Results tagged ‘ Andruw Jones ’

Soriano’s Bat, Pettitte’s Arm Spurs Yanks Past Jays

GAME 132

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 1

After suffering through a stretch of 28 games without a home run from a right-handed hitter the Yankees added some pop to that side by trading for Alfonso Soriano, picking up Mark Reynolds off waivers and they waited for the return of Alex Rodriguez.

Now there is no power shortage at all. Just ask the Blue jays.

Soriano hit a pair of home runs and drove in four runs and Reynolds and Rodriguez added a pair of solo shots to support Andy Pettitte’s seven innings of shutout baseball as New York cruised past Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,047 at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday.

The Yankees wasted no time in getting to left-hander J.A. Happ (3-4).

Brett Gardner led off the contest with a double of the right-field wall and he advanced to third on a wild pitch. Derek Jeter then scored him with an RBI single.

The Yankees did receive a scare, however, when Happ’s 0-2 pitch to Robinson Cano struck the All-Star second baseman in the lower left part of his left palm. Cano immediately left the game for precautionary X-rays but they later indicated no broken bone and he is listed as day-to-day.

Happ is the same pitcher who hit Curtis Granderson in the right forearm with the first pitch in Granderson’s first at-bat in spring training on Feb. 24. Granderson suffered a fractured arm and missed the first eight weeks of the season.

One pitch later, Soriano launched a titanic blast into the second deck down the left-field line to give Petttte a 4-0 lead before he even threw a pitch.

Soriano added his second homer of the evening on the first pitch from Happ in the third inning. It also was the 400th career home run for the 37-year-old outfielder. Since being obtained from the Chicago Cubs on July 26, Soriano is hitting .275 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 30 games with the Yankees.

Reynolds led off the sixth inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers with a home run to left-center, his second with the Yankees since being signed on Aug. 16 after he was released by the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 5.

Rodriguez added a long home run off Rogers to straightaway center with two out in the seventh for his fourth home run  –  his second in two nights against the Jays  –  since being activated from the disabled list on Aug. 5.

While the Yankees pounded Happ for five runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings and got to Rogers for two runs on three hits and walk in 3 1/3 innings, Pettitte (10-9) was in cruise control on the mound for the Yankees.

He yielded only five hits and two walks while he fanned three in seven innings to notch his second victory in five days against Happ and the Jays his 25th career victory against Toronto.

The victory improves the Yankees’ season mark to 70-62 and they are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The are 4 1/2 games back in the wild-card standings. The Blue Jays fell to 59-74.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Can general manager Brian Cashman make a trade or what when it comes to Soriano? Of course, I have been pushing the Yankees to get Soriano ever since Andruw Jones flamed out early last season but it is better late than never. Soriano is not just contributing to the offense. He is pretty much carrying it night after night. If Soriano gets the Yankees into the playoffs it might be the trade of Cashman’s career.
  • Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with the home run and he extended his modest hitting streak to four games. He also has hit three of his four home runs and driven in half of his eight runs in his past nine games. The Yankees need both Soriano and Rodriguez to produce as long as teams continue to run lefties out against the Yankees.
  • Pettitte, 41, looked real sharp in what has to be his best start of the season. After going five consecutive starts without a victory, Pettitte has now reeled off three straight winning decisions and he has yielded only one earned run on 15 hits and six walks while striking out 11 in 19 2/3 innings in those starts. That is an ERA of 0.46 and a WHIP of 1.07.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to complain about in this contest. The Blue Jays are now 2-13 against the Yankees this season and they looked defeated after they were down 4-0 in the first inning. The game was a perfect combination of offense and pitching and they put the Blue Jays away early for an easy victory.

BOMBER BANTER

Eduardo Nunez replaced Cano at second base in the bottom of the first inning and was 1-for-4 in the game. However, he received a scare in the eighth inning when he caught a spike in the stadium’s artificial turf and tweaked his right knee. Lyle Overbay pinch-ran for him in the ninth inning and Reynolds shifted from first base to second base in the bottom of the inning.  It was only the third time in his career Reynolds has played second base. Cano has a left hand contusion but Nunez’s status for Wednesday is unclear also.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday he is not going to pull right-hander Phil Hughes from the rotation just yet. There has been speculation that Hughes, who is 2-11 with a 5.26 ERA since May 15, could lose his spot after he lost to the Blue Jays on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will attempt to take the rubber game of the three-game series against Toronto on Wednesday.

Staff ace Hiroki Kuroda (11-9, 2.71 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda was tagged for four homers and seven runs at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays last Friday in what probably was his worst start of the season. Kuroda is 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA in his career against the Jays.

The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Todd Redmond (1-2, 4.44 ERA). Redmond surrendered seven runs and failed to get out of the fourth inning in his last start against the Houston Astros. He has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Buck Cries Over A-Rod’s Pact Off Yanks’ Payroll

When it comes to Alex Rodriguez and the impending suspension amid the Biogenesis scandal, I have been silent because it really does not concern me much.

I mean, I do write a blog about the New York Yankees but I do not consider Rodriguez a true member of the team. After all, how long has he been AWOL or virtually useless to the team? Three years?

But I got my dander up when Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to open his big mouth about it on Friday.

“If [Commissioner] Bud [Selig] lets them get away with that, they’re under the luxury tax,” Showalter told USA TODAY Sports. “If they can reset, they can spend again and I guarantee you in two years Matt Wieters is in New York.”

Of all the managers in Major League Baseball you would think that Showalter, who formerly toiled for the so-call “Evil Empire,” would know when he should hold his tongue before looking like the horse’s ass he now appears.

First of all, the decision MLB makes concerning Rodriguez is none of his business. The second point is does he really in his right mind think the Yankees’ front office will go to Selig and request that baseball should apply the portion of A-Rod’s contract he forfeits while on suspension be applied to the team’s payroll and the luxury tax?

Geesh, to hear Showalter you would think that the Yankees have dear old Bud wrapped around their finger and they were dictating the penalty they want for A-Rod so they avoid paying him the $82 million they owe him through the 2017 season. That is just plain poppycock.

The Yankees have been MIA since 2009 in the annual free-agent signing sweepstakes. They have let free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson go to the highest bidders while they have filled their roster with blowout patches like Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. That suited the Old Buckeroo just fine because it allowed teams like the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays to play on a more even playing field.

But now that the Yankees might get to write off A-Rod’s contract for the rest of 2013 and all of the 2014 season (if A-Rod accepts the the deal baseball is offering) to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million in 2014. In addition, they can write off the entire $82 million if Rodriguez draws a lifetime ban.

That has Buck soiling his Pampers.

He obviously fears his team’s potential future free agents like Wieters, Chris Davis and Manny Machado may see the Yankees holding up stacks of cash and have them running from the exits at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Poor Buck sees the potential to lose his best players to the enemy and it irks him.

But there is one way to prevent any of that from happening, Buck. Pay those damn players what they worth to keep them happy. Period. Exclamation point!

In the meantime, the Bucker needs to shut his fat trap and stay out of the whole business.

The Yankees were victimized by Rodriguez. Remember in 2007 when A-Rod opted out of his $275 million deal he originally signed with the Texas Rangers (while the Buckeroo was managing them I recall)? A-Rod’s venomous agent Scott Boras was seeking a mega-deal by getting other teams to bid on his All-Star client.

Unfortunately, no bidders were looking to pony up the $200 million-plus it was going to take to get Rodriguez to put his signature on a contract.

Rodriguez sheepishly told Boras to take a hike and he put his enormous tail between his legs to crawl back to the Yankees for forgiveness. Perhaps the Steinbrenners, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman should have kicked that enormous tail of his back to the curb.

But they instead hammered out a 10-year, $252 million deal that Rodriguez for which Rodriguez is now beholden. It also is the one contract that has hung around the Yankees’ necks like an albatross ever since Rodriguez’s effectiveness as a run producer has moved from an upper tier to the level of an ordinary third baseman like Juan Uribe of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Be sure that Rodriguez wants all the money that is due him whether he plays at a respectable level or not. I honestly believe he could hold on through 2017 hitting .210 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs as a part-time player with the Yankees. A-Rod has no real pride in his craft and abilities. As long as he is being paid he has no shame.

So the partial ban and the ever-looming potential of a lifetime ban does benefit the Yankees in their ability to rebuild the ballclub going forward. But it is not if the Yankees deliberately staged the whole thing with A-Rod so they could sign Wieters in 2015, Buck!

So, Mr. Showalter, you go about patching that disaster area of a pitching staff that has your team falling like a stone in the American League East and keep your bulbous nose out of issues that do not really concern you. Come to think of it, the Orioles recent drop in the standings is likely behind much of this childish tirade.

It is perfect for the papers in Baltimore. After all, it takes attention away from his deficient managing and makes the Yankees the bad guys. That is the strategy after all, Buck. Deflect your shortcomings off to another subject.

It seems to me that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has done his share of spending on free agents over the years. If Buck is really worried about the Yankees getting his players he should just beg Angelos to open his huge saddlebags  to keep the players he wants to remain as Orioles.

That would make sense, right?

After all this I actually do hope the Yankees do sign a few Orioles so the Bucker can wail like Kim Kardashian’s North West over it.

Now, now little Bucky, quiet down. Sssshhhh! Here is your pacifier. We are here to make it all better. How about some Gerber split pea? That will make it all okay.

Even Wieters thinks you are acting like a child and he is less than half your age.

 

Yankees Will Prevail In 2013’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Gardner’s Shift Becomes Yanks’ Center Of Attention

Well, the worst-kept secret through the New York Yankees’ rumor mill became a reality on Thursday. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner will be swapping outfield positions this spring.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson will play left and Gardner will play center this spring in an “experiment” to gauge if the move will improve the Yankees’ defense. Of course, Girardi always has the prerogative to change his mind and switch them back, but it doubtful that will be the case.

Gardner, 29, has provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense in left-field – when healthy – since the 2009 season.

Granderson, 31, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers before the 2010 season, has played center-field, at times, shakily. Granderson does not make instinctive reads on balls and loses some. He also takes strange routes to balls and he has to rely a lot on his speed to make up for his mistakes.

The Yankees also have asked him to get his vision checked on a few occasions.

So the move of Gardner to center was almost inevitable and it looks like it could become permanent.

Granderson also is playing in the last year of his four-year contract and it is no secret that the Yankees are not looking to keep him by signing him to multiyear extension. So it makes sense to make the shift now because it is whole lot easier to find a quality player who can play left than it is to find someone with the skills to play good defense in center.

The Yankees are actually quite fortunate that they have three starting outfielders who are capable of playing center, which includes Ichiro Suzuki, 39. Not many teams can say that.

However, there is a big difference from saying someone is capable of playing center than it is to say that someone is better off playing the corner positions. The Seattle Mariners made that decision some years ago with Suzuki because Franklin Gutierrez had more range in center and Suzuki’s arm was perfect for right.

The Yankees are just making a similar decision with Granderson.

With all the talk this offseason that the Yankees offense took a major hit with the departures of Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, it would seem that there would be a premium be placed on pitching and defense this season.

Moving Gardner does that and the Yankees actually boast in Granderson, Gardner and Suzuki one of the best fielding outfields in baseball. They have good speed, range and excellent arms. A good defensive outfield should pay off on preventing a few runs here and there from crossing the plate as the season unfolds.

Managers love it, pitchers love it and the fans will be happy too.

“I have a pretty good idea how they react in center and left, and they do a pretty good job. I just want to see if it improves or stays the same or what happens,” Girardi said. “More, in a sense, how they play individually, but how the tandem works together with covering from right-center all the way over.”

Granderson still considers himself a centerfielder but said that he is good with the move. He said he would have more of an issue if he was benched entirely. Moving to left seems to be a better option than that and so he will play the good soldier.

Gardner has always considered himself a centerfielder. But when he came up in 2009, Melky Cabrera was already entrenched in center. Granderson’s arrival in 2010 pretty much meant he would stay in left since Granderson had not played left since 2007, and only then to play just a handful of games there.

So 2013 is Gardner’s year to shine in center.

But that does not mean Granderson is unimportant in left. Because of the amount of real estate in left-center at Yankee Stadium, leftfielders must possess the range and the ability to cut balls off in the alleys. Granderson can do that and that is why it should not really much of an issue come late May.

The novelty will wear off and there will be other things to talk about.

But the bottom line here is that the Yankees are making a move that is a positive step for the team’s defense and it is going to work out well for both players.

NEWS AND NOTES

  • The Yankees will open their spring schedule on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Field at Lake Buena Vista, FL. Right-hander David Phelps, 26, will start for the Yankees and he is expected to pitch two innings. Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm will pitch for the Braves. The game will start at 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on MLB Radio only.
  • Girardi also announced that first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Eduardo Nunez will make the trip. In addition, catchers Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine will play with Cervelli getting the starting nod. After Phelps, right-handers Brett Marshall, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder and Chase Whitley and left-hander Nik Turley are scheduled to pitch.
  • Girardi announced that after Adam Warren starts the Yankees home spring opener against a Toronto Blue Jays split squad on Sunday that left-hander Vidal Nuno and right-hander Jose Ramirez will start the next two games.
  • Phil Hughes, 26, continues to feel better in his recovery from a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes is taking anti-inflammatory medication and expects to be able to advance to working out in a pool in several days. He hopes to be able to return to action within two weeks.
  • Alex Rodriguez issued a statement through his spokesman Thursday saying he is working out twice a day in New York in his recovery from hip surgery under the supervision of Dr. Bryan Kelly and trainer Pete Draovitch. Rodriguez is targeting a return to the team at midseason. Kelly performed Rodriguez’s two-hour operation in January at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
  • For those of you planning to attend Saturday’s game at Disney’s Wide World Sports complex along with me you will not have to pay a dime for parking. That is the best part of seeing games here. But most of the stadium gets a pretty good dose of sun so you will need to lather on the sunblock.
  • The Disney staff is generally accorded to be the best in customer service but last season I was not feeling it. Before the game began I was snapping photos of the Yankees during batting practice when a Disney attendant barked at me for being a section over behind home plate. It was more than an hour before the game and no one was sitting there. Huh? Much later I chose to leave the hot sun and watch the game from the standing-room section behind home plate. Another Disney attendant came up to me and yelled at me for – of all the most serious transgressions – having my right foot a half-inch over the line painted on the floor behind the section. I understand if you put your foot all the way over the line they have to stop the game and remove you for interfering with play. Geesh!

 

Yankees To Showcase Four Huge Spring Battles

The pitchers and catchers of the New York Yankees have reported to spring training camp in Tampa, FL, and the position players will soon be joining them. The Yankees’ first scheduled exhibition game is a week away. There are very few jobs on the line this spring as it is with most seasons with the Yankees. But there are four battles worth watching this spring and the result may determine how successful the team will be in 2013. Let’s look at them.

4) STARTING CATCHER: FRANCISCO CERVELLI vs. CHRIS STEWART

With the departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent, the Yankees will be looking at replacing him from within their own ranks. The Yankees elected not to sign such free agents as A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Oilvo. The problem is that Martin not only provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense behind the plate, he also provided power despite the fact his batting average was stuck below .200 for most of the 2012 season. The two main candidates to replace Martin are Cervelli, 26, who had been the team’s primary backup catcher in 2010 and 2011 but was optioned to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on the final day of spring training last season due to the acquisition of Stewart, 30, from the San Francisco Giants. Cervelli arrives as the team’s best hitting option because he owns a career .271 batting average. But he lacks power and, although he calls a good game behind the plate, his throwing can be very erratic. He has a career success rate of throwing out 19.8 percent of base-runners. In contrast, throwing out base-runners is Stewart’s forte. He has nailed 33.7 percent of potential base-stealers and Stewart’s other defensive skills are pretty much on par with Martin’s. The big negative with Stewart is that he is a career .217 hitter and he has no power. In addition to this battle, there are a pair of catchers looking to make an impression in rookie Austin Romine, 24, and non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson, 29. Romine is coming off a season in which he was plagued by a lower-back strain that limited him to just 33 games in the minors last season. Wilson, a former backup catcher with the Los Angels Angels, was released by the Toronto Blue Jays after spending the entire 2012 season at Triple A. Romine’s strong suit is defense and manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, both former catchers, believe Romine is ready to catch at the major-league level now. The issue with Romine is that he has to prove he is healthy and he has to improve as a hitter. Wilson is almost a carbon copy of Stewart. He has nailed 27.1 percent of potential base-stealers but his career major-league batting average is .208.

PREDICTION: Cervelli should win the job, barring injury, which is a legitimate concern. Cervelli has suffered three separate concussions, a broken wrist and a broken bone in his foot over the past five seasons. So his durability is an issue. Stewart, on the basis of his solid season as backup in 2012, seems to be almost assured of retaining his job. But Romine is worth watching this spring. If he is healthy and he shows signs his hitting is improving he might get a promotion to the majors this season. But realistically the Yankees would prefer that he get in a full season at Scranton and he could be promoted in September with a hope he can compete for a starting role in 2014. Wilson will be insurance in case there is an injury to Cervelli or Stewart and he likely will share the catching chores with Romine at Scranton.

3) RESERVE INFIELDER: JAYSON NIX vs. EDUARDO NUNEZ

Although this is, in a sense, a rematch from last spring, it also is not. Confused? Well, Nunez was actually competing for the backup infield spot with Ramiro Pena and Nix, who was signed as a minor-league free agent, was just invited to spring training. Nunez, 25, easily won the role by hitting .372 while Pena hit .240. Nix, 30, was a longshot to make the team and did not. However, he did open some eyes by hitting .323 and flashing some solid defense at second base, third base and shortstop. Nix also proved valuable in that he could play the corner outfield spots. So he was optioned to Scranton and he hit .233 there before he was summoned on May 3. Nunez was hitting a sizzling .294 but his penchant to commit careless fielding errors doomed him. He was optioned to Scranton on May 11 and Nix became the team’s backup infielder. Nunez’s season pretty much fell apart after that. He suffered an injury to his right hand that sidelined him for most of the minor-league season. He was recalled to the Yankees when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 but the Yankees top brass insisted that Nunez was being groomed as primarily a shortstop and that he would not used as a utility infielder anymore. Nix,meanwhile, flourished in his role, hitting .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 174 at-bats in 77 games. Though Nunez is clearly a better athlete, a better hitter and a better base-stealer, Nix was so much steadier in the field that the Yankees were pleased with his work. Nunez committed seven errors in 38 games with the Yankees while Nix was charged with only three. A quick look at the Yankees’ depth chart on yankees.com shows something interesting this spring. Nunez is listed as the primary backup at second, third, shortstop and leftfield. Huh? I guess the Yankees changed their minds about Nunez not being a utility player and he will battle Nix for the role. If anyone believes Nunez is going to shed his nickname of “Eduardo Scissorhands” this spring than I have some prime swampland to sell you. But the Yankees may need his hitting and his base-stealing ability more than they need his fielding this season. The Yankees lost a lot of power from the 2012 club and they may need to score more runs by moving runners around the bases and stealing more bases. That would favor Nunez, who actually embarrassingly was third on the team last season with 11 stolen bases despite playing in only 38 games. Nix is still in the picture because of his fielding and steady play. It is going to be a very close call either way it goes.

PREDICTION: Nunez not only has hitting and base-stealing advantages this spring. He also may benefit from the slow recovery of Derek Jeter from surgery on his fractured left ankle and the presence of camp invitee Dan Johnson. If Jeter can’t start the season at shortstop, Nunez will man the position in his place. The reason Johnson is important is that he is a left-handed power hitter who can play both first and third base. If Johnson can make the team and show he field third base adequately enough, Nunez would only need to back up at shortstop and second base. That would lessen the chances Nix would have to making the 25-man roster. Johnson would, in effect, replace Eric Chavez, who opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. That would allow Nunez to remain as a backup middle infielder and potentially a right-handed platoon designated hitter. If I was a betting man, I would wager that this is the scenario that likely will play out. Nix could accept a demotion to Scranton as insurance. It also is possible that Nunez could be packaged in a trade before the season starts. But that won’t happen until Jeter shows he will be ready to play by Opening Day.

2) BACKUP OUTFIELDER: MATT DIAZ vs. JUAN RIVERA

One of the reasons Nunez is listed as a backup in leftfield is because both Diaz and Rivera are non-roster invitees to spring training. But, rest assured, one of them make the team as a right-handed hitting backup outfielder. Diaz, 34, was released by the Atlanta Braves after suffering through a season cut short in August by season-ending surgery on his right thumb. Diaz hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. He is a career .291 hitter and he has been an exceptional hitter against left-handed pitching. Rivera, 34, originally came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system and played with the Yankees in parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being traded to the then Montreal Expos before the 2004 season. Rivera was reserve outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He is a career .274 hitter and h also has been a much better hitter against left-handers. When the Yankees chose to allow Andruw Jones sign with a team in Japan, the Yankees opened up a spot on the roster for a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who could also serve as a right-handed platoon designated hitter. Neither player is considered as accomplished fielders though Diaz has a bit more range. As hitters, Diaz is a better hitter for average though Rivera boasts considerably more power. Because the Yankees starting outfield is an all left-handed-hitting group consisting of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki it is important that the Yankees have a right-handed-hitting option on the bench. So these two players will be fighting it out.

PREDICTION: Because of Rivera’s former ties to the club and the fact he hits with more power, he has a big edge over Diaz. Neither Gardner or Suzuki have much power so it will be important to have a hitter on the bench who can provide it from the right side. Should Girardi also need a right-handed DH, Rivera fits the Jones mold better than Diaz does. Diaz also has slipped significantly since the 2009 season when he hit .313 and he also is coming off surgery. Rivera, on the other hand, also has slipped from his 2009 season when he hit .287 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs with the Los Angeles Angels. But last season was the first season in which he has failed to connect for double-digit home runs since the 2007 season in which he played in only 14 games. Rivera will likely win the job easily barring injury or something else unforeseen.

1) NO. 5 STARTING PITCHER: IVAN NOVA vs. DAVID PHELPS

Those other position battles are the undercard but this one is the Main Event. It is also odd that there is even a competition involving Nova considering how good he was in his rookie season in 2011. But Nova, 26, struggled from the minute spring exhibitions started in 2012 and it got so bad that he was taken out of the rotation in favor of Phelps by Girardi in September. Nova’s record in 2011 was 16-4 and he was 12-8 last season. However, his ERA jumped from 3.70 to 5.02 and, though he recorded a 1.26 ERA in June last season, his ERA in the other months was: 5.18 in April, 5.87 in May, 5.97 in July, 7.03 in August and 6.23 in September. Ouch! So that is the reason Phelps is challenging him for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Phelps, 25, arrived in camp last spring voted as the organization’s best minor-league pitcher in 2011. Though scouts have always doubted him, Phelps rose through the minors and carries a record of 40-15 with a 2.51 ERA in 90 starts. In spring training, Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven appearances and was named the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. He also earned a spot in the bullpen. Phelps then turned in some sparkling performances as a long reliever and spot starter with the Yankees. He ended the season 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). This competition is hard to handicap because Nova – truth be told – has the nastiest stuff of any of the Yankees’ starters. Last season he just could not harness it and he got hit hard when he fell behind and had to throw fastballs. Phelps is pit-bull on the mound who has supreme confidence in himself and his stuff.

PREDICTION: I really have no idea on how this will turn out but I still believe that Nova has a bit of an edge on the basis of his rookie season. But Phelps has been doubted at every step of the way since he starred at Notre Dame. You can never measure desire and he has it. I can tell you the loser of this battle will not necessarily be heading to the bullpen. For one thing, Nova has little or no bullpen experience. Another reason is that the Yankees probably will want to make sure that the starter they do not select for the rotation remains “stretched out” as a starter at the minor-league level so they can step in case of an injury. I can also say it is refreshing to see that with homegrown starters like Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes already in the rotation and two homegrown starters like Nova and Phelps battling for the last rotation spot, that the Yankees’ minor-league system is beginning to churn out talent at a time when the payroll needs to be reduced.  It sure beats shelling out money to guys like Sergio Mitre and Freddy Garcia. That is progress.

 

My Spring Coverage Of Yankees Will Be Top-Notch

I started this blog in 2009 and I have vowed to my loyal readers that I would provide an unvarnished and journalistic approach to covering the New York Yankees. I feel I have fulfilled that promise and more over the years.

With the opening of spring exhibition games beginning for the Yankees on Feb. 23 against the Atlanta Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL, through the spring finale against the Washington Nationals in Washington, D.C. on March 29, I will be personally attending 18 games to provide reporting and analysis.

In addition, I will have access to one national television broadcast through ESPN and 13 additional games through radio broadcasts to ensure you will be getting complete and authoritative coverage of the Yankees this spring.

I will provide game coverage but I also will look at how the team is shaping up as a whole. I will look at the starting rotation, the bullpen battles, how the starting lineup is shaping up and how the young Yankees and spring invitees are doing in seeking roster spots.

If there is an injury that could affect the Yankees in 2013 you will know about it fast and accurately.

Last spring, I lamented through my game reports about how poorly the Yankees were hitting with men in scoring position. As we later learned, it became a significant issue for the team in the first half of the season and it was their ultimate undoing in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

I will try to provide the same analysis that I have through the past three spring training schedules. It will be done as if I was the Yankees’ correspondent for yankees.com. I was passed over for that post some years ago despite the fact I have been a journalist for more than 20 years and have worked for a number prestigious newspapers and wrote my own syndicated sports column.

But their loss is your gain because I always tell the truth about the Yankees and I do not hold punches in order avoid angering players, coaches and club executives as yankees.com reporters do. I am free to speak my mind and tell you that Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross around the necks of the Yankees and will be through the 2017 season.

I also have already told you my belief that Phil Hughes would be more suited and more effective of he pitched out the bullpen rather than basically a two-pitch starter.

Earlier this winter, I wrote how the Yankees are missing so much of their power from the 2012 club (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones) that manager Joe Girardi would be wise to use a more unconventional slash and dash approach using his better base-runners like Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter.

Call it the “Bronx Bunters.”

That would mean more bunting, hit and runs and base stealing instead of waiting for the home run. We will see if the Yankees implement that strategy this spring.

Join me for my reports direct from Tampa, FL, and I promise you will be ready and primed for my regular season game reports when the Yankees open their 2013 schedule at Yankee Stadium on April 1 when they will play host to the Boston Red Sox.

Thank you for those who have been my loyal readers and thank you to the new readers I have picked up along the way. I intend to give you the best information I can. Your feedback is always appreciated and encouraged.

Go Yankees in 2013!

 

 

Hughes In Rotation But Really Belongs In Bullpen

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 4

PHIL HUGHES (16-13, 4.19 ERA)

If you were casting a James Bond movie would you select Owen Wilson for the role? If you were casting a new dramatic Broadway play would you cast Zach Rogan?

Of course, the answer would be no to both. Yet the Yankees still insist on miscasting Phil Hughes as a starting pitcher.

They can point to his two full seasons as a starter in which he is a collective 34-21 with a 4.20 ERA. Considering the fact Hughes came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system as a highly touted starter, why shouldn’t he be a starter?

The reason he shouldn’t is not because of what Hughes has accomplished. It has more to do what he has failed to accomplish that limits his ceiling as a quality starter.

Hughes, 26, is basically a two-pitch starter: Fastball and curve. Efforts to add a cutter and a change-up have been met with mixed results. There is no doubt that with good run support he can remain a successful starter. But think back to a time when Hughes had his best success with the Yankees.

That was in 2009 when Hughes was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a fill-in starter and then, out of necessity, was shifted to the bullpen. Hughes’ two-pitch assortment was perfect for the bullpen and his fastball got some added zip during his short stints. Gradually manager Joe Girardi shifted him into the setup role in front of Mariano Rivera.

Hughes was simply sensational. His ERA, his WHIP and his strikeout rate were all better than Rivera’s in 2009 and Hughes became a major reason why the Yankees won their 27th world championship that season.

There is one huge reason why Hughes has not pitched out of the bullpen since and it has nothing to do with Hughes. It has to do with the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make it as a starting pitcher. Once the Yankees determined that Chamberlain was not suited to start they were not about to do the same with Hughes.

The Yankees did not want to suffer the indignity of having both of their prized homegrown youngsters in the bullpen. Besides, the bullpen has been crowded with hard throwers behind Rivera and Chamberlain like Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.

So Hughes became a starter in 2010 and he had so much initial success (he sported an 11-2 record at the All-Star break and he made the American League All-Star team) that those minor-league scout comparisons to Roger Clemens did not seem so farfetched anymore.

But after the break, the league caught up to him and he was a very pedestrian 7-6 the rest of the way.

High hopes for him in 2011 were very quickly dashed when he showed up to spring training with a noticeable drop in velocity. After getting blasted early and often in April, the Yankees placed him on the disabled list with weakness in his right shoulder. Though Hughes did return late that season, his 5-5 record and 5.79 ERA cast a lot of doubt on his future.

But Hughes worked his way back last season and he did pitch well enough to tie with Hiroki Kuroda for the team lead in victories with 16. Hughes also matched his season ERA of 4.19 in 2010. So not all the numbers were bad or disastrous.

There are still some numbers Hughes with which he can’t be pleased.

Hughes was vulnerable to the longball as the 35 home runs he surrendered in 191 1/3 innings pitched indicate. That was a home run given up every 5 1/2 innings.

Consistency has also been a problem. Hughes started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA before he rebounded to go 8-2 with a 3.34 from May 6 through July 1. From July 1 on, Hughes was pretty mediocre, going 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA the rest of the way.

Pitch count has also been problem for Hughes. In 14 of his 32 starts Hughes failed to pitch at least six innings. That was mostly due to elevated pitch counts coming from batters repeatedly fouling off pitch after pitch. Hughes basically succumbed in a lot of games due to just the attrition of pitches.

Another pitch in his arsenal would help Hughes with this problem but it appears that it is unlikely Hughes will be able to develop a major-league quality third pitch at this stage of his career.

So the Yankees are committed to Hughes as a starter but they are gong to have to accept his limitations. Absent another weapon what you currently see with Hughes is pretty much what you are going to get.

Though the top three pitchers on the staff (Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) might be able to adapt to getting a bit less in run support, Hughes might be severely harmed by the loss in power the Yankees suffered when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones signed with other teams in the offseason.

But with Chamberlain still in the bullpen, along with Robertson and Rivera, the fact that the Yankees top young pitchers such as Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are a long way away from being able to step into the starting rotation, Hughes will be forced to remain a starter this season.

How he fares may come down to his ability to adjust and adapt. At age 26 there is still time for him to improve. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild could be very valuable in putting the final pieces to the Hughes puzzle in place.

However, there is faction of Yankee fans who want Hughes to be traded for some young prospects. That would not seem to make much sense given the plight of Pineda, Banuelos and Betances and the fact that Ivan Nova has his own issues to deal with this spring.

It just seems to be a fact that Hughes is locked in as the team’s No. 4 starter and the Yankees can take comfort in the fact that they could do worse than have a pitcher who has won 34 games in his first two full-time seasons as a starter.

Hughes is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of the Yankees’ staff. He gets little respect for what he has done and he has taken far too much of the blame for what he has failed to accomplish.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander from southern California signed a one-year contract worth $7.15 million last week to avoid arbitration so Hughes can now concentrate on the task of getting ready for the 2013 season.

The Yankees are just hoping that the unusual amount of patience they have accorded a young pitcher in their system like Hughes is rewarded with a huge breakout season. But realistically, the Yankees should be happy if Hughes is healthy for a full season and ends 2013 above .500 in winning percentage.

Those are pretty achievable goals.

Perhaps someday Hughes might get a chance to replace Rivera as the team’s closer. But for now he will just have to continue to play the role he has been given – no matter how miscast he seems to be.

NEXT: IVAN NOVA

 

Pettitte Hopes Last Season Includes Another Ring

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 3

ANDY PETTITTE (5-4, 2.87 ERA)

When the announcement was made last March that Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees to pitch, the euphoria was palpable.

After a year in retirement, Pettitte was determined to pitch again. The story was supposed to go that Pettitte would pitch great, he would lead the team to the playoffs and help them win their 28th world championship. However, that script landed in the dustbin after Pettitte ended up getting injured along the way.

On June 27, Pettitte was struck in the right ankle with a ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians. It was only his ninth start of the season and the injury would shelve him until mid-September. The Yankees did make the playoffs and Pettitte helped them make it to the American League Championship Series.

However, the Yankees’ offense decided to sleep in and missed the series.

Immediately, Pettitte’s return in 2013 was in doubt. But, fortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte decided he still had some unfinished business and he was signed to a one-year, $12 million contract at age 40.

The numbers Pettitte produced when he was healthy last season certainly backed up his decision. His ERA was excellent at 2.87 and six of his 12 starts were quality starts. The biggest surprise was jump in Pettitte’s strikeout rate.

Last season, Pettitte struck out 69 batters in 75 1/3 innings. At that rate, Pettitte would have topped 200 Ks for the first time in his long and storied career. It is not that Pettitte had gained velocity or came up with a new pitch. It is just that he was pitching smarter and he was able to keep batters off balance.

Heading into the 2013 season, there are a lot of things that are breaking to Pettitte’s favor. For one, Pettitte will enter spring camp from the first day and be ready to pitch when the season begins instead of his May 13 debut last season.

In addition, Pettitte already knows he can get major-league hitters out, which is something he did not know last season after sitting out the 2011 season.

Pettitte is also a valuable commodity as a veteran left-handed starter in an American League with a lot of powerful left-handed hitters.

One thing about Pettitte that sets him apart from any other pitcher is his fierce competitiveness. It is – and has been throughout his career – a blessing. But it also can be a curse.

Last season, Pettitte was feeling frisky during his rehab and pushed his workouts past what the doctors had prescribed. He ended up paying for it by extending his rehab a few weeks. Sometimes Pettitte also can be own worst enemy.

The key to Pettitte’s 2013 season looks to be maintaining his health and stamina throughout the long grind of a season. Pettitte pitched into the sixth inning or better in each of his first eight starts before he was injured. But he finished six innings only once in his final three starts.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda ahead of him in the rotation, Pettitte will form what will be a pretty formidable top tier of starters. Those three combined to go 36-21 with a 3.27 ERA. With a much tougher American League and stiffer competition in the A.L. East, this is threesome manager Joe Girardi can count on to meet the challenge.

They will have to because the Yankees’ offense did take a major hit this winter with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on the roster the Yankees might be looking to reintroduce more of a running game in 2013 with a lot of bunting, hit and runs and taking chances on the bases instead of waiting on the home run.

It could mean that the Yankees will have to settle for fewer runs and that puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitchers to keep the other team from putting the game out of reach. But Pettitte seems to up to that challenge.

If he can limit his pitch counts and make it deep into games, the Yankees stand a good chance of winning more than their fair share of them.

Pettitte enters the 2013 season with a career record of 245 wins and 142 losses (.633 winning percentage) and career ERA of 3.86. He has 208 career wins as a Yankees, which is third behind Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

To Pettitte, those numbers are nice but they are not numbers he cares too much about. If the Hall of Fame should come calling he would be honored. But he does not expect it and need it to validate his career.

But his postseason numbers of 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA are something of which he is very proud. No pitcher in the modern postseason era has started (44) and won as many games as Pettitte. Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his two starts. Victory eluded him because the Yankees did not score very many runs in the postseason.

But Pettitte understands that if the Yankees do make the playoffs and he does his job the way he expects to do it the Yankees have an excellent shot of winning most of the time.

This likely will be his last season and the Yankees would love to make sure the three members of what was the “Core Four,” Petitte, Jeter and Mariano Rivera have a chance to play for a world championship.

Nothing would be sweeter for the Yankees and nothing would be sweeter for Pettitte than having that chance one last time.

NEXT: PHIL HUGHES

 

Kuroda Looking To Build Upon His 2012 Success

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 2

HIROKI KURODA (16-11, 3.32 ERA)

When the Yankees decided to sign right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract there were a lot of naysayers voicing a litany of concerns about the 37-year-old right-hander.

After all, in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kuroda was 41-46 and only posted one season above .500 in victories – an injury-plagued 2009 season when he was 8-7 in just 20 starts. Though he posted excellent ERAs in those four saesons (3.73, 3.376, 3.39 and 3.07) the conventional wisdom was coming over from the National League to the designated hitter in the American League would see his ERA explode.

The skeptics also pointed out that Kuroda would struggle in the competitive A.L. East.

You won’t hear those arguments anymore. Kuroda silenced his critics with his best season since he left Japan in 2008. He was absolutely brilliant from mid-May through August. Even though his ERA took a big hit in September he finished the season after Sept. 1 with a 4-1 record.

Y0u could even make a case that Kuroda’s season was better than CC Sabathia’s because Kuroda was healthy throughout and he even was more consistent than the Yankees’ left-handed ace.

Kuroda ended up setting carer major-league highs in victories, innings pitched and strikeouts. Kuroda emerged as the team’s No. 2 starter and he earned it by pitching deep into games and baffling hitters with a wide assortment of breaking pitches that offset his 90-mph plus fastball.

After getting blasted early and often in the first month, Kuroda made some adjustments and then never looked back. It was really no surprise when general manager Brian Cashman decided to sign Kuroda for another one-year deal but this time for $15 million.

Kuroda certainly earned the raise.

The veteran from Osaka, Japan made two starts in the playoffs for the Yankees and both were brilliant. However, Kuroda did not get any run support in either start and was 0-1 despite a sparkling 2.81 ERA.

In the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Kuroda gave up just two runs on five hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings but did not earn a decision. Then he gave up three runs on five hits and no walks and struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series but lost because the Yankees did not score him a single run.

There are higher hopes for 2013, which is why Kuroda elected to re-sign with the Yankees.

“I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me,” Kuroda said when he signed. “It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season.”

This season does figure to be a battle for the Yankees because the teams in the A.L. East appear to be stronger while the Yankees lost a lot of offensive firepower when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones left the team as free agents, taking 94 home runs with them.

Kuroda will have to adjust to a less explosive team that might score a lot fewer runs. Of course, that is not unlike Kuroda’s seasons with the Dodgers when he received very poor run support and was a major reason why his season records there were below .500.

Kuroda gradually earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild by limiting his pitch counts so he could last deeper into games. With a bullpen that was missing Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberalain for most of the season, Kuroda’s stamina in games was very much welcome.

Kuroda also won over skeptical Yankee fans, who were absolutely stunned a National League pitcher could have success with the Yankees after the team had suffered through the likes of Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano in previous seasons.

Kuroda will have to adjust this season without his favorite catcher in Martin. Martin, who caught Kuroda in his first three seasons with the Dodgers, elected to take his shin guards and his bat to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But that issue does not seem to be too great because both Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli have caught Kuroda since he became a Yankee.

The only real obstacle may be for Kuroda to stay on the mound long enough to allow the Yankees to get a lead for him in the late innings. With less firepower it also figures the Yankees will be in a lot of close games. That could mean a lot more no decisions for Kuroda.

Though Yankee fans would prefer to see a rotation made up of young hard-throwing starters, Kuroda allows the Yankees to buy time to let their young pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps to develop and also allows Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to rebound from injuries and ineffectiveness.

That is not a bad tradeoff if Kuroda can duplicate his 2012 season. The Yankees will just be hoping for anything close to what he produced for them last season.

One thing is certain: With Kuroda pundits can no longer say the Yankees’ rotation is Sabathia and four other guys. Kuroda is just that good.

NEXT: ANDY PETTITTE

 

Ichiro’s ‘Act’ In Bronx Held Over For Two Seasons

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

RIGHTFIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (28 Rs, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, .322 BA, 14 SB)

When the Yankees made the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to The Bronx it was looked at initially as a temporary fix to the Yankees’ injury to top base-stealing threat Brett Gardner. After all, Suzuki’s contract with the Seattle Mariners expired after the 2012 season and the Yankees were unsure if the 39-year-old All-Star had very much left in the tank.

Suzuki seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff after he hit .315 with six home runs and 43 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 2010. In 2011, the career .322 hitter batted only .272 with five home runs and 47 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.

In addition, Suzuki was hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Mariners at the time of the trade.

But Suzuki took to New York quicker than anyone would have expected and he seemed to be rejuvenated being part of a pennant chase for the first time since his early seasons with the Mariners.

As a result of Suzuki’s renewed bounce in his step and the fact the Yankees allowed rightfielder Nick Swisher to sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians this winter, Suzuki was granted a two-year, $12 million deal to take over for him. General manager Brian Cashman was pleased Suzuki settled for much less than perhaps he was worth to stay with the Yankees.

Suzuki had made it clear that he did want to remain in New York. So it seems both sides are very happy with the deal.

Suzuki will never be able to replace Swisher’s power and production but he is an upgrade in terms of hitting, speed and defense. That is all part of the tradeoff the Yankees had to accept in order to rebuild a team that lost 94 home runs when Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14) signed elsewhere this offseason.

Suzuki will join with Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson as part of the group that is expected to be stealing a lot of bases in 2013 because of what the Yankees lost in terms of power. The Yankees will not be able to play station-to-station baseball while waiting for home runs.

Suzuki’s two-year deal signals the Yankees are committed to him and what he can provide at the top of the lineup by getting on base and running the bases.

Last season, Suzuki approved the trade with some conditions laid down by the Yankees. He agreed to hit lower in the batting order, to a platoon that would sit him against left-handers and agree to switch to leftfield. Suzuki accepted the stipulations and never complained about where he hit, where he played and when he was benched.

However, when Suzuki got red hot in September manager Joe Girardi stopped platooning him against lefties, moved him up in the batting order and shifted him to rightfield so Swisher could replace an injured Mark Teixeira at first base.

So expect Suzuki to be playing every day, hitting second and playing rightfield in 2013. Suzuki basically changed the manager’s mind the old-fashioned way: He played so well that Girardi had no choice but to play him and those conditions Suzuki was signed under have been tossed out the window – for good.

Suzuki’s calling card has always been his magical bat. Despite an unusual batting style, Suzuki seems to be able to know when it is best to pull the ball and when to go with a pitch. He confounds pitchers with his ability to spray the ball all over the field.

He may no longer have blazing speed as he did when he won his Most Valuable Player and Rookie of Year awards in 2001, but Suzuki can still leg out infield grounders for hits, take an extra base on napping outfielders and he can even steal a base or two when necessary.

Suzuki stole 29 bases last season between the Mariners and Yankees and he led the Yankees with 14 steals despite playing in only 67 games.

With the short porch in right-field, Suzuki can also surprise a pitcher or two by turning on an inside pitch and putting it into the seats. Suzuki’s career high in home runs is 15 that he hit in 2005 and he only has reached double digits in three seasons. But it is good bet they he could reach double digits in 2013.

He hit five dingers in only 227 at-bats with the Yankees last season.

Where Suzuki really shines is as a defender. From 2001 through 2010 he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mariners. Granted, he has lost a step, but Suzuki can still flash some leather in the outfield. He also possesses an excellent arm in rightfield. With Granderson and Gardner, Suzuki forms a rare outfield that boasts three centerfielders.

This is an outfield that is also loaded with speed and skilled fielders. It might be the best defensive outfield the Yankees have fielded in some time.

The only potential negative with Suzuki might be if he regresses as a hitter as he did with in the Mariners in 2011. The Yankees are on the hook for two seasons with Suzuki and they would rather he continue he hit the .322 he did with the Yankees last season.

The Yankees were dealt a serious blow to the 2013 plans when Ibanez opted to sign as a free agent with his old Mariners team. The Yankees made it clear that they wanted to keep Ibanez as their left-hand designated hitter and part-time outfielder.

At the moment the plans behind Gardner, Granderson and Suzuki look a little murky.

The Yankees did claim right-hand hitter Russ Canzler off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Canzler, 26, can play first base, leftfield and DH.

Canzler hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 as a September call-up with the Indians after leading the International League with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Columbus.

Canzler provides the Yankees primarily with a right-hand bat who can back up Mark Teixeira at first base. But he did play 47 games with Columbus and 11 games with the Indians in the outfield. His range in the outfield is limited and he would be a significant dropoff from Gardner as a defensive outfielder.

Jayson Nix has been invited to spring training again primarily to compete with Nunez as a backup middle infielder but Nix also can play some outfield.

Nix made nine starts in the outfield last season and acquitted himself well. He committed only one error. Though he is much better as infielder, Nix provides Girardi with a lot of options on where to play him.

Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.

Cashman is looking to bolster the outfield before spring training camp opens next month and he has a few targets that could be on his radar.

His first option is former Met outfielder Scott Hairston, who is currently seeking a lucrative two-year deal on the free-agent market.

Hairston, 32, hit 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs and batted .263 with the Mets last season. His main calling card is his power and his ability to crush left-handed pitching.

Hairston hit .286 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs against lefties last season. Though he has played some second base in the past, Hairston is primarily an outfielder and he only committed one error in 108 games there last season.

The Yankees covet him because he has power, which the Yankees need, and he balances out the starting outfield, which is comprised of all left-hand hitters. The Yankees see Hairston as part-time outfielder, a platoon DH and valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.

The only sticking point is the amount of money he is seeking and the Yankees are not real keen on offering him a two-year deal. They are hoping Hairston will lower his demands.

Another potential target could be 6-foot-5 first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse of the Washington Nationals.

Morse, 30, had a breakout season in 2011 in which he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs for the Nationals. But injuries limited him to just 102 games in 2012 in which he batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.

The Nationals had him scheduled to move from left-field to first base this off-season when they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins and shifted rookie centerfielder Bryce Harper to leftfield. However, the team decided to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche so Morse is currently relegated to the bench.

The Nationals reportedly are looking at trading Morse for a left-handed relief pitcher and some prospects. The Yankees do have a pair of lefties in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada to offer but there is not much depth behind them in the minors. The Yankees could use Morse in the same way they planned to utilize Canzler – at first base, leftfield and DH.

Morse is a right-hand hitter but his power is intriguing.

This is hard to believe but – in the absence of the Yankees making a deal or signing an outfielder – the Yankees will actually be giving long looks to two of their own minor-league outfielders this spring.

Melky Mesa, 25, hit a combined .264 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs and 22 stolen bases between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Mesa hit only .230 at Scranton after hitting .277 at Trenton so he may require an additional season before he is ready.

Mesa’s combination of power and speed would be a big boost to the Yankees and he does fill a need for right-hand hitting outfielder. Mesa is also a natural centerfielder and he can easily play all three outfield spots if needed.

The downside is the Yankees are unsure of he can hit major-league pitching. They hope to get some more definitive answers this spring. Mesa figures to play a lot after only getting 13 at-bats and hitting .231 last spring.

The Yankees also have a very intriguing young outfield prospect in Zoilo Almonte, who is a power-hitting switch-hitter.

Almonte, 23, impressed Girardi last spring when he hit .286 in only 14 at-bats. Almonte then followed that up by hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 106 games with Trenton.

Unlike Mesa, Almonte is primarily a corner outfielder and he has just average speed (15 steals in 19 attempts last season). Defensively, he is still a work in progress. His range and fielding are just average but he does have a pretty good arm (10 outfield assists last season).

Almonte does have a slim chance of making the jump from Double A but he will need to have a monster spring training that forces Girardi to keep him on the roster. It is all up to Almonte  to see if can handle the rigors of the major leagues. But it will be tough to ask him make the jump because it rarely happens in the major leagues and it even more rarely happens with the Yankees.

The Yankees seem to not even care about a player unless he is 34 with years of major-league experience. Almonte would be in a locker room of players he watched while he was in grade school. That would be a lot of pressure on him but his power potential makes him a very viable prospect to watch this spring.

The Yankees are actually loaded with some very special outfield prospects further down in their minor-league system.

Mason Williams, 21, is the team’s second-ranked prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. He hit .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 91 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa before a torn labrum ended his season early.

Williams is an excellent left-handed hitter who should develop more power as he gains experience. He also looks as if he will be a very good base-runner and he is above average defensively as a centerfielder. Williams is 6-feet tall and weighs just 150 pounds but he should gain weight and strength and may even draw comparisons to another centerfielder Williams by the name of Bernie.

The Yankees are also excited about No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin, 21.

Austin hit a organization-best .354 combined in 2011 and he followed that up by hitting .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in four minor-league stops last season.

After playing first and third base his first two seasons, the Yankees moved him to right field last season and he played very well there. While Sanchez and Williams get most of the attention, Austin is considered a very good prospect and 2013 could propel him into the Yankees’ plans in 2014 and beyond.

The Yankees also have a pair of young slash-and-dash hitters who have a chance to make the parent team down the road in Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores.

Heathcott, 22, was the team’s first draft pick in 2009 but has been hampered by on- and off-the-field problems. But the left-handed hitter got back on track by hitting a combined .302 with five home runs and 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in the Yankees team in the Gulf Coast League and with Tampa in the Florida State League.

Heathcott is an aggressive player with excellent speed. If he can be more selective at the plate and on the bases he could turn out to something very special.

Flores, 20, is a left-handed hitting machine who batted a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs and 24 stolen bases between Tampa and Trenton. He lacks Heathcott’s speed but still stole more bases. He is primarily a leftfielder but can play all three outfield spots and first base.

Fielding will never be his strong suit because his bat is so good. It will carry him the rest of the way to the majors.

The Yankees seem to be deeper in outfield prospects than any other position and that seems to be a good thing considering the team has already lost Swisher and Granderson seems to be headed out the door soon. That would leave Gardner and an aging Suzuki.

So to say the Yankees could stand to have a few of these prospects make an impact in the next few years would be putting it mildly.

There have been rumors the Yankees have talked about possibly trading Williams and Sanchez. But that would seem to be something Cashman would be leery about since he really did get fleeced badly in the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda deal last winter.

My guess is the Yankees will be very careful which young players they deal but it would seem to make sense that they could trim some of their outfield depth if they need help with their 25-man roster.

Though the Yankees are lucky to be starting three center-fielders with excellent speed in the outfield in 2013, they all hit left-handed and the Yankees will miss Ibanez.

Cashman likely will make some sort of deal to add depth to the outfield and they need someone who can hit right-handed. Canzler and Nix provide some depth but they are not long-term solutions.

Mesa and Almonte provide Girardi with a pair of young options but both are going to have to produce a lot this spring in order to make the leap to the major leagues.

Hopefully, the puzzle pieces can be put together before the start of the 2013 season.

NEXT: CATCHER

 

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