Results tagged ‘ Andy Pettitte ’
YANKEES 6, METS 2
With both the Yankees and Mets in first place in their respective divisions and the Mets having won 11 games in a row, there was large groups of Mets fans lining the upper decks of Yankee Stadium on Friday. It is just too bad they came all way that for nothing.
Mark Teixeira slammed a pair of two-run homers and Jacoby Ellsbury added a solo shot of his own while Michael Pineda practically turned the Mets hitters into pretzels – soft pretzels at that – through 7 2/3 innings as New York struck the first blow of the 2015 version of the Subway Series by thrashing the interlopers from Queens, NY, in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 45,310.
Teixeira wasted no time against right-hander Jacob deGrom (2-2) when he connected for his sixth home run in the first inning with Brett Gardner on first and two out. Teixeira launched a 2-1 fastball into the second deck just down the right-field line to give the Yankees an early 2-0 edge.
Ellsbury jumped on deGrom’s second offering to lead off the third inning and lined a rocket shot into third row of the right-field bleachers.
With one out in the same inning, Alex Rodriguez drew a walk and Teixeira followed by swatting an almost identical high-arcing home run into the same second deck in right-field to extend the Yankees’ margin to 5-0.
Teixeira’s two home runs now give him four home runs in his past four starts and his seven home runs is only second to Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners, who leads Major League Baseball with eight.
The Yankees were not through with the obviously shell-shocked deGrom in the third inning. They managed to load the bases on a Brian McCann single, a Carlos Beltran walk and a hard ground single to right by Chase Headley.
Stephen Drew then lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center to score McCann and give the Yankees a 6-0 lead on the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year, who entered the game with a 0.93 ERA.
Meanwhile, Pineda (3-0) pitched his best game of the season in his fourth start.
The Mets’ lone run came in the sixth inning when former Yankee Curtis Granderson led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and reached third on a flyout off the bat of Juan Lagares.
Grandson then scored on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Duda.
Pineda was charged with one run on five hits and no walks while he struck out seven batters. Of the 100 pitches Pineda threw in the game, 78 of them were strikes. He also lowered his season ERA to 3.86.
The Mets’ right-hander deGrom yielded six runs on eight hits and two walks while he fanned two batters in five innings. In his previous 128 2/3 innings, deGrom had given up just two home runs. After the third inning the Yankees had tagged him for three.
With the victory the Yankees extended their winning streak to four games and they have now won seven of their past eight games. They are also tied with the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East with identical 10-7 records for both teams.
The Mets, in having their 11-game winning streak snapped, are now 13-4.
- Based on his early success it looks as if a lot of players may be converting to the gluten-free, sugar-free diet Teixeira embarked upon in the offseason. It is certainly doing wonders for his production. Though Teixeira is only batting .218, he leads the Yankees in homers (7) and RBIs (17). In addition, April is usually a slow month for Teixeira. But not this season.
- If there were any doubts that the Yankees have a dynamic one-two pitching punch in Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda, they both pretty much ended those thoughts the way they pitched the past two days. Tanaka and Pineda combined to limit their opponents to two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking of 15 in 14 innings. If a case can be made for two better pitchers in the A.L. East I would like to hear someone prove it to me.
- Ellsbury won the game on Thursday against the Tigers with his speed. He helped the Yankees win this one with his power. It was his first home run of the season and his 2-for-5 night raised his season average to .294. Since April 18, Ellsbury is 10-for-29 (.345) with a home run, two RBIs and seven runs scored. Ellsbury is showing he is much more comfortable and effective hitter in the leadoff spot rather than the when he was forced to bat third last season.
Headley committed an error, but it was in the ninth inning and it was erased by a double play. Beltran was 0-for-3 with a walk and is now hitting a woeful .173. But you just can’t nitpick when the team is firing on all cylinders like this team is doing right now. It will be interesting to see what Joe Buck of FOX Sports says about them on Saturday. He can’t exactly rip them now. Or can he?
Former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams finally made it official on Friday as he signed papers indicating that he is retired from baseball. Williams, who has not played since 2006, also was on hand to throw the first pitch of the game and he drew a huge ovation from the crowd. Though he was not part of the 2009 championship team as were the so-called “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “To set the record straight, Bernie is part of the Fab Five.” Williams will have his No. 51 retired and will have a plaque in Monument Park dedicated to him on May 24.
The Yankees will continue the home portion of the Subway Series with the Mets on Saturday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-3, 4.35 ERA) will start of the Yankees. Sabathia, 34, is coming off his best effort of the season even though he lost the game 2-1 to the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Sabathia was charged with two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in eight innings.
The Mets will go to right-hander Matt Harvey (3-0, 3.50 ERA), who will be making his first start in Yankee Stadium. Harvey will be pitching with his sprained left ankle heavily taped. Harvey won his last start on Sunday against the Miami Marlins despite surrendering four runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts in six innings.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1 and locally by WPIX.
Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.
The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.
The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.
George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.
The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.
Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.
Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).
How did this happen?
Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.
The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.
It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.
Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.
There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.
After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.
From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.
That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.
The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.
If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.
But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.
It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.
Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.
He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.
When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.
He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.
So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.
Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.
The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.
Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.
So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)
There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.
It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.
It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.
But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.
The offense? Don’t ask.
Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.
They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.
The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.
The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.
The bench has some veterans, of course.
Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.
If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.
But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.
But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.
Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.
In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.
I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!
YANKEES 4, ASTROS 2
There was a popular TV game show in the 1950s and 1960s called “To Tell the Truth” in which two impostors would join a real guest to try an fool a panel. At the end of some probing questions the host Bud Collyer would say “Would the real (name) please stand up.”
After the first two games of the season where they looked like impostors, the real New York Yankees decided to stand up on Thursday.
Rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was making his first major-league start, sparked the victory by going 3-for-3 and Ivan Nova and the Yankees bullpen held the Astros without a hit after the fifth inning as New York finally defeated Houston in front of a paid crowd of 26,348 at Minute Maid Park.
Solarte, 26, had a hit in all three innings in which the Yankees scored.
With one out in the third inning and the Yankees trailing 1-0, Solarte followed an Ichiro Suzki single with his first major-league hit – a single – to advance Suzuki to third. Brett Gardner then tied the game with an RBI single.
After Derek Jeter walked to load the bases, the Yankees took their first lead of the game and the three-game series when Carlos Beltran scored Solarte on a sacrifice fly.
The Yankees padded their lead in the fifth when Solarte delivered a one-out double and Jeter scored him on a two-out single to right in which Astros first baseman Marc Krauss chose to cut off a throw from Alex Presley in right that appeared it might get Solarte at the plate in order to tag out Jeter rounding first base too far.
The Yankees took a 3-2 lead into the seventh when with two out Suzuki doubled to the wall in left-center off right-hander Brad Peacock and Solarte lofted a towering popup between the mound and home plate. Astros catcher Carlos Corporan allowed the ball to drop to score Suzuki and give Solarte his first major-league RBI.
Nova (1-0) was credited with the victory, although he did not have much command of any of his pitches.
The Astros scored a run in the first inning off Nova on a back-to-back singles by Dexter Fowler and Robbie Grossman and Nova hit Jason Castro with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases with no outs.
Jose Altuve then plated Fowler on a groundout.
After the Yankees took a 3-1 lead off left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-1) in the fifth, the Astros added another run off Nova after a leadoff double by Jonathan Villar and an RBI single by Fowler, who was 6-for-12 with a home run, five runs scored and two RBIs in the series.
Fowler’s RBI single would end up as the Astros’ final hit of the evening, however.
Nova left in the sixth having been charged with two runs on six hits and five walks while he struck out one in 5 2/3 innings. He also hit two batters.
Nova managed to limit the damage by recording 12 groundball outs, including four double plays.
Obervoltaer also pitched 5 2/3 innings, yielding three runs on five hits and one walk. He fanned five batters.
The Yankees’ bullpen trio of Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson preserved the victory by retiring all 10 hitters they faced, five of them on strikeouts.
Robertson pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season as the new Yankees closer replacing the legendary Mariano Rivera.
- The legend of Solarte was already the talk of the spring after he was 18-for-42 (.429) with two homers and nine RBIs. The 26-year-old Venezuelan claimed the final roster spot over veteran Eduardo Nunez and he very quickly made an impression in his first start. I would say that he can relax now that he has his first hit and RBI out of the way but the kid has shown no nerves at all. Can we call him “Never Nervous” Yangervis?
- Suzuki drew a start in right-field despite the fact there was a left-hander starting and he took advantage by going 2-for-4 and scored a pair of runs. Suzuki got hot at the tail end of the spring, going 9-for-26 (.346) in his final nine starts. It seems like it is carrying over to the regular season.
- Jeter’s RBI single in the fifth gave him 3,318 hits of this career, which puts him just one behind Paul Molitor in eighth place on the all-time hits list.
- Nova was erratic all evening with his command. His fastball was riding up in the strike zone and his curve had catcher Francisco Cervelli diving all over for it. He threw only 47 of his 88 pitches for strikes. But Nova survived with his ability to induce ground balls and the four double plays behind him really saved his victory.
- Gardner, Jeter, Suzuki and Solarte combined for all of the Yankees seven hits. That means the batters hitting in the No. 3 spot through the No. 7 spot (Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Cervelli and Brian Roberts) were a combined 0-for-18 in the game.
- Teixeira and Soriano followed up on their combined 0-for-8 game on Wednesday with another 0-for-8 night on Thursday. Soriano was 0-for-12 in the series with four strikeouts.
With a left-hander on the mound in Oberholtzer, manager Joe Girardi elected to sit left-handed hitters Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson and shift Gardner to center and the leadoff spot. He inserted Suzuki in right, made Beltran the designated hitter and played Soriano in left. He also used Cervelli behind the plate and put Solarte in at third. Girardi said the day off for Ellsbury was planned because of his abbreviated spring nursing a sore right calf. . . . The Yankees announced on Thursday that the “Core Four” will take part in the ceremonial first pitch for the team’s home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. Pitchers Andy Pettitte and Rivera will throw the opening pitches to catcher Jorge Posada and Jeter.
The Yankees travel to Toronto to open a three-game weekend series with the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre beginning on Friday.
There also will be a bevy of Japanese media on hand as Masahiro Tanaka (2-0, 2.14 ERA) will be making his major-league debut with the Yankees. Tanaka, 25, struck out 26 batters in 21 innings this spring, most of them with his world-class split-finger fastball.
The Blue Jays will start right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-0, 3.86 ERA), who will be making his first major-league start since Sept. 26, 2011. McGowan, 32, missed all of the 2012 season and he pitched in 25 games in relief for the Blue Jays last season.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
ASTROS 3, YANKEES 1
When the Yankees ended spring training knowing they were starting the season with the lowly Astros it seemed the perfect way to start the season with a completely revamped starting lineup. After what happened on Wednesday the Yankees should be careful what they wish for.
The Astros scored a pair of early runs against Hiroki Kuroda and the Yankees – for the second straight evening – could not muster an offense as Houston defeated New York in front of a paid crowd of 23,145 at Minute Maid Park.
Dexter Fowler, who is 4-for-8 in the series, had a hand in both Astros runs off the right-handed Kuroda (0-1).
Fowler ripped Kuroda’s second offering in the first inning into the center-field bleachers to give the Astros an early 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Fowler laced a one-out triple to deep center and he scored on RBI grounder off the bat of Robbie Grossman that was misplayed by Mark Teixeira.
Kuroda gave up two runs on only there hits and one walk while he fanned five batters in six innings. But he could have sued the Yankees hitters for nonsupport.
The Yankees offense just could not push any runs across against Astros 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart (1-0).
Cosart shut out the Yankees on four hits, he did not walk a batter and he struck out three in his five innings of work.
They did not fare much better against the four relievers who followed Cosart.
The Yankees did finally score a run in the seventh inning after Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk from left-hander Kevin Chapman and Brian Roberts followed with his third consecutive single to advance Gardner to third.
Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson with rookie Yangervis Solarte and, in his first major-league at-bat, Solarte hit into a double play that scored Gardner.
The Astros got that run back in the bottom half of the seventh when Matt Dominguez touched right-hander David Phelps for an opposite-field home run into the right-field bleachers. In the first two games of the series, the Astros have hit four home runs and the Yankees have none.
Right-hander Josh Fields pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season.
The Yankees stranded eight runners and were a combined 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
- Do not blame this loss on Kuroda. Unlike CC Sabathia in the the season opener, Kuroda, 39, held the Astros to just two runs in six innings. This has been the story of Kuroda’s major-league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees. He pitches well and he does not get the run support to show for the effort. That is why his career record is 68-71 and his ERA is a sparkling 3.40, the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher from Japan.
- Roberts did his part for the offense. He was 3-for-4 with three singles that helped ignite scoring opportunities that his teammates failed to capitalize upon. Roberts, 36, is trying to re-establish his career after suffering through four seasons marred by injury. The early results show that he still has a lot left in the tank.
- The Yankees managed just seven hits and Brian McCann and Roberts combined to post seven of them. McCann, 30, was 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. McCann is 3-for-8 with an RBI in the first two games hitting out of the cleanup spot. The five-time Silver Slugger award winner looks very comfortable at the plate in the early part of the season.
- Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano, batting fifth and sixth, respectively, were a combined 0-for-8 in the game, they struck out five times and they stranded seven base-runners. If you need to point at the two biggest culprits in the Yankees’ demise in this game you need to look no further than this pair. Soriano actually swung and missed at two pitches that hit the dirt and one of those pitches nearly hit him. In the first two games Soriano is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts.
- The Yankees have had a history of not being able to hit pitchers they know little about and Wednesday’s game was another example. Cosart was making only his 11th major-league start and his first against the Yankees. The Yankees managed to get their first hit and base-runner with one out in the third inning on Roberts’ single. McCann added a two-out single in the fourth. Then Gardner and Roberts hit back-to-back one-out singles in the fifth. But Johnson into a fielder’s choice and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out and Cosart left the game without yielding a run.
- The inning that defined the evening is the eighth. Carlos Beltran led off with a double against right-handed reliever Matt Albers. However, McCann, Teixeira and Soriano all struck out swinging. Futility is contagious.
Former teammates Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mike Stanton were among the guests who honored Jeter before the game with a ceremony marking his impending retirement. The Astros presented him with a pair of pinstriped cowboy boots emblazoned with his No. 2, a huge Stetson hat and a free stay and golf lessons at a golf resort operated by Astros owner Jim Crane. The Astros players all came out of the dugout to give a standing ovation to Jeter before he took his first at-bat. Jeter tipped his batting helmet to the crowd.
The Yankees will try to salvage one game and some of their pride in the final game of the series with the Astros on Thursday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (2-1, 3.66 ERA in spring truing) will make his 2014 debut after ending the 2013 season as the team’s best pitcher in the second half of the season. Nova, 27, was 9-6 with a 3.10 ERA last season.
The Astros will counter with24-year-old right-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-2, 11.00 ERA). Oberholtzer was 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 13 games (10 of them starts) with the Astros last season.
Game-time will be 8:10 EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
CC Sabathia continued his fine work from spring training with six strong innings and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira led a newly retooled Yankee offense as the New York downed Houston in their season opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2
Somehow the Astros did not get the memo on how Opening Day was supposed to go.
The Astros scored six runs in the first two innings off CC Sabathia, including home runs by Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, as Houston rolled to an Opening Day victory over New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park.
Sabathia (0-1) was tagged for four runs in the first and two more in the second before he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings to save the bullpen. Meanwhile, Astros starter Scott Feldman (1-0) held the Yankees in check by using a series of slow-pitch softball speed pitches.
Feldman held the powerful Yankee lineup to no runs on two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander entered the contest with a career record of 51-56 with a 4.59.
The Yankees did not get their first hit off Feldman until Carlos Beltran slapped a one-out single to left in the fourth inning. Mark Teixeira looped a one-out single to right in the seventh for the team’s only other hit off Feldman.
The Astros did not waste any time against Sabathia when Dexter Fowler led off the first with a double to deep center. He moved to third on a flyout and scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve. After a stolen base and a wild pitch advanced him to third, Altuve scored when Teixeira’s throw to home on a grounder off the bat of Jason Castro was thrown wide past McCann.
Guzman lined the first offering from Sabathia deep into the left-field bleachers to make the score 4-0. Guzman entered the game with only 23 career homers over the past 2 1/2 seasons.
Hoes opened the second inning with a solo blast of his own. Hoes entered the contest with only one previous major-league homer in 49 games.
The Astros capped the scoring in the second when Fowler laced another double with one out. Altuve later added a two-out single to score Fowler.
The Yankees had two chances to score against Feldman. In the fourth, Beltran singled with one out and Teixeira drew a two-out walk. However, Alfonso Soriano struck out to end the threat.
In the seventh, Teixeira’s one-out single was followed by a pair of two-out walks to Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts to load the bases.
Astros manager Bo Porter replaced Feldman with left-hander Kevin Chapman and he induced Kelly Johnson into a force out to leave the bases loaded.
The Yankees did finally break through in the eighth inning when Chapman opened the frame by walking Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter then greeted right-hander Chad Qualls with a single to right.
Beltran advanced Ellsbury and Jeter with a groundout and Brian McCann and Teixeira followed with RBI singles.
However, Qualls ended the rally by getting Soriano to hit into an inning-ending double play.
- Two big concerns the Yankees had opening the season was how Jeter and Teixeira would fare after both players, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, struggled to hit this spring. But Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
- Give both McCann and Teixeira a lot of credit for the their RBI singles. Both decided to hit to the opposite field with shifts on against them and a ground-ball pitcher on the mound in Qualls. If you try to pull outside pitches you end up grounding into the shift. Both recognized that and hit to the opposite field.
- Both Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitched an inning of relief and both were impressive. Betances struck out two in a perfect inning in the seventh and Nuno struck out the side in the eighth. The Yankees are hoping that Betances, 26, and Nuno, 26, will contribute a lot to a completely retooled bullpen that is missing closer Mariano Rivera.
- The reality is that Sabathia was NOT defeated by his reduced velocity. Sabathia was beaten because he missed location with his pitches. When he was up in the strike zone he got hammered. When he got the ball down he was successful in the final four innings. Sabathia was making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and the 11th of his career. He is the team’s ace out of courtesy and you can actually make a case that he is the weakest of the Yankees five starters. Once Yankees fans accept that fact they may just be able to accept Sabathia for what he is at age 33.
- Soriano can be a maddening player. When he is red hot you can’t get him out. When he is cold he can kill your offense. He killed the offense pretty well on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a inning-ending double play. Soriano stranded a team-high five runners. Ouch!
- Though the Yankees were charged with one error they actually were extremely sloppy in the field in this game. McCann overthrew third base trying to nab Altuve. Teixeira’s throw home to get Altuve was to the first-base side of home plate and skipped past McCann. They just did not look sharp in the field with the exception of some fine plays at third by Johnson.
Before the game the Yankees purchased the contract of infielder Yangervis Solarte from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designated infielder Eduardo Nunez for assignment. The team will have 10 days to trade, release or outright Nunez to the minor leagues. Nunez, 26, was once viewed as the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop but he was outplayed this spring by Solarte, 26, and Dean Anna, 27. . . . The Yankees Opening Day lineup had only one holdover from Opening Day in 2013 and that was Gardner. Last season, both Jeter and Teixeira were on the disabled list and 2013 starters Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were on the bench on Tuesday. The 2013 lineup also included Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Nunez. . . . The Astros plan to honor Jeter with a special ceremony on Wednesday with former teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on hand. Jeter announced just before spring training began that this will be his final season.
The Yankees will have to recover from their loss as they play the second game of a three-game seres with the Astros.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31 ERA in 2013) will make his first start of the season. He was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA this spring.
He will opposed by right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season. He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA this spring.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, PIRATES 0
TAMPA – After CC Sabathia ended the 2013 season with a disappointing 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his past two spring starts, he is well on his way to delivering on that promise.
Sabathia (2-1) threw seven shutout innings and fanned seven Pirates as New York went on to blank Pittsburgh 4-0 on Friday in front of a paid crowd of 10,890 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The slimmed-down left-hander gave up only four hits and a walk while stretching his current scoreless inning streak to 13. In his past two starts, Sabathia has yielded no runs on four hits and one walk while striking out 12 in 12 innings.
The Yankees handed Sabathia all the runs he really needed in the first two innings against right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-3).
Brian McCann started it with a two-out RBI double in the first and Carlos Beltran later scored on a wild pitch. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter each delivered RBI groundouts in the second as the Yankees touched Volquez for four runs on five hits and two walks in five innings.
The Yankees backed Sabathia’s strong outing with four double plays and two of them came from McCann.
The seven-time All-Star catcher nailed Josh Harrison attempting to steal as Andrew McCutchen struck out in the first. Then in the third inning he did it again as Harrison struck out and he threw out Robert Andino.
The Yankees have now won six consecutive Grapefruit League contests and they outscored their opponents 36-7, with three of the victories coming via shutout.
The Yankees’ spring record is now 14-9-2. The Pirates fell to 11-9.
- Sabathia arrived in camp more than 30 pounds slimmer and determined to regain his ace status despite reduced velocity on his fastball. This spring he has sort of reinvented himself much like Andy Pettitte had to do when he lost velocity on his fastball. For those who were ready to shovel dirt on Sabathia’s career may be in for a huge surprise. Sabathia has always been more of a pitcher than a thrower so he can adapt at age 33.
- When McCann signed a free-agent contract the Yankees knew they were getting one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Though he is solid defensively, the weakest part of his game has been his throwing. On Friday, he looked every bit as good as Russell Martin and Chris Stewart. McCann’s spring batting average is now .235, but that is misleading. Even McCann’s outs are hit hard and the ball jumps off his bat. The Yankees might have found the perfect successor to Jorge Posada.
- Very quietly Brian Roberts has been getting better this spring. After a slow start, he is hitting .290 with his 1-for-3 night on Friday. Roberts has to prove he can remain healthy but his last season like that was 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles. That year all Roberts did was score 110 runs, blast 16 home runs, drive in 79 runs, hit 56 doubles, steal 30 bases and bat .283. The Yankees don’t expect that kind of production but don’t be surprised if he gets near those numbers.
The Yankees have had their best week of the spring. The pitching has been magnificent. The starting lineup is beginning to hit and even the defense and the bullpen have been good. No need to dwell on any negatives here.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury tested his sore right calf on Friday by running on grass and he possibly could return to action as early as Tuesday. That would give Ellsbury five games before the season begins on April 1 in Houston. Ellsbury was the only starter not in the lineup on Friday. . . . Jeter played seven innings on Friday despite the fact he fouled two balls off his surgically repaired left ankle. Jeter told reporters after the game that he was fine. He said the ankle was sore but he hopes to be ready to play on Sunday. Jeter was not scheduled to play on Saturday. . . . MRIs taken on backup infielder Brendan Ryan indicate a pinched nerve in his upper back and it is almost certain that he will begin the season on the disabled list. Ryan has not played in a game since March 4. He was scheduled to start on Thursday in Fort Myers against the Boston Red Sox. But during infield drills, Ryan’s upper back stiffened and he had to be scratched. To replace Ryan on the roster, manager Joe Girardi told reporters that he will pick two players from among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. . . . Prior to the start of the game on Friday the Yankees infielder Greg Bird and right-handed pitcher Shane Greene were named winners of the 2013 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ minor-league “Player of the Year” and “Pitcher of the Year,” respectively. Bird, 21, batted .288 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 84 RBIs in 130 games with the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs. Greene, 25, played for both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, posting a 12-10 record with a 3.38 ERA over 27 appearances (26 starts). . . . Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Friday’s game. Marino threw a strike to Posada, who is in camp as a special instructor.
The Yankees make the long trek to Fort Myers on Saturday to face the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium.
The Yankees have selected Masahiro Tanaka (0-0, 1.93 ERA) to make his third start of the spring. Gardner, Francisco Cervelli and Kelly Johnson are expected to make the trip.
The Twins will counter with right-hander Kevin Correia (1-1, 6.00 ERA).
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network.
Spring training is here!
We are days away from the New York Yankees’ spring home opener and camp is already abuzz about Derek Jeter’s final season, the anticipation of seeing Japanese star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the new boatload of free agents the team signed like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
But before the games begin I have picked five players to watch this spring. They are not necessarily big names but they do bear watching because of how they will affect the makeup of the Yankees’ 25-man roster that will open the season.
In reverse order of importance, here are the five:
NO. 5 – DEAN ANNA, 27, INFIELDER
The name may not be familiar because Anna played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in Tucson and he batted .331 with nine homers and 73 RBIs in 132 games. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade with the Padres for minor-league right-hander Ben Paulus. Anna is primarily a second baseman but he also has logged time at shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots in his pro career. That versatility makes him potentially valuable to the Yankees if he can hit anywhere near his .286 minor-league career average. Anna will be battling Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore for a backup infielding spot on the roster. His acquisition shows the Yankees do not have much faith in the development of Corban Joseph and David Adams was released after he flopped in his brief major-league trial last season. With injury-plagued veteran second baseman Brian Roberts as the starter and with Kelly Johnson the primary starter at third base with the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, Anna could back up at both positions. He has the bat to produce and his glove is more than adequate. If Anna impresses the Yankees, Nunez could be packaged in a deal to strengthen the bullpen or bench. If Anna fails to make the roster, he will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he will be phone call away should any of the infielders get injured during the season. Watch him closely.
NO. 4 – PRESTON CLAIBORNE, 26, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER
Claiborne was recalled from Scranton and made his major-league debut on May 5. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander made an immediate impression on manager Joe Girardi by not walking a single batter in his first 14 appearances. If you want to get on Girardi’s good side you don’t walk batters. Claiborne did that and also impressed everyone with his effectiveness out of the bullpen. By Aug. 9, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.08 in 33 games. The Texas native, who was nicknamed “Little Joba,” for his resemblance to Joba Chamberlain had actually supplanted his namesake in the bullpen pecking order. However, a roster numbers crunch forced the Yankees to send Claiborne back and forth from the Bronx to Scranton five times in a 10-day period in August. Claiborne was not the same the rest of the season. In his final 11 appearances, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent losses of Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan, Claiborne will get a chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues. If he does and pitches as he did initially in 2013, the Yankees might have a stronger bullpen than the experts imagine. Claiborne has the ability. It is just a matter of doing well this spring,
NO. 3 – RUSS CANZLER, 27, INFIELDER/OUTFIELDER
Canzler actually was acquired by the Yankees last winter but was designated for assignment before the exhibition season started because the team had signed designated hitter Travis Hafner. Canzler instead was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles, sent to their Triple-A affiliate and then traded late in the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two minor-league stops, Canzler batted .252 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s value is that he is capable of playing both infield corner spots as well as both corner outfield spots. Last season he started 42 games at first, 13 at third and 16 in the outfield. He even started one game at second base. But Canzler’s calling card is power. The right-handed hitter has 118 career home runs in the minors. The reason he intrigues the Yankees is because the current depth chart lists Johnson as the primary backup to Mark Teixeira at first base. Teixeira is coming off surgery on his right wrist after playing in only 15 games last season. The Yankees could stand to have a player who can play the position. Johnson has only made two major-league starts at first. So Canzler could make the roster if he has an impressive spring. That would allow him to platoon with Johnson at third and back up Teixeira at first and he could even log some time in the outfield, if needed. The odds of Canzler making it are slim. But he bears watching.
NO. 2 – CESAR CABRAL, 25, LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER
Bad luck forced this 2012 Rule V draft pick from the Kansas City Royals via the Boston Red Sox to delay his major-league debut. Cabral came into camp in 2012 as a candidate to be a lefty specialist out the bullpen. Throughout the spring, Cabral battled Clay Rapada until the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dominican fractured his elbow in his final appearance of the spring. He did not pitch at all in 2012 and he missed the early stages of the 2013 season while rehabbing the injury. But once he got started, Cabral got rolling. In three minor-league stops he was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. That does not look impressive but he struck out 43 batters in 36 2/3 innings. That got him a September call-up to the Yankees. Cabral took advantage of the opportunity by going 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings in eight games. Lefties hit .125 off him. Girardi was very impressed and Cabral enters the spring with an excellent chance of making the team as a lefty specialist. The other lefties on the team’s 40-man roster are starters and the two non-roster invitee lefties, Fred Lewis and Francisco Rondon, are huge longshots to make the roster. Cabral is worth watching because he has 376 career strikeouts in 383 2/3 innings in the minors. With the bevy of strong left-handed hitters such as David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and our old buddy Robinson Cano around, it helps to have a effective lefty who can get them out. Cabral could be that guy for the Yankees.
NO. 1 – MICHAEL PINEDA, 25, RIGHT-HANDED STARTER
This selection was really a no-brainer. Since the Yankees elected to trade promising prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Pineda and right-hander Jose Campos in 2012, the anticipation of seeing what Pineda could do has been palpable. After he made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in his rookie season in Seattle, the Yankees could not wait to see this 6-foot-7, 260-pound righty bring out his best. Unfortunately, Pineda showed up to camp overweight in 2012 and he did not pitch well during the exhibition season. His velocity was down and he was getting hit hard. It ended with a shellacking from the Philadephia Phillies in his last start of the spring and Pineda admitted after the game his right shoulder was sore. That led to surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. Pineda, as a result, missed the entire 2012 season and he was not ready to answer the bell at the start of the 2013 season either. Pineda made three stops in the minors last season with hopes of receiving a call back to the majors in September. He was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings in 10 starts. But minor soreness in the surgically repaired shoulder ended his season. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the free-agent loss of Phil Hughes, the Yankees want Pineda to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation. They figure it is about time he produce something. Pineda will battle right-handers David Phelps and Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno for the spot. But the smart money is on Pineda. His velocity may not be what it was but the Yankees think he can be effective. We will soon find out how effective Pineda can be.
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.