Results tagged ‘ Andy Pettitte ’

Jeter Helps Yanks Down O’s In Final Home Opener

GAME 7

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

Rookie Solarte Ignites Yankees To First Victory

GAME 3

YANKEES 4, ASTROS 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jose Altuve then plated Fowler on a groundout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

Astros Silence Yankees Bats To Post Another Win

GAME 2

ASTROS 3, YANKEES 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

 

Astros Flip Script To Take Opener Over Yankees

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

Oops!

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GAME 1

ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

CC Tosses 7 Scoreless As Yanks Win 6th Straight

GAME 25

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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.

 

Super Nova Dominates Nats As Yankees Roll On

GAME 6

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

From July 5 to the end of the 2013 season, Ivan Nova was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his last 15 starts. That same dominant right-handed pitcher showed up on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Nova (1-0) pitched three hitless shutout innings to set the tone for New York’s Grapefruit League victory over Washington.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander threw 30 of his 35 pitches for strikes and struck out four in just his second outing of the spring.

The Yankees backed Nova with a four-run second-inning uprising off Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler (0-1), keyed by RBI hits by Kelly Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki and Corban Joseph as the Yankees claimed their fourth straight exhibition victory.

Brian Roberts and Francisco Cervelli opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Johnson then followed with a bloop double to left that scored Roberts.

Suzuki extended the rally when Nationals shortstop Zach Walters fielded his slow roller and threw wildly to first, allowing both Cervelli and Johnson to score.

After Zoilo Almonte laced a double to right, Joseph plated Suzuki with the final run of the inning with a solid single to right.

New closer David Robertson made his first appearance of the spring in relief of Nova in the fourth and pitched around hitting Danny Espinosa with his second pitch by retiring Tyler Moore on a double-play grounder and getting Scott Hairston on a flyout to left.

The Nationals scored their two runs on a solo home run by Walters off right-hander Shawn Kelley in the fifth and on a fielding error in the sixth by Derek Jeter on a ground ball off the bat of Espinosa that allowed Eury Perez to score with right-hander Danny Burawa on the mound.

Right-hander Jim Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for a save.

The Yankees are 4-2 in early spring play while the Nationals fell to 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I have said for a very long time and it does bear repeating that Nova IS the Yankee starter with the best overall stuff. His mid-90s fastball and crackling curveball were on full display on Monday. When Nova commands his pitches he is as nasty and dominant as any pitcher the Yankees have. After suffering through a horrible 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA and sustaining an early bout of forearm tendinitis last season, Nova has been everything the Yankees had hoped he would be when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season. If he pitches this season as he did on Monday he could have a very good record in 2014.
  • Johnson, 32, is settling in nicely with the Yankees as the team’s primary third baseman this season. Johnson averaged 24 home runs and 61 RBIs from 2010 through 2012. Last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Johnson hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 runs in only 118 games. The Yankees think the lefty swinging Johnson can produce as much for the Yankees while Alex Rodriguez sits out his season-long suspension.
  • Cervelli, 28, went 2-for-3 with a single, a double and run scored. Cervelli is 4-for-7 (.571) in early spring action and it seems he is determined not to lose the backup catching spot to Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy this spring. One thing in Cervelli’s favor is that he is out of options and the team would lose him if he did not win the job.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The infield defense this spring has not been as crisp as it could be. Of course, with Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira yet to play in a game and with the free-agent loss of Robinson Cano at second that is to be expected. The main offenders have been Joseph and Addison Maruszak. Maruszak has committed three errors and Joseph has committed two, including one at first base on Monday. The Yankees committed a franchise-record low of errors last season. It would be nice of they get close to that again in 2014.
  • There is nothing to be alarmed about yet, but Jeter is 0-for-7 in the three games he has played this spring. I would be alarmed if it stretched into another week or so. But the good news is the Yankee captain is moving without discomfort or a limp due to his surgically repaired left ankle.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees had football legend Joe Namath throw out the first pitch for Monday’s game. Namath, the 70-year-old former great of the New York Jets and a Hall of Fame quarterback, wore a Yankee jersey with his iconic No. 12 as he escorted manager Joe Girardi to exchange the lineup card at home plate and he spent the rest of the day next to Girardi in the Yankees’ dugout as a “co-manager.”  . . .  Teixeira took some swings on Monday against left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Jose Campos. Teixeira reported no issues with his surgically repaired right wrist. He hopes to take some more swings on Tuesday leading up to his first game action either Thursday or Friday.  . . .  Andy Pettitte was in camp on Monday as a special guest instructor but he made a point to insist that he not going to come out of retirement this time.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play there first night game of the spring at home playing host to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander David Phelps will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran will start in the outfield and Jeter will also be in the lineup as the designated hitter.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who was 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 23 starts with the O’s last season.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Here Are Five Key Yankees To Watch This Spring

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.

 

 

Tanaka Signing Thrusts Yankees Into Contention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ellsbury Signing Buoys Yankees, Weakens Bosox

In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.

The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.

Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will  -  after passing a physical  -  sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.

Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.

On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.

After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.

The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.

Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.

The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.

The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?

Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?

If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?

The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.

Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.

Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.

There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?

With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.

But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.

The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.

Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.

The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25,  who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.

The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.

The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.

The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.

The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.

He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.

After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.

 

Nova Tosses Goose Eggs As Yankees Down Birds

GAME 135

YANKEES 2, ORIOLES 0

When Ivan Nova took the mound on Saturday he carried the weight of a pennant race, a proud franchise and a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 42,836 on his broad shoulders. After watching him pitch, though, it appeared as if he was toying with the Baltimore Orioles as he calmly and cooly retired them one after another.

The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander surrendered only three hits and a walk while he fanned five en route to a complete-game shutout over Baltimore to allow the Yankees to claim third place in the American League East standings.

Nova (8-4) threw only 104 pitches in recording his first major-league shutout over an Oriole team that did more flailing at Nova’s sharp curveball than a dodo bird pointlessly trying to take flight.

Nova received all the support he really required in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a sharply stroked double down the right-field line off Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman (11-10). One out later, Robinson Cano laced a double of his own off the right-field wall to score Gardner.

The game remained 1-0 until Feldman left the game after seven innings, giving up just the one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Left-hander Troy Patton opened the eighth by throwing a 2-1 slider that Cano drove over the auxiliary scoreboard in right and about 12 rows back for his 25th home run of the season, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Nova only gave up a bloop single off the bat of Matt Wieters with no outs in the second inning, a ground-ball single to left by Manny Machado with two out in the sixth and an infield single off Nova’s glove by Nate McLouth to leadoff the ninth.

Nova opened the second by hitting Adam Jones on a 1-0 pitch and Wieters followed with his single. But Nova escaped the jam by retiring Nick Markakis on a double-play grounder and J.J. Hardy flew out with Jones on third to retire the side.

Nova also hit Chris Davis with a errant curve with one out in the fifth. But Nova retired Jones and Wieters to end that inning.

Nova also walked Hardy to lead off the eighth but he then induced Wilson Betemit to hit into a double play and ended the inning by cutting down Brian Roberts on a come-backer to the mound.

After McLouth’s single in the ninth, Nova got Machado on a routine fly to left, survived a scare when Davis flew out to the warning track in right and ended the game by getting Jones on a line drive to short.

Since returning to the rotation as full-time starter on July 5  -  ironically with a complete-game 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium over the Orioles  -  Nova is 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his 10 starts during that span.

The Yankees not only have won this crucial three-game weekend series with the Orioles. They now are 72-63 and are a half-game ahead of the Orioles in third place in the division. The Orioles fell to 71-63. In addition, the Cleveland Indians lost 10-5 to the Detroit Tigers, which allowed the Yankees to move ahead of the Indians in third place in the wild-card standings, four games away from a playoff spot.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes struggling of late, Nova came through with one his best starts in of his career. Nova threw no more than 16 pitches in any inning and retired the Orioles in six frames on 12 pitches or less. Nova also allowed the vaunted Yankee bullpen to get a well-deserved day off. After falling off measurably last season and spending most of the first half of this season on the disabled list, Nova is becoming the pitcher the Yankees thought he was when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season in 2010.
  • Cano was pretty much the team’s offense again on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Cano finished August by batting a sizzling .370 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has raised his season average to .309 and he leads the Yankees in home runs (25) and RBIs (89).
  • Gardner reached base in three of his four plate appearances and ended up 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored. Gardner’s double in the first inning gave him 133 hits for the season, which is a career high. Gardner had 132 hits in both 2010 and 2011. Gardner struggled in August, hitting just .238 with a home run and nine RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There is nothing negative to this effort. Nova was sensational from his first pitch to his last, Cano provided the team just enough offense and the defense helped Nova mow down the Orioles like tall blades of grass. This was a very important victory for the Yankees. But they can’t rest on their laurels. They have to keep winning.

BOMBER BANTER

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez had to be scratched late from the starting lineup due to weakness associated from flu-like symptoms. Mark Reynolds was moved from first base to third base to replace Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay was inserted into the lineup to play first. Overbay, who entered the game hitless in his past 16 at-bats, was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles in the game. Manager Joe Girardi said he is hopeful that Rodriguez will be able to play on Sunday.  . . .  Since Aug. 16 the Yankees can boast of having the best bullpen in the major leagues. In that span, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.05 with a 3-0 record and five saves.  . . .  The Yankees are undecided about what players and how many players they will add when the rosters expand on Sunday. The only obvious choice will be the recall of rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne to bolster the bullpen.

ON DECK

The Yankees can collect a sweep of the Orioles on Sunday and put some distance between them in the division.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, has won his past three starts and he is coming off the seven scoreless innings he threw against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 3.76 ERA). Chen was shelled for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday in what Chen said was the worst start of his career. Chen is 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

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