Results tagged ‘ Austin Jackson ’
TIGERS 8, YANKEES 4
The Yankees might be decimated by injuries but manager Joe Girardi figures that in the five seasons he has managed the team that he can always count on his strong bullpen. That is until now.
For a second straight day in Detroit the bullpen imploded in the late innings as Detroit downed New York on a chilly, windy day in front of a paid crowd of 42,453 at Comerica Park.
Phil Hughes (0-1) held the Tigers to one unearned run over the first four innings in his first start of the season after missing all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. However, the Tigers broke a 1-1 tie by batting around against Hughes, Boone Logan and David Phelps, scoring four runs on six hits in the fifth inning.
The injury-depleted Yankee offense responded in the top of the sixth against starter Max Scherzer (1-0) and reliever Al Alburquerque – taking advantage of four walks - scoring three runs Travis Hafner ended Scherzer’s day with an RBI single and Lyle Overbay slapped a hanging slider from Alburquerque for a two-run double.
The Yankees could have scored more runs but after Vernon Wells was initially called safe at first base by umpire Brian O’Nora on a potential line-drive double play off the bat of Brennan Boesch, but home-plate umpire and crew chief Jerry Layne overruled the call.
The Yankees’ real downfall actually began in the bottom of the sixth when Phelps remained in the game.
Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter opened the frame with singles and Miguel Cabrera drew a walk to load the bases. Prince Fielder scored Jackson on a fielder’s choice grounder and Andy Dirks later scored Hunter on a two-out RBI single.
Dirks added a run in the bottom of the eighth on an sacrifice fly that scored Cabrera off Joba Chamberlain, who helped Cabrera reach third by walking Fielder after Cabrera had singled and then uncorking a wild pitch to allow Cabrera to reach third.
The Yankees’ bullpen has now pitched 20 innings in the first five games and they have given up 18 runs (17 earned) on 28 hits and 12 walks for an ERA of 7.65 and a WHIP of 2.00.
Wit the loss the Yankees drop to 1-4. The Tigers are 3-2.
- Vernon Wells drew the Yankees even with a solo home run to left-field leading off the second inning. It was his second home run of the season and Wells is showing that he rediscovered the stroke that saw him hit 32 home runs and drive in 106 runs in 2006 when he was an All-Star outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays.
- Overbay is proving to a valuable pickup as well. In the first five games, Overbay, 35, was 2-for-4 in the game and is hitting .267 with a pair of two-out, two-run hits this week and he is fielding first base flawlessly in place of 2013 Gold Glove winner Mark Teixeira.
- Though he had a horrible spring, Hafner is also picking it up as the season starts. He was 1-for-3 with an RBI and he is hitting .313. I guess you have to give general manager Brian Cashman credit for picking up some key replacements for the Yankees’ depleted lineup. They seem to be paying early dividends.
- The Yankee bullpen has been a shambles in the early going and it is the real reason why the Yankees are 1-4. Granted, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Hughes did not pitch far enough into the first starts but the bullpen has to do much better than it is doing now. The odd thing is that it not just one guy. One day it is Cody Eppley, the next it is Joba Chamberlain and the day after that it is Shawn Kelley. They have to pitch better, period!
- Brett Gardner is 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series and that kind of kills the offense a bit when he can’t get on base to use his legs and disrupt the pitcher. He is hitting .150 and the Yankees need for him to get going with the bat like he did in spring training. Gardner did make a diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Victor Martinez that saved two runs in the third inning. So his defense is still great.
- Phelps was excellent last season as a spot starter and reliever but he was awful on Saturday. He gave up two runs on six hits and a walk in 2 2/3 innings of work. His ERA has ballooned to 6.75 and it is hard to figure out why quality pitchers like him in the bullpen are failing.
A day after being struck in the right arm by a pitch from Tigers right-hander Doug Fister, Eduardo Nunez was held out Saturday’s game. But Nunez said it is possible that he could return to the lineup on Sunday. Nunez was helped off the field in the fourth inning but X-rays showed only a bruised right bicep. Jayson Nix started at shortstop on Saturday and was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and he committed an error in the first inning that led to the Tigers scoring an unearned run. . . . Derek Jeter fielded 41 ground balls hit directly to him, took some batting practice and played long toss on Saturday at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Jeter, 38, has been trying to recover from off-season surgery on a fractured left ankle. After suffering a setback in his rehab on March 23 the Yankees have not established a timetable for his return. . . . When the Yankees activated Hughes from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday they optioned right-hander Eppley to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees will try to salvage the final game of the series against the Tigers on Sunday.
If so, they are going to need for ace left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1, 7.20 ERA) to pitch better than he did in his first start. Sabathia allowed four runs in five innings in a loss against the Red Sox. He is 18-12 with a 4.43 ERA in his career against the Tigers.
He will be opposed by American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Verlander pitched five shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field to earn his first Opening Day victory in six tries. He is 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?
Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.
Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.
However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.
Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.
Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.
The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.
In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.
Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.
Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.
Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.
Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.
When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.
In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.
Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.
So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.
Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.
That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.
That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.
The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.
The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?
Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.
First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.
The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.
In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.
The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.
These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.
The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.
That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.
Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?
Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.
Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.
However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.
The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.
But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?
The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.
The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.
Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?
Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.
If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.
The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.
The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.
Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.
If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.
The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.
The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.
Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.
YANKEES 6, TIGERS 2
When your team’s starting pitching is ineffective and its bullpen is being taxed by having to pitch too many innings, the ace of your staff must step up and deliver a victory and go most of the way.
CC Sabathia did just that on Sunday for the Yankees.
Sabathia (3-0) pitched eight innings of two-run baseball and his offense backed him with home runs from Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones as New York took the weekend series against Detroit with a victory at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y.
Sabathia limited the Tigers to just four hits and two walks while he struck out eight en route to his third consecutive victory.
His mound opponent, Max Scherzer (1-3), spent most of his outing dodging disaster while he was doling out hits and walks like candy to children. Scherzer gave up seven hits and a career-high seven walks in 4 2/3 innings but somehow only gave up three earned runs.
The Yankees loaded the bases on Scherzer in the second inning when Derek Jeter reached first safely on an infield single with two outs. Curtis Granderson got credit for an RBI when Scherzer walked him on a 3-2 pitch. The Yankees tacked on another run when Alex Rodriguez rolled an infield single that Miguel Cabrera was unable to field cleanly.
Prince Fielder halved the Yankees lead in the fourth with his third home run of the season, a solo blast into the second deck in right-field.
The Yankees got that run back in the fourth on Granderson’s eighth home run of the season and his fifth in his last nine games. Tigers center-fielder Austin Jackson nearly leaped over the wall and brought it back in what would have a been a spectacular catch. However, he was unable to keep the ball in his glove as his left arm hit the fence which separates the stands from the Yankees’ bullpen.
The Tigers drew to within a run in the sixth on a Brennan Boesch single with one out and Cabrera followed with an RBI double off the wall in center-field.
Sabathia was forced to pitch with the slimmest of leads despite the fact the Yankees had put 17 runners on base over the first six innings without getting that one big hit that could have broken the game open.
They did, however, break through in the seventh inning off rookie reliever Luke Putkonen, who was making his major-league debut.
Backup catcher and No. 9 hitter Chris Stewart started it with a leadoff single. Jeter drew another walk and Granderson just missed a second home run to center but both Stewart and Jeter were able to advance a base. Stewart then scored when Cabrera chose to throw home on a bouncer off the bat of Rodriguez and Stewart slid safely under the tag of Gerald Laird.
Robinson Cano added a sacrifice fly to score Jeter and the Yankees finally provided a three-run cushion for Sabathia.
Jones hit his third home run of the season in the eighth off reliever Collin Balester to give the Yankees their final margin.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 12-9. The Tigers fell to 11-11.
- Sabathia was at his best on Sunday, hitting his spots with his fastball and striking out batters with his slider. With his eight strikeouts on Sunday, Sabathia is now leading the American League in that category with 38. He also lowered his ERA to 4.68. More importantly, a weary bullpen got some rest. David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth to close it out but pitchers like David Phelps, Clay Rapada and Boone Logan got some much needed rest.
- Granderson’s home run turned out to be the deciding run of the game and it overcame a situation where the Yankees were a horrible 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Granderson leads in the team in home runs and he is second to Nick Swisher in RBIs with 16. Granderson is hitting .364 in his last nine games with five home runs and 10 RBIs.
- Rodriguez’s two RBIs gave him 1,904 for his career, which moved him past Willie Mays for ninth place on the all-time list. After a slow start with the bat this April, A-Rod has nine RBIs in his last eight games and he now has four home runs and 11 RBIs on the season.
- Cano contributed two hits and an RBI but he still has been largely MIA this season with one home run, four RBis and a .264 average.
- Hitting with runners in scoring position seems to be a particular problem for the Yankees this season. It was in this game. Cano grounded out weakly to first base with two on and one out in the first and he struck out swinging with the bases loaded and two out in the second. The Yankees left the bases loaded three times in the game and stranded 15 runners overall. This has to change.
- Mark Teixeira must have finally realized it was April. After his two-homer, six-RBI game against the Red Sox on April 20, Tex has fallen into a 2-for-24 (.083) tailspin. He was 0-for-5 on Sunday and he was 0-for-12 in the weekend series against the Tigers. He is now hitting .223. But, cheer up, Mark! The month of May begins on Tuesday and you can start hitting then like you always do.
Swisher left the game for a pinch-runner (Jones) in the third inning with a mild strain of his left hamstring and he is expected to miss the next few games, at least. However, the Yankees do not believe Swisher will need to go on the disabled list at this time. He is listed as day-to-day for now. . . . As expected, the Yankees have announced that struggling right-hander Freddy Garcia will pitch out of the bullpen and Phelps has been elevated to the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Garcia, 35, is 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA in his four starts and he was chased after giving up six runs in 1 2/3 innings on Saturday. Phelps, 25, is 0-0 with a 3.57 ERA in six appearances covering 17 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. The rookie right-hander figures to make his first major-league start on Thursday in Kansas City against the Royals. . . . The Yankees made a roster move on Sunday to bolster their overtaxed bullpen by calling up rookie right-hander D.J. Mitchell from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and sending right-hander Cody Eppley to Scranton.
The Yankees open a three-game home series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.
Hiroki Kuroda (1-3, 4.38 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. However, he lost in a pitcher’s duel against fellow countryman Yu Darvish. Kuroda has never faced the Orioles in his career.
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Jason Hammel (3-0, 1.73 ERA). Hammel is coming off an outing in which he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays over seven innings en route to a 3-0 victory. He is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, TIGERS 6
Sometimes you win games with clutch hits that are placed perfectly to score a run. Sometimes you win games with heroic catches to save games. Then there are times you just are patient enough to watch a young relief pitcher unravel in front of 41,200 fans at Yankee Stadium.
The latter happened to Tigers reliever Brayan Villarreal – with some help from catcher Alex Avila – on Friday and it cost him and his team a victory against the Yankees on Friday.
Villarreal (0-1) uncorked a pitch in the 10th inning that hit off the glove of Avila for a passed ball and allowed Derek Jeter to score the tie-breaking run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Yankees rallied to hand the Tigers their seventh loss in their last eight games.
The Yankees had just tied the game in the eighth inning off reliever Joaquin Benoit on a single by Alex Rodriguez, a single by Robinson Cano that advanced Rodriguez to third and a sac fly to deep center by Mark Teixeira.
Mariano Rivera (1-0) then needed only 11 pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the ninth to set the stage for the Yankees rally off the 24-year-old right-hander in the bottom of the inning.
After one out, Jeter drew a walk and he advanced to third on a Villarreal wild pitch on what was ball four to Curtis Granderson. Villarreal dug himself an even larger hole by throwing the first two pitches out of the strike zone to Rodriguez.
His third pitch also veered outside, hit off Avila’s glove and rolled to the wall behind home plate. Jeter started back to third initially but then raced home and knocked the ball out of Villarreal’s glove as he slid in safely with the winning run.
In what was thought would be a pitcher’s duel between reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova was anything but a duel as the game unfolded.
Nova surrendered six runs on 11 hits and three walks and struck out five in 5 /13 innings. However, because the Yankees rallied to tie the game after he left, Nova keeps alive his 15-game winning streak dating back to June 2011. He is just a game behind the team record set by Roger Clemens.
Verlander was victimized by a solo home run by Rodriguez in the fourth and a two-run blast by Russell Martin in the fifth. He ended up giving up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and struck out four in six innings.
Yankee Stadium remains the only A.L. park in which he has not won a game.
With the victory the Yankees improve to 11-8. The Tigers fall to 10-10.
- It was nice to see Rodriguez begin to swing the bat well for a change. He came into the contest hitting .221. But he was 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in the game. He stroked an opposite-field single to drive in Granderson in the first inning to give the Yankees a short-lived 1-0 lead. In the fourth he hit career homer No. 633 to the bleachers in right-center to bring the Yankees to within a run at 3-2. He then just missed hitting a second home run to center off Verlander in the fifth that would have given the Yankees a 5-3 lead. He later started the eighth-inning rally with a leadoff single and scored the tying run.
- It was also nice to see Martin hit a two-run homer off Verlander that gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead after five innings. Martin is the only Yankee regular hitting under .200. He came into the game hitting .182 with one home run and four RBIs. With one swing he doubled his home run total and plated half of his previous RBI total.
- The bullpen, once again, saved the Yankees in a huge way. After Nova left in the fifth, Cory Wade, David Robertson and Rivera combined to shut out the Tigers on a hit, a walk and struck out four over the final 3 1/3 innings. Shaky starting pitching continues to put the bullpen to the test and they keep doing the job.
- Nova entered the top of the sixth with a 4-3 lead and promptly gave it right back to the Tigers. Jhonny Peralta opened the frame with a single to left and Ryan Raburn followed with a single to right-center. Austin Jackson, who was 4-for-5 on the night, then smacked a two-run double to the wall to score Peralta and Raburn. After one out, Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally and Boone Logan was summoned to retire Cecil Fielder. But Fielder slapped his second opposite-field RBi single to left and the Yankees fell into a 6-4 hole. Nova was very lucky the Yankees rallied to tie the game up and later won it.
- I have said this before and it bears repeating: Raul Ibanez has no business playing the outfield at age 39. That became obvious in the second inning when Brad Eldred, who was just called up from Triple-A Toledo on Friday, followed a leadoff walk to Don Kelly with a pop fly to left that Ibanez played into a triple that scored Kelly and tie the game a 1-1. It is situations like this that make the Yankees appreciate the Gold Glove-quality defense they receive from Brett Gardner.
- Logan was one member of the bullpen who did not enjoy a good night. He was called upon in the sixth with runners on first and second and one out, trailing the game 5-4. Logan had to face Fielder and Kelly, a pair of lefties. Fielder singled in a run and Logan walked Kelly on a 3-2 pitch. He exited the game without retiring either lefty.
Manager Joe Girardi was ejected from the game in the bottom of the seventh inning by home-plate umpire Joe West after Martin was rung up a 1-2 Octavio Dotel pitch that replays showed was clearly outside. Girardi was not upset the pitch was called a strike. What really upset him was that a number of similar outside corner pitches from the Yankees’ pitchers were NOT called strikes. This has been an ongoing problem with West throughout his entire career. Because he has been in the game so long, West believes in his heart that those fans in the stands who fork out $150 a ticket come to see him call balls and strikes. Should you even get the thought into your head about questioning his ever-changing strike zone, he runs you out of the game with a hair-trigger temper. But I loved what the gutless fat slob did after Girardi showed him that the third strike Martin took was in the left-handed batter’s box. While Girardi’s back was turned and he was heading back to the dugout West said something. That is what cowards do when they know they are wrong. Thanks, Bud Selig, for giving us baseball fans the umpiring equivalent of Napoleon. Heck, Joe, try umpiring with your right hand tucked in your shirt. You stink! You need to retire now. The act, like you, is getting old.
The Tigers played the game without starting left fielder Delmon Young, who was arrested early Friday morning by New York City police for an alleged assault of man in front of a downtown hotel. He will be charged with aggravated harassment and it could be escalated to a hate crime, according to a police spokesman. Young remains in custody and he is awaiting arraignment. A detective told the Detroit Free Press that some “anti-Semetic remarks” were made during the incident. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers handle this considering they never punished Cabrera, their best player, for a pair of DUI charges. . . . Jeter had his 15-game hitting streak stopped on Friday. Though he was 0-for-4 starting the ninth, Jeter drew a walk and later scored the game-winning run. That is how good it has been going for Jeter. He helps win the game without getting a hit. . . . Andy Pettitte will make his next scheduled start for Double-A Trenton on Monday against the Portland Sea Dogs in Maine. Pettitte, 39, is expected to throw 90 to 95 pitches. Pettitte is on track to return to the major leagues in mid-May.
The three-game series with the Tigers continues on Saturday.
For fans planning to attend the game, I suggest you arrive early enough to see Freddy Garcia start the game for the Yankees. You may not see him for long after that. Garcia (0-1, 9.75 ERA) has not pitched six innings in any of his previous three starts and only lasted 1 2/3 innings against Boston last Saturday. Fortunately, the Yankees rallied from a 9-0 deficit and beat up on Bosox 15-9. He is 18-8 with a 3.88 ERA against the Tigers over the past 10 seasons.
The Tigers will counter with rookie left-hander Drew Smyly (0-0, 1.13 ERA), who has allowed two runs or less in his first three starts. He held the Rangers to one run on five hits and two walks on Sunday but ended up with his third no-decision. He has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 1, TIGERS 1 (10 INNINGS)
TAMPA - Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first inning with his first home run of the spring. Little did the Yankees know but that would be the only run they would score all day against the Tigers.
New York stranded 10 runners over 10 innings and had to settle for a tie with a Detroit split squad on Sunday in a Grapefruit League contest played at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda recorded one of his best outings of the spring, giving up one run on five hits and two walks in five innings of work. But the Yankees did not give him much in the way of support.
The Yankees collected only five hits but they got some help from six walks and two hit batters to put plenty of runners on base to take the lead in the game. But much like the Game 5 loss of the American League Division Series against the Tigers, the Yankees could not collect a big hit with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-10 with RISP in the game.
Meanwhile, relievers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Roberston, Clay Rapada and Manny Delcarmen each turned in a scoreless inning of relief against the Tigers to keep the game knotted.
Jeter’s home run in the first came off Tigers left-hander and starter Duane Below.
The Tigers tied it in the third inning when Danny Worth drew a leadoff walk and Ramon Santiago delivered a one-out RBI triple.
The Yankees remain 13-9 with two ties this spring. They have not lost a game in their last 11 spring contests. The Tigers are 14-4.
- In Jeter’s second game back after being shelved by a tight left calf, he delivered a home run to right and double to left-center. Jeter is quietly hitting .348 this spring and the best news is he is driving the ball with authority and not squeezing weak grounders through the infield. Those who might have written Jeter’s baseball obituary at age 37 might have been a bit premature.
- Pineda struggled at times in keeping the Tigers off base but he only gave up the one run. After Santiago’s triple, he struck out the next two batters as part of stretch where Pineda fanned four of the last eight batters he retired. Pineda’s velocity also was consistently at 93 miles per hour during his outing.
- Brett Gardner led an outfield that recorded three assists on Sunday that helped keep the Tigers from scoring more runs. With speedy Austin Jackson on second in the first inning, Alex Avila stroked a lined single to Gardner in left. Gardner charged the ball on the hop and gunned Jackson out at the plate with a perfect throw. In the eighth inning, new left-fielder Jayson Nix caught Brent Wyatt’s line drive and gunned down Dixon Machado after he failed to retouch second base on his way back to first. In the ninth, center-fielder Dewayne Wise caught a Ryan Strieby liner and doubled off Tony Plagman at second base.
- Robertson returned to action for the first time since he bruised his right foot in an accident at his home on March 7 and he showed no ill effects from the injury. Robertson struck out a batter and he benefited from Machado’s poor base-running on Wyatt’s line drive to pitch a scoreless eighth inning. Robertson said he felt good and he hopes to build upon it with his next outing.
- Despite Jeter’s good day there was one striking negative: In the fourth inning, Jeter rolled out to short with the bases loaded. He was a part of an offense that sputtered all day when they had chances to take the lead. In the fifth inning, right-hander Collin Balester walked three batters. But Curtis Granderson was nailed by Avila attempting to steal second and Russell Martin hit into a fielder’s choice after Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drew two-out walks.
- In the seventh, it was no better for the Yankees against Brayan Villarreal. Doug Bernier was hit by a pitch and stole second. Granderson then drew a walk. However, Robinson Cano hit into a double play. After Rodriguez was hit in the ribs with a pitch and left the game as a precaution, Teixeira grounded out to short to end that threat.
- In the second inning, the Yankees had Texeira on third and Martin at second with one out. However, Eduardo Nunez struck out looking and Gardner bounced out to the pitcher and spoiled that effort. So it was obvious that there was a lot of frustration with the offense on Sunday.
Joba Chamberlain was released from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, FL., on Sunday four days after he suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle in a trampoline accident. General manager Brian Cashman echoed manager Joe Girardi’s assessment that there was a possibility that Chamberlain could return to pitch this season. Chamberlain had Tommy John surgery last summer and was not expected back to the Yankees until June when the injury occurred last week. Chamberlain will wear a non-weight-bearing cast for six weeks and then will be fitted for a weight-bearing walking boot. . . . Although Rodriguez left the game Sunday after being struck in the left ribs on a pitch from Villarreal, Girardi said he expects Rodriguez being able to play on Tuesday. . . . Girardi also said he hopes to get Nick Swisher back into the lineup on Tuesday. Swisher has only had two at-bats since he injured his left groin on March 14. . . . After the game on Sunday, the Yankees optioned Ramiro Pena to Triple-A Empire State and reassigned outfielders Colin Curtis and Cole Garner, catcher Jose Gil and pitchers Kevin Whelan and Delcarmen to minor-league camp.
The Yankees are enjoying their second off-day of the spring on Monday. They will return to action at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ace lefty CC Sabathia will make his fourth Grapefruit League start. The Blue Jays will start right-hander Kyle Drabek.
Game-time will be at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
This report was delayed by technical difficulties.
GAME 1: KEY MOMENT
When pitchers get into jams they have to think about how they are going to get out of them. Doug Fister of the Tigers was no different on Saturday as he pitched the sixth inning.
With the Yankees leading 2-1, Mark Teixeira had opened the frame with opposite-field double off the left-field wall. Fister’s job at that point was to retire Nick Swisher without allowing Teixiera to move up to third base.
Fister struck out Swisher looking on a two-seam fastball that hit the outside corner. One out. For Fister it was mission accomplished.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones then came to the mound to talk to Fister. With first base open, it would not be a bad idea to walk Posada and go after Russell Martin, who just so happened to lead the Yankees by hitting into 19 double plays this season. But Fister could try to induce Posada to hit a pitch out of the strike zone so he did not need to walk him intentionally.
Posada worked the count on Fister to 3-2. Fister then delivered a change-up to the outside corner and in the dirt. Posada hardly twitched and took first base.
“OK,” Fister must have said to himself, “I have Martin up and all I need is him to roll over on a two-seam fastball and I am out of this mess.”
Martin took the first two-seam fastball for a ball. But he did exactly what Fister wanted with the second two-seamer. He hit over it and it bounced to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. There was only one problem: Martin hit it so badly that it rolled slowly to Peralta and his only play was to throw to first to retire Martin.
Meanwhile, Teixeira reached third and Posada moved to second. But, Fister still feels it is OK.
“There are two outs and no runs have scored,” Fister thinks. “All I need to do is get the No. 9 hitter (Brett Gardner)”
Fister knows that Gardner is not a power hitter. He knows that Gardner has not hit well for Yankees of late. He also knows Gardner has struck 93 times this season, the fifth most on the Yankees.
Fister decides to go after Gardner aggressively, knowing if he walks him he brings up Derek Jeter with the bases loaded.
The 28-year-old right-hander uncoils and throws a four-seam fastball right at the top of the strike zone that home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo calls a strike. Fister then opts for a two-seamer away just in case Gardner swings. If Gardner swings it likely will be an infield grounder to third and he will be thrown out.
But Gardner holds the bat and watches the pitch fall right into catcher Alex Avila’s glove for called strike two.
Now Fister has not allowed a run, two are on but two are out and Gardner is in a big 0-2 hole. “This is great. Just one pitch and I am out of this and I will keep us in the game,” Fister thinks.
He gets the sign from Avila for a curveball. If it runs too high, it is just ball one. If it drops too low, same thing. If Gardner does not swing and it drops over the plate, its strike three and the inning is over.
However, a funny thing happened to all of Fister’s plans and all of his thinking and calculations about escaping this inning unscathed.
He hung the curveball.
It gets worse, too.
Gardner recognized the pitch and swung. Ball met bat and ball rolled through the Yankee Stadium infield grass past Fister and to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and rolled slowly to centerfielder Austin Jackson. But by the time Jackson reached the ball and threw it back in, Teixeira touched home and Posada came trotting in after him.
The Yankees had increased their lead to 4-1.
Fister stayed in the game and gave up a single to Jeter than moved Gardner to third. Curtis Granderson coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Fister was taken out of the game and replaced by Al Alburquerque with Robinson Cano coming up.
We all know how that worked out. Cano swings and the Yankees put up four more runs and go on to win the game 9-3.
But Gardner’s hit on a hanging 0-2 curve with two out and two on of Fister was the key play of Game 1.
AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 1
YANKEES 9, TIGERS 3
When managers and coaches get together with their pitchers to discuss a game plan to how to attack the hitters on the New York Yankees they all say “Do not let Robinson Cano beat you.”
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and the Tiger pitching staff got a close-up view on why they say that about Cano on Saturday night.
Cano absolutely crushed two doubles as well as a majestic grand slam homer and drove in a franchise-tying record of six RBIs in a postseason game to back the strong “relief” pitching of Ivan Nova as the Yankees took the fight out the Tigers for a Game 1 victory in their American League Division Series.
Nova (1-0), meanwhile, picked up for CC Sabathia in third inning and only allowed two hits and three walks before faltering in the ninth inning. The rookie 24-year-old right-hander came into the game having won 12 consecutive decisions and had not lost a game since June 3.
The Yankees and Tigers played to a 1-1 tie on Friday before the game was suspended after an hour and 17 minute rain delay. So Game 1 resumed in the bottom of the second inning at Yankee Stadium with nary a drop of precipitation but a brisk was blowing in from right and the temperature dipped into the mid-50s.
However, the weather did not deter 50,940 fans from showing up to watch the completion of Game 1, the largest crowd to ever see a game at Yankee Stadium, old or new.
It was Cano and the Yankees who struck first off the Tigers’ right-hander Doug Fister, who in a sense was coming in relief of likely American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
With none on and two out in the fifth inning, Curtis Granderson singled to right field off Fister. Cano followed with a deep line-drive to left-center that either hit off the top of the wall, caromed off a fan and fell back onto the field for a home run or a double that hit the top of the wall and just spun back into play to score Granderson.
Crew chief Gerry Davis immediately took his umpires into the replay room off the third-base dugout and came out shortly signaling Cano had indeed hit a double. Although the Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead, Fister and the Tigers felt they were lucky to have just allowed a run in that situation.
However, luck turned into unmitigated disaster for Fister in the sixth inning.
Mark Teixeira greeted Fister with a first-pitch, opposite field double to left. One out later, Fister appeared content to pitch around Posada by walking him on a 3-2 pitch well out of the strike zone. Russell Martin then dribbled a slow grounder to Jhonny Peralta at short and Peralta’s only play was to first to retire Martin.
Fister then went after Brett Gardner to end the inning.
He immediately jumped ahead on the count 0-2. Fister then opted for a curve to finish Gardner off. But, instead, Fister hung the pitch and Gardner squirted a roller to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and on into centerfield to score Teixeira and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
That proved to the key at-bat of the game because Derek Jeter followed with a single to right-center to advance Gardner to third. Jeter later stole second and Fister ended up losing Granderson by walking him to load the bases.
Leyland opted to make a move to the bullpen, where he had left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Al Alburquerque warming. Most managers in this situation would bring in the lefty to face the left-hand hitting Cano. But Leyland must have made a wrong turn at Alburqueque because he did the opposite.
On Alburquerque’s second offering, Cano uncoiled his familiar picture-perfect swing and connected solidly and decisively. Despite a brisk breeze blowing in from right, Cano’s drive cut through the wind to land in the second deck of the right-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ slight 4-1 lead had turned into a decisive 8-1 margin.
Alburquerque had the entered the game coming off a season in which he was 6-1 with a 1.97 ERA. he had allowed only three inherited runners to score all season and he had not allowed a home run in the major leagues. Cano took care of all of that with just one beautiful swing.
But the big loser in this Alburquerque mess was Fister (0-1).
Despite pitching well early and escaping trouble, he was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. He came into the game with an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA since the Tigers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. He also had not allowed more than a run in his last 55 innings during the regular season. The Yankees ended string that with six runs in the sixth.
The Yankees added a run in the eighth off lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth. And as with all the runs the Yankees scored in this game, it came with two outs.
Jeter stroked a single and that same guy Cano laced a double over the head of Jackson in center for a double that scored Jeter easily. That gave Cano his sixth RBI of the night to tie him with Bobby Richardson, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui for the franchise record for RBIs in a postseason game.
Nova, meanwhile, was able to escape some trouble of his own with a little help from his defense.
After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Nova walked Alex Avila on a 3-2 pitch. Raburn followed with an opposite-field single to right. Peralta then laced a line-drive single that fell just in front of Granderson in center. Avila got a slow read on the ball and, as he headed for home, Jeter took the relay throw from Gramderson and fired home to Martin. Martin caught the ball in the right-hand hitters’ batters box just as Avila lunged into him.
Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Avila out and the Yankees kept a big run for the Tigers off the board.
To open the sixth, Nova walked the only Tiger hitter with speed in Austin Jackson. Leyland figured it was time to send Jackson to second to get something started for the Tigers with then down 2-1. Jackson broke for second on a 1-2 pitch to Magglio Ordonez and Ordonez hit the ball right to Cano, who was covering second waiting for a throw to nab Jackson. Cano merely scooped the grounder, stepped on second, avoided Jackson’s slide and flipped to first to double up Ordonez.
Nick Swisher then laid out to catch a liner to right off the bat of Delmon Young to end the inning.
However, Nova was unable to escape the ninth.
With one out, Young lined a ball of Nova’s backside for an infield single. Miguel Cabrera coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Victor Martinez singled sharply to right to load the bases.
Manager Joe Girardi, hoping to avoid using Mariano Rivera, selected right-hander Luis Ayala instead. Ayala was coming off a rough outing against the Rays on Thursday in which Boone Logan and he had combined to give up six runs to the Rays in the eighth inning with the Yankees holding a 7-0 lead. That led to the Rays’ eventual 8-7 victory in 12 innings to allow the Rays to make the playoffs.
For Yankee fans it was almost deja vu all over again.
Ayala induced Avila to hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed a run to score. But he compounded the problem by giving up a single to left by Raburn that scored another run and Peralta followed with a bloop single to center reloaded the bases. Girardi mercifully pulled the plug on Ayala and Rivera was forced to come in as Ayala was showered with a chorus of Bronx jeers – well-earned, too.
Rivera came in to face former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit. But if any Tiger fans had gone to the kitchen for a bag a chips, they would have missed Rivera blowing three pitches past Betemit for the final out to give the Yankees an important 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Verlander unable to pitch again until Game 3.
It is funny how in a regular season in which the Yankees were plagued by 22 rain delays and nine postponements that forced so many doubleheaders and lost off days and yet the rain that fell on Friday actually worked so greatly to the Yankees’ benefit on Saturday.
Rain, rain, don’t go away.
The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.
CENTERFIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (41 HRS, 119 RBIs, .262 BA, 136 Rs, 25 SBs)
You really have to root for genuine good guys like Curtis Granderson, who dramatically turned his career around last August by adjusting his batting stance and swing with batting coach Kevin Long. The result was an MVP-caliber season and it now makes his trade to the Yankees from the Tigers look very lopsided. Consistency was Granderson’s hallmark, too. He hit .267 with 22 home runs and 54 RBIs in the first 81 games. He hit just below that with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs in the second half. Granderson was second to Jose Bautista of Toronto in home runs, he edged teammate Robinson Cano by one RBI for the American League lead in RBIs and topped Ian Kinsler of Texas by a whopping 15 runs for the major-league lead in runs scored. He also stole 25 bases and he played a much better centerfield than he did in 2010. What is incredible is Granerson’s previous highs were 30 home runs in 2009, 74 RBIs in 2007 and 26 stolen bases in 2007, all with Detroit. But Granderson has put all the elements of his game together at one time and he was the Most Valuable Player of the winningest team in the American League. If MVPs are supposed to lead their teams into the playoffs, he is your MVP in 2011. The only knock on Granderson is the low batting average, which is a product of 169 strikeouts, the third most in the league. Granderson came to the Yankees after hitting .188 against left-handers in 2009. In 2011, Granderson actually hit for a better average against left-handers – .272 as opposed to .258 against right-handers. Also, despite leading the league in RBIs, Granderson hit only .242 with runners on scoring position. That indicates if Granderson would not press in clutch situations he could drive in more runs. That is scary to think about. Granderson’s fielding also improved in 2011. He cut down on his habit of taking odd routes to balls, made only three errors and he had 11 outfield assists, another career high. At age 30, Granderson is finally living up the great promise he showed in Detroit and he has become indispensable to the Yankees.
Granderson made 150 starts in centerfield this season. When he was not there, Brett Gardner was. Gardner is a great luxury for the Yankees because he actually is a second centerfielder in leftfield. He is actually a better fielder than Granderson with his range and he has a better arm. But Gardner is content and has carved his own niche in left. The Yankees are just blessed to have two very fast and athletic centerfielders on the roster.
SECOND HALF GRADE
Granderson received an A for his first half and because he improved his RBI total in the second half, he deserves an A+. Granderson has always been one of those guys you root for because he is truly a very good person who does such great work in the community. By reshaping his swing, Granderson has reached another level as a player. The fact that he rose to an MVP-caliber season is just astounding and more credit to him. The Yankees knew he was good when they dealt Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for him. But they had no idea he was this good. In my view, Granderson should win the MVP. But, even of he does not, he had a wonderful season. Yankee fans just hope he can carry it into the playoffs and help lead the Yankees to their 28th world championship.
OVERALL GRADE A+
You can quibble about the low batting average and the strikeouts, but Granderson is a very good baseball player who had himself a great season. He did it largely from the No. 2 spot in the batting order, which is not easy. Granderson’s swing is built for Yankee Stadium, with its short dimensions in right. However, I do not remember many of Garnderson’s 21 home runs being cheap wall-scrapers. The fact he hit 20 on the road shows he was legitimately hitting 41 and not feasting off Yankee Stadium. You add up the power, the production, his base-running, the improved fielding and you come up with one very special season. Curtis Granderson is simply one very special player and the Yankees are lucky to have him in a season when Alex Rodriguez missed so much time.
We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record.
CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (.267 BA, 22 HRs, 57 RBIs)
Last season, the trade that brought Curtis Granderson looked like a bust. Granderson missed a month early in the season and did not hit well we he returned.
He was not hitting for a lot of power, not hitting for average, he was striking out a lot and forget about it when he faced left-handers. After the Yankees dealt away lefty reliever Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit and starter Ian Kennedy to Arizona, the Yankees might have felt they had been had.
But Granderson turned around his season (and perhaps his career) thanks to some tutoring from hitting coach Kevin Long in the first week in August. From that point on Granderson has been much more like the player he was with the Tigers in 2007 when he .302 with 23 home runs and 74 RBIs as primarily a leadoff hitter.
Granderson closed the season on a high note with a big September finish and he hit very well in the playoffs.
The question was could he keep it going in 2011?
Looking at his midpoint statistics, you would have to say the answer is resounding yes. In fact, with Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira not exactly having first halves that were at the top of their game, Gramderson has been the Most Valuable Player on this team.
Afetr 81 games, he leads the major leagues in runs scored with 73, he is second on the team in home runs with 22 and second in RBIs at 57. He is second in stolen bases and he is hitting .271. His career batting average is .268. So in just about any measure you can quantify, Granderson has been very good.
The other thing is nine of his 22 home runs have come off left-handers this season. That is most of any player in the majors leagues. In fact, Granderson is actually hitting left-handers not much worse than he hits right-handers (.263 vs. lefties and .272 vs, righties). That says a lot about Granderson’s commitment to improving and the help Long gave him seems to have rejuvenated his career at age 30.
Granderson has spent most of the season hitting behind Derek Jeter and ahead of Mark Teixeira in the No. 2 spot. Granderson’s .369 on-base percentage shows he is getting on base ahead of the power hitters and scoring runs in droves. He is on a pace to score 148 runs, which would obliterate his career high of 122 in 2007.
Not to mention the fact he could hit 44 home runs and drive in 114 runs, which would, far and away, be new career highs. This is pretty lofty heights for Granderson but they are well-deserved — as was his selection by the fans to start in the All-Star Game.
Now Cashman is looking like a genius for making the trade. That is why it is tough to evaluate a trade based on just one season. It is looking very good for the Yankees now.
Another thing about Granderson is that this season he appears to be more comfortable playing center-field in Yankee Stadium. Last season, he misjudged some fly balls and took some odd routes to flag them down. But this season, he likes the Yankee strategy of playing shallower in the outfield. Granderson seems effortless in going back on balls and he still is able to reach the sinking liners and weak pops that normally fell in shallow center last season.
Granderson has committed only one error and he has three outfield assists. But teams will still challenge his very average arm in the outfield. He does not have as strong an arm as Nick Swisher and he is not as accurate on his throws as Brett Gardner. But in almost every other aspect of the game, Granderson is exceptional.
His base-running is excellent. Granderson already has seven triples this season and he is on a pace to break his career high in stolen bases at 26. He has 14 steals after 81 games and he should have even more opportunities to steal in the second half.
What is there no to like about Granderson?
Yankee fans have gravitated towards him and he is such a great ambassador of the game off the field, too.
I have to give Granderson a solid A for his first half. The reason he is not getting an A+ is because the batting average needs to be a bit closer to .300 to make his season complete. Granderson also leads the team by 20 in strikeouts. Most of them have come on change-ups in the dirt. Granderson is being fed a steady diet of breaking balls lately and he is going to have to adjust to keep his great season going.
As long as he stays committed to the swing Long has worked on with him he should be OK. He is more balanced as the plate, his swing is shorter to the ball and he is keeping both hands on the bat. Though he does not consider himself a home run hitter, Granderson is taking full advantage of the short porch in right-field.
Most Yankee fans would have considered it shocking if he hit 30 home runs this season. Now they would be surprised of he does make it to 40. Such are the way Granderson’s fortunes in pinstripes changed so dramatically.
I would think Granderson’s second half should be just as productive as his first if he remains healthy. It seems he has it all working for him now.
I will discuss others and prospects when I review the performance of right-fielder Nick Swisher. But Granderson started 79 of the first 81 games and Gardner is the only other player on the roster who started in center. This is Granderson’s position and as long as he is healthy and productive, he will not see much rest in the second half. I am sure that is just fine with Granderson.
FIRST HALF GRADE
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A
We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record.
LEFT-FIELD – BRETT GARDNER (.267 BA, 4 HRS, 18 RBIs)
As Aprils go, Brett Gardner’s was so bad he was on the verge of being platooned. In addition, Gardner was getting thrown out on the bases like he was a 35-year-old coming off knee surgery.
In order for Brett Gardner to be Brett Gardner he had to get on base and steal them in bunches. In April, he was doing neither.
But after hitting .194 through April and getting caught stealing three times and stealing just four bases, Gardner finally found his groove in May. He hit .301 in May and an even hotter .317 in June. The two hot months pushed his season batting average to .274 at the start of July.
He also reached the halfway point with 23 steals and 10 caught stealing, which means he was stealing bags at a much better percentage.
One thing is painfully obvious about the 27-year-old outfielder. The fact that Gardner is blessed with blazing speed is tempered a bit with the realization that Gardner’s abilities to use them are still a work in progress.
Gardner is not a “gap hitter” who can power balls in the alleys for easy doubles and triples. He also is not an accomplished bunter who can put pressure on a defense by either threatening the bunt or slapping it past a drawn-in infielder. He also, if you can believe this, is not a skilled reader of pitchers’ pickoff moves and moves to the plate.
That is why you see Gardner struggling to get good wood on hard stuff. That is why you see Gardner hit weak grounders and popups. That is why you see Gardner foul or popup bunts. Finally, that is why you see Gardner get picked off by pitchers and thrown out easily by some catchers.
The instincts are not there and the learning process has been slow.
But Gardner remains important to the Yankees because not every game can be won via a three-run home run or bases-loaded doubles. There are games in which when the offense is hard to come by, Gardner can get on, steal and score on a groundout or sacrifice fly. That is why Gardner is so important and why the Yankees have been so patient with his progress.
Gardner is manager Joe Girardi’s stamp on the Yankees. All of the other Yankee starters won their positions before Girardi became manager or were acquired through signings or trades by Brian Cashman, But Gardner came up through the Yankee minor-league system and replaced the lineage of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon and forced the trade of Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson. Gardner was the last outfielder standing and he has been a favorite of Girardi ever since.
He won the left-field job in 2010 and did well until a wrist injury short-circuited his season. He hit .270 and he stole 47 bases in 56 attempts last season. But the wrist injury cost him a little over a month of season and limited his ability to drive the ball. Off-season wrist surgery was expected to help Gardner get some punch back in his swing.
He does seem to have some of it back but Gardner is largely a punch and slap hitter at this stage. He does have four home runs but there is doubt he will ever consistently hit double digits in home runs, short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium or not. So Gardner’s game is to get on base. His on-base percentage is .349, which is good but is below his .383 mark of last season.
One reason is that pitchers try to overpower Gardner with hard stuff up in the strike zone. He struck out 101 times last season and he is on a similar pace this season. Teams have also moved their infielders in to cut down on the time they need to get Gardner at first. Gardner has not adjusted by hitting the ball hard enough to get it past them.
So before we see what Gardner will truly become as offensive force, we need to see more line drives and hard-hit balls through the infield. We also need to see better bunting. We also need to see better instincts on the bases. That is the one area that vexes most Yankee fans.
Gardner is on first and he needs to get into scoring position. But he waits, he waits and he waits some more. Then he is part of a double play or, when he does go, he gets thrown out and Yankee fans just scratch their heads wondering what is wrong this guy.
Rickey Henderson was the greatest base stealer of all time. But you would be surprised to know he was never considered the fastest runner in baseball. He was maybe among the top 10. But the true skill Henderson had was his ability to read pitchers and the attitude he was not going to get thrown out. He got into pitcher’s heads and frustrated them. Gardner has not reached that level of attitude and skill. When and if he does, the Yankees will have something because Gardner still can disrupt games with his feet and his ability to turn doubles into triples and singles into doubles.
Oddly enough, Gardner’s best work is the most overlooked part of his game. Gardner has become the best fielding outfielder the Yankees have and his defense in the first half was very, very close to Gold Glove quality defense. He has committed only one error and he has three outfield assists.
Teams have now decided not to chance scoring runners from second on balls hit directly at him because he is so quick to release the ball and his so accurate with his throws.
Gardner is also able to cover lots of ground in left-field and catch balls other outfielders would be fielding off the wall. The Yankees also decided to play the outfielders more shallow this season, trusting that Gardner and Curtis Granderson were fast enough to cover balls hit over their head.
In Gardner’s case, it has worked perfectly. Gardner has been able to cover weak pops and sinking liners in front of him and liners and fly balls over his head with equal skill.
The other good thing about Gardner, is that he is equally able to play center-field and that flexibility is very important with a veteran team like the Yankees. Gardner’s ability to play good defense is a far cry from the days of Matsui and Damon, where teams took liberties running on them and a lot of balls that could have been caught dropped. Gardner has certainly stopped that.
Looking towards the second half, Gardner must try to pull his average up, get on base a bit more and improve on his bunting and running the bases. If he can do that, stay healthy and continue to play great defense the Yankees will have something special. Because Gardner is a work in progress, a little patience with him is required to be fair.
I will give Gardner a C+ for his first half. The slow start, the caught stealing stats and somewhat erratic bunting have all taken his grade down some. But he has something to prove in the second half and there is no doubt the tools are there. Gardner just needs to put it all together to become a complete player.
I will deal with the other outfielders and prospects for the Yankees when I publish my assessment of Nick Swisher in right-field.
FIRST HALF GRADE
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C+