Results tagged ‘ C.J. Wilson ’

Roberts Hits First Yankee Homer To Sink Halos

GAME 32

YANKEES 4, ANGELS 3

He heard the whispers. At age 33, Brian Roberts was sporting a .213 batting average on May 1 and the team that once counted on All-Star second baseman Robin$on Cano was not getting much production out of its winter free-agent signing. It was time for Roberts to show what he could do.

Roberts did just that by blasting the first pitch he saw from Ernesto Frieri deep into the right-field bleachers in right with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning to break a 3-3 tie as New York edged Los Angeles on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 40,106 at Angel Stadium.

For Roberts is was his first home run in a Yankee uniform and it culminated a night in which Roberts went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in leading a team that lately has been struggling to score runs.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who started for the Yankees, once again was denied a victory because of a lack of run support and a major hiccup from the bullpen.

Kuroda pitched his best game of the season, going 7 2/3 innings and having held the Angels to two runs (both unearned) on four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts before giving up a two-out triple to Mike Trout while holding a 3-2 lead.

Manager Joe Girardi summoned Shawn Kelley to pitch to Albert Pujols and for the second consecutive evening Kelley was unable to do what he called upon to do. Pujols laced a full count pitch for an RBI single that allowed the Angels to tie the game.

Despite the failure, Kelley (1-2) was credited with the victory. David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth inning to collect his fifth save in as many chances this season.

Frieri (0-3) took the loss.

It looked as if when the Angels scored two unearned runs off Kuroda in the third inning it was going to be another one of those frustrating nights for the Yankees of late.

Hank Conger opened the frame with a single to center and Collin Cowgill then laid down a sacrifice bunt that third baseman Yangervis Solarte fielded but he threw wildly past first baseman Mark Teixeira for an error.

Erick Aybar and Trout followed with consecutive sacrifice flies to score Conger and Cowgill.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were having problems early with left-hander C.J. Wilson, who entered the game with a 4-0 record against the Yankees as a member of the Angels.

They finally broke through in the fifth inning as Solarte and Brett Gardner hit back-to-back singles to start the inning. Roberts then followed with a slow roller up the middle into center that scored Solarte and advanced Gardner to third.

Jacoby Ellsbury then hit into a double play that allowed Gardner to tie the game at 2-2.

The Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning when Wilson hit Derek Jeter with a pitch and Carlos Beltran singled into center to advance Jeter to third.

It then looked as if disaster would again short-circuit a rally by the Yankees when Teixeira hit a ground ball to third and Jeter was tagged out in a rundown by Conger.

But Alfonso Soriano, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his previous at-bats against Wilson, rolled a single into left that scored Beltran.

Wilson was charged with three runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five batters in 8 innings.

The victory by the Yankees ended a two-game losing streak and a stretch in which the Yankees had lost five of their past six games. The victory gives the Yankees a season record of 17-15 and they climbed back into a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East. The Angels fell to 16-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Because Kuroda, 39, had pitched so poorly in his last six starts in 2013 and he was 2-3 with a 5.14 ERA in his first six starts of 2014 there were fears that he was washed up and he no longer could be an effective major-league pitcher. He proved that was not the case. Holding the Angels to four hits in the first seven innings is no small feat. Kuroda had command of his slider and his split-finger fastball and he was was able to work effectively on both sides of the plate.
  • Roberts’ 2-for-4 evening gives him a modest four-game hitting streak and he is 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer and two RBIs in that span. That has raised Roberts’ season average from .213 to .250. Roberts did hit eight home runs and drive in 39 runs in roughly half a season with the Orioles in 2013 so it is possible that he could hit 16 homers and drive in 78 runs in a full season with the Yankees if he stays healthy.
  • Robertson is now 5-for-5 in save opportunities and he is sporting a sparkling 1.13 ERA with seven strikeouts and two walks in eight innings. While no one is saying he is as good as the great Mariano Rivera, Robertson has more than held as own as the team’s closer. The Yankees have only had problems getting him leads late and, when they have gotten late leads, the setup guys have botched them.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After the five-walk debacle between Kelley and Matt Thornton on Monday night that cost the Yankees a victory, it was not very encouraging to see Kelley give up the single to Pujols that allowed the Angels to tie the game in the eighth. Kelley has to throw strikes and be more aggressive with his pitches in order to be effective in the role Robertson did so well the past four seasons.
  • Double plays have been killing the Yankees of late and they hit into two more of them on Tuesday. Ellsbury’s double play did allow Gardner to score to tie the game but it also turned a two-on, no-out situation into a two-out, nobody-on situation. And after Soriano’s single gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the eighth, Brian McCann hit into a double play that ended the inning. The Yankees simply have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
  • McCann, 30, ended up 0-for-4 and he did not get a ball out of the infield on Wednesday. McCann is now 3-for-36 (.083) in his past nine games and he seems absolutely perplexed at the plate. He is swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and taking strikes right down the middle. With his season average at .209 he is going to need to wake up soon because he is killing rallies right and left.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Tuesday finally were able to place right-hander Michael Pineda on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder muscle and activated backup infielder Brendan Ryan. Pineda, 27, had to be carried on the 25-man roster as he served a 10-game suspension for using pine tar. Ryan, 32, was shelved in spring training on March 4 after suffering a cervical spine nerve injury. Ryan primarily will serve as a backup to Jeter at shortstop, although he could also be used at second and third base.

COMMENTARY

Major League Baseball and its teams are now suffering the consequences of what was a planned effort on their part to expand its number of minority umpires by promoting them over more qualified candidates. One such example of that program is Laz Diaz. Another is C.B. Bucknor. If you ask players, coaches, managers and front-office personnel who are among the worst umpires in baseball the names Diaz and Bucknor come up. The reason is they are terrible at calling balls and strikes. Their strike zones will actually “move” from inning to inning and sometimes from batter to batter. Hence, on Tuesday night the Yankees had the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning. Gardner had a 1-0 count on him as Jered Weaver threw a pitch that fell low out of the strike zone. But Diaz called it a strike. Look at the replays and you can clearly see the ball fell below Gardner’s knee as it crossed the plate. Also watch the following inning as two of Kelley’s pitches hit the same plain Diaz had called the strike on Gardner. He called them balls. That is why Girardi argued the strike call to Gardner and why Diaz ejected him. It is also why Kelley questioned Diaz about the calls and he was ejected by Diaz. But baseball needs to get useless pieces of excrement like Diaz out of baseball. Surely there are some minorities knocking on the door of being umpires who can actually see. That would be great for all involved and Diaz can go back to be an a–hole to his nephews and nieces. So the score of Monday’s game should be: Diaz 2, Yankees 1.

ON DECK

The Yankees can win the three-game road series against the Angels on Wednesday with a victory.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-0, 6.87 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nuno, 26, yielded three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings on April 26 to the Angels at Yankee Stadium in his third start of the season. The Yankees need him to pitch better or he may may be replaced by David Phelps or Alfredo Aceves.

The Angles will counter with left-hander Hector Santiago (0-5, 5.01 ERA). Santiago was shelled for five runs on seven hits and two walks in six innings in a loss to the Texas Rangers on Friday. The Yankees scored four run son six hits and a walk in 4 1/3 innings to defeat Santiago on April 26.

Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

CC, Yankees Make Bosox Look Bad In Fenway Rout

GAME 22

YANKEES 14, RED SOX 5

If you could draw up the perfect scenario for the Yankees for Thursday’s rubber game against the Red Sox it played out to perfection on the field. For the Red Sox they did about everything wrong a team can do in a game to embarrass themselves in front of national television audience on the MLB Network and a paid crowd of 37.356 at Fenway Park.

CC Sabathia gave up two runs over six innings, Mark Teixeira blasted his first home run of the season and rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte collected two hits and drove in four runs as New York pummeled Boston to win for the fifth time in seven games against their heated rival.

Of  course, the Yankees had a lot of help in addition to the 14 hits they pounded out. The Red Sox defense committed an alarming season-high five errors and a passed ball and five pitchers combined to issue 12 walks and throw three wild pitches.

I thought it was Cowboy Up and not Down.

Sabathia (3-2) yielded only three hits, walked three and struck out eight batters to even his season record against the Red Sox at 1-1. He left after six innings with a comfortable 7-2 lead.

The Yankees, meanwhile, jumped all over left-hander Felix Doubront (1-3) for seven runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks while he struck out one in 2 2/3 innings.

Alfonso Soriano got the Yankees on the board in the first inning with a two-out RBI double to score Carlos Beltran.

Solarte added a two-run double in the second inning and he later scored on a wild pitch by Doubront.

Teixeira opened the third inning with a home run that landed on the top railing of the Green Monster. Later in the inning, Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury added RBI singles that finally chased Doubront with the Yankees leading 7-0.

After the Red Sox scored a pair of runs in the third on a sacrifice fly off the bat of David Ortiz and a two-out RBI double by Jonny Gomes, the Yankees blew the game wide open by hammering left-hander Craig Breslow for five runs on four hits, an error and two walks as they sent 11 men to the plate in the seventh inning.

Solarte keyed the inning with a bases-loaded single that scored two runs. Ellsbury followed by lacing an RBI double and Derek Jeter added two-run single. By the time the dust had settled on another cold and blustery evening, the Yankees were leading 12-2.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 13-9 and they lead the American League East by 1 1/2 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox dropped to 10-13 and they are in the basement of the division, 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • You can rail about Sabathia’s lost velocity all you want but tonight’s game showed exactly what he can accomplish when he gets the run support. Sabathia used his fastball on both corners of the plate and kept the Red Sox off balance with his slider and change-up. To prove how off-balance the Red Sox were five of Sabathia’s strikeouts came looking.
  • Teixeira’s return to the lineup was supposed to be bad news for Solarte because he was playing third base while starting third baseman Kelly Johnson played first in Teixera’s absence. But manager Joe Girardi elected to start the switch-hitting Solarte against the lefty Doubront and he responded with a double, a single, a walk, scoring two runs and driving in four. This despite the fact he did not have a hit in his previous 12 at-bats. Solarte is hitting .310 with nine extra-base hits and he is tied with Beltran for the team lead with 13 RBIs.
  • Ellsbury weathered constant booing throughout the three-game series but he left his former team and their infantile fans with a parting gift on Thursday. He was 3-for-6 with a run scored and three RBIs. In the series, Ellsbury battered Boston pitching for 5-for-15 (.333) with three doubles, a triple, three runs scored and five RBIs. Guess he told those fans where to shove those boos.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

OK. Jeter did commit a bad fielding error and rookie Shane Greene was shelled for three runs (all unearned) in his major-league debut. But those are mere quibbles. This team rallied after last night’s John Farrell-induced loss to make the Red Sox like a team not even worthy to be on the same field. That is something very special and there is nothing negative in that.

BOMBER BANTER

An apologetic Michael Pineda admitted to using pine tar in Wednesday’s game and he told reporters on Thursday that he was not appealing his 10-game suspension, which started immediately. With an off day scheduled for April 28, Pineda actually could miss only one start and be available to pitch on May 5 against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, CA. The Yankees will have to play the next 10 days with a 24-man roster during Pineda’s suspension.  . . .  The Yankees made some roster moves on Thursday in the wake of Pineda’s suspension. They signed right-hander Bruce Billings to a major-league contract and recalled Greene from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they optioned infielder Dean Anna and right-hander Preston Claiborne to Scranton.  . . .  The Yankees announced that right-hander Ivan Nova will undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday in Birmingham, AL. Dr. James Andrews will repair a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of Nova’s right elbow. It will require 12 to 18 months of rehab before Nova can come back. In a corresponding roster move, the Yankees transferred Nova from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.

ON DECK

The Yankees fresh off there rump-kicking of the Red Sox head home to open a three-game weekend series with the Angels.

Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 4.07 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision in which the Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. He is 3-2 with a 2.26 ERA in six career starts against the Angels.

Left-hander C.J. Wilson (2-2, 4.21 ERA) will start for the Angels. Wilson was hammered for seven hits and he walked three while surrendering four runs (three earned) in five innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on Saturday. He has a career ERA of 2.58 in 38 1/3 innings against the Yankees.

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

 

Buck Cries Over A-Rod’s Pact Off Yanks’ Payroll

When it comes to Alex Rodriguez and the impending suspension amid the Biogenesis scandal, I have been silent because it really does not concern me much.

I mean, I do write a blog about the New York Yankees but I do not consider Rodriguez a true member of the team. After all, how long has he been AWOL or virtually useless to the team? Three years?

But I got my dander up when Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to open his big mouth about it on Friday.

“If [Commissioner] Bud [Selig] lets them get away with that, they’re under the luxury tax,” Showalter told USA TODAY Sports. “If they can reset, they can spend again and I guarantee you in two years Matt Wieters is in New York.”

Of all the managers in Major League Baseball you would think that Showalter, who formerly toiled for the so-call “Evil Empire,” would know when he should hold his tongue before looking like the horse’s ass he now appears.

First of all, the decision MLB makes concerning Rodriguez is none of his business. The second point is does he really in his right mind think the Yankees’ front office will go to Selig and request that baseball should apply the portion of A-Rod’s contract he forfeits while on suspension be applied to the team’s payroll and the luxury tax?

Geesh, to hear Showalter you would think that the Yankees have dear old Bud wrapped around their finger and they were dictating the penalty they want for A-Rod so they avoid paying him the $82 million they owe him through the 2017 season. That is just plain poppycock.

The Yankees have been MIA since 2009 in the annual free-agent signing sweepstakes. They have let free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson go to the highest bidders while they have filled their roster with blowout patches like Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. That suited the Old Buckeroo just fine because it allowed teams like the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays to play on a more even playing field.

But now that the Yankees might get to write off A-Rod’s contract for the rest of 2013 and all of the 2014 season (if A-Rod accepts the the deal baseball is offering) to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million in 2014. In addition, they can write off the entire $82 million if Rodriguez draws a lifetime ban.

That has Buck soiling his Pampers.

He obviously fears his team’s potential future free agents like Wieters, Chris Davis and Manny Machado may see the Yankees holding up stacks of cash and have them running from the exits at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Poor Buck sees the potential to lose his best players to the enemy and it irks him.

But there is one way to prevent any of that from happening, Buck. Pay those damn players what they worth to keep them happy. Period. Exclamation point!

In the meantime, the Bucker needs to shut his fat trap and stay out of the whole business.

The Yankees were victimized by Rodriguez. Remember in 2007 when A-Rod opted out of his $275 million deal he originally signed with the Texas Rangers (while the Buckeroo was managing them I recall)? A-Rod’s venomous agent Scott Boras was seeking a mega-deal by getting other teams to bid on his All-Star client.

Unfortunately, no bidders were looking to pony up the $200 million-plus it was going to take to get Rodriguez to put his signature on a contract.

Rodriguez sheepishly told Boras to take a hike and he put his enormous tail between his legs to crawl back to the Yankees for forgiveness. Perhaps the Steinbrenners, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman should have kicked that enormous tail of his back to the curb.

But they instead hammered out a 10-year, $252 million deal that Rodriguez for which Rodriguez is now beholden. It also is the one contract that has hung around the Yankees’ necks like an albatross ever since Rodriguez’s effectiveness as a run producer has moved from an upper tier to the level of an ordinary third baseman like Juan Uribe of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Be sure that Rodriguez wants all the money that is due him whether he plays at a respectable level or not. I honestly believe he could hold on through 2017 hitting .210 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs as a part-time player with the Yankees. A-Rod has no real pride in his craft and abilities. As long as he is being paid he has no shame.

So the partial ban and the ever-looming potential of a lifetime ban does benefit the Yankees in their ability to rebuild the ballclub going forward. But it is not if the Yankees deliberately staged the whole thing with A-Rod so they could sign Wieters in 2015, Buck!

So, Mr. Showalter, you go about patching that disaster area of a pitching staff that has your team falling like a stone in the American League East and keep your bulbous nose out of issues that do not really concern you. Come to think of it, the Orioles recent drop in the standings is likely behind much of this childish tirade.

It is perfect for the papers in Baltimore. After all, it takes attention away from his deficient managing and makes the Yankees the bad guys. That is the strategy after all, Buck. Deflect your shortcomings off to another subject.

It seems to me that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has done his share of spending on free agents over the years. If Buck is really worried about the Yankees getting his players he should just beg Angelos to open his huge saddlebags  to keep the players he wants to remain as Orioles.

That would make sense, right?

After all this I actually do hope the Yankees do sign a few Orioles so the Bucker can wail like Kim Kardashian’s North West over it.

Now, now little Bucky, quiet down. Sssshhhh! Here is your pacifier. We are here to make it all better. How about some Gerber split pea? That will make it all okay.

Even Wieters thinks you are acting like a child and he is less than half your age.

 

Teixeira, Martin Leave Halos’ Downs In The Dumps

GAME 86

YANKEES 6, ANGELS 5

When Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher trotted to the mound at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 5-5 tie to talk to reliever Kevin Jepsen, he told Jepsen to pitch around pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez by walking him with pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on second and a struggling Russell Martin due to hit next.

So with two out, Jepsen walked Ibanez intentionally to face Martin, who entered the game hitting .179 and was 0-for-2 on the evening.

But Martin delivered a two-out, opposite-field RBI single that gave the Yankees a 6-5 lead and Martin later ended the game by nailing Howard Kendrick trying to take second base a pitch in the dirt for his third Angel base-runner caught stealing as New York rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the eighth to send Los Angeles to a crushing defeat on Friday.

Mark Teixeira set the stage for Martin’s heroics earlier in the eighth with a clutch three-run home run to left off reliever Scott Downs (1-1) to tie the game at 5-5. It was Teixeira’s second home run of the night. He had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third inning with a two-run shot to the same area of the left-field bleachers off Angels starter C.J. Wilson.

Teixeira also saved a run in the top of the inning when he made a diving stab of a hard-hit bouncer to his right off the bat of Kendrick. Teixeira scrambled to his feet and shuffled a perfect toss to Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda covering first to retire Kendrick. Erick Aybar followed by hitting Kuroda’s next pitch into the second deck in right-field to give the Angels what proved to be a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Kuroda and Wilson then battled over the next three innings in a game steeped in a playoff-like atmosphere with a crowd of 47,873 hanging on every pitch.

But the seventh inning proved to be Kuroda’s undoing.

Albert Pujols opened the frame with a single to left and Kuroda hit Kendrys Morales with a 1-2 pitch. Mark Trumbo then blasted a 1-1 fastball over the wall in center-field to give the Angels a 4-2 lead.

The Angels tacked on a run off Kuroda in the eighth after Mike Trout led off with a double and one out later Pujols hit a ball that sounded like he hit it with a wet newspaper but it nestled comfortably in shallow right-field just inside the line out of the reach of a diving Nick Swisher and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double to score Trout.

Over the first six innings, Kuroda had given up just one run on three hits and one walk and he fanned two. In the next 1 1/3 innings, he gave up four runs on five hits and a hit batter and struck out four.

Meanwhile, Wilson got back on track after Teixeira’s two-run home run in the third. He left after seven innings having given up just the two runs on five hits and two walks and struck seven. However, the Angels’ bullpen let him way, way down, as in the lefty Downs.

Downs started the eighth and immediately gave up a leadoff double to Derek Jeter. He then dug a deeper hole for himself by missing with a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to walk Curtis Granderson.

Teixeira then lined a 1-2 curveball into the left-field bleachers to tie the game.

With two out, Swisher worked a walk from Downs, which ended Downs’ night in favor of Jepsen and set up Wise’s stolen base as a pinch-runner and Ibanez’s intentional walk. Martin then delivered what proved to be the game-winner.

Chad Qualls (2-1) relieved Kuroda in the eighth inning and pitched a perfect two-thirds of an inning to get credit for his first victory with the Yankees.

Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to notch his 21st save in 22 opportunities this season.

With the victory the Yankees reached a season-high 20 games over .500 at 53-33. They also have opened up a commanding eight-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Angels must lick their wounds after dropping a game they should have won. Their record is 48-39.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Teixeira’s two home runs and five RBIs on Friday give him 17 home runs and 59 RBIs this season. His 59 RBIs leads the team. In his last seven games, Teixeira has been on an RBI tear. He is 10-for-22 (.455) with four home runs and 15 RBIs in that stretch. To contrast that, Teixeira collected only three home runs and 12 RBIs in April and four home runs and 14 RBIs in June.
  • Martin’s clutch single had to feel great because his single against the Red Sox last Saturday had ended an 0-30 stretch. But what must have really pleased Martin was the three Angels he nailed on the basepaths. He threw out Trumbo stealing in the second inning and Alberto Callaspo in the fifth. He then nabbed Kendrick after a Soriano pitch got away from him but he was able to recover quickly and throw a dart to Jeter to end the game.
  • Kuroda gave up five runs in 7 1/3 innings but his first six innings were absolutely brilliant. He deserved a better fate but he obviously lost something after throwing only 64 pitches in the first six innings. In his last nine starts, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Now that Cano and Teixeira have gotten hot, the pressure shifts to Alex Rodriguez. He was 0-for-4 in the game including a weak groundout to short with one out and Granderson at third with a leadoff triple in the sixth. In his last 10 games, Rodriguez is 9-for-38 (.237) with no home runs and three RBIs.
  • Andruw Jones entered the game after a his red-hot weekend at Fenway Park, where he hit four home runs in the three games in which he played. However, he struck out twice looking and flew out to right off the lefty Wilson. His 0-for-3 night dropped his season average to .238.
  • The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and those two hits came on Texiera’s eighth-inning home run and Martin’s game-winning single. They were 0-for-11 up to that point. Somehow they win despite this problem but will it catch up to them in the playoffs?

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Friday signed veteran outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a mimor-league contract and he was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Fukudome, 35, batted .171 with four RBIs in 24 games with the Chicago White Sox and was released on July 22. Fukudome is a career .258 hitter in five major-league season with the Cubs, Indians and White Sox.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw 30 pitches in a simulated game at Yankee Stadium on Friday and is still expected to be activated on Tuesday for a start against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia has been on the 15-day disabled list with a mild left groin strain he suffered pitching in a June 24 game against the New York Mets.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series at home against the Angels on Saturday.

Right-hander Freddy Garcia (3-2, 5.23 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings last Friday against the Red Sox. It was Garcia’s best outing of the season. In the last 10 seasons, Garcia is 15-3 with a 2.69 ERA against the Angels.

Right-hander Jerome Williams (6-5, 4.46 ERA) will oppose Garcia. Williams is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after a serious bout of asthma. Williams is 0-1 with a 16.87 ERA against the Yankees after he was shelled for five runs on five hits and three walks in only 2 2/3 innings on April 15.

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

 

Yankee Rotation Started Team’s First-Half Surge

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.  

STARTING PITCHERS

CC SABATHIA (9-3, 3.45 ERA)

HIROKI KURODA (8-7, 3.17 ERA)

PHIL HUGHES (9-6, 4.29 ERA)

IVAN NOVA (9-3, 4.05 ERA)

ANDY PETTITTE (3-3, 3.22 ERA)

When the New York Yankees were assembling their starting pitchers for the 2012 season they decided to stay away from high-priced free agents like C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish and when they inquired about potential trades they stayed away from teams that were asking too much in return for pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza.

Their first order of business was make sure CC Sabathia was not going to opt out of his contract. He didn’t and the Yankees rewarded their ace with a very lucrative extension to the contract he signed in the winter of 2009.

With that accomplished they decided to offer a 2012 contract to Freddy Garcia, who impressed the Yankees by recording a 12-8 record and a 3.62 ERA in his first season in pinstripes.

They then bolstered their rotation even further by trading mega-prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in return from rookie sensation Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

They then signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to one-year, $10 million contract.

The Yankees knew that they needed some additional starters to buy time for five young minor-league starters to develop. Trading for Pineda and signing Kuroda would allow the Yankees to continue the development of 21-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, 24-year-old right-hander Dellin Betances, 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren, 25-year-old right-hander D.J. Mitchell and 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps.

The Yankees hoped that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova would continue to develop after a season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and they were hopeful 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes had put his issues with weakness in his right shoulder behind him and was healthy for the 2012 season.

But, spring training proved to be a little more topsy-turvy than manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda, 23, showed up in camp about 20 pounds overweight and as the spring unfolded he was not reaching the mid-90s velocity he exhibited in the first half of the 2011 season. Though publicly the Yankees were saying they were not concerned, privately they were wondering if they had made a terrible mistake in trading away a great prospect in Montero for sore-armed Pineda.

Late in spring training, Pineda came off the mound in a game in which he was shelled by the Phillies complaining of a sore right shoulder. An MRI indicated a partially torn labrum and Pineda would have surgery and miss the entire 2012 season. Oops!

That left the Yankees with five healthy pitchers for five slots. However, Andy Pettitte, who retired after the 2010 season, decided this spring that he wanted to make a comeback and the Yankees were more than willing to accommodate him. He stayed behind at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, to get in shape for a return sometime in early May.

Now the Yankees had six pitchers and five spots available. But Girardi was confident things would work out on their own. Little did he know that his rotation would end up in tatters in April.

In his four April starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA. Garcia’s fastball, which he used to be able to reach the low 90s with was topping out at about 86 miles per hour. That made him fodder for major-league hitters who were willing to wait for something in the strike zone to whack. And Garcia ended up taking some major whackings.

Hughes was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his four April starts and the Yankees possibly were thinking of either shifting him to the bullpen, sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or trading him altogether. It was as if the Yankees had finally reached a point with Hughes that they were willing to give up on him.

Nova was hit really hard in the spring and when the season started there was major concerns about his effectiveness. The funny thing was Nova was 3-0 in April but his ERA was 5.18. Ouch!

Kuroda was getting lit up also. American League East teams found his off-speed stuff worth teeing off on, but Kuroda mixed in a few impressive starts to record an inconsistent 2-3 mark with a 3.69 ERA.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was a lot like Nova. He was 3-0 but his ERA was elevated at 4.58. But, then again, Sabathia has been known to start slow and get hot as the weather warms. So there were no real concerns with him.

Pettitte, meanwhile, returned to the Yankees on May 13 for a start against the Mariners. Garcia was banished to the bullpen to make room for the 40-year-old left-hander.

The week after May 13 also seems to coincide with the resurgence of the pitching staff. Every starter seemed to pull things together and harness their stuff to begin a long winning streak. The starting pitching was strong enough to overcome what was an inconsistent offense that could only hit home runs and not hit with runners in scoring position.

Pettitte seemed to light a spark under Hughes and Nova. Kuroda seemed to make the adjustments he needed to make pitching in the American League for the first time and Sabathia got hot like the weather.

Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in his nine starts through June 27 when a hard-hit ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians struck Pettitte just above his left ankle and fractured his tibia. As a result, Pettitte will miss about two months. But the Yankees are hopeful he will be able to pitch down the stretch enough to be ready for the playoffs.

It is a shame but the staff that Pettitte inspired has really not missed a beat since he was placed on the disabled list.

Since May 25, Nova is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts. Since May 6, Hughes is 8-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Since May 27, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in eight starts.

Sabathia is 6-3 with a 2.89 since May 4. But Sabathia had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time since the 2007 season on June 25 due to a slight strain in his left groin. He missed two starts leading up the All-Star break but is expected to be activated on July 17 for a start at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In Pettitte’s place, the Yankees have discovered a starter with almost an equal ability to mix pitches and speeds to keep batters off balance. He is Garcia. Yep, that same Garcia that took  thrashing in April.

The man who was abruptly banished to the bullpen found his old fastball velocity and the difference in his results on the mound have been like night and day.

In his two starts in place of Pettitte, Garcia is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA. The Yankees can certainly live with that until Pettitte returns sometime in late August.

Though the Yankees were criticized for not signing any high-priced free-agent pitchers or trading for some, the Yankees have been patient with what they have and it has paid dividends.

On May 21, the Yankees took a 6-0 walloping from the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium and it dropped their season record to 21-21, which found them tied for last place in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox. They trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games.

The Yankees reached the 81-game mark with a 4-3 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL, to improve their season record to 49-32. Their 28-11 surge since May 21 gave them a .718 winning percentage over that 39-game stretch and put them in first place in the division by 5 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.

The biggest reason the Yankees were able to surge into first place was the strength of their starting rotation, which not only held opponents hitters down but they also pitched deep into games. That ended up helping the bullpen shine in closing out games in the late innings because they were not needed as much as they were in April.

The combined record of the starters at the 81-game mark is 40-24. Their team ERA of 3.73 is fourth in the American League.

With the second half to go, Girardi and Rothschild have to keep this momentum from the starters going while preparing them for the playoffs. At this moment it appears that the Yankees will have a good chance to have four pitchers (Sabathia, Hughes, Nova and Kuroda) win 16 games or more. That would make the staff formidable come the playoffs.

Add to that the most successful starter in modern playoff history in Pettitte, than you have the makings of a strong group heading into the postseason.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

SABATHIA: B

KURODA: B

HUGHES: B-

NOVA: B-

PETTITTE: I (Incomplete)

GARCIA: I (Incomplete)

BACKUPS

DAVID PHELPS (0-1, 2.08 ERA in 3 starts)

ADAM WARREN (0-0, 23.14 ERA in 1 start)

The Yankees dipped into their minor-league quintet of young starters at Triple-A to make some fill-in starts.

Phelps made two starts in early May in place of Garcia while the Yankees were still waiting for Pettitte to make his 2012 debut. Meanwhile, Warren and Phelps filled in one start apiece for Sabathia just before the All-Star break.

Phelps actually pitched quite well overall in his three starts and he shows some long-term promise as starter for the future. His only negative was that his pitch count got the better of him in all three starts and he was not able to complete five full innings in any one of them.

Earlier in the season, Phelps spent most of the season with the Yankees as a long man out the bullpen and he was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA overall in 41 1/3 innings over 15 appearances.

But after his start for the Yankees on the Fourth of July against the Rays, the Yankees sent him Double-A Trenton to stretch him out as a starter. So if anything should happen to any of the Yankees five current starters, Phelps would likely be first in line as a replacement.

Warren, however, had a disastrous major-league debut on June 29 at Yankee Stadium against the Chicago White Sox. As a result we are not likely to see Warren the rest of the season.

He is 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts at Scranton this season.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

PHELPS: B+

WARREN: I (Incomplete)

In addition to Phelps and Warren, the Yankees have also called up Mitchell and he is currently on the 25-man roster as a long reliever.

Mitchell is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell’s main calling card is his sinking fastball that allows him to induce a lot of groundball outs.

He was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA in 14 starts at Scranton this season. The Yankees still consider him a starter but he actually may have more value at the major-league level as a reliever. The Yankees liken him to former Yankee sinker specialist Ramiro Mendoza.

The two biggest jewels in the Yankees’ minor-league system are Banuelos and Betances. Banuelos entered 2012 as the No. 1 prospect and Betances was listed at No. 2. However, neither has distinguished himself at Scranton.

Banuelos was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts before being placed on the disabled list with a left elbow injury. Fortunately for the Yankees, an MRI showed no structural damage to the elbow, but the team is being extremely cautious with their top pitching prospect.

Betances, meanwhile, was 3-5 with an ugly 6.39 ERA at Triple-A in 16 starts before being demoted back to Double-A Trenton. He is 0-1 with an 0.75 ERA there in two starts.

Both pitchers have plus fastballs and they both project to top of the rotation starters in the major leagues. But they both share a problem with harnessing their stuff. Betances walked 69 batters in 74 2/3 innings at Scranton and Banuelos walked nearly five batters every nine innings last season.

The Yankees best pitcher at Triple-A is 39-year-old right-hander Ramon Ortiz. The Dominican is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 16 starts. Though at age 39 he would fit right in with the Yankees’ roster, Ortiz is with his 12th different organization and the Yankees likely would feel more comfortable using Phelps or Mitchell.

Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA last season and the Yankees were excited to get him as part of the deal that brought them Pineda.

Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings before also being shelved with an elbow injury. Like Banuelos, the Yankees are saying the injury is not serious, but Campos is in Tampa rehabbing at a slow pace.

The Yankees most successful minor-league pitcher this season is 22-year-old right-hander Brett Marshall, who is 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 starts with Double-A Trenton. Marshall is not a fireballer like Banuelos or Betances (he has just 61 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings).

After Tommy John surgery Marshall has found that the movement on his pitches is more important than velocity. He is on track to make it to the Yankees within the next two or three years.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

The much-maligned Yankee rotation has been the biggest factor in the Yankees re-awakening after May 21 and their current comfortable lead in their division.

Veterans Sabathia and Kuroda have mixed well with young guns Hughes and Nova to make this one of the best rotations in baseball.

The addition of Pettitte boosted the staff in May and Kuroda, Hughes and Nova immediately started erasing Yankee fans memories about how awful they were in April. When Pettitte returns the Yankees will have the best No. 1 through No. 5 rotation in baseball.

In the meantime, Garcia has fixed his velocity problem an he appears to be pitching to his 2011 form based on his most recent two starts.

With Phelps in the wings it is doubtful the Yankees will make a trade-deadline move to get an additional starter.

Though I continue to see fellow bloggers and Yankee fans insist the Yankees should make an effort to trade for Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has maintained the Yankees are determined to cut payroll by 2014.

If the Yankees passed on Wilson, Darvish, Buerhle, Gonzalez and Garza before there is no reason to think they will add to the team’s payroll by trading for a high-priced starter at the end of the month. The Yankees think they can win with what they have and it is doubtful they will add anyone significant at the deadline.

Those dyed-in-the-wool Yankee lovers can start crying now. It just is not going to happen.

 

Should Yankees Trade For Outfielder For Gardner?

I have been receiving some excellent questions lately and I thought it would be a great time to share some of them of with you all. So let’s dip into the old e-mail and see what is on the minds of some fellow Yankee fans.

Q: With Brett Gardner out do you think the Yankees should trade for another outfielder, preferably someone with some speed? Why not bring Eduardo Nunez back up and play him in left? (CiscoK)

A: Cisco, I would be with on board with a trade for an outfielder with some speed but the news concerning Gardner is actually pretty good. After getting an opinion on his balky right elbow from Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, FL, on Monday, Gardner received a confirmation of the diagnosis from Dr. Timothy Kremchek in Cincinnati on Thursday. The opinion is that Gardner should rest the elbow an additional three to four weeks and he does not require surgery. Gardner received a platelet-rich plasma and cortisone shot on Thursday and he will wear an elbow brace to ensure the elbow is rested properly. That is pretty good news. I have heard rumors about the Yankees may be interested in Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs and Chone Figgins of the Mariners but both those guys earn hefty paychecks and the Yankees want to cut payroll. So unless they can get a team to pay most of the tab like the Yankees did with A.J. Burnett, it does not make much sense. As for Nunez, he injured his thumb and is currently on the minor-league disabled list. So even if the Yankees wanted to call him up, they really can’t because of the injury.

Q: Why did the Yankees send David Phelps down instead of Freddy Garcia or Cody Eppley? (JIMMAJAMMA)

A: The Yankees decided to activate David Robertson on Thursday instead of waiting before Friday’s game against the Nationals in Wasington and Phelps was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The answer, JJ, does not come down to performance or who deserves to go. It is simply because Phelps is 25, he has options left and the Yankees really see him as a starter and not a reliever. Phelps was 1-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings over 13 games (two starts). He impressed the Yankees with aggressiveness and he really has a bright future ahead of him. Garcia (0-2, 7.68 ERA) is being paid more than $4 million this season and the Yankees are not going to eat that contract by sending him out or releasing him at age 35. Eppley is 1-1 with a 5.16 ERA but he has been much better in June than he was in May. He has a 2.08 ERA against right-handers and he gets exposed when he faces lefties (5.40 ERA). Eppley is a specialist like Clay Rapada is from the left side and he seems to have earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi.

Q: Why do the Yankees keep Francisco Cervelli at Scranton when Russell Martin can’t hit? (Martini88)

A: Martin has been hitting a lot better this month and, truthfully, the Yankees are in love with his pitch selection, defense and throwing. Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who know a bit about catching in the majors, think he is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. He does a great job of blocking pitches in the dirt and he does dissuade teams like the Angels and Rays from turning the game into a track meet. Backup Chris Stewart is out of options and he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without losing him as a free agent. The Yankees do not care what he hits and love his defense also. Frankly, Francisco Cervelli is at Scranton because the Yankees were not happy with his throwing accuracy. In 174 games in the major leagues, Cervelli has committed 20 errors and he has nailed base-runners at a subpar 19%. Stewart in 104 games has committed 10 errors and he has nailed base-runners at rate of 38 percent. I think that pretty much explains it.

Q: Are the Yankees paying a big price for not going after C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish? (Tex25Fan25)

A: I don’t think so. Their recent surge (16 out of their last 20 games) has been accomplished largely with the addition of Andy Pettitte and pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova pitching much better than they did in April. If you look at what has happened to the Rays’ staff the last few days against the Mets, I think you can see that even good pitchers can go through some struggles. It is much better to get them out of the way early and the Yankees starters seemed to have done that. Besides the Yankees, if you can believe it, are not looking to add payroll because of the more stringent salary cap rules that go into effect in 2014. As a result, the Yankees won’t be looking at big-ticket free agents unless they shed a lot of salaries to ckear room. So they only made a token bid on Darvish and they basically ignored Wilson. That will continue for the next three years.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and keep your questions coming.

 

Yankees Look Poised To Take Control Of A.L. East

The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.

OFFENSE

Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.

Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.

It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.

The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.

The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.

What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?

The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.

The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.

Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.

The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.

There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.

Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.

Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.

The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.

Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.

Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.

It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.

Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.

Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.

Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.

The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.

Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.

But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.

Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.

STARTING PITCHING

The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.

In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.

This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.

They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.

A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.

He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.

The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.

After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.

The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.

In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.

The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.

Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.

The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.

Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.

The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.

The enigma of the group has been Nova.

When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.

So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.

The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.

The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.

So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.

But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.

That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.

Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.

At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.

He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.

BULLPEN

For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.

No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.

But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.

However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.

However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.

Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.

In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86).  Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).

So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.

The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.

One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.

The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.

FORECAST

The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.

They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.

That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.

The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.

The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.

The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.

If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.

The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.

The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.

The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.

So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.

 

Angels Use Longball To Down Hughes, Yankees

GAME 8

ANGELS 7, YANKEES 1

Chris Iannetta hit a two-run homer and Howie Kendrick added a three-run shot of his own as Los Angeles defeated New York in a nationally televised game on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson (2-0) won his first career start against the Yankees, giving up one run on six hits and two walks and fanning two in six innings of work.

Phil Hughes (0-2) took the loss, surrendering six runs on eight hits and two walks in just 3 1/3 innings.

The Yankees’ only run came on an RBI single by Robinson Cano in the bottom of the fifth inning.

With the loss the Yankees’ season record levels at 4-4. The Angles are 3-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes may be already be looking over his shoulder because of Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte. However, Hughes must also fear right-hander David Phelps, who entered the game in the fourth inning and turned in another dazzling performance. Phelps, 25, pitched one-hit ball over the next 5 1/3 innings – his only blemish a solo home run hit by Vernon Wells in the fifth inning. Phelps walked two batters and struck out four and he now has an ERA of 1.08 in 8 1/3 innings spread over three appearances. The rookie may just earn himself a spot in the rotation real soon.
  • Cano’s opposite field single to left to score Eduardo Nunez was the Yankees’ only hit with runners in scoring position in the game. It was Cano’s first RBI of the season.
  • Derek Jeter was 2-for-5 for the game and is hitting a sizzling .361 on the season. Since he returned from a calf injury last July, Jeter is hitting .340. It looks like the 37-year-old shortstop is headed for a very good season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Hughes has now given up eight runs on 13 hits and four walks in eight innings in his first two starts of 2012. The odd thing is Hughes has his velocity from the 2010 season back, however, his pitches were up in the strike zone and he got hammered for two big home runs. Iannetta’s was pure luck because he swung late and hooked it just inside the right-field foul pole. The three-run shot to deep left by Kendrick ended his outing in the fourth inning. Hughes did strike out six but he has to get better locating his pitches or he will end up in the bullpen real soon.
  • The Yankees did have chances to get back into the game against Wilson but they were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They put their first batters on in the first only to have Cano strike out looking and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira both bounced out to end the inning. They had two on and one out in the fourth only to have Andruw Jones bounce out to Wilson and Russell Martin flew out to right. Nunez and Jeter opened the fifth with singles, but after Cano’s one-out RBI single Rodriguez grounded out and Teixeira lined out.
  • Teixeira needs to tear the month of April off his calendar and pretend it is May. Once again the veteran first baseman is off to another miserable start out the gate this season. He was 1-for-4 in the game and is hitting .188. He is a career .190 hitter in April.

BRONX BANTER

Outfielder Brett Gardner is battling flu-like symptoms and he did not play in Saturday’s game. However, manager Joe Girardi said he could be available to come off the bench on Sunday.  . . .  Pettitte is scheduled to make his second start for Class-A Tampa on Sunday and he will throw between 45-50 pitches. Pettitte, 39, has targeted early May for his return to the majors and Girardi re-stated on Saturday that the veteran left-hander would have a rotation spot when he returns.  . . .    The home run hit by Wells against Phelps ended a string of 17 2/3 innings of scoreless relief by the bullpen. Even with the hiccup by Phelps, the bullpen ended play Saturday having given up just one run in their last 22 innings of work.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win two of three from the Angels in the home-opening series finale on Sunday.

Ivan Nova (1-0) is the scheduled starter for the Yankees. He is coming off a seven-inning stint that ended in a victory over the Orioles in which he gave up two runs on 10 hits and struck out seven. Nova is 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in his career against the Angels.

The Angels are expected to start Jerome Williams, who will be making his first start of 2012. Williams, 30, posted an ERA of 3.68 in 44 innings last season. He has never pitched against the Yankees before.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast to a national audience on ESPN.

 

Kuroda ‘Hiroki-Dokey’ As Yankees Blank Halos

GAME 7

YANKEES 5, ANGELS 0

Of all the Japanese starting pitchers who have come to America to play Major League Baseball, Hiroki Kuroda owns the lowest career ERA of any pitcher with at least 12 starts at 3.45. On Friday afternoon, in the Yankees’ home opener in the Bronx, the Angels found out why.

Kuroda (1-1) scattered five hits – all of them singles – walked two and struck out six batters in 8-plus innings and Nick Swisher provided him all the support he really needed with a two-out, bases-clearing double in the first inning as New York shut out Los Angeles before a sellout crowd of 49,386 at Yankee Stadium.

Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez added solo home runs off Angels starter Ervin Santana (0-2) as the Yankees collected their 14th victory in their last 15 home openers (three of the last four in the new ballpark).

Rodriguez’s home run in the fourth inning was his first of the season and the 630th of his career, which ties him with his former Mariners teammate Ken Grifffey Jr. for fifth on the all-time list.

On a day when the Yankees and their fans honored retired catcher Jorge Posada as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch, Kuroda dazzled Albert Pujols and the Angels in his home debut with the Yankees.

After giving up a leadoff infield single to Bobby Abreu in the ninth, Kuroda left the mound to a loud and thunderous ovation from the crowd. David Robertson got the last three outs to complete the shutout.

After beginning the season 0-3, the Yankees have now won four in a row. The Angels are 2-5 on the young season.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • For as bad as Kuroda pitched against the Rays last week, his performance on Friday was a welcome sight. Of the 109 pitches Kuroda threw, 71 were strikes (65%) and he threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 29 batters he faced. He ended up in only 3 three-ball counts and he walked two of them. The 37-year-old right-hander just might be what the Yankees need as a No. 2 starter.
  • Swisher came into the game having ended the Yankees’ 10-inning 6-4 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday with a two-run home run. He delivered the big blow in the first inning on Friday after Rodriguez stroked a two-out single and Santana walked Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira to load the bases. Swisher slapped a hanging breaking pitch to the wall in right-center that cleared the bases. Swisher now leads the Yankees in RBIs with nine.
  • Rodoriguez seemed to shake out of his early-season funk with three hits, including the home run, and he even stole his second base of the season. A-Rod entered the contest hitting .174 and raised his average to .259. The Yankees had been the only team in the majors in which their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters did not have an RBI. Rodriguez’s homer in the fourth ended that drought.
  • Cano made a sensational diving stop of a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Abreu in the sixth inning and threw him out easily at first base. Cano was also on the pivot of three double plays that helped Kuroda keep the Angels off the scoreboard all afternoon.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I could quibble and say the Yankees were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position but when you score five runs, play good defense and your starter goes eight shutout innings there is not much negative to say. It was a wonderful home opener.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi opted to flip-flop Rodriguez and Cano in the batting order on Friday. Rodriguez, a right-handed batter, hit third and Cano, a left-hander, batted fourth. Girardi said this would the order in which they would bat against right-handed starters. The change was made to make it difficult for left-handed relievers to navigate the lineup in the late innings. Manager Joe Maddon of the Rays used his left-handed relievers to pitch to Curtis Granderson in the second spot and Cano in the third spot and then brought in a right-hander to face Rodriguez. By switching Rodriguez to third managers can’t do that without having the left-hander pitch to Rodriguez.  . . .  When Robertson got the final three outs of the game he extended the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings. The bullpen entered play on Friday with a 2.11 ERA, the second best in baseball.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home-opening series with the Angels on Saturday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (0-1, 3.86 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Yankees. Hughes had his old velocity back in his initial start against the Rays but he ended up having to leave the game after 4 2/3 innings having thrown 99 pitches. Hughes is 3-1 with a 6.20 ERA against the Angels in his career.

He will be opposed by left-hander C.J. Wilson (1-0, 1.29 ERA), who gave up one run on three hits and four walks in seven innings against the Twins on Sunday. He is 0-3 with a 3.80 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be nationally telecast by FOX Sports.

 

Burnett Nixing Deal For Abreu Benefits Yankees

If A.J. Burnett does nothing more for the New York Yankees as a pitcher he did them a major favor off the field this week.

The Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels had worked a trade of the 35-year-old right-hander to the Angels in exchange for former Yankee outfielder Bobby Abreu.

However, as part of Burnett’s five-year contract with the Yankees, Burnett had the right to block a trade to up to 10 major-league teams. The Angels so happen to be one of those teams and he rejected the trade.

For the Yankees’ sake, I am very happy that A.J. rejected that swap. Abreu, who will turn 38 in March, is on a fast downward escalator in his career. A career .293 hitter, Abreu hit .255 in 2010 and a career low of .253 in 2011 with only eight home runs and 60 RBIs in 142 games.

Abreu is available because the Angels’ outfield is filled with left-fielder Vernon Wells, center-fielder Peter Bourjos and right-fielder Torii Hunter and, with the signing of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols, the Angels already have a logjam at designated hitter between former starting first baseman Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, who hit 29 home runs as a rookie first baseman last season.

The Angels were seeking Burnett as a No. 5 starter behind ace right-hander Jared Weaver, free-agent lefty C.J. Wilson and right-handers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

Abreu is owed $9 million in the final year of his contract and Burnett is owed $33 million over the final two seasons of his contract. It is unclear how much of Burnett’s salary the Yankees were willing to pay. A source did say it was a “considerable portion” and the Angels would not have been obligated to pay Burnett anything until the 2013 season.

Abreu likely would have assumed a platoon left-handed-hitting DH role with the Yankees in a tandem with the righty-swinging Andruw Jones. The Yankees would then have some money left over to re-sign backup infielder Eric Chavez to complete the 2012 roster. The Angels would get a No. 5 starter and be rid of an expensive bench player without adding money to the 2012 payroll.

Reports indicate that Burnett rejected the trade because his wife does not like flying to attend Bunrett’s games. That is the reason Burnett listed all of the West Coast teams on his 10-team no-trade list. The same reports indicate that the Yankees are still trying to pursue a trade for Burnett with the Pittaburgh Pirates.

So far the Yankees have struck out on deals for Burnett that included 30-year-old first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones of the Pirates, 34-year-old first baseman/DH Travis Hafner and now Abreu. However, if they agree on a deal with the Pirates to unload a portion of Burnett’s salary and the Yankees can get a few young prospects from the Pirates in return for Burnett they likely would have enough money to sign a free-agent DH this weekend and work out a deal with Chavez.

The Yankees are looking to add former Phillie outfielder Raul Ibanez, who said he would be willing to accept less money in order to play with the Yankees. The team also possibly could sign two members of the Yankees’ 2009 world championship club in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Right-handed-hitting DH Vladimir Guerrero also expressed an interest in playing with the Yankess but the team is strictly looking at signing a left-handed hitter.

Let’s face reality here. The Yankees would be better off with a combination of either Ibanez and Chavez or Damon and Chavez than Abreu and Chavez. That is the reason the Yankees should actually thank Burnett for nixing the deal and exercising his no-trade rights. It now actually forces the Yankees into trying again with the Pirates.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and his Pirates counterpart Neal Huntington have spent so much time talking with each other this week they may end up picking out china patterns. The Pirates remain confident a deal can be reached, but the Yankees have told the Pirates they would like the deal completed before Burnett is required to report to the spring training in Tampa, FL, on Sunday.

The two teams are trying to come to agreement on how much money the Pirates will pay towards Burnett’s contract and what prospects the Pirates would be willing to trade.

STAY TUNED

 

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