Results tagged ‘ Felix Hernandez ’

Tanaka Signing Thrusts Yankees Into Contention

The key to winning baseball has always been pitching and the New York Yankees solidified their 2014 starting rotation by agreeing to terms with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday.

After a disastrous season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons, their stated “goal” of remaining under the $189 million payroll limit and the loss of Robinson Cano to free agency, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner fought back by loosening the pursestrings for general manager Brian Cashman.

The result was a dizzying array of signings that included All-Star catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the additions of key pieces like infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and the re-signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda.

But none of those signings would have mattered much at all unless the Yankees landed Tanaka.

Tanaka, 25, came off a season with Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in leading his team to the Japanese championship. In his seven seasons he was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 1,238 batters in 1,315 innings.

The right-hander possesses a 94-mile-per-hour fastball along with a world-class splitter and a slider. More importantly, Tanaka is not a nibbler in the tradition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last season he struck out 183 batters while walking 32 in 212 innings.

Those eye-popping stats led the Yankees front office to offer a seven-year contract worth $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Golden Eagles. The signing also proved pundits wrong for predicting that the Los Angeles Dodgers had the inside track in signing Tanaka because his wife, a singing star of some note, preferred to be on the West Coast and craved the glitter of Hollywood.

Tanaka will receive $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020. The deal also allows the contract to be terminated after four seasons to permit Tanaka to seek free agency. He also has a full no-trade clause.

He also was allotted a $35,000 moving allowance and annual payments of $100,000 per season for housing for the New York metropolitan area or Tampa, FL. The Yankees threw in $85,000 in annual salary for an interpreter and four annual first-class flights from the United States to Japan.

Doubters will question this largesse heaped upon a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. But the Yankees’ front office and scouts were convinced that Tanaka has the potential to be even better than countryman Yu Darvish, 27, who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in his first two seasons as the ace of the Texas Rangers.

Tanaka will slide into the No. 2 spot behind CC Sabathia and join fellow Japanese right-hander Kuroda and 27-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova in a revamped Yankee rotation in 2014.

The Yankees believed they needed to upgrade the rotation this season after the retirement of left-hander Andy Pettitte and the loss of right-hander Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins.

There also are questions swirling around Sabathia, 33, after his disappointing 2013 campaign in which he slipped to 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. The ace left-hander had to adjust with a huge drop in velocity on his fastball and his record shows there are more adjustments necessary.

But Sabathia vows that he will show up this spring ready to prove he is still the same pitcher who was 74-29 in his previous four seasons in pinstripes.

That would be a good thing because Sabathia never found his groove after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA in April. His ERAs in succeeding months were 4.14, 5.11, 6.60 and 5.94. Yankee fans can take some comfort in the fact Sabathia was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in September.

That could indicate he will indeed adjust as Pettitte and Mike Mussina did when they lost velocity.

The odd thing is that after four seasons of being accused of not paying attention to his weight as the season progressed, many of those same “so-called experts” thought Sabathia lost velocity last season because he was too thin. Well, who really knows? But it is ironic those “experts” would mention it.

The Yankees will settle for Sabathia arriving in Tampa in shape and they believe he has enough weapons to remain effective as a starting pitcher because he never really has been a pitcher totally dependent on his fastball to get by.

He will remain atop the rotation in 2014 with the help of the infusion of a young Tanaka behind him.

Strangely, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter was their best pitcher in 2013 despite making only 20 starts.

Nova began the season pitching horribly in spring training and in his first four starts of 2013 before succumbing to a inflammation in right triceps. After spending time on the disabled list, a rehab stint in the minors and pitching briefly out of the bullpen, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23.

From that point on, Nova was absolutely brilliant. He was 7-4 with a 2.59 in his last 15 starts beginning on July 5. This came after a season in which Nova’s game flew off the rails and he ended up 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012.

So the Yankees believe that Nova’s second half is more indicative of what he is as a pitcher after he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.

Nova decided not to use his slider very much last season in order to concentrate on his mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. The result was 79 strikeouts in those 15 starts. The fact that he still just 27 makes him an excellent No. 3 starter in this bolstered rotation.

Before Nova came on, Kuroda, who will be 39 on Feb. 10, was the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. In fact, on Aug. 12, Kuroda was sporting a 11-7 mark with a 2.33 ERA on one of the weakest hitting Yankee teams in generations.

But a heavy workload of 154 2/3 innings began to take a toll on the veteran. In his last eight starts, Kuroda was 0-6 with a awful 6.56 ERA. It is clear that Kuroda was overtaxed into pitching past six innings too early in the season because he was not getting adequate offensive support.

Manager Joe Girardi was forced to keep him in a lot of close games and Kuroda paid a heavy price down the stretch. Even still, Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA and he will certainly benefit from an improved offense in 2014.

The Yankees are impressed with the way Kuroda is able to adjust midstream in games by dipping into his arsenal of fastballs, sliders, splitters and curves to find the pitches that are working best for him that night, That is why they chose to re-sign him to a third one-year contract for $16 million.

Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki should also help make Tanaka feel at home in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

The big concern for the Yankees now is who will claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Fortunately, they have some options to fill the spot.

The “dream scenario” for the Yankees would have 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda ready to take the ball this spring and run with it. Pineda, after all, was obtained in a 2012 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Jose Campos, 21, for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.

However, after a 2011 rookie season in which Pineda made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a weak-hitting Seattle team, Pineda ended up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder after his last spring training start in 2012.

He missed the entire season and pitched only 40 2/3 innings in the minors last season until he was shut down in August after experiencing some minor shoulder soreness.

The Yankees still have high hopes for Pineda, who boasted a mid-90s fastball, an above average change-up and a slider before his injury. The Yankees took a lot of heat from their fans when they traded away their No. 1 prospect in Montero and allowed the Mariners to deal Pineda instead of parting with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

So there is some pressure on Pineda as he enters spring training having not thrown a single pitch for the Yankees in two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much Pineda has lost off his heater and if he still can be effective for the Yankees.

But the Yankees claim he is healthy and should be ready to go.

Another option for the No. 5 spot is right-hander David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, started his second major-league season in his usual role as a long man in the bullpen until he was thrust into the rotation on May 1 to replace the injured Nova.

Phelps showed great promise by going 2-2 with a 4.32 in six starts in May. But he stumbled to a 3-2 record with a 5.57 ERA in his next six starts before he landed on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.

Phelps did not return to the roster until Sept. 15 and was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances.

The Yankees see Phelps as a solid Plan B if Pineda is not quite ready to pitch or he suffers a setback in his rehab. But the Yankees clearly see Phelps more valuable in the bullpen, as his numbers in 2012 indicate. Phelps was 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in his rookie season.

Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admire Phelps fearlessness in attacking hitters though he owns only a pedestrian fastball.

Phelps makes up for a lack of velocity with good command of the strike zone and he can ring up a lot of strikeouts with his breaking stuff and pitching smarts.

The Yankees also have right-hander Adam Warren, 26, who was 2-2 with a 3.39 ERA in a long relief role for the Yankees in his rookie season in 2013.

Warren did make two late-season spot starts and was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those starts. Unlike Phelps, Warren has above-average velocity on his fastball. But the Yankees are not sure how high Warren’s ceiling extends as a starter. They would prefer to keep him as a long reliever if they could.

The Yankees got an unexpected boost with a reclamation project in left-hander David Huff last season. Huff, 29, who was former starter with the Cleveland Indians, was signed after his release from the Indians and recalled from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in mid-August.

He was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. Huff was tagged for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 7. Without that disastrous appearance Huff had a 2.37 ERA in his other nine appearances.

Huff also seemed comfortable in a long relief role as well as in his two spot starts in September. He also brings some value as a left-hander.

However, because the Yankees have to make room on the 40-man roster for Tanaka, Huff was designated for assignment. He will only return to the Yankees as a free agent if he is unable to find work elsewhere, which is unlikely considering he is left-handed and he pitched so well in 2013 for the Yankees.

There has been an ongoing rumor this winter that the Yankees might be interested in signing former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Santana, 34, became a free agent when the New York Mets declined to pick up his option for 2014. Santana did not pitch in 2013 after suffering a second tear of his anterior left shoulder capsule. Santana was 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Mets.

The signing of Tanaka makes Santana’s signing less likely. Santana was scheduled to make $25 million before the Mets bought out his option for $5.5 million. If the Yankees can get him for less than $10 million they might take a shot. But Santana also has to prove he is healthy.

The Twins, the team with whom he won those two Cy Young awards, are among the teams interested in Santana when he is given the go-ahead to throw from a mound for scouts at his Fort Myers, FL, home in February.

The Yankees do have some good young pitchers in the minors but none of them look ready to break camp with the team. A few could be called up during the season if they progress well.

At the top of the list is left-hander Vidal Nuno, 26, who was the Yankees top rookie of spring training in 2013.

Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA at Scranton and he received a midseason call-up to the Yankees. In five appearances, including three starts, Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He missed most of the remainder of the season with a strained left groin.

For some reason Nuno is able to keep batters off-balance with a mix of breaking stuff that he features with a very lackluster upper 80s fastball. The reason is he has pinpoint control. He walked only eight batters in his combined 45 minor- and major-league innings in 2013.

If he has another strong showing this spring, Nuno could certainly leapfrog Phelps or Warren for the No. 5 spot. In addition, he could also make the squad as a long reliever and spot starter. Girardi loves pitchers who challenge hitters and don’t issue walks.

This spring all eyes will be on 22-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, who missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Banuelos was considered the team’s No. 1 prospect at the time he was injured in 2012. In 2011, Banuelos was 1-1 with 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings in spring training, earning him the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie.

However, the young Mexican lefty struggled with his control in 2011, walking 71 batters in a cobined 129 2/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. He was 6-7 with a 3.45 ERA that season.

In 2012, he made only six starts before being shelved with elbow soreness and he ended up having to undergo surgery to repair a ligament in his left elbow in October.

The Yankees love his low-90s fastball and change-up combination that saw him strike out 125 batters in 2011. He is still young and talented enough to progress quickly if he puts it all together. But the Yankees would like to see him do that at Scranton before they bring him up to the big club.

He remains the team’s No. 8 prospect. He just has to prove he is healthy and regain his control.

The Yankees are also very high on 24-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez, who was 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts at Trenton before going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts at Scranton. Ramirez struck out 78 batters in 73 2/3 innings and the Yankees believe he has a very high ceiling.

But he likely needs a full season at Scranton before he makes a bid for the big club.

The same can be said for left-hander Nik Turley, 24.

Turley, a relative of former Yankees right-hander Bob Turley, was 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 26 starts at Trenton last season. Compared to Pettitte in style, teammates call him “Little Andy” and he backed that up by fanning 137 batters in 139 innings last season.

Below Banuelos, Ramirez and Turley the Yankees have a nice corps of young starters who are a few years away from making it to the majors.

The biggest buzz is surrounding the team’s No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula, 22.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander hits up to 99-mph on his fastball and he has a hard curve and a change-up. He was a combined 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA at High-A Tampa and Charleston last season. More impressive was his 146 punch-outs in only 113 1/3 innings.

DePaula enters the 2014 season as the team’s best young arm and deservedly so. This young Dominican has quality starter written all over him.

Don’t forget about the right-handed Campos, either. Campos, 21, was obtained along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he may have even an higher ceiling than Pineda.

Campos suffered an elbow injury that did not require surgery in 2012, In 2013, he was 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) at Charleston. He has an above-average fastball to go along with very good control of two secondary pitches.

That mix will take him far as long he can prove he can stay healthy in 2014.

The Yankees also have high hopes for 22-year-old right-handed flamethrower Bryan Mitchell, who likely will be at Trenton this season. Mitchell was 4-11 with a 4.71 ERA at Tampa and Trenton last season. The Yankees need only to see him command his 96-mph fastball and nearly unhittable curve to make a giant leap this season.

Two others to watch are 2013 first-round draft pick Ian Clarkin, a left-hander, and 20-year-old right-hander Ty Hensley, who was picked in the first round in 2012.

Unlike the position players, the Yankees are pretty rich in young starters at the minor-league level. It is quite possible that three or four of them could be strong contributors with the big club very soon.

In the meantime, the signing of Tanaka has given the Yankees a major shot in the arm. Just ask the rival Boston Red Sox. They see that the $471 million the team has spent on free agents has thrust them back among the top tier teams in the American League East.

Without pitching it is hard to compete in such a tough division. It appears now the Yankees will have a starting staff that can get them back to the playoffs.

That would require one huge “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) to the signing of Tanaka.

 

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!

 

Overbay’s RBI Single Boosts Yankees Over Dodgers

GAME 107

YANKEES 3, DODGERS 0

Facing an 0-2 count with Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez on the mound, pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay knew that he had looked terrible swinging at two sliders. He also came close to swinging at a third slider for strike three but third-base umpire Bill Miller ruled he had checked his swing.

Rodriguez’s next slider was in the middle of the plate and Overbay won the game for the Yankees on Wednesday with a clutch two-out RBI single to center.

Overbay’s game-winner was all part of a three-run inning and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for his 34th save of the season as New York paid back Los Angeles for their walk-off 3-2 victory on Tuesday in front of a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,013.

The Yankees entered the ninth inning of a scoreless game when Derek Jeter opened the frame by drawing a walk from right-hander Ronald Belisario (4-6). Robinson Cano hit into a fielder’s choice and Alfonso Soriano grounded out, leaving Cano at second with two out.

Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Vernon Wells with Ichiro Suzuki and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had Belisario walk him intentionally to bring up Brent Lillibridge.

Girardi then called upon Overbay to pinch-hit and Mattingly summoned Rodriguez to pitch to him. But Overbay’s lined single to center to plate Cano spoiled the strategy.

Overbay’s RBI also gave him three RBis in the two-game series because he had driven in both of the Yankees’ two runs on Tuesday.

The Yankees were able to tack on two unearned runs in the inning when Jayson Nix lofted a routine popup into shallow right. Though second baseman Mark Ellis was camped under the ball, right-fielder Yasiel Puig charged in to make the catch, causing Ellis to turn his head and the ball deflected off his glove to allow Suzuki and Overbay to score on the error.

The game featured a classic pitchers’ duel between Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who came in leading the National League in ERA at 1.96, and Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who had toiled for the Dodgers for four seasons (2008 through 2011) before signing as a free agent with the Yankees in 2012.

Kershaw and Kuroda matched zeros through 7 1/2 innings.

Kuroda, 39, gave up five hits and a walk while he struck out eight over seven innings to record his eighth start of the season in which he had not allowed a run.

Kershaw, 25, was touched for five hits and he walked none while he fanned five over eight innings.

Kershaw was threatened only in the second and eighth innings.

In the second, Wells and Lillibridge stroked back-to-back one-out singles. But Kershaw got Nix on an infield popup and Chris Stewart grounded into a force play. In the eighth, Stewart and pinch-hitter Melky Mesa came through with a pair of two-out singles. But Kershaw ended that threat by retiring Brett Gardner on a flyout.

Kuroda only had one shaky inning  -  the seventh.

Adrian Gonzalez opened the frame with a single down the right-field line but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a perfect throw from Wells from right-field. One out later, Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis notched consecutive singles.  But Kuroda fanned Skip Schumaker swinging to end the threat.

Boone Logan (3-2) pitched a scoreless eighth inning, getting out of a two-on, two-out jam by retiring Gonzalez on a flyout, to earn the victory in relief.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 56-51 and they remain in fourth place in the American League East, eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers fell to 57-49.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda was absolutely sensational in limiting the Dodgers to five hits and a walk in seven innings and he deserved a better fate.  In his past nine starts, Kuroda is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He lowered his season ERA to 2.38, which is second in the American League to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. Kuroda also has not allowed an earned run in his past two starts covering 14 innings.
  • Overbay came off the bench to deliver a huge hit in the ninth inning for the Yankees. Though Overbay is hardly a match for the production of Mark Teixeira at first base, he still has provided the Yankees with some clutch hits this season, batting .248. with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs.  He was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs and two runs scored in the two-game series with the Dodgers.
  • The bullpen, as it has so often done this season, kept the Yankees in the game long enough for the Yankees to get their offense going with Kershaw out in the game in the ninth. Logan did not bend in the eighth and Rivera was dominant in the ninth, striking out the first two betters he faced before getting A.J. Ellis on an infield roller to clinch the victory.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Kuroda and the bullpen shut down a Dodger team that came into the game 10-1 since the All-Star break. The Yankees were facing arguably the best starter in the National League in Kershaw. So why quibble over negatives? The Yankees could have fell nine games back with a loss so this one was a big victory. Kudos!

BOMBER BANTER

Mattiingly was ejected from the game in the ninth inning by Miller. Mattingly had replaced Rodriguez with right-hander Brandon League after Ellis’ two-run error. As he was leaving the field, Mattingly talked with Miller about his failure to call out Overbay on strikes on a check swing and the discussion grew heated before Miller ejected Mattingly. Television replays indicated that Miller could have called Overbay out for a swing on the pitch.  . . .  Alex Rodriguez will play in a simulated game on Thursday and then will begin a new minor-league rehab assignment on Friday as he prepares to start his season with the Yankees despite a potential looming suspension. Rumors persist that Rodriguez might be hit with a lifetime ban from baseball if he does not agree to accept a lengthy suspension for his role in the Biogenesis drug scandal. Meanwhile, the Yankees will have Rodriguez play in the simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he possibly could appear in a minor-league game with Double-A Trenton on Friday. Rodriguez, 38, recovering from hip surgery in January and Grade 1 left quad strain he suffered a week ago, could be activated as soon as this weekend.  . . .  Outfielder Curtis Granderson, who is rehabbing from a broken left pinkie knuckle, will be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday.  After playing in only seven games after recovering from a broken bone in his right wrist he suffered in his first at-bat of spring training, Granderson was sidelined on May 24 when he struck by a pitch from Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Thursday off before opening a three-game weekend road series with the San Diego Padres.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (9-9, 4.65 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia is 0-2 with a 10.93 ERA in his past three starts against the Minnesota Twins, Red Sox and Rays. Sabathia is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his career against the Padres.

The Padres will counter with right-hander Andrew Cashner (7-5, 3.88 ERA). Cashner yielded three runs on four hits and and five walks while striking out five in six innings in a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Cashner has never faced the Yankees.

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

 

Red-Hot Kuroda Cools Off Rangers With Shutout

GAME 102

YANKEES 2, RANGERS 0

It was hard to figure out on Thursday which was hotter, the steamy weather in Texas or red-hot right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. Judging by the results the answer was clearly Kuroda.

It was as if the 38-year-old veteran doused the Rangers bats with some ice-cold water as he shut them out over seven innings for his third straight victory over his past three starts and New York got just enough offense to gain a split with Texas in their four-game series in front of 35,139 fans at Rangers Ballpark.

Kuroda (10-6) held the Rangers to six hits and a walk while he struck out three as he threw 100 pitches (61 for strikes) on a sun-splashed afternoon in plus 90-degree weather.

David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera, on a day he was honored by the Rangers in his last visit to Arlington, TX, tossed a scoreless ninth to earn his 33rd save in 35 opportunities this season.

Kuroda was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Rangers left-hander Derek Holland until the top of the sixth inning, when the Yankees were able to push across a run.

Light-hitting backup catcher Austin Romine opened the sixth with a double, part of his first major-league game in which he delivered three hits. Ichiro Suzuki advanced Romine to third by laying down a sacrifice bunt and Brent Lillibridge scored Romine by slapping the first pitch into left for an RBI double.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth when Robinson Cano laced a one-out double that chased Holland.

Vernon Wells greeted right-hander Tanner Scheppers with a single that advanced Cano to third and Eduardo Nunez scored Cano when he beat out a potential double-play ball.

Holland (8-6) was charged with two runs on eight hits and one walk while he fanned two batters in 7 1/3 innings.

Holland threw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees on June 27 at Yankee Stadium for his only career victory against them. After taking the loss on Thursday, Holland is now 1-6 against the Yankees.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 54-48. They are in fourth place in the American League East and they trail the first-place Boston Red Sox by 6 1/2 games. The Rangers fell to 56-46.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda is on a real hot streak on the mound. In his past four starts, Kuroda is 3-0, giving up only two earned runs on 20 hits and five walks while striking out 16 in 26 innings. That is an ERA of 0.69 and a WHIP of 0.96. Pitching for a team that does not support him with a lot of runs does not seem to bother him one bit. Kuroda is second in the American League to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners in ERA with a 2.51 mark.
  • Lillibridge came through with what turned out to be his second big hit of the series against the Rangers in the sixth. He drove in the game-tying run in the ninth inning off Rangers closer Joe Nathan in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory. The 29-year-old utility man had only two hits in 11 at-bats in the three games he started in the series but he sure made them count.
  • Romine’s three-hit game is the culmination of some hard work in the batting cage to sharpen up his swing. On July 8, the rookie was hitting an anemic .132. But in his past four starts, he is 7-for-14 (.500) with four doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs. That has raised Romine’s season average to .193.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Kuroda pitched a gem, the bullpen held the lead and the offense was opportunistic with Brett Gardner, Chris Stewart and Travis Hafner on the bench and three rookies and a journeyman third baseman in the lineup. How this team wins as much as it does is beyond words. No complaints here.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees reportedly are about “99 percent” complete on a deal that would return Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano back to the team with which he started his career. The deal likely will be announced on Friday. Soriano was in the Cubs’ starting lineup on Thursday but he was pulled from the game when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein informed manager Dale Sveum of the impending deal. Soriano, 37, was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 93 games with the Cubs. But Soriano has been on a home-run tear lately, hitting 10 home runs in his past 21 games with a .286 average, six doubles and 21 RBIs. Soriano began his major-league career with the Yankees in 1999 after his contract was purchased from a Japanese League team. He played with the Yankees through 2003 when he was traded to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez.  . . .  Rodriguez underwent a physical examination by Dr. Dan Murphy in Tampa, FL, on Thursday that revealed the veteran third baseman had shown improvement with his strained left quad but that he will not be ready to be activated from the disabled list before Aug. 1. The Yankees said Rodriguez will remain at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa until then. Rodriguez told reporters earlier in the day that he “was ready to play” on Friday but the Yankees disagreed with him, citing medical reports that indicate he was not quite ready to play.  . . .  Meanwhile, shortstop Derek Jeter ran the bases without any problems on Thursday at Rangers Ballpark and he hopes to be activated for Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter, 39, came off the disabled list on July 11 after recovering from surgery on his left ankle, but he sustained a strained right quad and had to be returned to the DL. Saturday is the earliest Jeter could be activated.

ON DECK

The Yankees open an important three-game weekend home series against division rival Tampa Bay.

The Yankees will open the series with left-hander CC Sabathia (9-8, 4.37 ERA). Sabathia got hammered for seven runs on nine hits in five innings on his 33rd birthday on Sunday in a loss to the Red Sox. He is 1-2 with a 7.29 ERA against the Rays this season and 11-11 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

The Rays will start right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62 ERA). Hellickson held the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs on five hits for his ninth victory of the season. Hellickson is 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA in seven lifetime appearances against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast by MY9.

 

RBI Single By Yankees’ Hot ‘Stew’ Cooks Mariners

GAME 63

YANKEES 2, MARINERS 1

With the home run much less part of their arsenal the 2013 New York Yankees have had to rely on solid pitching from its starters and bullpen, a timely hit or two to claim a late lead and utilizing the best closer in baseball history to win games. That formula worked to perfection on Sunday.

Right-hander David Phelps matched the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch, Chris Stewart hit a two-out RBI single in the top of the ninth inning to break a 1-1 tie and Mariano Rivera ended his career at Safeco Field with his 37th save in 39 tries against the Mariners as New York edged Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 43,389.

Stewart’s game-winning hit in the ninth off reliever Yoervis Medina (1-2) was set up by a leadoff walk by Ichiro Suzuki and a sacrifice bunt by Jayson Nix that moved Suzuki into scoring position. Stewart followed one out later by slapping a 1-0 pitch into left-field and Suzuki was able to beat the throw from left-fielder Raul Ibanez with ease.

David Robertson (4-1) got into a jam in the eighth inning by giving up a leadoff double to Alex Liddi and a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Ryan that advanced Liddi to third. But Robertson escaped further trouble and earned the victory by striking out Jason Bay and and Nick Franklin.

Rivera gave up two singles and a walk in the ninth inning but he earned his 23rd save in 24 opportunities this season by inducing Michael Saunders to fly out to left with two on and two out.

Phelps, however, deserves a lot of credit for holding the Mariners to just one run on three hits and three walks while he fanned six in six innings of work. In his past two starts, Phelps has given up one run on four hits and seven walks with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Phelps held a 1-0 lead going into the second inning, but Kelly Shoppach touched him for a one-out double to left. Phelps then issued a costly two-out walk to Liddi before Ryan swatted a roller deep into the hole at short upon which Reid Brignac was unable to make a play, allowing Shoppach to score the tying run.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got to Hernandez early by pushing across a run in the top of the second.

Nix led off the frame with a single to center and he later stole second. One out later, Stewart dropped down a perfect bunt single to advance Nix to third. Brett Gardner, who would end up 4-for-5 in the game, then delivered a lined single to center to score Nix.

Hernandez yielded just the one run on five hits and two walks and he struck seven batters in seven innings.

With the victory the Yankees claimed three of the four games against the Mariners and they improved their season record to 37-27. They Yankees remain in second place in the American League East 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Mariners fell to 27-37.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Stewart’s value is going far beyond that of a great defensive catcher with a career .217 batting average. Since being pressed into a starting role due to a broken right hand suffered by starter Francisco Cervelli, Stewart has been contributing much better with the bat than was expected. He was 2-for-4 in the game to raise his season average to .276, which is second to only Gardner on the team.
  • Speaking of Gardner, the 29-year-old center-fielder is hotter than Hades with the bat. His 4-for-5 day raised his season average to a team-best .284. Since May 24, Gardner is 23-for-63 (.365) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He has failed to get at least one hit in only two of his past 17 games and has a seven-game hitting streak.
  • Phelps is beginning to settle in nicely as the team’s No. 5 starter and it is doubtful we will be seeing Ivan Nova reclaim that spot anytime soon. Other than his terrible outing against the New York Mets on May 29 when he only lasted one-third of an inning, Phelps is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA. He has given up just 13 runs on 31 hits and 17 walks with 40 strikeouts in 45 innings covering his other seven starts.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Mark Teixeira had a real tough day at the office. He was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Teixeira is now hitting just .167 in his first 10 games. But, at the same time, Teixeira has also delivered three home runs and eight RBIs.
  • Robinson Cano did reach base in the eighth after being hit by pitch and drew a walk in the ninth, however, he was 0-for-3 in the game. Cano is in a huge slump since May 31 in which he is 4-for-34 (.118) with one home run and four RBIs. That slump has lowered his season average from .292 to .272.
  • Brignac is a good defensive shortstop and he does have value as left-handed hitter. But Brignac was 0-for-4 on Sunday and he is just 4-for-29 (.138) without a homer or RBI since he joined the Yankees. It would be nice if Eduardo Nunez would get over that nagging oblique injury so the Yankees can cut Brignac loose.

BOMBER BANTER

It would not be a day with the Yankees without an injury to report. Corner infielder Kevin Youkilis missed Sunday’s game due to a recurrence of lower back stiffness. Youkilis re-injured his back on Saturday when he slid into first base to record an out of Ibanez in the second inning in the Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Mariners on Saturday. Manager Joe Girardi hopes Youkilis will be able to return to the field on Tuesday. He is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their West Coast road trip against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.

Red-hot left-hander CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.74 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk while he fanned nine batters in a complete-game victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday. Sabathia is 8-9 with a 4.50 ERA against the A’s in his career.

Former Yankee right-hander Bartolo Colon (7-2, 3.14 ERA) will oppose Sabathia. Colon surrendered one run on eight hits and two walks while striking out four in seven innings in a victory against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. Colon is 3-7 with a 6.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Pettitte Handcuffs Mariners To Notch Win No. 250

GAME 62

YANKEES 3, MARINERS 1

When Andy Pettitte came up to the New York Yankees in 1995 anyone could have spotted quickly there was something different about him as opposed to most young pitchers: He was driven to succeed and he would battle with every ounce of strength he had to win.

Some 18 years later he displayed those same qualities against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday and it was something special to see.

Pettitte (5-3) completely shut down the Mariners on one run on just three hits to notch the 250th victory of his career as New York defeated Seattle in front of 38,250 fans at Safeco Field.

The 40-year-old left-hander did not walk a batter and struck out six to pass Vic Willis for 43rd place on the all-time victory list. Pettitte needed only 85 pitches and he threw 59 of them for strikes, which is a tidy 69 percent rate.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got a pair of RBI singles from Jayson Nix to make a loser out of left-hander Joe Saunders (4-6).

With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the fifth inning, Ichiro Suzuki drew a leadoff walk and, one out later, Chris Stewart singled to center. After Brett Gardner hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Stewart, Nix slapped a two-out opposite-field single to right to score Suzuki with what proved to be the game-winning run.

The Yankees chased Saunders in the seventh inning when Gardner lofted a one-out double into right-center.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge replaced Saunders with right-hander Danny Farquhar and Nix greeted him with a line-drive single to center that scored Gardner.

David Robertson pitched two-thirds of an inning of the eighth and Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out the side, to earn his 22nd save in 23 chances this season.

The Yankees opened the scoring with two outs in the first inning when Mark Teixeira doubled to left and Robinson Cano stroked a looping single into right to score Teixeira.

The Mariners managed to tie the game in the fourth against Pettitte, but it was a missed opportunity by Nix that allowed it to happen.

Jason Bay led off the frame with a single to left and Kyle Seager followed with a lined single to right.

Kendrys Morales, who left the game after this at-bat because of a back injury, then rolled a potential double-play ball to short that Nix bobbled. Nix was able to get a throw off to first to retire Morales but Michael Morse made Nix and the Yankees pay when he lofted a sacrifice fly to center to score Bay.

The Yankees won their fifth out their past six games to improve their season record to 36-26. They remain in second place in the American League East 1 1/2 games ahead of the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Mariners dropped to 27-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In his first start off the 15-day disabled list on June 3, Pettitte ran out of gas in the fifth inning and surrendered three runs to the Cleveland Indians that left the game tied at 4-4. Pettitte was determined not to let that happen again. He retired the first nine batters he faced and in six of the seven full innings he pitched he retired the side in order. This was Pettitte at his best and it bolsters the depth of the Yankees’ starting rotation.
  • Though Nix’s misplay did ruin Pettitte’s shutout, he more than made up for it at the plate by going 2-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base and two RBIs. Very quietly Nix has been one of the hottest hitters on the Yankees since May 24. In that span, Nix is 15-for-44 (.341) with a home run and seven RBIs. Nix may not be a superstar but he is a solid ballplayer. You get a professional day of work out of him and you hardly know he’s there.
  • Gardner is settling in nicely as the leadoff hitter after hitting only .252 in April. Gardner was 3-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored and is 19-for-58 (.328) since May 24 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. In fact, Gardner has 26 RBIs, which is fourth on the club, and he is doing it from the leadoff spot.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kevin Youkilis drew a walk in the sixth inning, which extended his streak of reaching base in all 23 games he has played at Safeco Field. But he was 0-for- 3 in the game with two strikeouts and double play grounder. Since Youkilis’ return from the disabled list on May 31, he is 4-for-28 (.143) with no homers or RBIs. His season average has sunk to .239.
  • David Adams got a start at third base but his recent troubles at the plate are continuing. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and his season average has now dipped to .217. The Yankees opted to send out outfielder Brennan Boesch in order to keep Adams but it is looking like Adams needs more work at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

ON DECK

The Yankees will complete their four-game weekend series with Seattle on Sunday.

Right-hander David Phelps (4-3, 4.17 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Phelps is coming off what could be the best start of his career on June 4 against the Indians. The 26-year-old hurler gave up just one hit over six shutout innings. Phelps also is 1-0 with 0.00 ERA in his career against the Mariners.

But Phelps draws ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (7-4, 2.58 ERA). Hernandez won his last start on June 4 but gave up four runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox. Hernandez is 8-5 with a 2.99 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Sink Mariners After ‘King Felix’ Exits Early

GAME 39

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 3

The epic showdown between former American League Cy Young Award winners Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia on Tuesday may have ended in what could be scored a draw. But the New York Yankees ended up victorious by virtue of a technical knockout of Hernandez.

Trailing 3-1 when “King Felix” abdicated the mound, New York rallied for three runs in the seventh inning off the Mariners’ bullpen to defeat Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 41,267 at Yankee Stadium.

Reliever Shawn Kelley (2-0) bailed Sabathia out of a jam in the top of the seventh with runners on first and third and one out by striking out Kelly Shoppach and retiring former Yankees’ 2012 playoffs legend Raul Ibanez on a flyout to get credit for the victory.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his 624th career save and his 16th save in as many chances this season.

Mariners left-hander Charlie Furbush (0-2) was saddled with the loss.

Lyle Overbay, who in some way “caused” Hernandez to leave the game, and Robinson Cano keyed the crucial rally in the seventh.

Chris Nelson led off the frame with a bloop single to center off right-hander Yoervis Medina and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Austin Romine struck out swinging, Mariners manager Eric Wedge summoned Furbush.

Brett Gardner drew a walk and Cano followed by lacing a 3-2 slider off the base of the wall in right-center to score Nelson and Gardner to tie the game at 3-3.

Wedge elected to have Furbush walk Vernon Wells intentionally but Furbush also ended up walking Curtis Granderson  -  who was activated from the 15-day disabled list and was playing in his first game of the season  -  to load the bases.

That brought up Overbay, who had stroked a two-out double off Hernandez in the sixth to plate the Yankees’ first run of the night. After working the count to 3-2, Overbay laced a line drive to deep center that easily scored Cano with what proved to be the game-winning run.

Hernandez had been in control against the Yankees much of the night. However, a misplay by Hernandez that led to a collision with Overbay in the fourth inning doomed him.

With one out and Wells on first, Overbay hit a bouncer that just eluded a dive by first baseman Kendrys Morales but the ball was gloved by second baseman Robert Andino, who double-clutched and threw to Morales at first base. However, Hernandez also came over to cover first and was standing in the baseline behind Morales when Overbay collided with him, striking the back of Hernandez’s left knee.

Though first-base umpire Alan Porter originally called Overbay out, the umpiring crew discussed the play, ruled Hernandez was guilty of obstruction and awarded first base to Overbay.

Hernandez noticeably limped and stretched out his back throughout the rest of his outing until he was removed after six innings. The 27-year-old ace yielded one run on five hits and two walks while he punched out eight batters.

The Mariners, meanwhile were able to build a 3-0 lead on Sabathia.

They scored an unearned run in the third when, with one out ,Overbay committed a fielding error on a ball off the bat of Michael Saunders. One out later, Kyle Seager ripped a double to the wall in right-center to score Saunders.

They padded their lead in the sixth when Shoppach slapped a first-pitch single to the opposite field in right and Ibanez, who hit three dramatic late-inning home runs for the Yankees during the 2012 playoffs, showed the fans what they were missing when he roped a two-run home run into the first row of the bleachers in right-field.

Sabathia left in the seventh having given up three runs (two earned) on a season-high 10 hits and two walks but he also fanned season-high 10 in 6 1/3 innings.

With the come-from-behind victory the Yankees are now 8-2 in one-run games this season.

The Yankees have also won seven of their past eight games and they improved their season record to 25-14. They also extended their lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles to two games in the American League East. The Mariners are now 18-21.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Overbay committed his second error of the season and misplayed another ground ball by Ibanez that was ruled a single, his contributions at the plate have been huge all season. He was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and he is hitting .256 with six home runs and 24 RBIs. In fact, his RBI total is only one behind the team leader, Cano, who has 25.
  • Cano came through in the clutch against a left-hander on a night the Yankees ended up 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Cano was 2-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. The two hits pushed his season average back over the .300 mark at .306. He came in hitting .299.
  • Rivera remains perfect in saves this season and he needed only 11 pitches to close out the Mariners in the ninth. The Yankees bullpen trio of Kelley, David Robertson and Rivera held the M’s s off the board over the final 2 2/3 innings to extend the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 23 2/3 innings, which extends back to May 5.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia did not pitch well in this game. The Mariners had at least one base-runner on in every inning against him except the first inning. In the fourth they loaded the bases with two out, but Sabathia escaped the jam by fanning Saunders swinging.  Sabathia left in the seventh having thrown 112 pitches.
  • Granderson had a rough return to lineup having to face Hernandez. It showed. Granderson grounded into a double play in the first, struck out swinging in the fourth and hit into a fielder’s choice in the sixth. But he did draw a key walk in the seventh against Furbush that set up Overbay’s game-winning sac fly.
  • Romine also had a rough night. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he is now hitting .071. Romine also misplayed a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Brendan Ryan in the eighth inning. Robertson earlier had walked pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley on four pitches to open the inning. Romine fielded the bunt and tried to throw out Ackley at second instead of taking the sure out at first. But Ackley beat the throw. Robertson escaped the jam by striking out Saunders and retiring pinch-hitter Justin Smoak on an unassisted double-play liner to shortstop Jayson Nix.

BOMBER BANTER

Granderson returned to the lineup since breaking his right forearm on his first at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24 and he batted fourth and played left-field. In order to get Granderson on the 25-man roster the Yankees optioned rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre a day after he won his first major-league game in first major-league start by pitching five shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians.  . . .  It would not be the Yankees if on the same day they get one player back (Granderson) they possibly lost another for a period of time. Designated hitter Travis Hafner, 35, did not play in Tuesday’s game because of tendinitis in his chronic problem right shoulder. An MRI taken on the shoulder was negative but Hafner did receive a cortisone injection for the inflammation. He is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home set against the Mariners on Wednesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-2, 4.43 ERA) will get the call for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off his second straight victory, but he gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out three against the Kansas City Royals on Friday. Hughes is 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA against the M’s in his career.

Hughes will be opposed by right-hander Hasashi Iwakuma (4-1, 1.74 ERA). Iwakuma, 32, gave up two runs on four hits and punched out nine in seven innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. In his two starts against the Bronx Bombers last season he was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA.

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

 

Yank Rookies Nuno, Warren Hang Zeros On Tribe

GAME 38

YANKEES 7, INDIANS 0

To borrow from the sage philosopher Forrest Gump, the 2013 version of the New York Yankees are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.

Rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno pitched five very impressive shutout innings in his first major-league start and the Yankees sent 10-men to the plate in a six-run seventh inning as New York hung up a goose egg on Cleveland to split a doubleheader at Progressive Field on Monday.

Nuno (1-0) held the Tribe to just three hits and three walks while he struck out three batters in what was only his second major-league appearance.

All the more impressive was that Nuno pitched with only a run in support of his effort and that came in the first inning on some sloppy infield play by the Indians.

Jayson Nix stroked a one-out single off right-hander Trevor Bauer (1-2) and Robinson Cano rolled what could have been a double-play ball to Carlos Santana at first base. However, Santana was unable to field it cleanly and then threw behind Bauer covering first for an error that allowed Nix to advance to third.

Vernon Wells then hit what also could have been an inning-ending double play ball to Asdrubal Cabrera at short. Cabrera flipped to second to retire Cano but Mike Aviles’ relay tailed wide of first as Nix scored an unearned run.

But Nuno made that run hold up through five innings when he left after having thrown 89 pitches, 14 more than manager Joe Girardi set as his original limit.

With the bullpen depleted because of the unavailability of setup man David Robertson and closer Mariano Rivera, Girardi turned to rookie Adam Warren. The 26-year-old right-hander responded with four innings of shutout relief to earn his first major-league save.

Warren gave up just two hits, did not walk a batter and he struck out four.

Meanwhile, the Yankees chased Bauer and left-hander Nick Hagadone in the seventh with a six-run explosion that turned what was a nail-biter into a laugher.

Rookie catcher Austin Romine keyed the rally by following a leadoff double by rookie Corban Joseph with a one-out RBI double that sent Bauer to the showers.

Two batters later, Nix scored Romine with a bloop single to shallow right-field off Hagadone following a walk to Brett Gardner.

Wells added a two-out RBI single and Lyle Overbay capped the six-run rally with a two-run double to the wall in right-center.

Despite the loss in the first game, the Yankees have now won seven of their past eight games and they improved their season ledger to 24-14. They remain a full game ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Indians fell to 21-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was a great game for a pair of Scranton RailRiders pitchers. Nuno and Warren combined to give up no runs on five hits and three walks in nine innings. Nuno, 25, was a 48th round draft in 2009 of the Indians and was released after the 2010 season. The Yankees spotted him pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things in 2011 and signed him. He recorded a 2.10 ERA in two seasons in stints from Class A to Double A before winning the James P. Dawson Award this spring as the team’s top rookie this spring.
  • Warren surprisingly won a spot in the bullpen as a middle reliever despite an 0-2 record and a 8.15 ERA in spring training. But Warren is now 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 innings covering seven appearances. He has yielded only three runs on 14 hits and six walks while striking out 15 batters.
  • Wells and Overbay both drove in a pair of runs in the game as “The Replacements” continue to produce with a lot of the Yankees’ star players on the disabled list. Wells is hitting .299 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs. Overbay is hitting .252 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to complain about here because the Yankees won with two rookie pitchers combining for a shutout and they played the game with two rookies (Joseph and Romine) and what amounts to the team’s fourth-string shortstop in 30-year-old journeyman Alberto Gonzalez in the lineup.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Monday optioned outfielder Brennan Boesch to Scranton and promoted right-hander Brett Marshall from the RailRiders to bolster the bullpen for the second game of the doubleheader against the Indians. Boesch, 27, was 1-for-4 after starting in right-field in the first game and he was hitting .209 with two home runs and five RBIs in 43 at-bats over 20 games. Marshall, 22, was 2-2 with a 4.60 ERA in six starts with Scranton.  . . .  After the second game the Yankees optioned Joseph back to Scranton. The 24-year-old rookie infielder was a combined 1-for-6 in the two games. His double in the seventh inning started the Yankees’ six-run explosion and the hit was his first in the major leagues.

ON DECK

The Yankees will be home on Tuesday to open a homestand beginning with a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.

Lefty ace CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.23 ERA) will get the ball in the opener for the Yankees. Sabathia pitched four shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday and he was in line for a victory. However, a two-hour rain delay forced him to end his outing early. Sabathia is 12-4 with a 2.46 ERa in his career against Seattle.

The Mariners will counter with their ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-2, 1.53 ERA). Hernandez has given up just three earned runs over his past fiver starts. He is 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA lifetime against the Yankees and 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA at Yankee Stadium.

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

 

Yankees Hoping Youkilis Healthy, A-Rod Returns

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

THIRD BASE – KEVIN YOUKILIS (19 HRs, 60 RBIs, .235 BA)

With Alex Rodriguez headed for surgery to his left hip this month the Yankees were forced to take a plunge into the free-agent market for a replacement and they chose 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis.

The former Red Sox nemesis has had his own issues with injuries throughout his career but the Yankees needed someone who could play the position and provide some offense until Rodriguez is ready to to return to action, which won’t come until at least June.

Youkilis enters 2013 free of the swirling rumors of his commitment to the game former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thrust upon him last season. After he was traded to the Chicago White Sox he did pick up his production, hitting .236 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, largely batting second.

After undergoing sports hernia surgery that ended his 2011 season, Youkilis suffered through the early part of 2012 with a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. When Will Middlebrooks produced good numbers in his absence, the Red Sox decided to send him packing to make room for the rookie.

Youkilis has never played in more than 147 games in any of his seven full major-league seasons, which was in first full season with the Red Sox in 2007. His best season with the Bosox was in 2008, when he hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs.

But Youkilis’ all-out style of play has also left him susceptible to nagging injuries, which have lessened his power and production numbers. In addition, Youkilis’ unusual batting style, which worked well for him when he was younger (He hit a career-high .312 in 2008), has left him less effective the last two seasons in which he has hit .258 and .235.

It will be the job of hitting coach Kevin Long to get Youkilis back on track at the plate with is timing and to get Youkilis driving the ball as he did so well at Fenway Park. As a right-hand hitter, the Yankees will not be looking for big-time power from Youkilis. But they would like him to get back to hitting closer to his lifetime .283 average and driving in runs.

There is a good possibility that Youkilis might slide into the No. 3 or No. 5 spots in the batting order to separate left-handers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. That means the Yankees will be counting on Youkilis to provide solid production in the heart of the batting order.

A lot will depend if Youkilis is 100 percent healthy when he reports to camp in Tampa, FL, and he can remain healthy. He will have to because the Yankees’ options behind him are quite limited and much less productive.

As a fielder, Youkilis is considered an excellent first baseman. He won a Gold Glove for his work there in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a third baseman. Of course, he is actually still considered above average at the position.

There is no doubt that injuries have had an effect on his fielding at third the past two seasons. He made nine errors in 2011 and he committed the same total in 2012. So the slip in his fielding percentage at third had to be due in large part to the sports hernia and groin injuries.

His career fielding percentage at first is .997 but at third it is .966. But the Yankees feel if he is healthy, he can play the position more than adequately. Fielding, after all, was not a strength of A-Rod’s game either.

Of course, it is hard to know what the strength of Rodriguez’s game is really. Last season was another one of those seasons that he has failed to provide the production the Yankees needed and his season ended with a late injury which may or may not have contributed to his poor postseason.

After playing in just 99 games in 2011, largely due to a right knee injury, Rodriguez played in 122 games in 2012. He missed more than a month of the season and returned in early September after being struck in the left hand with a pitch from Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

But when he was healthy, Rodriguez did not produce much in the way of power or runs batted in. He finished the season hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. Batting in the middle of the most productive lineup in baseball in 2012, A-Rod  hit .200 with the bases loaded and .230 with runners in scoring position.

But the most telling statistic is this: Rodriguez hit a home run every 25.7 at-bats in 2012. In his career, he has hit a home run every 14.9 at-bats. To say the 37-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player is suffering through a serious erosion of his skills is putting it mildly. It even lead to his being pinch-hit for at a critical point in the 2012 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

So even when Rodriguez returns the question is how much can the Yankees count on him? Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since 2007.

What looked to a be a lock that he would eventually break Barry Bonds’ dubious all-time home run record of 762 looks to a longshot now. But the real problem is the Yankees are on the hook for paying Rodriguez, in sickness and unproductive health, through the 2017 season.

So unless A-Rod gets tired of being booed, looking like a fool striking out against mediocre pitchers and he decides to retire, the Yankees have a 6-foot-3, 225-pound albatross around their necks. General manager Brian Cashman has been ordered to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and it will be hard to see how they can remain competitive as long as they are paying big bucks to an unproductive has-been.

But we will see how it all plays out when Rodriguez does make it back to the field in 2013.

Likely, he will not play much third base.

Though Rodriguez two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 2003, he has never been considered a very good fielder at third base. His career fielding percentage at the position is .964 and it was .957 in 2012. He committed eight errors in 81 games at the position last year.

The previous injury to his right hip pretty much has robbed him of some of the lateral quickness and smoothness he needs to field at the hot corner.

So upon Rodriguez’s return it is more likely he will assume the designated hitter role for most of the rest of the season in order to keep his surgically repaired left hip from acting up again.

The Yankees do not have much in the way of options at third base behind Youkilis.

They were hoping that they could convince Eric Chavez, 35, to come back for a third season. But the free agent elected to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Though Chavez was unable to physically handle playing third base on a daily basis, he did contribute mightily to the Yankees at third and first base and as a DH and pinch-hitter. He hit .281 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012. He also played 64 games at third base and flashed some of the form that led to him winning six consecutive Gold Gloves at the position from 2001 through 2006 with the Oakland Athletics.

He and his left-hand bat will be missed in 2013.

Instead the Yankees will have to look to Jayson Nix, 30, as the primary backup in 2013.

Nix entered the 2012 season as a minor-league player invited to spring training by the Yankees. After hitting over .300 in the spring Nix was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he was recalled on May 3 when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez was ill-suited to be a utility infielder.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats as largely a backup to Rodriguez at third base and Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30, 2011 to make room on the 40-man roster for All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera, who was signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed to accept an assignment to Triple A in order to remain with the team. He will be invited to spring training and he has an excellent chance of retaining his backup infielder role.

Though Nix will not knock down any fences, he will play solidly in the field and give a good effort at the plate. That is what the Yankees hope he can do.

Nunez, 25, started the season as the team’s infield backup but his careless errors in the field cost him the job. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ front office agreed to send Nunez back to Triple A to play shortstop exclusively.

However, Nunez spent most of his time in the minors sidelined with a right-hand injury. There are no questions about Nunez’s bat. He is a career .272 hitter with the capability of stealing 40 bases in a full season.

But Jeter, 38, is still the shortstop and Nunez is a butcher in the field, hence the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” He was on a pace to commit 42 errors if he had played every day in 2012.

The Yankees look at Nunez as a potential right-hand DH in 2013 at this point. Nunez is not a home run hitter but he could possibly hit 10 home runs and drive in 60 runs if he got 425 or so at-bats. The Yankees also missed his speed last season.

Nunez stole 22 bases in 112 games in 2011 and he actually led the Yankees for most of the 2011 season with 11 until A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki passed him in September. Nunez along with left-fielder Brett Gardner and Suzuki would give the Yankees a speed game they were lacking in 2012.

But the Yankees likely will not use Nunez at third base and there is a good possibility that Nunez could be traded to a team needing a shortstop before the season starts. They will listen to offers anyway.

Behind Nix the Yankees do not have a lot of major-league-ready options at the position.

David Adams, 25, and Corban Joseph, 24, are on the 40-man roster but both are primarily second basemen.

Adams hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2012 while Joseph hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.

Adams, a third-round draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2008, has been held back by a severe ankle injury. Joseph is a fourth round pick in 2008 out of Franklin High School in Franklin, TN.

Joseph would seem to have more upside because of his power and the fact that he bats left-handed. The Yankees could use a left-handed hitting infield backup. But Joseph is not considered as a shortstop. The same for Adams.

Both were elevated to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013 and both will get opportunities to play in spring training. But Nix and Nunez have a huge upper hand on them because neither of the youngsters have played a significant amount of time at third base. In addition, neither player is among the Yankees’ Top 20 prospects.

The only third baseman among the Top 20 prospects is the Yankees’ first selection in the 2011 draft Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger of the same name.

Bichette, 20, opened eyes last spring when he was placed on the traveling squad for an exhibition game against the Houston Astros and he hit a pair of solo home runs in his two at-bats in the only game in which he played. However, his 2012 season was a major disappointment because he hit only three home runs, drove in 46 runs and batted .248 at Class-A Charleston (SC).

But because he was the Most Valuable Player of the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and he has adapted better than expected at third base, the Yankees have high hopes for the Maitland, FL, native. However, he appears to be more than two years away from being ready for the major leagues.

Third base appears to be a big issue for the Yankees entering 2013.

Rodriguez is sidelined once again and his replacement Youkilis has had issues with injuries of his own. There appears to be an adequate backup in Nix but the Yankees have limited options behind him. The jury on Bichette is out for now but the Yankees remain optimistic he can follow in his father’s footsteps.

This is definitely not the Yankees’ strongest position entering the season and there will be a lot of people crossing their fingers Youkilis stays healthy and Rodriguez come back strong. It seems an awful lot to ask for at this point.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP

 

A-Rod’s Injury Clouds Yanks’ 2013 Pennant Hopes

PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP

The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.

A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.

The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.

However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.

The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.

If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.

Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.

He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.

With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.

Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.

So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.

Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.

So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.

After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.

But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.

There is an issue at shortstop as well.

Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.

Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.

Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.

He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.

He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.

The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.

However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.

That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.

There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?

That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.

Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.

Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.

He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.

He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?

The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.

Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.

It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.

But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.

At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.

Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.

Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.

Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.

The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.

The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.

He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.

This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.

But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.

The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.

Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.

Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.

The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.

If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.

The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.

He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.

It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.

Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.

The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.

The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.

Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.

The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.

Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.

He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.

The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.

Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.

The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.

But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.

Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.

Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement.  The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.

Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.

Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.

Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.

The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.

 

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