May 2011

Colon Keeps A’s At Bay With Dazzling Shutout

GAME 52

YANKEES 5, ATHLETICS 0

When Bartolo Colon pitched great in spring training, most observers thought it was a fluke. When he pitched well in relief and as a starter in April, most observers thought it was a fluke. But as the end of May has dawned and Coon is still pitching sensational, most observers now agree it is definitely NOT a fluke.

Colon painted the inside and outside corners at will on Monday and threw his first complete-game shutout since the 2006 season as New York whitewashed Oakland at Overstock.com Coliseum.

Colon (3-3) gave up only four hits, walked none and struck out six while the Yankees gave him all the support he really needed by scoring three runs in the first inning off right-hander Trevor Cahill (6-2), who entered play on Monday with the second-best ERA in the American League at 2.02.

Mark Teixeira struck the first big blow by following a Derek Jeter leadoff single with a two-run home run to right-center, his 16th home run of the season and his seventh homer in his last 11 games. Alex Rodriguez  then drew a walk and Robinson Cano followed with a double to right-center to score Rodriguez.

The Yankees added a single run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Jeter, setup by a double steal by Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli, and another run in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Cervelli.

But the story was the 37-year-old rotund right-hander Colon, who fashioned his first complete game since July 5, 2006 when he was a member of the Angels.

With the victory, the Yankees have pulled into a first-place tie with the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. Their record is now 29-23. Oakland dropped to 27-28.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • To show how good Colon has been, if you throw out the one bad inning he pitched against the Toronto Blue Jays in his last start in which he gave up five runs in the sixth, he would have an ERA of 2.38 in his eight starts.  As it is, Colon lowered his season ERA to 3.26. He also has 66 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings.
  • Teixeira may only be a modest 12-for-46 (.261) over his last 11 games but he has seven home runs and 16 RBIs with those 12 hits. With his two RBIs in Monday’s game, Teixeira has now wrested the team lead in RBIs away from Curtis Granderson. Teixeira now has 38 RBIs, one better than Granderson.
  • Cervelli was pressed into service to catch his second straight game because of an injury to Russell Martin and he delivered. He not only called a complete-game shutout for Colon, but he also was 1-for-2 with a walk, two stolen bases and an RBI.
  • Cano was 2-for-4 in the game with a double and triple and drove in a run. He raised his season average to .284 and he appears to coming out of his May funk at the plate.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

For the second game in a row, the Yankees scored early, their starting pitcher threw a near flawless game and the Yankees did not commit an error in the field. So what is left to criticize?

BOMBER BANTER

Martin was scratched from the lineup on Monday due to soreness in his big left toe. Martin fouled a ball off his toe in Saturday’s extra-inning loss to the Mariners. He was given the day off on Sunday but reported that he was still feeling soreness in his toe on Monday. So Manager Joe Girardi removed him from the lineup and replaced him with Cervelli.  . . .  Both teams wore blue and white caps with their team insignias in red, white and blue stripes on Monday to celebrate Memorial Day. The Athletics staged a pre-game ceremony to honor an Army unit stationed in Iraq and the A’s players all wore army caps sent by the unit. The game was beamed live to them in Iraq.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with Oakland on Tuesday.

The Yankees will call on right-hander Freddy Garcia (3-4, 3.26 ERA) to pitch. Garcia is coming off a victory against the Blue Jays in which he gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings on May 25. Garcia is 6-7 with a 5.30 ERA in his career against the A’s.

Oakland will start left-hander Brett Anderson (3-4, 2.84 ERA). Anderson shut out the Angels on just three hits and fanned four in eight innings in his last start. He is 0-3 with a 4.68 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be at 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

Yankees Sink Mariners With 5-Run Barrage

GAME 51

YANKEES 7, MARINERS 1

Good teams hit with runners in scoring position and they also get more than their fair share of two-out hits. A big reason why the Yankees have lost 23 games this season is because they have done neither very well. On Sunday, they showed the Mariners what can happen when they do both and lo and behold the Yankees won easily.

The Yankees entered Sunday’s series finale with only six two-out hits (accounting for three of the seven runs they scored) and were a woeful 2-for-15 (.133) with runners in scoring position. In the third inning the Yankees racked up three two-out hits and they were 3-for-4 with two outs and runners in scoring position as New York crushed Seattle at Safeco Field.

Leading 1-0 on a second-inning Nick Swisher solo home run, the Yankees had runners on first and third and two out on loser Jason Vargas (3-3) with Robinson Cano up. Cano started a five-run inning by singling to left to score Curtis Granderson. After Swisher drew a walk to load the bases, Andruw Jones put the game away with a bases-clearing double to right. Eduardo Nunez scored Jones with his first career triple and the game was no longer in doubt.

Meanwhile, ace left-hander CC Sabathia (6-3) coasted to his third straight victory. Sabathia gave up a solo home run to Justin Smoak with one out in the sixth inning but otherwise he shut down the Mariners on a total of six hits and three walks and he struck out five over eight innings. Reliever Lance Pendleton pitched a scoreless ninth to finish up for Sabathia.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 28-23 and they remain one game behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Mariners fell to 26-26.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson remains the hottest Yankee hitter. He was 3-for-5 with two doubles and scored two runs. He also had another ht taken away by on a running catch in the right-field corner by Ichiro Suzuki. Granderson has now raised his season average to .282.
  • Jones, playing in place of Brett Gardner with a left-hander on the mound, came into the game with a total of seven RBIs in 52 at-bats. On one swing off Vargas in the third inning he drove in three runs with a double to the right-field corner. Jones is proving to be a valuable right-handed hitter off the bench.
  • Sabathia looks to be on one of those patented runs where he is nearly unbeatable as the weather turns warmer. In his last three starts, Sabathia has given up just five runs on 20 hits and four walks and he has struck out 17 batters over that same span. He has also lowered his ERA to 2.98.
  • Swisher’s home run was only his third of the season and came from the right side, where he has been hitting much better this season. Swisher believes he is beginning to come around with the bat this season after a 50-game slump. He was robbed of a home run by Mariners center-fielder Franklin Gutierrez on Friday night . He was 3-for-10 in the weekend series.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There were a few minor issues but when every Yankee starter gets hit, the team does not commit a fielding error and the team’s ace pitches like one, there is nothing really to complain about.

BOMBER BANTER

Phil Hughes threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session on Sunday at Safeco Field and reported no issues. Hughes, who has been on the disabled list since April 15 with right shoulder weakness, threw fastballs, curveballs and change-ups in the session. The plan is for Hughes to rest for two days and throw another bullpen session on Wednesday in Oakland. Pitching coach Larry Rothshild may have Hughes face live hitters over next weekend while the Yankees are in Anaheim.  . . .  Curtis Granderson (with 16) and Mark Teixeira (with 15) are the first two Yankee teammates to have at least 15 home runs in the team’s first 50 games since Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris did it in 1961.

ON DECK

The Yankees are off to Oakland for a midweek three-game series against the Athletics.

The Yankees will open the series with 37-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon (2-3, 3.77). Colon faltered in the sixth inning of his last start against the Blue Jays, giving up five runs fueled by three walks. He struck out eight but walked four for his third loss of the season. Colon is 6-4 with a 3.12 ERA in his career against Oakland.

Oakland will counter with ace right-hander Trevor Cahill (6-2, 2.02 ERA). Cahill gave up four runs (three earned) to the Angels on 10 hits and five walks over six innings in his second loss of the season. He is 0-2 with a 12.60 ERA in his starts against the Yankees.

Game-time will be at 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

Yankees Succeed ‘Jonesing’ For Win Over Jays

GAME 48

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

When the Yankees signed free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones, all they asked him to do was to hit left-handers consistently whenever he was asked to start a game. After Wednesday afternoon’s game it is pretty obvious that is exactly what Jones is giving the Yankees.

Jones blasted a pair of two-run home runs, both off left-handers, to lead New York to a 7-3 victory over Toronto at Yankee Stadium.

Freddy Garcia (3-4) got credit for the victory after giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and four strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings of work. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera kept the Blue Jays scoreless the rest of the way. Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth in what was his 1,000th appearance of his career.

Jones connected for his first home run in the second inning off loser Jo-Jo Reyes (0-4) with Russell Martin on base to make the score 3-0. He also homered in sixth inning off reliever Luis Perez with Martin on base again to make the score 7-1.

After being tagged with the loss, Reyes ran his streak of winless starts to tie a major-league record 28 games. He is tied with Anthony Young and Matt Keough.

The victory gave the Yankees a season record of 27-21 and they remain a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox in first place in the American League East. The Blue Jays season record fell to 24-26 and 3 1/2 games out in fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In limited play this season, Jones has four home runs, seven RBIs and is batting .240. Manager Joe Girardi elected to put Jones in the lineup against the left-handed starter Reyes and sit left-handed-hitting Brett Gardner. As it turned out, it was a good decision.
  • Curtis Granderson continues to be hotter than the weather. He doubled in Jeter in the first inning and singled and scored a run in the third inning. At that point he had collected hits in six straight plate appearances. He ended up 2-for-4 and he is now batting .280 with 16 home runs and 36 RBIs.
  • Mark Teixeira added a two-run home run of his own in the third inning off Reyes. It was his 13th of the season and it was his fourth home run in his last seven games. Teixeira has now moved into third place in the majors leagues in home runs behind Gramderson (16) and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista (19).
  • Garcia actually pitched better than his ledger showed. He entered the sixth inning having given up only three hits and no runs to the Blue Jays. But he tired a bit and gave up three runs on five hits in the next 1 1/3 innings. Five of Garcia’s eight starts have been quality starts.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Nick Swisher entered Wednesday’s game in an 0-for-15 slide despite the fact he was rested for two days during the three-game weekend series against the Mets. He was 0-for-3 in the game and he has not reached first via a base hit since he singled in the fifth inning of a May 19 game against the Baltimore Orioles. Swisher is now batting .204 on the season.
  • While the Jones move worked, Girardi also decided to use Alex Rodriguez as a DH and inserted Eduardo Nunez to play third base. Nunez was 0-for-4 in the game and is batting average slid to .240.
  • The Yankees seem to be in need of fielding practice including the pitchers. Garcia had a few mishaps in the field. In the first inning Garcia knocked down Nunez as he tried to let Teixeira catch a popup on the mound. In the fifth inning he nearly ran over Teixeira at first base on a grounder Teixeira took unassisted. The Yankees defense has been sloppy this season but a big part of it has been misplays and bad throws from pitchers.

BOMBER BANTER

Very expensive set-up man Rafael Soriano will miss another six to eight weeks with an inflamed ligament in his right elbow. That diagnosis was made after Soriano was examined by Dr. James Andrews. Soriano, 31, has been sidelined since May 13 and has been on the disabled list since May 17. Soriano will rest for two weeks and then begin a throwing program over the next four to six weeks.  . . .   In making his 1,000th appearance on Wednesday, Rivera became only the 15th major-league pitcher to reach that mark. He is first to make all 1,000 appearances with one team.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a day off on Thursday in order to fly to the West Coast for their first western swing of the season. They will open a weekend series with the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.

A.J. Burnett (5-3, 4.02 ERA) will open the road trip for the Yankees. Burnett gave up two runs in the first inning but held on for a quality start and a victory over the Mets on Saturday. He is 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA against the Mariners in his career.

The Mariners will counter with rookie sensation Michael Pineda (6-2, 2.16 ERA). Pineda is in the midst of a 14-inning scoreless streak during which he given up just five hits and one walk and 16 strikeouts. He has never faced the Yankees.

Tex Clips Blue Jays’ Wings With Walkoff Hit

GAME 46
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 4

Coming from behind had been a Yankee hallmark in 2009. But in 2011, it had only happened once and that was against the Mets on Sunday.

Well, it happened again on Tuesday night.

Curtis Granderson smashed a two-out RBI single in the ninth to tie it and Mark Teixeira drove in Granderson with a game-winning single as New York rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the last two innings to defeat Toronto in front of 41,946 fans at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia (5-3), who was tagged for three runs on a series of sacrifice bunts, bloop hits and a costly error in the fourth inning, stuck around to pitch all nine innings to earn the victory.

The Yankees struggled, as they so often do, with the change-ups from left-handed starter Ricky Romero. He pitched seven innings and only allowed the Yankees a solo home run by Russell Martin in the second inning despite the fact he was tagged for seven hits and three walks. Once again, the Yankees could not get the big hit with runners in scoring position. That is until the Blue Jays bullpen entered the game in the eighth.

The Yankees scored two runs off Casey Janssen and Marc Rzepczynski on a Granderson double, a Robinson Cano two-out RBI double and a Martin single.

But they saved their best for the final stanza. With one out, pinch-hitter Jorge Posada stroked a double to right-center off Jays closer Frank Francisco (1-2). One out later, with pinch-runner Chris Dickerson on third, Granderson singled to right to score Dickerson with the tying run. It was Granderson’s fourth hit in five trips to the plate.

Granderson then stole second to set up Teixeira’s heroics. Teixeira hit a 3-1 Francisco fastball on the ground between second and first base. The ball rolled off the glove of second baseman Aaron Hill and trickled into right-field to allow Granderson to scamper home with the winning run.

The victory gave he Yankees a record of 26-21 and propelled them into first place in the American League East. The Boston Red Sox are a half-game back in second place. The Blue Jays fell to 24-24 and they are in fourth place in the division 2 1/2 games out.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Granderson is so hot now it looks as if he could a ball the size of a marble. Granderson singled in the third and fifth innings, doubled in the eighth and singled in the ninth. He scored two runs, stole a base and drove in the game-tying run. He raised his season average to .275 and he is second in MLB in home runs with 16 and he fourth in the A.L. with 35 RBIs. 
  • Teixeira’s game-winning hit was his first in a regular season game for the Yankees. He had a game-winning home run against the Minnesota Twins in the 2009 Division Series. He finally got a face-full of whipped cream pie thanks to A.J. Burnett after the game. 
  • Give Posada credit for delivering a big hit in the ninth inning that ignited the rally. Posada has been struggling at the plate all season and has been routinely benched of late when left-handers start against the Yankees. But his double in the ninth inning was a clutch hit that was sorely needed.
  • Martin is just exceeding everyone’s expectations as a hitter. The Yankees knew we was a top-notch defensive catcher. But they are reaping the rewards of his bat as well. His home run in the second was his ninth of the season and his clutch two-out RBI single in the eighth gave him 26 RBIs on the season. He is batting .270.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Derek Jeter did not get the job done at all on Tuesday night. He was 0-for-5 with a strikeout and did not get a ball out the infield. In addition to that, he killed a rally in the seventh inning by grounding into a double play with Brett Gardner at second and Eduardo Nunez at third with one out. He also nearly derailed the ninth inning rally by grounding out again for the second out of the inning. Jeter is simply not getting it done with runners in scoring position this season. His average fell to .254.
  • Nick Swisher, who was rested to for two days because of a minor forearm injury and the fact he has been struggling at the plate, was not much help either. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he is now hitting .208 on the season.
  • Cano has been a major disappointment in the field this season. His error on a flip from Sabathia on sacrifice bunt attempt by John McDonald kept the inning going and could have been worse if Jose Bautista had not grounded out with the bases loaded. It was Cano’s fifth error of the season. He made only four errors all last season.
BOMBER BANTER

High-priced set-up man Rafael Soriano has been sent to Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday in order to have his ailing right elbow examined. Soriano had a second MRI after having to cut short a throwing session on flat ground due to pain in the elbow. Soriano, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 17, is out indefinitely. The Yankees had hoped to get Soriano back in a couple of weeks. Now they are very concerned.  . . .  Right-hander Phil Hughes, who is also on the disabled list threw for about 10 minutes and said he felt fine. Hughes will throw again on Wednesday and then rest on Thursday. There is no timetable for Hughes to throw off a mound. he is been sidelined since April 17 due to what was termed a “dead arm.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a series victory on Wednesday against the Blue Jays before heading out on a three-city West Coast roadtrip.

The Yankees will start veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (2-4, 3.12 ERA). Garcia gave up just two runs on five hits over seven innings in a loss to the Mets on Friday. Garcia, as so many other Yankee starters have, fell victim to a lack of run support. He is 6-6 with a 6.06 ERA in 15 career starts against the Blue Jays.

Toronto will counter left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes (0-3, 4.07 ERA). Reyes did not allow a run over seven innings to Houston in his last outing but ended up with a no-decision. He is now winless in his last 27 starts, one away from a major-league record set by Matt Keough. He has never pitched against the Yankees.

Game-time is 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

Yankees Erupt For 8 in Seventh To Destroy Mets

GAME 45

YANKEES 9, METS 3

I have said it. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has said it. The broadcasters on TBS hit us over the head with it for 6 1/2 innings. But finally the Yankees erupted with hits with runners in scoring position. Eight runs later and the game was a rout.

The Yankees interrupted the Mets’ 3-1 victory and the taking the road version of the Subway Series with eight runs in the seventh inning, keyed by a game-tying two-run single by Derek Jeter and a base-loaded RBI dribbler to third by Alex Rodriguez that put the Yankees ahead for good.

The inning took 26 minutes, four Mets pitchers, 35 pitches, 14 batters, six hits, a sacrifice bunt, a hit batter, a walk and one Met error. After Rodriguez’s hit, Robsinson Cano followed with an RBI single of his own and Brett Gardner and Chris Dickerson made it a rout with back-to-back bloop hits that fell into left that drove in two runs apiece.

Luis Ayala (1-0), who relieved starter Ivan Nova and retired the only batter he faced in the top of the seventh and added a perfect eighth, was credited with the victory. Mets starter Mike Pelfrey (3-4) was saddled with the loss. He gave up five runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out four in six-plus innings.

Leading the game 3-1, Pelfrey started the seventh by giving up a solid single to Gardner up the middle. He then walked Dickerson and nailed Francisco Cervelli in the left shoulder with a pitch Cervelli was attempting to bunt. Jeter then followed with his two-run single that tied the game and Pelfrey was removed from the game by manager Terry Collins. With left-hander Tim Byrdak on the mound, Curtis Granderson bunted to move Cervelli and Jeter up a base. Byrdak then walked Mark Teixeira intentionally to load the bases for Rodriguez.

Collins summoned right-hander Pedro Beato and Rodriguez tapped a dribbler slowly to third baseman Willie Harris, who had no play, allowing Cervelli to break the 3-3 tie. Cano followed with his his RBI single and the Yankees added four more runs to leave no doubt who the better team was this weekend.

With the victory, the Yankees improved the season ledger to 25-20 and they remain in a virtual tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the American League East. The Mets dropped to 22-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Rodriguez collected four hits in the game. All of them were singles and two were infield hits, but the 4-for-5 game raised A-Rod’s average to .284, which is currently the highest the average among all the Yankee regulars. He was 7-for-13 in the weekend series. If his surgically repaired hip is bothering him in any way it has not affecting his hitting at all.
  • Jeter also did well in the Subway Series, as he has done in the past. He was 5-for-12 with three runs scored and two RBIs over the weekend. He raised his batting average to .268 and the two hits bring him to within 25 hits of 3,000 for his career.
  • Chris Dickerson was inserted into the starting lineup to replace a struggling Nick Swisher and ended up 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and two RBIs. In limited play, Dickerson is 4-for-8 and he is a much better defensively than Swisher in right-field.
  • TBS play-by-play man Brian Anderson harped all over the Yankees for the entire game about how terrible they have been with runners in scoring position this season. By the time the bottom of the seventh rolled around, the Yankees appeared to be motivated to shut him up and they did. They were 5-for-10 with RISP in the game. The only home run of the game came from Granderson in the first inning. It was his 16th of the season. So much for living and dying by the home run.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Nova was touched for three runs on 11 hits and a walk over his 6 2/3 innings of work. On the surface that seems real bad. However, Nova gave up only singles and he pitched out of trouble enough to strand seven runners over seven innings. He also was helped by a pair of double plays. So although Nova was seemingly in trouble most of the day, he did deliver a quality start.
  • Teixeira was 0-for-4 in the game with one strikeout and he did not manage to get a ball out of the infield. His batting average dropped to .248.
  • Nova’s biggest problem of the day was not the 11 hits he gave up but in fielding his position. In the second inning he failed to turn two comeback grounders into double plays and it led to the Mets scoring all three of their runs in that inning. Jeter also made an error that inning, dropping a perfect throw from Cervelli to nab a stealing Jason Pridie. The Yankees are 12th in the AL in fielding despite the fact they have Gold Glove winners at every infield position, including catcher.
ON DECK

The Yankees, fresh off their defense of the home portion of the Subway Series, will play host to the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday in the opener of a three-game set. Bartolo Colon (2-2, 3.16 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off his most dominant start of the season on Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles. Colon shutout the Orioles on three hits over eight innings. But he did not get a decision in the game because Mariano Rivera blew his third save of the season. Colon is 8-2 with a 3.09 ERA in his career against Toronto. The Blue Jays will start right-hander Carlos Villanueva (1-0, 1.48 ERA). Villanueva is making his first start since  the 2009 season. He has 21 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings in the bullpen. He has never faced the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

A.J., Four Yankee Home Runs Leave Mets In Dust

GAME 44

YANKEES 7, METS 3

When the Yankees need to score runs they seem to turn to an old familiar weapon: the home run. It was no different on Saturday night.

New York used four home runs by four different players and A.J. Burnett won his team-leading fifth game of the season as the Yankees tied the Subway Series at a game apiece by powering past the Mets.

Russell Martin hit a two-run shot to tie the score in the second inning, Mark Teixeira broke the tie with a two-run blast in the third and Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez combined on a pair of solo homers in the sixth to give Burnett and the Yankees all the run support they needed. All four home runs came off Mets left-hander and loser Chris Capuano (3-5).

Burnett (5-3) was touched for two runs in the first inning and a single run in the fifth. He surrendered six hits, walked three and struck out four over 6 1/3 innings. Boone Logan, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Luis Ayala shut the Mets down the rest of way as the Yankees snapped a six-game home losing streak.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 24-20 and they claimed a virtual tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the American League East. The Mets fell to 22-23.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Martin continues to provide power and production from the catching position for the Yankees. Martin now has eight home runs and 24 RBIs and is hitting .271 on the season. He has a good shot at topping the 19 home runs and 87 RBIs he produced in his best season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007.
  • Teixeira’s home run in the third was his 12th of the season and he now has hit home runs in three consecutive games. He also has six RBIs over that span and now has 29 on the season.
  • Granderson continues to provide power from the left side against both right-handers and left-handers. Granderson is second in the major leagues with 15 home runs and eight of them have come off left-handed pitching. He is also fourth in the A.L. with 33 RBIs.
  • Rodriguez is on a tear at the plate, too. He was 2-for-4 on Saturday and is now 9-for-22 (.409) over his last five games with three home runs.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Robinson Cano is struggling over his last three games. He is 1-for-10 over that stretch. Cano seems to be content hitting early in the count and hitting the ball weakly. Cano is at his best when he is more selective and waits on pitches that he can drive.
  • Nick Swisher was 0-for-3 and his average dropped to .214. Manager Joe Girardi has been very patient with Swisher’s struggles up to this point. But it is getting harder to keep running the popular veteran outfielder out their every day when he is showing no sign of regaining his stroke from the past two seasons.
  • Boone Logan was summoned into the game in the seventh inning with one out and Jose Reyes at first base. His task was to retire left-handed hitter Daniel Murphy. On Logan’s second pitch, Murphy singled to right field and Reyes moved to third. Logan has been unable to consistently retire left-handed hitters this season. Robertson picked up Burnett and Logan by striking out Carlos Beltran and getting Jason Bay to pop out to Teixeira.
BOMBER BANTER
Girardi has been fielding a lot of questions about the condition of Rodriguez’s legs but he maintains the third baseman is fine. However, on Saturday, Girardi chose to DH Rodriguez and insert Eduardo Nunez at third base. It is the second time in a week that Rodriguez has been used at DH. A hip examination that scheduled for Friday was postponed because the Yankees got back to New York so late and the appointment has not been rescheduled.  . . .  Derek Jeter stole second base in the eighth inning and it was the 326th stolen base of his career. That ties him with Rickey Henderson for the most in franchise history.  . . .  The Yankees recalled right-hander Lance Pendleton from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and optioned right-hander Amauri Sanit to the same club. The Yankees were concerned about Sanit after he struggled to throw strikes against the Orioles in the ninth inning of what was a 13-0 game. Sanit,31, allowed two runs and he had a 8.53 ERA in 6 1/3 innings over three appearances. Pendleton was with the Yankees earlier this season and had given no runs on four hits in 6 1/3 innings over four appearances.
ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the rubber game of the Subway Series on Sunday. The Yankees will send rookie right-hander Ivan Nova (4-3, 4.33 ERA) to the mound. Nova helped the Yankees snap a six-game skid by giving up just one run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Rays on Tuesday. He has never faced the Mets. The Mets will throw veteran right-hander Mike Pelfrey (3-3, 5.11 ERA), gave up only one run over seven innings against the Marlins on Monday but did not get a decision. He is 2-2 with a 4.77 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

Orioles Can’t Overcome Early Yankee Deluge

GAME 42

YANKEES 13, ORIOLES 2

The rain that fell throughout Camden Yards was a perfect metaphor for the game on Thursday night. Once the skies opened up, the Yankees dumped a umbrella-full of runs on the Orioles they could not possibly overcome.

Nick Swisher drove in four runs and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three while CC Sabathia continued his personal domination of the Orioles as New York scored five runs in the first inning and went on to drown Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in a game delayed at the start by a 48-minute rain delay. The Orioles, in retrospect, wished it was much longer.

Sabathia (4-3) pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up seven hits, walking none and fanning a season-high nine batters. Sabathia ran his career record over the Orioles to 16-2 and he was in command from his first pitch to his last, which struck out Vladimir Guerrero swinging.

The Yankees, fresh off a game against the Orioles in which they could not by a key hit until Robinson Cano’s two-run double in the 15th inning, jumped all over Orioles starter Brad Bergesen (1-5) in the first inning. Swisher capped off a nine-batter assault with a two-out bases-loaded double to left that plated all three base-runners. Bergesen gave up eight runs on five hits, three walks and hit a batter in just 3 1/3 innings. He entered the game with an 0-3 career record and a 6.65 ERA against the Yankees.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 23-19 and they moved to within one game of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles are 19-23 and in last place, fives game behind the Rays.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Swisher added a RBI single in the fourth inning for his second four RBI game of the season. It was a welcome sight for the Yankees to see Swisher getting key hits. He entered the game hitting .215 and he had been ineffective all season long hitting left-handed. He is now hitting .223 with two home runs and 19 RBI.
  • The Yankees hit three triples in the game. Curtis Granderson hit an RBI triple in the first inning to plate the game’s first run. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter hit-back-to-back RBI triples in the fourth that finally chased Bergesen from the game. In all, the Yankees collected nine extra-base hits. In Wednesday’s 15-inning game, Cano’s double was their only extra-base hit of the night.
  • Sabathia cruised with the big lead he was handed. He has made two starts against the Orioles this season and the Yankees have won them by a combined score of 28-5. In those two games, Sabathia has given up just three runs on 13 hits and one walk and struck out 16 batters in 16 innings. Sabathia, in a word, simply “owns” the Orioles.
  • Eduardo Nunez, 23, may be a bit rough in the field but he is showing great promise as a hitter. He entered the game to spell Alex Rodriguez in the eighth inning and hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning off reliever Troy Patton, his first of the season and his second in the major leagues. In limited play this season, Nunez is hitting .300.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There were no negatives in this one. The Yankees played as perfect as they possibly could. After losing six in a row, the Yankees have now won three straight.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi chose to use Mark Teixeira as the DH on Thursday and inserted Jorge Posada at first base to give Teixiera a bit of a break. It was Posada’s first use in the field this season and his 28th career start at first base. He handled all the chances without an error. Posada, who has maintained he is better hitter when he plays in the field, was 1-for-3 with two walks and an RBI in the game.  . . .  A CT scan performed on outfielder Chris Dickerson indicated just a slight concussion and Girardi said he should be available to play on Friday. Dickerson was struck in the helmet in the 15th inning on a pitch by Michael Gonzalez in the 15th inning of Wednesday’s game against the Orioles. Dickerson sported a welt over his left eye and a small cut on his forehead but said he felt lucky he was not hit in the eye.  . . .  Bergesen hit Cano in the left thigh with a pitch in the first inning. Despite the fact Bergesen’s command was off, Sabathia chose to send a message to the Orioles in the bottom of the inning. After retiring the first two batters, Sabathia hit Nick Markakis in the back with a fastball. Home-plate umpire Larry Vanover warned both dugouts about further incidents. Yankee reliever Amauri Sanit hit rookie Brandon Snyder with a pitch in the ninth inning but Vanover elected not to eject him.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to the Bronx to open the first part of the 2011 Subway Series with the New York Mets.

The Yankees will start right-hander Freddy Garcia (2-3, 3.22 ERA). Garcia gave up a season-high four runs on six hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Red Sox in his last start. Garcia has a record of 21-8 with a 2.92 ERA in interleague play. He is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA against the Mets.

The Mets will counter with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (1-5, 5.08 ERA). Dickey gave up four runs on six hits in the first inning against Houston in a loss on Saturday. He is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

Cano’s Hit Gives Yankees’ Rookie Win in 15th

GAME 41

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 1 (15 Innings)

For nearly five hours the Yankees and Orioles seemed to be handing victory to each other and both teams kept giving it back.

But Robinson Cano ended the nonsense in the 15th inning with a two-run double and rookie Hector Noesi pitched a “thrill-a-second” four innings of relief  to win a game in his major-league debut as New York knocked off Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday, ahh, make that early Thursday morning.

The Yankees actually spoiled eight innings of shutout baseball by starter Bartolo Colon only to have the great Mariano Rivera cough up his third save chance of the season, which sent the game into six incredible extra frames in which there were 18 hits, six walks and 18 runners left on base between the two teams.

But Mark Teixeira led off the 15th inning with a single to right off losing pitcher Jeremy Accardo (2-1). Alex Rodriguez followed with his fourth single of the night into center. Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in lefty Mike Gonzalez to face the lefty swinging Cano and Cano blasted his first offering into the gap in right-center for a double to score Teixeira and Rodriguez. An error on the play by Adam Jones allowed Cano to reach third.

Gonzalez then struck Chris Dickerson in the head with a 1-1 fastball and Dickerson was forced to leave the game for a precautionary CT scan. Home-plate umpire Dan Bellino immediately ejected Gonazlaez and Showalter was forced to use Mark Guthrie, the scheduled starter for Thursday’s game, to pitch in relief. The Yankees added another insurance run on Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly to right to score Cano.

Noesi, meanwhile, kept both Yankee and Oriole fans on the edge of their seats. Noesi (1-0) gave up four hits and four walks and stranded seven runners in four eventful shutout innings. He actually started the 15th by giving up a single to Nick Markakis and he walked Brandon Snyder. But he retired Luke Scott on a soft liner to left and caught the biggest break of the game. Matt Wieters stroked a sure ground single towards right but the ball struck Snyder while he was running in the baseline and Snyder was ruled out. A pitch later, J.J. Hardy ended the four-hour and fifty-six minute marathon with a fly ball to right.

With the victory the Yankees improved their record to 22-19 and they remain two games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles fell to 19-22 and they trail the Rays by five games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • If Bartolo Colon could throw a game any better, it would have had to have been a no-hitter. Over eight innings he silenced the Orioles on only three hits and one walk and he struck seven. He finished his evening by striking out the side by painting the outside corner as he did all night long. He only needed 87 pitches and 61 were strikes. That is an amazing 70 percent strike ratio. He deserved the victory and it is a shame he did not get it. This scrap-heap 37-year-old right-hander has a season ERA of 3.16, the best mark among the Yankees’ starters.
  • Rodriguez continues to show improvement at the plate. He had four hits in the game and scored two of the Yankees four runs. In his last two games he is 6-for-11 (.545). That raises his season batting average to .266.
  • Give Noesi credit for his “bend but don’t break” pitching. He loaded the bases after striking out his first two major-league batters and then induced Markakis to hit an easy tapper back to Noesi. In the 13th, Noesi had runners on first and second with two out and struck out Mark Reynolds looking. In the 14th inning, Noesi gave up a long fly ball to the deepest part of right-center that was caught at the wall by Dickerson. Considering the 24-year-old rookie held it together for four innings in his major-league debut is very impressive.
  • Cano continues to frustrate the Orioles. He entered the game hitting .565 at Oriole Park since the beginning of the 2009 season. Showalter and the Orioles foiled his attempt to end the game in the 13th inning by walking him intentionally with Curtis Granderson at third and Teixeira at first with one out. Accardo escaped the jam by striking out Dickerson and getting Brett Gardner to ground out.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • No one can fault the great Rivera for being human. He faltered in the ninth by giving up one-out singles to both Jones and Markakis and Vladimir Guerrero stung him for a sacrifice fly to score Jones. It was Rivera’s third blown save and his second against the Orioles this season. The other was against the Blue Jays. It is not surprising that Rivera would have less success against the teams he faces the most inside the A.l. East.
  • Actually the Yankee offense could only muster an unearned run off Orioles starter Zach Britton. Rodriguez led off with a single and he advanced to second on a Cano groundout and took third on an error by Robert Andino. He then scored on a Nick Swisher sacrifice fly. The Yankees had at least one base-runner in the seven innings Britton pitched. Before Cano’s hit they were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. This has been an ongoing issue all season long with the Yankees.
  • Francisco Cervelli committed yet another throwing error trying to throw a base-stealer. In the eighth inning, Mark Reynolds stole second and too third when Cervelli’s throw tailed past Cano at second base and rolled into center. Colon bailed Cervelli out by striking out Andino. Cervelli has two errors in limited play and has allowed 11 steals on 13 attempts (18 percent).
BOMBER BANTER

Dickerson was taken to University of Maryland Hospital to have a precautionary CT scan. Dickerson wanted to remain in the game but manager Joe Girardi and trainer Gene Monihan insisted he come out. He was replaced as by pitcher A.J. Burnett as a pinch-runner.  It is unknown if Dickerson will miss any time.  . . .  Rodriguez will have his surgically repaired hip checked on when he returns to New York with the team this Friday. Rodriguez insists his hip is fine. But hitting coach Kevin Long said Rodriguez has been having trouble using his lower half swinging the bat lately and thinks a checkup is needed to be sure. With A-Rod going 6-for-11 in his last two games it is not looking like he has any issues. Rodriguez insists there is no pain.  . . .  Swisher returned to the starting lineup after missing Tuesday’s game with flu-like symptoms. Swisher was 0-for-2 in the game with an RBI.  . . .  Derek Jeter was used as the DH and Eduardo Nunez took his place at shortstop. However, when Dickerson was removed from the game, Nunez had to be used in right and Jeter was inserted at shortstop. losing the DH.
ON DECK

The Yankees will attempt to sweep the short road series with the Orioles later today.
The Yankees will start ace left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 3.47), who is coming off one his oddest outings of the season on Saturday against the Red Sox. Sabathia actually was dominant for most of the game. But he wilted in the seventh and ended up giving up six runs on eight hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. But facing the Orioles should be the tonic. Sabathia is 15-2 with a 2.92 ERA against the Orioles in his career.
The Orioles, forced to use Guthrie on Wednesday, will call on right-hander Brad Bergesen (1-4, 4.35 ERA). Bergesen is 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

Yankees Get B- For First Quarter of 2011

We have reached the first quarter pole of the baseball season and the Yankees looked terrific in their first 20 games (12-8) and not so good in their next 20 (9-11), thanks to a recent six-game losing streak. Let’s assess the team and see what’s good and what’s bad about the team:

OFFENSE

This was considered to be the strength of the team coming into the season. Judging by the amount or runs they score a game and the amount of home runs they hit, the Yankees certainly have a very potent lineup. However, there are problems too. When you compare the Yankees’ starters to their career batting averages it becomes clear.

Jorge Posada is hitting 95 points below his career average. Derek Jeter is 60 points below and Alex Rodriguez 52 points down. Then there is Nick Swisher (-33), Robinson Cano (-23) and Russell Martin (-19). The only players hitting around their norms are Brett Gardner (-2) and the team’s first-half Most Valuable Player, Curtis Granderson, who is the only player hitting above his norm at plus two.

This has translated into stretches where when the Yankees are not hitting home runs, they can’t come up with the big hit with runners in scoring position. They get runners on fine. They move them into scoring position fine and then the rally dies. This is the reason the Yankees have lost a majority of their games this season. I pointed this problem out a lot during the exhibition season and hoped it would solve itself in the regular season. But it has not.

One reason for the problem is that opposing managers and pitching coaches have instructed their pitchers to not give in to Yankee hitters by throwing fastballs in fastball counts. How many times have you seen Yankee hitters geared up to mash 2-0 or 3-1 fastballs and end up swinging miserably at change-ups in the dirt? But most of the blame has to go to the hitters themselves and there needs to be some immediate improvement if the Yankees are going to contend for the American League East title.

The major concerns are Posada and Swisher. Posted largely in the No. 6 and No. 7 spots in the batting order, they are finding that pitchers are using them as escape hatches out of jams. And both veterans have accommodated the pitchers. Posada may be coming close to the end of the line in his career and the challenge to him is hit or wind up being benched when Eric Chavez comes off the disabled list.

Swisher’s troubles are even more mystifying. He did not hit well in the spring and he has not hit for average or power so far this season. It looks as if hitting coach Kevin Long is going to have to unlock what’s wrong and get Swisher back on track. In 2008, Swisher basically punched his own ticket out of Chicago by hitting .219. Yankee fans would hate to see that happen to their beloved Swish. He has to get it going soon.

Then there are the whispers about Jeter. Perhaps he thought after his two-homer game in Texas he had shut up his critics. But Jeter has fallen right back into another slide at the plate. Since May 11, he is 4-for-31 (.129), dropping his average from a season-high .283 back to .253. The Captain’s slide also coincided with the team’s six-game losing streak. Jeter simply needs to hit more consistently and ignite the offense by getting on base.

The Yankees thought they had a juggernaut with Teixeira and Rodriguez “locked in” and hitting well in April. But both have slipped badly in May. After suffering an oblique strain, Rodriguez got into some bad habits at the plate and he did not hit for power or average. He did hit two home runs on Tuesday night against the Rays and it may be a sign he is ready to get back to what he been before the injury. Rodriguez was primed for an MVP season and he still could be if he gets it going again.

Teixeira has been very disappointing in May. He has only three home runs and six RBIs for the month after hitting five home runs and driving in 13 runs in April. He also is not a .250 hitter but he has become very pull-happy as a Yankee and pitchers exploit that to get him out.

No need to worry about Cano. But it is obvious that Swisher ‘s and Posada’s troubles had him expanding his strike zone the past few weeks. But Cano is simply too good a hitter to struggle for long and he is still the most feared hitter in this lineup — though Granderson may may make people rethink that.

Since a readjustment in his swing last August by Long, Granderson has hit more home runs than anybody in baseball except Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzski. He is hitting .270 but he has a team-leading 14 home runs and 31 RBIs. He has been hitting left-handers, too. Just ask David Price of the Rays about the 97-mile-per-hour fastball Granderson hit into the right-field bleachers at Tropicana Field. Granderson is the first left-handed hitter to take Price deep since 2009. He simply has been a revelation and it looks as if he is going to have his best season as a pro.

Speaking of revelations, Russell Marrin, despite a dip at the plate in the last 10 days, is still considered the best signing general manager Brian Cashman made this winter. Martin has seven home runs and 22 RBIs and looks like the catcher who won both the National League Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards in 2007 with the Dodgers. Teams have been taking fewer liberties on the bases with Martin catching and the staff is confident he can block most anything behind the plate. Martin is on a pace for 28 home runs and 88 RBIs, which are Posada-like numbers with better defense. You can’t argue with that.

STARTNG PITCHING

This was the Yankees sore spot coming into the season and the perceived Achilles heel of the team. However, despite its recent struggles during the losing streak, it has not been the reason the Yankees have been hovering around .500.

CC Sabathia 3-3, 3.47 ERA

A.J. Burnett 4-3, 3.99 ERA

Bartolo Colon 2-2, 3.74 ERA

Ivan Nova 4-3, 4.33 ERA

Freddy Garcia 2-3, 3.22 ERA

The combined 15-14 record is deceiving when you look closely at the ERAs. The starters, for the most part, have been turning in quality starts and either not getting run support or having the bullpen blow their leads.

The biggest surprise is that Sabathia has yet to get into his usual lockdown groove where he runs off eight or nine wins in a row and gives the bullpen a night off by going deep into his starts. After having knee surgery and losing some weight, Sabathia seemed primed for another 20-game season. But he will even admit he has been inconsistent. But there is still time and Sabathia always has been a June, July and beyond pitcher with better stuff in the hot months. It is inconceivable he will continue to struggle as he has this season.

Despite a horrific five-run inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday when “Bad A.J.” made his first appearance, Burnett has actually been the ace of the staff this season. He has not gotten much support and he has been the victim of some bad luck. The important thing is that pitching coach Larry Rothschild has Burnett  pitching with more consistency is his delivery. The results may not show it yet, but Burnett is looking more like he did in 2009 they he did in 2010. The Yankees need him as a solid No. 2 pitcher behind Sabathia.

With the loss of 18-game winner Phil Hughes to right shoulder weakness, the Yankees looked doomed. It appeared to be a big blow. But Bartolo Colon has cushioned that blow nicely. He is throwing into the mid-90s and the movement on his fastball has opposing hitters baffled. The 2005 A.L. Cy Young Award winner seems to have turned back the clock and he is pitching quality innings for the Yankees this season. At 37 and not the fittest looking player, Colon’s health is always a concern.

But the Yankees have finally bought some time for Hughes to recover on his own time and Colon has only had one bad outing as a starter. For a scrap-heap free-agent pickup, Colon is looking to be a gem.

And don’t look now, but Ivan Nova is slowing coming around after a shaky start to the season. He has pitched exceptional baseball in four of his last five outings. He ended the Yankees losing streak on Tuesday despite the fact he had inconsistent curve throughout the game and a high pitch count. That is saying something about his competitiveness. Nova may not even become the next Felix Hernandez but he is turning into a solid back-end starter at age 24. Manager Joe Girardi has to be pleased that Nova is working deeper into games and keeping the opponents off-balance.

Freddy Garcia, 34, has also shown good things in his starts. In his first 12 innings, he gave up just four hits and no runs. He has been less effective since then. But Garcia is essentially a old-school innings-eater who just battles with whatever he has got to keep the Yankees in games. The fact that he has the lowest ERA among the starters shows that he has been successful in keeping the Yankees close enough to let their offense take over. That is all the Yankees want from Garcia and they seem to be getting it consistently from him.

When Hughes returns it will be interesting to see how the Yankees play it. Do they use Hughes as a long man in the bullpen? Do they start Hughes and move Garcia or Colon to the bullpen? Or does Nova pitch in long relief or is he sent back to Triple-A? There are so many potential options. Don’t also count out Cashman making a deal for another starter before the July 31 trade deadline. It’s a cinch the rotation the Yankees now have is not the one you will see in September.

BULLPEN

This was an area of strength coming into the season, It also has been pretty strong for the most part this season. However, inconsistency and injuries have made this bullpen less formidable than what it could have been.

Before the season began the Yankees lost lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano to a sore left shoulder. Thought to be lost for the season, Felciano is trying to work back to the team without having surgery. But it will be some time before he comes back. In addition, previous lefty specialist Damaso Marte is recovering from shoulder surgery and it will be September before he comes back, if at all.

That has led the Yankees to rely on Boone Logan as their only lefty this season, as he was last season. Last season, Logan was good. He has not be so good this season. Logan has shaky command of his slider and teams know if his slider is missing they can whack his fastball. And they have been doing it. Lefties are hitting .310 off him. The Yankees signed 35-year-old Randy Flores out the San Diego organization and they hope he can soon give Logan some competition out of the bullpen. The Yankees need a good lefty out of the bullpen, especially in order to compete with the better teams in the division.

The Yankees have also been disappointed with expensive set-up man Rafael Soriano. Signed to a lucrative three-year contract, Soriano was expected to be a shutdown eight-inning man bridging to Mariano Rivera in the ninth. But Soriano was inconsistent with his command early and walked about as many batters as he did all last season. Then his ERA shot up like a cannon.

He was starting to pitch better when he complained of pain in his right elbow after a second straight appearance on May 1. He was placed on the 15-day DL on Tuesday and there is no timetable for his return.

That means that seventh-inning man Joba Chamberlain will have to pitch the eighth and David Robertson will shift to pitching the seventh. That also means depth in the bullpen is a huge issue with Feliciano and Soriano unavailable.

Chamberlain has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season. But he also has shown flashes of inconsistency too. With Soriano out, Chamberlain must step up and show he can do the job or the Yankees are going to have to turn to Robertson as their bridge. Robertson is still doing the high-wire Houdini escape acts for which he become famous. But he also has walked 15 batters in 16 2/3 innings and that will have to improve whether he pitches the seventh or eighth innings.

The other two spots in the bullpen are manned by veteran Luis Ayala and rookie Hector Noesi. Ayala has shown flashes of his former self when he was a set-up man for the Washington Nationals. But Girardi only uses him in games in which the Yankees are losing and to spare his other more valuable arms in the pen. Noesi has yet to make an appearance. He has mostly been a starter in his minor-league career and Girardi likely will use him as a long man until he gets some of his pitchers off the disabled list.

The Yankees have also used rookie Lance Pendleton and veteran Buddy Carlyle this season. Pendleton showed promise and could be back. Carlyle was a disaster and he likely won’t get another chance.

As for Mariano Rivera. He is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA and he has 13 saves and 15 chances. Other than blowing two saves opportunities in a row, Rivera has been the same God-like reliever he has always been. Washed up at age 40? Not hardly.

BENCH

Nothing hurt the Yankees more this season than when Eric Chavez turned up lame running out a triple in Detroit three weeks ago. Chavez had a great spring and was hitting the ball with authority in the early going. He proved to be valuable as a replacement at third base for Rodriguez and at first base for Teixeira. He also could be counted on a DH or pinch-hitter. The good news is Chavez will not be out much longer.

Thoought to have a broken bone in his left foot, Chavez merely aggravated a previous fracture and he hopes to be back within a few weeks. That is a good thing because the Yankees need him off the bench badly.

The Yankees have been using Andruw Jones to spell Gardner in left or Swisher in right. However, his defense and range are awful. As a result, Girardi likely will use him more to spell Posada at DH against left-hand pitching since Posada has not gotten a single hit off a lefty tis season. Jones still has the power he has always had. But it is just less frequent and he strikes out even more. Nonetheless, the Yankees need his bat off the bench with Chavez out.

Francisco Cervelli is back in his old job as the backup catcher. He also has dome pretty well with the bat in the early going. He still is having troubles throwing the baseball and nailing base-stealers. That is an issue that will have to be addressed because Martin has been so good defensively.

The Yankees chose Eduardo Nunez over Ramiro Pena as the backup infielder this spring knowing he was a better athlete, a better hitter and a better base-stealer. They also knew he was not as sure-handed as Pena. However, they did not know he would commit six errors in limited play. Truth is, Nunez is really not that bad defensively and his offense is a miles ahead of anything Pena could do.  The Yankees are just going to have patience with Nunez because he does have a bright future at age 23.

The Yankees filled their last roster spot with outfielder Chris Dickerson, who was picked up in a trade during spring training. Dickerson was hitting only .248 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but the Yankees needed a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Dickerson provides speed, defense and a OK bat but won’t hit for power. The Yankees might use him as a late-inning defensive replacement for Swisher. He also can pinch-run late in games.

This area of the team will improve mightily when Chavez returns.

FIRST QUARTER RATINGS

OFFENSE          C

STARTERS        B

BULLPEN         B-

BENCH               C

OVERALL         B-


A-Rod Blasts Pair To Lower Rays’ Shields

YANKEES 6, RAYS 2

It has been so long since the Yankees had won a game it appeared they did not know what to do when the final out was recorded on Tuesday night. Somehow the handshake ritual seemed foreign. But they were happy to have a huge weight lifted off their shoulders.

Alex Rodriguez drilled a pair of solo home runs and Ivan Nova pitched a solid 5 1/3 innings as New York snapped a six-game losing streak and beat Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.

Rodriguez’s first home run off Rays starter and loser James Shields (4-4) came off a low-inside change-up that he deposited into the left-field bleachers and tied the score at 1-1. His second in the sixth inning, also off Shields, was off a fastball in the middle of the plate and Rodriguez sent into almost straightaway center-field. It was Rodriguez’s 621st career home run and it gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead they would never relinquish.

Nova (4-3) only was touched by a solo home run off the bat of Eliot Johnson to lead off the third inning. He gave up four hits, walked two and fanned four. But he needed a lot of help from David Robertson in the sixth inning.

Nova walked Ben Zobrist to begin the frame and Johnny Damon followed with his third hit of the night. After Nova retired Evan Longoria on a grounder to Robinson Cano that advanced both runners, Nova walked Matt Joyce intentionally to load the bases and manager Joe Girardi called on Robertson. Robertson responded by striking out B. J. Upton swinging and he caught Casey Kotchman looking at strike three to record yet another one of his patented scoreless “Houdini acts.”

The Yankees extended their lead to 6-1 with a pair of runs in the seventh and a two more in the ninth.

With the victory the Yankees avoided falling to the .500 mark. They are now 21-19 and they have pulled to within two games of Rays in the American League East. The Rays are now 24-18.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Before his two home runs on Tuesday, Rodriguez had not hit a home run since last Thursday and that came after a 65 at-bats without a home run. Rodriguez now has eight home runs on the season. Since his home run on Thursday at Yankee Stadium against the Royals, Rodriguez was 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts.
  • Robertson is proving to be a very valuable reliever for the Yankees. His escape act in the sixth inning proved to be the key to preserving the victory. On the season, Robertson is 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. He also has only given up one earned run in his last eight appearances.
  • Brett Gardner continued his resurgence at the plate. He was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. After his average dipped to as low as .130 he is now batting .265 on the season and he has an on-base percentage of .348.
  • Chris Dickerson made his Yankee debut in right-field on Tuesday and he contributed a perfect sacrifice bunt, an RBI single in the seventh inning and fine running catch of a deep fly ball off the bat of Johnson in the fifth. Dickerson was called up on Tuesday and he started the game in place of a struggling Nick Swisher.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Derek Jeter singled and drove in a run in the ninth inning but his night started on an embarrassing note when he struck out swinging at change-ups out the strike zone in his first three trips to the plate against Shields. Jeter avoided striking out four tines in a game for only the third time in his career and the first time in 15 seasons.
  • Curtis Granderson has been providing pretty much all the Yankees’ offense during their six-game slide. Ironically, on a night the team won, Granderson was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. During the losing streak Granderson was 8-for-26 (.308) with three home runs and eight RBIs.
  • The only negative to Robertson’s season has been his walk total. It nearly bit him in the rear in the seventh inning. Robertson walked Johnson to begin the frame and two outs later he walked Ben Zobrist. Robertson has walked 15 batters this season and that is way too many. Fortunately, Joba Chamberlain came on to retire Johnny Damon on a groundout to end the threat.
BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed reliever Rafael Soriano on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday with right elbow inflammation. The Yankees have no definite timetable for his return. Soriano last pitched in a game on Friday against the Red Sox but has been complaining of elbow soreness since May 1. Soriano is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 16 appearances. The Yankees recalled Dickerson from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Soriano’s place on the roster.   . . .  Jorge Posada returned to the starting lineup as the DH on Tuesday and he contributed two hits in three at-bats, including a line-drive double in the seventh inning that sparked a two-run inning.  . . .  The Yankees signed veteran left-handed reliever Randy Flores to a minor-league contract on Tuesday. Flores, 35, opted out of his contract with the Padres last week and the Yankees signed him as a free agent and assigned him to Scranton. He had a 2.89 ERA in 19 appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas.
ON DECK

With their split in their two-game series with the Rays, the Yankees travel to Baltimore to open a two-game series with the Orioles on Wednesday.
The Yankees will start Bartolo Colon (2-2, 3.94). Colon took a loss against the Red Sox on Friday, giving up three runs (two earned) in six innings. He only has faced the Orioles once this season and that was a relief appearance. He is 10-6 with a 3.37 ERA in the last 10 years against the Orioles.
The Orioles will counter with rookie left-hander Zach Britton (5-2, 2.42 ERA), who got a no-decision against the Mariners on Thursday despite pitching nine scoreless innings and no allowing a base-runner to reach second base. He has not pitched against the Yankees in a regular season game.
Game-time will be at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
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