July 2012

Yankees’ 3 Homers Cooks Bosox’s Goose In Bronx

GAME 99

YANKEES 10, RED SOX 3

The Boston Red Sox are like a cockroach who is on its back with its legs swinging like crazy to stay alive as a huge boot is poised to rub out its very existence. The New York Yankees are that boot and on Friday they came  a step closer to bringing it down on the helpless insect.

Curtis Granderson blasted a grand slam home run and Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin both stroked two-run shots as New York demolished Boston in front of an ebullient crowd of 49,571 at Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes pitched around the three solo home runs he allowed to complete a solid seven innings to earn his 10th victory of the season. Hughes (10-8) gave up three runs on five hits and one walk and fanned five batters en route to raising his record to 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his 10 starts since July 1.

Hughes was touched for a solo home run in the first inning by Dustin Pedroia that gave the Red Sox a short-lived 1-0 lead. Hughes later surrendered solo shots to Carl Crawford in the third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the fourth but recovered to retire 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to take advantage of a Red Sox starting rotation that entered the game with 12th-ranked staff ERA in the American League.

Journeyman 33-year-old right-hander Aaron Cook (2-4) was greeted rudely with three runs in the opening inning, two of them coming on a two-run home run by Ibanez on a pitch that was actually about neck high on the outside corner. However, Ibanez was able to tomahawk the pitch and line it into the right-field bleachers for his 13th homer of the season.

Ibanez’s at-bat would never have occurred if Mark Teixeira had not beat out a potential inning-ending double-play grounder that scored Granderson to tie the game.

Two innings later, Derek Jeter and Granderson started the inning with back-to-back singles. After a fielder’s choice moved the pair up a base, Teixeira drove in his second run of the game with a sacrifice fly to left.

The next inning, Ichiro Suzuki, who was making his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes, lined a one-out single and Martin followed by smacking a low line-drive shot into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees a 6-3 lead.

Cook left after four innings, having given up six runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out one.

The Yankees removed all hope of a late rally by the Red Sox with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off former Yankee right-hander Mark Melancon.

Andruw Jones led off the inning with a double to the gap in right-center. Melancon then hit Eric Chavez with his next offering. After a pair of fielder’s choice outs left Suzuki at second and Martin at first, Melancon walked Jeter on a 3-2 pitch.

Granderson then launched a 1-0 fastball deep into the bleachers in right-center to clear the bases and give the Yankees a seven-run margin the Red Sox knew they could not overcome.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their record to a major-league best 60-39 and they now lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by 8 1/2 games. The Red Sox, meanwhile have lost six of their past seven games and they are 11 1/2 games out in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes now has been tagged for 25 home runs at Yankee Stadium this season, which is tied for the most in the majors. However, all three were solo shots and Hughes only gave up two other hits in the game and both were in the first inning after Pedroia’s homer. Hughes ended that inning by fanning Saltalamacchia. Hughes has registered 58 strikeouts in his last 68 2/3 innings.
  • Granderson’s home run was the Yankees’ seventh grand slam of the season and it was Granderson’s 28th home run overall. Granderson was 3-for-5 in the game and in his last five games he is 8-for-22 (.364) with three home runs and six RBIs. Granderson also moved into second on the team in RBIs with 58.
  • Ibanex entered the game 3-for-20 (.150) in his last six games but was 1-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout. His home run was only his fourth since May 28.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing! Hughes was solid and the Yankees used three homers to score 10 runs and they beat their arch-rival in a very decisive fashion. So I can’t complain about a thing.

BOMBER BANTER

Nick Swisher took batting practice and ran the bases on Friday before the game. But he did not start and only was available as a pinch-hitter, manager Joe Girardi said. Swisher has missed the past six games with a strained left hip flexor. It is possible that Swisher could start in Saturday’s game depending on how he feels.  . . .  Right-handed reliever Joba Chamberlain threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium before Friday’s game and he is scheduled to make his next rehab appearance for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. Chamberlain is poised to return to the Yankees soon after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and suffering an open dislocation of his right ankle this spring.

ON DECK

The Yankees are now 6-1 this season against the Red Sox as they continue their weekend series with Boston on Saturday.

The Yankees could deal another knockout blow to the Red Sox with ace left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) on the mound. Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and could have won his 11th game if Rafael Soriano had not blown a save against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Sabathia is 7-9 with a 4.14 ERA lifetime against the Bosox.

The Red Sox will counter with struggling left-hander Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Lester is coming off the worst start of his major-league career. He was blasted for four home runs and 11 runs against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. Lester also has lost his only start against the Yankees this season at Fenway Park on July 8. He is 8-4 with a 4.33 in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Yankees Poised To Stick Fork In Red Sox Season

The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:

PITCHING IS KING

Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.

Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.

Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.

That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.

So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.

The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.

Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.

The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.

The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.

The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.

But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.

The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.

Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.

TOO MANY CCs

Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!

The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.

But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.

In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.

The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.

COUP DE GRACE

The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).

Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.

That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.

Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.

If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.

The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.

IN THE END

The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.

He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.

They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.

Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.

That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.

The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.

To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.

 

Yanks ‘Nix’ Mariners With Bases-Clearing Double

GAME 98

YANKEES 5, MARINERS 2

With the Yankees having lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez for at least four weeks with a fractured left hand, speculation is running rampant that the Yankees will trade for a replacement. However, Jayson Nix might have convinced the front office to delay those plans.

Nix was called upon to pinch-hit in the top of eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out with the Yankees trailing the Mariners 2-1. Nix promptly laced a 2-2 fastball from Shawn Kelley to clear the bases as New York rallied late to defeat Seattle on Wednesday at Safeco Field.

Nix was hitting .235 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 85 at-bats when manager Joe Girardi sent him to the plate in place of designated hitter Raul Ibanez to face left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge (1-1). But Mariners manager Eric Wedge elected to replace Luetge with the right-handed Kelley.

Nix battled Kelley to a 2-2 count before slapping his three-run double in the gap in left-center to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.

After Kelley walked Eric Chavez intentionally and Andruw Jones struck out, Russell Martin padded the Yankees’ lead to 5-2 with a lined single to left to score Nix.

David Phelps (2-3) pitched 1 1/3 innings of spotless relief, fanning two batters, to pick up the victory in relief. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano tossed a scoreless ninth to pick his 26th save in 28 opportunities this season.

The victory allowed the Yankees to clinch the three-game series with the Mariners and salvage what has been a costly 2-5 West Coast road trip.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead on the Mariners when Derek Jeter blasted a one-out solo home run in the first inning off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

But Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova walked John Jaso on four pitches to load the bases with one out in the first inning and then he missed low with a 3-2 pitch – the 10th of the at-bat – to Kyle Seager to allow the Mariners to tie it up.

Mike Carp then slapped a grounder to Mark Teixeira but Teixeira was unable to turn it into a double play because of an errant throw to Jeter at the second base bag and the Mariners were able to take a 2-1 lead.

The score stayed that way because the Yankees were unable to produce a hit with runners in scoring position off a less-than-overpowering Iwakuma.

Iwakuma gave up only one run but surrendered six hits and three walks while striking out three in five innings. The Yankees did not even manage to get one hit or one walk off relievers Oliver Perez and Josh Kinney over the next two innings.

But Kinney opened the eighth inning by plunking Jeter in the left thigh with the first pitch.

Luetge was summoned and Robinson Cano and Teixeira greeted him with back-to-back singles to load the bases. Curtis Granderson then fouled out for the first out and set in motion the managerial moves that brought Nix to the plate with the game on the line.

Nova only gave up two runs on two hits in his five-plus innings of work. However, he walked six batters while striking out five. He left the game in the sixth inning after opening the inning by walking Jaso on four pitches for the third time and then issuing a second walk to Seager.

But Clay Rapada bailed Nova out by inducing Carp to hit into a double play and Phelps stranded Jaso on third by fanning Casper Wells.

The Yankees managed to keep the Mariners hitless for 7 1/3 innings after Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero singled off Nova with one out in the first inning. They did not get a hit again until Wells singled on a 0-2 pitch with two out in then ninth off Soriano.

But Soriano fanned Carlos Peguero to end the game.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 59-39 and they increased their lead in the American League East on the second-place Baltimore Orioles to eight games. The Mariners fell to 47-53.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nix’s clutch pinch-hit three-run double was his biggest hit since he was called up from Triple-A in early May. The Yankees were stranding runners in scoring position all day long and Nix was the unlikeliest hero. Give Girardi credit for choosing to remove Ibanez in favor of the weaker hitting Nix, which forced Wedge to bring in Kelley. Nix could see a lot of playing time now, barring a trade, as part of platoon at third base with Chavez to replace Rodriguez.
  • Phelps, 25, has looked very impressive in his last four appearances with the Yankees (covering two separate stints). He is 1-0 with an 0.93 ER. Phelps has given up only one run on two hits and three walks and struck out an amazing 17 batters in 9 2/3 innings. The Yankees very much needed another power arm in the bullpen and Phelps is providing it.
  • Jeter, batting in the second spot behind Ichiro Suzuki, was 3-for-4 and with an RBI and two runs scored. In his last nine games, Jeter is 12-for-32 (.375) with a home run, two RBIs and six runs scored. He has raised his season average to .311.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova, despite the fact Jaso entered the game just 1-for-5 against him, decided to not throw a single strike to him in any of his three at-bats. The walk with two out in the third inning did not hurt. But walking Jaso in the first was followed by a walk to Seager to force in a run. Nova walked Jaso and Seagar to open the sixth and that ended his outing. The six walks in five-plus innings cost him a potential victory and it ended his day early because of his high pitch count.
  • Jones, pressed into service against a right-hander because of Nick Swisher’s injury, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he left five runners on base. Since his three-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 17, Jones is two for his last 18 at-bats (.111) with 10 strikeouts. His season average has dipped to .224.
  • Ibanez was not much better than Jones. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and stranded two runners. In his last five games, Ibanez is 3-for- 19 (.158) with one RBI and five strikeouts. His season batting average has slipped to .235.

BOMBER BANTER

Rodriguez’s broken left hand was fitted for a splint on Wednesday and he is scheduled to undergo an exam on Thursday with team doctor Christopher Ahmad. There is no timetable established for his return. Rodriguez suffered the injury in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game when he was struck by a pitch from right-hander Felix Hernandez. Rodriguez was the third batter Hernandez had hit with a pitch in the game. The Yankees placed Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list and recalled utility infielder Ramiro Pena from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  Swisher said he hopes to be able to start in Friday”s game after missing the last five games with a strained left hip flexor. Swisher said he had no problems running in the outfield at Safeco Field before the game and he also was able to take some swings in the batting cage.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday to lick their wounds, physical and otherwise, before opening a weekend home series against a slumping Boston Red Sox team on Friday.

Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Hughes gave up just two runs on three hits and one walk and struck six batters over 7 2/3 innings in a game which the Yankees scored him just one run in a tough-luck loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. Hughes is 2-6 with a 6.49 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with slop-tossing right-hander Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50 ERA). Cook gave up five runs (three earned) on five hits over 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. He is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in his only meeting with 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 the YES Network.

 

Kuroda Sinks Mariners In Suzuki’s Yankee Debut

GAME 96

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 1

On a day the New York Yankees welcomed their new acquisition Ichiro Suzuki to the team it was another Japanese star who catured the spotlight in defeating Suzuki’s former Seattle Mariners teammates.

Hiroki Kuroda held the the Mariners spellbound for seven innings on Monday and the Yankees scored three runs in the fourth inning as New York snapped its first four-game losing streak of the season and beat Seattle in front of crowd of 29,911 at Safeco Field.

Suzuki began a whirlwind day with a press conference, interviews and a switch to the visitors’ clubhouse before taking the field on which he starred for 10 1/2 seasons in Yankee pinstripes and sporting No. 31. He was given a loud standing ovation from the fans in his first plate appearance.

Suzuki responded by stepping of the batter’s box, removing his batting helmet and bowing to the crowd. He was, however, not a factor in the game. He singled and stole a base in his first at-bat but finished the day 1-for-4.

Kuroda (10-7), however, was brilliant in giving up only one run on three hits, walking one batter (which came back to bite him) and striking out nine.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez started the offense off with a one-out double in the fourth off veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood (3-8). Robinson Cano then drew a four-pitch walk and Mark Teixeira laced a 2-0 fastball off the wall in right-field to score Rodriguez.

Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead they needed to bolster Kuroda’s exceptional outing.

Rodriguez added a solo home run to lead off the eighth inning off reliever Steve Delabar. It was Rodriguez’s 15th home run of the season and the 644th of his career.

The Mariners’ only tally off Kuroda came in the third inning when Kuroda issued a one-out walk to Dustin Ackley. Ackley later stole second and scored with two out when John Jason laced a single to right-field.

David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano shook off his second blown save of the season on Sunday to record his 25th save of the season with a perfect ninth.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 58-38 and they were able to re-establish a seven-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The last-place Mariners fell to 42-56.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda has established himself as the team’s No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia with his last 11 starts since shutting out the Oakland A’s on May 27. In that span, Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA. Kuroda is using his devastating split-finger fastball and sharp slider to ring up strikeouts. He has struck out 66 batters in his last 68 innings.
  • Rodriguez is beginning to pick up the pace a bit at the plate. He was 2-for-4 and two runs scored and an RBI and he is 14-for-41 (.341) with two home runs and six RBIs in his last 10 games. He has raised his season average to .274 but his 15 home runs and 44 RBIs still remain well below his usual norms.
  • Teixeira was 3-for-4 in the game, including his RBI double. He is 8-for-20 (.400) on the road trip and he is hitting .387 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his last nine games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees’ station-to-station offense has a huge downside:  The team ends up hitting into a lot of double plays. The Mariners turned three double plays in the game and it ended up keeping the game closer than it should have been.
  • Curtis Granderson is starting to look like Mark Reynolds at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the game and he has a club-high 114 strikeouts on the season. He has struck out at least once in his last seven games and he also has fanned 12 times in his last 26 at-bats.

BOMBER BANTER

To acquire Suzuki the Yankees shipped right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners. The Yankees also will assume $2.5 million of Suzuki’s contract until he is free agent next year.  Outfielder Dewayne Wise was designated for assignment to make room for Suzuki on the roster. Suzuki, 38, is hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs this season. But the Yankees see him replacing outfielder Brett Gardner in left-field, batting at the bottom of the lineup and providing speed and defense. Along with amassing 2,534 hits, Suzuki has won 10 Gold Gloves.  . . .  Suzuki started his first game with the Yankees in right-field and batted eighth because Yankees right-fielder Nick Swisher is still hampered by a sore left hip flexor. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will miss the Seattle series but could return to the lineup on Friday.

ON DECK

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

Former Mariners right-hander Freddy Garcia (4-3, 5.37 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in his last start on Thursday against the Oakland Athletics. He is 5-3 with a 5.23 ERA against the Mariners in his career.

Garcia will be opposed by Felix Hernandez (8-5, 2.82 ERA). Hernandez gave one run on eight hits and struck out three in eight innings in a victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday. He is 6-5 with a 3.45 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Kuroda Blanks Blue Jays As Yanks Storm To Sweep

GAME 91

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 0 (7 INNINGS, RAIN)

Often times the Yankees open spring training with an exhibition game against a college baseball team and they generally win those games in a cakewalk. The Yankees have been so good and so hot lately that the regular-season games they are playing now look just like those exhibitions.

Hiroki Kuroda brilliantly tossed seven innings of shutout baseball and the Yankees offense erupted for four runs in the first inning as New York completed a three-game sweep of Toronto at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday in a game shortened by rain.

Kuroda (9-7) was completely in command from the opening pitch, giving up only four hits with no walks and he struck out five and he is now undefeated in eight of his last nine starts since May 27.

A lightning storm delayed the start of the game for 51 minutes but it did not take long for the Yankees to crack some thunder against Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero (8-6).

Derek Jeter opened the inning with a double to right-center and Nick Swisher followed with a lined single off the right-field wall to score Jeter. Mark Teixeira then laced a 2-2 Romero change-up into the bleachers in left-center for his 19th home run of the season.

One out later, Robinson Cano extended his career-long hitting streak to 21 games with an opposite-field double to left and Andruw Jones scored Cano with an opposite-field single to right.

The Yankees added a pair of single runs in the fourth and sixth innings and both were driven by Dewayne Wise, who was getting a rare start in centerfield for Curtis Granderson.

Romero gave up six runs on 12 hits and two walks and struck out two batters in his six innings of work.

The game was halted heading to the bottom of the seventh inning and was finally declared an official game after a 58-minute rain delay.

With the victory the Yankees have now won nine of their last 11 games and the six runs they scored extended their string of games in which they scored three or more runs to 42 since May 30. They join the 1994 Indians (48 games) as the only teams in the live-ball era to have accomplished the feat.

The Yankees have the best record in baseball (57-34) and they are now 10 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Blue Jays fell to 45-47 in last place in the division 12 1/2 games in back of the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda was at his best on Wednesday in recording what will go into the books as the third complete game of his career. Kuroda used his slider and trademark splitter to keep the Blue Jays off balance all afternoon. Of his 108 pitches he threw 78 strikes for a 72 percent rate. Only one Blue Jays base-runner made it as far as third base.
  • Teixeira has been on a full-blown home run and RBI tear this month. Since July 2, Teixeira has six home runs and 19 RBIs in what has become his most productive month of the season. Teixeira is also hitting .326 for the month to raise his average to .255.
  • Wise drove in Jayson Nix in the fourth with a ground-rule double and again scored Nix from second in the sixth inning with a two-out single to center. Give manager Joe Girardi credit for using his bench wisely – no pun intended – in the series. Wise started on Wednesday and was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Nix started at third on Tuesday and at shortstop on Wednesday and was 5-for-7 in those two games with three runs scored.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

OK. Alex Rodriguez made a two-base throwing error in the first inning. But that was about all that went wrong all day for the Yankees. Kuroda was super, the offense scored early and tacked a few runs later. They are simply playing great baseball right now. There is nothing bad to say.

BOMBER BANTER

After Wednesday’s game the Yankees recalled right-hander David Phelps from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and optioned right-hander D.J. Mitchell back to the same club. Phelps, 25, was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 games (three starts) and Mitchell, 25, had no record with a 3.86 ERA in 4 2/3 innings in two appearances with the Yankees. Phelps will reclaim the role of long reliever and emergency starter he had earlier in the season.

ON DECK

The red-hot Yankees will open their final West Coast road trip of the season with a four-game weekend series against the Oakland Athletics that starts on Thursday.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (4-2, 5.25 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Garcia has a 3.17 ERA in his three starts since being placed back in to the rotation, including a 5-3 victory over the Angels in his last start on Saturday. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 7-7 with a 5.22 ERA against the A’s.

Right-hander A.J. Griffin (1-0, 2.63 ERA) will be making his fifth major-league start of the season for Oakland. Griffin, 24, allowed three runs in six innings in his first major-league victory over the Minnesota Twins last Friday. Griffin will be facing the Yankees for the first time.

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

 

Sabathia’s Gem Coming Off DL Leaves Jays Blue

GAME 90

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 1

When CC Sabathia was placed on the 15-day disabled list after a June 24 start against the Mets with a strained left groin, the Yankees were 43-28 and 2 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. After Sabathia completely shut down the Toronto Blue Jays for six innings on Tuesday the Yankees are 56-34 and lead the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by 9 1/2 games.

Nothing can be better than stretching your division lead with your ace on the shelf, except when you get your ace back and win your eighth game out your last 10.

Sabathia shut out Toronto on four hits and a walk and struck out six over six innings and Andruw Jones hit a three-run home run in the second inning to stake him to an early lead as New York clinched its three-game series with a victory over Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 44,975 at Yankee Stadium.

Sabathia (10-3) entered the game with a 12-3 career record against the Blue Jays and he was 7-0 in his last eight starts against them.

Jones provided all the runs Sabathia really needed when he followed a leadoff single by Robinson Cano and a walk to Nick Swisher with a line-drive shot into the left-field corner bleachers off left-hander Brett Cecil (2-2) for his 12th home run of the season.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was mixing his fastball, slider and change-up to throw 66 strikes in 87 pitches (76 percent).

Cecil settled in after Jones’ homer and held the Yankees to just two more hits before he left having given up three runs on six hits and two walks while he fanned five batters in his six innings of work.

However, the Yankees took advantage of the Blue Jays’ inexperienced bullpen in the seventh inning.

Jayson Nix opened the frame with a leadoff single off rookie right-hander Sammy Dyson. After failing to get a bunt down, Chris Stewart bounced a high hopper down the left-field line past third baseman Brett Lawrie and the ball rolled into the left-field corner.

Nix was able to score on the double and Stewart advanced to third on an errant throw from left-fielder Rajai Davis.

Derek Jeter then laced a double down the right-field line to score Stewart.

Curtis Granderson reached on a single and Mark Teixeira drew a walk to load the bases. Then Alex Rodriguez completed the Yankees’ scoring by driving in Jeter on fielder’s choice groundout.

The Blue Jays spoiled the shutout by scoring a run in the eighth off reliever Chad Qualls on a leadoff double by Jeff Mathis, a flyout by Davis that advanced Mathis to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Colby Rasmus.

Qualls, who currently has a 6.75 ERA in his 6 2/3 innings of work with the Yankees, started off the ninth by giving up a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion and a one-out walk to Yunel Escobar.

Manager Joe Girardi then pulled Qualls in favor of left-hander Clay Rapada, who then botched an attempted bunt by rookie Anthony Gose for an infield single that loaded the bases.

Girardi then summoned closer Rafael Soriano, who induced pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia to hit into line-drive unassisted double play to Teixeira to end the game and earn Soriano’s 24th save of the season.

By scoring six runs on Tuesday, the Yankees set a franchise record by scoring three or more runs in 41 consecutive games.

With the loss, the Blue Jays fell to 45-46, 11 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia was in command and likely could have pitched longer if Girardi had not chosen to play it safe with his pitch count. Sabathia is now 10-3 with a 3.27 ERA and still has a very good chance to win 20 games for the second time in his career.
  • Jones was 0-for-9 in his previous at-bats against Cecil until he laid into a fastball and drove it on a line into the left-field seats. Jones has only 28 bats in July and is hitting .286 with five home runs and nine RBIs.
  • Cano’s single leading off the second inning extended his career-high hitting streak to 20 games. In that span he is 32-for-79 (.405) with six home runs and 20 RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • From June 16 through July 7, Cory Wade gave up 16 runs on 21 hits and three walks in six innings for a 24.00 ERA, which got him demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His replacement Qualls is about to join him if he keeps pitching the way he did on Tuesday. In his six appearances with the Yankees he has given up five runs on 10 hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The fact that he was unable to give Girardi the confidence he could hold a 6-1 lead in the ninth proves all you need to know. He is on a real short leash now.

BOMBER BANTER

In order for the Yankees to activate Sabathia from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday they decided to designate outfielder Darnell McDonald for assignment. McDonald played in four games with the Yankees and was hitless in four at-bats since he was claimed off waivers on July 5 from the Boston Red Sox.

ON DECK

The Yankees will be going for a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.67 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Kuroda surrendered five runs on eight hits and one walk in 7 1/3 innings in his last start on Friday against the Los Angels Angels. Kuroda actually pitched better than the numbers show because he only gave up two runs in the first six innings before he ran out of gas in the seventh. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 12.60 ERA against the Blue Jays.

Left-hander Ricky Romero (8-5, 5.03 ERA) will start for the Blue Jays. Romero gave up only one run on six hits and two walks in six innings against the Cleveland Indians on Friday but lost 1-0 to Justin Masterson. He is 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Ibanez’s Dramatic Slam Clips Blue Jays’ Wings

GAME 89

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 3

With the bases loaded and two out in the eighth inning, the Yankees had Raul Ibanez striding to the plate carrying an 0-for-11 mark this season with the bases loaded. Well, after Monday’s game he is now 1-for-12 with a grand slam home run.

Ibanez’s dramatic blast off Jason Frasor broke a 2-2 tie and gave New York a hard-fought victory over Toronto to win their seventh of their last nine games in front a paid crowd of 42,819 at Yankee Stadium.

David Robertson (1-3) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to pick up his first victory of the season. Rafael Soriano came in the ninth to get the last two outs to notch his 23rd save in 24 chances this season.

With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Rodriguez stroked a one-out single to left off reliever Aaron Loup (0-1) and advanced to second a passed ball by J.P. Arencibia. Robinson Cano then hit a single up the middle that second baseman Kelly Johnson was able to keep in the infield for a single.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell removed Loup in favor of Frasor, who hit Mark Teixeira in the right foot on a 2-2 pitch to load the bases.

Nick Swisher, who struck out looking with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning, did the same thing in the eighth, leaving it all up to Ibanez.

Frasor got behind in the count 3-1 before serving up a room-service fastball that Ibanez was able to drive deep into the second deck in right-field for his 12th home run of the season. It was also his 10th career grand slam but his first for the Yankees.

The Yankees broke out to an early 2-0 lead on the Jays on the strength of an opposite field solo home run with two out in the second inning by Russell Martin and Rodriguez and Cano hit to back-to-back one out doubles in the third inning off Jays starter Henderson Alvarez.

However, the Jays were able to claw back against Yankees starter Phil Hughes on a two-out solo home run by Adam Lind in the fourth and Edwin Encarnacion blasted a one-out double to the wall to score Jose Bautista from first to tie the game up in the sixth inning.

Hughes gave up two runs on four hits and three walks and struck out four over seven innings.

Alvarez coughed up two runs on five hits and four walks and struck out a career-high six batters in his six innings of work.

With the victory the Yankees improved their major-league-best record to 55-34. They also hold a commanding nine-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 45-45 in last place in the division and trailing the Yankees by 10 1/2 games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After slumping through June, when he hit only .162 with two home runs and seven RBIs, Ibanez has started off July going 8-for-25 (.320) with a home run and five RBIs. Ibanez is hitting .242 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs on the season and he is playing more games in left-field than he was expected to play.
  • Cano’s RBI double in the third inning extended his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games. During that span, Cano is 31-for-75 (.413) with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Cano is hitting .321 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs this season. Cano also made a spectacular play on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Colby Rasmus to lead off the seventh inning. The ball caromed off the glove of Teixeira but Cano was able to grab the carom and throw to Robertson covering first to nip Rasmus.
  • Rodriguez popped up to first with the bases loaded and two out in a 10-8 loss to the Angels on Sunday but he was 2-for-4 on Monday and scored two runs. Rodriguez has actually collected hits in seven of the last eight games in which he has started and is 11-for-35 (.314) during that span. He may not be hitting for much power but he has raised his season average to .273.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Swisher was 1-for-4 and left a total of seven runners on base in the game. After hitting a robust .321 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in June, Swisher is slumping badly in July. He is 7-for-37 (.189) with one home runs and five RBIs. He also has struck 14 times in his 37 at-bats.
  • Derek Jeter had an unusual 0-for-4 night and only got one ball out of the infield. Jeter entered the game with a modest four-game hitting streak but he is still hitting .364 in his last 10 games and .340 in July.
  • Dewayne Wise was inserted into the game in the ninth for Ibanez in left-field as a defensive replacement. However, Wise kicked away the ball on a bloop single off the bat of Arencibia in the ninth that allowed Johnson to score a run and force Soriano to get the last two outs while those batters represented the potential tying run.

BOMBER BANTER

The ongoing Brett Gardner right elbow rehab saga has taken another ugly turn for the worse. Gardner took four at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Sunday and felt soreness in his elbow. Gardner has been on the disabled since April 17 after he injured his right elbow making a diving catch. He has come close to completing two rehab stints before feeling pain in his elbow and having to shut the process down. It is now unclear how long Gardner will be out.  . . .  Rodriguez was scheduled to play third on Monday but complained a slightly stiff neck and he was shifted to designated hitter. Eric Chavez played third base for the Yankees and was 0-for-3 with a walk.  . . .  Mariano Rivera said on Monday that it could be possible he may not be out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Rivera told Michael Kay on ESPN Radio that his rehab is going so well that he possibly could return in September.

ON DECK

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

CC Sabathia (9-3, 3.45 ERA) will make his first start since he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin. As a result, Sabathia was unable to pitch in the 2012 All-Star Game, though he was selected to the team. In his 16 career starts against the Blue Jays, Sabathia is 12-3 with a 3.16 ERA.

Opposing Sabathia will be left-hander Brett Cecil (2-1, 6.75 ERA). Cecil surrendered seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in his last start against the Chicago White Sox. He is 4-3 with a 3.96 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

No Bull: Yankees’ Pen Shows Halos How It’s Done

GAME 87

YANKEES 5, ANGELS 3

Within 18 hours, the New York Yankees showed the difference between their team and the Los Angeles Angels.

Handed a  5-2 lead in the eighth inning of Friday, the Angels’ bullpen, behind Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen, imploded and gave up four runs in a 6-5 defeat.

On Saturday, Freddy Garcia left the Yankees with a 4-3 lead after five innings and the bullpen, behind setup man David Robertson and closer Rafael Soriano, held the lead as New York took its second straight game this weekend over Los Angeles in front of a paid crowd of 47,789 at Yankee Stadium.

Garcia (4-2) battled the Angels as best he could, giving up three runs on five hits and five walks and striking four batters before having to leave after five innings having thrown 98 pitches.

The Yankees, who lead the major leagues in home runs, hit two more on Saturday to give them 138 on the season and provide the Yankees with a lead they would not relinquish.

After the Angels loaded the bases on Garcia with two out in the first inning, Alberto Callaspo laced a 2-1 pitch into right-field for a two-run single to give the Angels an early 2-0 lead.

However, the Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning after two men were out and Derek Jeter was still on first with leadoff infield single off Angels starter Jerome Williams (6-6). Robinson Cano extended his season-high 17-game hitting streak by lining a long blast into the depths of Death Valley in left-center that struck the top of the wall and bounced into the bleachers for his 21st home run of the season.

Two innings later, Chris Stewart reached first on a single to center and one out later Curtis Granderson lashed a 2-2 pitch down the line into the right-field bleachers for his 24th home run of the season.

The Angels got one of those two runs back in the fourth inning when Howie Kendrick drew a leadoff walk, stole second, moved to third on a Peter Bourjos groundout and scored on a groundout off the bat of Bobby Wilson.

The Yankees added an insurance run in the sixth inning when Alex Rodriguez hit he first pitch of the inning into the gap in left-center for a double and Cano followed with a single up the middle that caromed off the second base bag and rolled into center, allowing Rodriguez to score easily.

Williams gave up five runs on seven hits and one walk and struck out four in six innings.

The Yankees’ vaunted bullpen took it from there.

Cody Eppley pitched two scoreless innings, Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Soriano pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two batters, to collect his 22nd save in 23 opportunities this season.

Though the Angels have been one of the Yankees’ toughest opponents over the last decade, the Yankees have now won 30 of their last 45 contests against them.

With the victory, the Yankees have increased their major-league-best record to 56-33 and their lead in the American League East remains at 8 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.. The Angels are now 48-43.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs and is now hitting .315 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs on the season. During his 17-game hitting streak, Cano is 27-for-69 (.391) with six home runs and 19 RBIs. The Yankees are 12-5 over that 17-game stretch and Cano is a big reason behind the surge.
  • Granderson’s home run was his 24th of the season, which puts him in fifth place in the American League in that category. It was Granderson’s first home run since June 30, though he is hitting .281 over that 10-game stretch. Granderson has also struck out 11 times in his 32 at-bats over the last 10 games.
  • Eppley was sensational in his two innings of work. He only gave up a one-out single to Wilson in the sixth. Robertson is also beginning to look more like the Robertson the Yankees were accustomed to seeing before he suffered his left oblique injury. He struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a single to Bourjos. Soriano has been a revelation in replacing a living legend like Mariano Rivera. Soriano struck out Mike Trout to open the ninth and ended the game by fanning Albert Pujols. This bullpen is just amazing.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I am not going to post any negatives when Garcia kept the lead through five innings, the Yankees got power from Cano and Granderson and the bullpen held the lead late. The Yankees also were 3-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left only two men on base. Hallelujah!

ON DECK

The Yankees will get out their brooms on Sunday and look for a three-game sweep of the Angels.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (10-3, 3.92 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Nova gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out 10 in six innings in a victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. Nova beat the Angels on May 30 and is 3-1 with a 5.11 ERA in four starts against them in his career.

All-Star right-hander Jered Weaver (10-1, 1.96 ERA) will pitch for the Angels. In his last start on July 7, Weaver shut out the Baltimore Orioles on three hits and one walk and fanned five in eight innings to notch his 10th victory. Weaver is 5-2 with a 4.79 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Teixeira, Martin Leave Halos’ Downs In The Dumps

GAME 86

YANKEES 6, ANGELS 5

When Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher trotted to the mound at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 5-5 tie to talk to reliever Kevin Jepsen, he told Jepsen to pitch around pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez by walking him with pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on second and a struggling Russell Martin due to hit next.

So with two out, Jepsen walked Ibanez intentionally to face Martin, who entered the game hitting .179 and was 0-for-2 on the evening.

But Martin delivered a two-out, opposite-field RBI single that gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead and Martin later ended the game by nailing Howard Kendrick trying to take second base a pitch in the dirt for his third Angel base-runner caught stealing as New York rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the eighth to send Los Angeles to a crushing defeat on Friday.

Mark Teixeira set the stage for Martin’s heroics earlier in the eighth with a clutch three-run home run to left off reliever Scott Downs (1-1) to tie the game at 5-5. It was Teixeira’s second home run of the night. He had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third inning with a two-run shot to the same area of the left-field bleachers off Angels starter C.J. Wilson.

Teixeira also saved a run in the top of the inning when he made a diving stab of a hard-hit bouncer to his right off the bat of Kendrick. Teixeira scrambled to his feet and shuffled a perfect toss to Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda covering first to retire Kendrick. Erick Aybar followed by hitting Kuroda’s next pitch into the second deck in right-field to give the Angels what proved to be a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Kuroda and Wilson then battled over the next three innings in a game steeped in a playoff-like atmosphere with a crowd of 47,873 hanging on every pitch.

But the seventh inning proved to be Kuroda’s undoing.

Albert Pujols opened the frame with a single to left and Kuroda hit Kendrys Morales with a 1-2 pitch. Mark Trumbo then blasted a 1-1 fastball over the wall in center-field to give the Angels a 4-2 lead.

The Angels tacked on a run off Kuroda in the eighth after Mike Trout led off with a double and one out later Pujols hit a ball that sounded like he hit it with a wet newspaper but it nestled comfortably in shallow right-field just inside the line out of the reach of a diving Nick Swisher and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double to score Trout.

Over the first six innings, Kuroda had given up just one run on three hits and one walk and he fanned two. In the next 1 1/3 innings, he gave up four runs on five hits and a hit batter and struck out four.

Meanwhile, Wilson got back on track after Teixeira’s two-run home run in the third. He left after seven innings having given up just the two runs on five hits and two walks and struck seven. However, the Angels’ bullpen let him way, way down, as in the lefty Downs.

Downs started the eighth and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Derek Jeter. He then dug a deeper hole for himself by missing with a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to walk Curtis Granderson.

Teixeira then lined a 1-2 curveball into the left-field bleachers to tie the game.

With two out, Swisher worked a walk from Downs, which ended Downs’ night in favor of Jepsen and set up Wise’s stolen base as a pinch-runner and Ibanez’s intentional walk. Martin then delivered what proved to be the game-winner.

Chad Qualls (2-1) relieved Kuroda in the eighth inning and pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to get credit for his first victory with the Yankees.

Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to notch his 21st save in 22 opportunities this season.

With the victory the Yankees reached a season-high 20 games over .500 at 53-33. They also have opened up a commanding eight-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Angels must lick their wounds after dropping a game they should have won. Their record is 48-39.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira’s two home runs and five RBIs on Friday give him 17 home runs and 59 RBIs this season. His 59 RBIs leads the team. In his last seven games, Teixeira has been on an RBI tear. He is 10-for-22 (.455) with four home runs and 15 RBIs in that stretch. To contrast that, Teixeira collected only three home runs and 12 RBIs in April and four home runs and 14 RBIs in June.
  • Martin’s clutch single had to feel great because his single against the Red Sox last Saturday had ended an 0-30 stretch. But what must have really pleased Martin was the three Angels he nailed on the basepaths. He threw out Trumbo stealing in the second inning and Alberto Callaspo in the fifth. He then nabbed Kendrick after a Soriano pitch got away from him but he was able to recover quickly and throw a dart to Jeter to end the game.
  • Kuroda gave up five runs in 7 1/3 innings but his first six innings were absolutely brilliant. He deserved a better fate but he obviously lost something after throwing only 64 pitches in the first six innings. In his last nine starts, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Now that Cano and Teixeira have gotten hot, the pressure shifts to Alex Rodriguez. He was 0-for-4 in the game including a weak groundout to short with one out and Granderson at third with a leadoff triple in the sixth. In his last 10 games, Rodriguez is 9-for-38 (.237) with no home runs and three RBIs.
  • Andruw Jones entered the game after a his red-hot weekend at Fenway Park, where he hit four home runs in the three games in which he played. However, he struck out twice looking and flew out to right off the lefty Wilson. His 0-for-3 night dropped his season average to .238.
  • The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and those two hits came on Texiera’s eighth-inning home run and Martin’s game-winning single. They were 0-for-11 up to that point. Somehow they win despite this problem but will it catch up to them in the playoffs?

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Friday signed veteran outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a mimor-league contract and he was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Fukudome, 35, batted .171 with four RBIs in 24 games with the Chicago White Sox and was released on July 22. Fukudome is a career .258 hitter in five major-league season with the Cubs, Indians and White Sox.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw 30 pitches in a simulated game at Yankee Stadium on Friday and is still expected to be activated on Tuesday for a start against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia has been on the 15-day disabled list with a mild left groin strain he suffered pitching in a June 24 game against the New York Mets.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series at home against the Angels on Saturday.

Right-hander Freddy Garcia (3-2, 5.23 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings last Friday against the Red Sox. It was Garcia’s best outing of the season. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 15-3 with a 2.69 ERA against the Angels.

Right-hander Jerome Williams (6-5, 4.46 ERA) will oppose Garcia. Williams is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after a serious bout of asthma. Williams is 0-1 with a 16.87 ERA against the Yankees after he was shelled for five runs on five hits and three walks in only 2 2/3 innings on April 15.

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

 

Yankees Give Big Sigh Of Relief As Soriano Shines

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

RELIEF PITCHERS

RAFAEL SORIANO (2-0, 1.72 ERA, 19 SAVES)

DAVID ROBERTSON (0-3, 2.42 ERA)

BOONE LOGAN (3-0, 3.54 ERA)

CORY WADE (0-1, 5.79 ERA)

CLAY RAPADA (2-0, 3.00 ERA)

CODY EPPLEY (0-0, 2.53 ERA)

D.J. MITCHELL (0-0, 3.38 ERA)

The New York Yankees season could have very easily ended on May 3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was shagging balls during batting practice, as has been his custom his entire career, when his right knee buckled as he reached the warning track. Rivera went down in a heap and the Yankees lost the best closer in the history of the game for the rest of the season.

However, on May 22 the Yankees ran off a record of 28-11 and they moved from tied for last place in the American League East 5 1/2 games behind to first place in the division and five games ahead.

The starting pitching was a big reason why. The starters who struggled in April pitched better. But there was something else that kept the Yankees going without Mariano Rivera.

That something was Rafael Soriano.

Soriano, 32, was signed by the Yankees for $12 million a season over three seasons in the winter of 2011. Soriano had just come off a season in which he saved a league-leading 45 games in 48 chances with the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA.

But why pay so much for someone who would not close games?

General manager Brian Cashman quickly pointed out publicly the signing was not his idea and he disavowed it. But after the Yankees lost out in trying to sign left-hander Cliff Lee the front office figured that with Rivera, Soriano and David Robertson that the Yankees could shorten the game to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies.

On paper, it made sense. In practice, it did not work out entirely as planned.

Soriano was hit hard early and often at the start of the 2011 season. The fans quickly turned on him for his seeming uncaring attitude as he pitched worse and worse. Then he ended up on the disabled list for two months with soreness in his right elbow. The fans also do not like players drawing rich contracts while rehabbing injuries.

Soriano did come back and ultimately was given the seventh inning as Robertson owned the ninth and Rivera was king of the ninth. Soriano finished the 2011 season with a 2-3 mark and a gaudy 4.12 ERA. He saved two games and blew three others.

Soriano then surprised a lot of people by deciding not exercise his opt-out clause in his three-year deal. He was getting paid good money to pitch the seventh inning and he figured it was more advantageous for him to stay. As far as Yankee fans go, they may have enjoyed booing him, but Soriano saved the Yankees’ season by deciding to stay.

When Robertson failed in his first attempt to close for Rivera on May 9 against the Rays and then ended up on the disabled list for a month with a left oblique injury, Soriano was reborn as a closer. He is also proving to be very good at it.

Since he has taken over, Soriano has saved 19 games out of his 20 opportunities and erased the team’s fears they could not win without Mo.

The fans? They booed him unmercifully at Yankee Stadium when he blew his only save on June 10 against the Mets. Tough crowd.

Yankee fans should be hoisting this man up and celebrating him because Soriano will be a big component of the Yankees’ run in the playoffs. They certainly do miss Mo but they have to be thankful they have a replacement in Soriano who has saved 91 games out of 99 chances since the 2009 season. That is a 92 percent success rate.

The Yankees actually have other more pressing bullpen issues. They revolve around Robertson, who came off the 15-day disabled list on June 15.

In the 11 appearances Robertson, 27, has made beginning on June 15, he is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA. That is a far cry from the Robertson who made 13 appearances before May 9 and was unscored upon in his first 13 innings of the season with 23 strikeouts.

The Yankees need Robertson to settle back into his groove and just, well, be Robertson again. We will see how it unfolds after the All-Star break.

The injuries to Rivera and Robertson have meant that Boone Logan has pitched in more games and for more innings than he has been used since he was acquired by the Yankees in 2009. The most innings he ever pitched in pinstripes was the 41 2/3 innings he pitched last season in 64 appearances.

But because Logan is no longer the lefty specialist in the bullpen he is being used more often and for longer stretches. Logan, 27, has already thrown 29 2/3 innings and made 41 appearances.

The strain is beginning to show. Logan’s ERA for the first three months was excellent: He was 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA on June 30. But in July, Logan has been scored upon in all four of his appearances and, if anybody deserved an All-Star break it was Logan.

The hope is that Logan will bounce back in the second half and pitch like he did before June 30. The Yankees need Logan to be good in the seventh inning so the Yankees can use Robertson in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth. Logan will be a big key to the Yankees in the second half, no doubt.

Manager Joe Girardi has been praised, and rightfully so, for his ability to maximize a bullpen. This season he has proven what a skill it is.

The Yankees found a lefty specialist in side-armer Clay Rapada during spring training and Rapada has been excellent as getting left-handers out since the 2012 season began.

Rapada, 31, is holding left-handed hitters to a .150 average this season. Amazingly, Rapada is retiring right-handers also. They are hitting .227 off him. But Girardi has wisely tried to keep Rapada as a specialist as much as he can this season.

The Yankees also got lucky when the Texas Rangers waived 26-year-old side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley early in the season. The Yankees claimed him and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Recalled on April 20, Eppley has provided Girardi with a righty specialist to twin with Rapada.

The results have been very good. Eppley is holding right-handers to a .231 average. Much like Rapada with right-handers, Girardi must keep Eppley away from dangerous left-handed hitters. Overall, Eppley has done an excellent job and he and Rapada have strengthened what already was an excellent bullpen.

That can’t be said of Cory Wade, however.

Wade, 29, was picked up off waivers from the Rays in 2011 – much like Eppley was this season – and he put together a great season. Wade was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA last season and drew a lot of praise from Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

But 2012 has a been nightmare for Wade.

He compiled an ERA of 1.69 in April and an ERA of 2.92 in May. But in June, Wade hit the skids and he has not recovered.

Beginning on June 16, Wade gave up a home run to Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals in a game the Yankees won 5-3. Since then, Wade has given up 16 runs in his last 8 innings covering his last seven appearances. Wade’s ERA has ballooned to 6.48 and he has been sent back to Scranton to try and get his groove back.

The Yankees filled out their bullpen just before the break by calling up Triple-A starter D.J. Mitchell to be the long man in the bullpen now that Freddy Garcia is being used as a starter to replace the injured Andy Pettitte.

Mitchell, 25, has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA at Scranton in 14 starts but Mitchell may have more value as a reliever in the majors because he has the best sinking fastball in the organization.

The Yankees would like to use him in situations they might need a double play. But Mitchell is strictly a long man for now.

To replace Wade, the Yankees picked up veteran right-hander Chad Qualls off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Qualls, 33, is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over three games. That is certainly a step up from what the Yankees have been getting from Wade. We will see if he continue to pitch well in the second half.

Overall, this has been one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball this season despite the loss of Rivera.

Girardi was able to slide Soriano into the closer’s role and he has Robertson and Logan to pitch in setup roles. Plus he can mix and match with the righty-lefty combo of Eppley and Rapada. Wade is the only reliever who has been a major disappointment but Qualls was picked up to fill his role until Wade finds it again or not.

MIDESEASON GRADES:

RIVERA: I (for Incomplete)

SORIANO: A

ROBERTSON: B+

LOGAN: B+

WADE: C-

RAPADA: B+

EPPLEY: B

QUALLS: I (for Incomplete)

MITCHELL: I (for Incomplete)

OTHERS

DAVID PHELPS (1-1, 6.46 as a reliever)

RYOTA IGARASHI (0-0, 22.50 ERA)

David Phelps began the season in the bullpen as the long reliever and he actually pitched much better than his ERA indicates. He was shelled for three runs in back-to-back appearances against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox in late April.

But Phelps, 25, is more suited as a starter and is thought of that way by the organization. After two starts in place of Freddy Garcia in early May, Phelps was sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was activated on May 13. He stayed until June 2, when he was shipped to Double-A Trenton to get his arm in shape to become a starter.

However, before the process could be completed Pettitte was placed on the disabled list with a broken tibia in his right leg and CC Sabathia had to be shelved because of a groin injury.

Phelps was recalled and pitched out of the bullpen until he was pressed into a start against the Rays on the Fourth of July. Phelps struck out eight batters and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings in his best performance of the season.

Now Phelps has been sent back to Trenton to complete the process of building up his pitch count so he can start. It is unclear when Phelps might return to the Yankees or what role he will assume. My guess is we have seen the last of Phelps as a reliever, barring an injury.

Igarashi was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen on May 25 and pitched poorly in the two games in which he pitched. He was sent back to Scranton and was recalled again on June 8 and he gave one run in his one inning of work against his former Met teammates.

Igarashi, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and three saves at Scranton this season. He is there for depth purposes but the Yankees could do better. Igarashi does not appear to be the answer for the Yankees based on what he has done in three games.

MIDSEASON GRADES

PHELPS : I (for Incomplete)

IGARASHI: I (for Incomplete)

The Yankees have some veteran relievers at Scranton, including Igarashi.

Kevin Whelan 28, is the main closer and is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA and 12 saves.

Meanwhile, left-hander Juan Cedeno, 28, is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA and former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen is 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.

The most impressive young relievers the Yankees are developing are Preston Claiborne, 24, and Chase Whitley, 23.

Claiborme was just promoted to Scranton after going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and saving five games at Trenton.

Whitley is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 games in Scranton.

Both are right-handers.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+

There are whispers that Rivera is progressing well in his rehab after surgery on his right knee and that he might be able to pitch this season. That would be bad news to the teams in the A.L. East staring up out of a huge hole in which the Yankees have placed them.

Whether Rivera returns or not the Yankees have an exceptional bullpen that rarely coughs up leads late in the game.

Soriano has 19 saves after 81 games and he has been sensational as Rivera’s stand-in.

There are some concerns before the second half begins.

Both Robertson and Logan need recapture their early-season form. They both have a long enough track records in the majors that they should be able to rebound. Robertson just needs to regain command of the strike zone and Logan just needs rest after absorbing a huge workload in the first half.

Logan leads the American League in appearances and that is an aberration from what Girardi and Rothschild would like from him. But Rivera’s loss impacted Logan the most and he has been forced to pitch a lot of innings and it is catching up to him. Hopefully, the rest over the break rejuvenates his valuable left arm.

The Yankees also have to hope that Wade rediscovers his karma in the minors. Most of the karma he has been exhibiting on the mound these days is bad.

Rapada and Eppley have proved to very valuable specialists and they have been impressive in the first half. They just have to continue to do what they have been doing.

Qualls is a place-holder for Wade and Girardi seems to trust him.

Mitchell can be valuable as a long man but Girardi rarely calls on him. His sinker could have some value in the second half and he is the one reliever that can give Girardi a lot of innings out of the bullpen.

The biggest hope for the second half has nothing to do with any of the pitchers I mentioned.

The Yankees just sent Joba Chamberlain out on a minor-league rehab stint. Because Chamberlain, 26, is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severely displaced fractured right ankle, the Yankees were not really expecting much out of the big right-hander.

But if all goes well in his extended rehab stint, Chamberlain could return to the Yankees within a month. That would be a big boost to the Yankees and it should make Logan really smile.

Yankee fans may have forgotten that Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 games before injuring his elbow last season. If he can get back to that level, Chamberlain could a valuable piece to the bullpen in the sceond half and heading into the playoffs.

The Yankees also had high hopes for former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma in the second half. Aardsma, 30, was coming off Tommy John surgery himself last July and was making his final rehab appearances when he suffered a setback and had to be shut down.

Aardsma underwent some tests and is consulting Dr. James Andrews, who performed his surgery, about what his next step will be. But it looks doubtful Aardsma will be able to help the Yankees this season. That is a shame.

But the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been gong this season, they may not need him. The return of Chamberlain, however, could be a real big boost.

 

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