Orioles Pound Nova, Yankees Into Submission

GAME 8

ORIOLES 14, YANKEES 5

The definition of the astronomical term “nova” is a star that suddenly bursts into extreme brilliance and then gradually reduces in intensity. That is an apt description of Ivan Nova, whose talent can burn brighter than any Yankee pitcher and then just as vexing it can fade like he did on Tuesday.

Delmon Young and Matt Wieters each homered and drove in three runs apiece as Baltimore pounded out 20 hits to drub New York in front of  paid crowd of 35,864 at Yankee Stadium.

Nova (1-1) was raked for seven runs on 10 hits and no walks while he struck out three in 3 2/3 innings. The Orioles also scored seven runs on eight hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings off left-hander Vidal Nuno in what was Nuno’s worst outing in the major leagues.

Wei-Yin Chen (1-1) was credited with the victory although he was tagged for four runs on nine hits and no walks while he fanned three batters in five innings.

But the Orioles jumped on Nova early and often, scoring three runs in the first inning capped by a two-run home run by Adam Jones.

They added a single run in the second and chased Nova with three runs in the third highlighted by RBI singles by Young and Chris Davis.

The Orioles turned the game into a rout in the sixth when Young blasted a two-run off Nuno as part of a four-run inning, Nuno had entered the comest having yielded only five earned runs in his major-league career.

With the loss the Yankees’ season record fell to 4-4. The Orioles improved to 3-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After a spring training in which he was slowed by the flu and starting the season 0-for-17, Alfonso Soriano is finally showing what he can do with his bat. Soriano was 2-for-4 with a double and his first home run of the season, which he hit leading off the fourth inning against Chen. In the past three games, Soriano is 5-for-10 (.500).
  • Yangervis Solarte is quickly becoming the new darling of the Bronx after he went 2-for-4 with two doubles and a RBI on Tuesday. Solarte’s two doubles give him six on the season, which leads the major leagues. Solarte’s .458 average also ties him with Chase Utley of the Philadephia Phillies for the fourth best in the majors.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury is on a tear of his own over the past five games. The 30-year-old outfielder was 3-for-4 with a double on Tuesday and is 12-for-22 (.636) since April 4. Unfortunately, Ellsbury has driven in only two runs in that span because nobody is getting in scoring position ahead of him.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova’s talent is undeniable but he makes you want to tear your hair out when he pitches like he did on Tuesday. He threw 45 of his 61 pitches for strikes (74%), but the strikes he threw were nearly all belt high in the middle of the plate. The Orioles made him pay, too. In his two starts, Nova has yielded nine runs on 16 hits and five walks in in 9.1 innings. His ERA is 8.68 and the Yankees know he is better pitcher than that.
  • Nuno, 27, also is capable of pitching better. He entered the sixth inning with the Yankees trailing 7-4 and he ended up getting shelled for four runs, which turned the game into a rout. Because this is the first time Nuno has taken a pounding you have to give him a pass. He has been very effective for the Yankees and the Yankees do need a good left-hander in the bullpen.
  • Brian McCann continues to struggle at the plate. He was 0-for-4 on Tuesday with two pretty weak infield rollers of his bat. McCann is 5-for-29 (.172) with no homers and two RBIs in seven games this season. There is no need to panic but the Yankees do need him to pick it up with Mark Teixeira on the disabled list.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees recalled left-hander Cesar Cabral from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday to replace closer David Robertson, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin. Cabral, 25, pitched 9 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for the Yankees this spring but did not make the 25-man roster. Cabral pitched one-thrd of an inning on Tuesday, giving up a hit and a walk.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi opted to use backup catcher Francisco Cervelli at first base on Tuesday. It was first time Cervelli had ever played first base in the major leagues. With Teixeira on the disabled list Girardi believes Cervelli can be a serviceable backup for Kelly Johnson at first base.

ON DECK

The Yankees can still salvage the three-game series with a victory on Wednesday against the Orioles.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 2.57 ERA) will make his Yankee Stadium debut after he won his major-league debut on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka gave up three runs (two earned) 0n six hits and no walks while he struck out eight in seven innings.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 18.90 ERA) was shelled for a career-high seven runs on nine hits and one walk in just 3 1/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

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

 

Jeter Helps Yanks Down O’s In Final Home Opener

GAME 7

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 2

On a cold and gusty afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees reunited the “Core Four” to throw out a pair of ceremonial Opening Day pitches at Yankee Stadium. Andy Pettitte threw to Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera did the same to Derek Jeter, who will join the other three in retirement at the end of the season.

Then Jeter took the field for his final home opener and cracked a double and scored a run to help lead New York to a victory over the Baltimore Orioles in front of a sellout crowd of 48,142.

Hiroki Kuroda (1-1) held the Orioles to just two runs on eight hits and no walks while he fanned four to pick up his first victory of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, made Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2) throw strikes to run up his pitch count to 109 in less than five innings.

The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Yangervis Solarte drew a leadoff walk and Brett Gardner advanced him to third with a single to center. Jeter then rapped into a double play that allowed Solarte to score.

The Orioles tied it in the fourth when Adam Jones singled and advanced to second on a flyout off the bat of Chris Davis. He then scored on an RBI single by Matt Wieters.

But the Yankees reclaimed the lead for good in their half of the fourth when Alfonso Soriano stroked a one-out single and Kelly Johnson drew a two-out walk. Solarte, who came into the game leading the team in RBIs with five, then slapped a single to right to score Soriano.

The Yankees added a pair of runs and chased Jimenez from the game in the fifth.

Jeter led off the frame with a high arcing drive to left that Jeter thought was a home run. However, the ball hit just below the top of the wall and Jeter had to scramble into second to beat a relay throw from left-fielder David Lough.

Jacoby Ellsbury then looped the next pitch into right-center to score Jeter.

After Ellsbury was thrown out attempting to steal second, Carlos Beltran singled. One batter later, Soriano singled and Jimenez walked Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter removed Jimenez and called in left-hander Zach Britton.

Johnson then drew another walk on to score Beltran to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

Jimenez was charged with four runs on eight hits and five walks while he struck out four in 4 2/3 innings.

The Orioles did mount a rally in the seventh off Kuroda when Davis led off with a double. Wieters followed with a bloop single to advance Davis to third and Nelson Cruz singled to score Davis.

However, Kuroda retired Steve Lombardozzi on a line out to left and relievers Matt Thornton and David Phelps retired Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop, respectively, to end the threat.

Kuroda yielded two runs on eight hits and no walks and he struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.

Adam Warren hurled a scoreless eighth and Shawn Kelley pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first career save.

With the victory, the Yankees moved over the .500 mark for the first time this season at 4-3. The Orioles fell to 2-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It seems that in every game he plays Solarte does something to help the team win. Today he was 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI. On the season the 26-year-old rookie from Venezuela is 9-for-20 (.450) with four doubles and six RBIs. In the eighth, Solarte cranked a high drive off right-hander Ryan Webb that looked to be home run to right-field. However, the wind held it up and Nick Markakis caught it just in front of the wall.
  • Soriano entered the game 1-for-19 after beginning the season 0-for-17. But he was 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in the game and he looks to be coming out of his early-season funk.  Soriano had been swinging at pitches that were bouncing in the dirt.
  • Despite looking shaky in the seventh inning, Kuroda actually pitched a very good game. In his two starts Kuroda has given up four runs on 11 hits and one walk while he struck out nine in 12 1/3 innings. Kuroda gave up only two runs to the Astros last Wednesday but got no run support and ended up losing the game. He got some run support on Monday and he won.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian McCann was 0-for-4 in the game and he is 5-for-25 (.200) with no homers and two RBIs this season. Despite the slow start at the plate, McCann is playing well defensively. In the fifth inning he picked off Schoop straying too far away from second base to end the inning.

BOMBER BANTER

The season is just one week old and the Yankees have now suffered their second significant injury. The Yankees will have to place closer David Robertson on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his left groin, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday. Robertson sustained the injury on Sunday closing out the Yankees’ 6-4 victory in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Kelley, who closed out Monday’s victory over the Orioles will assume the closer’s role. The Yankees could recall either left-hander Cesar Cabral or right-hander Shane Greene to take Robertson’s spot on the roster.  . . .  Mark Teixeira, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring, was cleared on Monday to begin an exercise program on Tuesday. Teixeira hopes to be able to return on April 19, the day when he is first eligible to come off the DL.  . . .  The Yankees announced on Monday that they have traded infielder Eduardo Nunez to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 20-year-old minor-league left-hander Miguel Sulbaran. Nunez was designated for assignment on March 31 after the Yankees elected to make room on the 40-man roster for Solarte. Sulbaran is 21-10 with a 3.15 ERA in 55 games (45 starts) in the minors. The Twins assigned Nunez to Triple-A Rochester.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home-opening series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0, 3.18 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off a victory over the Astros on April 3. Nova won despite giving up six hits, walking five and hitting two batters in 5 2/3 innings of work. Nova used four double plays to hold the Astros to only two runs.

Nova will be opposed by left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 6.35 ERA), who was blasted for four runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday. He is 0-2 with a 4.86 ERA in three career starts at Yankee Stadium.

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

 

Jays Fall As Gardner Hits First Yankee Homer

GAME 6

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4

The Yankees entered play on Sunday without a home run in their first five games. How can the Bronx Bombers be the Bronx Bombers when they are not hitting homers?

Well, it finally was taken care of by, of all people, Brett Gardner. The 30-year-old outfielder lined a 3-2 slider over the right-field wall in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead and New York held on edge Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,067 at Rogers Centre.

Gardner’s blast capped a three-run third inning after they had scored three runs on the first inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-1).

It was just the fifth time since 1923 the Yankees have gone this far in to the season without hitting a home run and the first time since 1990 when Mel Hall hit the team’s first home run in the eighth game of the season.

Meanwhile, left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1) rebounded from a bad first outing to record his first victory of the season.

The Yankees broke out on top early, taking advantage of Hutchison’s poor command.

Hutchison walked Gardner to begin the game. Gardner then stole second and advanced to third on a Derek Jeter ground-out. He then scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s ground-out.

Brian McCann then drew a two-out walk and Hutchison hit Alfonso Soriano with a pitch. Kelly Johnson then laced a two-run double off the wall in center-field, which gave the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

After former Yankee Melky Cabrera clubbed his third home run in three days against his former teammates to lead off the bottom of the first inning, Sabathia settled in and held the Blue Jays to only two more hits through the first five innings.

The Yankees added to their lead in the third when Hutchison walked Brian Roberts to start the frame. Roberts then stole second and he scored one batter later on an RBI double off the bat of red-hot rookie Yangervis Solarte, who was 5-for-12 with five RBIs in the three-game series.

Gardner then homered to give the Yankees a commanding 6-1 lead.

Hutchison gave up all six runs on six hits and three walks while he struck out six in 3 1/3 innings. Four of the six runs he gave up scored after reaching base without the benefit of a hit.

The Blue Jays did mount a two-out rally in the sixth inning off Sabathia to get back into the game.

Jose Bautista hit a bloop opposite-field single and Edwin Encarnacion followed with an opposite field single of his own. Dioner Navarro then slapped a double down the left-field line to score Bautista and Eric Kratz followed with a two-run single to center.

But Sabathia got Brett Lawrie out on a fly ball to center and relievers Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson protected Sabathia’s lead the rest of the way to allow the Yankees to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays.

Sabathia gave up four runs on seven hits no walks and he struck out six in six innings.

Robertson did allow the Blue Jays to get the potential winning run to the plate with one out in the ninth when Lawrie singled and Robertson walked pinch-hitter Adam Lind. But Robertson retired pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus on an infield popup and Cabrera flied out to right.

Robertson earned his second save in two opportunities this season.

With the victory the Yankees evened their season record at 3-3. The Blue Jays fell to 3-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner’s home run was only the 24th of his career but it was his fourth against the Blue Jays. Gardner may only be 5-for-18 (.278) this season but his on-base percentage is a sparkling .409. When the Yankees are struggling to hit home runs it is vital that Gardner get on base and use his speed to get into scoring position as he did on the first inning.
  • Solarte has only started in four of the Yankees’ six games but he is 8-for-15 (.533) with four doubles and five RBIs in those four games. There is a good chance that Solarte will cool off as opposing teams find out what his weaknesses are. But for now, Solarte looks to be the real deal and he is providing a spark to an offense that is not hitting on all cylinders yet.
  • For a team struggling to hit with runners in scoring position, Johnson’s two-out double in the first was huge. They were Johnson’s first two RBIs of the season and it hopefully will get him started because he is just 4-for-18 (.222) in the early going.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • If it had not been for the sixth inning Sabathia would have had a very good outing. But the Blue Jays were able to take the veteran left-hander’s pitches to the opposite field. In his first two starts, Sabathia has yielded 10 runs on 15 hits and one walk in 12 innings. His ERA stands at 7.50. He is going to have to do better than that if the Yankees are to contend in the American League East.
  • Robertson is 2-for-2 in save situations but his work on Sunday was a bit shaky. Lawrie ripped a single up the middle and Robertson pitched too carefully to Lind and walked him. That allowed manager John Gibbons to go to his bench to use Rasmus and Cabrera has been the hottest hitter on the Blue Jays since spring training started.
  • Though Soriano finally singled in the fifth inning off right-hander Todd Redmond, he is still 1-for-19 (.053) to start the season.

BOMBER BANTER

Jeter was 2-for-5 on Sunday and those two hits moved him past Paul Molitor for eighth place on the all-time hits list with 3,320. The 39-year-old team captain singled in the first inning off Hutchison to tie Molitor. He then singled again in the fourth inning to pass Molitor and he chased Hutchison from the game. Jeter is also fourth on the all-time American League hits list.   . . .  Francisco Cervelli took ground balls at first base on Sunday as manager Joe Girardi said the backup catcher could be called on to play first base while Mark Teixiera is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Cervelli has never played first base but has appeared in four games at third base and two at second base.

ON DECK

After a opening week on the road the Yankees will play their home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 3.00 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his first start on Wednesday against the Houston Astros despite yielding just two runs in six innings. The Yankees did not score any runs for him and he took a tough loss.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1, 6.00 ERA). Jimenez was tagged for a pair of home runs in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. He is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium.

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

 

Yankees Knuckle Under To Dickey, Jays’ Bullpen

GAME 5

BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 0

The Yankees have been around enough to know that facing a knuckleball pitcher is always a 50-50 proposition. When the knuckleball is not working the game is easy. When it is working you can probably figure on losing.

R.A. Dickey held the Yankees scoreless for 6 2/3 innings and the three relievers who followed him completed the shutout as Toronto downed New York on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 45,446 at Rogers Centre.

Dickey (1-1) was shelled for six runs by the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day on Monday but he rebounded to yield only five hits and one walk while he struck out six to get credit for the victory on Saturday.

His mound opponent, Michael Pineda, was making his first major-league start since the end of the 2011 season and he deserved a better fate.

Pineda (0-1) held the Blue Jays to just one run on five hits, he did not walk a batter and he fanned five in six innings. He ended up on the short end because the Yankees could not solve Dickey or his knuckleball.

The Blue Jays lone run off Pineda came in the second inning when Adam Lind led off with a double and one batter later Josh Thole blooped a single into left to score Lind.

That run held up until the Blue Jays decided to play “Home Run Derby” in the eighth inning off reliever David Phelps. Melky Cabrera cranked a one-out solo shot, his second in two nights against his former teammates.

After Colby Rasmus stroked a ground-rule double, Jose Bautista blasted his third home run of the season to cap the scoring.

Sergio Santos pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays to earn his second save.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 2-3. The Blue Jays evened their record at 3-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After Pineda missed two full major-league seasons recovering from shoulder surgery the Yankees have to be extremely pleased with what the 25-year-old right-hander did on Saturday. His fastball reached as high as 95 miles-per-hour. Even more important was that Pineda did not issue a walk. If Pineda is the team’s No. 5 starter they have the makings of one of the best No. 5 starters in baseball.
  • Yangervis Solarte continues to be impressive with the bat. The 26-year-old rookie was 2-for-3 with two singles and he is 7-for-13 (.538) on the young season. I was honestly stunned the Yankees would designate for assignment Eduardo Nunez to make room on the roster for Solarte. But now that they have made the move it looks like they made the right choice. The youngster is something special.
  • Francisco Cervelli started behind the plate while Brian McCann was the designated hitter and Cervelli was 2-for-3 with a double and he threw out a runner on the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 on Friday, was 3-for-5 on Saturday. Cervelli, Ellsbury and Solarte combined to collect all seven of the Yankees’ hits.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The middle of the order had a really rough time with Dickey and the Blue Jays’ relievers. Carlos Beltran, McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Kelly Johnson combined to go 0-for-16 with four strikeouts and they stranded nine base-runners. Beltran killed a big rally with no outs in the sixth after Ellsbury singled and Derek Jeter walked by hitting into a double play. After Ellsbury singled and and Jeter walked to start the eighth off left-hander Aaron Loup, Beltran struck out on a pitch that bounced in the dirt.
  • It goes without saying that the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. That hit came in the third inning after Cervelli had doubled and Ellsbury delivered a two-out single to center. However, Rasmus’ throw to Thole at home plate beat Cervelli as he slid into home plate. That is pretty much the way the day went for the Yankees.
  • Phelps gave up eight home runs in 86 2/3 innings last season. This season he already has given up three in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, 27, needs to start doing a better job of keeping the ball in the yard.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game started the Yankees placed first baseman Mark Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Teixeira, 33, sustained the injury in the second inning of Friday’s game against the Blue Jays as he tried to field a ground ball in foul territory. Teixeira will have an MRI on Monday in New York to determine the severity of the strain. To take his place on the roster the Yankees recalled catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Johnson will take Teixeira’s place at first base and Solarte will take Johnson’s spot at third.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the three-game series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees trying to atone for a horrible Opening Day start in which he gave up six runs in the first two innings to the Houston Astros before finishing with four scoreless innings.

Sabathia, 33, will be opposed by 23-year-old right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0, 0.00 ERA), who shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while striking out four in 5 1/3 innings in his 2014 debut.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Tanaka Bows To Pressure But Still Wins Debut

GAME 4

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

With the crush of American and Japanese media on hand and an unfriendly sellout crowd at Rogers Centre on Friday it was understandable if Masahiro Tanaka was a little nervous making his major-league regular season debut.

After Melky Cabrera deposited his third offering over the center-field wall reality set in. But Tanaka gradually overcame his nerves and settled in to win his first game in the United States as New York pounded out 16 hits to defeat Toronto in front of paid crowd of 48.187.

Tanaka (1-0) actually lost a 2-1 lead in the second inning when two hits and an error loaded the bases and Jonathan Diaz touched him for a two-run single. But after that hit, the 25-year-old right-hander retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced, striking out six of them to allow the Yankees to come back and win the game.

Tanaka’s final line was excellent. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks and he struck out eight batters in seven innings.

“I was missing some spots earlier in the game, but as the game progressed, I think I was getting better out there,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Obviously I’m happy. I think No. 1 is that I’m relieved.”

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was once again sparked by rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI in his major-league debut against Houston Astros on Thursday.

With the Yankees trailing 3-2 in the third inning, Brian Roberts drew a one-out walk from Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-1) and stole second. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki bound a ground ball to Ryan Goins at second base and Suzuki was called out on a close play at first.

However, manager Joe Girardi successfully overturned first-base umpire Dana Demuth’s call through a instant-replay challenge, which put Roberts at third and Suzuki at first for Solarte.

The 26-year-old switch-hitter Solarte then laced a two-run double to right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish.

That hit also ended McGowan’s evening. The 32-year-old right-hander, who was making his first major-league start since 2011, was charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out three in 2 2/3 innings.

The Yankees took an early 2-0 lead against McGowan in the first inning as Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 with a walk, stole two bases and scored two runs in the game, cranked a double to deep center. Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a hard-hit single to left.

Carlos Beltran then scored Ellsbury with a bloop single to left-center and Mark Teixeira scored Gardner with a single to right.

The Yankees only bad news of the evening came in the third inning as the Blue Jays took the lead against Tanaka. Teixiera injured his right hamstring while moving to field a foul ball. He was forced to leave the game and his immediate status is unclear.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a one-out RBI single off left-hander Aaron Loup after the Blue Jays elected to intentionally walk Beltran to face the lefty swinging McCann.

They added single runs in the eighth on Gardner’s RBI single off right-hander Steve Delabar and in the ninth on another RBI double by Solarte off right-hander Jarred Jeffress.

With the victory, the Yankees evened their season record to 2-2. The Blue Jays fell to 2-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s ability to recover from the mistakes he made pitching to Cabrera and Diaz are a testament to the fact he is not just a thrower. Tanaka knows how to pitch and make adjustments at a very young age. That attribute actually may be just as valuable as his split-finger fastball. The $155 million the Yankees invested in him may end up being a bargain. He is that good.
  • After two games, Solarte is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles and two runs scored. He also leads the team in RBIs with four. If Teixeira is sidelined for any length of time it is a pretty good bet that Kelly Johnson will move from third base to play first and Solarte will become the starting third baseman. The Yankees may have found a real gem in this youngster.
  • Ellsbury showed what he can do from the leadoff spot on Friday. His two doubles, two stolen bases and two runs scored really set the tone for the evening. To top it all off, Ellsbury also made a nice sliding catch of Dioner Navarro’s sinking line drive in the sixth inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Teixeira’s injury exposes the weakest area on the Yankees’ roster. Johnson is not an experienced first baseman and he will be asked to fill in while Teixiera is out. The Yankees do have corner infielder Russ Canzler at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he is not anywhere close to Teixeira in offense or defense. he also is not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees have to hope Teixiera is not sidelined for an extended period of time.
  • Dellin Betances was brought in to the game in the eighth to face Jose Bautista with two out and a four-run lead. He walked him. Although he got out of the inning by retiring Edwin Encarnacion, he opened the ninth by walking Adam Lind on four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. Girardi then summoned David Robertson to close out a game in which he should not have had to appear. Betances has had control issues in the past so he bears watching.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira will be re-evaluated on Saturday but it is highly unlikely he will play. The strain is is considered mild but Teixeira is scheduled to have an MRI on the right hamstring in New York on Monday. Teixeira played in only 15 games last season before having to undergo surgery to repair a torn sheath in his right wrist.  . . .  After Solarte got his first major-league hit in his debut on Thursday, Dean Anna singled in the ninth inning in his first major-league start on Saturday. Anna, 27, was in the lineup at shortstop to give Derek Jeter a rest. Anna was 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run.

ON DECK

The Yankees wil continue their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Saturday.

After trading top prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners before the 2012 season the Yankees will finally see Michael Pineda on the mound for them in a major-league game. Pineda, 25, was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 innings this spring after missing almost two seasons due to  shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

He will be opposed by right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (0-1, 10.80 ERA), who was out of sync in his 2014 debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. Dickey walked six batters and ended up surrendering six runs on five hits in five innings.

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

 

Rookie Solarte Ignites Yankees To First Victory

GAME 3

YANKEES 4, ASTROS 2

There was a popular TV game show in the 1950s and 1960s called “To Tell the Truth” in which two impostors would join a real guest to try an fool a panel. At the end of some probing questions the host Bud Collyer would say “Would the real (name) please stand up.”

After the first two games of the season where they looked like impostors, the real New York Yankees decided to stand up on Thursday.

Rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was making his first major-league start, sparked the victory by going 3-for-3 and Ivan Nova and the Yankees bullpen held the Astros without a hit after the fifth inning as New York finally defeated Houston in front of a paid crowd of 26,348 at Minute Maid Park.

Solarte, 26, had a hit in all three innings in which the Yankees scored.

With one out in the third inning and the Yankees trailing 1-0, Solarte followed an Ichiro Suzki single with his first major-league hit  -  a single  -  to advance Suzuki to third. Brett Gardner then tied the game with an RBI single.

After Derek Jeter walked to load the bases, the Yankees took their first lead of the game and the three-game series when Carlos Beltran scored Solarte on a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fifth when Solarte delivered a one-out double and Jeter scored him on a two-out single to right in which Astros first baseman Marc Krauss chose to cut off a throw from Alex Presley in right that appeared it might get Solarte at the plate in order to tag out Jeter rounding first base too far.

The Yankees took a 3-2 lead into the seventh when with two out Suzuki doubled to the wall in left-center off right-hander Brad Peacock and Solarte lofted a towering popup between the mound and home plate. Astros catcher Carlos Corporan allowed the ball to drop to score Suzuki and give Solarte his first major-league RBI.

Nova (1-0) was credited with the victory, although he did not have much command of any of his pitches.

The Astros scored a run in the first inning off Nova on a back-to-back singles by Dexter Fowler and Robbie Grossman and Nova hit Jason Castro with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases with no outs.

Jose Altuve then plated Fowler on a groundout.

After the Yankees took a 3-1 lead off left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-1) in the fifth, the Astros added another run off Nova after a leadoff double by Jonathan Villar and an RBI single by Fowler, who was 6-for-12 with a home run, five runs scored and two RBIs in the series.

Fowler’s RBI single would end up as the Astros’ final hit of the evening, however.

Nova left in the sixth having been charged with two runs on six hits and five walks while he struck out one in 5 2/3 innings. He also hit two batters.

Nova managed to limit the damage by recording 12 groundball outs, including four double plays.

Obervoltaer also pitched 5 2/3 innings, yielding three runs on five hits and one walk. He fanned five batters.

The Yankees’ bullpen trio of Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson preserved the victory by retiring all 10 hitters they faced, five of them on strikeouts.

Robertson pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season as the new Yankees closer replacing the legendary Mariano Rivera.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The legend of Solarte was already the talk of the spring after he was 18-for-42 (.429) with two homers and nine RBIs. The 26-year-old Venezuelan claimed the final roster spot over veteran Eduardo Nunez and he very quickly made an impression in his first start. I would say that he can relax now that he has his first hit and RBI out of the way but the kid has shown no nerves at all. Can we call him “Never Nervous” Yangervis?
  • Suzuki drew a start in right-field despite the fact there was a left-hander starting and he took advantage by going 2-for-4 and scored a pair of runs. Suzuki got hot at the tail end of the spring, going 9-for-26 (.346) in his final nine starts. It seems like it is carrying over to the regular season.
  • Jeter’s RBI single in the fifth gave him 3,318 hits of this career, which puts him just one behind Paul Molitor in eighth place on the all-time hits list.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova was erratic all evening with his command. His fastball was riding up in the strike zone and his curve had catcher Francisco Cervelli diving all over for it. He threw only 47 of his 88 pitches for strikes. But Nova survived with his ability to induce ground balls and the four double plays behind him really saved his victory.
  • Gardner, Jeter, Suzuki and Solarte combined for all of the Yankees seven hits. That means the batters hitting in the No. 3 spot through the No. 7 spot (Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Cervelli and Brian Roberts) were a combined 0-for-18 in the game.
  • Teixeira and Soriano followed up on their combined 0-for-8 game on Wednesday with another 0-for-8 night on Thursday. Soriano was 0-for-12 in the series with four strikeouts.

BOMBER BANTER

With a left-hander on the mound in Oberholtzer, manager Joe Girardi elected to sit left-handed hitters Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson and shift Gardner to center and the leadoff spot. He inserted Suzuki in right, made Beltran the designated hitter and played Soriano in left. He also used Cervelli behind the plate and put Solarte in at third. Girardi said the day off for Ellsbury was planned because of his abbreviated spring nursing a sore right calf.   . . .  The Yankees announced on Thursday that the “Core Four” will take part in the ceremonial first pitch for the team’s home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. Pitchers Andy Pettitte and Rivera will throw the opening pitches to catcher Jorge Posada and Jeter.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to Toronto to open a three-game weekend series with the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre beginning on Friday.

There also will be a bevy of Japanese media on hand as Masahiro Tanaka (2-0, 2.14 ERA) will be making his major-league debut with the Yankees. Tanaka, 25, struck out 26 batters in 21 innings this spring, most of them with his world-class split-finger fastball.

The Blue Jays will start right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-0, 3.86 ERA), who will be making his first major-league start since Sept. 26, 2011. McGowan, 32, missed all of the 2012 season and he pitched in 25 games in relief for the Blue Jays last season.

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Astros Silence Yankees Bats To Post Another Win

GAME 2

ASTROS 3, YANKEES 1

When the Yankees ended spring training knowing they were starting the season with the lowly Astros it seemed the perfect way to start the season with a completely revamped starting lineup. After what happened on Wednesday the Yankees should be careful what they wish for.

The Astros scored a pair of early runs against Hiroki Kuroda and the Yankees  -  for the second straight evening  -  could not muster an offense as Houston defeated New York in front of a paid crowd of 23,145 at Minute Maid Park.

Dexter Fowler, who is 4-for-8 in the series, had a hand in both Astros runs off the right-handed Kuroda (0-1).

Fowler ripped Kuroda’s second offering in the first inning into the center-field bleachers to give the Astros an early 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Fowler laced a one-out triple to deep center and he scored on RBI grounder off the bat of Robbie Grossman that was misplayed by Mark Teixeira.

Kuroda gave up two runs on only there hits and one walk while he fanned five batters in six innings. But he could have sued the Yankees hitters for nonsupport.

The Yankees offense just could not push any runs across against Astros 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart (1-0).

Cosart shut out the Yankees on four hits, he did not walk a batter and he struck out three in his five innings of work.

They did not fare much better against the four relievers who followed Cosart.

The Yankees did finally score a run in the seventh inning after Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk from left-hander Kevin Chapman and Brian Roberts followed with his third consecutive single to advance Gardner to third.

Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson with rookie Yangervis Solarte and, in his first major-league at-bat, Solarte hit into a double play that scored Gardner.

The Astros got that run back in the bottom half of the seventh when Matt Dominguez touched right-hander David Phelps for an opposite-field home run into the right-field bleachers. In the first two games of the series, the Astros have hit four home runs and the Yankees have none.

Right-hander Josh Fields pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season.

The Yankees stranded eight runners and were a combined 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Do not blame this loss on Kuroda. Unlike CC Sabathia in the the season opener, Kuroda, 39, held the Astros to just two runs in six innings. This has been the story of Kuroda’s major-league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees. He pitches well and he does not get the run support to show for the effort. That is why his career record is 68-71 and his ERA is a sparkling 3.40, the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher from Japan.
  • Roberts did his part for the offense. He was 3-for-4 with three singles that helped ignite scoring opportunities that his teammates failed to capitalize upon. Roberts, 36, is trying to re-establish his career after suffering through four seasons marred by injury. The early results show that he still has a lot left in the tank.
  • The Yankees managed just seven hits and Brian McCann and Roberts combined to post seven of them. McCann, 30, was 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. McCann is 3-for-8 with an RBI in the first two games hitting out of the cleanup spot. The five-time Silver Slugger award winner looks very comfortable at the plate in the early part of the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano, batting fifth and sixth, respectively, were a combined 0-for-8 in the game, they struck out five times and they stranded seven base-runners. If you need to point at the two biggest culprits in the Yankees’ demise in this game you need to look no further than this pair. Soriano actually swung and missed at two pitches that hit the dirt and one of those pitches nearly hit him. In the first two games Soriano is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts.
  • The Yankees have had a history of not being able to hit pitchers they know little about and Wednesday’s game was another example. Cosart was making only his 11th major-league start and his first against the Yankees. The Yankees managed to get their first hit and base-runner with one out in the third inning on Roberts’ single. McCann added a two-out single in the fourth. Then Gardner and Roberts hit back-to-back one-out singles in the fifth. But Johnson into a fielder’s choice and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out and Cosart left the game without yielding a run.
  • The inning that defined the evening is the eighth. Carlos Beltran led off with a double against right-handed reliever Matt Albers. However, McCann, Teixeira and Soriano all struck out swinging. Futility is contagious.

BOMBER BANTER

Former teammates Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mike Stanton were among the guests who honored Jeter before the game with a ceremony marking his impending retirement. The Astros presented him with a pair of pinstriped cowboy boots emblazoned with his No. 2, a huge Stetson hat and a free stay and golf lessons at a golf resort operated by Astros owner Jim Crane. The Astros players all came out of the dugout to give a standing ovation to Jeter before he took his first at-bat. Jeter tipped his batting helmet to the crowd.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to salvage one game and some of their pride in the final game of the series with the Astros on Thursday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.66 ERA in spring truing) will make his 2014 debut after ending the 2013 season as the team’s best pitcher in the second half of the season. Nova, 27, was 9-6 with a 3.10 ERA last season.

The Astros will counter with24-year-old right-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-2, 11.00 ERA). Oberholtzer was 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 13 games (10 of them starts) with the Astros last season.

Game-time will be 8:10 EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

 

Astros Flip Script To Take Opener Over Yankees

CC Sabathia continued his fine work from spring training with six strong innings and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira led a newly retooled Yankee offense as the New York downed Houston in their season opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Oops!

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GAME 1

ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2

Somehow the Astros did not get the memo on how Opening Day was supposed to go.

The Astros scored six runs in the first two innings off CC Sabathia, including home runs by Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, as Houston rolled to an Opening Day victory over New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park.

Sabathia (0-1) was tagged for four runs in the first and two more in the second before he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings to save the bullpen. Meanwhile, Astros starter Scott Feldman (1-0) held the Yankees in check by using a series of slow-pitch softball speed pitches.

Feldman held the powerful Yankee lineup to no runs on two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander entered the contest with a career record of 51-56 with a 4.59.

The Yankees did not get their first hit off Feldman until Carlos Beltran slapped a one-out single to left in the fourth inning. Mark Teixeira looped a one-out single to right in the seventh for the team’s only other hit off Feldman.

The Astros did not waste any time against Sabathia when Dexter Fowler led off the first with a double to deep center. He moved to third on a flyout and scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve. After a stolen base and a wild pitch advanced him to third, Altuve scored when Teixeira’s throw to home on a grounder off the bat of Jason Castro was thrown wide past McCann.

Guzman lined the first offering from Sabathia deep into the left-field bleachers to make the score 4-0. Guzman entered the game with only 23 career homers over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

Hoes opened the second inning with a solo blast of his own. Hoes entered the contest with only one previous major-league homer in 49 games.

The Astros capped the scoring in the second when Fowler laced another double with one out. Altuve later added a two-out single to score Fowler.

The Yankees had two chances to score against Feldman. In the fourth, Beltran singled with one out and Teixeira drew a two-out walk. However, Alfonso Soriano struck out to end the threat.

In the seventh, Teixeira’s one-out single was followed by a pair of two-out walks to Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Astros manager Bo Porter replaced Feldman with left-hander Kevin Chapman and he induced Kelly Johnson into a force out to leave the bases loaded.

The Yankees did finally break through in the eighth inning when Chapman opened the frame by walking Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter then greeted right-hander Chad Qualls with a single to right.

Beltran advanced Ellsbury and Jeter with a groundout and Brian McCann and Teixeira followed with RBI singles.

However, Qualls ended the rally by getting Soriano to hit into an inning-ending double play.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Two big concerns the Yankees had opening the season was how Jeter and Teixeira would fare after both players, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, struggled to hit this spring. But Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
  • Give both McCann and Teixeira a lot of credit for the their RBI singles. Both decided to hit to the opposite field with shifts on against them and a ground-ball pitcher on the mound in Qualls. If you try to pull outside pitches you end up grounding into the shift. Both recognized that and hit to the opposite field.
  • Both Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitched an inning of relief and both were impressive. Betances struck out two in a perfect inning in the seventh and Nuno struck out the side in the eighth. The Yankees are hoping that Betances, 26, and Nuno, 26, will contribute a lot to a completely retooled bullpen that is missing closer Mariano Rivera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The reality is that Sabathia was NOT defeated by his reduced velocity. Sabathia was beaten because he missed location with his pitches. When he was up in the strike zone he got hammered. When he got the ball down he was successful in the final four innings. Sabathia was making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and the 11th of his career. He is the team’s ace out of courtesy and you can actually make a case that he is the weakest of the Yankees five starters. Once Yankees fans accept that fact they may just be able to accept Sabathia for what he is at age 33.
  • Soriano can be a maddening player. When he is red hot you can’t get him out. When he is cold he can kill your offense. He killed the offense pretty well on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a inning-ending double play. Soriano stranded a team-high five runners. Ouch!
  • Though the Yankees were charged with one error they actually were extremely sloppy in the field in this game. McCann overthrew third base trying to nab Altuve. Teixeira’s throw home to get Altuve was to the first-base side of home plate and skipped past McCann. They just did not look sharp in the field with the exception of some fine plays at third by Johnson.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game the Yankees purchased the contract of infielder Yangervis Solarte from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designated infielder Eduardo Nunez for assignment. The team will have 10 days to trade, release or outright Nunez to the minor leagues. Nunez, 26, was once viewed as the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop but he was outplayed this spring by Solarte, 26, and Dean Anna, 27.  . . .  The Yankees Opening Day lineup had only one holdover from Opening Day in 2013 and that was Gardner. Last season, both Jeter and Teixeira were on the disabled list and 2013 starters Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were on the bench on Tuesday. The 2013 lineup also included Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Nunez.  . . .  The Astros plan to honor Jeter with a special ceremony on Wednesday with former teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on hand. Jeter announced just before spring training began that this will be his final season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have to recover from their loss as they play the second game of a three-game seres with the Astros.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31 ERA in 2013) will make his first start of the season. He was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA this spring.

He will opposed by right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season. He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA this spring.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Jeter’s Farewell Game Washed Out By Downpour

GAME 32

YANKEES VS. MARLINS (CANCELED – RAIN)

TAMPA - What was to be the final spring training appearance as a player at George M. Steinbrenner Field for Derek Jeter was washed away on Saturday by deluge of heavy rain that forced the game to be canceled.

A foreboding forecast that included an 80 percent chance of rain with thunderstorms likely and a tornado watch put into effect until 5 p.m. EDT pretty much doomed the game before it even had a chance to begin.

Right-hander Ivan Nova was scheduled to pitch against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. Both pitchers warmed up as the grounds crew removed the tarp. Later, the starting position players from both teams began to warm up.

However, both teams agreed to cancel the game, which ended spring training for them.

The only bit of good news as the Yankees were able to show a special video tribute to Jeter and call him out to present him with the key to the City of Tampa before the game. He was surrounded by participants of his charitable Turn Two organization. He received a standing ovation from those who braved the inclement conditions.

The Yankees ended their Grapefruit League schedule with a 17-12-2 record.

BOMBER BANTER

The shockwaves reverberated around the ballpark on Saturday when the Yankees announced that infielder Yangervis Solarte was selected for the final roster spot and Edurado Nunez was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. On the surface, it was not really a surprise. Solarte, 26, came out of nowhere as a free-agent signee out the Texas Rangers’ organization invited to spring training. The 26-year-old switch-hitter batted .429 with two homers and nine RBIs in 24 games. Nunez, also 26, hit .265 with a homer and four RBIs in 19 games. Manager Joe Girardi said he looks at infielder Dean Anna as the primary backup to Jeter at shortstop, though he also can play second and third. Solarte, on the other hand, is being looked at as the primary backup at second and third, although shortstop has been his best position. Nunez left the clubhouse without comment.  . . .  Right-hander Masohiro Tanaka was selected on Saturday as the recipient of the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s outstanding rookie of the spring. Tanaka, 25, was 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA and struck out 26 batters in 21 innings.  Tanaka will make his major-league debut on April 4 in Toronto against the Blue Jays.  . . .  Girardi said the lineup he was going to play against the Marlins on Saturday would be the lineup with which he will begin the season. It had Jacoby Ellsbury hitting leadoff with Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts to follow. Girardi is electing to use Gardner in the seventh spot instead of ninth as was originally thought.

ON DECK

The Yankees will begin the 2014 season on Tuesday in Houston as part of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-1, 1.29 ERA) will make his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and his 10th straight overall.

He will be opposed by former Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman (0-2, 5.40 ERA).

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

 

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