Results tagged ‘ Astros ’

Tex Liking Houston Now After Bailing Out Yankees

GAME 75

YANKEES 9, ASTROS 6

Since he arrived in Houston on Thursday, Mark Teixeira had not been feeling real comfortable at Minute Maid Park. He entered the day 0-for-7 in the series and he stood at the plate in the eighth inning 0-for-4  in Saturday’s game.

But Teixeira is not feeling so bad about Houston now.

His one-out, two-run double in the eighth inning broke a 6-6 tie and allowed New York to defeat the Astros despite blowing a 6-0 lead earlier in the game.

Brett Gardner opened the eighth by drawing a walk from right-hander Pat Neshek (3-1). Chris Young followed by hitting a ground ball to third baseman Luis Valbuena, who threw to second baseman Jose Altuve in an effort to force Gardner.

However, second-base umpire Joe West ruled that Altuve never touched the base. after he caught the ball. Gardner was ruled safe and Altuve was charged with a what ended up being a very crucial error. Astros manager A.J. Hinch challenged the call but it was confirmed by replay.

One out later, Teixeira ended his 0-for-11 slump in Houston by driving a 3-2 pitch high off the wall in left-center for a double that scored both Gardner and Young with the go-ahead runs.

Chase Headley padded the lead to three runs by hitting his eighth home run of the season  –  a solo shot off left-hander Tony Sipp in the ninth.

Left-hander Chasen Shreve (5-1) pitched two-thirds of an inning of scoreless relief in the bottom of the seventh inning to get credit for the victory.

Left-hander Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth and right-hander Dellin Betances finished the ninth to earn his sixth save in seven opportunities this season.

The Yankees opened the game as if it would be an easy victory for them when they loaded the bases against left-hander Brett Oberholtzer in the first inning.

Gardner led off with a double while Young and Alex Rodriguez both drew walks. After Teixeira flied out, Brian McCann blasted a 1-0 change-up well into the right-field bleachers for his 12th homer of the season and 11th career grand slam to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.

With one-out in the second inning, Gardner stroked another double and Young, a Houston native who entered the game with a .410 career average and 10 homers at Minute Maid Park including a three-run game-winning home run on Friday, hit a two-run blast to left to give the Yankees a 6-0 lead.

Oberholtzer then threw a pitch so far inside to Rodriguez that it nearly hit him. Home-plate umpire Rob Drake immediately ejected Oberholtzer from the game for, in his judgment, deliberately trying to hit Rodriguez with a pitch.

Oberholtzer was charged with six runs on four hits and three walks with one strikeout in 1 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of his career. He entered the game 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA.

However, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka was unable to hold the big lead and suffered through his second bad outing in a row.

With one out in the second inning, Domingo Santana doubled to left and Chris Carter followed with an RBI double off the wall in center to score Santana. One out later, George Springer scored Carter with an RBI single to left.

With two in the fourth, Carter got to Tanaka again with a long blast into the left-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season.

The Astros then opened the third with Springer drawing a walk and rookie Carlos Correa shooting an opposite-field home run to right for his fifth home run of the season. Altuve then followed by lacing a shot into the left-field stands for his sixth home run of the season to tie the game at 6-6.

Tanaka left having yielded six runs on seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings. The three home runs matched the three home runs he surrendered to the Tigers and the six runs allowed were a career high.

Fortunately for Tanaka, Teixeira was finally able to break out of his minor hitting slump in time to hand the Yankees their second victory in a row in the three-game series with the Astros.

With the victory the Yankees are now 41-34 on the season and they remain a half game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Astros fell to 43-34.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner continues to sparkle on offense. He was 3-for-6 with two doubles, a single, a walk and he scored three runs. On May 8, Gardner was hitting .326. But a prolonged slump saw his average drop all the way to .271 on June 3. Since June 3, Gardner is 31-for-86 (.360) with five home runs and 17 RBIs. That has raised his season average back to an even .300.
  • Teixeira’s two RBIs now give him 53 on the season and that leads the team. It also puts him in a three-way tie with Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers and Stephen Vogt of the Oakland Athletics for first place in the American League. Teixeira is now hitting .263 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs against right-handers this season.
  • One of the best-kept secrets on this team has been 24-year-old Shreve, who has won five games in relief and is sporting an excellent 1.72 ERA in 27 games. When the Yankees dealt left-hander Manny Banuelos to the Atlanta Braves they were expecting big things out of right-hander David Carpenter and they were hopeful Shreve would develop. Well, Carpenter has been released and Shreve has not given up an earned run since May 22, a stretch of 14 appearances and 14 2/3 innings. He has been very valuable since closer Andrew Miller has been on the disabled list.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The elbow naysayers are already barking because Tanaka has been shelled for 13 runs (11 earned) on 17 hits and four walks in 10 innings in his past two starts. That includes six home runs and his ERA has climbed to 3.88. However, his fastball was clocked up to 94 and averaged 92. So the elbow is fine. The problem is Tanaka is throwing the cutter way too much and he is falling behind in the count too often. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told reporters that he will be working with Tanaka on tightening his mechanics on his delivery and that he should be better next time out.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury ran the bases and hit on the field at Minute Maid Park on Saturday and, if he does well doing the same on Sunday, he could be sent out to Tampa, FL, on a rehab assignment. Ellsbury has not played since May 19 due to a strained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. Manager Joe Girardi said he does not think Ellsbury will need many at-bats in the minor leagues to get ready but he refused to place a set number of at-bats on his return.

ON DECK

The Yankees could claim three of the four games in the road series with the Astros with a victory on Sunday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-4, 4.25 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off a horrible outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday when he was charged with a season high eight runs on 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Right-hander Collin McHugh (8-3, 4.80 ERA) will start for the Astros. McHugh held the Los Angeles Angels to two runs on nine hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings on Tuesday.

Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Two Houston Natives Help Yankees Edge Astros

GAME 74

YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2

Sometimes it takes a couple of Lone Star State boys to take care of some Texas-sized problems. On Friday both right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and outfielder Chris Young did just that for the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.

Houston-born Eovaldi threw six innings of two-run baseball and Houston-born Young’s three-run home run with one out in the seventh gave New York a hard-fought comeback victory over the Astros in front of a paid crowd of 37,748.

Though Eovaldi (7-2) pitched well, the Astros were still able to touch him for single runs in the third and sixth innings.

Hank Conger laced a one-out double to left-center in the third inning and one out later Carlos Correa scored him on a single to center.

The Astros added a run in the sixth on a one-out infield single by Jose Altuve and a stolen base, which set up a two-out bloop RBI single to center by Evan Gattis.

Meanwhile, right-hander Vincent Velasquez held the Yankees scoreless for six innings on just three hits and one walk with two strikeouts.

But the Yankees got a one-out opposite-field single from Carlos Beltran in the seventh and Garrett Jones followed with a bloop single to right.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch replaced Velasquez with right-hander Will Harris, who entered the game with a 0.78 ERA.

Young, who attended nearby Bellaire High School and entered the at-bat 41-for-103 (.398) with eight home runs at Minute Maid Park in his career, blasted a 1-1 fastball well into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees their first lead in the four-game series.

Left-handers Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson and right-hander Dellin Betances held the Astros hitless the rest of the way to preserve the victory for Eovaldi, who attended nearby Alvin High School just as Hall of Fame right-hander Nolan Ryan did.

In fact, Ryan (who was in attendance at the game) and Eovaldi are the only two products of that high school to play Major League Baseball.

Betances threw 1 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball to earn his fifth save six chances this season.

Velasquez was charged with two runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings but Harris (4-1) was charged with the loss.

Eovaldi held the Astros to five hits and two walks while he struck six to record his second consecutive quality start.

With the victory the Yankees improved they season record to 40-34 and they climbed to with a half game of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Astros dropped  to 43-33.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Young added a single the eighth inning to end his evening 3-for-4 with two singles, a homer, a run scored and three RBIs. He now is 43-for-105 (.410) at Minute Maid Park. He also extended his hitting streak to nine games. In that span, Young is 17-for-34 (.500) with two homers and eight RBIs. Though Young’s role is primarily to hit against left-handers, injuries to outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mason Williams have forced the Yankees to use him in an everyday role and Young is responding.
  • Eovaldi surpassed his career high in victories with the decision and in his past two outings he has yielded four runs on eight hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings. That has lowered his season ERA to 4.81. It also has saved his job because right-hander Adam Warren has been shifted back to the bullpen.
  • Betances came in the eighth with two out and pinch-runner Marwin Gonzalez on first after Wilson walked Luis Valbuena. Though Gonzalez stole second, Betances fanned Gattis to end the threat and then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his fifth save in place of injured left-hander Andrew Miller. Betances is 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA and has 61 strikeouts in just 37 1/3 innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The rookie right-hander Velasquez had never made it past the fifth inning in any of his three previous starts. But once again the Yankees were unable to solve a pitcher they had not faced before and made him look better than he really was. The Yankees could not lay off his fastball up and out of the strike zone and subsequently they popped up and flied out 11 times in the first six innings.
  • Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann combined to go 0-for-8 in the game. With Alex Rodriguez out the lineup resting, the two just could do nothing right at the plate. Among Teixeira’s outs was a strikeout and a crucial double play he hit into with Brett Gardner at first in the sixth inning. The twin-killing came on a 3-1 pitch.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the Astros on Saturday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (4-3, 3.17 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off his worst outing of the season last Saturday when he gave up seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits in five innings against the Detroit Tigers. Tanaka has never faced the Astros.

The Astros will send out left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (2-1, 2.81 ERA). Oberholtzer had a no-decision on Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels. He yielded two runs on four hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. Oberholtzer is 0-2 with a 4.96 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Power Surge Allows Yankees To Sweep Red Sox

GAME 25

YANKEES 8, RED SOX 5

If ever there was a time to showcase your superiority over a hated rival and expose their weaknesses for the rest of the baseball world to see it would be on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN in front of a national television audience. That is exactly what the Yankees did to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.

Brett Gardner hit a three-run homer, Mark Teixeira blasted a two-run shot and Brian McCann drove in two runs with a double to lead an offensive onslaught that allowed New York to complete their first series sweep in Beantown since a five-game sweep on Aug. 18-21, 2006.

The red-hot Yankees have now won 10 of their past 12 games and they left the slumping Red Sox under .500 for the first time this season.

Behind Gardner, Teixeira and McCann the Yankees were able to build an 8-0 lead on the bewildered Bosox by the sixth inning, doing most of their damage against right-hander Joe Kelly.

With two out in the first inning and Gardner on first, Teixeira opened the scoring by launching his ninth home run of the season over the Green Monster in left-center off a Kelly slider.

Two innings later, the Yankees again struck with two out and Jacoby Ellsbury on second and Teixeira on first. McCann drove a 3-2 fastball to the wall in right-center to score both runners. Carlos Beltran followed an RBI double of his own.

Kelly (1-1), who had beaten right-hander Adam Warren and the Yankees on April 11 at Yankee Stadium by limiting them to just one hit in seven innings, finally was chased from the game with two out in the fifth.

He was charged with five runs on nine hits and no walks with three strikeouts. It was the eighth time in 25 games that the Red Sox have had a starting pitcher yield five or more runs, which is the worst mark in the majors.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to add three more runs in the sixth off left-hander Craig Breslow when Didi Gregorius and Ellsbury, who was 4-for-4 on the night, singled and Gardner followed with a his second home run of the season into right-center.

Gardner’s blow appeared to put the game completely out of reach. However, right-hander Warren tired in the sixth and Gardner’s home run ended up being the decisive blow in the contest.

Warren (2-1) had allowed the Red Sox only one hit and two walks through the first five innings and he appeared to be cruising after he retired the first two batters in the sixth.

But Dustin Pedroia singled and David Ortiz scored him from first on a double off the Green Monster. Warren then hit Hanley Ramirez on a 1-1 pitch and Ramirez threw down his bat in disgust believing Warren had thrown at him on purpose.

After Pablo Sandoval singled to score Ortiz, manager Joe Girardi replaced Warren with right-hander Esmil Rogers. Mike Napoli greeted Rogers by lifting a high-arcing fly ball that just reached the Green Monster seats to draw the Red Sox to within three runs at 8-5.

Despite pitching his best game of the season, Warren ended up being charged with four runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. In his eight major-league starts Warren has yet to pitch six full innings in any them.

After Napoli’s homer Rogers walked Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts reached on an infield dribbler to bring up Blake Swihart as the potential tying run. But the rookie playing on only his second major-league game struck out to end the inning in which 10 men went to the plate for the Red Sox.

The game got a little chippy with one out in the top of the eighth inning when right-hander Edward Mujica drilled Ellsbury with a 3-0 pitch in the right thigh. Home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson quickly warned both benches.

The Yankees were able to keep the Red Sox from scoring the rest of the night on the strength of Rogers, Justin Wilson and David Carpenter over the next two innings. But the Red Sox decided to make left-hander Andrew Miller work some overtime to earn his 10th save.

Pinch-hitter Allen Craig drew a leadoff walk from Miller in the ninth before Bogaerts and Swihart struck out. But Mookie Betts also walked and Pedroia reached to load the bases on a throwing error by Chase Headley.

Miller then retired the potential winning run in Ortiz by getting him on a routine flyout. Miller has now extended his scoreless streak this season to 12 1/3 innings and he is perfect 10 for 10 in save chances.

The Yankees have run their season record to 16-9 and they have a three-game lead on the both the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Red Sox are 12-13 and they are a full four games back in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury entered the game on fire and he got even hotter on Sunday. He was 4-for-4 (all singles), a walk and was hit with a pitch. Oddly, he scored only one run and he did not drive in a run. But Ellsbury now has 19 hits in his past 40 at-bats (.475) to raise his season average to .351. He also has a six-game hitting streak.
  • Gardner really put a dagger in the Bosox the past two games. He drove in three of the team’s four runs in Saturday’s 4-2 victory and on Sunday he was 2-for-6 with a single, a homer, two stolen bases, two runs scored and three RBIs. He was 5-for-14 (.357) in the series with six RBIs.
  • Teixeira’s finally proved his surgically repaired right wrist is no longer an issue anymore with his ninth homer of the season that he drove to the opposite field in left-center. Teixeira is in third place in both the majors and the American League in home runs behind Nelson Cruz (13) of the Seattle Mariners and Ramirez (10). Despite the power and his team-leading 20 RBIs, Teixeira is still batting just .202 on the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I should be angry with the way Warren could not get through six, the fact Rogers gave up a three-run home run and that the usually flawless Headley committed his sixth error of the season. But because the Yankees did win on national TV and it ended with a sweep against the Red Sox at Fenway, I am willing to overlook all that just to see most of that home crowd of 33,198 going home angry with their team. There is nothing but sunshine in the Yankee Universe.

BRONX JEER

The Red Sox showed their true colors when Ramirez bellowed like a stuck pig when Warren hit him with a pitch with two outs in the sixth and the Yankees winning 8-1. Manager John Farrell obviously gave the go-ahead for Mujica to retaliate in the eighth on a 3-0 pitch after Mujica had thrown an earlier pitch that Ellsbury had to avoid. In this series, the Yankees had not hit a single Bosox batter while Teixeira and McCann both were hit by pitches on Friday. The idea that Warren intentionally hit Ramirez was even lost on Ortiz, who told reporters after the game he didn’t think Warren’s pitch had that purpose. But Ramirez always has been a prima donna with a sour attitude much like another outfielder named Ramirez who played for Boston. So the intellectually deficient Red Sox decided to target Ellsbury after he forced them for seven hits in 11 at-bats in the series. I think the move shows more a team that is frustrated their starting pitchers are getting lit up like a Chinese New Year celebration and they can’t handle the fact their team is not as good as they believe it is.

BOMBER BANTER

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan suffered a setback in his rehab of a right calf strain on Saturday. Ryan, 33, sustained a strained hamstring while he was running sprints at the team’s Tampa, FL, complex and he will have to sit out another week. Ryan first injured his back while lifting weights before spring training games started and then ended up with the strained calf in the final week of camp. For now Gregorio Petit, 29, will remain the backup middle infielder. Obtained from the Houston Astros, Petit is batting ,200 with no homers and five RBIs. However, Jose Pirela, 24, is 11-for-19 (.579) with a homer and five RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

ON DECK

The Yankees will make their first trip to Toronto on Monday to open a three-game series with the Blue Jays.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Yankees as the replacement for Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation. Whitley limited the Rays to one run on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in a victory on Tuesday.

The Blue Jays will counter with knuckle-balling right-hander R.A. Dickey (0-3, 5.23 ERA), who lost again in yielding four runs on nine hits with no walks and four strikeouts in seven innings against the Red Sox on Wednesday.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Eovaldi, Headley Help Yankees Blank Astros

GAME 28

YANKEES 7, ASTROS 0

KISSIMMEE  –  Chase Headley pounded out three hits, including his third home run of the spring, and drove in three runs to support Nathan’s Eovaldi’s strong 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball as New York blanked Houston on Sunday at Osceola County Stadium.

Headley got the Yankees’ offense started against right-hander Scott Feldman (0-2) with a two-out solo home run in the third inning that hit the top of the right-field field wall and bounced over. He later broke the game wide open in the sixth with a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander James Hoyt that drove in two runs to cap a four-run rally and extend the Yankees’ lead to 7-0.

Meanwhile, newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) continued a string of impressive appearances this spring by shutting down the Astros on just three hits. He did not walk a batter and he fanned five.

For the Yankees it was their second consecutive road shutout of the spring. On Friday, the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 in a game called in the sixth inning due to rain.

With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 15-12.

FIELD FOCUS

The Yankees have historically leaned towards trading away young pitchers and acquiring veteran pitchers on the north side of 30.

There are many examples of young pitchers the Yankees traded before they became stars like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Ted Lilly and Ian Kennedy. Just this winter the Yankees traded David Phelps and Shane Greene. It is just something for which Yankee fans have grown accustomed.

The script got flipped, however, when veteran infielder Martin Prado and Phelps were packaged to the Miami Marlins in a trade for first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, Eovaldi, a 25-year-old right-hander, and a promising 22-year-old right-hander Domingo German.

Basketball coaches always say that you can’t teach size and baseball managers say accordingly that you can’t teach a pitcher velocity. Eovaldi has a gifted right arm that possesses outstanding velocity. His fastball can reach as high as 98 miles per hour.

In fact, FanGraphs.com ranked Eovaldi’s fastball as the fourth highest in velocity last season among major-league pitchers. The oddity was Eovaldi led all National League pitchers in hits allowed (223) and he only managed 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.

His 6-14 record and 4.37 ERA also would have you scratching your head after you saw that sizzling heater of his.

So Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild did some tinkering with Eovaldi’s fastball and his secondary pitches this spring to bring his hits allowed down and raise his strikeout totals. In short, they want him to take the next step in being a dominant pitcher.

After Sunday’s sterling effort, it appears that Eovaldi  –  with Rothschild’s help  –  is doing just that. In Eovaldi’s four spring appearances (three starts) he is 1-1 with a team-best 0.66 ERA. He has yielded just one run on 10 hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.

If you add a potentially dominant Eovaldi to 26-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and 26-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda then you might have an excellent trio of young starters to build a team around.

But don’t just take my word on Eovaldi. You can hear it from a fellow graduate of his from Alvin High School in Alvin, TX, who was watching Eovaldi on Sunday in his role as an executive advisor to the Astros  –  some guy named Nolan Ryan.

“I haven’t watched him in person, only on television, but I’ve followed him ever since he’s been in high school,” Ryan told reporters. “I really think that the better part of his career is still ahead of him.”

The Yankees might just have something special in this young Eovaldi. And the best part is he is not 34 years old and past his prime.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I really ripped this team for how bad they looked on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, against the Baltimore Orioles in a 10-2 loss. But they bounced back nicely on Sunday and scored seven runs and collected 11 hits and drew seven walks. But he oddity this spring is that the Yankees are 8-5-1 and have outscored their opponents 77-44 on the road while they are 7-7 and have been outscored 64-46 at home. This may be because the young players have been doing most of the hitting this spring and they are playing more on the road.
  • In addition to Headley’s three hits, the Yankees got another stellar effort at the plate from Rob Refsnyder. The 24-year-old second baseman was 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs scored and an RBI. Refsnyder is now 12-for-35 (.343) with five doubles, one home run and five RBIs. He is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he does need to get better in the field, but this young player has all the makings of a great hitter.
  • Esmil Rogers, 29, may have blown his opportunity to be the team’s No. 5 starter this spring. But he still has some value in the bullpen. Rogers looked sharp in retiring all five batters he faced and he fanned two of them.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I will not nitpick this one. If you toss shutout ball and score seven runs there is not much there to fix.

BOMBER BANTER

Alex Rodriguez made his major-league debut as a first baseman on Sunday and handled three chances flawlessly in his three innings of work. Manager Joe Girardi envisions Rodriguez as potential fill-in at first base behind starter Mark Teixeira and Jones. “Catching the ball, I’m not worried about that. I’d think he’d be pretty good around the bag, even scooping, because you get a lot of those hot shots at third base,” Girardi told reporters.  . . .  Teixeira suffered a right knee contusion on Sunday playing in a minor-league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa. Teixeira left the game immediately and was limping afterward. But he told reporters that he was “fine.”  . . .  Shortstop Didi Gregorius received treatment and said there was improvement in his strained left wrist that he sustained in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Gregorius said he is sure he will be ready to play on Opening Day.  . . .  The Yankees released right-hander Scott Baker but they hope to re-sign him to a new minor-league contract. Baker, 33, originally was signed to a deal that would have forced the Yankees to pay him a retention bonus. The Yankees would like Baker to sign a minor-league deal without the bonus. That is the same basis they re-signed right-hander Jared Burton on Sunday. Burton, 33, had been released three days ago. He only pitched in four games this spring because he suffered a strained lat. In addition to the Burton signing, the Yankees also optioned right-hander Bryan Mitchell to Scranton and sent right-hander Kyle Davies to minor-league camp. The team also optioned outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A and re-assigned catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka, infielders Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez, outfielder Slade Heathcott, left-hander Jacob Lindgren and right-hander Nick Rumbelow to minor-league camp.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their final week of spring training games on Tuesday at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, FL, as the Yankees play the Minnesota Twins.

Tanaka will make what will be his final spring appearance before he opens the season on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his three spring starts.

The Twins will counter with left-hander Tommy Milone, who is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts.

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

 

Pineda Reins In Phillies Before Rain Halts Play

GAME 26

YANKEES 10, PHILLIES 0 (CALLED IN SIXTH – RAIN)

Michael Pineda tossed five scoreless innings and the Yankees erupted for seven runs in the fifth inning as New York blanked Philadelphia in a rain-shortened contest on Friday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Pineda (2-0) looked impressive in limiting the Phils to five hits, he walked none and fanned five batters. The five shutout innings lowered Pineda’s spring ERA to 1.32.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, jumped on left-hander Jake Diekman (0-1) for seven runs on six hits and a walk in just one-third of inning to put the game away in the fifth. The key blows in the inning were a two-run single by Stephen Drew, who was 3-for-3 in the game, and a two-run double off the bat of Chris Young.

The Yankees added three more runs in the sixth inning off right-hander Hector Neris and all three runs came on a bases-loaded double by Tyler Austin.

The game was played delayed 35 minutes by rain and finally was called with one out in the top of the sixth.

The victory improved the Yankees’ Grapefruit League mark to 14-11.

FIELD FOCUS

When it came time for the Yankees to settle upon a second baseman after Brian Roberts failed to produce last season, the Yankees decided against looking for the pedigree and instead went to the rescue shelter.

They traded infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for a shortstop, Drew. You read that right. The Yankees traded for a shortstop to play second base.

Drew had been a shortstop his entire professional career, which started in 2005. He became the starting shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of the 2006 season and he stayed in that role through 2012.

Drew’s best season was in 2008 when he batted a career-high .291 with 21 homers and drove in 67 runs for the D-backs. Much like his older brother J.D., Drew came out of the minors tagged as a future star. After all, he was the team’s first selection and the 15th overall in the 2004 draft.

Though Drew had some fine seasons with the bat and he was a pretty steady fielder, stardom somehow eluded him and the D-backs traded him to the Oakland Athletics in 2012 in his free-agent year.

But he ended up signing a free-agent contract with the Red Sox in 2013 and he had a throwback season at the plate. He batted .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs and he ended up collecting a championship ring in the process.

But Drew’s fortunes went from penthouse to outhouse quickly when Drew refused the Red Sox’ qualifying offer and then ended up sitting out all of the winter, spring training and the early portion of the 2014 season without a place to play.

Drew finally relented and signed with the Red Sox at a huge discount. But without any spring training, Drew was basically thrown into the fray cold and it showed. He batted .176 with four home runs and 11 RBIs until the Red Sox made the deal with the Yankees for Drew.

The 32-year-old Georgia native did not fare much better with the Yankees, batting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games, most of them (34) at an unfamiliar second base.

Rather than cut Drew loose and look for another second baseman, the Yankees signed him this winter to a one-year, $5 million deal. But the onus on Drew is to produce with the bat quickly or be replaced by up-and-coming second base prospects Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, who have both hit extremely well this spring.

Manager Joe Girardi ended the speculation early and stated that Drew was the team’s starting second baseman. But Drew has foundered at the plate and he was hitting just .167 going into Friday’s contest.

Drew has been changing his mechanics with new hitting coach Jeff Pentland. It may be starting to pay off.

Drew had a double and two singles, scored a run and drove in two. The good day at the plate raised his spring average to .231. It is not much yet, but it is a start.

The 2015 season will begin soon and there will be no player more scrutinized than Drew. He is no stranger to pressure and expectations. But this challenge may be the biggest he has to overcome in a long time.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda, 26, has simply been the most impressive starter the Yankees have this spring. That includes Masahiro Tanaka. Pineda has been absolutely unhittable this spring and he is showing the same great control. One scout said that Pineda has been the best starter he has seen in Florida this spring. Look for a big season from the right-hander if he can stay healthy.
  • Young, 31, has been real hot lately with the bat. In his past four games Young is 4-for-13 (.308) with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs. Young provides the team with solid right-handed power and a reliable outfielder who can play all three positions. He is going to be very helpful coming off the bench this season.
  • Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-2 in the game and now is batting .303 on the spring. The 39-year-old infielder has proven that he has not been overmatched at the plate. Though he might not be the A-Rod of 2007 when he was the American League Most Valuable Player, he has proven that he can be a productive contributor for the Yankees. They will need his right-hand power in 2015.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When your pitcher shuts out the opposition and your offense scores 10 runs there can be nothing to nitpick about. This was an impressive victory.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected, Girardi named Tanaka as the team’s Opening Day starter on Friday. Tanaka, 26, will be followed by Pineda, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. The team’s fifth starter will be named later this weekend and it is expected to be right-hander Adam Warren. It will be the first time in six seasons that Sabathia has not drawn the opening assignment.  . . .  The Yankees said on Friday that Rodriguez will play first base for five innings in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL. Girardi envisions Rodriguez as a potential third option at first behind Mark Teixeira and Garett Jones. “I’m excited,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I told Joe to really keep a close eye on me. He said he will.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL on Saturday to host the Baltimore Orioles.

There was a switch in plans and Sabathia will start in a minor-league game instead of giving the Orioles a peak at him. In his place, non-roster right-hander Scott Baker will draw the start. Baker, 33, is 0-0 with a 4.32 ERA in three games this spring.

Baker will be opposed by right-hander Bud Norris, who is 0-3 with a 9.26 ERA in four spring starts.

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.

 

Mets Sink CC, Yankees With Home Run Barrage

GAME 21

METS 7, YANKEES 0

The Mets hit three home runs off left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander Matt Harvey shut out the Yankees over 5 2/3 innings as the Bronx Bombers’ crosstown rival handed them an embarrassing loss at sold-out Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL.

Juan Lagares opened the bottom of the first inning with an inside-the-park home run. Lucas Duda added a two-out solo shot to right-center in the same inning. Two innings later, David Wright tagged Sabathia with a one-out, two-run blast to make it 4-0.

Sabathia (0-2), making only his second start of the spring, left in the third inning after having given up four runs on five hits and no walks and he struck out four batters.

However, Harvey (1-0) was impossible for the Yankees to solve. He yielded just two hits with no walks and fanned four in 5 2/3 innings to earn the victory.

Eric Campbell added to assault on the Yankees with a two-out solo homer in the ninth off left-hander Chasen Shreve.

With the loss, the Yankees’ spring record falls to 12-8.

FIELD FOCUS

From 2008 through 2010, right-hander Scott Baker was sitting atop the world with the Minnesota Twins.

During those three seasons, the right-hander was a combined 38-22 with a 4.11 and he was clearly the ace of the young Twins’ staff. But in 2011, Baker  –  sporting an 8-6 record and sparkling 3.14 ERA after 21 starts  –  had his season ended with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

He missed the entire 2012 season and Twins cut him loose, unsure about his future recovery and unwilling to pay him a multiyear deal.

So Baker has bounced around from the Chicago Cubs in 2013 to the Texas Rangers in 2014, making only 28 appearances in those two seasons. But the Yankees decided to take an chance on the 33-year-old veteran and they signed him to a minor-league contract on Jan. 30.

Baker was invited to spring training and he has a chance to earn $1.5 million if he makes the major-league roster. Baker was immediately thrown into the mix of potential starters for the spring but his importance grew larger when No. 5 starter Chris Capuano suffered a Grade 2 quad strain on March 11.

He may soon be paying a big dividend to the Yankees with what he did on Sunday.

Baker, making only his third appearance, entered the game in the fourth inning and promptly began mowing down the same Mets hitters that had no trouble hitting Sabathia and Shreve. He ended up being the highlight of the day for the Yankees.

Baker pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up just a scratch looping single to Travis d’Arnaud to leadoff the seventh inning. He walked none and fanned two in needing only 53 pitches (37 of them strikes) to retire 13 batters.

It gives manager Joe Girardi some pause before just handing the fifth starter spot to right-hander Adam Warren, who is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA. Warren has been battling with Baker along with right-handers Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell.

But Baker may have something to say about it.

After a rough start against the Houston Astros on March 7, Baker has been sensational. He has yielded just one run on three hits in 7 1/3 innings with no walks and five strikeouts.

If Sunday’s game is any indication, Baker may just be of some help to the Yankees in 2015. The question now is just a matter of when that will be.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • There were no positives. The Yankees might have been better off skipping the long bus ride from Tampa, FL, and just forfeited the game considering the fact they mustered no runs on three singles, hit into three double plays and their pitchers gave up four home runs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The party line on the Yankees is that Sabathia’s velocity is up to as high as 93. They also are saying that his right knee is healthy and that is the important thing. But after two outings Sabathia also has been hammered for six runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings and he is 0-2. “For him it’s just just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work,” Girardi told reporters. Fine. We will see if Girardi is saying that in May. We need to start seeing results. Results, period.
  • Girardi brought the starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley. Teixeira was 1-for-3 and even stole a base off Harvey. But the rest were a combined 0-for-8 with a walk for Headley. They also combined for three strikeouts. Granted, Harvey is a tough pitcher but the regulars are not getting it done with the bat this spring and it is very troubling.
  • The lefty Shreve, 24, came over with David Carpenter from the Atlanta Braves in the trade for left-hander Manny Banuelos and he has been touted as potential third left-hander in the bullpen. Girardi may want to revisit that idea because Shreve was lit up after there were two outs in the ninth inning for a solo home run by Campbell, a single by Kirk Niewenhuis and RBI double by light-hitting Ruben Tejada. In his past two outings, Shreve has given up five runs (four earned) on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings. Shreve may need some time refining his craft at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

BOMBER BANTER

On Thursday, Girardi elected to try infielder Jose Pirela in center-field in game against the Philadelphia Phillies. In the ninth inning, Pirela dropped a routine fly ball for a three-base error that allowed two additional runs to score in the inning. Girardi decided again on Sunday to try Pirela in center and he lasted one batter. Pirela, 25, failed to catch a fly ball off the bat of Lagares and ended up crashing into the wall. He sustained a concussion and had to be removed from the game. A CT scan and MRI conducted at Tradition Medical Center came back with no anomalies but Pirela will not be able to resume baseball activities until he completes the concussion protocol and it is unclear how long he will be out. Blame this on Girardi. Pirela has no business playing center.  . . .  Right-hander Dellin Betances threw a bullpen session in Tampa and told reporters that he will throw his first back-to-back outings of the spring on Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers and Wednesday against the Mets.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to play the Washington Nationals on Monday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.

Mitchell, 23, will get the start for the Yankees. He is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two appearances this spring.

Right-hander Doug Fister will pitch for the Nationals. He faced the Yankees earlier in the spring and pitched two shutout innings. He is 0-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts overall.

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

 

‘Baby Bombers’ Rally In Ninth To Down Astros

GAME 20

YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2

The hallmark of the spring has been the play of what manager Joe Girardi calls the “Baby Bombers.” On Saturday, they struck again and this time the Astros paid the price.

Jake Cave lofted a sacrifice fly to deep right-field to score pinch-runner Slade Heathcott as New York rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to down Houston at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Nick Noonan opened the ninth inning with a ground single to right off right-hander Will Harris (0-1) and Aaron Judge followed with a lined single to left.

One out later, Eddy Rodriguez doubled in Noonan and Judge and advanced to third on a throwing error by left-fielder Andrew Aplin. Heathcott came off the bench to run for Rodriguez and later scored on Cave’s game-winning sac fly.

Left-hander Jacob Lindgren (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory.

The Yankees trailed from the first inning when George Springer launched a one-out triple and Chris Carter followed with a two-run home run off right-hander Michael Pineda. It was the first runs Pineda had allowed this spring.

Pineda later settled in and finished up by yielding just the two runs on four hits and no walks with six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of work.

With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is no accident that the young Yankees like Cave, Judge and Heathcott are leading late rallies. Cave, 23, is 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and five RBIs. Cave’s spring average is the highest of any Yankee player with 10 or more at-bats. Heathcott, 24, is next on that list. He is 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer an four RBIs. Judge, 23, is 4-for-14 (.286) with a homer and three RBIs. Remember these names because they all could be playing in Yankee Stadium in a few years.
  • Even though Pineda, 26, was rocked by a double, a triple and a home run in his outing on Saturday, he did throw well. He struck out five of the last 10 batters he faced. He also ended up throwing 42 of his 56 pitches for strikes. “I’m happy because today is a good outing. I’m feeling good,” Pineda told reporters. “This is very important for me. I’m feeling great.”
  • Give a lot of credit also to the bullpen for holding the Astros scoreless. Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Lindgren combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings, yielding only one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts. Yankee pitchers combined to strike out 14 Astros. That is awesome.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The regulars continue to struggle at home. Mark Teixeira was 2-for-3 and Carlos Beltran, Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann picked up a hit apiece. But Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Stephen Drew combined to go 0-for-10.
  • Gardner, 31, is having a particularly bad spring so far. He is 5-for-34 (.147) with no homers and two RBIs. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 10. With just 13 exhibition games remaining it would be nice to see the speedy outfielder pick it up a little.
  • Austin Romine, 26, started as the designated hitter and was 0-for-2. He is now 4-for-20 (.200) on the spring. Romine is battling John Ryan Murphy to be McCann’s backup behind the plate. But Murphy, 23, is doing even worse at the plate. He is 2-for-22 (.091), the lowest Yankee average among players with 10 or more at-bats. Romine is out of options so he could end up making the 25-man roster so that Murphy could catch full-time and get regular at-bats at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

BOMBER BANTER

Gardner gave the crowd something to cheer and laugh about in the first inning. But it was no laughing matter to Girardi. When Young reached the wall on Carter’s blast he leaped to get it and lost his glove over the fence in the process. Gardner took it upon himself to scale the 8-foot fence to retrieve both Young’s glove and Carter’s home run ball. He then climbed back over the fence. Most of the crowd of 9.914 gave Gardner a standing ovation. Girardi, however, was not pleased. “We’ve seen guys hit a home run, jump up and land on the plate and break an ankle,” Girardi told reporters. “I told him, ‘This isn’t Little League.’ Gardy thought he was in the movie The Sandlot or something.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will make a 2 1/2-hour trip south to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL, on Sunday to face the New York Mets.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) will make the start for the Yankees. Sabathia’s first start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays was a bit shaky. Toronto scored two runs on four hits in two innings. He is scheduled to throw 45 to 50 pitches on Sunday.

Right-hander Matt Harvey, who is on the comeback trail after undergoing Tommy John surgery, will start for the Mets. Harvey is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three starts.

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

 

A-Rod Homers Again As Warren Tames Tigers

GAME 19

YANKEES 11, TIGERS 2

Alex Rodriguez and Rob Refsnyder homered to help provide right-hander Adam Warren to six runs before he even threw a pitch as New York blistered Detroit pitching on Friday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL.

The Yankees greeted right-hander Alfredo Simon (1-2) with four extra-base hits in the first inning, keyed by a two-run home run off the bat of Refsnyder. Jose Pirela  –  hitting a sizzling .370 this spring  – preceded Refsnyder with a two-run double off Simon, who was tagged for six runs on six hits and one walk over three innings.

Rodriguez launched an opposite-field shot to right-center in the fifth inning off right-hander Bruce Rondon.

Meanwhile, Warren (2-0) sailed through five innings, yielding only a leadoff home run to Yoenis Cespedes in the bottom of the fifth inning. He limited the Tigers to four hits, walked none and fanned three to stake a very strong claim on the No. 5 starter spot.

With the victory the Yankees also seemed to have set themselves as spring “road warriors.” They have scored 48 runs in nine road games in March while they have managed only 30 runs in 10 home contests.

Their overall Grapefruit League record stands at 11-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After right-hander Esmil Rogers struggled in his start on Thursday it was encouraging to see Warren pitch so well against the Tigers on Friday. Warren, 27, has a tidy 2.77 ERA and has not walked a batter in 13 innings this spring. Though the decision on who will replace injured left-hander Chris Capuano in the rotation will not be made until March 28, Warren seems to be the clear leader now.
  • Pirela and Refsnyder each drove in two runs in that six-run first inning and they both have had impressive springs. Pirela, 25, is an excellent line-drive hitter but he is not a real gifted fielder. He can play second, third and in the outfield. So he has some real value as utility player. Refsnyder, 23, is also a legitimate .300 hitter. But the converted outfielder is still learning second base. They both will start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but you could see both of them in Yankee Stadium this season.
  • Rodriguez, 39, has avoided off-field drama and played hard this spring. It is beginning to pay off as A-Rod may be winning the primary DH role. He is hitting .269 with two home runs and three RBIs in 11 games. But the real indicator that Rodriguez is progressing at the plate is the four walks he has drawn as opposed to only five strikeouts. That means the right-handed slugger is seeing the ball well.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

If a team scores six runs in the first inning and cruises to a 11-2 victory there hardly can be anything to criticize. It is nice to see the Yankees score 11 runs in each of their past two road games. It would be nice if they would score more often at home.

BOMBER BANTER

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan made his spring debut for the Yankees at shortstop and he doubled to drive in Brett Gardner in the first inning and later scored on Brian McCann’s RBI single. He ended the day 1-for-3 after five innings. Ryan, 32, has been sidelined by a mid-back strain he sustained while lifting weights just before the start of the exhibition season. Barring any setbacks, Ryan will be the backup middle infielder behind shortstop Didi Gregorius and second baseman Stephen Drew.  . . .  The Yankees trimmed their spring roster of five players on Friday including outfielder Tyler Austin. The team optioned Austin, right-hander Dan Burawa and left-hander Jose De Paula to Scranton. Outfielder Mason Williams was optioned to Double-A Trenton. Meanwhile, right-hander Wilking Rodriguez was reassigned to minor-league camp. That leaves the Yankees with 48 players on their spring roster.

ON DECK

The Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to play host to the Houston Astros on Saturday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will start for the Yankees hoping to continue what has been a very impressive spring. Pineda, 26, is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts. He has only given up one hit and one walk while he has fanned six in five innings.

The Astros will counter with their ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio through KBME in Houston.

 

Tanaka Cruises Again As Yankee Bats Bash Braves

GAME 17

YANKEES 12, BRAVES 5

LAKE BUENA VISTA  –  Masahiro Tanaka continued his dominance by tossing 3 2/3 shutout innings and Stephen Drew and Brian McCann led a 12-run, 14-hit attack with a pair of two-run homers as New York hammered Atlanta at Champion Field on Wednesday.

Tanaka (1-0), making his second start of the spring, retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced while striking out three to get credit for the victory. The right-hander only gave up a single to A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning and a double to Freddie Freeman in the fourth.

The Yankees, meanwhile, took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning on Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (0-1) on a two-out RBI single by Chase Headley to score Didi Gregorius, who was 3-for-3 on the night including an RBI triple in the fifth.

But the Yankees really teed off on Braves left-hander James Russell, scoring six runs on seven hits in the fourth and fifth innings that included Drew’s deep two-run blast in the fourth and McCann’s nearly identically longball in the fifth.

It was the most runs the Yankees have scored this spring in a game since they defeated the Houston Astros 9-4 on March 7 in Kissimmee, FL.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 10-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka, 26, followed up his sensational two-inning debut against the Braves on March 12 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, with another dominant performance on Wednesday. Now maybe the media and fans will shut up about his right elbow and just admit that Tanaka is just fine. He is primed for another great season.
  • I have been on Drew’s case all spring so I have to admit that he is beginning to come around with the bat. Drew was 1-for-3 against the Braves and is 2-for-5 with three RBIs in his past two games, raising his spring average from what was a low of .077 on March 12 to .167.
  • McCann has been struggling this spring also. But he returned to what was his spring home field for nine seasons and raked big time. He was 2-for-2 with a walk, a single and a home run and that raised his spring average to .217. He came in hitting .143.
  • Gregorius is quickly making a name for himself as an exceptional fielder and tonight he showed that he is capable of swinging the bat. He was 3-for-3 with two singles, a triple, a stolen base and one RBI. He is hitting a solid .273 so far and he seems to have won over Yankee fans with his range and cannon arm.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The only big negative of the evening was a pair of two-out errors. The first was Garrett Jones on a ball off the bat of Alberto Callaspo in the fifth inning. Former Yankee Zoilo Almonte followed with a single and fellow former Yankee Kelly Johnson then hit a three-run home run off right-hander Jose Ramirez, who deserved a better fate.
  • The following inning Rob Refsnyder’s errant throw allowed Jesus Flores to reach first. Andrelton Simmons then singled and Callaspo followed with an RBI single off right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was making his first appearance in a game in 19 months when he pitched for the Boston Red Sox in 2013. That means that four of the five runs the Braves scored were unearned.

BOMBER BANTER

Once again, the Yankees soft-pedaled an injury to the media that turns out to be more serious. The Yankees announced on Wednesday that starting center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will cease all baseball-related activities for a week due to what is being called a mild oblique strain. After the Yankees said Ellsbury would not require an MRI, he was sent for one and it revealed the strain. Ellsbury said he felt the injury before Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manager Joe Girardi said that he still thinks Ellsbury will have enough time to be ready for Opening Day. “I thought he was in a pretty good place, as far as being in shape and playing multiple days,” Girardi told reporters “There’ll be plenty of time for him.”  . . .  Yankees left-hander Jose de Paula is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his left shoulder on Thursday.  De Paula has felt some lingering soreness for the past few days but had to stop throwing when the pain returned on Wednesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to Tampa to play host again to the Phillies.

The competition for the fifth starter’s spot heats up with right-hander Emil Rogers scheduled tho start for the Yankees. Rogers has no record and a 0.00 ERA in four games (two starts). He is one of the front-runners to replace the injured Chris Capuano in the rotation.

The Phillies will counter with veteran right-hander Aaron Harang, who is making only his second appearance of the spring. He is penciled in as the team’s No. 2 starter now that Cliff Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a left forearm strain.

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

 

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