Results tagged ‘ American league East ’

CC Uses Home Runs, Triple Play To Deflate Price

GAME 16

YANKEES 10, RAYS 2

David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.

Well, if you did, you lost your house.

Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte.  Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore  -  playing his first career game at first base  -  scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.

Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.

After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.

It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.

Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.

The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.

The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.

With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
  • Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
  • Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays.  . . .  Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin.  . . .  Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.

Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.

Game-time will be at 7:10 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, 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!

 

 

Late Rays’ Meltdown Allows Yanks To Secure Tie

GAME 12

YANKEES 3, RAYS 3 (10 INNINGS)

TAMPA - When two American League East rivals meet, even if it is spring training, they battle for bragging rights and set the tone for the season. That was the case on Sunday and it was fitting that it would end up in a tie.

Tampa Bay built themselves a 3-1 lead after 7 1/2 innings but New York rallied for a run in the eighth on a throwing error and scored with two out in the ninth on a wild pitch as both teams ended up in a 3-3 tie after 10 innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Jose Pirela opened the eighth with a single off right-hander Adam Liberatore. He advanced to second on a groundout and reached third on an Adonis Garcia single. With Dean Anna batting, Garcia stole second and catcher Eddy Rodriguez threw the ball away to allow Pirela to score.

The Yankees’ rally to tie in the ninth came with two when pinch-hitter Jose Gil singled off reliever Braulio Lara. Pirela followed with a looping single to right to allow Antoan Richardson, who was pinch-running for Gil, to reach third.

With pinch-hitter Scott Sizemore at the plate, Lara uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Richardson to score the tying run.

The tone for the game was set early by the starting pitchers, right-hander Chris Archer of the Rays and David Phelps of the Yankees.

Archer gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck two in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, not to be outdone, yielded three hits, walked none and fanned one batter in five innings of work.

The Yankees’ spring record is now 7-4-1. The Rays are 5-2-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps, 26, rebounded from a lackluster performance on March 4 to pitch his sharpest game of the spring. He threw 38 of his 59 pitches for strikes and recorded nine of his 15 outs on ground balls. Even if Phelps does not earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation, he will have a prominent place in the Yankees’ bullpen.
  • Speaking of the bullpen, Dellin Betances is looking better with each outing. He threw a scoreless inning in relief of Phelps, giving up one hit, no walks and striking out one. In 6 1/3 innings covering four appearances, Betances has a 0.00 ERA on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts. The 25-year-old right-hander has the makings of back-end reliever with his mid-90s stuff, improving command and burgeoning confidence.
  • With all the attention being heaped upon Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Anna and Yangervis Solarte,  Pirela is very quietly having a very good spring in his own right. Pirela, 24, was 2-for-2 on Sunday and had a part in both late runs that allowed the Yankees to tie the Rays. Pirela is 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer and three RBIs in 10 games. His chances of making the team are nonexistent but he is making a great impression.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Bruce Billings, 28, struggled in his fourth outing of the spring. He entered a scoreless game in the seventh by promptly giving up a ground-rule double to James Loney. Billings then misplayed Sean Rodriguez’s sacrifice bunt, throwing the ball away to allow Loney to score. One out later, Billings uncorked a wild pitch and then Ryan Hanigan scored Rodriguez with a single. Billings has an ERA of 4.76, a Walks To Innings Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 1.59 and batters are hitting .318 off him. It may be time for Billings to seek another line of work.
  • Anna has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for this spring. He is hitting .357 and has been very good in the field at second, short and third. However, he allowed a pop fly off the bat of Jeremy Moore to drop for a two-base error, which allowed an unearned run to score later on an RBI single by Mikie Mahtook off right-hander Danny Burawa in the eighth.
  • Projected starters Carlos Beltran, Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury are all off to slow starts in the first 12 games. Beltran is hitting .125 and Ellsbury and Roberts are both hitting .143. Ellsbury did have a double in his three at-bats on Sunday and Roberts drove in the Yankees first run on an sacrifice fly in the seventh inning.

BOMBER BANTER

Ryan, 31, has been shelved until the middle of next week due to recurring soreness in his lower back. Ryan does not believe it is serious and he is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Ryan is hitting .250 in four games this spring. He is virtual lock to be on the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder unless the back issue lingers.  . . .  Actor Richard Gere of “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “American Gigolo” fame threw out the first pitch at Sunday’s game. Gere is an avid Yankee fan.

ON DECK

The Yankees will not play an exhibition on Monday. They will resume their spring schedule on Tuesday with a game in Viera, FL, against the Washington Nationals.

CC Sabathia is scheduled to make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Brian McCann, Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira plan to make to make the trip.

The Nationals will counter with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, 27, making his third start of the spring.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.

 

Pineda Dazzles In Debut As Yankees Edge Tigers

GAME 10

YANKEES 3, TIGERS 2

TAMPA - On a chilly and windy Friday evening the New York Yankees received a huge boost to their starting rotation but their eventual victory came from an ill-timed flinch by a Tigers relief pitcher.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Zelous Wheeler scored from third on a balk committed by Luis Marte as new York defeated Detroit in an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Wheeler slapped a sharp single to left and Francisco Cervelli advanced him to third on a single to center.

Jim Miller (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory. Marte (0-1) took a very embarrassing loss.

But the star of the evening was 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who threw two dominant scoreless innings in relief and struck out four of the seven batters he faced after not pitching in a major-league game in two years.

The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Derek Jeter stroked a two-out single off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. Carlos Beltran followed with a titanic blast to right that nearly cleared the right-field bleachers.

The Yankees held that lead until Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton entered the game in the seventh inning.

With one out, Alex Avila singled and Austin Jackson laced a triple to the wall in right-center. Steve Lombardozzi then scored Jackson with the tying run on a looping single into right.

The Yankees boosted their Grapefruit League record to 6-4. The Tigers fell to 5-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was clear from the beginning of spring training that if Pineda was healthy he WOULD be the team’s No. 5 starter. Judging by his first effort after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum Pineda has the job. Pineda entered the game in the fifth inning and gave up one hit, walked none and threw an amazing 22 of his 27 pithes for strikes. Among the batters he fanned were Jackson, Rajai Davis and Miguel Cabrera. If Pineda pitches anything near what he did in 20011 when he was an American League All-Star with the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees’ American League East rivals will be cringing.
  • Hiroki Kuroda started for the Yankees and pitched a very workmanlike 2 1/3 innings. He yielded a hit and a walk while he fanned five in a 51-pitch outing. The Yankees’ top four starters (Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova) have surrendered just three earned runs in their first 16 innings of the spring for a tidy 1.13 ERA.
  • Beltran, who was the designated hitter for the Yankees on Friday, has only two hits in 13 at-bats this spring. However, both of those hits have been home runs. In the first 2 2/3 innings Sanchez had held the Yankees to two hits and he had not walked a batter while he struck out four.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The biggest loss the Yankees suffered during the winter really was not Robinson Cano. It was left-hander Boone Logan, who signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies after four consistent seasons with the Yankees. Thornton, 37, is Logan’s replacement and he was disappointing in what his first extended outing this spring. After retiring Victor Martinez in the seventh, Thornton was tagged for four consecutive hits, coughing up the 2-0 lead before getting the last two outs with runners on second and third.
  • Alfonso Soriano looked a bit better on Friday but is still 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his first two games. It looks as if the flu that sidelined him for the first two weeks of the spring has set him way behind the other hitters. But he still has plenty of time tune up for the regular season.

BOMBER BANTER

Carmen Berra, the wife of Yankee legend Yogi Berra, died on Friday from complications from a stroke that she suffered earlier this year. She was 85. A moment of silence was observed in honor prior to the game.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to face a Houston Astros split squad on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.

Nova will get the start for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is scheduled to start his second game of the spring while Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson and Cervelli will join him on the trip.

The Astros will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros in 2013.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.

 

 

Follow Your Yankees This Spring Through This Blog

As has been this blog’s custom, we will be providing the best coverage of the New York Yankees from their spring training site in Tampa, FL, culminating with reports on all 32 exhibition games scheduled.

The Yankees will open the spring with an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field against the Florida State Seminoles baseball team on Feb. 25 at 1:05 p.m. EST. Proceeds from that game will benefit the FSU baseball program.

The Yankees then will begin their Grapefruit League schedule, which includes 16 home and 15 road contests, the following day with exhibition scheduled against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, FL at 1:05 p.m.

The team will then open their home schedule by playing host to the Pirates on Feb. 27 at 1:05 p.m.

As usual the Yankees will have a lot of games scheduled against their four American League East rivals. They will play 10 games against the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees will play host to the Red Sox on March 18 at 1:05 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast by ESPN. The Yankees will travel to Fort Myers, FL, on March 20 to face the Red Sox at 7:05 p.m. That game will also be televised nationally by ESPN.

This blog will have live reports from all 16 home exhibitions in addition to road exhibitions against the Houston Astros on March 8 from Kissimmee, FL, and against the Atlanta Braves on March 19 at Lake Buena Vista, FL.

In addition, I will have reports from the other games I will have access to through MLB Radio. So you have coverage from every out of every inning of every game on this blog all spring long.

This blog will include coverage of the games themselves. But it also will go in-depth to look at how veteran stars such as Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are progressing in rehabbing from injury. How new free agents such as Masohiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are fitting into the picture.

We also will look at the battle for roster spots on the bench, in the rotation and the bullpen. We also will let you know what young players are poised to break out and stake their claim for future glory in pinstripes. In addition, if there is any breaking news on injuries and possible trades we will let you know with lightning speed and with full analysis on how the those trades or injuries will alter the team.

At the conclusion of spring training on March 29, when the Yankees play host to the Miami Marlins, I will provide an in-depth look at the Yankees’ prospects for 2014 with a bold prediction of the order of finish in the A.L. East.

So will not be able to find better coverage of the Yankees from anyone this spring.

I have pledged since I started this blog in 2010 that I would be your eyes and ears throughout the spring and the regular season. I have lived up to that pledge and I will continue to do it as long as it maintains a level of excellence I insist upon.

I am a professional journalist and I will always give an honest assessment of the team and the players. So please join me this spring as I provide my reports.

Thank you!

 

 

Tanaka Signing Thrusts Yankees Into Contention

The key to winning baseball has always been pitching and the New York Yankees solidified their 2014 starting rotation by agreeing to terms with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday.

After a disastrous season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons, their stated “goal” of remaining under the $189 million payroll limit and the loss of Robinson Cano to free agency, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner fought back by loosening the pursestrings for general manager Brian Cashman.

The result was a dizzying array of signings that included All-Star catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the additions of key pieces like infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and the re-signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda.

But none of those signings would have mattered much at all unless the Yankees landed Tanaka.

Tanaka, 25, came off a season with Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in leading his team to the Japanese championship. In his seven seasons he was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 1,238 batters in 1,315 innings.

The right-hander possesses a 94-mile-per-hour fastball along with a world-class splitter and a slider. More importantly, Tanaka is not a nibbler in the tradition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last season he struck out 183 batters while walking 32 in 212 innings.

Those eye-popping stats led the Yankees front office to offer a seven-year contract worth $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Golden Eagles. The signing also proved pundits wrong for predicting that the Los Angeles Dodgers had the inside track in signing Tanaka because his wife, a singing star of some note, preferred to be on the West Coast and craved the glitter of Hollywood.

Tanaka will receive $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020. The deal also allows the contract to be terminated after four seasons to permit Tanaka to seek free agency. He also has a full no-trade clause.

He also was allotted a $35,000 moving allowance and annual payments of $100,000 per season for housing for the New York metropolitan area or Tampa, FL. The Yankees threw in $85,000 in annual salary for an interpreter and four annual first-class flights from the United States to Japan.

Doubters will question this largesse heaped upon a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. But the Yankees’ front office and scouts were convinced that Tanaka has the potential to be even better than countryman Yu Darvish, 27, who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in his first two seasons as the ace of the Texas Rangers.

Tanaka will slide into the No. 2 spot behind CC Sabathia and join fellow Japanese right-hander Kuroda and 27-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova in a revamped Yankee rotation in 2014.

The Yankees believed they needed to upgrade the rotation this season after the retirement of left-hander Andy Pettitte and the loss of right-hander Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins.

There also are questions swirling around Sabathia, 33, after his disappointing 2013 campaign in which he slipped to 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. The ace left-hander had to adjust with a huge drop in velocity on his fastball and his record shows there are more adjustments necessary.

But Sabathia vows that he will show up this spring ready to prove he is still the same pitcher who was 74-29 in his previous four seasons in pinstripes.

That would be a good thing because Sabathia never found his groove after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA in April. His ERAs in succeeding months were 4.14, 5.11, 6.60 and 5.94. Yankee fans can take some comfort in the fact Sabathia was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in September.

That could indicate he will indeed adjust as Pettitte and Mike Mussina did when they lost velocity.

The odd thing is that after four seasons of being accused of not paying attention to his weight as the season progressed, many of those same “so-called experts” thought Sabathia lost velocity last season because he was too thin. Well, who really knows? But it is ironic those “experts” would mention it.

The Yankees will settle for Sabathia arriving in Tampa in shape and they believe he has enough weapons to remain effective as a starting pitcher because he never really has been a pitcher totally dependent on his fastball to get by.

He will remain atop the rotation in 2014 with the help of the infusion of a young Tanaka behind him.

Strangely, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter was their best pitcher in 2013 despite making only 20 starts.

Nova began the season pitching horribly in spring training and in his first four starts of 2013 before succumbing to a inflammation in right triceps. After spending time on the disabled list, a rehab stint in the minors and pitching briefly out of the bullpen, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23.

From that point on, Nova was absolutely brilliant. He was 7-4 with a 2.59 in his last 15 starts beginning on July 5. This came after a season in which Nova’s game flew off the rails and he ended up 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012.

So the Yankees believe that Nova’s second half is more indicative of what he is as a pitcher after he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.

Nova decided not to use his slider very much last season in order to concentrate on his mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. The result was 79 strikeouts in those 15 starts. The fact that he still just 27 makes him an excellent No. 3 starter in this bolstered rotation.

Before Nova came on, Kuroda, who will be 39 on Feb. 10, was the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. In fact, on Aug. 12, Kuroda was sporting a 11-7 mark with a 2.33 ERA on one of the weakest hitting Yankee teams in generations.

But a heavy workload of 154 2/3 innings began to take a toll on the veteran. In his last eight starts, Kuroda was 0-6 with a awful 6.56 ERA. It is clear that Kuroda was overtaxed into pitching past six innings too early in the season because he was not getting adequate offensive support.

Manager Joe Girardi was forced to keep him in a lot of close games and Kuroda paid a heavy price down the stretch. Even still, Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA and he will certainly benefit from an improved offense in 2014.

The Yankees are impressed with the way Kuroda is able to adjust midstream in games by dipping into his arsenal of fastballs, sliders, splitters and curves to find the pitches that are working best for him that night, That is why they chose to re-sign him to a third one-year contract for $16 million.

Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki should also help make Tanaka feel at home in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

The big concern for the Yankees now is who will claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Fortunately, they have some options to fill the spot.

The “dream scenario” for the Yankees would have 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda ready to take the ball this spring and run with it. Pineda, after all, was obtained in a 2012 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Jose Campos, 21, for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.

However, after a 2011 rookie season in which Pineda made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a weak-hitting Seattle team, Pineda ended up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder after his last spring training start in 2012.

He missed the entire season and pitched only 40 2/3 innings in the minors last season until he was shut down in August after experiencing some minor shoulder soreness.

The Yankees still have high hopes for Pineda, who boasted a mid-90s fastball, an above average change-up and a slider before his injury. The Yankees took a lot of heat from their fans when they traded away their No. 1 prospect in Montero and allowed the Mariners to deal Pineda instead of parting with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

So there is some pressure on Pineda as he enters spring training having not thrown a single pitch for the Yankees in two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much Pineda has lost off his heater and if he still can be effective for the Yankees.

But the Yankees claim he is healthy and should be ready to go.

Another option for the No. 5 spot is right-hander David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, started his second major-league season in his usual role as a long man in the bullpen until he was thrust into the rotation on May 1 to replace the injured Nova.

Phelps showed great promise by going 2-2 with a 4.32 in six starts in May. But he stumbled to a 3-2 record with a 5.57 ERA in his next six starts before he landed on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.

Phelps did not return to the roster until Sept. 15 and was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances.

The Yankees see Phelps as a solid Plan B if Pineda is not quite ready to pitch or he suffers a setback in his rehab. But the Yankees clearly see Phelps more valuable in the bullpen, as his numbers in 2012 indicate. Phelps was 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in his rookie season.

Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admire Phelps fearlessness in attacking hitters though he owns only a pedestrian fastball.

Phelps makes up for a lack of velocity with good command of the strike zone and he can ring up a lot of strikeouts with his breaking stuff and pitching smarts.

The Yankees also have right-hander Adam Warren, 26, who was 2-2 with a 3.39 ERA in a long relief role for the Yankees in his rookie season in 2013.

Warren did make two late-season spot starts and was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those starts. Unlike Phelps, Warren has above-average velocity on his fastball. But the Yankees are not sure how high Warren’s ceiling extends as a starter. They would prefer to keep him as a long reliever if they could.

The Yankees got an unexpected boost with a reclamation project in left-hander David Huff last season. Huff, 29, who was former starter with the Cleveland Indians, was signed after his release from the Indians and recalled from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in mid-August.

He was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. Huff was tagged for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 7. Without that disastrous appearance Huff had a 2.37 ERA in his other nine appearances.

Huff also seemed comfortable in a long relief role as well as in his two spot starts in September. He also brings some value as a left-hander.

However, because the Yankees have to make room on the 40-man roster for Tanaka, Huff was designated for assignment. He will only return to the Yankees as a free agent if he is unable to find work elsewhere, which is unlikely considering he is left-handed and he pitched so well in 2013 for the Yankees.

There has been an ongoing rumor this winter that the Yankees might be interested in signing former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Santana, 34, became a free agent when the New York Mets declined to pick up his option for 2014. Santana did not pitch in 2013 after suffering a second tear of his anterior left shoulder capsule. Santana was 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Mets.

The signing of Tanaka makes Santana’s signing less likely. Santana was scheduled to make $25 million before the Mets bought out his option for $5.5 million. If the Yankees can get him for less than $10 million they might take a shot. But Santana also has to prove he is healthy.

The Twins, the team with whom he won those two Cy Young awards, are among the teams interested in Santana when he is given the go-ahead to throw from a mound for scouts at his Fort Myers, FL, home in February.

The Yankees do have some good young pitchers in the minors but none of them look ready to break camp with the team. A few could be called up during the season if they progress well.

At the top of the list is left-hander Vidal Nuno, 26, who was the Yankees top rookie of spring training in 2013.

Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA at Scranton and he received a midseason call-up to the Yankees. In five appearances, including three starts, Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He missed most of the remainder of the season with a strained left groin.

For some reason Nuno is able to keep batters off-balance with a mix of breaking stuff that he features with a very lackluster upper 80s fastball. The reason is he has pinpoint control. He walked only eight batters in his combined 45 minor- and major-league innings in 2013.

If he has another strong showing this spring, Nuno could certainly leapfrog Phelps or Warren for the No. 5 spot. In addition, he could also make the squad as a long reliever and spot starter. Girardi loves pitchers who challenge hitters and don’t issue walks.

This spring all eyes will be on 22-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, who missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Banuelos was considered the team’s No. 1 prospect at the time he was injured in 2012. In 2011, Banuelos was 1-1 with 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings in spring training, earning him the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie.

However, the young Mexican lefty struggled with his control in 2011, walking 71 batters in a cobined 129 2/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. He was 6-7 with a 3.45 ERA that season.

In 2012, he made only six starts before being shelved with elbow soreness and he ended up having to undergo surgery to repair a ligament in his left elbow in October.

The Yankees love his low-90s fastball and change-up combination that saw him strike out 125 batters in 2011. He is still young and talented enough to progress quickly if he puts it all together. But the Yankees would like to see him do that at Scranton before they bring him up to the big club.

He remains the team’s No. 8 prospect. He just has to prove he is healthy and regain his control.

The Yankees are also very high on 24-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez, who was 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts at Trenton before going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts at Scranton. Ramirez struck out 78 batters in 73 2/3 innings and the Yankees believe he has a very high ceiling.

But he likely needs a full season at Scranton before he makes a bid for the big club.

The same can be said for left-hander Nik Turley, 24.

Turley, a relative of former Yankees right-hander Bob Turley, was 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 26 starts at Trenton last season. Compared to Pettitte in style, teammates call him “Little Andy” and he backed that up by fanning 137 batters in 139 innings last season.

Below Banuelos, Ramirez and Turley the Yankees have a nice corps of young starters who are a few years away from making it to the majors.

The biggest buzz is surrounding the team’s No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula, 22.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander hits up to 99-mph on his fastball and he has a hard curve and a change-up. He was a combined 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA at High-A Tampa and Charleston last season. More impressive was his 146 punch-outs in only 113 1/3 innings.

DePaula enters the 2014 season as the team’s best young arm and deservedly so. This young Dominican has quality starter written all over him.

Don’t forget about the right-handed Campos, either. Campos, 21, was obtained along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he may have even an higher ceiling than Pineda.

Campos suffered an elbow injury that did not require surgery in 2012, In 2013, he was 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) at Charleston. He has an above-average fastball to go along with very good control of two secondary pitches.

That mix will take him far as long he can prove he can stay healthy in 2014.

The Yankees also have high hopes for 22-year-old right-handed flamethrower Bryan Mitchell, who likely will be at Trenton this season. Mitchell was 4-11 with a 4.71 ERA at Tampa and Trenton last season. The Yankees need only to see him command his 96-mph fastball and nearly unhittable curve to make a giant leap this season.

Two others to watch are 2013 first-round draft pick Ian Clarkin, a left-hander, and 20-year-old right-hander Ty Hensley, who was picked in the first round in 2012.

Unlike the position players, the Yankees are pretty rich in young starters at the minor-league level. It is quite possible that three or four of them could be strong contributors with the big club very soon.

In the meantime, the signing of Tanaka has given the Yankees a major shot in the arm. Just ask the rival Boston Red Sox. They see that the $471 million the team has spent on free agents has thrust them back among the top tier teams in the American League East.

Without pitching it is hard to compete in such a tough division. It appears now the Yankees will have a starting staff that can get them back to the playoffs.

That would require one huge “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) to the signing of Tanaka.

 

Yankees Know It’s Unwise To Bet Against Jeter

It is hard enough to win games with a full roster in the American League East. It is difficult when your team is riddled with crippling injuries. It becomes darn near impossible when the team loses its heart and soul.

That is pretty much what the New York Yankees lost last season without its future Hall of Fame shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.

The team has spiraled downward ever since Jeter broke his right ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

The Yankees were swept in that series and they stumbled to a tie for third place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles and missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1994, the season before Jeter made his major-league debut.

Jeter, 39, tried to get back on the field for the 2013 season. But each step forward led to two steps back.

During spring training, the Yankees brought Jeter along slowly, not allowing him to play in the field until the third week of exhibition games. However, it was obvious in watching Jeter run out the batter’s box that he was just not right.

He favored the left ankle and had none of the usual spring in his step.

When X-rays indicated an additional break in the ankle, Jeter was placed on the 60-day disabled list and the usual critics and naysayers came out of the woodwork claiming Jeter was too old to play shortstop and that he would never be the same.

Jeter took that as a challenge and tried to come back on July 11. However, that comeback was short-circuited when he suffered a mild strain in his left quad running out a grounder in his first game back. He went on the 15-day disabled list with quite a bit of frustration after being so sure he was ready.

Activated on July 28, Jeter showed the Yankees just a hint of what they were missing when he went 2-for-4 with a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays.

That comeback was ended just three games later when an examination on Aug. 3 indicated Jeter sustained a Grade 1 strain of his right calf. He was placed on the disabled list for a third time.  This was pretty much par for the course when it came to many of the Yankees returning from injuries in 2014 only to wind up back on the disabled list.

Just ask Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter had a lot of company on the team’s sickbay.

Jeter returned to the lineup on Sept. 1 and that comeback lasted just a total of seven games. Jeter re-injured his surgically repaired left ankle and, after a few days to assess the injury, Jeter offiicially was shelved for the season on Sept. 11.

The 13-time All-Star ended up playing in just 17 games batting .190 with a home run and seven RBIs. One big wasted season filled with frustration for a player who has always prided himself on playing every day since he became the team’s starting shortstop in 1996.

He also had to abandon any hope of potentially being able to surpass baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, who amassed 4,256 hits. Jeter was ahead of Rose’s pace at the same age entering the 2013 season. If Jeter had any intention of playing long enough to break that mark it is went up in smoke last season.

Yankee fans received a bit of a jolt when the Yankees signed shortstop Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5 million contract on Dec. 2. It raised some eyebrows because some Yankee watchers thought it signaled that the team might be making the move to replace Jeter with the 31-year-old veteran.

But the Yankees quickly squelched any talk about that because Jeter. who was scheduled to play under a player-option contract in 2014 worth $9.5 million, was handed a one-year, $12 million deal by the Yankees. You do not replace a shortstop by offering him more money than his contract specified.

Jeter revealed to reporters on Nov. 14 that his ankle has healed and that he was “100 percent sure” that he would return to his role as the every day shortstop for the Yankees in 2014. Jeter said he was only working on strengthening his body for the coming season and was not worried about his ankle at all.

Of course, he did admit that although he wants to play every day, he is sure that he will get some at-bats as a designated hitter, which is fine with him.

The naysayers still do not believe that Jeter can come back at his age and play at the same level he did before the injury. That is fine if they think that, Jeter says.

Jeter will just have to prove them wrong as he did in 2012 when he led the majors with 216 hits after he hit a career low .270 in 2010 and spent the first half of the 2011 season hitting around .250. Many baseball experts thought Jeter was done then. But after adjusting his swing rehabbing a calf injury during the All-Star break, Jeter raised his average to .297 by season’s end.

The lesson: You may not want to give up on a guy who has five championship rings and career total of 3,316 hits.

The only real question about Jeter will be his ability to field such a demanding position at an advanced age. Players such as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel have done it, but for some reason the ankle and leg injuries Jeter sustained last season give some people pause.

However, whatever range Jeter once had, he lost a long time before the ankle injury. Though Jeter has been awarded five Gold Gloves, including one in 2012, number-crunching gurus have been criticizing him since he won his third award in 2008.

Jeter’s defensive strength has never been totally about range. It is his sure-handed playmaking on the balls he does reach. In 2012, he handled 506 chances and committed only 10 errors. He also formed what has to be the franchise’s best double-play combination in history with second baseman Robinson Cano.

Yankee fans know the difference when Jeter is not in the lineup too. Eduardo Nunez has struggled most of his career playing the position and fans even dubbed him “Eduardo Scissorhands.”

With Jeter’s injury troubles, you would think that Nunez, 26, would have been able to take advantage of the opportunity and make his own mark at the position in 2014.

Unfortunately for Nunez, he could stay healthy and he regressed with his bat. Nunez batted .260 with three homers and 28 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 90 games. In 75 starts at shortstop, he committed 12 errors, which pretty much played himself out of a job when the Yankees signed Ryan on Sept. 10.

Ryan started all 17 of the Yankees’ remaining games in 2014 and batted .220 with a home run and one RBI.  He committed only one error in those games and he is generally accorded to be one of the better fielding shortstops in baseball though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove.

According to FanGraphs Ryan recorded 22 defensive runs saved in 2010, 18 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.

The big knock on Ryan is that he is a career .237 hitter with 19 home runs and 187 RBIs in seven major-league seasons. He is no threat to take Jeter’s job at shortstop but he gives the club some excellent insurance at the position.

However, Nunez’s days with the Yankees appear to be numbered. The team seems to have given on him completely. So Nunez enters 2014 in a position where he should not be looking to buy a home in the tri-state area around New York City.

The Yankees already trimmed the roster of versatile infielder Jayson Nix on Dec. 2 when he was not tendered a contract offer for the 2014 season along with rookie infielder David Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Daley.

Nix, 31, spent two seasons with the Yankees as backup infielder. Like many of the Yankees, Nix suffered a broken left hand in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 21 in which he was struck by a pitch by knuckleball right-hander R.A. Dickey and missed the remainder of the season.

Nix batted .236 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 87 games before succumbing to the injury.

The Yankees signed free-agent infielder Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million contract, which means the 32-year-old veteran could figure in the mix to play second base.

Johnson has also played first and third base and the outfield. He also, unlike Ryan, Nunez and Nix, bats left-handed.

The Yankees are not exactly rich at the shortstop position in the minors at this point.

Addison Maruszak, 26, batted .254 with four home runs and 32 RBIs in 94 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He is not considered as a prospect for the big leagues.

Former first-round pick Cito Culver, 21, is not making much progress in the minors. Though Culver can flash some leather with the glove the offensive part of the game has eluded him up to this point.

Culver hit a combined a combined .248 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 120 games in two stops at the Class-A level in 2013.

The Yankees, it is safe to say do not have another Jeter waiting in the wings to take his place.

So it is a good thing that Jeter is saying he is healed and will be ready to go when camp opens in February. He is the one player the Yankees can’t afford to be without in 2014. They need his bat, they need his glove and they need his leadership by example.

Expecting him to be the fresh-faced kid that 20-plus homers and drove in 90 runs in his heyday would be expecting way too much, But the Yankees will take the numbers he put up in 2012 when he hit .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Betting against Jeter has never been a safe bet before and may not be a wise one now.

 

Yankees Wrist Watch: Tex’s Rehab On Schedule

Sometimes a baseball season can hinge on one flick of the wrist. In Mark Teixeira’s case it was a painful one.

Teixeira’s hallmark had always been his durability. In his first nine seasons he had never played less than 132 games and had averaged 153 games played.

But his 2012 season with the Yankees was cut short with thumb and calf injuries that limited him to a career-low 123 games played. He started spring training determined to rebound with a productive 2014 campaign.

Unfortunately, while preparing for an exhibition game as part of the World Baseball Classic with Team USA in Arizona, Teixeira took a batting practice swing that sent pain reverberating through his right wrist. He immediately knew something was terribly wrong.

Instead of starting the season playing first base with the Yankees, he was fitted for a cast and given a choice in his rehabilitation: He could have surgery to repair a torn sheath in the wrist that would end his season or he could try a period of two months of rest to allow the wrist to heal.

Teixeira, 33, elected the latter, which was the smart move because if his wrist did not heal properly he could always have the surgery later and still be ready for the 2014 season.

As misfortune would have it during the Yankees’ most injury-filled season in franchise history, Teixeira finally had to admit the wrist was not healing.

Losing a productive hitter is one thing thing. But losing a Gold Glove-quality first baseman like Teixeira was devastating.

Teixeira played his first game on May 31 but it became obvious as the weeks wore on that the “pop” in his bat was just not there. The wrist was fine batting left-handed but it ached miserably when he batted right-handed.

Finally, on June 15, Teixeira was removed from the lineup in a game against the Los Angeles Angels and he never returned. Teixeira’s 2014 season ended after 15 games and only 53 at-bats in which he hit an awful .151 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

His season was not much different from his fellow Yankee brethren as the club limped to the finish line with an 85-77 mark, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for third place in the American League East.

Well, how is Teixeira doing in his rehab after wrist surgery?

The latest word is pretty good. He has been out of his cast for some time and currently is working on exercises to give his wrist normal range of motion and he is taking only slow swings to loosen up the wrist without overtaxing it.

His schedule calls for working on strength and flexibility in December and by January he hopes to be taking full swings and hitting off a tee. In February, barring any setbacks, he hopes to be taking hacks off a pitching machine and by March he hopes to be taking live batting practice.

Teixeira plans to begin playing spring training games by the first week of March.

The veteran also said on the YES Network’s “Hot Stove” program that he will stop using a weighted bat and will cut down on the amount of swings he takes in preparing for games in order to take pressure off the wrist. Teixeira also might require more days off to rest his body and stay sharp for the entire season.

The Yankees signed Teixeira to a eight-year, $180-million free-agent contract in 2009. In his first three healthy seasons with the club, Teixeira has averaged 37 home runs and 114 RBIs. But in that time his batting averages have dipped from .292 in 2009, to .256 in 2010 to .248 in 2011.

While Teixeira briefly toyed with the idea of dropping his pull approach he has simply embraced the fact that he is paid to hit homers and produce runs and he is no longer too concerned about his average anymore.

Also during his first four seasons, Teixeira managed to make two All-Star teams, win a Silver Slugger award in 2009 and selected for three Gold Gloves (2009, 2010 and 2012).

For all the production Teixeira provides as a switch-hitter in the middle of the lineup, it is his defense that draws rave reviews from teammates and fans. The former third baseman simply has dynamic range, exceptional agility and a great pair of hands.

He can take away extra-base hits with ease and scoop throws in the dirt to save his fellow infielders errors. Though many fans believe Don Mattingly was the best fielding first baseman in Yankee history, Tex’s five Gold Gloves at least put him in the argument.

The Yankees missed Teixeira dearly last season.

They were forced to sign 37-year-old journeyman Lyle Overbay to fill in for Teixeira in the final week of spring training. Though Overbay could come close to Teixeira with his glove, he was a definite step down in power and in production.

Overbay hit .240 with just 14 homers and 59 RBIs in 142 games. Though Overbay handled right-handers by posting a .258 mark. He only was able to hit .190 and was woefully overmatched by lefties. Because the Yankees did not have a right-handed hitting option after they lost Kevin Youkilis to a recurrence of a nagging back injury on June 13, the Yankees were forced to use Overbay every day and they paid dearly for it.

The Yankees’ current roster lists veteran outfielder Vernon Wells as the backup at first base. But Wells has made only one start at the position in his career and that was last season with the Yankees.

The Yankees might consider re-signing corner infielder Mark Reynolds, who hit .238 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games after the Yankees signed him as a free agent on July 19.

Reynolds, 30, made 24 starts at first and 14 at third base for the Yankees. He could become the starter at third base should Alex Rodriguez end up being suspended by Major League Baseball as part of the Biogenesis scandal. An arbitrator has heard the case but he is not expected to rule until December.

The Yankees also might have an interest in former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young.

It does not appear the Yankees have much interest in free agent first basemen Kendrys Morales, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau or Carlos Pena. They would cost top dollar to sign any of them and they would not play much behind Teixeira in any event.

There is not much help at first base in the minor leagues because the Yankees used journeyman Dan Johnson at first at Triple-A Scranton last season. Johnson did hit .250 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs in 138 games but he is not much of a prospect at age 34.

Kyle Roller, 25, batted .253 with 17 home runs and 69 RBIs at Double-A Trenton but he is at least two years away from making an impact.

So the Yankees will definitely have look for corner infield support for both Rodriguez and Teixiera this winter.

Tex’s days of playing 158 games appear to be over and the Yankees do need to look at spelling him this season. He is coming off wrist surgery and that is a concern. But the fact Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays was able to come back after similar surgery in 2012 certainly bodes well for Teixiera.

As they say, the trick is all in the wrist and Teixeira plans on showing Yankee fans he is not through playing at a high level. Time is definitely on his side.

 

Rivera Halts Late Rally As Yankees Sweep Chisox

GAME 139

YANKEES 6, WHITE SOX 5

If Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to have a conversation after the season with Mariano Rivera just to make sure he really wants to retire who could blame him. The 43-year-old future Hall-of Fame closer has shown no signs of his age or lost an of his effectiveness.

Rivera came with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday and “Mo’ed” down all four batters he faced for a rare four-out save to propel New York to a three-game sweep of Chicago in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,082.

The Yankees actually were cruising with a 6-1 lead behind CC Sabathia in the top of the eighth when Girardi pulled him with Alexei Ramirez on second and Paul Konerko on first after he singled with one out.

Little did Girardi and the Yankees realize that the usually reliable David Robertson would have a meltdown that allowed the White Sox to climb back into the game.

Avisail Gracia greeted Roberston with an RBI single to left to score Ramirez and, one out later, Dayan Viciedo drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Josh Phegley followed with a two-run single to left and Marcus Semien, who was making his major-league debut, ripped an RBI single up the middle to bring the Chisox to within a run of the Yankees and send Robertson to the dugout.

Rivera came on to strike out Alejandro De Aza looking to shut the rally down and he then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 41st save in 46 opportunities this season.

Sabathia (13=11) pitched 7 1/3 string innings to run his career record against the White Sox to 19-4. He gave up three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck four in his longest outing since Aug. 7.

Other than the two runs, Sabathia was charged with in the eighth, he only gave up a single run in the first inning when Garcia stroked a two-out, opposite-field double to drive in Gordon Beckham, who had drawn a one-out walk.

The Yankees, however, tied it with two out in the bottom of the first when Robinson Cano blasted his 26th home run of the season to right-field off right-hander Erik Johnson, who was also making his major-league debut.

The Yankees added four runs in the fourth inning off Johnson (0-1) as Alex Rodriguez led off with a lined single to center and Ichiro Suzuki reached first when Johnson’s throw to first base pulled Jeff Keppinger off the bag for an error.

Lyle Overbay followed with an RBI single and, one out later, Brett Gardner laced a two-run triple off the wall in left-center. Cano then capped the inning by driving in his 91st run of the year by scoring Gardner on a sharp comebacker off Johnson that was scored as an infield single.

Johnson, 22, was charged with five runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks while he fanned one batter in six innings. That one batter was Suzuki, who struck out with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning.

The Yankees added what looked to be just another tack on run in the seventh inning off right-hander Daniel Webb, who was the third player for the White Sox who was making his major-league debut.

Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and Cano advanced him to third with a lined single to right for his third hit of the night.

Alfonso Soriano then scored Jeter with a sacrifice fly to deep right for his 91st RBI of the season and his 40th in just 37 games with the Yankees. That run actually ended up being the margin of victory for the Yankees, who managed a home sweep of the Chisox after they swept the Yankees in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field a month ago.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 75-64 and they remain in third place in the American League East eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. However, they are just 2 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card spot. The last-place White Sox fell to 56-82, assuring them a season below .500.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is red-hot at the plate at just the right time for the Yankees’ playoff push. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday with a pair of singles, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Since Aug. 2, Cano is 42-for-117 (.359) with five home runs and 21 RBIs. Soriano is providing him with a lot of protection in the cleanup spot and he is getting better pitches to hit as a result.
  • Gardner has also been on fire of late. He was 2-for-4 with a single, a triple, a run scored and two RBIs on the night. In his past nine games, Gardner is 12-for-35 (.343) with six doubles and a triple, eight runs scored and four RBIs. His triple on Wednesday was his eighth of the season, which is a career high.
  • Sabathia actually pitched creditably after going through a stretch in which his ERA was an incredible 7.33 in his past nine starts. Sabathia has managed to win four his past five starts but he has been getting by with more run support than he received earlier in the season. The Yankees are hoping he can turn in a very good September to get the team into the playoffs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Robertson’s outing was very jarring because he was rocked for two runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning. Robertson had only given up one earned run over his past 29 1/3 innings covering 17 appearances since June 19. Considering his season ERA is still 1.88 after his outing on Wednesday I doubt Girardi will lose sleep over it.
  • Suzuki was 0-for-4 and did allow Johnson to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first when he struck out on a pitch that actually bounced in the batter’s box at his feet. He did not get a ball out of the infield and he is just 1-for-9 in his past four games and is hitting just .182 in his past 10 games.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi dropped a bombshell when he announced on Wednesday that right-hander Phil Hughes has been shifted from the starting rotation to the bullpen in favor of left-hander David Huff. Hughes, 27, is 4-13 with a 4.86 ERA in 26 starts this season. He has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions and he has a 6.12 ERA since August.  Huff, 29, has compiled a 2-0 record with 1.13 ERA in 16 innings covering seven appearances with the Yankees, most of them in long relief. Huff is scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s game against the Red Sox as part of the four-game home weekend series.  . . .  Right-hander Ivan Nova was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for August on Wednesday. Nova, 26, was 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his six starts and he is coming off his first major-league complete-game shutout in his last start against the Orioles on Saturday.

ON DECK

The Yankees’ hopes to win the A.L. East hinge on their four-game weekend series with the Red Sox that starts on Thursday.

Nova (8-4, 2.88 ERA) will be starting for the Yankees and he is the team’s hottest pitcher of late. Nova held the Orioles to three hits, walked one and struck out five batters in what was his most dominant start of the season. Nova is 2-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his career against the Bosox.

Nova will be opposed by right-hander Jake Peavy (3-1, 3.18 ERA). Peavy held the White Sox to two runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings to win his last start on Saturday. However, Peavy has had no luck against the Yankees. He is 0-4 with a 3.86 ERA lifetime against them.

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.

 

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