Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

Cano’s Temper Leads To Sad Departure To Seattle

Some Yankee fans got together and attempted to ship some baby pacifiers to Robinson Cano. How appropriate!

Temper, temper, Robbie! Tsk! Tsk!

Cano, 31, as you all know by now, got pissed off when the Yankees offered outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury an eight-year, $169 million contract and took his bats and gloves and run off to the Great Northwest for a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

Hope you did not let the clubhouse door hit you in the rump on the way out, Robinson.

To be clear, it is a shame that a marvelously talented player like Cano has decided to leave the Yankees. He was the best player on the team the past two seasons and his durability was welcome in a disastrous 2013 season that saw the Yankee roster look, at times, like an Independent League All-Star team.

Cano also had a point in looking at Ellsbury’s career statistics compared to his own and conclude that the Yankees were “low-balling” their monetary offer to him. They never really budged off the $175 million they were offering.

But after the excessive deals offered to Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carl Crawford over recent seasons, teams are learning that mega-year contracts for boatloads of cash is not a wise idea. A-Rod has been playing on reputation alone for the past three seasons. Pujols is a walking physical wreck and Crawford is one of the worst fiscal mistakes the Boston Red Sox ever made.

If Cano and his agent Jay-Z had been realistic in the first place with their opening offer it would have been smoother sailing. But they sought $305 million, which would have been a record contract. No team was willing to shell out that much cash for Cano and he had to know it.

Once the Yankees zeroed in on seven years at $165 million the gauntlet was laid. But the chief rivals for Cano, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers stepped out of the process.

The Dodgers signed Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to play second and the Tigers traded slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt he was in the catbird seat at that point because Cano, at the time, had no other offers. Overtures by Cano’s people made to the New York Mets were turned aside so Cano and his agents came back to the Yankees and lowered their demands to $240 million.

The Yankees, appreciative of the semblance of reality, still were not too keen on extending the contract past eight years and, with no other bidder in sight, they smartly held the line at about $175 million.

The whole situation blew up after ongoing talks by the Yankees with free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had broken down. The Yankees shifted gears away from Beltran and they signed Ellsbury for a tidy sum. When Cano read about the monetary details he pitched a hissy fit.

Cano’s father, Jose, issued a statement to the effect that the “Yankees were obviously not interested in keeping Robinson.”

That could not be further from the truth. Cashman and the Yankees were hoping that any offer Cano might have received from other teams could be brought back to the Yankees to give them a chance to match or top it. Now $240 million looks to have been a problem but the Yankees could have extended a year and increased the offer to $200 million.

But Cano did not give the Yankees a chance and he had to shop himself to the Mariners to get what he what he was seeking.

Fortunately, Cano had a willing partner in Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has made his career on just two things: turning out lousy clubs year after year and miscalculating the value of young prospects he has in his system and ones he has acquired in trades.

Let’s look at the Mariners most recent history.

Since 2004, the Mariners have been a losing franchise. They have been below .500 in all but two seasons and have not finished better than second place in the American League West in any of those years.

After the departures of stars like Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella at the beginning of the new century this franchise has languished, boasting only outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and right-handed ace Felix Hernandez as true stars.

Zduriencik tried to seed the team with prospects by making trades, such as the 2010 deal he made to trade All-Star left-hander Cliff Lee.

The Yankees thought they had a deal for Lee in place, offering their No. 1 prospect Jesus Montero, right-hander Ivan Nova and second baseman David Adams. But Zduriencik balked at Adams because he was recovering from a severe ankle injury. He asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.

Cashman said no and Zduriencik turned around and shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers for their top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak.

Smoak, 27, has been an absolute bust. In 2011, Smoak hit a scintillating .234 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. In 2012, he floundered like a real flounder at the Pike Street Market.

He hit just .217 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. Last season he batted .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs. A budding Mark Teixeira he’s not.

He is currently listed on the teams 2014 depth chart as a backup to journeyman Logan Morrison, who is a career .249 hitter with a grand total of 42 major-league home runs.

Then there is Zduriencik’s 2012 deal acquiring Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi from the Yankees for right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

The Yankees decided to ship out Montero because they had determined he would never become a major-league quality defensive catcher and he would either have to move to another position or become a designated hitter to succeed in the majors.

The Mariners found out the hard way that the Yankees were right. Montero batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 2012, but he started only 55 games as a catcher.

In 2013, Montero not only lost his job as a catcher but he was sent back to the minors after hitting .208 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 29 games. He also suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that shelved him for most of the season.

Montero, 24, is listed behind Mike Zunino on the team’s depth chart.

This is the team Cano has decided to grace with his presence.

Good luck!

It could be 10 years before Seattle ever gets close to competing with the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angels Angels and the Rangers in the division, much less compete for a playoff spot. Cano does not solve the team’s weak hitting in the outfield and infield, with the exception of third baseman Kyle Seagar.

The pitching with King Felix is competitive enough but the rotation lacks depth and the bullpen is a disaster.

Another point is that over the 10 years of Cano’s contract, a lot of young prospects will be brought up to follow his example. Let’s hope they cover their eyes when Cano raps a easy grounder to an infielder, who boots the ball but still nails him because Cano was loafing out of the batter’s box.

Let’s also hope they are not watching when he drops the bat at the plate thinking he has a home run and gets tossed out at second base because he did not run hard. That is a Cano trademark that manager Joe Girardi played off casually to the media but it chafed his chestnuts to the core.

Speaking of home runs. Robinson, you won’t be hitting as many of those in spacious Safeco Field. Your home run totals should drop back to the 20 to 25 mark or so because you line most of your shots.

You can also kiss goodbye having your number retired in Monument Park. That would have made you the first Dominican so honored. You also will not pass some the greats of the game on the franchise’s offensive categories list. You also will miss out on the division tiles, playoff games and championship rings. Lucky you got that 2009 ring squirreled away. That will be the only one you get.

It is shame you let your temper get the better of your good judgment.

Now you will be booed when you come to Yankee Stadium on April 29 with the rest of the no-name band you are hanging with these days. That is a shame, also.

You were a magnificent player and you really were a benefit to the Yankees with your skills as a hitter and a fielder. Those skills will be wasted in losing efforts much like the 2013 season you suffered through.

But you still can count your precious money after the game. Enjoy it because it obviously means more to you than winning.

Adios, amigo!

 

‘Baby Bombers’ Shine Now But Future Is Brighter

It is no big secret that the New York Yankees are pretty much nearing their yearly limit on their healthcare plan. So much for “A-Rodcare,” literally! But with the slew of injuries has come the necessity for the Yankees to dip into their minor-league system for rookies. With the team in first place it is obvious that they are getting contributions from the so-called “Baby Bombers.” Let’s see how they are doing and rank them by their potential for what they will provide the team in the long run. 

1) PRESTON CLAIBORNE, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER, 0-0, 0.69 ERA

Claiborne’s star has been rising quickly the past two seasons. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, the 25-year-old Dallas native presents the typical power arm frame.

At Double-A Trenton in 2012, Claiborne was 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and he saved five of the six games he closed. He struck out 49 batters in 48 2/3 innings over 30 appearances. He moved up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was 4-0 with a 4.05 ERA and saved one of his two opportunities. He struck out 29 in 33 1/3 innings there.

But the Yankees were absolutely ecstatic over his performance during spring training. He was 1-0 with a 0.84 ERA and he struck out 11 batters in 10 2/3 innings over 10 appearances. Manager Joe Girardi praised Claiborne for not looking overmatched against top-flight major-league hitters. But the Yankees’ bullpen was full and Claiborne was assigned back to Scranton.

In eight games there, Claiborne was 0-0 with a 3.48 ERA and he had saved all three of his save opportunities.

So when right-hander Joba Chamberlain was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on May 3, Claiborne was summoned to get his first taste of the majors. By the way Claiborne has pitched, he does not want to wash that great taste out of his mouth for a long time.

The rookie flamethrower is 0-0 with 0.69 ERA and he has struck out 10 batters without issuing a walk in 13 innings covering nine appearances.

It is odd that Claiborne has replaced Chamberlain so seamlessly because most scouts compare the two. He even has been called “Joba Jr.” because of his resemblance to the veteran reliever.

Claiborne features a fastball and slider combination with an occasional change. Girardi likes him because he is fearless in attacking hitters, which shows in the fact he has not issued a walk yet. Though Claiborne is not looked upon as a future closer, he could contribute nicely as a late-inning setup man in the mold of David Robertson or Chamberlain before injuries sidetracked his career lately.

Claiborne is, by far, the most impressive rookie the Yankees have used this season and he probably has the highest long-term ceiling because of his refusal to nibble on the corners. Claiborne is an attack pitcher with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a slider with a good bite.

He may be less heralded than Chamberlain was because he was not a No. 1 draft pick. He was chosen in the 17th round in 2010 out of Tulane University. But he has exceeded expectations much like the way David Phelps has progressed through the minors as a starter.

Claiborne looks like a long-term keeper for the Yankees and he should not be sent down when Chamberlain returns from his rehab stint. Unfortunately, it is looking like either he or right-hander Adam Warren will have to go.

2) DAVID ADAMS, INFIELDER, 2 HRS, 3 RBIs, .306

You can probably call Adams the “greatest forgotten Yankees prospect in history.” The reason is that Adams has been detouring through the system because of a nagging ankle injury he suffered in 2010 at Double-A Trenton.

That was the famous injury that killed the Cliff Lee trade with the Seattle Mariners. Adams was packaged along with Jose Montero and Ivan Nova in July 2010 in a deal for Lee. But the Mariners rejected the deal because of Adams and they asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.

At that asking price, general manager Brian Cashman balked and Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers instead.

Since then Adams has been trying to get back on what he hoped would be a major-league track. Adams’ ankle injury was far more serious than anyone thought at the time and he missed pretty much all of the 2011 minor-league season.

The former 2008 third-round pick out of the University of Virginia did manage to play in 86 games at Double-A Trenton in 2012 and hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs.

However, the Yankees ran into a bit of a jam with their 40-man roster this spring. Adams, who was not invited to spring training, was released by the Yankees so they could get outfielder Vernon Wells on the roster. Because no other team called Adams with an offer he remained a free agent.

So the Yankees re-signed him and shipped him to Scranton, where he was hitting .316 with homer and three RBIs in 27 games. If the Yankees had a choice they would have recalled Adams when Kevin Youkilis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back sprain on April 30.

But major-league rules prevent teams from calling up former free agents re-signed by their original club until May 15. So the Yankees recalled fellow rookie infielder Corban Joseph for a time and then they signed Chris Nelson when he was released by the Colorado Rockies.

But on May 15, which also was Adams’ 26th birthday, the Yankees released Nelson, brought Adams up from Scranton and he was installed as the team’s starting third baseman that very evening.

Originally a second baseman, Adams has been used at third base during stretches of his career because Joseph was the team’s biggest prospect at second base.

But Adams  –  now fully recovered from that nagging ankle injury some thee years later  –  is showing why he was such a highly touted prospect all those years. In nine games, Adams has at least one hit in eight of them and he is batting a robust .306 (11 for 36) with two home runs and three RBIs.

Though Adams’ defense is not listed by scouts as a strong suit because the ankle injury kept him off the field and perhaps reduced his range a bit, his defense with the Yankees has been better than advertised. He has not committed an error in his first 26 chances but it is obvious that a Gold Glove is not is in future either.

But playing solid defense while contributing offensively is just what the Yankees want him to do until Youkilis is activated from the disabled list sometime within the next week or so.

Adams likely will have to be sent back to Scranton but there is no doubt he has made an impression on the Yankees.

With Alex Rodriguez and Youkilis ahead of him at third base, Adams future there is a bit murky. But Robinson Cano can leave the Yankees as a free agent in 2014 and Youkilis only has a one-year contract. So Adams does have some potential value to the Yankees in the next year.

Adams also could have some value in potential trades the Yankees might consider down the line. But there is no doubt that after three seasons of futility dealing with a serious injury, Adams is back on track for a major-league career.

The Yankees are pleased with what he has contributed so far. If it were up to Adams it would be more of a long-term engagement.

3) VIDAL NUNO, LEFT-HANDED STARTER, 1-1, 1.93 ERA

While Adams and Claiborne were products of the Yankees’ farm system, Nuno actually was a 48th round draft pick in 2009 of the Cleveland Indians.

But after two seasons in the Cleveland minor-league system, he was released and he ended up signing with the Washington (PA) Wild Things in the independent Frontier League. There Nuno developed a change up and he caught the eye of scouts for the Yankees.

The Yankees signed him and the 25-year-old southpaw has breezed through the Yankees’ minor-league system the past two seasons.

In two stops in 2011, Nuno was 7-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 15 games (seven starts). In 2012, Nuno was a combined 10-6 with a 2.54 ERA between stops at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

But Nuno really opened eyes when he became a late addition to the Yankees’ spring training roster. Nuno was 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in seven games (two starts) with the Yankees. But what really opened the Yankees’ eyes was in a game he pitched against the Yankees as a loaner to the Dominican Republic team in an exhibition game.

Nuno shut out the Yankees over five innings and he ended up being selected as the winner of the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie of the spring.

Though Nuno was shipped out to Scranton he had made an impression.

So when Nova was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 27, Nuno was called up to take his place on the roster.

In his major-league debut, Nuno pitched three scoreless innings of relief against the Houston Astros on April 29.

On May 13, he shut out the Indians over five innings in his first major-league start and was promptly optioned back to Scranton on May 14. But he was recalled on May 17 when Andy Pettitte was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left trapezius muscle.

Nuno finally got tagged for his first run and home run allowed and took his first major-league loss on Tuesday when gave up a leadoff walk-off solo home run in the 10th inning to Nate McLouth of the Baltimore Orioles.

But, in true bounce-back fashion, Nuno pitched well in his second major-league start by limiting the Tampa Bay Rays to just one run on five hits in six innings on Saturday.

It is easy to see why Nuno was rapidly released by the Indians when you look at his fastball velocity. It is in the upper 80s and rarely reaches 90. That means Nuno must stay away from the middle of the plate and rely on his control to be effective.

Of course, little did the Indians know, but Nuno excels at throwing strikes and limiting walks. In 385 innings, Nuno has walked only 69 batters while he has struck out 371. That is nearly a 5 1/2 strikeouts per walk ratio.

The Yankees plan to send him back to Scranton when Pettitte is activated on June 1. But Nuno may have a future as a starter with a major-league team, even if it is not the Yankees. Nuno mainly will have to prove he can continue to get hitters out and he does a need a season at the Triple-A level.

But his long-term future can be bright with the Yankees because Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are pitching under one-year contracts and Phil Hughes can hit the free-agent market this winter. So Nuno may be needed to fill a vacancy in the rotation next season.

If nothing else, Nuno could fill a need as a left-hander out the bullpen, though Nuno has shined much more brightly as a starter throughout his minor-league career.

In any event, Nuno has carved out a big spot in the Yankees’ future plans because left-handers with control can have very long careers in the major leagues. Ask David Wells.

4) AUSTIN ROMINE, CATCHER, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs, .118 BA

Unlike the others, Romine is in the Yankees’ listing of the Top 20 prospects in the organization. He is ranked at No. 17.

The main calling for Romine, 24, is his defense, which Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena rate as “major-league quality.” Romine has managed to remain with the Yankees while Montero has not because of his defense.

The only things that have held Romine back is a recurring back problem  –  which Romine has deal with on a daily basis with stretching exercises  –  and his bat. Romine is a career .280 hitter in the minors but it has not, as yet, translated to the major-league level.

But when Francisco Cervelli sustained a fractured right hand on April 26, Romine was summoned from Scranton, where he was hitting .333 with a homer and four RBIs in 14 games.

Chris Stewart was elevated to the starter behind the plate and Romine was expected to catch a game each week, at best.

But Stewart suffered a mild strain of his left groin on May 16 and Romine was thrust into the starter’s role for six games this week until Stewart returned on Saturday. Romine was 3-for-18 (.167) with no home runs and one RBI. Overall, he is hitting .118 with a no home runs and two RBIs.

What Romine lacks as a hitter he still excels at as a catcher. He calls a solid game (that is a work in progress), he is excellent at blocking pitches and he has a very good arm that deters base-stealers. He has thrown out 25 percent of potential base-stealers at the minor-league level in his career.

With Cervelli sidelined until sometime after the All-Star break, Romine will remain the backup catcher for the Yankees until he returns.

That will allow Romine to have some time to develop his hitting at the major-league level and learn more of the fundamentals of defense from Girardi and Pena.

The Yankees are actually loaded at the position with their No. 1 prospect Gary Sanchez and hard-hitting J.R. Murphy making their way through the Yankees’ system. The Yankees are going to have to make a determination of where Romine fits in their long-range plans.

They hope he can improve with the bat enough to stick with the Yankees. They would love for him to take the starting job in 2014. That, however, is up to Romine and how much he able to benefit from the major-league experience he is getting now.

The son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine will have to step it up overtake Cervelli and Stewart soon and keep Sanchez and Murphy at bay down the road. There is a long way to go and Romine just happens to have time on his side.

In addition to these four rookies who debuted this season, two other rookies have played for the Yankees this season: right-hander Warren and infielder Joseph. Warren, 26, was not included in the original list because he made his major-league debut in 2012, but he is still considered as a rookie this season. Joseph, 24, was called  up from Scranton on April 30 to replace Youkilis. But he hit .167 in six at-bats before he was sent back Scranton May 14.  Warren, however, is contributing very well out of the bullpen, where he is 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA.  

COMBINED TOTALS

The rookie pitchers (Claiborne, Nuno and Warren) are 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA and 34 strikeouts and 10 walks in 50 2/3 innings covering 22 appearances (two starts). Adams, Romine and Joseph have combined to go 16-for-76 (.211) with two home runs and five RBIs. Those contributions from the rookies has been a huge part of the reason why the Yankees have been able to weather the devastating injuries to their veterans this season and remain in first place. It is a testament to the scouting and the evaluations made under the direction of Cashman. The odd thing is these rookies are not considered among the team’s top prospects. There are many more at the Double-A and Single-A levels. That would indicate that the Yankees might not need to be signing many high-priced free agents in the immediate future.

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.

 

 

‘Key Three’ Inspire Yankees To Victory Over Phils

GAME 18

YANKEES 6, PHILLIES 2

TAMPA  –  So much of the early weeks of spring were filled with such bad news for the Yankees but on Wednesday night a page seemed to turn and it all of it centers around the presence of the team’s “Key Three.”

Andy Pettitte threw three-plus innings his spring debut, Derek Jeter played shortstop for the first since his ankle injury last October and Mariano Rivera pitched another perfect inning as New York flexed its collective muscle to down Philadelphia at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Pettitte (1-0) gave up one run on four hits and three walks while striking out three to pick up the victory. An uncharacteristically out-of-sync Cliff Lee (0-1) took the loss after giving up five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.

In addition to Lee’s inability to command his breaking pitches, the Phillies did not help his cause by committing four errors behind him.

The surprise hitting star of the night was the newly acquired Ben Francisco, who laced a two-run double to the wall in centerfield with two out in the first inning to score the Yankees’ first runs. Francisco batted fifth and played rightfield.

With the victory the Yankees have now reeled off four straight victories and they are 7-11 in Grapefruit League play. The Phillies dropped to 7-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Although Pettitte’s outing was less than stellar, there were some positives. He wriggled out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first by getting Domonic Brown on a flyout. And after giving up a two-out RBI single up the middle to Brown in the third, he retired Darin Ruf on a great play by third baseman Kevin Youkilis and a great stretch by first baseman Juan Rivera. Petitte’s command was off but it was not a bad 58-pitch first effort in spring.
  • Francisco has a great opportunity to make the club and his debut could not have been better. Francisco was hitting .400 and he had six doubles when he was released on Monday by the Cleveland Indians at his request. With Rivera seemingly looking like the team’s replacement first baseman for Mark Teixeira, Francisco could emerge as the starting leftfielder until Curtis Granderson returns in mid-May.
  • It is easy to overlook Ichiro Suzuki but opposing teams are learning that is unwise. Suzuki was 2-for-3 with a run scored, a stolen base and a key two-out RBI single in the second inning. For those fans and so-called experts who think Suzuki is over the hill at age 39 listen to this: He is hitting .462 this spring, which leads the team.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Pettitte gave up a run in the third inning which broke the Yankees’ earned run scoreless inning streak at 30 innings. Before that the last earned run the Yankees had allowed was on March 9 when Jim Miller allowed a ninth-inning run on a Jordan Parraz sacrifice fly in 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

BOMBER BANTER

Just before Wednesday’s game the Yankees announced three roster moves. They optioned outfielder Zoilo Almonte, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Adam Warren to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Almonte, a 23-year-old switch-hitter with power, had an outside shot to make the team after Granderson’s injury on Feb. 24. But Almonte has not played above the Double-A level and the Yankees would like to see him continue to develop at Scranton.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Dunedin, FL on Thursday to square off with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old who has been the best young pitcher the Yankees have showcased this spring, will make his third start. He will be opposed by newly acquired right-hander Josh Johnson.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.

 

Yankees Eclipse Rays Behind Three-Run Eighth

GAME 17

YANKEES 3, RAYS 1

Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.

Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters.  His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.

The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.

Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.

The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.

Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.

With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
  • In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
  • Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
  • Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
  • Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs  Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.

The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.

 

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.

 

Yankees Give Big Sigh Of Relief As Soriano Shines

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.  

RELIEF PITCHERS

RAFAEL SORIANO (2-0, 1.72 ERA, 19 SAVES)

DAVID ROBERTSON (0-3, 2.42 ERA)

BOONE LOGAN (3-0, 3.54 ERA)

CORY WADE (0-1, 5.79 ERA)

CLAY RAPADA (2-0, 3.00 ERA)

CODY EPPLEY (0-0, 2.53 ERA)

D.J. MITCHELL (0-0, 3.38 ERA)

The New York Yankees season could have very easily ended on May 3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was shagging balls during batting practice, as has been his custom his entire career, when his right knee buckled as he reached the warning track. Rivera went down in a heap and the Yankees lost the best closer in the history of the game for the rest of the season.

However, on May 22 the Yankees ran off a record of 28-11 and they moved from tied for last place in the American League East 5 1/2 games behind to first place in the division and five games ahead.

The starting pitching was a big reason why. The starters who struggled in April pitched better. But there was something else that kept the Yankees going without Mariano Rivera.

That something was Rafael Soriano.

Soriano, 32, was signed by the Yankees for $12 million a season over three seasons in the winter of 2011. Soriano had just come off a season in which he saved a league-leading 45 games in 48 chances with the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA.

But why pay so much for someone who would not close games?

General manager Brian Cashman quickly pointed out publicly the signing was not his idea and he disavowed it. But after the Yankees lost out in trying to sign left-hander Cliff Lee the front office figured that with Rivera, Soriano and David Robertson that the Yankees could shorten the game to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies.

On paper, it made sense. In practice, it did not work out entirely as planned.

Soriano was hit hard early and often at the start of the 2011 season. The fans quickly turned on him for his seeming uncaring attitude as he pitched worse and worse. Then he ended up on the disabled list for two months with soreness in his right elbow. The fans also do not like players drawing rich contracts while rehabbing injuries.

Soriano did come back and ultimately was given the seventh inning as Robertson owned the ninth and Rivera was king of the ninth. Soriano finished the 2011 season with a 2-3 mark and a gaudy 4.12 ERA. He saved two games and blew three others.

Soriano then surprised a lot of people by deciding not exercise his opt-out clause in his three-year deal. He was getting paid good money to pitch the seventh inning and he figured it was more advantageous for him to stay. As far as Yankee fans go, they may have enjoyed booing him, but Soriano saved the Yankees’ season by deciding to stay.

When Robertson failed in his first attempt to close for Rivera on May 9 against the Rays and then ended up on the disabled list for a month with a left oblique injury, Soriano was reborn as a closer. He is also proving to be very good at it.

Since he has taken over, Soriano has saved 19 games out of his 20 opportunities and erased the team’s fears they could not win without Mo.

The fans? They booed him unmercifully at Yankee Stadium when he blew his only save on June 10 against the Mets. Tough crowd.

Yankee fans should be hoisting this man up and celebrating him because Soriano will be a big component of the Yankees’ run in the playoffs. They certainly do miss Mo but they have to be thankful they have a replacement in Soriano who has saved 91 games out of 99 chances since the 2009 season. That is a 92 percent success rate.

The Yankees actually have other more pressing bullpen issues. They revolve around Robertson, who came off the 15-day disabled list on June 15.

In the 11 appearances Robertson, 27, has made beginning on June 15, he is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA. That is a far cry from the Robertson who made 13 appearances before May 9 and was unscored upon in his first 13 innings of the season with 23 strikeouts.

The Yankees need Robertson to settle back into his groove and just, well, be Robertson again. We will see how it unfolds after the All-Star break.

The injuries to Rivera and Robertson have meant that Boone Logan has pitched in more games and for more innings than he has been used since he was acquired by the Yankees in 2009. The most innings he ever pitched in pinstripes was the 41 2/3 innings he pitched last season in 64 appearances.

But because Logan is no longer the lefty specialist in the bullpen he is being used more often and for longer stretches. Logan, 27, has already thrown 29 2/3 innings and made 41 appearances.

The strain is beginning to show. Logan’s ERA for the first three months was excellent: He was 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA on June 30. But in July, Logan has been scored upon in all four of his appearances and, if anybody deserved an All-Star break it was Logan.

The hope is that Logan will bounce back in the second half and pitch like he did before June 30. The Yankees need Logan to be good in the seventh inning so the Yankees can use Robertson in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth. Logan will be a big key to the Yankees in the second half, no doubt.

Manager Joe Girardi has been praised, and rightfully so, for his ability to maximize a bullpen. This season he has proven what a skill it is.

The Yankees found a lefty specialist in side-armer Clay Rapada during spring training and Rapada has been excellent as getting left-handers out since the 2012 season began.

Rapada, 31, is holding left-handed hitters to a .150 average this season. Amazingly, Rapada is retiring right-handers also. They are hitting .227 off him. But Girardi has wisely tried to keep Rapada as a specialist as much as he can this season.

The Yankees also got lucky when the Texas Rangers waived 26-year-old side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley early in the season. The Yankees claimed him and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Recalled on April 20, Eppley has provided Girardi with a righty specialist to twin with Rapada.

The results have been very good. Eppley is holding right-handers to a .231 average. Much like Rapada with right-handers, Girardi must keep Eppley away from dangerous left-handed hitters. Overall, Eppley has done an excellent job and he and Rapada have strengthened what already was an excellent bullpen.

That can’t be said of Cory Wade, however.

Wade, 29, was picked up off waivers from the Rays in 2011 – much like Eppley was this season – and he put together a great season. Wade was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA last season and drew a lot of praise from Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

But 2012 has a been nightmare for Wade.

He compiled an ERA of 1.69 in April and an ERA of 2.92 in May. But in June, Wade hit the skids and he has not recovered.

Beginning on June 16, Wade gave up a home run to Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals in a game the Yankees won 5-3. Since then, Wade has given up 16 runs in his last 8 innings covering his last seven appearances. Wade’s ERA has ballooned to 6.48 and he has been sent back to Scranton to try and get his groove back.

The Yankees filled out their bullpen just before the break by calling up Triple-A starter D.J. Mitchell to be the long man in the bullpen now that Freddy Garcia is being used as a starter to replace the injured Andy Pettitte.

Mitchell, 25, has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA at Scranton in 14 starts but Mitchell may have more value as a reliever in the majors because he has the best sinking fastball in the organization.

The Yankees would like to use him in situations they might need a double play. But Mitchell is strictly a long man for now.

To replace Wade, the Yankees picked up veteran right-hander Chad Qualls off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Qualls, 33, is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over three games. That is certainly a step up from what the Yankees have been getting from Wade. We will see if he continue to pitch well in the second half.

Overall, this has been one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball this season despite the loss of Rivera.

Girardi was able to slide Soriano into the closer’s role and he has Robertson and Logan to pitch in setup roles. Plus he can mix and match with the righty-lefty combo of Eppley and Rapada. Wade is the only reliever who has been a major disappointment but Qualls was picked up to fill his role until Wade finds it again or not.

MIDESEASON GRADES:

RIVERA: I (for Incomplete)

SORIANO: A

ROBERTSON: B+

LOGAN: B+

WADE: C-

RAPADA: B+

EPPLEY: B

QUALLS: I (for Incomplete)

MITCHELL: I (for Incomplete)

OTHERS

DAVID PHELPS (1-1, 6.46 as a reliever)

RYOTA IGARASHI (0-0, 22.50 ERA)

David Phelps began the season in the bullpen as the long reliever and he actually pitched much better than his ERA indicates. He was shelled for three runs in back-to-back appearances against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox in late April.

But Phelps, 25, is more suited as a starter and is thought of that way by the organization. After two starts in place of Freddy Garcia in early May, Phelps was sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was activated on May 13. He stayed until June 2, when he was shipped to Double-A Trenton to get his arm in shape to become a starter.

However, before the process could be completed Pettitte was placed on the disabled list with a broken tibia in his right leg and CC Sabathia had to be shelved because of a groin injury.

Phelps was recalled and pitched out of the bullpen until he was pressed into a start against the Rays on the Fourth of July. Phelps struck out eight batters and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings in his best performance of the season.

Now Phelps has been sent back to Trenton to complete the process of building up his pitch count so he can start. It is unclear when Phelps might return to the Yankees or what role he will assume. My guess is we have seen the last of Phelps as a reliever, barring an injury.

Igarashi was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen on May 25 and pitched poorly in the two games in which he pitched. He was sent back to Scranton and was recalled again on June 8 and he gave one run in his one inning of work against his former Met teammates.

Igarashi, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and three saves at Scranton this season. He is there for depth purposes but the Yankees could do better. Igarashi does not appear to be the answer for the Yankees based on what he has done in three games.

MIDSEASON GRADES

PHELPS : I (for Incomplete)

IGARASHI: I (for Incomplete)

The Yankees have some veteran relievers at Scranton, including Igarashi.

Kevin Whelan 28, is the main closer and is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA and 12 saves.

Meanwhile, left-hander Juan Cedeno, 28, is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA and former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen is 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.

The most impressive young relievers the Yankees are developing are Preston Claiborne, 24, and Chase Whitley, 23.

Claiborme was just promoted to Scranton after going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and saving five games at Trenton.

Whitley is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 games in Scranton.

Both are right-handers.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+

There are whispers that Rivera is progressing well in his rehab after surgery on his right knee and that he might be able to pitch this season. That would be bad news to the teams in the A.L. East staring up out of a huge hole in which the Yankees have placed them.

Whether Rivera returns or not the Yankees have an exceptional bullpen that rarely coughs up leads late in the game.

Soriano has 19 saves after 81 games and he has been sensational as Rivera’s stand-in.

There are some concerns before the second half begins.

Both Robertson and Logan need recapture their early-season form. They both have a long enough track records in the majors that they should be able to rebound. Robertson just needs to regain command of the strike zone and Logan just needs rest after absorbing a huge workload in the first half.

Logan leads the American League in appearances and that is an aberration from what Girardi and Rothschild would like from him. But Rivera’s loss impacted Logan the most and he has been forced to pitch a lot of innings and it is catching up to him. Hopefully, the rest over the break rejuvenates his valuable left arm.

The Yankees also have to hope that Wade rediscovers his karma in the minors. Most of the karma he has been exhibiting on the mound these days is bad.

Rapada and Eppley have proved to very valuable specialists and they have been impressive in the first half. They just have to continue to do what they have been doing.

Qualls is a place-holder for Wade and Girardi seems to trust him.

Mitchell can be valuable as a long man but Girardi rarely calls on him. His sinker could have some value in the second half and he is the one reliever that can give Girardi a lot of innings out of the bullpen.

The biggest hope for the second half has nothing to do with any of the pitchers I mentioned.

The Yankees just sent Joba Chamberlain out on a minor-league rehab stint. Because Chamberlain, 26, is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severely displaced fractured right ankle, the Yankees were not really expecting much out of the big right-hander.

But if all goes well in his extended rehab stint, Chamberlain could return to the Yankees within a month. That would be a big boost to the Yankees and it should make Logan really smile.

Yankee fans may have forgotten that Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 games before injuring his elbow last season. If he can get back to that level, Chamberlain could a valuable piece to the bullpen in the sceond half and heading into the playoffs.

The Yankees also had high hopes for former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma in the second half. Aardsma, 30, was coming off Tommy John surgery himself last July and was making his final rehab appearances when he suffered a setback and had to be shut down.

Aardsma underwent some tests and is consulting Dr. James Andrews, who performed his surgery, about what his next step will be. But it looks doubtful Aardsma will be able to help the Yankees this season. That is a shame.

But the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been gong this season, they may not need him. The return of Chamberlain, however, could be a real big boost.

 

Power Shifts In A.L. East But Yankees Still Reign


Today marks the beginning of the 2012 season for the New York Yankees. After a 33-game spring schedule, the team took shape. How will they finish in the American League East? What about the other teams in the division? How will they do this season? Let’s take a look.

Last season marked a titanic shift in the division.

After the Boston Red Sox recorded the biggest implosion in major-league history in September, they are no longer looked upon as an elite in this division. The loss of general manager Theo Epstein and the decision to blame Terry Francona for the team’s demise were bad enough.

But the real shock was to watch the Red Sox take a different approach to trying to fix the team this winter. Instead of just going out and aggressively signing the best free agents available and making bold trades to infuse new blood, the Bosox actually started a coupon-clipping method of solving their problems.

The big names that could have helped them went elsewhere and the Red Sox found that their once-vaunted minor-league system was bereft of immediate-impact talent.

They begin the 2012 season with one of the most important positions on the team left n the hands of someone inexperienced.

If ever this was a microcosm of the Red Sox problems this is it. They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to walk away via free agency. Maligned for his foibles and his occasional blown saves, Papelbon was still an important piece of the success of the franchise. The fans and the press treatment of him bit the team in the rear end.

To replace him the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s, a competent closer who at the same time has had a series of arm ailments that have slowed his development. At the end of spring training, Bailey came up with a thumb injury that will require surgery to repair. He will miss two months – at least.

The Red Sox also traded for Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon. The conventional wisdom was Melanco would replace Bailey. After all, why trade for a closer if he is not going to close? But new manager Bobby Valentine announced that jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) reliever Alfredo Aceves would close instead.

Welcome to Red Sox Nation’s worst nightmare. On Opening Day, Aceves coughed the winning run in a non-save situation.

If there is anyone out there who honestly believes this team can win the A.L. East, I want to know what you are smoking.

There are only two elite teams in this division and they are the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays had an interesting spring where they played a lot like the some of the teams in 1960s like the Dodgers and White Sox, who were so deep in pitching talent they shut out any team. However, at the same time, the offense is so bad that scoring runs is going to take some real effort.

Don’t get me wrong. The Rays and manager Joe Maddon have ways of scoring. Carlos Pena may struggle to keep his average around .190 but he will likely hit 30 home runs. Evan Longoria, surrounded by lightweights, will be pitched around and his average will suffer also. But he will win his share of 2-1 games with home runs.

Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton and the rest of Rays also use their feet to create havoc on the bases. That will get them their share of runs at times. But the old adage “You can’t steal first base” comes into play. The Rays have to reach base in order to steal bases. This team also lacks the athleticism past teams had when Carl Crawford was here.

How many bases will catcher Jose Molina steal? I rest my case.

No, the Rays’ sole means of winning comes with their starting rotation. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann are the center of the ballclub. The Rays have attempted to build a bullpen around them but they begin the season with their closer, Kyle Farnsworth, on the disabled list with a sore elbow.

That is huge red flag to me.

Could you say that the Yankees would be favored to win a championship with Mariano Rivera on the DL and expected to miss two months like Bailey? How about if Rivera complained he had a sore elbow?

Nope. No matter how stacked your pitching staff is you have to have a closer and Farnsworth is the best the Rays had in 2011. If he is lost for a long period of time, it puts pressure on Maddon to “shorten” his bullpen. That means keeping his starters on the mound longer than most managers would allow.

That exposes them to possibly losing close games because starters do run out of steam at some point. While a manager like Charlie Manuel might take Cliff Lee out after 121 pitches because he has Papelbon and a deep bullpen, Maddon may say let’s let Price get out of this in the eighth because I do not think J.P. Howell has been effective lately.

It becomes a slippery slope and you start lengthening and lengthening your starters until they begin wearing down.

That is my concern with the Rays.

In addition, they do not have the money and means to ever go to a Plan B. What they have on the roster has to work or they fall.

One team that intrigues me is the Blue Jays.

They already have Jose Bautista. You add to that third baseman Brett Lawrie and a bunch of guys who hit the ball hard and you have the makings of a great offense. Too bad the Rays do not have this offense.

The Blue Jays will put a lot of runs on the board. They have a lot of power and line-drive hitters top to bottom in the lineup.

However, their pitching revolves around Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Brett Cecil has been sent to the minors and Dustin McGowan’s comeback has been slowed by injury.  Their bullpen does have a closer in Sergio Santos they stole from the White Sox and a former closer in Francisco Cordero they signed from the Reds.

If manager Jon Farrell can piece enough starters to go six, the Blue Jays just might have what it take to pass the Red Sox in third place in this division. Stranger things have happened.

The one given in the division is where the Orioles will finish. Mismanagement, bad luck and foolish spending have really derailed this franchise.

Buck Showalter is a good manager but this team is mired with problems. The young pitching the Orioles counted on has failed to take the big leap forward they expected.

They made big bets on players like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and they have underwhelmed. They lack a big bopper like a Bautista who can change a game. Instead, they can build around emerging star catcher Matt Wieters.

That just about sums up the Orioles.

Now we come to the Yankees.

They won 97 games last season despite the fact Alex Rodriguez played in 99 games, only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had good seasons with the bat and their rotation contained Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

How many will they win when they get a healthy season out of Rodriguez, more of their hitters have better seasons with the bat and a rotation that now has Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, a healthy Phil Hughes to go along with ace lefty CC Sabathia?

Their bullpen even without Joba Chamberlain is loaded with Rivera closing like he always has at age 42 and David Robertson and Rafael Soriano shortening games to six innings.

The team has closed the pitching gap with the Rays and their offense is simply the best in the division. Add to that the division’s best bullpen and a veteran bench and you have the makings of another A.L. East title for the team in the Bronx.

I have not seen evidence that would contradict the premise. The only thing that could derail the Yankees is the age of the team. Injuries also are a great equalizer. But, other than a bad spate of injuries there is nothing that will stop this team in 2012.

Here is the predicted order of finish:

1) New York Yankees 

2) Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)

3) Toronto Blue Jays

4) Boston Red Sox

5) Baltimore Orioles

If this order holds up, look for Valentine to be scanning the help wanted ads in October. He already has the team hating him. If it gets much worse he might be scanning those ads in July.

 

Yankees Finally Part Ways With Good And Bad A.J.

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a resigned Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 he told the American people in a nationally televised address that “our long national nightmare is over.”

Well, on Feb. 17, 2012 I am hear to tell Yankee Universe that our own “national nightmare” is indeed over.

The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates have tentatively reached agreement on a deal that would send enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two minor leaguers and $13 million in cash.

The deal has not been officially announced and it still would require the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig because of the amount of cash involved. But the fact that the Pirates have released the names of the two players the Yankees are acquiring in the deal is proof that the negotiations are down to one last detail: The payment schedule on the $13 million the Pirates will pay the Yankees.

Burnett is in the fourth year of a five-year, $82 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have insisted in their trade talks with the Pirates that they would have to assume some of the roughly $33 million still owed Burnett over the next two seasons.

In addition to the $13 million the Pirates have agreed to pay, the Yankees will receive 25-year-old right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and 20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both players are natives of Venezuela.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Moreno is entering his sixth season in the minors and was a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 games with Class-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Cayones is entering his fourth minor-league season and hit a combined .228 with no home runs and 12 RBIs between the Pirates’ Class A Gulf League team and Class-A State College in the New York-Penn League.

Neither Moreno or Cayones are listed among the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects rated by MLB. com.

The main reason the Yankees are unloading Burnett without much in return is because he has been a disappointment during his three years in pinstripes and huge salary is a albatross around the Yankees’ necks. Burnett was a combined 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in stint with the Yankees. His average of 3.98 walks per nine innings was second in the American League and fifth in the major leagues, according to STATS, LLC.

Burnett also became expendable when the Yankees traded catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos. The Yankees then added to their rotation by signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.

That left Burnett, 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia left to compete for the No. 5 spot in a Yankee rotation that already boasted ace left-hander CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who was 16-7 in his rookie season,

The Yankees were basically seeking some salary relief from the Pirates in order to sign a designated hitter and a backup infielder for the 2012 season.

The Yankees seem to be most interested in 39-year-old left-hand-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez to pair with 34-year-old right-hand-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones in a platoon at designated hitter. Ibanez, a free agent, has told the Yankees he would willing to sign a contract for less money in order to play with a playoff contender.

Ibanez hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Phillies last season but he hit only .211 against left-handers. He hit .256 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs against right-handers.

If the Yankees fail to sign Ibanez they have two left-handed-hitting options at DH in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who are also free agents.

The Yankees also would like to re-sign 34-year-old backup corner infielder Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.

Once the deal for Burnett is complete and approved by the commissioner, the Yankees expect to act quickly to sign Chavez and one of the free agent DHs.

As for Burnett, the Yankee front office, teammates and fans alike will shake their heads on how a pitcher with such unhittable stuff could pitch so poorly for such a good offensive team like the Yankees.

When he was signed, Burnett was looked upon as the No. 2 starter behind fellow free agent Sabathia for the next five years. They both delivered a world championship in 2009 when Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.

But Burnett will be best remembered for rescuing the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies after Cliff Lee had bested Sabathia in Game 1. Burnett threw a spectacular seven innings and evened the series the Yankees eventually won in six games.

Unfortunately is was mostly downhill from there. Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. In 2011, the Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely on the basis of his proposed fixes to help Burnett get back on track. However, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 after Rothschild tinkered with his delivery.

Burnett also was embroiled in some odd incidents. He cut his finger on his pitching hand angrily trying to open a clubhouse door. He arrived for a start in 2010 sporting a black eye that he refused to explain. He also had an clubhouse run-in with Joe Girardi after he left a start in Minnesota last August.

Burnett also had to deal with a loss in velocity on his fastball, which had made him more hittable.

With the Pirates, Burnett likely will become a co-ace with free-agent left-hander Eric Bedard in a rotation that also includes Kevin Correia, James McDonald and former Yankee Jeff Karstens. The Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from left hip surgery and he is not expected to be able to pitch when the season starts.

In Pittsburgh, Burnett will face less pressure to win and less expectations to succeed than he did with the Yankees.

Though the Yankees and their fans will forever miss “Good A.J.” and his post-game celebratory pies in the face in walk-off victories, those same people will not miss the inevitable unraveling of “Bad A.J.” on the mound.

Speaking for Yankee fans, thanks A.J. for 2009 and good luck in trying to get back on track in the National League.

Yankees Trade Montero, Land Pineda And Kuroda

One axiom of Major League Baseball is pitching comes at a very steep price.

Yankee fans found just how steep on Friday when general manager Brian Cashman swung a pair of deals that netted the Yankees two starting pitchers and a very good pitching prospect and it cost them their No. 1 prospect and potential Rookie of the Year in Jesus Montero and right-handed starter Hector Noesi.

Though the trade is not official, the Yankees apparently have agreed to ship off Montero and Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

Right after the rumor of that deal surfaced, the YES Network reported that the Yankees reached agreement on a one-year, $10 million contract with 37-year-old free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

Pineda burst upon the baseball landscape when he emerged as dominant starter during spring training in 2011. In five games (four starts), Pineda had no record but had a 2.12 ERA and struck out 14 batters in 17 innings, which earned him a ticket to begin his rookie season as the Mariners’ No. 2 starter behind “King” Felix Hernandez.

Pineda got off to a marvelous start, too. Pitching for perhaps baseball’s weakest offense, Pineda was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA after his first 11 starts as of June 1. He was so impressive he was selected to pitch for the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game.

However, the combination poor offensive support and a heavy workload of innings combined to trip up Pineda in the second half. In his final 11 starts, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda went 2-8 with a 4.74 ERA.

For the season, Pineda was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and struck out 173 batters in 171 innings pitched. He only walked 55 batters and ended the season with a WHIP of 1.10. He was generally considered as second to only the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson among rookie starters with the Yankees’ Ivan Nova very a close third.

If the trade is completed, Pineda will join the 24-year-old Nova in the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.

Campos is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander from Venezuela was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA in 14 starts with the Mariners’ Class-A Everett team. Campos struck out 85 batters while walking only 13 in 81 innings last season and he is considered one of the best young pitching prospects in the Mariners’ system.

As ardent Yankee fans know, the Mariners were offered Montero and Nova two seasons ago in exchange for left-hander Cliff Lee. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik got very greedy and tried to push Cashman into including shortstop Eduardo Nunez in the deal and Cashman balked. The Mariners then shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers in a package that included first baseman Justin Smoak.

Montero was slated to be the Yankees’ primary designated hitter and a backup catcher in 2012 after he burst upon the scene in a September callup and hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats. Montero’s power and hitting drew comparisons from scouts to the likes of Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez.

The doubts about Montero surrounded the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder’s ability to become good enough to be even a passable defensive catcher. Some scouts feel his long-term future was as a DH or first baseman.

Noesi had been a starter throughout his career with the Yankees but spent his rookie season in 2011 pitching mostly in the bullpen. Noesi was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA over 56 1/3 innings in 30 games (two starts). The Yankees had maintained that Noesi was going to be strictly a starter this season. If he did not make the starting rotation this spring he was slated to pitch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

If the deal is finalized, Noesi would join Hernandez, Jose Vargas and youngsters Charlie Furbush and Blake Beavan as starters for the Mariners.

With the signing of Kuroda, the Yankees have ended more than two-month search for pitchers to bolster their rotation. Just this week the Yankees opted not to sign free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, whose agent Scott Boras was seeking a four-year, $60 million contract that the Yankees believed was too pricey.

Kuroda, 37, was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA and he recorded 161 strikeouts in 202 innings over 32 starts last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Osaka, Japan is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in his four seasons in the major leagues, all with the Dodgers.

With the addition of Pineda and Kuroda the Yankees are now overloaded with seven potential starting pitchers.

Pineda and Kuroda will slot in the rotation behind ace left-hander CC Sabathia. Nova, who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, would seem to have the inside track on a spot. Phil Hughes, who was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010 but was hampered with a right shoulder injury last season, would be the odds-on favorite to win the fifth spot if he is healthy this spring.

That leaves 35-year-old right-handers A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia in a very tenuous position.

Burnett suffered through his second straight subpar season, recording a mark of 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. Burnett’s wildness and lack of command does not lend itself well to the bullpen and he still has two years and $33 million owed on a five-year contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract to any team willing to take them off their hands but they have received no takers.

Garcia was signed last season as a free agent and he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA over 26 appearances (25 starts). The Yankees re-signed him for $4 million in December and he now looks to be an insurance policy against an injury to any of the starters before the season starts. He likely will end up in the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter.

The trade and the free-agent signing also would allow the Yankees to keep all five of their best pitching prospects – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and Adam Warren – at the Triple-A level to continue their development.

The only real downside is the loss of Montero as the team’s designated hitter.

The Yankees are set at catcher with Russell Martin signed for another season as the starter. Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine will battle this spring for a backup role with the loser likely headed to Triple-A.

With the loss of Montero it is unclear how the Yankees will handle the DH spot. They could rotate it among starting players such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, which is something manager Joe Girardi prefers to do. That would mean bench players such as Nunez and outfielder Andruw Jones could be used to spell the resting regulars.

They also could use the righty-swinger Jones and lefty-swinger Eric Chavez, if he is re-signed as a free agent, in a platoon at DH.

However, in either case, Montero’s spot on the roster would have to be filled. That would seem to indicate that Cashman may intend to use Burnett in a trade to fill that spot with someone who could serve as a DH and play the outfield. It seems unlikely, put still possible, the Yankees could choose to bring back 40-year-old Jorge Posada for another season.

Posada reportedly has decided to retire rather then field offers from other teams.

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