Results tagged ‘ Class-A Tampa ’

CC Tosses 7 Scoreless As Yanks Win 6th Straight

GAME 25

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 0

TAMPA - After CC Sabathia ended the 2013 season with a disappointing 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his past two spring starts, he is well on his way to delivering on that promise.

Sabathia (2-1) threw seven shutout innings and fanned seven Pirates as New York went on to blank Pittsburgh 4-0 on Friday in front of a paid crowd of 10,890 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The slimmed-down left-hander gave up only four hits and a walk while stretching his current scoreless inning streak to 13. In his past two starts, Sabathia has yielded no runs on four hits and one walk while striking out 12 in 12 innings.

The Yankees handed Sabathia all the runs he really needed in the first two innings against right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-3).

Brian McCann started it with a two-out RBI double in the first and Carlos Beltran later scored on a wild pitch. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter each delivered RBI groundouts in the second as the Yankees touched Volquez for four runs on five hits and two walks in five innings.

The Yankees backed Sabathia’s strong outing with four double plays and two of them came from McCann.

The seven-time All-Star catcher nailed Josh Harrison attempting to steal as Andrew McCutchen struck out in the first. Then in the third inning he did it again as Harrison struck out and he threw out Robert Andino.

The Yankees have now won six consecutive Grapefruit League contests and they outscored their opponents 36-7, with three of the victories coming via shutout.

The Yankees’ spring record is now 14-9-2. The Pirates fell to 11-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia arrived in camp more than 30 pounds slimmer and determined to regain his ace status despite reduced velocity on his fastball. This spring he has sort of reinvented himself much like Andy Pettitte had to do when he lost velocity on his fastball. For those who were ready to shovel dirt on Sabathia’s career may be in for a huge surprise. Sabathia has always been more of a pitcher than a thrower so he can adapt at age 33.
  • When McCann signed a free-agent contract the Yankees knew they were getting one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Though he is solid defensively, the weakest part of his game has been his throwing. On Friday, he looked every bit as good as Russell Martin and Chris Stewart. McCann’s spring batting average is now .235, but that is misleading. Even McCann’s outs are hit hard and the ball jumps off his bat. The Yankees might have found the perfect successor to Jorge Posada.
  • Very quietly Brian Roberts has been getting better this spring. After a slow start, he is hitting .290 with his 1-for-3 night on Friday. Roberts has to prove he can remain healthy but his last season like that was 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles. That year all Roberts did was score 110 runs, blast 16 home runs, drive in 79 runs, hit 56 doubles, steal 30 bases and bat .283. The Yankees don’t expect that kind of production but don’t be surprised if he gets near those numbers.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees have had their best week of the spring. The pitching has been magnificent. The starting lineup is beginning to hit and even the defense and the bullpen have been good. No need to dwell on any negatives here.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury tested his sore right calf on Friday by running on grass and he possibly could return to action as early as Tuesday. That would give Ellsbury five games before the season begins on April 1 in Houston. Ellsbury was the only starter not in the lineup on Friday.  . . .  Jeter played seven innings on Friday despite the fact he fouled two balls off his surgically repaired left ankle. Jeter told reporters after the game that he was fine. He said the ankle was sore but he hopes to be ready to play on Sunday. Jeter was not scheduled to play on Saturday.  . . .  MRIs taken on backup infielder Brendan Ryan indicate a pinched nerve in his upper back and it is almost certain that he will begin the season on the disabled list. Ryan has not played in a game since March 4. He was scheduled to start on Thursday in Fort Myers against the Boston Red Sox. But during infield drills, Ryan’s upper back stiffened and he had to be scratched. To replace Ryan on the roster, manager Joe Girardi told reporters that he will pick two players from among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte.  . . .  Prior to the start of the game on Friday the Yankees infielder Greg Bird and right-handed pitcher Shane Greene were named winners of the 2013 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ minor-league “Player of the Year” and “Pitcher of the Year,” respectively. Bird, 21, batted .288 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 84 RBIs in 130 games with the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs. Greene, 25, played for both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, posting a 12-10 record with a 3.38 ERA over 27 appearances (26 starts).  . . .  Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Friday’s game. Marino threw a strike to Posada, who is in camp as a special instructor.

ON DECK

The Yankees make the long trek to Fort Myers on Saturday to face the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium.

The Yankees have selected Masahiro Tanaka (0-0, 1.93 ERA) to make his third start of the spring. Gardner, Francisco Cervelli and Kelly Johnson are expected to make the trip.

The Twins will counter with right-hander Kevin Correia (1-1, 6.00 ERA).

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

 

Tanaka Dazzles As McCann Sinks Former Team

GAME 20

YANKEES 7, BRAVES 4

TAMPA - There was a buzz amongst the 10,527 in attendance at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch. Such is the anticipation for what the 2014 season holds for the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander.

He did not disappoint.

Facing a large portion of the Braves’ everyday lineup, Tanaka allowed one run on three hits and two walks while he fanned six in 4 1/3 innings in his his second start of the spring.

His mound opponent, Julio Teheran, was every bit as impressive, giving up a run on five hits and a walk while striking out five in four innings of work.

But the game actually turned on a key hit from former Braves catcher Brian McCann, who delivered a two-run double with one out in the fifth inning as part of a six-run rally that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 7-2 lead.

The Braves had just broken a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth against Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton on an RBI single by B.J. Upton that scored Jason Heyward.

The Yankees started the pivotal fifth when Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez drew back-to-back walks off left-hander Atahualpa Severino. One out later, McCann laced his game-winning double down the right-field line that scored Suzuki and Nunez.

The Yankees added runs on a wild pitch, an RBI single by Ramon Flores, a sacrifice fly by Mason Williams and an error by shortstop Andrelton Simmons as the Yankees brought 10 men to the plate in the frame.

Thornton (1-0) got credit for the victory despite having a shaky outing. Severino (1-2) took the loss, giving up five runs on three hits and two walks in a third of an inning.

The Yankees evened their spring training record to 9-9-2. The Braves fell to 7-12.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Braves hitters were raving about Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball after the game. “That split-finger he’s got, it’s a good pitch. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman told reporters. It looks as if the Yankees’ $155 million commitment to Tanaka was a very wise move. Tanaka looks to be something very special.
  • McCann is a Georgia native who spent nine seasons playing for the Braves. So it was an emotional day for him to visit with his former teammates. But his two-run double made the day complete. McCann originally was supposed to head to Panama this weekend for the Legends Series. But he was held back to work some more with Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda.
  • Suzuki and Nunez did some serious table setting in this game. They combined to go 4-for-6 with a double, three singles, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. Neither player will start this season but they could make a huge impact off the bench if they hit like they did on Sunday.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • I have not been impressed with the pitching of Thornton so far this spring. His ERA is a staggering 11.57 and lefties are hitting .750 off him. Ouch! If the Yankees had acquired Thornton in 2010 it would have been great. But he is 37 years old and his ERA in the past three seasons has ballooned from 3.32 in 2011 to 3. 46 in 2012 to 3.74 in 2013. That is not a good sign. This team will miss Boone Logan.
  • Catcher Pete O’Brien should receive an endorsement deal from Carrier air conditioners. This spring he is 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts. He was 0-for-2 with a walk on Sunday and struck out twice. O’Brien, 23, played baseball at the University of Miami and was the team’s pick in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2012. O’Brien hit .291 with 22 homers and 96 RBIs at two stops at Single A in 2013. He also struck out 134 times.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from Sunday’s lineup due to tightness in his right calf. Ellsbury also will be held out of Monday’s game. The Yankees called the decision “precautionary.” Ellsbury, 30, said it was nothing serious but he did feel his calf tighten up on Saturday during a workout.  . . .  The Yankees optioned left-hander Manny Banuelos to Class-A Tampa on Sunday. General manager Brian Cashman said Banuelos, 23, will remain a starter. Banuelos was once considered the team’s No. 1 pitching prospect but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and he missed the 2013 season. Banuelos hopes to get on track enough to earn his way to the major leagues this season.  . . .  There is still buzz that the Yankees are receiving offers for backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is out of options and is hitting .409 with three homers this spring. Cashman declined to comment.  . . .  Backup infielder Brendan Ryan (back stiffness) is beginning to hit off a tee and is getting closer to returning to action in a few days.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take to the road to Bradenton, FL, to play the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on Monday.

Kuroda, coming off an outing in which he was tagged for six runs 10 hits last Wednesday, will try to get back on track for the Yankees.

The Pirates will start right-hander Stolmy Pimentel.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay at 11 p.m. by the MLB Network.

 

Yanks’ 8-Run Deluge In 4th Drowns Hapless Chisox

GAME 136

YANKEES 9, WHITE SOX1

They had to be wondering when  -  or even if  -  it was ever going to stop. What started out as a just a trickle became a torrent and there was nothing but dark angry clouds overhead.

I am not talking about the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,125 that had to brave a one-hour and 53-minute rain delay and halted the game with one out in the top of the second inning. I am speaking about the Chicago White Sox during the Yankees’ eight-run bottom of the fourth inning as 13 batters came to the plate in a frame that took 32 minutes to play.

New York rode that eight-run explosion  -  the team’s largest run total of any inning this season  -  to a comfortable thrashing of last-place Chicago in a Labor Day matinee.

The Yankees began the inning with a 1-0 lead with which Derek Jeter had staked them on an RBI single following a leadoff double by Brett Gardner off left-hander Jose Quintana (7-5) in the bottom of the first.

Alex Rodriguez opened the fourth with a double off right-hander Dylan Axelrod, who replaced Quintana after the rain delay in the bottom of the second. Vernon Wells then reached on an infield single and Curtis Granderson drew a walk to load the bases.

Mark Reynolds opened the scoring with an infield single that scored Rodriguez. Austin Romine followed with a two-run single to center and Gardner stroked his second double of the day to score Reynolds and advance Romine to third.

Jeter scored Romine on an infield roller to third and, one out later, Alfonso Soriano laced an RBI double to left to score Gardner and advance Jeter to third.

After Rodriguez walked to reload the bases, White Sox manager Robin Ventura lifted Axelrod in favor of right-hander Jeff Petricka.

Wells grounded into what appeared to be a routine inning-ending double-play ball to Adam Dunn at first. However, Dunn’s toss to second base was behind shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which allowed Jeter and Soriano to score and left Rodriguez safe on the error at second.

That gave the Yankees a 9-0 lead over a White Sox team that had swept them in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from Aug. 5-7.

Veteran left-hander David Huff (2-0) relieved starter Phil Hughes after the rain delay with one out in the second inning and pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball to gain credit for the victory.

Paul Konerko connected for a solo home run  -  his 10th of the season  -  with one out in the seventh to account for the only run for the Chisox.

Huff yielded five hits, walked none and fanned three batters to pick up his second victory with the Yankees.

Axelrod, on the other hand, was shelled for eight runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks and struck one in 2 1/3 innings.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 73-64 and they are eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. However, the Yankees are just three games back in the wild-card standings. The White Sox fell to 58-80.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Jeter entered the game hitting .167 in the 11 games in which he played this season. But Jeter broke through by going 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBIs. Jeter also looked good advancing to third on a fly ball to right off the bat of Robinson Cano in the first inning. Jeter’s two hits raised his season average to .196.
  • Gardner was 2-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. In his past four games, Gardner is 7-for-17 (.412) with five doubles, five runs scored and two RBIs. The hot streak has raised Gardner’s season average to .273 and he has eight homers and 45 RBIs out of the leadoff spot.
  • Huff, 29, has been excellent since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 16. In his five appearances, Huff has given up just one run on six hits and a walk while striking out 10 batters in 16 innings of work. That is an ERA of 0.56 and a WHIP of 0.43. If Hughes loses his starting spot it most definitely will be given to the left-hander.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After Sunday’s disastrous bullpen meltdown and after being swept this same White Sox team a month ago, it was good to see the Yankees put the game away early. The Yankees can’t afford to let teams think they still have a chance to win when they have a lead. They nailed the door shut and got the White Sox to give up early. I have nothing critical to say.

BOMBER BANTER

After being called up and being sent down five times in a 10-day period, Preston Claiborne was recalled  -  likely for the rest of the season  -  from Class-A Tampa on Monday by the Yankees. The Yankees now have 31 players on their expanded September roster, including 11 relief pitchers. Claiborne, 25, is 0-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 37 appearances with the Yankees this season.  . . .  Left-hander Cesar Cabral and catcher J.R. Murphy both made their major-league debuts on Monday for the Yankees and Murphy’s insertion into the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning for Robinson Cano set an all-time record for the Yankees when they used their 52nd player of the season. Murphy, 22, collected his first major-league hit in that pinch-hitting appearance, drilling a hot shot to third that was scored an infield hit. Meanwhile, Cabral, 24, pitched a scoreless eighth inning, giving up one hit and striking out two batters. Cabral, a left-hander, missed all of the 2012 season after suffering a stress fracture in his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the White Sox on Tuesday.

Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.89 ERA) will get the nod for the Yankees. The 39-year-old right-hander has been blasted for 12 runs in his past two outings and needs to get back to his previous form for the Yankees to have a shot of winning a playoff spot. Kuroda is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA in his career against the Chisox.

The White Sox will counter with left-hander Chris Sale (10-12, 2.99 ERA). Sale set a franchise record with his fourth start of 12 strikeouts or more in a victory over the Houston Astros. He has a personal high of 193 strikeouts for the season. He is 2-0 with 0.49 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Icons Jeter, Soriano Spark Yanks’ Walk-Off Victory

GAME 105

YANKEES 6, RAYS 5

On a day that the Yankees paid tribute to retired icon Hideki Matsui, two of his former teammates provided some spark to what has been a listless offense to deliver a dramatic walk-off victory.

Derek Jeter came of the disabled list for the second time this season to swat the first pitch he saw for his first home run of the season and Alfonso Soriano, playing in only his third game back in pinstripes, was 4-for-5 with a two-run homer and a game-winning RBI single in the ninth as New York salvaged one of three games against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Jeter strode to the plate in the first inning with most of the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 47,714 on their feet and  -  just about the time they sat down  -  the Yankee captain launched a high fastball from Rays left-hander Matt Moore into the first row of the bleachers over the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.

The fans remained standing until their All-Star shortstop took a trip back up the dugout steps for a curtain call. It was not so much what Jeter had just done but a feeling from the fans that this team that has suffered so much turmoil from injuries was on the way back to respectability.

It set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

The Yankees added two more runs in the first inning off Moore, who started the day tied for the American League lead with 14 victories.

Robinson Cano reached on an infield single that caromed off the glove of Moore and Soriano rolled a single that shortstop Yunel Escobar kicked into center-field to allow Cano to reach third.

Vernon Wells scored Cano with a sacrifice fly to center and  -  after a wild pitch allowed Soriano to move up to second  -  Ichiro Suzuki scored him with a lined single to center as part of a day in which Suzuki was 4-for-4.

Unfortunately, Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes was not able to hold the 3–0 lead he was handed.

The Rays scored a single run in the second inning when Kelly Johnson lashed a one-out RBI double to score Wil Myers.

The following frame Hughes allowed a pair of one-out singles to Evan Longoria and James Loney and Myers followed with a three-run blast to left-field that gave the Rays a 4-3 lead.

But Jeter and Soriano answered in the bottom of the third.

Jeter led off the frame with a single just over the glove of Johnson at second base and Soriano, one out later, blasted a ball just over the glove of Myers in right-field that landed in the bleachers in the short porch in right to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

Hughes, however, was not able to hold that lead either.

Myers led off the fifth with an opposite-field home run into the short porch for the rookie outfielder’s first multiple homer game of his career.

The game remained tied after both Moore and Hughes left the game.

Moore, who entered the game having won all six of his previous starts, gave up five runs on eight hits and no walks while he struck out three in five innings. Moore also uncharacteristically uncorked two wild pitches and was called for a balk just before Soriano homered.

Hughes also yielded five runs on nine hits and two walks and he fanned four in 4-plus innings.

But the Yankees’ bullpen corps of Preston Claiborne, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera held the Rays to just one hit and did not issue a walk over the final five innings. Rivera (2-2) pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for the victory.

The Yankees opened the ninth facing  Jake McGee (2-3) and the left-hander missed high on a 3-2 pitch to Brett Gardner to start off the frame. With Jeter squared around to bunt, McGee tossed the Rays’ third wild pitch of the day to allow Gardner to reach second. It ended up being extremely costly.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then opted to walk Jeter intentionally to bring up the lefty-swinging Cano and to set up a potential double play.

But Cano struck out and Soriano followed by bouncing the first pitch from McGee to the left of Escobar of shortstop and on into center-field to score Gardner with the game-winner.

Soriano finished the game with a homer, three singles, two runs scored and three RBIs.

Jeter was 2-for-4 with a homer, a single, a walk, an RBI and two runs scored.

Jeter’s home run was the Yankees’ first home run sine the All-Star break and the first home run from a right-handed batter since June 21. Soriano added the second right-handed homer two innings later.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 55-50 and they are 7 1/2 games out in fourth place in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 62-43 and they surrendered first place back to the Boston Red Sox.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • What a difference Jeter made in his first game off the disabled list. Having Jeter’s right-handed bat in the second spot in the order allows manager Joe Girardi to break up the stack of five or six left-handed batters at the top of the lineup. Jeter has always had a flair for the dramatic but his home run in the first inning spoke volumes about how the Yankees suffered after opening the season 30-18 and then recording a 24-32 mark through Sunday. Perhaps a new day is dawning and the Yankees, behind their captain, may be righting the ship.
  • Soriano has always been a popular player with Yankee fans and they have not forgotten him after 10 years. The Yankees acquired him for his power from the right side and to provide protection for Cano in the cleanup spot. If his 4-for-5 day is any indication, he will do both. He is doing what Wells did before May 15 and he has not homered since. Soriano is going to be a very important player for the Yankees for the rest of the season.
  • Jeter’s presence allowed Girardi to slide Suzuki down to the No. 6 spot in the order and he responded with four singles and a big two-out RBI in the first inning. After going 0-for-7 in the first two games of the series, Suzuki’s perfect day raised his season average to .279.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Hughes’ start was very disappointing because in his previous five starts, Hughes had a 2.53 ERA, even though was 1-3 over that stretch dating back to June 27. Hughes is nothing if not vexing as a starter. He is a flyball pitcher in a ballpark ill-suited for them and most of his success in the major leagues has come as a reliever. I wish the Yankees would realize that and put him back there before they make a mistake by allowing him to walk as a free agent after this season.
  • Though the Yankees field a great lineup one through six now, the seven, eight and nine spots still are an issue. Brett Lillibridge (seven), David Adams (eight) and Chris Stewart (nine) were a combined 0-for-11 with three strikeouts and just one ball hit of the infield. It will be nice to have Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez back in the lineup.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees actually offered Matsui a one-day contract with the team on Sunday so that he could retire officially as a Yankee. In a pregame ceremony,  Jeter and the Yankees presented the former outfielder with a framed jersey sporting his number 55. Matsui, fondly nicknamed “Godzilla” in his native country, came over from Japan to play nine seasons with the Yankees and he hit .292 with 140 home runs and 597 RBIs  during that span. He also was named the Most Valuable Player in the Yankees’ victory in the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees also marked the occasion by handing out Matsui bobblehead figures to the first 18,000 fans who entered the stadium.  . . .  After activating Jeter on Sunday the Yankees plan to activate infielder Jayson Nix on Tuesday. Nix, 30, has been on the disabled list for 3 1/2 weeks with a hamstring strain.  Adams was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Sunday’s game to make room for Nix on the roster.  . . .  After Granderson was 0-for-4 as a designated hitter with Class-A Tampa on Sunday, Girardi said the veteran outfielder will move up to Double-A Trenton on Tuesday. Girardi also said Granderson could be activated on Saturday when the Yankees are in San Diego to play the Padres. Granderson has been sidelined twice this season with a broken bone in his left arm and a broken left pinkie finger as a result of being hit by pitches.

ON DECK

The Yankee will have Monday off before they open a West Coast road trip with a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (7-7, 4.39) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, allowed just two runs on hits over six innings on Wednesday against the Texas Rangers but still took his second straight loss. He is 2-0 with a 3.94 ERA in his career against the Dodgers.

Right-hander Zack Greinke (8-3, 3.49 ERA) will start for the Dodgers. Greinke allowed four runs on six hits in seven innings in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Greinke is 2-4 with a 6.45 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Kuroda Gets No Run Support As Bucs Edge Yanks

GAME 32

PIRATES 2, YANKEES 1

TAMPA  -  It is only fitting that on the final day of spring training in Florida that the Yankees would lose to the Pirates because of a lack of run support for a great outing by a starting pitcher.

Despite the fact that Hiroki Kuroda pitched six scoreless innings, striking out five batters, walking none and surrendering only an infield single, the Pirates scored two runs in the seventh inning as Pittsburgh went on to edge New York on Thursday in front of a paid crowd of 11,028 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Yankees made Pirates rookie left-hander Jeff Locke look like Cliff Lee in his prime. Locke (3-1) shut out the Yankees for six innings, giving up four hits and no walks while striking out three.

Despite allowing an RBI double to Lyle Overbay in the ninth inning, Ethan Hollingsworth was credited with a save.

Boone Logan (0-1) was charged with the loss.

Logan walked pinch-hitter Travis Snider to open the seventh inning and Jose Tabata then lined a hard come-backer that struck Logan in the left hip and he reached base on the single.

Logan left the game as a precautionary measure and right-hander David Aardsma entered the game and uncorked a wild pitch and Francisco Cervelli threw the ball past Robinson Cano attempting to nab Tabata advancing to second. That allowed Snider to score.

One out later, pinch-hitter Jeff Larish singled in Tabata.

The Yankees completed Grapefruit League play with a 13-18 record. The Pirates ended up with the same record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda ended spring training with his sharpest effort of the spring. He kept the Pirates off-balance all day mixing his 92-mile-per-hour fastball with his slider and split-finger fastball. The only hitter to reach base on him was Garrett Jones, who reached on a two-out infield single that Kuroda knocked down but could not pick up in time to throw out Jones. Kuroda threw an amazing 52 of his 69 pitches for strikes  -  a 75 percent strike rate.
  • Overbay cemented his position on the 25-man roster with his RBI double in the ninth inning. Overbay, 36, was given three days to make the team and he did it by going 5-for-11 (.455) in the three games he played. Overbay will open the season at first base and he will remain there until Mark Teixeira returns, which could be as soon as mid-May.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Thursday. The Yankees’ biggest failure came when Cervelli blasted a one-out triple off the left-field wall. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a weak infield popup and Vernon Wells ended the threat with a routine flyout. Yankee fans complained last season when the team did not deliver hits with runners in scoring position and relied so much on the home run to win games. Well, now the team still does not hit with runners in scoring position and now doesn’t hit home runs either.
  • Aardsma appears to have blown his shot to win a bullpen spot with a weak showing on Thursday. He threw a wild pitch to set up one run and another scored on a RBI single. After he issued a two-walk to pinch-hitter Josh Harrison he was removed from the game by manager Joe Girardi. Aarsdma has a spring ERA of 3.52.
  • Wells finished the day 0-for-3 but he still hit .310 for the spring and he will begin the season as the Yankees’ starting left-fielder until Curtis Granderson returns to the team in mid-May. Granderson will play center and Brett Gardner will shift to left-field. Granderson’s broken right forearm prevented the Yankees from their experiment of flip-flopping Gardner and Granderson.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees reportedly have released Juan Rivera from his minor-league contract and the team has decided to keep Overbay and outfielders Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch. Overbay likely will be in a platoon with reserve infielder Jayson Nix. Overbay will start at first against right-handers and against left-handers Kevin Youkilis could shift to first base and Nix can play third. With Wells starting in left and Travis Hafner as the designated hitter, Francisco and Boesch will mostly be bench players, although the Yankees could use Francisco as a right-handed DH against some left-handers.  . . .  Logan said after the game that his left hip was fine and he expects to be able to pitch again on Friday. That is one bullet the Yankees dodged.  . . .  It was no surprise that left-hander Vidal Nuno, 25, was named before the game on Thursday the recipient of the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. Nuno was 1-1 with 0.61 ERA in seven appearances. Nuno still has an outside chance to make the team as a second bullpen lefty behind Logan while Clay Rapada recovers from bursitis in his left shoulder. Nuno pitched at both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton and was 10-6 with an organization-leading 2.54 ERA.

ON DECK

The Yankees are already in Washington D.C., and they will play an exhibition game against the Nationals on Friday.

Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (1-0, 4.82 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. The Nationals will counter with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (0-1, 5.40 ERA).

Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised locally by the YES Network and nationally by the MLB Network.

 

 

Ichiro’s ‘Act’ In Bronx Held Over For Two Seasons

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

RIGHTFIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (28 Rs, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, .322 BA, 14 SB)

When the Yankees made the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to The Bronx it was looked at initially as a temporary fix to the Yankees’ injury to top base-stealing threat Brett Gardner. After all, Suzuki’s contract with the Seattle Mariners expired after the 2012 season and the Yankees were unsure if the 39-year-old All-Star had very much left in the tank.

Suzuki seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff after he hit .315 with six home runs and 43 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 2010. In 2011, the career .322 hitter batted only .272 with five home runs and 47 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.

In addition, Suzuki was hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Mariners at the time of the trade.

But Suzuki took to New York quicker than anyone would have expected and he seemed to be rejuvenated being part of a pennant chase for the first time since his early seasons with the Mariners.

As a result of Suzuki’s renewed bounce in his step and the fact the Yankees allowed rightfielder Nick Swisher to sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians this winter, Suzuki was granted a two-year, $12 million deal to take over for him. General manager Brian Cashman was pleased Suzuki settled for much less than perhaps he was worth to stay with the Yankees.

Suzuki had made it clear that he did want to remain in New York. So it seems both sides are very happy with the deal.

Suzuki will never be able to replace Swisher’s power and production but he is an upgrade in terms of hitting, speed and defense. That is all part of the tradeoff the Yankees had to accept in order to rebuild a team that lost 94 home runs when Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14) signed elsewhere this offseason.

Suzuki will join with Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson as part of the group that is expected to be stealing a lot of bases in 2013 because of what the Yankees lost in terms of power. The Yankees will not be able to play station-to-station baseball while waiting for home runs.

Suzuki’s two-year deal signals the Yankees are committed to him and what he can provide at the top of the lineup by getting on base and running the bases.

Last season, Suzuki approved the trade with some conditions laid down by the Yankees. He agreed to hit lower in the batting order, to a platoon that would sit him against left-handers and agree to switch to leftfield. Suzuki accepted the stipulations and never complained about where he hit, where he played and when he was benched.

However, when Suzuki got red hot in September manager Joe Girardi stopped platooning him against lefties, moved him up in the batting order and shifted him to rightfield so Swisher could replace an injured Mark Teixeira at first base.

So expect Suzuki to be playing every day, hitting second and playing rightfield in 2013. Suzuki basically changed the manager’s mind the old-fashioned way: He played so well that Girardi had no choice but to play him and those conditions Suzuki was signed under have been tossed out the window – for good.

Suzuki’s calling card has always been his magical bat. Despite an unusual batting style, Suzuki seems to be able to know when it is best to pull the ball and when to go with a pitch. He confounds pitchers with his ability to spray the ball all over the field.

He may no longer have blazing speed as he did when he won his Most Valuable Player and Rookie of Year awards in 2001, but Suzuki can still leg out infield grounders for hits, take an extra base on napping outfielders and he can even steal a base or two when necessary.

Suzuki stole 29 bases last season between the Mariners and Yankees and he led the Yankees with 14 steals despite playing in only 67 games.

With the short porch in right-field, Suzuki can also surprise a pitcher or two by turning on an inside pitch and putting it into the seats. Suzuki’s career high in home runs is 15 that he hit in 2005 and he only has reached double digits in three seasons. But it is good bet they he could reach double digits in 2013.

He hit five dingers in only 227 at-bats with the Yankees last season.

Where Suzuki really shines is as a defender. From 2001 through 2010 he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mariners. Granted, he has lost a step, but Suzuki can still flash some leather in the outfield. He also possesses an excellent arm in rightfield. With Granderson and Gardner, Suzuki forms a rare outfield that boasts three centerfielders.

This is an outfield that is also loaded with speed and skilled fielders. It might be the best defensive outfield the Yankees have fielded in some time.

The only potential negative with Suzuki might be if he regresses as a hitter as he did with in the Mariners in 2011. The Yankees are on the hook for two seasons with Suzuki and they would rather he continue he hit the .322 he did with the Yankees last season.

The Yankees were dealt a serious blow to the 2013 plans when Ibanez opted to sign as a free agent with his old Mariners team. The Yankees made it clear that they wanted to keep Ibanez as their left-hand designated hitter and part-time outfielder.

At the moment the plans behind Gardner, Granderson and Suzuki look a little murky.

The Yankees did claim right-hand hitter Russ Canzler off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Canzler, 26, can play first base, leftfield and DH.

Canzler hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 as a September call-up with the Indians after leading the International League with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Columbus.

Canzler provides the Yankees primarily with a right-hand bat who can back up Mark Teixeira at first base. But he did play 47 games with Columbus and 11 games with the Indians in the outfield. His range in the outfield is limited and he would be a significant dropoff from Gardner as a defensive outfielder.

Jayson Nix has been invited to spring training again primarily to compete with Nunez as a backup middle infielder but Nix also can play some outfield.

Nix made nine starts in the outfield last season and acquitted himself well. He committed only one error. Though he is much better as infielder, Nix provides Girardi with a lot of options on where to play him.

Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.

Cashman is looking to bolster the outfield before spring training camp opens next month and he has a few targets that could be on his radar.

His first option is former Met outfielder Scott Hairston, who is currently seeking a lucrative two-year deal on the free-agent market.

Hairston, 32, hit 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs and batted .263 with the Mets last season. His main calling card is his power and his ability to crush left-handed pitching.

Hairston hit .286 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs against lefties last season. Though he has played some second base in the past, Hairston is primarily an outfielder and he only committed one error in 108 games there last season.

The Yankees covet him because he has power, which the Yankees need, and he balances out the starting outfield, which is comprised of all left-hand hitters. The Yankees see Hairston as part-time outfielder, a platoon DH and valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.

The only sticking point is the amount of money he is seeking and the Yankees are not real keen on offering him a two-year deal. They are hoping Hairston will lower his demands.

Another potential target could be 6-foot-5 first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse of the Washington Nationals.

Morse, 30, had a breakout season in 2011 in which he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs for the Nationals. But injuries limited him to just 102 games in 2012 in which he batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.

The Nationals had him scheduled to move from left-field to first base this off-season when they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins and shifted rookie centerfielder Bryce Harper to leftfield. However, the team decided to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche so Morse is currently relegated to the bench.

The Nationals reportedly are looking at trading Morse for a left-handed relief pitcher and some prospects. The Yankees do have a pair of lefties in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada to offer but there is not much depth behind them in the minors. The Yankees could use Morse in the same way they planned to utilize Canzler – at first base, leftfield and DH.

Morse is a right-hand hitter but his power is intriguing.

This is hard to believe but – in the absence of the Yankees making a deal or signing an outfielder – the Yankees will actually be giving long looks to two of their own minor-league outfielders this spring.

Melky Mesa, 25, hit a combined .264 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs and 22 stolen bases between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Mesa hit only .230 at Scranton after hitting .277 at Trenton so he may require an additional season before he is ready.

Mesa’s combination of power and speed would be a big boost to the Yankees and he does fill a need for right-hand hitting outfielder. Mesa is also a natural centerfielder and he can easily play all three outfield spots if needed.

The downside is the Yankees are unsure of he can hit major-league pitching. They hope to get some more definitive answers this spring. Mesa figures to play a lot after only getting 13 at-bats and hitting .231 last spring.

The Yankees also have a very intriguing young outfield prospect in Zoilo Almonte, who is a power-hitting switch-hitter.

Almonte, 23, impressed Girardi last spring when he hit .286 in only 14 at-bats. Almonte then followed that up by hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 106 games with Trenton.

Unlike Mesa, Almonte is primarily a corner outfielder and he has just average speed (15 steals in 19 attempts last season). Defensively, he is still a work in progress. His range and fielding are just average but he does have a pretty good arm (10 outfield assists last season).

Almonte does have a slim chance of making the jump from Double A but he will need to have a monster spring training that forces Girardi to keep him on the roster. It is all up to Almonte  to see if can handle the rigors of the major leagues. But it will be tough to ask him make the jump because it rarely happens in the major leagues and it even more rarely happens with the Yankees.

The Yankees seem to not even care about a player unless he is 34 with years of major-league experience. Almonte would be in a locker room of players he watched while he was in grade school. That would be a lot of pressure on him but his power potential makes him a very viable prospect to watch this spring.

The Yankees are actually loaded with some very special outfield prospects further down in their minor-league system.

Mason Williams, 21, is the team’s second-ranked prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. He hit .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 91 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa before a torn labrum ended his season early.

Williams is an excellent left-handed hitter who should develop more power as he gains experience. He also looks as if he will be a very good base-runner and he is above average defensively as a centerfielder. Williams is 6-feet tall and weighs just 150 pounds but he should gain weight and strength and may even draw comparisons to another centerfielder Williams by the name of Bernie.

The Yankees are also excited about No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin, 21.

Austin hit a organization-best .354 combined in 2011 and he followed that up by hitting .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in four minor-league stops last season.

After playing first and third base his first two seasons, the Yankees moved him to right field last season and he played very well there. While Sanchez and Williams get most of the attention, Austin is considered a very good prospect and 2013 could propel him into the Yankees’ plans in 2014 and beyond.

The Yankees also have a pair of young slash-and-dash hitters who have a chance to make the parent team down the road in Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores.

Heathcott, 22, was the team’s first draft pick in 2009 but has been hampered by on- and off-the-field problems. But the left-handed hitter got back on track by hitting a combined .302 with five home runs and 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in the Yankees team in the Gulf Coast League and with Tampa in the Florida State League.

Heathcott is an aggressive player with excellent speed. If he can be more selective at the plate and on the bases he could turn out to something very special.

Flores, 20, is a left-handed hitting machine who batted a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs and 24 stolen bases between Tampa and Trenton. He lacks Heathcott’s speed but still stole more bases. He is primarily a leftfielder but can play all three outfield spots and first base.

Fielding will never be his strong suit because his bat is so good. It will carry him the rest of the way to the majors.

The Yankees seem to be deeper in outfield prospects than any other position and that seems to be a good thing considering the team has already lost Swisher and Granderson seems to be headed out the door soon. That would leave Gardner and an aging Suzuki.

So to say the Yankees could stand to have a few of these prospects make an impact in the next few years would be putting it mildly.

There have been rumors the Yankees have talked about possibly trading Williams and Sanchez. But that would seem to be something Cashman would be leery about since he really did get fleeced badly in the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda deal last winter.

My guess is the Yankees will be very careful which young players they deal but it would seem to make sense that they could trim some of their outfield depth if they need help with their 25-man roster.

Though the Yankees are lucky to be starting three center-fielders with excellent speed in the outfield in 2013, they all hit left-handed and the Yankees will miss Ibanez.

Cashman likely will make some sort of deal to add depth to the outfield and they need someone who can hit right-handed. Canzler and Nix provide some depth but they are not long-term solutions.

Mesa and Almonte provide Girardi with a pair of young options but both are going to have to produce a lot this spring in order to make the leap to the major leagues.

Hopefully, the puzzle pieces can be put together before the start of the 2013 season.

NEXT: CATCHER

 

Tex Eyes 2013 Rebound But Depth At First Lacking

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)

The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.

But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.

It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.

He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.

That never happened, however.

In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.

He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.

Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.

Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.

Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.

Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.

Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of  “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.

Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.

Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).

Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.

Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.

Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).

So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.

Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.

Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.

The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.

When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.

They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.

Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.

Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.

For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.

Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.

The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.

Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.

General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.

Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.

The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.

Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.

Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.

Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.

However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.

Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.

Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.

Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.

Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.

Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.

Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.

There is not much behind him on the depth chart.

NEXT: LEFT FIELD

 

Yankees To Feature Pat Hand Of Starters In 2013

This is the first of a three-part series on how the New York Yankees’ 2013 roster is shaping up this winter. There will be some changes and we will look at the starting pitching, the bullpen and the starting lineup to see what those changes might involve. This is:

PART1: STARTING PITCHING

Meat cleaver or scalpel?

That is the choice every Major League Baseball general manager ponders over the winter with respect to how to deal with their 2013 rosters.

Teams like the Miami Marlins may believe the meat cleaver approach is the way to go while teams like the Los Angeles Angels are looking to add a piece here and cut out a small piece there with a gentle scalpel.

The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman pretty much have the choice made for them by payroll commitments that restrain what they can or can’t do. Long-term contracts handed out to C.C. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter plus potential free agency down the road for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano kind of limits what Cashman can do to repair what needs fixing.

Of course, the criticism of some Yankee fans that the team needs to “get younger” is being counterbalanced by those long-term deals and the signing of veterans like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.

Some factors have already played out. Catcher Russell Martin has signed a more lucrative multiyear deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and it is a certainty that right-fielder Nick Swisher will not return.

We also know that Rodriguez, once again, will be unavailable to play a full season for the Yankees. Hip surgery scheduled for January will shelve the 37-year-old veteran until June at the earliest. That will mean Rodriguez has failed to play a full season with the team since 2007.

So what will Cashman do to address the needs of the team? Let’s look at the roster and see what the Yankees have and what they may need.

STARTING PITCHING

There is a huge debate about the Yankee starting pitchers. Though the Yankees won the American League East with Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, there are those who believe it is not strong enough to carry the team to the team’s 28th championship.

Obviously, Cashman disagrees because he re-signed Pettitte and Kuroda. One reason he may have felt it necessary to sign a 37-year-old right-hander and 40-year-old left-hander was because Kuroda and Pettitte pitched well in 2012. Kuroda posted a career-best 16 victories with a 3.32 ERA. Pettitte was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts in a season abbreviated by a broken ankle.

Cashman sees Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte as the core of the starting staff.

Hughes regained the form that saw him go 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010. He was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA. Though he has won 34 games in his first two seasons as a starter and he is only 26 years old, Yankee fans want him to be more consistent. Unfortunately, Hughes is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher lacking a quality third pitch. So without a quality third pitch, Hughes will pretty much stay on the tract he currently is on.

Nova, however, has possibly the best stuff of the staff. When his fastball, curve and slider are right he can be downright nasty. But after an impressive 2011 rookie season that saw him go 16-4 with a 3.40 ERA, Nova took a step backwards in 2012.

Nova was 12-9 with a 5.02 ERA and he gave up a whopping 28 home runs and hitters hit a ridiculously high .288 against him. But the Yankees are not ready to give up on Nova at age 25. Nova still has the capability of being the same guy who was the team’s No. 2 starter in his rookie season. Why demote a guy who is 28-13 in his first major-league 55 starts?

The Yankees also have a insurance policy behind their top five with rookie right-hander David Phelps.

Phelps earned his way on to the team as a long reliever after being named the team’s top pitcher in the minor leagues in 2011 and the best rookie pitcher on the team last spring. He then drew raves for his work out of the bullpen and as spot starter, finishing the season with a 4-4 record and 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). At age 26, Phelps has a future as a starter.

Cashman may add a starter or two to the mix this winter but it is likely they will be along the lines of the Freddy Garcia scrap-heap variety. Yankee fans are dreaming if they are thinking Cashman is going to obtain Justin Verlander or David Price in a trade.

Of course, the prospects for this staff would have been better if Cashman’s major deal of 2012 did not blow up in his face.

The Yankees traded a power-hitting catcher compared as a hitter to Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez in 22-year-old Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda after he posted a 9-10 record with a 3.34 ERA in 2011. Because Montero was such a heralded young prospect, much was expected of Pineda when he arrived at spring training last February.

However, it was pretty apparent that he came to camp severely overweight and the velocity he showed on his fastball in 2011 was missing. After six starts this spring and he was raked like last winter’s leaves to the tune of a 5.68 ERA it became that there was something wrong.

As it turns out, Pineda was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he missed all of 2012. Pineda is progressing in his rehab and he hopes to be able to pitch this spring. However, the Yankees are not really counting on Pineda to be able to claim a starting spot this spring. He probably will continue to rehab at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, until he is ready to pitch in a lengthy rehab assignment in the minors.

Pineda could be a big boost to the staff at midseason or he could end up working out in a full season in the minors in order to compete for a starting role in 2014.

The Yankees boasted in 2012 the team’s best minor-league pitching depth they have had in many years. Phelps was among five pitchers the Yankees believed were just on the cusp of possible stardom at the Triple-A level.

Though Phelps succeeded, D.J. Mitchell was traded late in 2012 to the Mariners as the Yankees did with Hector Noesi as part of the Pineda deal. Adam Warren struggled in his only major-league start though he remains a potential starter for the team at age 25.

But the team’s two top pitching prospects had disastrous campaigns in 2012.

Manny Banuelos, 21, made only six starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being shut down with a left elbow injury. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John surgery and he will miss all of the 2013 season.

Meanwhile, Delin Betances, a 24-year-old right-hander, pitched so poorly at Scranton (3-5, 6.39 ERA) he had to be demoted to Double-A Trenton and he was not much better there (3-4, 6.51 ERA). Betances has been unable to harness his control in the minors and he needs to show some significant improvement in 2013 to maintain his prospect status.

The Yankees do have a number of pitchers that could have a long-range impact on the team.

Brett Marshall, 22, was 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA at Trenton in 2012. Though the right-hander has not been labeled as a top prospect, he is similar to Phelps in that he has succeeded at each level he has pitched. He was the Yankees’ best minor league pitcher in 2012.

Lefty Nik Turley, 23, is a tall strike-throwing machine who was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA at Class-A Tampa. Righty Jose A. Ramirez, 22, was 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA at Tampa. Jose Campos, 20, was acquired along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he could be a real gem.

Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA in five starts for Class-A Charleston before the right-hander had to be shut down with a minor elbow injury. Campos led the Northwest League in ERA and strikeouts in 2011 and he may end up being more valuable in the long term that Pineda. The Yankees will be watching his progress closely in 2013.

Cashman and the Yankees seem to have a matrimonial allegiance to their pitching staff these days. They pledged their devotion to each other to remain in sickness and in health for as both retain their jobs. But in baseball, there are short honeymoons. The problem will manifest itself if the staff does not do its part.

The Yankees’ pledge to reduce payroll makes it hard for this team to spend a large amount of money on a Plan B. So the Yankees have to really hope that what they have on hand is enough.

NEXT: THE BULLPEN

 

Yankees Get Off Canvas In Seventh To KO Orioles

GAME 132

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3

The Yankees played a game on Saturday that was very similar to the climatic fight scene with Rocky Balboa in the original “Rocky.” For the first six rounds, I mean innings, they were knocked down, hurt badly and they seemingly were clinging to the ropes in desperation.

But they came off the ropes swinging. It may have not looked pretty but New York sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs in the seventh inning to rally from a 3-1 deficit to down Baltimore and push their lead in the American League East back to three games.

For the first six innings Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (12-8) had the Yankees befuddled.

He retired the first 11 batters he faced in order until Robinson Cano hit an 0-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone over the wall to the opposite field in left for his 28th home run of the season. Of course, at that time Chen and the Orioles still held a 3-1 lead.

When the sixth inning began, Chen had given up only two hits and a walk while striking out four batters.

Steve Pearce, who was only in the game because Curtis Granderson had to leave in the third inning with a tight right hamstring, started off the rally innocently enough with a one-out single, his first hit for the Yankees.

With two out Jayson Nix worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Eduardo Nunez, who was just brought up on Saturday as the rosters expanded, stroked a broken-bat bloop single into left-center to score Pearce and end Chen’s afternoon.

Manager Buck Showalter summoned hard-throwing right-hander Pedro Strop to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki.

But Strop had issues with his command and he walked Suzuki to load the bases. Derek Jeter then ended up down in the count 0-2 before working it back to 3-2. And Strop promptly walked Jeter on an inside slider just out of the strike zone. Score tied.

Nick Swisher then continued the most improbable of two-out rallies by stroking a routine hard-hit grounder to the shortstop who is currently leading the majors in fielding percentage in J.J. Hardy and Hardy inexplicably booted it to allow Nix to score with what turned out to be the winning run.

Most of the 46,122 fans at Yankee Stadium who paid to see this heavyweight matchup stood up and cheered in delight.

It was these same fans who watched in horror as rookie right-hander David Phelps uncharacteristically walked six and hit a batter in his 4 2/3 innings of work.

Phelps walked Nick Markakis to start the game and after a Hardy single advanced him to third Markakis scored on a double-play groundout off the bat of Nate McLouth.

An inning later, Phelps hit Chris Davis with a 3-2 pitch and walked Mark Reynolds to begin the frame. Omar Quintanilla advanced them both on a sacrifice bunt and rookie Manny Machado scored Davis with a single up the middle.

Matt Wieters added the Orioles’ third run by leading off the fourth inning with a home run into the second deck in right-field.

Phelps, though he was wild, did keep the Yankees in the game because he gave up only three hits. The bullpen bailed the rookie out by shutting down the Orioles the rest of the way.

Boone Logan (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory in relief.

David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano struck out two of the three batters he retired in the ninth to pick up his 35th in 38 chances this season.

The Yankees improved their season record to 76-56 while the Orioles fell to 73-59. But the damage from the game is that the Orioles blew a golden opportunity to come within a single game of the Yankees. Now they can leave the Bronx no closer than two games behind.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Jeter’s at-bat against Strop was a classic illustration of what makes “The Captain” so special. Jeter was called out on strikes on a low pitch in sixth inning and he had words about it with home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook. But Jeter fought from 0-2 down in the count to 3-2 and earned the walk from Strop by taking two very close pitches. That was very courageous and it paid off big-time for the Yankees.
  • Most Yankee fans will say Phelps stunk and disappointed them. But I would say Phelps showed more strength as a pitcher than I have ever seen in a rookie. He basically had no command and gave up three runs in 4 2/3 innings. He never gave the Orioles a chance to break the game open and he battled with what little he had. That showed me a lot. Phelps is a keeper.
  • The most overlooked player in the Yankees’ seventh inning had to be Nix. Nix drew two walks on the day and the second was a big one because it allowed Nunez the chance to drive in Pearce. Nix is hitting .254 but this is a very good role player who gives the Yankees good effort at the plate and he is very steady in the field. Nix does not get enough credit for what he does for the team.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • This team obviously is missing two big weapons in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. That makes it hard on the rest of the team to step up. But they need to stop making pitchers like Miguel Gonzalez and Chen look like they are Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Yankees won on Saturday with just four hits and they used three walks and an error to their benefit. But the offense has to wake up soon.
  • Andruw Jones is very close to earning himself a designated for assignment. With Nunez around to bat from the right side, Jones may be out of a job if he keeps putting up 0-fers as he did again on Saturday. He was 0-for-4 and did not get a ball out the infield against a rookie left-hander. He is now hitting .203.
  • Russell Martin remains a major liability at the plate. He also was 0-for-4 and his batting average is now .196. With Francisco Cervelli back on the roster it might be time to let him have a shot to see what he can do with the bat. It certainly can’t be worse than what Martin has done.

BOMBER BANTER

Granderson had a precautionary MRI at New York-Presbyterian Hospital after the game and it appears his injury is not considered serious. Granderson grimaced as he struck out looking in the second inning and did not come out for the third. Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson could be in the starting lineup on Sunday.  . . .  Girardi also told reporters that Rodriguez could rejoin the team in St.Petersburg, FL, on Monday when the Yankees face the  Tampa Bay Rays. Rodriguez is rehabbing his fractured left hand at Class-A Tampa and the stint could end on Sunday.  . . .  Along with Nunez and Cervelli, the Yankees also brought up outfielder Chris Dickerson, left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas and right-handers Cory Wade and Adam Warren. Infielder Casey McGehee will also be added to the roster when Class-A Charleston’s season ends.

ON DECK

The Yankees have a chance to win the rubber game of the series on Sunday against the Orioles.

Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is 2-1 and has given up three earned runs over his last 21 innings. He is 5-3 with 5.00 ERA in his career against the Orioles.

Right-hander Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA) will start for the O’s. Tillman allowed one hit and struck out five in seven shutout innings to beat the White Sox in his last start. He is 2-3 with a 8.42 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Nova Wins 13th Straight As Yankees Down Birds

GAME 4

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 2

Monday’s New York versus Baltimore pitching matchup of 25-year-olds was marked by some very stark contrasts.

The Yankees starter was a right-hander who spent six years in the minors before a breakthrough 2011 season and he entered the 2012 season having won 12 consecutive games. The Orioles starter was a left-hander who was rushed to the majors a bit too soon and he paid for it by ending his 2011 season having lost nine consecutive games.

The result was Ivan Nova of the Yankees scattered 10 hits over seven innings in winning his 13th straight game and Brian Matusz (0-1) of the O’s gave up four runs on six hits and four walks in four innings as New York got back on track and defeated Baltimore at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Derek Jeter sparked the offense with four hits, including an RBI double in the fourth, and executed a perfect sacrifice bunt in the sixth and a textbook hit-and-run single in the eighth. Andruw Jones added a solo home run in the sixth inning as the Yankees broke a 0-3 start with an 11-hit attack to win their first game of the season.

The Yankees avoided starting the season 0-4 for the first time since 1973.

The Yankees also extended a streak of 18 consecutive victories in games in which Nova has started.

Though Nova gave up a lot of hits, he got tough with runners on base. The Orioles were 6-for-11 (.545) with the bases empty and were 3-for-15 with runners on against Nova. They also were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

The Yankees are now 1-3 on the young season while the Orioles fell to 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nova pitched with steely confidence on Monday and did not allow the pressure of having base-runners on in every inning except the first get to him. He also struck out seven batters by liberally using his breaking pitches. Nova is on a mission to show his 16-4 record was not a fluke or only a product of a lot of run support. He is off to a good start after a spring in which he recorded a 8.06 ERA.
  • Jeter, like most of the Yankees, loves hitting in Camden Yards and it showed with his 4-for-4 night. Showing his ability to use all fields, Jeter had a single to left, a single to center, a single to right-center (on a hit-and-run play) and a double to the right-field corner. Jeter raised his average from .231 to .412 in one night.
  • Manager Joe Girardi started Jones in left in place of Brett Gardner for the second straight game against a left-hander and Jones delivered a home run to left off Orioles right-hander Darren O’Day’s first pitch of the sixth inning. Jones now has 421 career home runs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Whatever book the Yankees have on how to pitch Matt Wieters they are going to need to revise it in a hurry. Wieters was 4-for-4, including a solo home run in the second inning, a double and two singles. The Yankees previously had some success in getting Wieters out but it looks like 25-year-old catcher is becoming the good hitter he was predicted to be when he was in the minors.
  • The Yankees have a way of making things more difficult on themselves even in victory. The Orioles recorded three double plays on Monday and two of them came with the bases loaded. The third one came on a strange double-steal play in the third inning. With Jeter on second and Robinson Cano on first and Alex Rodriguez up with a 3-2 count, Girardi sent both runners. Rodriguez struck out and Wieters threw out Jeter at third easily.
  • The No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup – Nick Swisher, Cano and Rodriguez – were a combined 1-for-11 and left a total of 14 runners on base. As a result, though Jeter was 4-for-4, he scored only one run and that was driven in by Mark Teixeira in the first inning on a two-out single.

BOMBER BANTER

While the game was going on the Yankees also were monitoring Andy Pettitte’s start for Class-A Tampa in a Florida State League game on the road against Clearwater. Pettitte gave up one run on two hits and struck out two in 3 innings of work. Pettitte, who threw 26 of 32 pitches for strikes, said he felt good about his outing. The 39-year-old left-hander, who hopes to be ready to pitch in the major leagues in May, will make his next start for Tampa on Sunday.  . . .  Yankees catcher Russell Martin and Orioles second baseman Robert Andino ended up in a heated discussion after Monday’s game. Martin apparently was upset with what he believed was Andino relaying pitch location from second base to the last two batters in the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound. Andino took exception to Martin’s accusation and he had to be restrained by Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby. Girardi summed it all up later by saying “Boys will be boys.”

ON DECK

The Yankees continue their series with the Orioles with their fifth game of a six-game season-opening road trip on Tuesday.

Freddy Garcia, 35, will make his 2012 debut after a 12-8 season and 3.82 ERA in 2011. Garcia was 2-0 with a 4.35 ERA in four starts against the Orioles last season.

He will be opposed by 26-year-old left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who will be making his major-league debut after spending four seasons pitching for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. Chen, a native of Taiwan, was 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in five spring starts for the Orioles.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

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