true," Melancon said. "I think it's able to be done, so I'm excited for that. I'm excited that people are throwing that out there, but I know it's not true until I make it true."

Rivera has two years remaining on his contract, so Melancon won't have to worry about that scenario for quite some time. This season, however, Melancon might wind up being the 2009 version of Chamberlain, called upon late in the season to bolster the bullpen for the pennant race.

"I can picture that," Melancon said. "I think I have a lot to offer - my competitiveness and my ability to get it done. I feel that in any situation I come in to I have a chance to get outs and win."

Melancon (pronounced Muh-lan-son) was taken by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 2006 draft, but after helping Staten Island to its second straight New York-Penn League title with seven appearances that year, he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Oct. 31, knocking him out for the entire 2007 campaign.

He returned last season, though he was rusty in the early part of the season with Single-A Tampa. After allowing six runs in his first three outings, Melancon gave up just two earned runs in his next 20-2/3 innings, earning a promotion to Double-A Trenton in mid-May.

The righthander continued his success there, going 6-0 with a 1.81 ERA in 19 outings. On July 29, he was moved to Triple-A Scranton, where he struck out 22 batters in 20 innings (12 games) before helping the club to the International League title with three scoreless innings over two postseason games.

Melancon entered the season ranked as the Yankees' No. 9 prospect by Baseball America, though he could wind up being more important to the club in 2009 than any of the eight players listed ahead of him.

The debate - which has subsided recently - over whether Chamberlain should be a reliever or starter likely will lose steam if Melancon can live up to his billing, joining Rivera, Brian Bruney and company in the bullpen sometime later this season.

Girardi puts Melancon "in the mix" with the rest of the relievers, though Cashman said recently that he anticipates the youngster opening the season at Triple-A.

"You don't want to make too much of what you see right now because his stuff is going to get better as he goes on in spring training," Girardi said. "I love his arm."

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