Results tagged ‘ Elvis Andrus ’

Down 5-0, Yankees Rally With 21 To Rout Rangers

GAME 99

YANKEES 21, RANGERS 5

From May 22 through May 25 the Texas Rangers outscored New York 30-15 in a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium. So the Yankees entered this four-game series at Globe Life Park looking for a little bit of payback.

On Tuesday night they got exactly that  –  and then some.

After yielding five runs in the first inning, New York erupted to score 11 runs in the second en route to a crushing defeat of Texas in front of a national TV audience on FOX Sports 1.

Chris Young led the assault with his second grand slam of the season and he knocked in a career-high five runs. Brett Gardner also homered and he joined Didi Gregorius and Brendan Ryan in driving in three runs apiece as the Yankees put up the most runs in a game since they scored 22 against the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 25, 2011.

Rookie right-hander Diego Moreno (1-0), who was just called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, pitched 5 1/3 innings of no-hit relief to earn his first Major League victory.

Moreno came in relief of left-hander Chris Capuano, who was making a spot start to allow Masahiro Tanaka to get an extra day of rest. But Capuano was unable to make it out of the first inning after walking Delino DeShields and retiring Rougned Odor and Adrian Beltre on routine flyouts.

Capuano walked Prince Fielder, Elvis Andrus followed with an RBI single and Mitch Moreland drew a walk to load the bases. Then Ryan Rua hit a bloop two-run single and Shin-Soo Choo followed with an RBI double.

The 36-year-old veteran than walked Robinson Chirinos to reload the bases and DeShields notched an RBI by drawing Capuano’s fifth walk of the inning.

Capuano gave way to Moreno after giving up five runs on three hits and five walks in a disastrous 42-pitch outing.

However, in the second inning the Yankees were able to tee off on left-hander Martin Perez (0-2), who was making only his third start after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season.

Young led off with a double and scored on Chase Headley’s RBI single. John Ryan Murphy singled and Perez loaded the bases by hitting Gregorius with a pitch.

Ryan followed with a two-run double and Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner stroked consecutive RBI singles before Alex Rodriguez blasted a RBI double high off the left-field wall to give the Yankees a 6-5 lead.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister replaced Perez with veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. After Rodriguez struck out Mark Teixeira, Young walked and Headley laced his second RBI single of the inning.

After Murphy struck out, Gregorius cleared the bases with a three-run triple and Ryan capped the 11-run explosion with an RBI double.

Perez was charged with eight runs on seven hits and he struck out one in his one-plus inning.

Rodriguez, however, was not much better because the Yankees opened the third inning by loading the bases singles by Gardner and Rodriguez and a walk to Teixeira. Young then blasted a 3-1 offering into the first-row of the left-field bleachers for his 12th home run of the season to extend the lead to 15-5.

After Rodriguez walked Headley he was replaced by right-hander Phil Klein having yielded seven runs on six hits and three walks in one inning.

Gardner completed the Yankees’ onslaught in the ninth with a two-run homer, his 11th of the season, off infielder Adam Rosales, who was used a pitcher in a mop-up role by the Rangers for the second time this season.

Adam Warren pitched three perfect innings to earn his first save of the season and the fifth of his career.

The 11 runs the Yankees scored in the second inning were the most runs the team has scored in an inning and the most they scored in any inning since they scored 12 runs in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles on July 30, 2011. The most runs the Yankees have scored in an inning was the 14 they scored in the fifth inning against Washington on July 6, 1920.

With the victory the Yankees increased their Major League-best July record to 16-5 and they are 57-42 on the season They also maintained their seven-game lead over the second-place Orioles in the American League East.

The Rangers are 47-52.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Young, 36, has been bashing left-handers all season and he did it again on Tuesday. He was 3-for-6 with two doubles, a home run, scored four runs and drove in five. Young is 36-for-97 (.371) with seven homers and 19 RBIs against lefties this season and he is batting .263 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs overall.
  • Gregorius, 25, had another record-breaking night after he drove in a career-high four runs on Monday. He was 4-for-5 with three singles, a double, two runs scored and three RBIs. It was the first four-hit game of his career. In the first two games of the series, Gregorius is 7-for-9 with a homer and seven RBIs. He is now batting .257 on the season.
  • Moreno, 28, was one of two players the Yankees acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in February, 2012 in a trade for right-hander A,J. Burnett. He was making only his third Major League appearance. He did not give up a hit and only walked Choo with two outs in the third. He struck out five and recorded six groundball outs. Unfortunately, he likely will be sent back down on Wednesday so the Yankees can call up another fresh arm from Scranton.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Why should there be a negative after a 21-5 victory? Consider this: The decision to rest Tanaka an extra day by manager Joe Girardi was odd enough. The decision to start Capuano was even odder because Warren was much better as a starter. But Capuano finally proved that he may need a fork stuck in him because he is done. After this outing, Capuano is 0-4 with a 6.97 ERA. There is simply no excuse for walking five batters in an inning. He has got to go.

BOMBER BANTER

In order to make room on the 25-man roster for Moreno, the Yankees optioned right-hander Nick Goody back to Scranton. Goody, 24, was just called up to the team on July 25 and he did not appear in a game for the Yankees in that span. Moreno was 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA in 26 games at Scranton.  . . .  After leaving Monday’s game after 75 pitches with arm fatigue, right-hander Ivan Nova told reporters that he will not miss his next scheduled start on Sunday. Nova was concerned about his arm because he was making only his sixth start after coming back from Tommy John surgery last season.

ON DECK

The Yankees have already clinched a series tie and they can claim a victory in the four-game series against the Rangers on Wednesday.

Tanaka (7-3, 3.64 ERA) will start for the Yankees, The Yankees have won his past five starts and he is 3-0 in that stretch. He yielded three runs on five hits and struck out seven in 7 2/3 innings to beat the Orioles on Thursday.

The Rangers will start right-hander Colby Lewis (10-4, 4.49 ERA). Lewis held the Angels to two runs on five hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings in a victory on Friday.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

A-Rod Turns 40 In Style As Yankees Blast Rangers

GAME 98

YANKEES 6, RANGERS 2

The entire 2015 season has been a celebration for Alex Rodriguez because he did not play at all in 2014. On Monday, he celebrated his 40th birthday in fine style at Globe Life Park, a venue he knows very well form his days with the Rangers.

Rodriguez cranked out a home run and Didi Gregorius also homered and drove in a career-high four runs as New York continued its hot run in the heat of July by defeating Texas in front of national TV audience on ESPN.

With the Yankees leading 3-2 with one out in the sixth, Rodriguez sent a 3-1 offering from left-hander Matt Harrison (1-2) just over the wall in right-field for his 24th home run of the season and the 678th of his career.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodriguez joined Ty Cobb, Rusty Staub and Gary Sheffield as the only players in baseball history who homered before turning 20 and also homered after turning 40. Rodriguez also has the distinction of hitting six home runs on his birthday  –  four of them in Arlington, TX  –  which leads all Major League players.

The run support benefitted right-hander Ivan Nova (3-3), who pitched five solid innings to win his second consecutive start after losing three consecutive starts for the first time in his career.

The Rangers actually struck first with two out in the bottom of the second inning

Josh Hamilton blooped a single in left and Elvis Andrus followed with lined RBI double off the left-field wall to plate Hamilton. Leonys Martin then rolled an RBI single to center to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

But the Yankees responded in the top of the third on a leadoff single by Chase Headley, one of his three hits in the game, and Gregorius followed by lining his fifth home run of the season into the right-field stands.

Brendan Ryan extended the rally by lacing a triple off the left-field wall. After Brett Gardner drew a walk, Chris Young scored Ryan on a sacrifice fly to left to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

Nova, 28, gave up two runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts in five innings. The bullpen comprised of Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances did not yield a hit and struck out six batters over the final four innings to preserve the victory for Nova.

The Yankees chased Harrison in the seventh after Carlos Beltran drew a leadoff walk and Headley stroked a double to right-field.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister replaced Harrison with left-hander Sam Freeman but Gregorius greeted him with a two-run single to right to extend the Yankees’ lead to 6-2.

Harrison, making only his third start of the season after recovering from back surgery, was charged with six runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in six-plus innings.

The Yankees have now won 12 of their past 15 games and they are 15-5 since July 1.

The team’s season record improved to 56-42 and they increased their lead over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles to seven games in the American League East. The Rangers fell to 47-51.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • On May 15, Gregorius was batting .202 and he was making a lot of mistakes in the field and on the bases. But very quietly Gregorius has cleaned up his play in the field and he is 20-for-68 (.294) in July with a homer and nine RBIs. That has raised his season average to . 248. Though Gregorius, 25, will never replace Derek Jeter it appears he is growing into a worthy successor.
  • Headley continued his red-hot hitting by going 3-for-4 with a double, two singles and two runs scored. Headley is 24-for-69 (.389) with a homer and 11 RBIs since July 1. That has raised his season average to .268. With Headley and Gregorius hot at the bottom part of the order it has lengthened the lineup and made it tougher for pitchers to navigate through it.
  • Rodriguez’s 24th homer of the season ties him with former Rangers teammate Mark Teixeira with the team lead. Though Rodriguez is batting only .251 this month, he has cranked out nine homers and he has four in his past two games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

All is well. The team is getting solid starting pitching, they are scoring runs and the bullpen is shutting down opponents cold in the late innings. You add that all up and there is simply nothing wrong with this team. They are playing like they are going to coast to the division title. No complaints.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi said he removed Nova after only 75 pitches in five innings because Nova complained of arm fatigue. The 28-year-old right-hander was making only sixth start of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery. Girardi said Nova said he was not experiencing any pain but just thought it was better not to try to risk going out for the sixth inning.  . . .  Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was not in the starting lineup a day after crashing into the wall making a great catch at Target Field but he was deployed as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning on Monday. Ellsbury jammed his right shoulder on the play but he said that Monday was a scheduled day off and the injury is not serious.  . . . Teixeira was angry with third-base coach Joe Espada on Monday after Teixeira was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on Headley’s single with two out in the eighth inning. Espada apparently said “Easy, easy” as Teixeira rounded third but Martin threw Teixeira out at the plate. The 34-year-old first baseman threw up his arms and screamed at Espada after the play. Later Teixeira was shown throwing a cooler in the dugout.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the Rangers on Tuesday.

Left-hander Chris Capuano (0-4, 5.64 ERA) will come out of the bullpen to make a rare start for the Yankees in order to give Masahiro Tanaka an extra day of rest. Capuano, 36, will be making only his fourth start of the season and his first since May 29. He is expected to pitch about five innings and give way to right-hander Adam Warren.

The Rangers will counter with left-hander Martin Perez (0-1, 4.91 ERA). Perez, 24, will be making only his third start of the season after coming off the disabled list. He gave up three runs on six hits and four walks with two strikeouts six innings of a no-decision against the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1.

 

 

Yanks Hoping Gregorius Doesn’t Come Up Short

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

SHORTSTOP

Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)

It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.

Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.

The shock may still have not worn off.

Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.

After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.

Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.

Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.

So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.

The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.

The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.

The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.

It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.

But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.

Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.

Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.

But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.

The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.

Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.

Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.

Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games

But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.

“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”

The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.

Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.

Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.

The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.

His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.

Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.

We will see if it is successful.

Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.

There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.

I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.

Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.

The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.

NEXT: OUTFIELD

Hot Dog! Nathan Not Kosher As Yanks Rally In 9th

GAME 100

YANKEES 5, RANGERS 4

All season the Yankees have gotten very little production from their shortstops and third basemen. On Tuesday, they got some very timely production from both in the ninth inning to steal a victory from the Rangers.

Shortstop Eduardo Nunez laced a one-out RBI triple that tied the game and third baseman Brent Lillibridge followed with an RBI single off Ranger closer Joe Nathan as New York rallied for two runs in the ninth to down Texas in front of 42,739 at Ranger Ballpark.

Nathan entered the ninth with a 4-3 lead and a resume boasting 31 saves in 32 opportunities this season. But things unraveled quickly for the American League All-Star right-hander when he issued a one-out walk to Vernon Wells.

Nathan then uncorked a wild pitch as he stumbled off the pitching rubber to allow Wells to take second.

Nunez later laced a 3-2 pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark in center-field for a triple that scored Wells with the tying run. Lillibridge, who had committed a costly one-out error in the sixth inning that helped the Rangers score four runs, then slapped a 1-0 pitch into left-field that scored Nunez with what proved to be the winning run.

Joba Chamberlain (2-0) pitched a perfect eighth inning to earn the victory in relief. Nathan (1-1) was tagged with his first loss of the season.

Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two batters, to earn his 32nd save in 34 chances this season.

The Yankees actually held a 3-0 lead and Phil Hughes had limited the Rangers to only two hits through the first 5 1/3 innings until Lillibridge’s error on a ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz opened the floodgates.

Adrian Beltre followed with an RBI double to left-center and, one out later, Elvis Andrus chased Hughes from the game with a lined opposite-field single to right.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi summoned left-hander Boone Logan form the bullpen and Mitch Moreland greeted him with a two-run home run to center that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead.

Hughes gave up three runs (none of them earned) on four hits and three walks while he struck out one in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees built their 3-0 lead off right-hander Alexi Ogando, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day to make the start.

A pair of rookies got the Yankees on the board in the third. Melky Mesa, making his first start of the season, doubled off the wall in center in his first at-bat of the season. Austin Romine, who entered the game hitting an anemic .158, then slapped an opposite-field double down the right-field line to score Mesa.

Brett Gardner followed with a single to left that advanced Romine to third and Ichiro Suzuki scored Romine with a infield single that Andrus was able to glove deep in the hole at short but he had no play. It was Suzuki’s 25th infield hit of the season, which leads the American League.

The single was also Suzuki’s 2,700th major-league hit.

The Yankees added a run off Ogando in the fourth when Wells led off with a double to the corner in left and Nunez advanced him to third on a deep fly to center. Lillibridge scored Wells on a ground ball to second in which Ian Kinsler’s throw to home plate bounced, allowing Wells to slide in safely without a tag.

Ogando was touched for three runs on six hits and no walks and he fanned two batters in five innings.

By snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat the Yankees improved to 53-47. More importantly, they remain in fourth place in the American League East, seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Rangers fell to 55-45.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nunez was 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run scored and hit the ball hard both times he was retired. Nunez finally is getting untracked at the plate after his average had dipped to .207 on July 19. Since then Nunez is 8-for-17 (.471) and that has raised his season average to .242.
  • Lillibridge was playing third base in place of an injured Luis Cruz and he ended up 1-for-4 with two RBIs, including the game-winner, despite his costly error. Third base has been a sore spot for the team all season but Lillibridge delivered some important runs for the Yankees on a night they desperately needed them.
  • Hughes deserved a much better fate in this game. If not for Lillibridge’s error and Logan picking a bad night to stink, Hughes should have won the game. He is 4-9 but he is one of the worst run-supported starters in the majors this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • This was one night that two of the Yankees’ better hitters, Robinson Cano and Lyle Overbay, did not deliver anything. The pair, batting third and fourth, were a combined 0-for-8 with two strikeouts and they stranded three runners.
  • Girardi looks to have pulled the trigger on Hughes a bit too early and it cost him. Hughes left the game having thrown only 80 pitches. Girardi told reporters after the game that Hughes was getting his pitches up in that inning. But Logan served up the two-run homer to Moreland. I blame Girardi more than I blame Logan because Hughes needed just one out to get out of the inning. Let him pitch, Joe!

BOMBER BANTER

Cruz was sporting a heavy leg brace on his left knee in what appears to be a sprained medial collateral ligament that will likely land him on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday. Cruz injured the knee making a diving grab of  a Moreland popup to shallow left in the third inning of Monday’s game. Cruz’s spike caught in the turf and he landed awkwardly on the knee. He remained in the game but was unavailable to play on Tuesday. If Cruz ends up on the disabled list he will become the 17th player on the team to be disabled covering 21 separate stints.  . . .  Derek Jeter took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran sprints on Wednesday as part of his recovery from a Grade 1 strain of his right quad that he sustained on his first game of the season on July 11. Jeter said he felt no pain and he hopes to be able to be activated on Saturday, the first day he is eligible to come of the DL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Rangers on Wednesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (7-7, 4.47 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pettitte yielded four runs on six hits and a walk with for strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of a loss to the Red Sox last Friday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 6-7 with a 4.53 ERA against Texas.

The Rangers will counter with right-hander Matt Garza, who will be making his debut with the Rangers after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on Monday. In his career, Garza is 1-4 with a 4.48 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

‘Okie Dokie’ Hiroki Has Rangers Firing Blanks

GAME 116

YANKEES 3, RANGERS 0

In his last three starts, Hiroki Kuroda was 0-1 with two no-decisions despite recording an ERA of 2.61. Even though he was pitching a no-hitter through six innings on Tuesday it appeared that Kuroda was headed to yet another no-decision or a loss because the Yankees also were held scoreless through six innings.

But Nick Swisher came through for the second straight night with a big home run, a two-run shot in the bottom of the seventh, and Mark Teixeira followed him with a solo blast of his own while Kuroda ended up throwing a two-hit, complete-game shutout as New York defeated Texas again in the second game of the clash of the two titans of the American League.

Kuroda (11-8) issued only two walks over the first six innings before Elvis Andrus led off the seventh inning with an infield single to shortstop Jayson Nix. Kuroda was able to get out of the inning, stranding Andrus on third. Michael Young hit a solid single into center to lead off the eighth, but he quickly was erased in a double play off the bat of David Murphy.

Kuroda pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to record his fourth career complete game and his second of the season.

The Yankees had no trouble getting runners on base against Rangers starter Matt Harrison (13-7). The hard part was getting a timely hit to score one of them.

Harrison kept the Yankees from scoring by stranding seven runners over the first four innings, including three in the third inning when Curtis Granderson flew out to center with the bases loaded.

However, the Yankees finally broke through in the seventh inning when Derek Jeter stroked a one-out single into center. Rangers manager Ron Washington then decided to replace Harrison with right-hander Alexi Ogando.

Swisher battled Ogando for seven pitches into a full count before he tomahawked a high fastball into the second deck of the bleachers in right-field as a crowd of 44,533 fans at Yankee Stadium went delirious.

Before those fans got the chance to settle back into their seats Teixeira smacked a 2-1 fastball about 10 rows deep in the right-field bleachers, marking the ninth time this season the Yankees have hit back-to-back home runs.

Kuroda finished the night having thrown first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 29 batters he faced and he threw 74 of his 109 pitches for strikes (68 percent). Andrus was only the Rangers to reach scoring position as the Yankees backed Kuroda up with a pair of double plays.

It was Kuroda’s first victory since July 23 against the Seattle Mariners.

The victory improved the Yankees’ record to 69-47, two games better than the Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Yankees currently lead both the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles by 6 games in the American League East. The Rangers fell to 67-48.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Swisher’s home run was his 16th of the season and he is now on a nice little hot streak at the plate. In his last eight games, Swisher is 12-for-34 (.353) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. In his two games against the Rangers, Swisher is 3-for-8 (.375) with two home runs and seven RBIs.
  • Teixeira’s home run was 23rd of the season and he still leads the team in RBIs with 77. He now has a eight-game hitting streak in which he is 11-for-32 (.344) with three home runs and five RBIs. He was 2-for-4 on the night and it raised his season average to .260.
  • Kuroda has never looked better on the mound for the Yankees. He kept a dangerous Rangers’ attack off-balance all night with his his slider and split-finger fastball. In Kuroda’s 14 starts since May 21, he is 10-2 with a 2.90 ERA. In his two losses he gave up only five runs in 13 1/3 innings, which is a 3.38 ERA. His season ERA is now 3.06, which is eighth best in the A.L.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I could mention Granderson’s flyout with the bases loaded and his two strikeouts but that would be nitpicking. Kuroda was sensational and Swisher and Teixeira came through to give him the support he deserved. The Yankees have a shot to win the four-game series on Wednesday. Things are looking up!

BOMBER BANTER

X-rays on Alex Rodriguez’s fractured left hand showed positive results and the brace on his hand will be removed. Rodriguez now will be able to do strength exercises and the Yankees are still targeting a return to action for the third baseman some time in September. Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since July 24.  . . .  Andy Pettitte was given clearance by team’s medical staff to begin long tossing as he continues his recovery from a fractured left ankle. The Yankees have no timeline for Pettitte’s return but they hope he is able to pitch in September in order to be able to be ready for the postseason.

ON DECK

The Yankees hope to clinch the four-game series against the Rangers on Wednesday.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (6-5, 4.85 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Garcia allowed just two runs in six innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday to win his second consecutive start. Garcia is 8-5 with a 4.10 ERA in his career against Texas.

The Rangers will throw right-hander Scott Feldman (6-7, 4.64 ERA). Feldman gave up four runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings on Friday in a loss against the Detroit Tigers. He is 3-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Jeter Teaches His Critics To Never Sell Him Short

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.  

SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (7 HR, 25 RBIs, .303 BA, 43 R, 6 SB)

Who knew that suffering a calf injury that would land you on the 15-day disabled list would be a good thing? For Derek Jeter it was in 2011.

Jeter was forced to miss the 2011 All-Star Game so he could rehab his injured calf at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL. While there, Jeter also worked with one of his first hitting coaches in Gary Denbo to find his old swing. It was that work that likely turned Jeter’s season and his fading career around.

Jeter came off the disabled list lacing hits all over the yard and he picked up his 3000th hit by going 5-for-5 and hitting a home run for No. 3,000 off David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. From the point he returned to the Yankees until the end of the regular season Jeter hit .344. He ended the season hitting .297 with six home runs and 61 RBIs.

The question heading into 2012 was could he keep it up? Or was it just a fluke and he would continue his decline at age 38 this summer?

The returns are in for the first half of the 2012 season and it appears it was not a fluke. Derek Jeter is simply Derek Jeter again.

His 103 hits after 81 games was the third-bast total in the majors and Jeter was passing legends like Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs on the all-time hit list seemingly on a daily basis. There are thoughts that he might even have a shot at 4,000 hits, should Jeter choose to continue his career into his 40s.

Jeter simply may be among a handful of players that are the best singles hitters in baseball history. Along with Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, the current generation of players gives us Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Jeter of the Yankees. These four have to be considered baseball’s elite at what they do best: Rack up hits in bunches.

Jeter’s career batting average is .313 and the fact he is hovering over the .300 mark at the halfway mark proves he has not lost the touch at age 38.

The only thing Jeter may have lost is a bit of his power, though the most he ever hit in one season was a pedestrian 24 in 1999. He also is not able to steal bases as he once did. In 2006, he stole a career-high 34 bags. But he has only stolen more than 18 bases once in his five full seasons after that.

But everything else is still there for Jeter.

The only disappointment this season is his rather low runs scored total of 43 at the halfway point. Jeter has failed to score 100 runs in only three seasons out of his 16 full years in the majors. Some of it can be attributed to the fact that the middle of the Yankees’ lineup – Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira – hit around .200 with runners in scoring position.

Some of it may have to do with age. But Jeter remains one of the smartest base-runners in baseball and he rarely commits a huge blunder to get himself thrown out on the bases.

When you bring up Jeter’s fielding, the sabermatricians go ballistic because Jeter’s range at age 38 is not anything like it was when he was 28. OK, I will give them that one. Jeter does not have the range of an Elvis Andrus or Alexsei Ramirez, who both are considerably younger shortstops.

But Jeter committed only six errors in the first half. The Yankees can live with that and they will. The fact is Jeter has won five Gold Glove awards, including in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and he is not going to give them back just because Bill James says he should.

IHe also is not going to give back his 13 selections in 16 seasons for the All-Star Game. Jeter will be starting in his eighth All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday.

With Jeter, what you see is what you get. He is just a consummate professional who works hard at his craft and gives 100 percent each and every game. He is not only respected highly by manager Joe Girardi and his teammates but he also is admired by the players and managers on other teams.

Yep, “The Captain” who is affectionately nicknamed in the Bronx is just something very, very special. Cooperstown awaits when his career ends but who knows when that will be the way he is going now.

MIDSEASON GRADE: A-

BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (2 HRs, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)

Nix, 29, became Jeter’s backup when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez needed work on his defense in the minor leagues.

With Jeter requiring a bit more rest, Nix has made seven starts at short in the first 81 games. He has acquitted himself well. He is not going to hit like Jeter and he does not have the dazzling range Nunez has at the position. But, then again, Nix is not going botch half of the balls hit to him like Nunez did.

Because Nix can also play second, third and the corner outfield spots he is very valuable in kind of Jerry Hairston Jr. sort of way.

Nix played his way on the Yankees’ 25-man roster by hitting .323 as a free-agent signee this spring. When Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nix was recalled and it looks like he is going to keep his role for the rest of the season.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

After playing only four games for the Scranton Yankees, Nunez suffered a severely jammed right thumb and he has missed more than a month. He should be able to return soon but the injury apparently is worse than the Yankees thought originally.

Nunez, 25, is still considered the heir apparent to Jeter when he can’t play the position anymore or retires. After all, Nunez was hitting .294 after 51 at-bats when he was shipped out after committing four errors in the first 19 games he played.

Girardi said the Yankees should have not asked Nunez to play so many positions like the outfield. So the thought is that he will concentrate on shortstop mostly at Scranton. But the injury has retarded that development and so Nunez looks like he will stay in the minors until the September 1 call-ups.

Unfortunately the Yankees not only miss his bat but his speed.

With Brett Gardner of the 60-day disabled list and Nunez shipped out the Yankees lost 71 steals from their 2011 roster. Nunez still is tied for second with four Yankees with six steals behind the team leader Rodriguez, who has seven after 81 games.

With Nunez shelved, the Yankees’ old standby Ramiro Pena is playing short at Scranton. He is hitting .241 with one home run and 18 RBIs.

The Yankees pretty much know what they are getting in Pena, 26. He can play the infield near flawlessly, he is an adept bunter and is an aggressive switch-hitter with absolutely no power. He has decent speed but he is not an athlete or a speedster like Nunez.

It appears Pena’s time has past.

The Yankees have an intriguing prospect at Double-A Trenton in 22-year-old Jose Toussen, who is hitting over .300 there.  But all eyes are on Cito Culver at Single-A Charelston (SC) in the Carolina League. He is rated as the ninth-best prospect in the organization. But that might take a hit.

Culver, 19, is hitting just .206 in 74 games there. Scouts are questioning why the Yankees made him their No. 1 in 2010.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-

Barring injury, Jeter should maintain his climb up the all-time hits list while getting on base for the Yankees’ power hitters that follow him. The hope is those power hitters will actually drive him in more often. If Jeter hits over .300 with 100 runs scored and he hits about 15 home runs it will be a very good season for the future Hall-of-Famer.

Girardi has been smart in starting him in only 70 games at shortstop after 81 games. At the same time Jeter has played in 79 games by being used as a designated hitter or a late-game replacement. Girardi will continue to do this to keep Jeter healthy and fresh for the late season push for the division title and the playoffs.

With Nix, Pena and eventually Nunez is the wings, Jeter has three either current or former major-league players behind him. That is not bad depth.

But the Yankees really could not go very far without Jeter leading off and playing shortstop for them. He is much more valuable than you might think and he still remains the face of the franchise.

 

Beltre, Rangers Do Texas Two-Step On Yankees

GAME 18

RANGERS 7, YANKEES 3

Adrian Beltre homered and drove in three runs on Wednesday to lead Texas to series victory over New York at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland added solo home runs for the Rangers and Robbie Ross (4-0) threw 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief to get credit for the victory.

For the fourth consecutive start, Phil Hughes (1-3) failed to pitch six innings, giving up four runs on five hits and striking out two in 2 2/3 innings. David Phelps, thought to be in line to get a shot at starting, was not much better, surrendering three runs on five hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings.

With the loss the Yankees’ season record falls to 10-8. The Rangers are 15-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Raul Ibanez was one of the few bright spots for the Yankees. He was 2-for-4 including a solo home run off Neftali Feliz in the seventh and an RBI double in the fourth to plate the Yankees’ first run. In limited play, Ibanez, 39, is hitting .271 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
  • Derek Jeter is hotter than a July evening in Texas. He was 2-for-4 in the game to raise his season average to an astounding .420, which is third in the major leagues behind the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Red Sox DH David Ortiz.
  • Other than Phelps, the bullpen did a good job of keeping the Yankees close for most of the game. Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano kept the Rangers scoreless over the three innings they pitched, giving up only one hit and a walk. Despite some of the starters struggling the bullpen is still holding up well.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The time has come for the Yankees to place Phil Hughes in the bullpen. Trailing 1-0 with one out in the third inning, Hughes unraveled. Mitch Moreland singled and Ian Kinsler followed with a bloop opposite-field double to right. After an RBI groundout by Elvis Andrus, Hughes hit Josh Hamilton with a pitch. Beltre, who homered off him in his previous at-bat, stroked an RBI single and Michael Young followed with an RBI double. After Hughes brushed Nelson Cruz’s jersey with an inside pitch, Girardi removed him from the game. Hughes is 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA.
  • Curtis Granderson looks absolutely clueless at the plate. He was 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in the game. In the series, Granderson was 1-for-9 with three walks and five strikeouts. None of the swinging strikeouts came on pitches that were in the strike zone.
  • After going 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position in their victory over the Rangers on Monday, the Yankees were 2-for-14 over the last two games. Alex Rodriguez was the poster boy for the futility, going 0-for-8 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield.

BOMBER BANTER

If losing the game were not enough, the Yankees learned earlier Wednesday that right-hander Michael Pineda has a slight anterior labral tear and he will have to undergo season-ending arthroscopic surgery next Tuesday. Dr. David Altchek, the Mets’ team physician, will perform the surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, assisted by Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad. Pineda, 23, will miss a minimum of 12 months. Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos were acquired in February in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for 22-year-old slugger Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi.  . . .  Meanwhile, left-hander Andy Pettitte gave up four runs (three earned) in five innings and took the loss as Double-A Trenton lost to Erie 10-4 on Wednesday. Pettitte struck out three and walked one and threw 59 of his 81 pitches for strikes. Pettitte is scheduled to make two more starts before being placed on the major-league roster.

ON DECK

The Yankees finished the road trip with a 3-2 mark and now they come home to face the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

The good news is their best starting pitcher will open the series. Ivan Nova (3-0, 3.79 ERA) is riding a streak of consecutive victories and he can tie Rogers Clemens’ team record of 16 with a victory. Nova gave up two runs on seven hits and fanned five batters last Friday as the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 6-2 on Fenway Park’s 100th birthday. Nova is 0-0 with a 0,00 ERA against the Tigers but did defeat them in Game 1 of the ALDS last October.

Unfortunately, the Yankees will be facing Justin Verlander (2-1, 1.72 ERA). Verlander blanked the Rangers for six innings while striking out eight in his last start. The reigning American league MVP and Cy Young Award winner is 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

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

 

Darvish Fans 10 As Yankees Lay Huge Goose Egg

GAME 17

RANGERS 2, YANKEES 0

Yu Darvish pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings and struck out 10 batters as he and his Texas teammates outdueled Hiroki Kiroda and New York on Tuesday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Ian Kinsler hit a solo home run to leadoff the bottom of the first inning and Josh Hamilton added an RBI single after Elvis Andrus drew a two-out walk and stole second in the third inning to give Darvish the only runs he needed.

Darvish (3-0) scattered seven hits and walked two before giving way to Joe Nathan, who induced a double-play grounder on his first delivery to pick up his fifth save.

Kuroda (1-3) gave up only five hits and two walks and fanned five in 6 2/3 innings to take a tough-luck loss.

With the loss the Yankees fell to 10-7. The Rangers improved to 14-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In the “He Can Do It All By Himself” Department, Derek Jeter had a bunt single that loaded the bases in the third and a two-out double in the fifth. That raised Jeter’s season average to .416. On Monday, he became the first Yankee to ever have as many as 30 hits in the team’s first 16 games. He is not only having the best start of his career, he is having the best start of any Yankee, period.
  • Robinson Cano also contributed a leadoff double in the fourth and a one-out single in the sixth. But it did little good because nobody was capable of stepping up and getting a hit to advance or score him. In his last 10 games, Cano is 12-for-40 (.300) with a home run and three RBIs. It has raised his batting average from . 229 to .268.
  • Kuroda deserved a better fate. After pitching horribly against the Twins last week, Kuroda was able to keep the Rangers off balance with his breaking stuff and he only spotted his fastball on the corners or up in the strike zone. He just ended up being outpitched by a his fellow countryman from Ozaka.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • If you want to beat the Yankees, just throw incredibly slow stuff that breaks out of the strike zone. Nine of Darvish’s 10 strikeouts were swinging strikes and eight of the nine came on pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone.  It kind of reminded me of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where the oversized brutes tie themselves in knots while the baseball floats harmlessly into the catcher’s glove.
  • Curtis Granderson gets the “If You Are Just Going To Watch, Buy A Ticket” Award for watching Darvish paint strike three on him on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and NO OUTS in the third inning. It was just inexcusable for him not to protect the plate in that situation.
  • Alex Rodriguez was not much better. He followed Granderson with a weak grounder right on the third base bag that Adrian Beltre turned into an inning-ending double play by stepping on third and firing to get Rodriguez at first. Rodriguez was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and three infield grounders. The Yankees were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position so they deserved to lose.

BOMBER BANTER

The exact condition of Michael Pineda’s right shoulder is in doubt still after an MRI dye contrast test was conducted by the Yankees team physician, Dr. Christopher Ahmad, on Tuesday. Apparently, Pineda’s agent has requested a second opinion from the New York Mets team physician. Reading between the lines, this can’t be good news for the Yankees or Pineda. The 23-year-old right-hander has been on the 15-day disabled list since March 31 with what was termed rotator cuff tendinitis. Pineda cut short a bullpen session in Tampa, FL., on Saturday after 15 pitches, citing discomfort in his shoulder.  It is unclear how long Pineda will be sidelined.  . . .  Andy Pettitte will make his third minor-league start on Wednesday for Double-A Trenton in a home game against Erie at 7:05 p.m. EDT. Pettitte, 39, is scheduled to throw 80 to 85 pitches in his effort to return to the Yankees and the major leagues after a one-year absence.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi announced on Tuesday that Freddy Garcia will pitch on Saturday at home against the Detroit Tigers. That means CC Sabathia will get an extra day’s rest and pitch on Sunday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the rubber game of their three-game road series against the Rangers on Wednesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (1-2, 6.75 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Last Thursday, Hughes was tagged for six runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Twins in his last start. However, Hughes is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA against Texas in his career.

The Rangers will counter with spot starter Scott Feldman (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who is coming out of the bullpen to make a start. He is 29-28 with a 4.68 ERA in 80 career starts. But he is just 3-2 with a 4.76 ERA against the Yankees in four starts and two relief outings.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Jeter Not What He Was But Still Can Help Yanks

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

SHORTSTOP  – DEREK JETER (.260 BA, 2 HRs, 20 RBIs)

2011 was supposed to be a year of celebration for Derek Jeter. The quest for 3,000 hits — something no player in pinstripes had ever accomplished.

But it has also be a year of realization for The Captain. At age 37, Jeter has declined in front of our eyes.

Last season, Jeter did OK — .270 average, 10 home runs and 67 RBIs. But they were not up to his usual standards.

Then there was the off-season in which the Yankees took a hard line on the face of their franchise and cut his salary over the next four years in his free-agent negotiations. The rhetoric became very public and it angered Jeter and rightfully so. Perhaps management felt stoking Jeter would get him angry enough to want to prove them wrong enough to have one of those great seasons for which Jeter was known.

But here we are at the midpoint of the season and Jeter has just two home runs. Both of those coming in one game on May 8 in Arlington, TX, against the Rangers. He is hitting .260, which 10 points lower than last season’s career low. Not to mention the fact that Jeter reached the midpoint having missed 18 games with a right calf strain.

During his absence the club was 14-4 and Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher handled his leadoff duties well and Eduardo Nunez hit .344 as his replacement at shortstop. Of course, Nunez also fielded the ball and threw it around like it was a hand grenade, but his hitting has Yankee watchers wondering if it is time for Jeter to pass the torch to the 24-year-old budding star.

All this amidst that chase to 3,000 is almost too much bear. But Jeter is a proud man and he can see what we can see. He knows he is being scrutinized in a way he never was before. But he also knows that he can still help this team win. Like it or not, before the injury the Yankees were winning with Jeter leading off and playing shortstop.

Jeter will never get close to the 24 home runs, 102 RBIs and .349 average he had in 1999. But what he can do is get on base 34 percent of the time, score close to 100 runs, hit doubles, steal a timely base and field his position smoothly and cleanly. In short, Jeter just has to be Jeter. That can be at any level the Yankees can accept.

Is it a bad thing to have a five-time Gold Glove winner playing shortstop? This season Jeter has committed only four errors. Elvis Andrus of Texas has lots more range than Jeter and sabermetricians pointed out he should have won the Gold Glove last season. Andrus has already committed 16 errors. Is that really better than Jeter’s four? How many runs did Andrus cost the Rangers? How many has Jeter saved the Yankees by being so sure-handed and accurate with his throws?

At some point Yankee fans just have to accept the Jeter that Jeter is now and get off his back for not being “that” Jeter they want him to be.

A healthy Jeter could be a real asset to the Yankees in the second half. His numbers could improve. It would be nice to see him hit more extra base hits. Of his 68 hits, only 12 were for extra bases.

After he reaches 3,000, it should be easier for him to contribute more hits, getting on base more, stealing more bases and continuing his solid pay in the field. The goal with Jeter is never the personal one anyway. It is the team goal of winning another world championship. Personally, I would like to see Jeter leading off and playing shortstop in a playoff game and not someone like Nunez who has not.

You never know when Jeter will make another “Flip” or “Headlong Dive” or hit a big home run in November. Experience counts for something and in baseball it could be the difference between a play being made and not being made. It also can cost a team a championship if it is not made.

That is why Jeter still matters. Even when he is hitting .260.

His first half earns him a C+. Most of that is on the basis of his solid play in the field. Even Jeter himself realizes he needs to pick up his pace with the bat. Let’s hope his rehab stint has primed for a big second half. Do not bet against him doing just that.

BACKUP — EDUARDO NUNEZ (.278 BA, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs)

A star is born.

Nunez, 24, stepped into the big shoes of Jeter and proved he could he handle himself as a major-league shortstop. He hit .344 in the 18 games he started and ended his stint going 7-for-8 in the first two games of the Subway Series against the Mets at Citi Field.

I told a colleague of mine in spring training that I believed Nunez was the likely replacement for Jeter. My colleague was intrigued by the observation. Now he sees what I saw in spring training.

Nunez possesses a very good bat. He hits line drives and has a pretty good eye at the plate. He also has some pop and he can run like the wind. He is not as fast as Gardner, but he is not far behind. In short, Nunez is the perfect athlete to play shortstop. But he has one big drawback.

Nunez is still a work in progress in the field. His footwork and instincts on when to charge and not need to be ironed out. He also has a tendency to throw erratically due to his poor footwork. But these are not careless errors. They are errors borne out of inexperience and he will get better as he plays more.

The Yankees have already signaled that Nunez will be getting more playing time by sending down outfielder Chris Dickerson when Jeter was activated. Nunez will fill in at short and third, mostly. But he also can be used in left or right field, when needed. He also might supplant Andruw Jones as the right-hand DH on occasion.

That is an appropriate reward for Nunez, who is showing Yankee fans there might be life at shortstop after Jeter.

OTHERS

When the Yankees want a sure hand at shortstop, they can turn to Ramiro Pena. Pena is hitting only .111, but he is much more polished and steady in the field than Nunez. Pena lost his backup infield spot in the spring to Nunez. But now the Yankees will start the second half with both of their backup infielders.

At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the Yankees have veteran Doug Bernier, 31. Bernier is hitting .280 with no home runs and 15 RBIs. He is no longer a prospect and the likelihood of seeing him at the major-league level again are slim.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Jeter C+

Nunez B

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

Jeter, as a former member of the “Core Four” and now a member of the “Key Three,” is not what he once was. That is obvious. But there is still enough there to be a special part of a team making a run for its 28th world championship. I expect Jeter to raise his batting average some, collect more extra base hits and steal more bases in the second half. All of that in addition to the solid defense he brings along with is many intangibles. Look for Nunez to play some, too. He has earned it.

But this is still Jeter’s job and he has earned the right to play it.

NEXT: LEFT FIELD

Gardner’s RBI Hit In 12th Gives Yankees Sweep

GAME 67

YANKEES 3, RANGERS 2 (12 Innings)

Brett Gardner was inserted into Thursday’s game as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning because manager Joe Girardi elected not to start him against a left-handed pitcher.

But in the 12th inning, Gardner delivered a one-out single to right to score Curtis Granderson with the winning run off left-handed reliever Michael Kirkman as New York completed a three-game sweep against a Texas team that denied the Yankees a trip to the World Series last season.

The game had remained tied 2-2 since the bottom of the sixth inning when Kirkman (1-1) began his third inning of work by allowing a bloop single near the line in shallow right-field to Granderson. After Mark Teixiera flew out to left, Kirkman hit Robinson Cano on an 0-2 pitch that Rangers manager Ron Washington claimed hit Cano’s bat. However, home-plate umpire Mike Winters awarded Cano first base, moving Granderson to second.

Then Gardner stroked a 1-0 pitch on the ground sharply past second baseman Ian Kinsler into right-field. Granderson rounded third and slid home well ahead of the throw from David Murphy to win the game for the Bombers.

Cory Wade (1-0), part of the Yankees’ new-look bullpen minus Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano, pitched two perfect innings of relief to earn his first victory as a Yankee and his first major-league victory in two years.

But the first part of the day belonged to the new-look starter who had replaced Bartolo Colon in the starting rotation.

Brian Gordon, 32, made his first major-league start against a Rangers team with which he made his only three major-league appearances in 2008. And Gordon did not disappoint. Gordon held the Rangers to two runs on seven hits and three walks and he fanned three batters in 5 1/3 innings of work.

However, Gordon did pay a price for walking Taylor Teagarden to begin the fifth inning when the Rangers catcher later scored on an Ian Kinsler double to tie the game at 1-1.

But with Endy Chavez at third and Kinsler at first, Gordon struck out Elvis Andrus swinging and walked Josh Hamilton intentionally to load the bases. Gordon then induced Michael Young to pop up to Cano for the second out. Gordon then battled Adrian Beltre to an 0-2 count. But Gordon lost control of a curve and hit Beltre with the pitch to force in the lead run.

The Yankees had opened the scoring in the game in the second inning off Rangers starter C.J. Wilson when Russell Martin drove in Cano from third base with a two-out single into center. The Yankees later tied the score in the sixth when Jorge Posada, hitting .088 batting right-handed on the season, stroked a one-out double into the gap in left-center that scored Cano from first.

Wilson gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks and fanned 10 batters in eight innings. But the Yankee bullpen of Hector Noesi, David Roberston, Mariano Rivera and Wade kept the Rangers scoreless over the next seven innings to allow Gardner to notch his first walk-off hit for the Yankees and his first face full of post-game pie from A.J. Burnett.

With the victory the Yankees not only swept the Rangers, but they won the nine-game season series 7-2. They also moved their season mark to 39-28 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Rangers leave the Bronx with a 36-34 record.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gordon was signed on Thursday and placed on the active roster just before the game after he opted out of his contract a day earlier with the Phillies’ Triple-A Lehigh Valley club, where he was 5-0 with a league-best 1.14 ERA. He spent 15 years in the minors and 10 of those seasons as an outfielder. But after a solid 84-pitch major-league debut, Gordon received a standing ovation from the 47,487 fans on hand. Girardi said Gordon will start again next Tuesday in Cincinnati and he will get a chance to get his first major-league at-bat.
  • Gardner was relegated as a defensive replacement in the last two games with the Rangers but he is one of the Yankees’ hottest hitters. On Thursday he was 2-for-2 after entering the game in the ninth inning for Andruw Jones in left-field. Both hits came off the lefty Kirkman. Since June 4, Gardner is 17-for-36 (.472) with five doubles and a triple and four RBIs. Gardner has had seven multiple hits games over that 12-game span.
  • Wade’s two innings of perfect relief now give him three perfect innings in his first two appearances as a Yankee. Wade was released by the Rays from their Triple-A Durham club on Monday and he was signed to minor-league contract with the Yankees and activated on Wednesday. Wade, 27, pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 and 2009 but missed the 2010 season because he had to undergo shoulder surgery.
  • Granderson had three of the Yankees’ 11 hits and scored the winning run in the 12th inning. Granderson raised his batting average to .285 after hitting .249 in his last season with Detroit and hitting .247 with the Yankees last season. Granderson best season was in 2007 with the Tigers, where he hit .302.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Wednesday’s hero Mark Teixeira did not carry his success into Thursday’s game. He was 0-for-6 with four infield groundouts. Teixeira’s average is now .251. He also left eight men on base. His biggest out was when he grounded out to Andrus at short in the ninth inning with two out and the bases loaded.
  • Granderson also deserves some criticism for his at-bat against veteran lefty Darren Oliver in the ninth inning. Granderson was at the plate with one out and the bases loaded after Oliver had walked Nick Swisher. Granderson had worked Oliver into a 3-2 count and Oliver threw a breaking pitch that swept well out of the strike zone. But Granderson swung wildly at it and fanned at what would have been ball four and the end of the game.
  • The Yankees again displayed some bad base-running in the game early. Swisher led off the game with a single to left. Granderson followed with a single to right and Swisher easily beat Murphy’s throw to Beltre at third base. However, Swisher overslid the bag and Beltre tagged him out. A bit later, Granderson was throw out stealing second by Teagarden. The Yankees also ground into a pair of costly double plays that took Wilson off the hook.

BOMBERS BANTER

In order to make room on the roster for Gordon, the Yankees optioned Lance Pendleton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they released right-handed reliever Amauri Sanit. Pendleton had a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings with the Yankees. Sanit gave up 10 runs in seven innings with the Yankees before landing on the 15-day disabled list with an elbow injury.  . . .  Martin returned to the starting lineup after missing seven of the last eight games with back stiffness. Martin was 2-for-4 and drove in a run. However, Martin’s biggest contribution was throwing out two runners. He gunned down Andrus stealing in the first inning and Murphy in the sixth. Backup catcher Francisco Cervelli has struggled all season throwing out base-runners and Martin has been missed.  . . .  The Yankees announced that former managers Joe Torre and Lou Piniella and outfielder Bernie Williams will be among the participants in Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium on June 26. Piniella will be donning a Yankee uniform for the first time since 1988.

ON DECK

The Yankees are now in Chicago and will begin a series of interleague games with a weekend series against the Cubs in Wrigley Field starting on Friday.

Freddy Garcia (5-5, 3.60 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Garcia is coming off a strong 6-2/3 inning performance in a victory over Cleveland on Sunday. He has also had some success against the Cubs. He is 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA against them in his career.

The Cubs will start left-hander Doug Davis (0-5, 5.90 ERA). Davis is coming off a 108-pitch, five inning outing against the Phillies in which he walked five batters. In the last 10 years, Davis is 3-2 with a 6.28 ERA against the Yankees.

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

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