July 2011

CC KO’s Mariners On 1 Hit, 14 K’s For 15th Victory

GAME 101

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 1

The only thing that cooled off CC Sabathia’s flaming left arm on Tuesday night was the rain cascading down upon Yankee Stadium.

The game was virtually over early. The only thing left in doubt was whether the rain would prevent Sabathia pitching a perfect game against the sinking ship that is the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners did manage a hit. They even eked out a run. But Carsten Charles Sabathia thoroughly dominated them for seven plus innings, striking out a career-high 14 batters en route to handing the Mariners their 17th straight loss and immediately making the performance an instant classic for the YES Network.

Sabathia (15-4) kept the M’s hitless until Brendan Ryan stroked a one-out single to center on a 2-0 fastball in the seventh inning after the first of two rain delays of the evening. Up to that point, Sabathia had faced 19 batters and he had fanned 12 of them. At one point he had struck out seven straight Mariners.

After Ryan’s single, he punched out the next two batters to strike out the side for the third time in the game. The no-hitter was gone, but Sabathia was dealing in one of the best games of his career.

After a second rain delay lasting 14 minutes, Sabathia convinced manager Joe Girardi he could continue in the eighth inning. In retrospect, it was a noble but unwise decision. Sabathia walked the first three batters he faced and he left to a thundering ovation from the 46,132 in attendance.

David Robertson fanned pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy, which was the 10th straight batter Robertson had fanned with the bases loaded. But the Mariners broke that streak and pushed across a run when Eric Chavez could not field Chone Figgins’ grounder cleanly enough to turn a double play and he took the out at third himself. Roberston then fanned Ichiro Suzuki to limit the damage for Sabathia.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth with two more strikeouts for his 26th save and the Yankees tied a record with 18 strikeouts that was set by Ron Guidry on June 17, 1978 against the Angels.

 

“He’s always got Sabathia stuff, but today that was, by far, the best I’ve ever seen him pitch. I almost feel disrespectful saying that, because we all know what he’s capable of, but when you’re locating the fastball and the way he was throwing that slider, stealing strikes with that curveball here and there, he was absolutely filthy.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         — Brendan Ryan

 

Sabathia becomes the first pitcher in the major leagues to win 15 games this season. Despite losing his last start to the Rays to snap his seven game winning streak, Sabathia is 8-1 with a 1.71 ERA since a June 9 loss to the Red Sox. He has struck out 81 batters in 68 2/3 innings in that same stretch.

The Yankees were able to give Sabathia some run support against Mariners’ hard-luck starter Doug Fister . Fister entered the game with an awful 3-11 record and a sterling 3.30 ERA because the Mariners had scored a total of 25 runs in the 15 games he started that the Mariners lost. Well, make it 26 runs in 16 losing starts. Fister is now 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA.

Curtis Granderson shocked Fister by slapping a curveball to the opposite field and into the bleachers down the left-field line for his 28th home run of the season with out out in the fourth.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fifth. Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada stroked back-to-back singles to start the frame. Chavez, who was playing his first game after being activated from the 60-day disabled list earlier in the day, followed with an RBI single to score Swisher. One out later, Brett Gardner singled to load the bases and Derek Jeter scored Posada with a infield groundout.

Mark Teixeira tacked on an insurance run in the eighth with a his 28th home run off reliever Jamey Wright.

But the night belonged to Sabathia, who is now 55-20 since he was signed for the 2009 season to be the Yankees’ ace. On Tuesday he proved he was worth every penny the Yankees paid.

But he had a ominous warning for his next opponent. “I can’t wait for my next start,” Sabathia told reporters.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 61-40 and they remain two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Mariners continue their slide into oblivion at 43-60.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned Brandon Laird to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in order to make room on the roster for Chavez. Girardi elected to play the lefty hitting Chavez against the right-hander Fister and rest Eduardo Nunez, who has played a lot of games replacing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Nunez likely will continue to see some time at third until Rodriguez returns in August.  . . .  The Yankees seem ready to activate reliever Rafael Soriano on Friday when the Yankees open a four-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles. Girardi dodged questions about whether Soriano would return to his setup role.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for a sweep of the Mariners on Wednesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (1-2, 9.47 ERA) will get the call to pitch for the Yankees. Hughes was staked to a 14-2 lead over Oakland on Friday but he was unable to go the necessary five innings to earn the victory. Hughes was touched for seven runs on nine hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. He is 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA against the Mariners in his career.

The Mariners will look to ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (8-9, 3.47 ERA) to end their 17-game skid. Hernandez has not won in his last five starts. On Friday, he lost to Boston 7-4, giving up 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings. He is 5-3 with a 2.98 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Garcia Deep-Sixes Mariners For 16th Straight Loss

GAME 99

YANKEES 10, MARINERS 3

Freddy Garcia looked as laid back as ever on the mound at Yankee Stadium on Monday. But on the inside he was hoping he would not be “The One” to lose a game to Seattle.

Whatever Garcia’s mindset was, his pitching was simply superb as he breezed into the eighth inning and New York’s vaunted offense scored him plenty of runs as the Yankees sent the luckless Mariners to their 16th straight loss, a franchise record for futility.

Garcia (9-7), who won 79 games from 1999 through 2004 for the Mariners, gave up three runs on eight hits and one walk and fanned five batters in 7 2/3 innings for his seventh quality start in his last eight outings. Staked to an early 3-1 lead that ballooned to 8-1 after the Yankees scored five runs off Mariners starter Jason Vargas in the fourth inning, Garcia merely coasted through the game recording four three-up, three-down innings.

Mark Teixeira opened the scoring on the reeling Mariners and Vargas with a one-out two-run home run to left-field, his 27th home run of the season, which ties him teammate Curtis Granderson for second in the American League to Jose Bautista of Toronto, who has 31.

Two innings later, Derek Jeter lined his fourth home run of the season into the first row in the right-field bleachers over the auxiliary scoreboard to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.

The Yankees broke it open in the fourth thanks to four hits from the Yankees and two errors from the Mariners. Eduardo Nunez, Brett Gardner, Jeter, Granderson and Teixeira drove in a run apiece in consecutive at-bats in the inning and the barrage knocked the left-handed Vargas out of the game. Vargas was touched for eight runs (four earned) on seven hits and a walk and he fanned two in four innings as he posted his fourth straight defeat.

The fourth inning was a microcosm of how things have soured for the Mariners this season.

With one out, Russell Martin reached on an error by third baseman Adam Kennedy. Andruw Jones then was safe on what was scored a single when Vargas was late covering first on a grounder to first baseman Justin Smoak. Nunez scored Martin on a bloop single to center and Gardner drove in Jones on a single up the middle.

Vargas then got Jeter to roll a ground ball to rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley but the ensuing play pretty much shows how things have unraveled for the Mariners during this stretch. Ackley chose to throw home to get a sliding Nunez but the ball struck Jeter’s bat and rolled past catcher Miguel Olivo for the team’s second error of the inning.

Granderson followed with a sacrifice fly and Teixiera singled in Jeter to close out the scoring in the nightmare inning for the M’s where four of the five runs scored were unearned.

The game began at 9:02 p.m. EDT because of one-hour and 57-minute rain delay. Of course, the rain of runs the Yankees scored dampened the Mariners’ spirit more than any of the precipitation. It seems that a dark cloud has followed the Mariners to the Bronx from rainy Seattle.

With the victory, the Yankees reached a season-best 20 games over .500 after they failed in their four previous attempts. They are 60-40 at the 100-game mark. The better news was that the first-place Boston Red Sox got tripped up at home by the lowly Kansas City Royals 3-1 and the Yankees have now drawn to within two games of first in the American League East. The Mariners, meanwhile, slipped to 43-59. They were at the .500 mark when their losing streak began.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • For those Yankee fans who believed that Jeter was finished as a productive hitter at age 37, think again. Jeter was 2-for-5 with a triple and home run and drove in three runs and scored two. Since July 20, Jeter is 9-for-22 (.409) with a homer and seven RBIs and he has scored six runs. In fact, Jeter is hitting .324 in July and has raised his season average to .273.
  • Teixeira has been embarrassed by his .240 batting average and has been working in the batting cage with hitting coach Kevin Long. It may be paying off, too. On the homestand, Teixeira is 5-for-16 (.313) with two home runs and eight RBIs. Teixeira was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs against the Mariners. He has 27 home runs and 75 RBIs despite hitting only .243.
  • Garcia was in command most of the night and the run support helped a lot. Garcia was tagged by sac fly by Ichiro Suzuki that scored Justin Smoak in the third inning. The Mariners added a run with two out in the seventh on an RBI single by Smoak. The Mariners chased Garcia in the eighth after an RBI double by Brendan Ryan. Garcia is on pace to win 15 games for the first time since he won 17 games for the White Sox in 2006.
  • Granderson was 1-for-2 with two sacrifice flies, a walk and scored a run. His two RBIs gave him 76 on the season and he is now tied for second in the A.L. with Andre Beltre of Texas. Boston Adrian Gonzalez leads with 82.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There was nothing that bad to discuss in this game. Garcia pitched effectively into the eighth and the Yankees scored 10 runs. What more could you want?

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees are likely to activate reserve infielder Eric Chavez from the 60-day disabled list on Tuesday and he could start at third base against the Mariners. Chavez has been sidelined since May 5 with a fractured bone in his left foot. He arrived in New York on Monday after a rehab stint at Class A Tampa to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff. Chavez was 7-for-21 (.333) in six starts for Tampa. Chavez actually healed the foot injury some time ago. But the oft-injured 33-year-old veteran was sidelined for three more weeks by a kidney stone and recurring back issues.  . . .  Alex Rodriguez is making progress in his recovery from right knee surgery and he could return to the Yankees by the second week of August, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday. Rodriguez had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in the knee and he was expected to miss four to six weeks.  . . .  Reliever Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect inning of relief on Monday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he could be rejoining the team soon. Soriano, who has been sidelined since May 13 with right elbow inflammation, was making his first back-to-back appearance during his rehab. The Yankees likely will wait to activate Soriano until Friday when they begin a four-game weekend home series with the Orioles.  . . .  Left-hander Steve Garrison made his major-league debut on Monday in the ninth inning against the Mariners. Garrision was recalled from Scranton to replace Sergio Mitre on the roster when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder. Garrison, 24, pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to end the game. Garrison likely will be sent back to Scranton when the Yankees activate Soriano.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the hard-luck Mariners on Tuesday.

There is more bad news for Seattle since the Yankees will be starting left-hander CC Sabathia (14-5, 2.62 ERA). Sabathia had his seven-game wining streak stopped by the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. However, Sabathia was far from bad. He gave up only two runs in eight innings in a pitchers’ duel against James Shields. Sabathia is 10-4 with a 2.49 ERA against the Mariners in his career.

The Mariners will send Doug Fister (3-11, 3.30 ERA) to the hill. The right-hander gave up four runs in seven innings against the Blue Jays in a loss last week. Fister has received only 25 runs of support in the 15 starts the Mariners have lost with him on the mound. He is 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA against the Yankees.

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

Colon Back On Track As Yanks Escape A’s’ Rally

GAME 99

YANKEES 7, ATHLETICS 5

A victory is a victory. But there are some victories that expose what a team is missing.

Though New York defeated Oakland on Sunday, the mood at Yankee Stadium was relief the pesky A’s were leaving town.

Bartolo Colon (7-6) pitched seven solid innings and Curtis Granderson, Andruw Jones and Eduardo Nunez drove in two runs apiece as the Yankees staked their vaunted bullpen to a 6-2 lead to start the eighth inning. However, the usually reliable David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were tagged for three runs on seven hits and a walk to barely hold on to defeat the Athletics.

Robertson was pressed into service despite the fact he threw 25 pitches in an inning of work on Saturday. Robertson has been filling in the eighth inning role since the Yankees lost Rafael Soriano on May 14 with right elbow inflammation and Joba Chamberlain on June 6 for the season with Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. On Sunday, the heavy workload on the All-Star reliever Robertson showed.

The A’s battered Robertson for two runs on three doubles and a walk in 30 more pitches over two-thirds of an inning, prompting manager Joe Girardi to summon Rivera from the bullpen for a very rare four-out save. Rivera escaped the two-out, two on jam by inducing Cliff Pennington to ground out on his second pitch.

However, the A’s — trailing 7-4 after Derek Jeter drove in an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on an infield groundout — refused to go gently in the ninth.

With one out, the A’s strung together four straight singles — the last an RBI single by Josh Willingham — off Rivera to score a run to draw them within two runs with the bases loaded. Rivera and the Yankees escaped disaster when David DeJesus’ line drive headed into the right-field corner was stopped by first baseman Mark Teixeira, who trotted to first to double up Willingham for a game-ending unassisted double play.

What little was left of the crowd of 45,596 seemed to all exhale with a collective sigh of relief just before the P.A. system struck up Frank Sinatra singing his familiar “New York, New York.” Perhaps, in this case, it would have been more appropriate to play Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady Tonight.”

The Yankees had trailed 2-0 early to the A’s and their talented lefty starter Gio Gonzalez before the Yankees began chipping away in the bottom of the second inning. Jones followed a two-out single and a stolen base by Russell Martin with his first RBI single of the day to draw the Yankees to within a run.

Two innings later, Nunez laced a line-drive two-out double to the gap in left-center to score Martin and Jones, who Gonzalez had hit with a pitch and walked on four pitches, respectively. The Yankees took the lead at 3-2 and never did surrender it the rest of the way.

Granderson padded the lead to 5-2 in the fifth when he followed a leadoff walk to Derek Jeter with his 27th home run of the season and his 11th off a left-hander this season, which leads the major leagues. Later in the inning, Jones delivered a bases-loaded single to score Teixeira and chase Gonzalez (9-7) from the game. Gonzalez left having given up six runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings of work.

Colon meanwhile, relied a bit more on his slider than his fastball in holding the A’s to just two runs on eight hits and a walk and he struck out four to win his first start since July 2 against the Mets. It also was his first post-All-Star break victory since the 2005 season.

Colon and the Yankees were able to hold on that victory for him despite the rocky eighth and ninth innings. Rivera got credit for his 25th save in 29 chances and extended his major-league record of consecutive seasons of 25 or more saves to 15.

With the victory the Yankees remain three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The A’s dropped to 44-57 on the season.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Colon was not as sharp as he has been, but he was good enough to limit the opposition to two earned runs or fewer for the ninth time in 15 starts. The A’s only got to Colon in the second inning. With two out, Kurt Suzuki stroked a double to left. Cliff Pennington followed with a single to right that scored Suzuki when Nick Swisher’s throw from right-field skipped past Martin at the plate. Rookie Eric Sogard then doubled to right-center to score Pennington to give the A’s a 2-0 lead. Colon shut out the A’s from there thanks to a great defensive play by Granderson and Robinson Cano.
  • Granderson and Cano teamed up to deny the A’s what might have been a key run in the fifth. With Sogard at first and two out, Hideki Matsui, who was 5-for-5 in the game, stroked his first of two doubles on the day to center. Granderson retrieved the ball and, as Sogard headed for home, Cano relayed the ball high but right on the plate to Martin. Martin caught it over his head and brought his glove down to tag Sogard out as he blocked the plate. Despite an inconsequential error charged to Cano in the sixth, the Yankees played exceptional defense led by a spectacular play earlier by Cano, three excellent stops by Teixeira and Martin threw out a base-stealer in the seventh.
  • Granderson’s great season continues despite the fact he has been slumping of late and he has been striking out at an alarming rate. Granderson’s blast to right reached the second deck and was the key blow of the game. Granderson now has has 27 home runs, 74 RBIs and is hitting .265. Of course, he also leads the team in strikeouts with 107 and he fanned three times on Sunday, all on breaking pitches in the dirt.
  • Nunez filled in nicely for Jeter when he was on the disabled list and now he is doing the same with Alex Rodriguez on the DL. Nunez was 2-for-4 with a double and a single, he drove in two runs, stole a base and scored a run on Sunday. From June 14 through Sunday, Nunez is 31-for-105 (.295) with two home runs and 15 RBIs. He also has eight stolen bases.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Robertson entered Sunday’s game with a 3-0 record and 1.14 ERA and he had only allowed one earned run since June 9, a stretch of 15 appearances. So it is hard to fault Robertson for his poor showing on Sunday. But in this instance you have to blame Girardi for choosing to use Robertson after he threw so many pitches on Saturday when he loaded the bases on walks and struck out the final batter to escape without a run scoring.  In these situations Girardi will have to trust Cory Wade or Luis Ayala more. Of course, if the Yankees get a healthy Soriano back as expected this week, Robertson’s heavy workload can be lessened some.
  • Swisher entered the game as the hottest hitter on the team. But on Sunday he was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. After pushing his average over .261 for the first time this season, Swisher’s average has dipped back to .258.
  • When Rivera struggles to get outs it is news. Rivera escaped the eighth on two pitches but ran into trouble with out in the ninth. Jemile Weeks singled sharply to center. Coco Crisp then rolled a single just off Cano’s glove and Matsui lined a single to right to load the bases. Willingham singled to left to score Weeks and suddenly the Yankees were faced with the tying run at second, one out and the bases loaded. DeJesus’ line drive could have easily doomed the Yankees to either a tie or a one-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth. Luckily, Teixeira bailed out Rivera and the Yankees by being at the right place at the right time.

ON DECK

The Yankees held on to win the rubber game their three-game home series with the A’s. They now will open a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners, who have lost 14 games in a row.

The Yankees will start the series with veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (8-7, 3.21 ERA). Garcia pitched 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Rays for his 12th quality start of the season. Garcia fanned seven and walked none and looked dominant with his off-speed assortment. He is 4-3 with a 5.46 ERA in his career against the Mariners.

Seattle will counter with left-hander Jason Vargas (6-8, 3.94 ERA). Vargas was blasted by the Blue Jays for five runs on six hits over just three innings. Vargas, 28, has given up 10 earned runs in his last two starts. He is 0-2 with a 7.66 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Blister A’s For 17 In Sweltering Bronx

GAME 97

YANKEES 17, ATHLETICS 7

Eli Manning threw for two touchdowns and the Giants’ defense smothered the Raiders  . . .  Oops, wrong sport.

Nick Swisher homered and tied a career high with five RBIs and Mark Teixeira connected for a grand-slam home run as New York pounded Oakland on an oppressively hot and humid evening in the Bronx on Friday.

Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning, the Yankees erupted for five runs off A’s starter Trevor Cahill, keyed by a two-run single by Derek Jeter. But the Yankees sent Cahill (8-9) to an early and likely very refreshing cold shower in the third inning as they sent 13 batters to the plate and scored nine runs.

The big blows were Swisher’s three-run home run to make the score 8-2 and Teixeira’s grand slam off reliever Michael Wuertz that extended the onslaught to 14-2.

The only real down note for the Yankees was the inability of starter Phil Hughes to stay in the game long enough to collect an easy victory. The A’s touched Hughes for three runs in fourth and Hughes was removed in the fifth after he loaded the bases with one out.

Hector Noesi came on in relief and surrendered a two-run single to Jemile Weeks that brought the score to 14-7. However, Noesi (2-0) settled down and ended up pitching 3 2/3 innings of shutout baseball to earn the victory.

In a game that started in 100-degree heat, the Yankees’ bats were even hotter as they set a season mark by scoring nine runs in an inning and their 17 runs in the game were the most they have scored this season. Though Oakland might have been surprised by the amount of runs scored, they could not have been too shocked at the result. They have now lost 11 straight games to the Yankees. They also have a 1-14 record at the new Yankee Stadium, having lost 11 in a row.

Cahill entered the game with a career record of 0-3 and a 9.72 ERA against the Yankees. He is now 0-4 with a 13.50 ERA. He gave up 10 runs on nine hits and two walks in two-plus innings. It is the most runs the Yankees have scored off an A’s starter since they tacked up nine runs on Brett Anderson in May.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their record to 58-39 and they remain two games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The A’s are now 43-56.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was nice to see Teixeira finally connect with something other than air. Teixeira’s 26th home run was his first since June 30. Teixeira entered the game with no home runs and only four RBIs in July and he is hitting only .225 in that span.
  • Swisher’s five RBIs on the night were the fifth time in his career he has reached that mark. Swisher smacked his 11th home run in the nine-run third inning and he added an two-run bases-loaded single in the seventh inning to extend the lead to 16-7. Oddly, it was Swisher’s first home run since June 28 against Milwaukee.
  • Jeter was 2-for-3 with a walk, scored a run, stole a base and drove in three runs. Over his last 10 games, Jeter is hitting .341 with a homer and six RBIs. Jeter’s big night came from the No. 2 spot in the batting order as manager Joe Girardi is electing to bat Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot against right-handers and move Curtis Granderson to the No. 3 spot.
  • Rookie infielder Brandon Laird entered the game for Jeter as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and drew a walk and scored a run in his major-league debut. Then Laird, 23, collected his first major-league hit and RBI with a single up the middle in the eighth off Craig Breslow. Laird was called up earlier in the week to replace Ramiro Pena on the roster. Pena is on the 15-day disabled list after having an appendectomy on Monday.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • There has to be some concern about Hughes, who was making his third start after being activated from the disabled list. Hughes gave up seven runs on nine hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings. Girardi tried to allow Hughes to go the necessary five innings to get the victory, but Hughes walked Cliff Pennington to load the bases with one out. After having thrown 98 pitches, Hughes looked helpless and Noesi was brought in to keep the A’s from getting any closer.
  • Gardner was able to drive in a run in the second inning with a bases-loaded infield single. However, his other four at-bats were not too good. He struck out three times and rolled out weakly to second base. He also committed a rare error when he was unable to corral a bouncer down the left-field line off the bat of Jemile Weeks that rolled all the way to the wall.
  • Granderson was the only Yankee starter  who failed to register a hit in the game. However, he still contributed to the offense. He was hit by a pitch, walked twice and hit a sacrifice fly. He also stole a base, scored two runs and drove in two. He struck out in his two official at-bats.

BOMBER BANTER

Relief pitcher Rafael Soriano and backup corner infielder Eric Chavez likely will return to the Yankees during the current 10-game homestand, Girardi told reporters on Friday. Both players played in a rehab game for Class A Tampa on Thursday. Soriano gave up one run on two hits and Chavez played third base for seven innings and was 1-for-4 with an RBI. Soriano has been sidelined with elbow inflammation and Chavez has been recovering from a broken bone in his left foot.  . . .  The heat created some issues during the game. Home-plate umpire Marty Foster required ammonia towels and water between innings late in the game and Oakland reliever Joey Devine had trouble keeping the ball from slipping out of his hand due to excessive perspiration. Devine walked the bases loaded to begin the seventh and had to be removed from the game.  . . .  Foster drew the ire of the A’s bench on a few strike calls during the game. Foster ejected A’s hitting coach Gerald Perry in the fourth inning after he called out Josh Willingham on strikes and he drew angry words from Coco Crisp in the fifth when he rung him up for strike three.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend series with the A’s and the heat is expected to be even worse on Saturday.

Hard-luck A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.17 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Burnett gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and six walks in 5 1/3 innings on Monday in a loss to the Rays. Burnett has not won a start since June 29 against the Brewers. He is 5-3 with a 3.74 ERA against the A’s in his career.

The A’s will counter with oft-injured right-hander Rich Harden (1-1, 5.00 ERA). Harden allowed three runs on four hits and two walks and he fanned nine in seven innings against the Rangers in his last start. Harden is 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA in nine appearances against the Yankees.

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

Granderson Atones As Yankees Totally Eclipse Rays

GAME 95

YANKEES 4, RAYS 0

Curtis Granderson may have trouble reading fly balls at Tropicana Field but he has no trouble spotting fastballs from David Price.

The veteran center-fielder hit his second home run of the season off Price — a two-run blast in the first inning — and Freddy Garcia and the Yankee bullpen shut out the Rays as New York downed Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

For Granderson it was going from hero to goat an evening later. He lost a key a fly ball off the bat of Justin Ruggiano in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday and then committed a throwing error that helped the Rays rally for two runs in the inning to beat the Yankees 3-2. In addition, Granderson had trouble seeing a couple of fly balls in the white-ceiling dome in Wednesday’s game.

Garcia (8-7) frustrated the Rays with an assortment of slow breaking pitches and his split-finger fastball in scattering eight hits over 6 2/3 innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven to record his 12th quality start in 17 tries this season.

Tuesday night’s other goat, left-hander Boone Logan, also had a night of redemption by striking out Casey Kotchman with two out and with runners at first and third in relief of Garcia in the seventh inning. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera followed with a perfect ninth to complete the shutout.

But it was Granderson’s night.

After Derek Jeter reached on a single and stole second, Granderson hit a 2-1 fastball off Price into the right-field bleachers for his 26th home run of the season and his 10th against a left-hander, which leads the major leagues. Granderson hit only four home runs off left-handers last season.

Price (9-8) entered this season only haven given up one home run to a left-hander in his career until Granderson hit a three-run homer off him in Tropicana Field on May 16. In his last two starts, he has given home runs to Boston’s David Ortiz and Granderson again.

Despite his troubles in the field, Granderson also came up with a game-saving catch in the bottom of the fifth inning.

With two out and runners on second and third, Evan Longoria lofted a line drive to straightaway center-field that was over Granderson’s head. The speedy center-fielder sprinted back to the wall and caught the ball just before crashing into the wall and falling, saving Garcia two runs.

The Yankees tacked on two runs in the ninth inning off relievers Dane De La Rosa and Cesar Ramos. De La Rosa issued back-to-back one-out walks to Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. After the runners moved up on a Chris Dickerson groundout, Eduardo Nunez delivered a lined single to center to score both runners.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 57-38 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East for the seventh straight day. The Rays, who are in the midst of an 11-game stretch of playing the Red Sox and Yankees, fell to 51-45 and they are 8 games back in third place. They have lost seven of the 10 games of these critical games against the division front-runners.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Garcia was blasted for six runs (five earned) against the Blue Jays in his last start. He certainly forgot about it and redeemed himself on Wednesday. Garcia only had two 1-2-3 innings — the second and the sixth. He stranded two runners in the first by striking out Matt Joyce. He stranded two in the third by striking out Longoria. He left Sam Fuld on third by striking out Sean Rodriguez. Granderson’s great catch saved two runs in the fifth and Logan bailed Garcia out by striking out Kotchman, who was 3-for-3 at the time.
  • Granderson was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. Granderson now has 26 home runs, 70 RBIs and he is batting .272 on the season. The catch on Longoria was amazing because Granderson not only lost a ball on Tuesday, he lost two more on Wednesday. In the second inning, Brett Gardner had to move well into left-center to catch a ball off the bat of Rodriguez to save Granderson. In the sixth inning, B.J. Upton lofted a popup in shallow right-center that Robinson Cano had to catch over his shoulder because Granderson did not see it.
  • The Yankees have been turning the tables on the Rays in this series. The Rays, in the past, have taken advantage of the Yankees by turning games into track meets. Well, in this series, the Yankees have decided to give the Rays a heavy dose of their own medicine. The Yankees stole three bases in the first game, four in the second game and four more on Wednesday. They have only been caught once by rookie Robinson Chirinos, a catcher converted from being an infielder in 2009. In contrast, the Rays have been cut down by Martin in their only two steal attempts in the series.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There is nothing to criticize except Eduardo Nunez committed his 13th error of the season and that is like beating a dead horse. The Yankees are trying to bury the Rays for good and they are doing a great job of it.

BOMBER BANTER

Ivan Nova injured his right ankle while pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he was placed on their seven-day disabled list on Wednesday. Nova had precautionary tests conducted on the ankle and the results were negative but the Yankees are not sure how long he will be sidelined. Nova was considered a candidate to pitch for the Yankees in a split doubleheader schedule against the Orioles in Baltimore on July 30.  . . .  Eric Chavez was 4-for-5 with four singles as the designated hitter with Class A Tampa in his second rehab game. Chavez, however, will not be activated by the Yankees until he is able to play in the field. Chavez has been sidelined since early May with broken bone in his left foot.

ON DECK

Will it be “The Duel, Part Two?”

The Yankees and Rays complete their four-game series on Thursday which features a rematch of the 1-0 pitcher’s duel between CC Sabathia and James Shields from July 10 that Sabathia and the Yankees won.

Sabathia (14-4, 2.64 ERA) is on a stretch where he is 7-0 with a 1.68 ERA in his last seven starts. He gave up only one run over seven innings to the Blue Jays on Saturday. He defeated Shields on July 10 by pitching eight shutout innings and he is 9-5 with a 3.04 ERA against the Rays in his career.

Shields (8-8, 2.60 ERA) gave up six runs in six innings against the Red Sox in his last start on Saturday. He is 3-10 with a 4.47 ERA against the Yankees in his career. With the Rays 8 games out and fading fast in the East, this is a must-game for Tampa Bay.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

Yankees Overtake Rays On Bases-Loaded Walk

GAME 93

YANKEES 5, RAYS 4

To offer a variation of the Mark Anthony’s famous speech about Julius Caesar, the Yankees did not come to St. Petersburg, FL, to praise the Rays but to bury them — in the standings.

In the opening act of a four-game drama on Monday, the Yankees patiently allowed a rookie Rays pitcher to self-inflict all the damage in his major-league debut on the same night a bolt of lightning almost brought down the curtain in the fifth inning when a bank of lights failed at Tropicana Field.

The result of the patience was a tortuous ninth inning of 44 pitches as New York scored the winning run on a bases-loaded walk to Russell Martin off Alex Torres to down Tampa Bay.

The beginning of the end for the Rays actually unfolded in the eighth inning with the Rays clinging to a 4-2 lead. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to bring in closer Kyle Farnsworth with two runners on and one out. Bringing a closer into an eighth inning can either be a masterstroke or disaster.

On this night it was a disaster.

Martin grounded a hard single to left to load the bases and Brett Gardner followed with an RBI single to left to bring the Yankees to within one run. Eduardo Nunez then tied it with a grounder when Gardner upended Sean Rodriguez at second base to break up a potential double play, allowing Nick Swisher to score.

The Rays’ bullpen, depleted because of a 16-inning 1-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the early hours of Monday morning, was down to the left-handed Torres (0-1), who was just recalled from Triple-A Durham that day and he had arrived at the ballpark at 5:50 p.m.

Granderson greeted Torres with a single to center-field. He later stole second but Torres was able to retire Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. With Swisher due up, Maddon elected to walk him and have Torres face Andruw Jones instead. That decision also proved costly to the Rays.

Jones drew a five-pitch walk and Martin stepped to the plate with the bases loaded.

Torres was forced into a 3-2 count, his third of the inning. His last offering to Martin was well up and out the strike zone and Granderson trotted in with the tie-breaking run.

Mariano Rivera needed only eight pitches to dispatch the Rays in the ninth to earn his 24th save of the season.

The Yankees’ three-run rally in the final two frames spoiled the first six innings of Rays starter Alex Cobb, another rookie. Cobb gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits and four walks while striking out three batters.

The right-hander gave up an unearned run in the first inning after a Rodriguez error allowed Granderson to reach third and Teixeira first with one out. Cano hit what looked to be a double-play grounder but Cano beat the relay from Rodriguez and Granderson scored.

The Rays, meanwhile, built a lead off a wild and inconsistent A.J. Burnett. The Rays used a two-run double by Evan Longoria and a Burnett throwing error to score three runs in the first. They added a run in the second on a base-loaded single by Casey Kotchman.

The Yankees drew to within 4-2 in the fifth on a two-out RBI single by Teixeira to score Gardner.

Then the lights went out as Cano awaited a 3-2 pitch from Cobb with Granderson and Teixiera on and two out. The umpires halted play as the Rays maintenance staff needed to climb to the inner ring to fix the bank of lights. It caused an 18-minute delay in which both teams left the field.

I know what you are thinking. Isn’t it ironic that there was a lack of juice at Tropicana?

When play resumed, Cano bounced out on the first pitch and the Rays held on to the lead — for three more innings anyway.

David Robertson (3-0) pitched a perfect eighth inning to earn the victory in relief.

With the comeback win, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 56-37 and they remain 1 1/2 games in back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. But, more importantly, the Rays’ loss — their sixth in their last eight games against the Yankees and Red Sox — dropped them a full eight games out in third place. This the farthest the Rays have trailed first place all season and they have three more games with the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson was 2-for-3 with two singles, two walks, he stole two bases and he scored two runs, adding to his major league-leading total of 84 runs scored. The best thing Granderson did is run up pitch totals of the Rays’ pitchers. In five plate appearances, Granderson saw a total of 32 pitches. His patience against Ramos in the ninth inning set the tone for the winning rally.
  • The Yankees drew a total of nine walks in the game, seven of them from rookies Cobb and Torres. The team’s eight hits and the nine walks gave the Yankees enough chances to score despite the fact they were only 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position on the night.
  • Gardner was 1-for-3 with two walks and he scored a run. He also stole a key base in the fifth inning and later scored a run to draw the Yankees to within two of the Rays. That stolen base was his 13th straight stolen base without being caught, which is a career high. In his last six games, Gardner is 12-for-22 (.545).
  • The unsung hero of the night was reliever Hector Noesi, who entered the game in the sixth inning for a very shaky Burnett. Noesi did walk a batter but escaped a base-loaded jam by striking out B.J. Upton looking. He also pitched a scoreless seventh to set up the Yankees’ rally in the eighth.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Burnett had not pitched in since July 9 against these same Rays and the rust showed. Burnett gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and six walks in 5 1/3 innings. He has not won a game since June 29. Burnett did not have command of his fastball for most of the night and was mainly using his curveball to keep the Rays off balance.
  • Burnett also caused some his own problems in addition to the six walks. Burnett committed an inexcusable error in the first that allowed the Rays to tack on an unearned third run. After B.J. Upton had grounded into double play in which Longoria failed to break from third, Rodriguez hit a bouncer Burnett had to retreat in back of the mound to field. Burnett threw awkwardly to first and the ball went straight down and past Teixeira at first. That allowed Longoria to get off the hook and put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole.
  • Cano failed twice in key spots to deliver big RBIs. He failed with two on and two out in the fifth by grounding out to second off Cobb after the lights came back on. In the ninth, he had Granderson at second and one out and again rolled out to second base. Both times he was bested by rookie pitchers.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed reserve infielder Ramiro Pena on the 15-day disabled list after he was hospitalized and underwent an appendectomy on Monday, which was also his 26th birthday. The Yankees recalled infielder Brandon Laird from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Pena’s place on the roster.  . . . Derek Jeter singled in the seventh inning off Joel Peralta. The hit was No. 3,008 of his career and moved him past Al Kaline into 26th place on the all-time hit list. Jeter needs three hits to pass former Yankee and Ray Wade Boggs, who has 3,010 career hits.  . . .  Reserve infielder Eric Chavez and reliever Rafael Soriano will both play in a rehab game on Tuesday for Class-A Tampa. Chavez has been on the disabled list since May 5 with a broken bone in his left foot. Soriano has been on the disabled list since May 13 with right elbow inflammation.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the Rays on Tuesday night.

The Yankees are calling on right-hander Bartolo Colon (6-5, 3.47 ERA). Colon is coming off two straight losses and he gave up eight runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Blue Jays on Thursday. Only three of the runs were earned. He is 7-3 with a 4.13 ERA against the Rays in his career.

The Rays are countering with right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (8-7, 3.21 ERA). It will be his first start in 16 days. On July 3, he won his eighth game of the season in giving up three runs in 7 1/3 innings against the Cardinals. He is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.

Hughes Gives Yanks Boost By Grounding Jays

GAME 92

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 2

When the Yankees activated Phil Hughes from the disabled list on July 6 they hoped he could re-establish the same sensational form that made him 10-1 and an All-Star pitcher through July 2010.

After six innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday, Hughes may not be there yet but he is pretty darn close.

Hughes (1-2) gave up only two runs on four hits and two walks and fanned five batters in a powerful 80-pitch performance while Brett Gardner continued his hot streak with another three hits and Curtis Granderson drove in three runs as New York routed Toronto at Rogers Centre to earn a split in their four-game series.

Gardner, subbing for a resting Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, was on base in four of five plate appearances, including three singles and a walk, he stole two bases and scored three runs. Granderson gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, two run double off Jays starter Carlos Villanueva (5-2). Granderson later added a one-out RBi single in the ninth off reliever Jason Frasor to close out the Yankee scoring for the afternoon.

Villanueva, a converted reliever, gave up five runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings.

However, Hughes was the big story.

Hughes faltered in the second half of last season, going 8-7 after the All-Star break. Then he showed up at spring training unable to reach 90 mph on his fastball throughout the 2011 exhibition season. After Hughes began the season 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in his first three starts, the Yankees placed Hughes on the disabled list with what was referred to as a dead arm. It later was termed right shoulder inflammation.

In his second start after being activated Hughes threw 51 of 80 pitches for strikes (64 perecnt) and he reached 93 mph on the radar gun on his fastball. It was not a dominant start, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for Hughes and a Yankee starting rotation that desperately needs a healthy and productive Hughes to compete in the American League East.

With the victory, the Yankees are now 55-37 and they are one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the division race. The Blue Jays fell to 47-49 and they are in fourth place in the East, 11 games out of first.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes looked much better than his his first start off the DL on July 6 against the Indians. In that game he gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over five innings and he took the loss. Today, Hughes made use of a new tighter grip on his curveball and a quicker delivery to the plate. Hughes gave up a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion in the second and Travis Snider followed with an RBI single for the Jays first run. In the fourth, with one out Hughes walked Encarnacion and Snider followed with a ground-rule double that advanced Encarnacion to third. Aaron Hill followed with a sac fly and that was all the Jays offense on the day. Hughes lowered his season ERA to 8.64.
  • The Blue Jays probably offered to pay for Gardner’s airfare out of town after he ripped them for 10 hits in 16 at-bats (.625) over the four games with three doubles, a walk, five runs scored and three stolen bases. Gardner also collected three hits in three of the four games and he raised his season average from .265 to .286. and he is hitting a robust .348 in July with an incredible .457 on-base percentage. Gardner also stole two bases on Sunday and he has succeeded in stealing his last 12 bases without being caught to raise his overall stolen-base percentage to 72 percent.
  • Granderson struck out his first two times up against Villanueva on change-ups but his RBI double off Villanueva in the fourth and his RBI single in the ninth off Frasor both came off change-ups that Granderson waited on and then pulled both to right-field. Though Granderson leads the team by a margin of 26 in strikeouts with 95, Granderson is now tied for third in the league and the team leader in RBIs with 68.
  • The bullpen — Cory Wade, David Robertson and Boone Logan — combined to no-hit the Blue Jays over the final three innings, combining for no walks and five strikeouts. The Yankees bullpen has held up despite the injuries to Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to really complain about here. The issue now that Hughes is improving can’t be good for the Red Flops (Sox). They currently have three starters on the disabled list and one of those is out for the season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Sunday optioned outfielder Greg Golson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled outfielder Chris Dickerson to take his place on the roster. The Yankees brought up Golson as a reserve outfielder because he hits right-handed and the Yankees faced left-handers in two of the first three games of the series. Dickerson was up with the Yankees previously this season and he is hitting .300 over 31 games. Golson was used a defensive replacement on Saturday but he did not get an at-bat. Dickerson was used as defensive replacement in right-field in the eighth inning on Sunday and did not bat.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi shuffled his lineup on Sunday because the Yankees are playing eight straight games on artificial surface fields this week. Jeter was rested in favor of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena played third base. The Yankees also made Mark Teixeira the designated hitter and moved Jorge Posada to first base.  . . .  Soriano will make a rehab start with Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League on Tuesday.  . . .  A couple of notes for any Blue Jays fans who may be reading this blog: No. 1, If you are attending a Blue Jays’ home game it is much better to save the “Let’s Go Blue Jays” cheer when your team is batting and not when they are in the field. It is hard to score runs when you are on defense. No. 2, Loudly cheering “Yankees Suck” is OK when you are winning the game by a nice margin but is stupid when the team is trailing. What does it say about the Jays when it is is getting toasted by a team that supposedly sucks?

ON DECK

The Yankees are on their way to St. Petersburg, FL, to open a four game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.15 ERA) will open the series on the mound for the Yankees. He has alternated wins and losses over his last five decisions and he gave up three runs on three hits in a no-decision victory over the Rays on July 9. He is 12-8 with a 3.41 ERA against the Rays in his career.

The Rays will be starting rookie right-hander Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41 ERA), who will be making his sixth start of the season in place of the injured Wade Davis. Cobb has not faced the Yankees before.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

Sabathia Cures Yankees’ Ills With 14th Victory

GAME 91

YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 1

When your team is ailing after giving up 23 runs in two games to the red-hot Blue Jays and needs a real shot in the arm what does the doctor usually prescribe? About 8 CCs of Sabathia.

Sabathia (14-4) calmy climbed the hill at Rogers Centre on Saturday and pitched eight solid innings of one-run baseball to earn his major-league best 14th victory and his seventh in a row as New York finally downed the Blue Jays.

Sabathia, who also has won six in a row against the Blue Jays, gave up only three hits and three walks and struck out eight batters to run his record to 11-1 since May 19. His ERA during that span is a microscopic 1.68.

However, the first inning saw the Yankees and Sabathia fall behind after Rajai Davis walked, stole second and scored one out later on a Yunel Escobar single. The run broke Sabathia’s 24-inning scoreless-inning string.

But Sabathia settled in after that and gave up only an Adam Lind single in the fourth and a John McDonald double in the eighth.

The Yankees, meanwhile, were able to reclaim the lead for good in the second inning off Jays left-hander Ricky Romero (7-9). Andruw Jones followed Nick Swisher’s one-out, ground-rule double with an RBI single to tie the game 1-1. It was Jones’ fifth RBI of the series. After a Brett Gardner double advanced Jones to third, Eduardo Nunez scored Jones on an infield groundout and the Yankees never trailed again.

The Yankees added a run in the third on a play that began with Curtis Granderson at third and Robinson Cano at first and one out. Romero threw a pitch low to Nick Swisher and it bounded to the right of catcher J.P. Arencibia. Cano broke for second and was caught in a rundown. However, second baseman Aaron Hill’s throw back to Arencibia to nail Granderson at home went awry for an error and Granderson was safe.

In the fourth inning, Gardner opened the frame with a hustle bloop double to center. Nunez bunted him to third. One out later, Derek Jeter scored Gardner with an infield single to Escobar at shortstop. Jeter had two hits in the game and with it tied Al Kaline for 26th place on the all-time hits list. He needs just four hits to pass Wade Boggs.

Mariano Rivera was tagged for two bloop one-out singles in the ninth but he struck out Hill and got Travis Snider on a groundout to record his 23rd save in 27 chances this season.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season mark to 54-37 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Blue Jays fell to 47-48 and they fell 10 1/2 games back in the division in fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia was not at his best or sharpest. But he was still good enough to shut down the Blue Jays, who had raked the Yankees for 31 hits in the last two games. Sabathia used his slider to keep the Jays off balance all afternoon. Sabathia is now ahead of his victory pace last season with 14 wins in 21 starts. He also lowered his season ERA to 2.64.
  • Gardner is the hottest Yankee with the bat coming out of the break. In the last three games, Gardner is 7-for-11 (.636) with three doubles. On Saturday, Gardner was 3-for-4 with two doubles, a run scored and a stolen base. He has raised his season batting average from .265 to .279.
  • Jones was hitting .205 with only four home runs and 12 RBIs after 81 games. In the two games in this series he has played, he is 3-for-7 with two home runs and five RBIs. Jones perhaps was hearing rumors the Yankees might make a change on the bench after Marcus Thames, who had the role last season with the Yankees, was released by the Dodgers.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nunez committed yet another error. McDonald led off the fifth inning with a ground ball to Nunez and Nunez’s throw to first got past Mark Teixeira at first. Nunez has now committed a team-leading 12 errors in limited play as shortstop and third base. The error did not cost the Yankees because Jeter was able to turn a double play on the Davis to erase McDonald but the errors are becoming a major concern for manager Joe Girardi.
  • Despite reaching on a single in the seventh inning, Teixeira looks absolutely lost at the plate after the All-Star break. He is 2-for-14 (.143) with five strikeouts and three weak infield popups. His 1-for 5 game on Saturday kept his average at an even .240.
  • Swisher was 1-for-4 with a run scored, but he had a tough afternoon with home-plate umpire Todd Tichenor and Romero. Romero caught Swisher looking on a slow curve with two on and one out in the third inning. Romero also fanned Swisher looking with one on and one out in the fifth on a 3-2 pitch that appeared to be low in the strike zone. Swisher had words with Tichenor, walked to the dugout and Tichenor then turned to the Yankee dugout and shouted. Girardi came out of the dugout and had some words with Tichenor but there were no ejections.

BOMBER BANTER

Injured setup man Rafael Soriano successfully completed a 25-pitch batting practice session on Saturday in Tampa, FL. The next step will be some rehab stints. Soriano has been on the 60-day disabled list since May 13 because of inflammation his right elbow.

ON DECK

The Yankees can tie the four-game series with Toronto with a victory on Sunday.

The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2, 10.57 ERA), who will be making only his second start since coming off the disabled list. Hughes allowed two runs in five innings his first start against the Indians. He is 2-3 with a 4.84 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays will counter with converted reliever Carlos Villanueva (5-1, 2.99 ERA). Villanueva has allowed three earned runs or fewer in his last five starts. He is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

Game-time will be at 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

When Swish Is Right, Yanks Have More Fight

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (.248 BA, 10 HRs, 44 RBIs)

When the Yankees traded backup infielder Wilson Betemit for Nick Swisher in 2009, it turned out to beone of the best trades Brian Cashman has made. Swisher was coming off a career worst season of 24 home runs, 69 RBIs and a dreadful .219 average.

The funny thing is Swisher was acquired to play first base because all the outfield spots were taken by Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and Xavier Nady. Then the Yankees unexpectedly received an enexpected gift when Mark Teixeira expressed an interest in signing with the Yankees. That left Swisher as a spare part.

But fortune has always shined a light on the upbeat Swisher. Nady tore an elbow ligament in April and Swisher became the Yankees’ full-time right-fielder. All he did was hit .249 with 29 home runs and 82 RBIs and help lead the Yankees to their 27th world title.

In 2010, Swisher vowed to raise his average and tinkered with his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long. The effort paid dividends when Swisher hit .288 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs last season. Swisher even got married in the off-season to actress Joanna Garcia. So things in 2011 were looking up for the 30-year-old veteran.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to Swisher’s continued success. He took an unexpected detour.

Swusher slumped in spring training. Swisher slumped in April. Swisher even slumped in May. The usually ebullient outfielder was having a hard time staying positive when things were going so bad. Pitchers were using him and designated hitter Jorge Posada to escape jams and succeeding.

The failures piled up and it took its toll.

On May 25, Swisher was hitting .204 with two home runs and 18 RBIs.

But Swisher started hitting that last week of May and he has not stopped. After hitting a woeful .200 in May, Swisher hit .326 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in June. At the midpoint he is hitting .249 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs. After two months of darkness, Swisher is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

The odd thing was Swisher was hitting exceptionally well right-handed (.333) and was not hitting as well left-handed (.215). But that is changing and Swisher has raised his average to around his career average of .252. The question is will Swisher raise his average back to his 2010 mark of .288 or will it stay closer to his career mark?

His power is down even though he is still getting on base and driving in runs like he always has. He is on pace for 88 RBis once again.

Swisher’s value is immense because he is a power threat who bats behind Robinson Cano. If Swisher hits well, Cano should flourish. If Swisher slumps, it’s a pretty good bet that Cano will not see as many good pitches to hit. So getting Swisher going in the right direction is very important to this team.

Swisher becomes a good barometer on how successful the Yankees will be in the second half.

With Alex Rodriguez out of the lineup for four to six weeks, Swisher becomes even more important as a power and production source in the middle of the lineup. Pitchers are no longer looking at him as an escape hatch out of danger. Swisher made a lot of pitchers pay for that strategy in June.

Swisher’s contributions with the bat are even more important when you realize that he contributes nothing on the bases and he is just about average in the field.

Swisher’s lack of foot speed limits his range in right-field. But it is hard to call Swisher a bad outfielder. He has not committed an error and he has seven outfield assists. He also has made some pretty difficult catches going back on balls and has adapted well to the Yankees’ decision to play the outfielders more shallow this season.

Still, Swisher is the outfielder manager Joe Girardi will replace when the Yankees are winning in the late innings because his lack of speed limits his range to his right. But Swisher is better than you would think as a fielder because of his effort and he has an exceptional arm. Those seven assists show that.

Swisher gets a solid C for his first half. He is going to have to continue to raise his average and hit for a more power in the second half. If he could hit right-handers better he will likely be able to do just that.

The odd thing is Swisher has always been a fast starter with the Yankees. This is the first season in which he has struggled so much in the early part of the season. But maybe that will mean that this season he will be fast finisher. The Yankees certainly hope that is the case. Swisher is just that much of a key to the offense.

His patience at the plate is excellent, He is on pace to draw 100 walks for the first time since he did it with Oakland in 2004. That patience allows Swisher to see more pitches than most hitters. It also gives him a chance to hit pitchers’ mistakes.

As long as Swisher can avoid injuries, he should have a resurgent second half and he likely will end up with about the same numbers he usually puts up with the Yankees.

OTHERS

The Yankees primarily have used only two other outfielders this season: Andruw Jones and Chris Dickerson.

Jones is hitting a woeful .210 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 81 at-bats. He has started 21 games in the outfield, most of those in left-field to sit Brett Gardner against tough left-handers. But Jones has not produced like he did last season with the White Sox, where he 19 home runs in 278 at-bats.

In addition, Jones is a far cry from his 10 Gold Gloves with the Braves. Jones is overweight and it has significantly slowed him down in the outfield. He still can make the plays look easy. But he also is a few steps slow to some balls that drop in front of him or that sail over his head. If the Yankees need to upgrade one spot on the bench this might be it.

Dickerson was called up a few times after he recovered from a late spring injury and he has been solid.

He is hitting .263 in only 19 at-bats. His main value is as a defensive replacement for Swisher in the late innings. Dickerson is an excellent fielder and a very good athlete with a decent arm in right. He also can play left and center in a pinch.

Dickerson also can serve as a pinch-runner off the bench and he is a pretty good bunter.

The Yankees can also call upon infield reserves Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena in the outfield. Though both are good athletes, they are more suited as infielders. They likely will not see a lot of action in the outfield unless in an emergency situation.

The Yankees have some former major leaguers at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They are Greg Golson and Justin Maxwell.

Golson has been up with the Yankees before. His calling card is his excellent speed and he has a cannon for an arm. He can also play all three outfield spots. But the Yankees have opted for Dickerson though Golson is hitting .295 with five home runs and 25 RBis in the minors.

Maxwell played last season for the Nationals and he is hitting .260 with 16 home runs and 35 RBIs. Maxwell is a talented athlete but he also strikes out too much (72 in 177 at-bats).

Most of the better Yankee outfield prospects are at the Double-A level and below. Melky Mesa at Double-A Trenton is hitting a disappointing .219 but the Yankees still think highly of his ability as an athlete and they believe he will hit for consistent power  in the major leagues. Mesa is just 24 years old.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Swisher C

Jones D

Dickerson I (Incomplete)

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-

Granderson At Center Of Yankees’ 2011 Fortunes

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

CENTER-FIELD  – CURTIS GRANDERSON (.267 BA, 22 HRs, 57 RBIs)

Last season, the trade that brought Curtis Granderson looked like a bust. Granderson missed a month early in the season and did not hit well we he returned.

He was not hitting for a lot of power, not hitting for average, he was striking out a lot and forget about it when he faced left-handers. After the Yankees dealt away lefty reliever Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit and starter Ian Kennedy to Arizona, the Yankees might have felt they had been had.

But Granderson turned around his season (and perhaps his career) thanks to some tutoring from hitting coach Kevin Long in the first week in August. From that point on Granderson has been much more like the player he was with the Tigers in 2007 when he .302 with 23 home runs and 74 RBIs as primarily a leadoff hitter.

Granderson closed the season on a high note with a big September finish and he hit very well in the playoffs.

The question was could he keep it going in 2011?

Looking at his midpoint statistics, you would have to say the answer is resounding yes. In fact, with Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira not exactly having first halves that were at the top of their game, Gramderson has been the Most Valuable Player on this team.

Afetr 81 games, he leads the major leagues in runs scored with 73, he is second on the team in home runs with 22 and second in RBIs at 57. He is second in stolen bases and he is hitting .271. His career batting average is .268. So in just about any measure you can quantify, Granderson has been very good.

The other thing is nine of his 22 home runs have come off left-handers this season. That is most of any player in the majors leagues. In fact, Granderson is actually hitting left-handers not much worse than he hits right-handers (.263 vs. lefties and .272 vs, righties). That says a lot about Granderson’s commitment to improving and the help Long gave him seems to have rejuvenated his career at age 30.

Granderson has spent most of the season hitting behind Derek Jeter and ahead of Mark Teixeira in the No. 2 spot. Granderson’s .369 on-base percentage shows he is getting on base ahead of the power hitters and scoring runs in droves. He is on a pace to score 148 runs, which would obliterate his career high of 122 in 2007.

Not to mention the fact he could hit 44 home runs and drive in 114 runs, which would, far and away, be new career highs. This is pretty lofty heights for Granderson but they are well-deserved — as was his selection by the fans to start in the All-Star Game.

Now Cashman is looking like a genius for making the trade. That is why it is tough to evaluate a trade based on just one season. It is looking very good for the Yankees now.

Another thing about Granderson is that this season he appears to be more comfortable playing center-field in Yankee Stadium. Last season, he misjudged some fly balls and took some odd routes to flag them down. But this season, he likes the Yankee strategy of playing shallower in the outfield. Granderson seems effortless in going back on balls and he still is able to reach the sinking liners and weak pops that normally fell in shallow center last season.

Granderson has committed only one error and he has three outfield assists. But teams will still challenge his very average arm in the outfield. He does not have as strong an arm as Nick Swisher and he is not as accurate on his throws as Brett Gardner. But in almost every other aspect of the game, Granderson is exceptional.

His base-running is excellent. Granderson already has seven triples this season and he is on a pace to break his career high in stolen bases at 26. He has 14 steals after 81 games and he should have even more opportunities to steal in the second half.

What is there no to like about Granderson?

Yankee fans have gravitated towards him and he is such a great ambassador of the game off the field, too.

I have to give Granderson a solid A for his first half. The reason he is not getting an A+ is because the batting average needs to be a bit closer to .300 to make his season complete. Granderson also leads the team by 20 in strikeouts. Most of them have come on change-ups in the dirt. Granderson is being fed a steady diet of breaking balls lately and he is going to have to adjust to keep his great season going.

As long as he stays committed to the swing Long has worked on with him he should be OK. He is more balanced as the plate, his swing is shorter to the ball and he is keeping both hands on the bat. Though he does not consider himself a home run hitter, Granderson is taking full advantage of the short porch in right-field.

Most Yankee fans would have considered it shocking if he hit 30 home runs this season. Now they would be surprised of he does make it to 40. Such are the way Granderson’s fortunes in pinstripes changed so dramatically.

I would think Granderson’s second half should be just as productive as his first if he remains healthy. It seems he has it all working for him now.

OTHERS

I will discuss others and prospects when I review the performance of right-fielder Nick Swisher. But Granderson started 79 of the first 81 games and Gardner is the only other player on the roster who started in center. This is Granderson’s position and as long as he is healthy and productive, he will not see much rest in the second half. I am sure that is just fine with Granderson.

FIRST HALF GRADE

Granderson A

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A

 

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