Results tagged ‘ Brandon Laird ’

A-Rod Again Reaches Half Of His Norms At Third

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (18 HRs, 57 RBIs, .272 BA)

It’s always something.

With Alex Rodriguez it always seems some injury comes up that interrupts his season and rolls him down a highway that is a few exits past his MVP seasons. This pattern has been going since his monster season in 2007 when he played in 158 games and hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and hit .314.

For the past five seasons Rodriguez’s totals have been gradually slipping. The home run totals dropping from 35 to 30 to 30 to 16 and 18 this season. The RBI totals sinking from 103 to 100 to 125 to 62 and now just 57. The batting averages dipping from .302 to .286 to.270 to .276 to .272 this season.

This is not your father’s Alex Rodriguez. The once most-feared hitter in baseball has turned into Scott Brosius before our very eyes and it is pretty to safe to say that age 37 that the vintage A-Rod is not coming back.

After suffering through seasons cut short by a serious hip injury to his injury-plagued 2011 campaign shortened to 99 games because of knee and thumb injuries, this season was supposed to be a big comeback season for Rodriguez.

But after languishing through a terrible first half in which he hit just 13 home runs, drove in a mere 36 runs and hit .266, Rodriguez was struck on the left hand by pitch thrown by Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in Seattle on July 24. A broken bone in the hand shelved him until Sept. 3.

So from the midpoint of the season, Rodriguesz contributed five home runs and 21 RBIs.

A look inside the numbers shows just how far A-Rod’s star has fallen:

  • With the bases empty he hit .300.
  • With runners in scoring position he hit .230.
  • With the bases loaded he hit .200.

His 18 home runs are just two more than he hit in 99 games last season and yet he still hits in the middle of the order as if he was the A-Rod of 2007.

The fact the Yankees are on the hook to pay this large albatross through the 2017 season is quite troubling. When that contract was signed, the Yankees were envisioning Rodriguez becoming the all-time home run champion in pinstripes.

But with Rodriguez stuck on 647 career homers and seemingly unable to hit 20 in a season, he will be lucky to reach 700, much less make to 763 to pass Barry Bonds.

The qustion is how long will the Yankees to allow Rodriguez to underperform for the money his is making and how much he is hurting the Yankees in every game with his strikeouts, weak popups and routine fly balls? Can they afford to keep him? Or are they paying so much for him that they can’t get rid of him?

All I know is what I see and I just see a very sad shell of a player who might be succumbing to aftereffects of performance enhancing drugs. So I do not feel sorry for him. But I do feel sorry for the Yankees being roped into this deal that will hamper their ability to pare salary ahead of the 2014 season.

Rodriguez is also turning into a liability in the field, too.

He made eight errors this season, which sounds OK until you find out he started only 81 games at the position. That total also does not account for the balls that got past him because his surgically repaired hip has robbed him of his lateral quickness. It also does not account for the slow dribblers he was unable to charge fast enough to get the runner at first.

His cannon arm is still there but it can be erratic.

Nope, any way you slice it, A-Rod is just not A-Rod anymore. The sooner Yankee fans realize that the sooner they can stop praying for that game-winning homer in the playoffs. If the Yankees are lucky he will single in a big run with a runner in scoring position.

So don’t get your hopes up for a great postseason for A-Rod. It might turn out like all the ones he produced before his epic postseason in 2009, which brought title No. 27 back to the Bronx. The 28th will have to come some other way.

MIDSEASON GRADE: D

SECOND-HALF GRADE: I

OVERALL GRADE: D

BACKUP - ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)

I have already discussed Chavez in my post about Mark Teixeira.

Because of Rodriguez’s injury, Chavez was the primary backup at third base and he started 50 games there. If Chavez were a younger player and capable of playing every day, he would have either replaced Rodriguez outright or, at the very least, be the lefty part of a platoon at the position.

Of course, that is if A-Rod was not A-Rod and he was not getting paid big bucks.

Chavez was the better fielder here and you can make a case that he was a more productive hitter. He hit 16 home runs in 278 at-bats. A-Rod hit 18 in 463.

If it were me, I might even consider moving Rodriguez the DH spot and starting Chavez at third against right-handers in the playoffs. It just makes good sense.

MIDSEASON GRADE: B

SECOND HALF GRADE: B+

OVERALL GRADE: B

The Yankees also played Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee and Eduardo Nunez at third base this season. With Nix out of the early part of the playoffs with an injury, Chavez will be the primary backup and Nunez will not play here unless it is an emergency.

McGehee will not make the postseason roster.

In the minor leagues the Yankees have a slick-fielding third baseman in Brandon Laird. But Laird, 25, had a mediocre season with the bat at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting just .254 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs.

With Rodriguez blocking his path to the majors, Laird has to hope he can find an opportunity with another organization. He has some value as a potential corner infield backup because he play first base also.

The Yankees do have a potential star in last year’s first draft pick Dante Bichette Jr., who spent the season at Class-A Charleston.

Bichette, 20, has a long way to go after hitting .248 with three home runs and 46 RBIs. This was after a season in which he was the MVP of the Gulf Coast League in 2011. But he is still young and the Yankees love his bloodlines to former Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.

He looks to be a keeper for now.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-

It is rare when you are talking about a three-time MVP being worse than the player who backs him up. But that is what we are dealing with in Rodriguez. Out of loyalty, his past track record and to keep the peace, manager Joe Girardi has refused to take A-Rod out of the middle of the order.

Fine. I understand that. But one would hope if A-Rod falls flat on his face this October that he will have the courage to do it next season.

There is only so much you can take. Seeing him swing through fastballs he used to crush and pop up pitches he used to hit hard over the fence is just frustrating to watch game after game.

Opposing scouts, managers and pitchers already see what Girardi has refused to admit. Maybe it is because of what happened to Joe Torre after he batted Rodriguez seventh in the 2007 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers. Torre lost his job.

Perhaps Girardi sees a similar fate for him if he does it and the team loses a playoff series. Just don’t be surprised if Rodriguez hits .125 and leaves a lot of runners on base this postseason.

 

A-Rod Deserves Third Degree For Rapid Decline

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (13 HR, 36 RBIs, .266 BA)

During the 2007 season, Alex Rodriguez was the most feared hitter in baseball. That was a season in which he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted a robust .314.

Those days are gone and there is no better testimony to that fact than A-Rod’s statistics at the halfway point of the 2012 season. He is on pace to hit 26 home runs and drive in 72 runs!

The theory on getting Rodriguez back to his old form was that he needed to stay healthy because he played in only 99 games last season due to a knee injury that required surgery and a late-season thumb injury that rendered him virtually useless with the bat in the playoffs.

Well, so far this season, Rodriguez, 36, has been healthy. He has been sidelined with no major ailments through the first 81 games.

In addition, manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to give Rodriguez a lot of “half days” off by utilizing him at designated hitter and giving him some full days off during the course of the season to keep him rested and fresh. Well, Rodriguez has started 56 games at third base and he has appeared in 78 games total.

So why does Rodriguez have only 13 home runs and 36 RBIs at the midpoint?

The answer just may be that Rodriguez has reached a point in his career that he is declining faster than the Yankees would have hoped when they offered him his second 10-year-contract that puts him on the Yankees’ payroll through 2017. That deal was signed when Rodriguez appeared to be destined to pass Barry Bonds for the all-time lead in home runs at 762.

Rodriguez has 642 but that 120 home run difference is looking like it might be out of reach for this rapidly fading superstar.

Why is this happening? Is it just age? Is it the fact that Rodriguez does not have the help of streoids? Did the steroids lead to that debilitating hip injury he suffered in 2009? Has the pitching in baseball just gotten that much better?

Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, all Yankee fans know is that Rodriguez has been unable to deliver clutch home runs or doubles as he routinely did. His typical 35 home runs and 120 RBI production is just gone.

Rodriguez is hitting .293 with the bases empty this season. Eight of his 13 home runs are solo shots.

But you put runners on base and Rodriguez is hitting like weak-hitting middle infielder Yuniesky Betancourt. He is hitting .227 with runners in scoring position and .182 with the bases loaded.

Pitchers are challenging him with fastballs up in the strike zone like never before and Rodriguez is missing them.

Though A-Rod has always been a power hitter, the highest strikeout total in his career is 139, which he posted in both 2005 and 2006. He currently has 74 strikeouts and that would translate into a career-high 148 strikeouts this season.

Clearly, something is very, very wrong with the veteran slugger. The question is will he ever get back to what he was or will he continue to regress?

In the field, Rodriguez has committed five errors in his 56 starts at third, which is just a notch below his career .964 fielding percentage. But he also has been slow to react to slow rollers and there have been a number of times those balls were scored hits but a younger Rodriguez might have been able to make a play on them.

Teams bunt on Rodriguez a lot because they do not think he is able to make the play anymore. So you will continue to see speedsters placing bunts down the third-base line.

His lateral range is also limited by that hip injury and his 6-foot-5 frame.

When you add this all up, it is easy to see the Yankees might have a very large albatross around their necks for the next five seasons. A-Rod wants to remain a Yankee the rest of his career and the Yankees are on the hook to pay him for another five seasons.

It does not appear that any amount of rest is going to make this situation any better. Alex is just Alex now. It looks as if the Yankees are just going to have to accept it.

Girardi continues to cover for his player by saying he is not worried and that A-Rod always seems to hit his home runs in bunches. OK! Well, we are still waiting for the first bunch.

Perhaps the Yankees would be better off if they dropped Rodriguez in the batting order behind Nick Swisher. That might make his failures less noticeable. But, other than that, there is not much the Yankees can do to awaken his slumbering bat.

MIDSEASON GRADE: D

BACKUP – ERC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)

The Yankees are very lucky to have a six-time Gold Glove winner like Chavez to play at third base when Rodriguez is the DH or resting. Chavez has made 19 starts at third base and he has committed two errors there.

But that does not tell the entire story.

Chavez, 34, provides an additional left-hand bat when the Yankees are facing a right-handed pitcher and he provides solid at-bats. Six home runs and 16 RBIs is pretty good production for a backup corner infielder.

He is a smart hitter who can hit with authority to the opposite field. He can stand to improve his .179 average with runners in scoring position but there are a lot of Yankees who can say the same thing.

Though Chavez is not as adept in the field at first base, he does not embarrass himself there either. So he gives Girardi a lot of flexibility to rest Mark Teixeira on occasion. Chavez is also very useful as a left-hand pinch-hitter of the bench.

Earlier in the season, Eduardo Nunez played third against some left-handed pitchers. But he was such a butcher in the field that he was shipped back the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to play primarily as a shortstop.

The Yankees, instead, employ Jayson Nix in that role. But Nix has only made one start here and that was in Game 81. He is hitting .228 with two home runs and six RBIs this season. Nix is more valuable as a middle infield reserve, though he also can play in the outfield.

MIDSEASON GRADE: B

The Yankees have a genuine third base prospect in Dante Bichette Jr., who they selected with their first pick in the 2011 draft. Bichette, 19, is expected to develop into a big-time power hitter as he matures. However, he has only one home run and 28 RBIs and is batting .252 with Single-A Charleston (SC) in the Carolina League.

Brandon Laird, 24, is considered a major-league-ready third baseman defensively and he does have some power. But Laird is hitting just .236 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs at Scranton.

There is not much third base talent within the Yankees’ minor-league system. But with A-Rod halfway through his 10-year-deal it does not seem to be much of a concern now.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-

I am not optimistic that Rodriguez will suddenly find his power stroke and will start launching A-Bombs all over Yankee Stadium in the second half.

Rodriguez currently is hitting a home run every 22.3 at-bats. In 2010, Rodriguez hit a home run every 17.4 at-bats. In his career, he has homered in every 14.7 at-bats.

Clearly, there is a major decline here and Rodriguez can’t be expected to erase the march of time. He is aging rapidly and it is coming a lot quicker than anyone thought it would.

Rodriguez is also sometimes his own worst enemy because he does tinker with his swing and mechanics so much that he sometimes looks like he is thinking at the plate instead of just reacting. As a result pitchers do not seem to fear him as much anymore.

When Girardi finally admits this is the A-Rod he is going to get for the next five years, maybe he can move him down in the order. But, for now, do not expect much out of Rodriguez in 2012. He will only break your heart.

 

Bosox Rally In Final Two Frames To Tie Yankees

GAME 20

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 4 (9 INNINGS)

If the quote “a tie is like kissing your sister” applies than the Yankees probably feel like they lip-smacked the ugliest sister they have in the Red Sox.

Jason Repko laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Ryan Sweeney with one out in the ninth inning as Boston overcame a 4-0 lead in the final two innings to tie New York on Wednesday night at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

If Yankee fans want a culprit for blowing the big lead, look no further than right-handed reliever Cory Wade. Wade gave up three runs on four hits (three of them long doubles) in a less-than-stellar two-thirds of an inning.

Juan Cedeno struck out Josh Kroeger with a tying run on second to end the eighth, however, he ran into trouble in the ninth by allowing a leadoff single by Sweeney. George Kontos entered the game and after one out, Mike Aviles slapped a double off the left-field wall to setup Repko’s squeeze bunt that tied the game.

The Yankees built their four-run lead with two runs off Red Sox starter Aaron Cook in the fourth inning, keyed by a RBI double by a red-hot Curtis Granderson and RBI single by Andruw Jones.

They added two runs in the fifth off of former Yankees right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. Brandon Laird led off the frame with a double, Jose Gil singled to right to advance Laird to third. Then with one out, Doug Bernier rolled a single into right to score both runners.

Yankees right-hander Adam Warren started the game and pitched an excellent four innings. Warren, 24, blanked the Bosox on two hits and no walks and he fanned three.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Originally the Yankees had announced David Phelps would start. But Warren pitched instead and he looked sensational. Warren is 0-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings spanning four appearances this spring. The Yankees obviously have no room for Warren with seven pitchers vying for five starting spots but Warren will be part of the “Fab Five” starting for Triple-A Empire State with Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell and Phelps.
  • Granderson’s RBI double raised his spring average to .393. Granderson has six doubles, a triple and a home run among his 11 hits and he is slugging at a .786 clip this spring. For those of you who might have thought that 2012 was a fluke you had better think again.
  • Bernier is 31 and there s no way he will make the team with Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena ahead of him on the depth chart at shortstop. But he has had a sensational spring in the field and he is hitting .364. If Bernier ends up staying with the Yankees he will play at Triple-A Empire State.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Wade, 28, has given up four runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings over his last two appearances. That has forced his ERA to balloon to a very ugly 7.04 this spring. Wade was integral to the Yankees’ bullpen last season, recording a 6-1 record and a 2.04 ERA. But with potentially two starters being shifted to the bullpen when Andy Pettitte returns in May, Wade might be out of a job if he does not turn it around soon.
  • The Raul Ibanez spring hit meter is still stuck on two. Ibanez was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and his average has dipped (and we do mean dipped) to .054. That means the Yankees are paying Ibanez a whopping $2.25 million per hit. Where do I sign up for that gig?
  • The spring “Siesta Award” will have to shared by Jones and Eric Chavez. Chavez singled to lead off the second but was picked off first base by Cook. After Jones drove in Granderson with his single in the fourth inning he was promptly picked off first by Cook also. Getting caught napping is embarrassing enough but worse when it s the Red Sox. Wake up, guys!

BOMBER BANTER

Pettitte will throw a live batting practice session for the Yankees on Friday at their spring complex. The Yankees are also saying that it is possible the lefty could pitch in a spring training game. Pettitte, 39, said he is targeting May for his return to the big leagues.  . . .  Infielder Jorge Vazquez was struck in the right hand on a pitch from former Yankees right-hander Mark Melancon in the eighth inning and he left the game immediately. Vazquez, 29, will have precautionary X-rays done on the hand and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss.  . . .  Jeter participated in a full team workout on Thursday and he is expected to start on Friday. Jeter has missed the last seven games with a sore left calf.  . . .  Nick Swisher said his sore groin is improving and he could return to the lineup sometime this weekend. Swisher left Tuesday’s game against the Pirates when he felt his groin tighten up as he ran out a ground ball.  . . .  CC Sabathia gave up one run in six innings in a game against Double-A hitters on Wednesday. He is on track to pitch the opener for the Yankees on April 6 in St. Petersburg, FL., against the Tampa Bay Rays.

COMMENTARY

Once again, Red Sox manager “Booby” Valentine has shown his hindquarters. Manager Joe Girardi informed home-plate umpire Mark Lollo that he did not have any pitchers available to pitch a 10th inning against the Red Sox. Girardi did have Mitchell on the trip but he had thrown a side session earlier because Girardi did not expect him to get into the game. By the typical spring rules, managers are within their rights to end a tie game after nine innings if they do not feel it is in their interest to push a pitcher into throwing too much. Valentine took umbrage because he chose to warm up Clayton Mortensen in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth. “It was regretful that Mortensen warmed up, though, and then we were told they weren’t going to play extra innings,” Valentine said. “I don’t think that was very courteous.” Courtesy is extended to those who earn it, “Booby.” Your remarks about Jeter and Alex Rodriguez earlier this spring, which were designed to get back to the Yankees, were uncalled for and extremely discourteous. So as far as see it, “Booby,” you can just suck on it. It is so ironic that it is you that are fit to be tied. Welcome to the rivalry you stoked!

ON DECK

The Yankees will play a pair of games on Friday.

The home squad will face the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Ivan Nova, coming off a horrible performance against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday, is expected to pitch for the Yankees in that game. The Twins will start veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and live locally on the YES Network.

The road squad will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL., to face the Philadelphia Phillies. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is scheduled to start for the Yankees. The Phillies will start right-hander Vance Worley.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay.

 

Laird’s Walk-Off Sac Fly In 10th Boosts Yankees

GAME 15

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3 (10 Innings)

TAMPA - When you have a team struggling to get on base and score runs it is never too late push a run across – even if it is the 10th inning.

Brandon Laird lofted a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to score Justin Maxwell with the game-winning run as New York swept it two-game home-and-away set with Washington at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday.

The Yankees, very much like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” depended greatly on “the kindness of strangers.”

Nationals right-hander Atahualpa Severino started his stint in the 10th by walking Maxwell. Pinch-hitter Melky Mesa followed by hitting a routine grounder that was misplayed by Nationals third baseman Mark Teahen, allowing Maxwell to advance to third. One out later, Laird launched a fly ball to right field that plated Maxwell with the deciding tally.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0) pitched a scoreless top of the 10th to gain credit for the victory. Severino (0-1) took the loss.

The game featured a matchup of lefties in CC Sabathia for the Yankees and newly acquired Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals. However, Sabathia struggled with his command and he left after just three innings on the south end of a 3-1 deficit.

Sabathia gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he fanned two. Gonzalez gave up a run on three hits and three walks and struck out six in 3 1/3 innings.

The Yankees managed to tie the game in the fifth inning off reliever Craig Stammen on a leadoff single by Doug Bernier and a two-out, two-run home run to deep left by Alex Rodriguez, his first home run this spring since he homered on the first pitch he saw by Roy Halladay of the Phillies on March 3.

With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 7-8. The Nationals fell to 5-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With the battle of lefties going on most of the buzz in the sellout crowd of 10,982 was about another left-hander entirely. The news 39-year-old Andy Pettitte had elected to come out of retirement and sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract with the Yankees spread like wildfire through the Yankee faithful on hand. I would consider adding a pitcher to your roster who has 240 major-league victories (203 of them with the Yankees) has got to be considered a positive development.
  • Though the Yankee regulars struck out so much they could have put out a wildfire, it was nice to see Rodriguez connect for a huge two-run home run in the fifth inning. The Yankees, if you can believe this, have only hit a total of five home runs in the first 15 games this spring. Hopefully, this may signal an end to the power outage.
  • Though Sabathia struggled, Phil Hughes turned in a very sharp four innings of work in relief. Hughes, who is still competing with a group of pitchers that now will include Pettitte for a starting spot, held the Nationals scoreless on three hits, did not walk a batter and he struck three. Hughes is showing no signs of the right shoulder fatigue that plagued him last season.
  • Robinson Cano doubled to the opposite field in the first inning off Gonzalez to score Curtis Granderson from first base to draw the Yankees to within a run at 2-1. Cano is off to a very slow start this spring and is hitting .190.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia admitted after the game his fastball was “all over the place” and it cost him early. The Nationals loaded the bases to start the game on a double, single and a walk. They pushed across a run on a double-play grounder off the bat of Wilson Ramos. But they added a second run in the same frame on an RBI double by Jesus Flores. Steve Lombardozzi then touched Sabathia with a leadoff home run in the third inning to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
  • Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. The Yankees struck out 14 times in the game. Raul Ibanez, Francisco Cervelli and Bill Hall fanned two times each. Considering the fact that the Yankees won the game after collecting just five hits in the game you would have to say they were lucky to have won at all. The pitching of Hughes was the big key. The question is when are the Yankees going to wake up and start hitting?
  • Ibanez was 0-for-2 with a walk and fanned twice and he is now hitting .077. Yankee fans are getting a bit impatient with Ibanez considering he is replacing retired Yankee icon Jorge Posada at designated hitter and because the Yankees chose to sign him instead of a pair of former popular Yankees in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

BOMBER BANTER

Injuries have cropped up all over the place and it is now an epidemic in Yankee camp. Derek Jeter missed the game Friday and will not play again until Tuesday due to a tender left calf. The Yankees were quick to point out that they do not consider the injury serious and that is not the same calf that forced Jeter to the disabled list for three weeks last season.  . . .  Meanwhile, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were held out of action with strained left groins. Swisher could return to the lineup on Saturday but Martin will be shelved for a couple of days.  . . .  Those walking wounded join the ranks of Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand), Ramiro Pena (sprained right ankle) and David Robertson (bone bruise of right foot) who are also out of action.  . . .  The Yankees made their first cuts of the spring on Friday, re-assigning 14 players to minor-league camp, including top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Banuelos was among seven pitchers sent out. The others were Dan Burawa, Brett Marshall, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner and Whitley. The other cuts included catchers Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy and Kyle Higashioka, infielders David Adams and Corban Joseph and outfielders Zoilo Almonte and Mesa.

ON DECK

The Yankees will host the Houston Astros for the second time this spring on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Scheduled to start for the Yankees will be 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who will be making his third start of the spring. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and he was displeased with his last start.

The Astros are expected to start right-hander Bud Norris.

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

 

Yankee Reserves Come Up Big To Beat Nationals

GAME 14

YANKEES 8, NATIONALS 5

During a time when a lot of the starters are struggling with hitting this spring the non-roster and minor-league players who dominated the Yankees’ lineup on Thursday were the ones who came up big.

Bill Hall drove in two runs with a double in the third inning and New York’s spring reserves scored four runs in the seventh inning off Washington’s John Lannan en route to a Grapefruit League victory over the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.

Brett Marshall (1-0) got credit for the victory in relief. Lannan (0-1) gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and a walk in four innings and he ended up taking the loss. Adam Warren retired the last batter and picked up a save.

The Yankees mounted a 13-hit attack led two hits by Hall and Justin Maxwell and Hall and Jose Gil each drove in two runs.

There were two significant injuries incurred during the game. Nationals starter and former Yankee right-hander Chien-Ming Wang had to leave the game in the third inning with a strained right hamstring after he lost his balance fielding a Russell Martin grounder and stumbled awkwardly over the first-base bag.

In the fourth inning, Yankee shortstop Ramiro Pena left after spraining his right ankle as he slid into second base on an unsuccessful steal attempt.

The Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak and improved their spring record to 6-8. The Nationals are 5-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees were losing 3-2 with Lannan beginning his third inning of work in the sixth when the Yankees greeted him with five consecutive hits. Jayson Nix singled, stole second and scored the tying run on a RBI single by Gil. Doug Bernier advanced Gil to third on a bunt single and Maxwell scored Gil on a single to left. J.R. Murphy followed with a single to right to score Bernier. Maxwell then scored the fourth run of the inning on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Zoilo Almonte. Nix is the only player involved in the rally who had started the game.
  • The Yankee reserves turned the game into a rout with two more runs in the seventh. Brandon Laird, who reached base on an error by shortstop Andres Blanco, scored on a passed ball by catcher Jhontan Solano. Dewayne Wise, who doubled in the inning, later scored on a sacrifice fly by Gil, giving the Yankees an 8-3 lead.
  • Michael Pineda made his third start of the spring and there were some mixed results. Pineda pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits and a walk while he fanned four batters. The good news was that Pineda was able to throw about 10 change-ups and his slider was virtually unhittable. The velocity on his fastball, however, reached only 91 miles per hour, down considerably from his 2011 average of 94.5, which ranked fifth in the majors. The Yankees refuse to talk about it, but the lack of velocity has to be a concern at this stage of spring training.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Three of the left-handers competing to become a potential second lefty in the bullpen pitched in the game and none of them were exactly sharp. Clay Rapada did not give up a run in 1 1/3 innings and has a 0.00 ERA this spring. However, he walked two and gave up a hit before inducing Chad Tracy to ground out with the bases loaded in the fifth.
  • Juan Cedeno opened the sixth by issuing a leadoff walk to Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth followed with a double. Then with one out, Steve Lombardozzi hit a sacrifice fly to score LaRoche.
  • Michael O’Connor opened the ninth with a 8-5 lead and promptly issued a leadoff walk to Roger Bernadina and one-out single to Mark Teahan to bring the tying run to the plate. After O’Connor retired Tracy on a grounder to advance Bernadina and Teahan, manager Joe Girardi summoned Warren to close out the game.

BOMBER BANTER

With Eduardo Nunez still nursing a bruised right hand for the past 10 days, the injury to Pena is not good news. Pena said he hopes to miss only two or three days by Girardi said he is not so sure about that. No tests are planned on the ankle and Pena will be re-evaluated in Tampa, FL., on Friday.   . . .  It appears doubtful that veteran right-hander Fraddy Garcia will be able to pitch in his next scheduled start because of a bruised right thumb and index finger.  Garcia was struck on the hand on a grounder off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in the fourth inning of a game on Wednesday. The Yankees think Garcia just has a bad bruise and they do not believe the injury is serious.

ON DECK

The Yankees will complete a two-game home-and-away series with the Nationals at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday.

Ace left-hander CC Sabathia is scheduled to pitch for the Yankees. He will be making his third start of the spring. The Nationals will start former Oakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who has not given up a run in his two previous appearances spanning seven innings.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and locally live by the YES Network.

 

Astros Score Two Runs Late To Steal Past Yankees

GAME 11

ASTROS 4, YANKEES 2

TAMPA - George Springer doubled in a run to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning and later stole third and scored himself as Houston edged New York in a Grapefruit League contest on Monday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Astros reliever Fernando Rodriguez (1-0) worked his way around two walks to pitch a scoreless eighth inning to get credit for the victory. Yankees left-hander Michael O’Connor took the loss. Despite giving up a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jorge De Leon got credit for his first save of the spring.

The Astros limited the Yankees to only five hits while they collected 12 of their own on offense.

The Yankees’ spring record drops to 5-6 and the Astros are 5-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In his second spring outing Hiroki Kuroda did manage to blank the Astros in his three innings of work, however, even he admitted he did not have his best stuff. Kuroda gave up two hits, walked two batters and struck out two in a 41-pitch outing (23 were strikes).
  • With the Astros up 1-0 in the fifth, Dewayne Wise stroked a one-out single, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Brandon Laird groundout. Wise is trying to make the team as a non-roster outfielder and he is hitting .364 in the early going.
  • Nick Swisher tied the game in the sixth inning with a booming one-out triple off wall in the right-center to score pinch-runner Melky Mesa. It was only the Yankees’ third of the game. Swisher is hitting .294 so far this spring and already looks more comfortable hitting from the left side. He hit .232 against right-handers in 2011.
  • Dellin Betances, the team’s No. 2 prospect, pitched an impressive two scoreless innings against the Astros. He gave up a scratch single and fanned two batters in a 32-pitch outing (22 were strikes). Betances showed much better command than he did in his previous two outings and he has a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Allowing the Astros to outhit you 12-5 is not something to brag about. Former Red Sox right-hander Kyle Weiland made hsi first start for the Astros and he held the Yankees hitless and scoreless for four innings. Weiland walked one batter and hit another but was very much in command. Eric Chavez flew out twice and they were the only two balls Weiland allowed to reach the outfield.
  • Speaking of Chavez, he committed a pair of mistakes that cost the Yankees dearly. In the fourth inning, Fernando Martinez lofted a foul popup near the first-base line. Chavez broke late and the ball dropped between he and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Martinez then laced a one-out double and later scored. In the fifth inning, Jordan Schafer attempted two bunts before he laid down a bunt down the first-base line. Chavez fielded the ball cleanly but bobbled it as he shuffled a toss to pitcher Cesar Cabaral that was too late to get Schafer.
  • O’Connor’s bid to become the second lefty in the bullpen took a huge hit when he gave up two runs in the ninth inning. O’Connor’s spring ERA is a gawdy but even 15.00. He allowed a single, a double and two stolen bases in the nightmarish ninth and he definitely deserved to take the loss.

BOMBER BANTER

Yankees All-Star reliever David Robertson had the walking boot removed from his right foot and he discarded his crutches. Robertson, who suffered a bone bruise landing hard on a step at his home last Wednesday, insists he thinks he will be ready for Opening Day after he played catch for about five minutes on Monday.  . . .  Non-roster right-hander Dan Burawa suffered a tear in his ribcage and he will be sidelined for at least the remainder of spring training. Burawa, 23, pitched three scoreless innings this spring. The former 10th round draft choice in 2010 will likely begin the season in Double-A Trenton.  . . .  The Yankees hope to have backup infielder Eduardo Nunez back in the lineup on Tuesday if he can get through batting practice without feeling pain in his right hand. Nunez has been sidelined for eight days after being hit in the hand on a pitch from Phillies right-hander Austin Hyatt.

ON DECK

There is no need to hype Tuesday night’s contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field. It will be Round 1 of the Yankees’ 2012  rivalry with the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees will open the game with right-hander Ivan Nova on the mound. Nova will be making his third appearance and he hopes the control issues that have plagued his first two starts are behind him.

The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront, who is bidding for the fifth spot in the rotation. Another candidate, Vicente Padilla, is also scheduled to pitch. Mike Aviles, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are making the trip from Fort Myres, FL.

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

 

Yankees Lose As Fringe Pitchers Give Up 8 Runs

GAME 3

PHILLIES 9, YANKEES 3

Hector Luna cracked a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning to cap a six-run rally as Philadelphia defeated New York in a Grapefruit League contest on Monday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Phillies right-hander Austin Hyatt (1-0) pitched two innings and got credit for the victory in relief despite the fact he gave up two runs that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead heading into the sixth. Yankees right-hander Adam Miller (0-1) took the loss after facing six batters and not retiring one of them.

Reserve infielder Mike Martinez, who misplayed three ground balls in a 7-4 loss to the Yankees on Sunday, added a two-run home run in the seventh inning off left-hander Juan Cedeno.

The Yankees are 2-1 in Grapefruit League play. The Phillies are 1-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Michael Pineda, who was acquired by the Yankees in the trade with the Seattle Mariners for Jesus Montero, made his spring debut for the Yankees and looked sensational. Pineda gave up one hit and struck out two in his two innings of work, throwing 19 of his 30 pitches for strikes. Pineda’s highlight was fanning veteran Jim Thome in the first inning on a high fastball.
  • The Yankees scored their first run without the benefit of a hit off Hyatt in the fifth. Russell Martin worked a leadoff walk and Hyatt then struck Eduardo Nunez on the right hand with a pitch. Martin advanced to third on a fly ball off the bat of Bill Hall and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Nix. The Yankees scored in the following inning because of more shoddy Phillies fielding. Brett Gardner’s fly ball to left was misjudged by left-fielder Domonic Brown and the ball then caromed off the knee of center-fielder Tyson Gillies and rolled to the left-field wall. Gardner was attempting to slide into third when second baseman Kevin Frandsen’s relay throw got past Luna at third and Gardner ran home on what was scored as a triple and a throwing error on Frandsen.
  • The Yankees have no real jobs open but they have been very impressed with the bat of 22-year-old outfielder Zoilo Almonte. Almonte did it again on Monday. In the seventh inning he delivered a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander Brian Sances to score Brandon Laird with the Yankees’ third run. Almonte had four RBIs in Friday’s 11-0 exhibition victory against the University of South Florida. In his three games against the Phillies he is 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Almonte hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs in 116 games with Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
  • Reliever Ryan Pope looked good in the final 1 2/3 innings of the game. He retired all five batters he faced and fanned two. In a day when Miller and Cedeno combined to give up eight runs, Pope was a godsend.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Miller looked terrible in his Yankee debut. The former Indians prospect was signed on Jan. 4 as a free agent. Miller’s progress was delayed after he suffered ligament damage in his right finger that forced him two miss two seasons. Miller opened the sixth with a 2-1 lead and he gave up a leadoff single to Jim Thome. Thome was replaced by pinch-runner Juan Pierre but catcher Gustavo Miolina nabbed him attempting to steal second. Then the roof caved in for Miller. He walked Scott Podsednik, Ty Wigginton and Brown in succession. Erik Kratz followed with a RBI single and Miller forced in another run by hitting Frandsen with his next offering. Girardi then removed him.
  • Cedeno, the pitcher who replaced Miller, is among four lefties vying for a bullpen spot on the team. He has some work to do because in relief of Miller in the sixth he gave up a sac fly to Freddy Galvis, walked Gillies and then gave up a bases-loaded double to Luna that broke the game open. The following inning he gave up a two-run home run to Martinez.
  • David Robertson did not look sharp in his spring debut. After retiring the first two batters, he walked Jimmy Rollins and Rollins made him pay by stealing both second and third base. Rollins then scored the game’s first run on a sharp single up the middle by Placido Polanco.

BOMBER BANTER

The only real good news from Monday’s game was that X-rays on the right hand of Nunez were negative for a break. Nunez had swelling and pain but the injury is not considered serious and he is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  For all intents and purposes the battle for the backup catcher spot behind Martin is over. The back injury suffered by Austin Romine will put him so behind Francisco Cervelli that he will not be able to win the job. Manager Joe Girardi said the Yankees want to take a cautious approach with Romine’s back because it is a recurrence of an injury he suffered last season at Double-A Trenton. Girardi told Romine it would better for him to rest now and clear up the problem rater than have it crop up again later in the season.  . . .  For the first time this spring, the Yankees played a game in which the wind was not howling and became a factor in the game. Temperatures were in the upper 60s and the wind was blowing in from center-field at just 5 mph. That was likely good news for the players and the crowd of 9,956 that attended the game at Bright House Field.

ON DECK

After winning two of three in their opening series with the Phillies, the Yankees travel to Bradenton, FL, to play the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday.

The Yankees plan to start ace left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander Phil Hughes is also scheduled to pitch. The Yankees will bring their starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to the game.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will not be broadcast on television.

 

Yankees To Open Spring Slate Soon And I’m Ready

Now that the pitchers and catchers have reported to the Yankees’ spring home in Tampa, FL, the target date is March 3.

After the Yankees begin the spring with an exhibition against the University of South Florida on March 2 at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees will open their official spring training schedule with the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL.

My calendar officially begins the next day when the Yankees return the favor against the Phillies and host them for their home opener. I received my spring season tickets this week and I am chomping at the bit to get the 2012 season started. In addition, I want to make sure my coverage of the Yankees this spring is the best you will read anywhere.

I plan to attend 18 Yankee games this spring, including the Yankees’ two road contests against the Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL, and a road contest against the Astros in Kissimmee, FL. The rest of the games I will either see on ESPN or  MLB-TV or I will hear on MLB Radio.

So it is clear that I will be able to provide Yankee fans – whether you live in Boise, ID, or the Bronx, NY – with the best on-site coverage I can possibly offer. I want to continue, as I have through the offseason, with the most accurate information about the players, the news, the rumors, the aches and pains and the deals going on behind the scenes.

This is what I pledged to do since I started this blog three years ago and I have tried to improve that coverage each season.

I have a B.A. in Communications and an A.A. in Journalism. I have worked for five news organizations over the course of 13 years as a writer, columnist and editor. So I approach my craft with a journalistic intent to cover the story fairly and accurately. But, as a lifelong Yankee fan, I am not afraid to give you my opinion on the news as it unfolds.

This week I am going to be looking at the Yankees’ competition in the American League East. Despite the fact that the Yankees really made very few moves this winter, I did not notice a lot of activity with the Red Sox, Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays. So just how strong is the division this season? Do the Yankees have clear sailing to repeat as division champs?

Stay tuned to this blog for my analysis, which begins with the Orioles on Monday. Red Sox fans will have to wait until Thursday to see how I see them in 2012.

In addition, I will be looking at the Yankees’ keys to victory in 2012. Some players need to prove they stay healthy (Alex Rodriguez). Others need to step up their games to remain viable starters (Brett Gardner). I will also try to answer the hard questions about how the starting rotation stacks up.

I also will look at the spring battles. There are few spots available on the Yankees’ roster but I will let you know who is leading in those battles. I also will give some detailed analysis on the Yankees prospects who trying to make their way up to the big-league roster. If you want the scoop on top Yankee prospects like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Brandon Laird and David Phelps, I will try to provide insight on how they are progressing and what they need to do to take the big leap forward.

By the end of spring training I will have enough information to forecast the 2012 pennant chase and how the Yankees should fare in that race. Last season, if you were reading, I told you that I thought the “so-called” solid rotation of the Red Sox was not so solid. I actually thought the Yankees’ quintet – even with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia – was better. I rankled a few Red Sox fans but I do not care when I am right.

Let’s see what 2012 holds and if I can rankle a few more Red Sox fans with my predictions.

Thank you for letting be part of your interest in baseball and I hope you love the game even half as much as I do. Let’s have some fun and “Let’s Go Yankees.”

 

Yankees’ Position On Garza Should Be Cautious

Reports indicate that the New York Yankees are among a handful of teams interested in acquiring Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.

It is no secret that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is seeking another starting pitcher and the Cubs, under the direction of new team president Theo Epstein, are seeking a bevy of young prospects on which they can build a foundation for their future.

One report indicated they are “seeking the moon.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that the Yankees and Americam League East rivals Toronto and Boston are in the mix of trade talks. There are rumors that the Detroit Tigers might be willing to part with 20-year-old pitching prospect Jacob Turner for Garza. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com first reported that the Miami Marlins, seemingly not through after signing free agents Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle, have also made inquiries about Garza.

One reason Garza, 28, is attracting attention from A.L. East clubs is his 23-15 record with a 3.34 ERA in 56 games against teams in the division. Garza was 10-10 with a career-low 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings for the Cubs in his first season in the National League in 2011.

Garza is currently under contract through the 2013 season and he is expected to receive about $9 million and $10 million through arbitration for the 2012 season.

Would this be a good move for the Yankees?

On the surface it seems that it could be just the move they could make to add a starting pitcher who would likely slot as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter and it would allow the Yankees the opportunity to rid themselves of mercurial right-hander A.J. Burnett, who will turn 35 on Tuesday.

Garza has a career record of 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA. The odd thing is that he never fared well against the Yankees in his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 12 games (11 starts) he was 1-10 with a 4.48 ERA. However, against the Red Sox he was 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 games.

He also has pitched 184 or more innings in his last four seasons with a 44-41 record. On paper, and perhaps in reality, he is a better option and more reliable as a starter than Burnett.

That said the prime targets the Cubs are looking for to build around is young pitchers. The Yankees have a slew of them, including 25-year-old Phil Hughes, 24-year-old Ivan Nova and 24-year-old Hector Noesi, who have reached the majors. In addition, they have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos who have all reached the Triple-A level.

However, the Cubs certainly will not part with Garza and settle for a package that did not include either Banuelos or Betances. Epstein is not a fool, though his own perceived self-worth and burgeoning ego does sometimes cloud his judgment. The Victor Marrinez fiasco and the John Lackey signing comes to mind.

The Yankees do have a lot of other pieces they can offer at other positions such as backup infielder Eduardo Nunez, third baseman Brandon Laird and outfielder Mason Williams, which might tempt the Cubs to settle for Phelps, a Notre Dame alum, instead. There also is the specter of Jesus Montero sitting out there and Epstein would definitely like to see him play on the North Side.

Cashman must play this one very carefully in order to not overspend for what is essentially a .500 pitcher and a No. 3 starter. As such, why part with top minor-league prospects like Banuelos, Betances and Montero?

At the same time, the Marlins, Tigers and Blue Jays have even more of a need for starting pitching and they seem to be pretty determined to get it. The Tigers offering Turner gives Epstein the wedge to use to get the Yankees to throw Banuelos into the deal. The Marlins also can offer an attractive package of young players.

The Blue Jays are reportedly dangling former No. 1 prospect Kyle Drabek and four others including Anthony Gose and Deck McGwire.

So the bidding on Garza seems pretty serious, not to mention intense.

Cashman, at some point, might walk away if the deal will cost the Yankees too much of their future for such a short-term return. Garza could walk after two seasons and that would hurt a lot if Banuelos or Williams went on to become stars for the Cubs. That is the tradeoff Cashman must weigh before making too big an offer.

Garza is certainly worth the effort into inquiring into his availability and what the Cubs might be seeking in return. But caution is the ever-present watchword. Once the price for him goes too high, Cashman must be willing to fold his hand and walk away from the poker table.

The great poet Kenny Rogers once said, “You got to know when to fold them.” My guess is Cashman knows this full well.

 

Yankees Make Smart Move In Re-Signing Jones

The New York Yankees, much like their fans, would like to forget 2011 and look forward to the promise 2012 brings. With that promise the Yankees have made a couple of moves to improve the team and let’s assess those moves and how they will impact the team.

JONESING FOR A RIGHTY

The Yankees on Friday signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $1.4 million in performance incentives, CBSSports.com reported. The 34-year-old outfielder will have to undergo a physical in order for the deal to be made official.

This is very good news for the Yankees because Jones filled a very important role as the team’s only right-handed hitting outfielder. Starters Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit left-handed and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter. Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBis in 77 games last season. More importantly, he batted .286 off left-handers.

Jones began the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter but later replaced Jorge Posada as the designated hitter against lefties. Manager Joe Girardi also used Jones to sit Gardner against some left-handers. Jones could be used in that role again in 2012 because Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers in 2011.

If the reports are true, the Yankees also prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing Jones away from the Yankees. Jones is eighth on the active home run list with 420 and he also is among just four major leaguers who have 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves along with Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.

OKIE DOKE

The Yankees also added to their bullpen mix for spring training another left-handed reliever.

On Wednesday, the Yankees agreed on the terms of minor-league contract with former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima.

Okajima, 36, was an integral part of the Red Sox bullpen for his first three seasons in the majors. But he fell out favor with then-manager Terry Francona the past two seasons and spent most of the 2011 season at the team’s Triple-A franchise Pawtucket.

Okajima pitched in only seven games for the Red Sox in 2011 and was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings of work. At Pawtucket, Okajima fashioned a 2.29 ERA in 34 innings over 51 appearances for the PawSox.

In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Okajima was 17-8 with six saves and 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances. During that span he held left-handers to a .218 batting average.

Okajima will have a chance in spring training to claim the team’s bullpen spot as the lefty specialist. He will compete with another former Red Sox left-hander in 22-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees acquired from the Royals for cash considerations after the Royals selected Cabral in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have relied on Boone Logan as their lone left-hander out of the bullpen and Logan, 27, has been miscast in the role of lefty specialist. Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA over 64 games and 41 2/3 innings. Left-handers hit .260 against him last season while right-handers hit .262.

If Okajima or Cabral win a job in the bullpen, Logan will revert to a middle-inning reliever and he has been much more effective in that role.

Okajima’s best pitch is his change-up, which Francona termed the “Okie Doke.” But he is going to have to earn his role with the Yankees because in the 8 1/3 innings he pitched last season, left-handers hit .364 off him and he recorded an ERA of 11.57 against them. So his “Okie Doke” better be more than just OK this spring.

TICK, TICK, TICK

The Yankees have until Jan. 6 to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nikajima, who they won the rights to sign by posting a $2.5 million bid in early December.

Nikajima, 29,is primarily a shortstop but he also can play some second and third base. He hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with the Seibu Lions last season.

If the Yankees fail to sign Nikajima to a contract by Jan. 6, he will remain with Seibu for the 2012 season and the $2.5 million posting fee will be returned to the Yankees. That also would open the door for the Yankees to re-sign free agent infielder Eric Chavez.

Chavez, 34, played first and third base for the Yankees in 2011 and he hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. The Yankees will not negotiate with Chavez’s agent unless they fail to sign Nikajima.

The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird on the 40-man roster to compete for a backup infield role this spring. Nunez, 24, is favored to win one of the two spots unless he is used in a trade for a starting pitcher before the season begins.

ACHTUNG!

Alex Rodriguez, taking advice from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, traveled to Germany this month to have an experimental medical procedure performed to help his ailing left shoulder and right knee.

With the Yankees’ approval, Dr. Peter Wehling performed what is termed an Orthokine procedure in Dusseldorf in early December. Bryant claimed the Orthokine procedure on his right knee and left ankle helped him recover movement and relieve pain enough so that he could return to the court with the Lakers.

Rodriguez, 36, took the experimental procedure to the Yankees and team doctor Chris Ahmad and the Yankees checked with the Lakers and with Major League Baseball on Wehling and the legality of the procedure. They then gave Rodriguez the permission to have it done.

The procedure calls for the taking of blood from an arm vein, incubating it and spinning it in centrifuge to isolate protective proteins. The proteins are then injected into the affected areas once or twice a week.

The procedure is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing and cartilage-protecting effects but not much is known about its long-term implications.

Rodriguez played in a career-low 99 games last season and in some of those games he was playing at less than 100 percent. He hit .276 with only 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.

Rodriguez missed more than a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee in July. In his first game back from the disabled list on Aug. 21, Rodriguez suffered a sprained left thumb, which affected the third baseman’s swing the rest of the season.

He hit only .191 after returning from the injury and he hit just .111 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.

If this procedure helps Rodriguez, the Yankees might consider seeking out an experimental procedure for command-challenged right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Perhaps a doctor can come up with a procedure to inject power-steering fluid in Burnett’s right elbow to ensure he might actually come closer to hitting the strike zone with his pitches.

TRADEWINDS

General manager Brian Cashman enters January with the “open for business” sign out on improving the starting rotation. This despite the fact that the Yankees have acted like they are the cash-strapped Kansas City Royals over the winter free-agent signing season.

The Yankees, hamstrung to a great degree by the lavish long-term contracts already laid out to CC Sabathia, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Burnett, have been spending pennies while other teams have been waving $100 bills.

Cashman would like to add a starter to the rotation and perhaps unload Burnett. But the costs of free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Japan’s Yu Darvish have been higher than their actual worth, according to Cashman. Meanwhile, trade avenues have been blocked by other teams’ insistence the Yankees cough up the jewels of the Yankees’ farm system in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams.

Cashman continues to say no to those deals because he does not want to short-circuit the Yankees’ future for a short-term fix.

So the Yankees have struck out on deals for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzlaez, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrgens and Jonathan Niese.

For now, the Yankees seem to be counting on a return to form of Phil Hughes, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign after winning 18 games in 2010. They also do not believe that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova’s 16-win season was a fluke.

The re-signing of 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who was a respectable 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, means the only really Yankee concern is Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season.

The truth is Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are at their wits’ end trying to figure out what is wrong with Burnett. They seem to agree a change of scenery is in order. But with two years and $33 million still owed to the enigma wrapped inside a conundrum would seem to make dumping him a big problem.

The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract but still have no takers. They might have to offer at least $15 million if they are serious about being rid of him. Of course, the Yankees would seem to be better off adding a starter before making a deal for Burnett because dumping Burnett would likely increase the cost of starter to replace him.

Adding a starting pitcher would be the only major task left for Cashman but he states he is no hurry because the Yankees do have six potential young starters waiting in the wings: Banuelos, Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell. Any of those six could contribute either as starters or relievers to the Yankees in 2012.

But Cashman is aware that adding an established starter to what the Yankees have would be preferable. So he is pursuing that avenue first. If the pursuit stretches to the trade deadline in July the Yankees might find the asking price of some of starters they like may drop. Cashman is exercising and preaching at the same time for patience.

So like good little Yankee fans we are. We will have to trust him and take him at his word.

STAY TUNED

 

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