March 2011

Granderson Uses Bat, Glove To Propel Yanks In Opener

The Yankees opened their 2011 season in “Granderson” style.
The team left Florida on Tuesday not knowing if Curtis Granderson would even play but the 30-year-old center-fielder not only played he excelled.
Granderson, apparently recovered from a right oblique strain,  made two sensational catches on defense and blasted a solo home run into the second deck in right off former Yankee left-hander Phil Coke to lead off the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie and lead New York to an Opening Day victory over Detroit at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.
Joba Chamberlain (1-0), pitched an inning of perfect relief of starter CC Sabathia to earn the victory. Mariano Rivera pitched a spotless ninth to earn his first save. Coke (0-1), who entered the game in relief of starter Justin Verlander in the seventh, took the loss.
  • Granderson’s winning blast gives him three consecutive Opening Day home runs. Oddly, the Yankees obtained Granderson from the Tigers in return for several players including Coke. Granderson made a diving catch on a sinking liner of the bat of Will Rhymes in the first inning and then made an over-the-shoulder grab of a fly ball off the bat of Brandon Inge in the ninth.
  • Mark Teixeira maybe is serving notice he will not get off to a slow start this season. In the third inning, Teixeira touched Verlander for the three-run blast into the second deck in right to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
  • Sabathia turned in a solid six innings of work. He gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks and he struck out seven batters. He lost a 3-1 lead on a two-out RBI single by Brandon Inge in the fifth and a Miguel Cabrera sacrifice fly in the fifth that was set up by a Robinson Cano error.
  • The bullpen tandem of Rafael Soriano and Rivera worked the eighth and ninth innings according to the script the Yankees envision for the season: They faced six batters each and retired all of them. Each had a strikeout. They retired the six batters on 26 pitches.
  • Not to beat a dead horse but the Yankees totaled just five hits in the game. Two swings (by Teixeira and Granderson) scored four runs. But they did scratch out two more runs. One in the seventh was set up by a wild pitch by reliever Ryan Perry and an error by Inge in which Derek Jeter scored Russell Martin on a sacrifice fly. The other came in the ninth and was set by a wild pitch by reliever Daniel Schlereth. Nick Swisher cashed in that run on a single.
  • Cano made only three errors in 160 games last season but he picked up his first of the 2011 season in the fifth inning and it cost the Yankees a run. Cano dropped a toss from Teixeira on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Will Rhymes, allowing Austin Jackson to reach second. He moved to third on a fielder’s choice grounder and scored on Cabrera’s sac fly.
  • Jorge Posada’s debut as the Yankees’ full-time DH was nothing to write home about. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
Manager Joe Girardi made it official with his starting lineup: Brett Gardner will bat leadoff against right-handers this season and Jeter will bat leadoff against lefties. Gardner was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts but also put down two sacrifice bunts. Jeter was 0-for-2 but walked, scored a run and drove in a run on sac fly.  . . .  Former Yankee starter Mike Mussina, 42, was given the honor of tossing out the first pitch before the game. He received a loud ovation from the crowd of 48,226 who attended the game despite chilly 42-degree temperatures, damp rain and winds between 10 to 15 mph.  . . .  A.J. Burnett, who is battling a severe head cold, said he expects to pitch the team’s second game of the season on Saturday.  . . .  The Yankees started the season with just two players on the 15-day disabled list: catcher Francisco Cervelli (broken left foot) and reliever Pedro Feliciano (sore right biceps). Veteran Gustavo Molina is backing up Martin behind the plate and veteran right-hander Luis Ayala was added to the roster to replace Feliciano. Both players are expected back fairly soon.
The Yankees will hope to continue the same good fortune on Saturday when the face the Tigers in the second game of the season-opening series.
The Tigers will start veteran right-hander Brad Penny in his debut with the team. Penny is 1-1 with 6.60 ERA in his career against the Yankees. The Yankees hope Burnett is well enough to pitch. He is 3-1 with a 7.34 ERA against the Tigers in his career.
Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised nationally by the FOX Network.

Yankees Will Win A.L. East Despite What Experts Think


The Tampa Bay Rays are the defending champions this season but you won’t find many experts predicting they will repeat. The New York Yankees were a wild-card entry last season but those same experts don’t like their starting pitching. The Boston Red Sox finished out of the hunt last season but they expanded their payroll by signing Carl Crawford from the Rays and acquiring Adrian Gonzalez. But is their pitching really that good? The Toronto Blue Jays changed managers and are counting on their young players to improve while the Baltimore Orioles added power even though their starting pitching looks like it is not quite ready for prime time. How will the race end up?


based on what I have written about the starting lineups, the rotations, the benches and bullpens of the teams in the A.L. East, here is the predicted order of finish:
2) BOSTON RED SOX  94-68

The Red Sox fans may be upset with this prediction but they should take heart. In the two seasons that the Red Sox won the championship in the last decade, they finished the season as the wild card.
So if they gain the wild card this season, which is four years after their 2007 title, they should win the championship. They won’t but I have to give them some hope they will. 
This will be the Yankees year because they will not rest until their starting pitching is in order and they have all the other elements to be another great team. 
Enjoy the 2011 season and this blog.

With Rivera Leading Way, Yankees Can Close Out East

Yankees Have Deep Bench, Talent Ready In Minors

The Tampa Bay Rays are the defending champions this season but you won’t find many experts predicting they will repeat. The New York Yankees were a wild-card entry last season but those same experts don’t like their starting pitching. The Boston Red Sox finished out of the hunt last season but they expanded their payroll by signing Carl Crawford from the Rays and acquiring Adrian Gonzalez. But is their pitching really that good? The Toronto Blue Jays changed managers and are counting on their young players to improve while the Baltimore Orioles added power even though their starting pitching looks like it is not quite ready for prime time. How will the race end up?
Teams in the American League, with the DH, usually carry four bench players and seven pitchers in the bullpen. That is 11 players on a 25-man roster so it is an important part of looking at who might win the division.
The New York Yankees have totally revamped their bench in 2011. They will start the season with backup catcher Gustavo Molina until Francisco Cervelli returns from a broken foot. They also will have former Oakland A’s star Eric Chavez to play first and third base and Eduardo Nunez to play the middle infield spots and left-field. Ten-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones will backup in the outfield.
This is almost a perfectly blended bench because Molina and Cervelli provide solid defense and an ability to call a good game. Neither will hit much but backup catchers aren’t normally expected to hit.
Chavez and Jones provide power from both sides of the plate: Chavez from the left side and Jones from the right. In addition, Chavez has won six Gold Gloves at third base so he and Jones can play some defense also.
Nunez, 23, outplayed veteran Ramiro Pena to win the middle infield spot and Nunez is better hitter and an accomplished base stealer. Nunez will be valuable as pinch-runner and pinch-hitter late in games. Nunez is also pretty good with the glove. He is not as smooth as Pena but he has excellent range.
The Yankees bench is very strong, indeed.
But, in addition to what they have the bench, the Yankees have some tantalizing options in the minor-league level. At Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the Yankees can call upon star catching prospect Jesus Montero, spring hitting sensation and first baseman Jorge Vazquez, Pena, third baseman Brandon Laird and outfielders Chris Dickerson, Greg Golson and Justin Maxwell. 
That is true depth.
The Boston Red Sox decided to keep veteran catcher and team captain Jason Varitek, despite the fact Varitek’s hitting skills are virtually nonexistent these days. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s injury history he could see more action this year, too.
They will also carry veteran outfielder Mike Cameron, who will platoon with veteran J.D. Drew in right-field. Cameron can hit for power, run a bit and plays very good defense. He won’t hit for average though.
Holdover Darnell McDonald will also backup in the outfield and manager Terry Francona hopes Red Sox fans see him less than they did last season when he became a starter after injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Cameron. McDonald is solid but does not excel at any one aspect of the game.
The Red Sox have Jed Lowrie to backup all the infield spots and some Red Sox fans believe he could start at shortstop ahead of Marco Scutaro. Lowrie is a very good hitter and can hit for power. But his defensive skills are a notch below adequate and he is more valuable off the bench.
At the minor-league level the Red Sox have a sensational young shortstop in Jose Inglesias and some former major-league role players in first baseman Lars Anderson, third baseman Yamaico Navarro and outfielders Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and Josh Reddick.
The Red Sox can definitely match the Yankees with their bench and depth. But I like the Yankees depth just a shade better because the Red Sox have limited options at catcher behind Varitek and Saltalamacchia.
The Yankees also boast a lot more speed in their minor-league outfielders.
The Tampa Bay Rays played bench players such as Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez and Dan Johnson as part-time starters last season. This season, Brignac and Rodriguez are full-time starters at shortstop and second base, respectively, and Johnson will play every day at first.
The Rays use their bench more than any team in the division and they likely will continue to do so in 2011.
John Jaso’s backup at catcher is Kelly Shoppach, who is OK defensively and was a disappointment with the bat last season. Shoppach does have power but has never hit for much of an average.
The Rays will use Matt Joyce in the outfield and occasionally at DH. He is a lefty with power but he never has delivered on the early promise he showed with the Tigers. The Rays also have outfielder Sam Fuld, who is a line-drive hitting lefty with some defensive skills.
Eliot Johnson was a reserve infielder in 2008 but that only lasted for seven games. Now he is back. He is capable of playing second, short and the outfield. His calling card is hustle.
There is one big problem with the Rays’ bench. With Johnny Damon in left and Joyce, and Fuld as lefties on the bench, they lack right-hand power off the bench. This bench is also much weaker when you consider that three of its former members are starters because the Rays had to replace Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett.
The Rays also do not have a lot of experience at the minor-league level so they better stay healthy this season. The best the Rays can offer in the minors is catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfield prospect Desmond Jennings, who has yet to match his press clippings at the major-league level.
One intriguing player the Rays cut this spring was veteran first baseman Casey Kotchman, who is excellent defensively but has regressed with the bat. His misfortune is that, like Johnson, Kotchman bats left-handed and the Rays are overloaded with lefties as it is.
This is a very weak area for the Rays.
The Toronto Blue Jays made a last-minute decision to move Jose Bautista to right-field, move Edwin Encarnacion to third base and named Juan Rivera as the team’s DH. That shifted the backup roles as well.
The Jays will use backup catcher Jose Molina to catch two young starters so J.P. Arencibia will essentially share the catching job with the defensive wizard Molina. Neither catcher will hit much though Arencibia has shown promise in the minors.
The Jays will use middle infielders Mike McCoy and John McDonald. McCoy has a decent bat and is OK defensively. McDonald has no bat and exceptional defensive skills, particularly at shortstop.
Journeyman Corey Patterson won the role as an outfield reserve. Patterson has always had great defensive skills, power and speed. But he never has been able to put it all together. But as a backup he can play the field, provide pop off the bench or steal bases as a pinch-runner. So he does have some value to the Jays.
The Jays’ 40-man roster is filled pitchers. That indicates that the Jays do not have much at the minor-league level to replace what they have in the majors. That means the Jays can’t sustain many injuries to stay competitive.
They have the weakest bench in the divis
ion also.
The Baltimore Orioles worked hard to add starters with power like Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy. By all measures, their bench should be better. 
They chose to option backup catcher Craig Tatum and keep Jake Fox to caddy for Matt Wieters. However, the Orioles have sacrificed Tatum’s glove for Fox’s bat. Fox led all major leaguers this spring in home runs with 10. We’ll see if 2011’s Mr. March is as good in April in May.
The Orioles will use Robert Andino as their backup infielder, as he was last season. The Orioles will also use former starting shortstop Ceasr Izturis as a reserve infielder. Both can throw some leather but they will not hit much.
Felix Pie beat out Nolan Reimold for the reserve outfielder spot. Pie provides some power and above average defense and speed off the bench.
That means the Orioles have Reimold and Tatum at Triple-A. In addition they have third baseman Josh Bell and they recently acquired infielder Jayson Nix. So the Orioles do have some options in the minors.
Though benches in the American League are not as important than those in the National League, you can’t say they are not important. 
Just ask the Red Sox how their bench and minor-league system kept them somewhat competitive last season. Benches can help a team in lots of ways.
I have rated the Yankees’ bench a shade better than Boston’s because they have a nice mix of speed, power, defense and the Yankees are loaded with talent at Triple-A. The Red Sox do have a nice bench but their depth in the minors is not as good
Tampa and Toronto are virtually bereft of talent at the minor-league level and it will cost them if they sustain some major injuries to their front-line starters. Baltimore has some depth on the bench and in the minors but their problems are much too deep for a bench to fix.
NEXT: The Bullpens

Romine’s Blast Sends Yanks Home With Victory Over Tigers

TAMPA — Austin Romine launched a titanic solo home run to left on the first pitch he saw from reliever Ramon Garcia in the top of the eighth inning as New York ended its 2011 Grapefruit League season with a victory over Detroit on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Rafeal Soriano (1-0) pitched one-third of an inning to get credit for the victory. Garcia (0-1) took the loss and Bartolo Colon pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save in his new role in the bullpen.
The Yankees ended the season with a record of 13-15-3. The Tigers ended up 20-14.
  • Freddy Garcia pitched a solid 4 2/3 innings in his last start before he becomes the No. 5 starter. He gave up one run on four hits and two walks and he struck out three batters. The only run came on a change-up to Brennan Boesch that he deposited in the right-field pavilion in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1.
  • The Yankees scored their only run in the third inning off Tigers starter Rick Porcello on a one-out, bases-loaded walk to Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez battled Porcello in an eight-pitch at-bat until he coaxed the walk. Rodriguez had at least one RBI in 10 of his last 12 games this spring.
  • Mark Prior, who will stay in Florida before reporting to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, pitched an impressive inning of relief. He gave up one hit but ended the inning by striking Miguel Cabrera swinging.
  • I have been harping on it all spring and I hope it does not carry over to the regular season, but the Yankees were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. It was not a coincidence the Yankees were the worst hitting team in the Grapefruit League. The offense will come, but Yankee fans hope it comes starting on Opening Day.
  • Robinson Cano had a rough day at 0-for-3. He grounded out, lined out to second with the bases-loaded and struck out. He finished the spring hitting .236.
  • Derek Jeter also had a rough day. He was 0-for-3 on three routine infield grounders. But Jeter did finish the spring hitting .304 with his “no-stride” hitting approach.
Curtis Granderson played in a simulated game on Tuesday and said he is encouraged that he may be able to play on Opening Day. Granderson, who is nursing a right oblique strain, will play in an exhibition against Pirates minor leaguers on Wednesday and then hopes to fly to New York to play on Thursday.  . . .  Chris Dickerson, the newly acquired outfielder who went 3-for-3 in his spring debut but suffered a strained hamstring, also played in a simulated game on Tuesday. If  Granderson is unable to play, Dickerson may be added to the roster. If Granderson is placed on the DL he can be activated on April 6.  . . .  Derek Jeter will hit leadoff against left-handers this season. But the decision on if Brett Gardner will bat leadoff against right-handers has not been made yet. With right-hander Justin Verlander set to start on Thursday, manager Joe Girardi led off Gardner against the right-handed Porcello.  . . .  Lefty phenom Manny Banuelos was named the winner of the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s best rookie of the spring. Banuelos, 20, was 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings. But beyond the numbers he impressed teammates and opponents alike with his poise and command on the mound. Banuelos will begin the season at Double-A Trenton. 
The Yankees are headed to New York for their kickoff luncheon on Wednesday and they will open the season on Thursday against these same Tigers.
The Yankees will start ace lefty CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA). The Tigers are countering with Verlander (18-9, 3.37 ERA).
Verlander has not fared well in his previous three Opening Day starts. He has one loss and two no-decisions and has not pitched a quality start in any of them. He 4-3 with a 3.83 ERA against the Yankees lifetime.
Sabathia, making his third straight Opening Day start for the Yankees, was 11-2 at home last season. He is 15-11 with a 4.57 ERA against Detroit in his career.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

Yankees – Rays Game Washed Out By Thunderstorms

The Grapefruit League game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT at George M. Steinbrenner Field was cancelled due to rain.
The official announcement of the cancellation came at 4:40 p.m.. The game will not be made up and fans who purchased tickets will receive refunds in the same manner their tickets were purchased.
This is the first game of this spring the Yankees have had to cancel due to weather. Last season the Yankees had three home dates and one road game washed out by rain.
The Yankees will complete their 2011 spring schedule on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field where they will host the Detroit Tigers. 
The Yankees will start 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia in his last spring tuneup before he becomes the No. 5 starter. He will be opposed by fellow right-hander Rick Porcello. The Yankees will open the season against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium on March 31.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network. Fans attending the game will receive a replica 2000 World Series ring to pay homage to late principal owner George M. Steinbrenner.

Pseudo Yankees’ Poor Pitching, Defense Help Twins Win

Yankees manager Joe Girardi loaded the bus with no pitcher on the 40-man roster and only three starters so it was a miracle the game was as close as it was.
Minnesota jumped on starter Buddy Carlyle and Steve Garrison for six runs in the first three innings and held on to defeat New York on Sunday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, FL.
Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome each hit home runs and Matt Tolbert added a two-run triple to lead the Twins. Robinson Cano and Austin Romine each hit solo shots for the Yankees.
Former Yankee disabled list king Carl Pavano (2-1) was the winning pitcher despite being pounded for five runs (four earned) on 11 hits and a walk in six innings of work. Carlyle (0-1), who pitched last season in Japan, was the loser.
The Yankees opportunity to finish the Grapefruit League season at .500 was lost and they are now 12-15-3. The Twins are 18-11.
  • Cano’s home run in the first inning gave the Yankees a short-lived lead and was Cano’s second of the spring. 
  • Mark Teixeira smashed a two-run double in the fifth inning and he was 2-for-3 in the game.  He raised his spring average to .306.
  • Minor-league outfielder Austin Krum had himself a very good game with the bat. He was 3-for-3, scored a run and stole a base. 
  • Unfortunately for Krum, he had a very bad game in the field. In the second inning he dropped a fly ball off the bat of Danny Valencia that allowed Jim Thome to score and then compounded the mistake with an errant throw home that allowed Dellmon Young to reach third and Valencia to second. It opened the floodgates to a four-run inning from which the Yankees never really recovered.
  • The so-called lesser pitchers Girardi used did only give up seven hits. However, they also walked six batters, hit two and threw two wild pitches. It was not a pretty site.
  • Andruw Jones continues to struggle. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and his spring average is now .171. His play in the field has been nothing to write home about either.
Lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano attempted to play catch on Sunday and he felt discomfort in his left triceps. Girardi said is unlikely that Feliciano, who has been out of action since March 9, will start the season with the Yankees. He likely will be placed on the disabled list.   . . .  There was no word on the status of newly acquired outfielder Chris Dickerson. Dickerson went 3-for-3 in his Yankee debut on Saturday but had to leave the game with spasms in his left hamstring. The Yankees hope to have definitive word on his status on Monday.
The Yankees will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Monday for the final time this spring.
The Yankees have scheduled right-hander A.J. Burnett to pitch in his final spring game. Burnett has a 2.77 ERA and has walked none in four starts. The Rays will counter with right-hander James Shields.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

A-Rod Continues Torrid Spring Assault As Yankees Roll


TAMPA — If there is a pitcher’s equivalent to a Rubik’s Cube it is Alex Rodriguez the way he is hitting this spring. On Saturday the veteran third baseman showed why it has been almost impossible to pitch to him.
Rodriguez connected on the first pitch he saw from Pirates starter Kevin Correia and drilled it over the center-field batter’s eye for his fifth home run in eight games, a two-run shot, to help lead New York over the Pittsburgh at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Manny Banuelos (1-1) pitched three innings of one-run baseball to get credit for the victory in his last appearance of the spring before the 20-year-old phenom begins his season at Double-A Trenton. 
Luis Ayala pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his third spring save.
Correia (1-3) took the loss despite pitching six solid innings, giving up three runs on five hits and two walks and he struck out five.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-14-3. The Pirates fell to 10-19.
  • Even Rodriguez’s outs are hit hard. After his two-run home run, Rodriguez lined out sharply to right-fielder Garrett Jones in the fourth and his scorched grounder in the sixth was flagged down deep in the hole by shortstop Ronny Cedeno and it took a spectacular throw from shallow left to nail him at first.
  • Newcomer Chris Dickerson made an immediate impression with his new team. He started in left-field and was 3-for-3, including an RBI single in the fourth to score Nick Swisher and stretch the Yankee lead to 3-1. Unfortunately, Dickerson had to leave the game after his third hit in the seventh inning. He complained of cramping and spasms in his left hamstring. He will be re-evaluated on Sunday.
  • Swisher is finding his stroke late in spring. He contributed two hits and scored a run. His spring average is now at .250 after struggling at the plate earlier while recovering from a shoulder injury.
  • Ayala, a former major leaguer who is a non-roster invitee, is going to be a tough cut this spring. His ERA is 0.84.
  • Though Banuelos got credit for the victory, he did not pitch a very sharp three innings. He gave up two hits, walked three and threw 28 balls in 57 pitches. To his credit, he was not hit hard. But he will have to learn to get his breaking pitches over more consistently.
  • The Pirates teed off on Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain for six hits in 2 2/3 innings but only managed one run off Soriano in the fifth on a Neil Walker sacrifice  fly.
  • Jorge Posada may want to brush up on the baseball rule book. In the fourth inning, Posada was on second and Dickerson was on first with one out when Eduardo Nunez hit an infield pop-up. By rule, Nunez was automatically called out and the runners choose advance on their own. Pirates catcher Jason Jaramillo lost the ball and it dropped behind him in fair territory. Posada chose to run to third and he was nailed in a double play when Jaramillo fired the ball to third baseman Pedro Alvarez for the easy tag.
  • You hate to point out the lack of offense but it is there. Other than Rodriguez, Swisher and Dickerson, the Yankees got two hits from reserves. Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Posada and Eduardo Nunez were a combined 0-for-14. 
The Yankees announced on Saturday that Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia have won the two open starting rotation spots and Bartolo Colon has made the team as a long reliever. From a standpoint of performance it seems the choice of Garcia over Colon is strange. Colon’s ERA is 2.40 in 15 innings while Garcia’s is 5.93 in 13 2/3 innings. But Garcia, 34, started 28 games last season while Colon, 37, was out of baseball, which means the Yankees are not sure he could handle a full load as a starter.  . . .  Lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano likely will open the season on the disabled list with soreness in his pitching shoulder. Feliciano, 34, has not pitched in a spring game since March 7. Romulo Sanchez, Mark Prior and Ayala are candidates to replace Feliciano if he is placed on the DL.  . . .  Curtis Granderson, who is rehabbing a strained right oblique, said he has a 50-50 chance to play on Opening Day. Granderson said he hopes to play in spring game on Monday. 
The Yankees will make their final road trip of the season on Sunday and it is a long one to Fort Myers, FL. There they will face the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees have not announced a starting pitcher for the contest. The Twins will start the Yankees former LVM (Least Valuable Malingerer) Carl Pavano.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.

Chavez, Gardner Homer As Nova Orbits Around  Astros


TAMPA — With Sergio Mitre being dealt, Kevin Millwood being signed and a competition for a rotation spot going down to the wire, Ivan Nova did what he was supposed to do Friday night.
Nova (2-0) pitched six strong innings and was backed by home runs from Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner as New York defeated Houston at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Chavez, who was 3-for-3 in his first game since he was sidelined with a right calf injury, hit a solo home run to lead off the second inning off losing pitcher Nelson Figueroa (2-1). Three batters later Gardner added a two-run homer, his first of the spring.
Russell Martin added a two-run triple in the sixth inning as the Yankees improved their spring record to 11-14-3. The Astros are now 11-20.
  • Nova did not have his best stuff but showed an ability to compete anyway. He gave up two runs on three hits and two walks and struck out two. Nova had one shaky one-third of an inning after two were out in the third inning. He walked Carlos Corporan after a 10-pitch battle. Michael Bourn singled and Nova tossed a wild pitch to allow the two runners to move up a base. Nova then hit Clint Barmes and Hunter Pence followed with a two-run single.
  • Chavez started at third base and raised his spring average to a sizzling .421 with his three hits. Chavez becomes a very important player to the Yankees and not only as a backup to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira at the corners. He also could become the DH if Jorge Posada is injured.
  • Gardner’s two-run home run proves that Gardner’s surgically repaired wrist is doing just fine. Gardner’s ability to drive the baseball has been apparent this spring. 
  • Martin is showing signs of life at the plate after a slow start. He was 2-for-2 and and raised his spring average to .250. 
  • In the first inning, Gardner reached on an infield single and Derek Jeter singled to center. Mark Teixeira then drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. However, Robinson Cano struck out swinging and Nick Swisher grounded into an inning-ending double play. This has been an issue most of the spring. The Yankees were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position in the game.
  • Rafael Soriano was touched for two doubles and two runs (one earned) in two-thirds of an inning. It was the first time this spring that Soriano had been touched for a run. 
  • Andruw Jones is really struggling. He was 0-for-2 in the game and is hitting a woeful .189 on the spring. He also has struck out nine times in 37 at-bats.
GM Brian Cashman said his trade of Mitre to the Brewers was a “surplus-for-surplus” trade. The Yankees felt Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon could fill the two back-end rotation spots and the long relief role. The acquisition of outfielder Chris Dickerson gives the Yankees some insurance if Curtis Granderson is unable to start the season with his strained right oblique muscle.  . . .  Dickerson is expected to arrive in Tampa on Saturday and could see action.  . . .  Gustavo Molina, 29, has emerged as the potential backup to Russell Martin when the season starts. The Yankees like the fact that Molina has major-league experience and this would allow the Yankees to send top catching prospects Jesus Montero and Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre so they both can play more often. Molina would likely remain on the roster only until Francisco Cervelli recovers from a broken foot he suffered early in the spring.
For those fans hoping to see CC Sabathia make his last tuneup start of the spring on Saturday, you are out of luck. Sabathia will pitch in a minor-league game instead.
The Yankees will host the Pittsburgh Pirates at Steinbrenner Field on Saturday and they will start 20-year-old Manny Banuelos. The Pirates will start right-hander Kevin Correia.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

Yankees Trade Mitre To Brewers, Sign Veteran Millwood

TAMPA — The Yankees made two moves today regarding their 2011 rotation. One was a addition and one was a subtraction.
The Yankees reached a deal with Milwaukee to send right-hander Sergio Mitre to the Brewers in return for outfielder Chris Dickerson. 
Mitre, 30, was a candidate to be a No. 5 starter this spring but did not look good in his last outing against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Mitre is 13-29 with a 5.27 ERA in his career and was 0-3 with the Yankees in 2010.
Dickerson , 28, was acquired by the Brwers from the Reds on Aug. 9 last season in trade for Jim Edmonds. He hit .208 with five RBIs in 25 games with the Brewers. Dickerson is similar to Greg Golson in that he is able to play good defense and run.
In the second move, the Yankees signed veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood to a minor-league contract. Millwood was 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA last season with the Orioles.
He gives the Yankees an insurance policy behind 34-year-old Freddy Garcia and 37-year-old Bartolo Colon, who are both competing with 24-year-old Ivan Nova for two open rotation spots. Millwood, 36, will likely have to get in shape at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being considered for promotion to the Yankees.
The loss of Mitre raises the possibility that the Yankees could either use Nova or Garcia out of the bullpen as a long reliever to start the season. Nova has seemed to have earned the No. 4 spot but the Yankees might just hand a rotation spot to Garcia, though his ERA is 5.93 this spring.
The Yankees seem to favor veterans over rookies and they may see Nova as a potential starter if Colon or Garcia stumble.
The final decision has not been made, but the regular season begins in one week.