MOOSIC — The news didn’t exactly catch Preston Claiborne off-guard.
He knew his performance was a little off this spring.
But it didn’t make him do handsprings when the New York Yankees shipped him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to open the 2014 season last week.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to always be in the major leagues,” Claiborne said. “You never want to leave.”
He vows he won’t go quietly, though.
Claiborne is going back to the RailRiders bullpen with a good attitude and a new resolve, which could keep him in New York’s mind when the Yankees start looking for relief help later this year.
That’s what happened last season.
Claiborne opened 2013 on a roll with the RailRiders and almost immediately opened the eyes of the Yankees.
He picked up three saves in eight games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre over the first month of last year, striking out 10 batters in 10 1/3 innings. The Yankees called him up when Joba Chamberlin went on the disabled list, and Claiborne made his major league debut against Oakland on May 13.
He didn’t come back to the minors for the rest of the year.
Claiborne was one of the most consistent relievers for the Yankees, who used him in 44 games during the 2013 season. He struck out 42 batters in 50 1/3 innings while posting a 4.11 ERA and an 0-2 record. The 26-year-old righthander was one of the favorites to help bolster the Yankees bullpen again this season.
Then everything went wrong for him in spring training.
“It was just a dead-arm period that every pitcher has in their career,” Claiborne said. “I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t gone through it.”
It pretty much killed his chances of making New York’s opening-day roster.
Claiborne went 0-1 with a whopping 14.29 ERA through seven spring training games in big league camp while working 5 2/3 innings. During his final outing, Claiborne surrendered six runs without recording an out against the Toronto Blue Jays last Wednesday.
He was shipped to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the next day.
“I was more disappointed with myself, and my performance, and not living up to the expectations of my manager, (Yankees general manager) Brian Cashman and (pitching coach) Larry Rothschild,” Claiborne said. “I know I under-performed during spring training. I know I have to earn my job. I didn’t go out and perform up to my capability.”
Still, the experience he gained on major league mounds during his rookie season with the Yankees may help him find his old stuff in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“It was insurmountable,” Claiborne said. “It helped me out a lot. I believe in myself, believe in my ability.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi still believes in Claiborne and his ability, too. He didn’t close the door on Claiborne, explaining the pitchers who were demoted would likely have another opportunity to help the big club later if they’re pitching well in Triple-A when New York may come calling.
“If I am the guy, that’s great. I’m not going to worry about that,” Claiborne said. “They know what I’m capable of and they know what I need to do. I know what I need to do — build arm strength. That’s the key.”
So as the Yankees opened their major league season in Houston on Tuesday, Claiborne stood at PNC Field trying to turn his fortunes around and break into their bullpen again.
“Building arm strength and helping the team win,” Claiborne said were his goals with the RailRiders. “I know the work you need to do to get back. I’m just going to work my tail off.”