Results tagged ‘ Grant Balfour ’

CC Uses Home Runs, Triple Play To Deflate Price

GAME 16

YANKEES 10, RAYS 2

David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.

Well, if you did, you lost your house.

Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte.  Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore  -  playing his first career game at first base  -  scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.

Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.

After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.

It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.

Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.

The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.

The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.

With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
  • Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
  • Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays.  . . .  Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin.  . . .  Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.

Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.

Game-time will be at 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Wind-Aided Homers Propel Rays Over Yankees

GAME 8

RAYS 5, YANKEES 4

Desmond Jennings blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning that tied the game at 4-4 and two batters later Matt Joyce hit a wind-aided solo shot that was the eventual game-winner as Tampa Bay edged New York in an exhibition game on Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

A steady 10-mile-per-hour wind with higher gusts were blowing out throughout the game.

Both home runs for the Rays came off right-hander Robert Coello (0-2), who was pounded for four runs on three hits in only a third of an inning to take the loss.

Non-roster invitee Erik Bedard (1-1), who is competing for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation, threw three scoreless innings of relief to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi struck out Pete O’Brien with two on and two out in the ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees scored a pair of runs in the first inning off Rays starter Cesar Ramos on an RBI single by Russ Canzler and an RBI groundout by Kelly Johnson. They added two more runs in the fourth inning off Rays closer Grant Balfour on Brett Gardner’s two-out, bases-loaded single, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

The Rays cut the Yankees’ 2-0 lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first when Ben Zobrist lifted a solo home run to left off Yankee starter Adam Warren in his first at-bat of the spring.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now even at 4-4. The Rays improved to 4-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner’s two-run single in the fourth produced his first two RBIs of the spring. Gardner is off to a very good start to the spring, going 4-for-10 (.400) and an on-base percentage of .500 in the four games in which he has played. With a four-year, $52 million extension in hand and all the trade rumors quashed, Gardner is hoping to build on his solid 2013 season.
  • Warren, 26, actually pitched pretty well despite giving up the leadoff home run to Zobrist in the first inning. He gave up just the one run on four hits and no walks while he struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Warren still hopes to earn the No. 5 starting job with the Yankees after spending most of his rookie season in 2013 as a long reliever.
  • Yangervis Solarte came through again on Wednesday. The 26-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder was 1-for-3, reaching on a single and an error and scoring a run. Solarte is 8-for-12 (.667) with two homers and six RBIs in six games so far. “He’s going to get a good look. He’s got some versatility. We’re looking for versatility because of our infield situation, and he has that,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.
  • Dellin Betances is quickly inserting himself into the bullpen mix and he was awesome again on Wednesday. Betances, 26, threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving up no hits, walking one and striking out two. The 6-foot-8 right-hander has always had a crackling mid-90s fastball but he seems to have conquered the control problems he had as a starter.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The annual award for the “Putrid Pitching in Pinstripes Award” may have been locked up for this spring by non-roster invitee Coello, 29, who has now surrendered nine earned runs on eight hits (three of them home runs), a walk and a hit batter in three appearances covering 1 2/3 innings. His spring ERA is a stratospheric 48.60! Coello, who has pitched briefly with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels, sports a 2-3 record and 5.90 ERA in his career. I have two suggestions for him: (1) Either try to hook back up with the Red Sox or (2) Look for another line of work. He, in a word, stinks.
  • John Ryan Murphy had some early success at the plate this spring battling for a backup catching role behind Brian McCann. But he took a giant step backwards on Wednesday. Murphy, 22, popped out with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning and killed a two on, one out rally in the sixth by grounding into a double play. The Yankees lost by one and he left five runners on base. That is not good.

BOMBER BANTER

After battling through a serious form of the flu, outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is scheduled to make his spring training debut on Thursday, Girardi told reporters. Soriano has been limited to batting practice and off-field workouts.  . . .  Thursday will also mark the spring debut of first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist. Teixeira was limited to just 15 games last season before requiring surgery. Teixeira hopes to get two or three at-bats in the game.  . . .  Former Yankee right-hander Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez has joined the Yankees as a minor-league pitching instructor. Hernandez, 48, spent nine seasons in the major leagues after defecting from Cuba and was 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA. He won three World Series rings with the Yankees from 1998 to 2000.

ON DECK

In addition to the debuts of Soriano and Teixeira, the Yankees will give their first starting assignment to Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as they travel on Thursday to Clearwater, FL, to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Bright House Field.

Tanaka, 25, pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Phillies on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. The Yankees were pleased and the Phillies were impressed with the $155 million free agent.

The Phillies will start veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who was 10-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 30 starts last season.

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

 

Yankees’ Post-Rivera Bullpen Still Looks Talented

This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.

For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.

Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?

Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The question is who will take Mo’s place?

Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.

Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.

In four full seasons and parts  of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.

The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.

When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.

But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?

Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.

The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.

The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.

The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.

In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?

A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.

The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.

The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.

The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.

Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.

The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.

Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.

The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.

Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.

The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.

Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.

A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.

His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.

Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.

It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.

The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.

Should Michael Pineda claim a  spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.

In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.

Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.

Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).

Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.

The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.

Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.

He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.

Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.

At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.

One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.

Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.

He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.

Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.

The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.

Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.

In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.

He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.

Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.

Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.

In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.

One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.

The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.

Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.

The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.

The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it  is Robertson.

A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.

 

Granderson Drives In 5 As Yanks Dump Rays For ‘Boss’

GAME 150
YANKEES 8, RAYS 6

Brian Cashman made a trade at the 2009 Winter Meetings of which late owner George M. Steinbrenner would have been extremely proud.
He acquired from the Detroit Tigers a center-fielder with speed and power in Curtis Granderson.
On a Monday night when the Yankees chose to honor their late owner with a posthumous plaque in legendary Monument Park in center-field at Yankee Stadium, Granderson slammed two home runs and drove in five runs to lead the New York Yankees to a crucial pennant-drive victory over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays.
Somewhere “The Boss” is drawing on his trademark cigar and smiling down at his beloved Yankees.
Granderson’s magical evening began with two outs and Francisco Cervelli on first on a single. Rays starter Matt Garza (14-9) fell behind Granderson 2-0 and was forced to throw a fastball. Granderson waited for it and jumped all over it, depositing the ball against the back wall of the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center to put the Yankees up 2-0.
The Yankees built the lead to 4-0 in the fifth inning against Garza by sending eight men to the plate. Granderson drew a walk on four straight pitches to load the bases with nobody out. After Mark Teixeira struck out, Alex Rodriguez lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score a run. After an intentional walk to Robinson Cano to re-load the bases, Nick Swisher drew a walk to drive in another run.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, for the second week in a row starter Ivan Nova could not hold onto a lead against the Rays. Last week, Nova — with the help of Boone Logan — blew a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning at Tropicana Field. On this night, Nova — with a lot of help from an ineffective Logan and Chad Gaudin — coughed up four runs as 10 Rays came to the plate in the sixth inning.
Gaudin surrendered the lead by walking B.J. Upton on a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded.
The Yankees then went back to work on Garza in the sixth inning when Brett Gardner reached first on an infield single and Cervelli got him to third by executing a perfect hit-and-run play. As Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett hustled to second base to take a potential throw to nab Gardner stealing second, Cervelli laced a 2-1 fastball from Garza through the vacated hole at short and into left-field, allowing Gardner to reach third.
Derek Jeter followed with a tie-breaking single to center to score Gardner as Cervelli hustled into third.
Granderson came to the plate but Rays manager Joe Maddon decided he would not face Garza again. Curiously, right-hander Grant Balfour was brought in to face the left-handed-hitting Granderson. Apparently Maddon did not realize that left-hander Randy Choate had not been warming up when he made the pitching change.
Oops!
Granderson made Maddon and Balfour pay for the mistake when he launched a high 2-1 fastball down the right-field line and the ball hooked right into the right-field foul pole.
The 4-0 Yankee lead that quickly became a 4-4 tie was now back to 8-4 Yankee lead, thanks to Granderson and his career-high five RBIs.
Though the Yankees bullpen struggled a bit in the seventh and ninth innings, with the Rays scoring runs single runs off David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees were able to hang on and win the game with the potential Rays’ lead run at the plate.
Rivera, who had given up an RBI single to Evan Longoria in the ninth and hit Dan Johnson on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, managed to retire Matt Joyce on a routine grounder to Teixeira to pick up his 32nd save of the season and the 558th of his career.
Granderson’s two home runs now give him 21 on the season and 11 of them have come in the 37 games following the retooling of his swing by Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.
Though he did not deserve it, Chad Gaudin (1-4) was credited with the victory. The star of the bullpen on Monday night was actually another Cashman acquisition: Kerry Wood.
Wood, who has a 0.39 ERA in his 21 appearances for New York since being acquired from the Indians at the trade deadline, came on to pitch out of a jam with a run in and Carl Crawford at second with two out in the seventh. 
Wood walked Dan Johnson on a 3-2 pitch but retired Joyce on a high fly to right that drove Swisher to the base of the warning track. Yankee fans among the 47,737 in attendance who were holding their breath gladly exhaled as the ball nestled in Swisher’s glove.
Wood pitched an easy 10-pitch and perfect eighth inning to hand an 8-5 lead to Rivera.
With the victory the Yankees improved their major-league best record to 91-59 and they increased their lead on the Rays to 1 1/2 games.
The series now has three games left between the titans of the East and somewhere “The Boss” is watching every pitch.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson’s 2-for-3 night also included two walks and a stolen base. In September, Granderson is batting .290 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. Thought to be pretty much of a bust when he was hitting .225 on July 7, Granderson is showing Yankee fans why he hit 30 home runs for the Tigers last season.
  • Swisher returned to right-field for the first time since re-injuring his left knee and came through with a perfect night on the plate. He was 2-for-2 with an RBI on one of his two walks of the night.
  • Jeter drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth and he added a ground-rule double and scored in the fifth. He was 2-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to nine games. In those nine games, Jeter is 12-for-40 (.300) and has scored eight runs.
  • Cervelli was the unsung hero of the night.
    He was 3-for-4 with three runs scored in the No. 9 spot and he reached base every trip the plate. His hit-and-run single also spelled the downfall of Garza and the Rays.
NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Teixeira was 0-for-5, including a strikeout with the bases loaded. Since getting hit on the right toe on a pitch by Oakland’s Vin Mazzaro on Aug. 31, Teixeira is hitting .194 with no home runs and six RBIs.
  • The bullpen has been a strength for the Yankees since the All-Star break but Logan, Gaudin, Robertson and Rivera combined to give up three runs on six hits and a pair of inexcusable walks by Logan and Gaudin over two innings.
  • In his last five outings, Rivera has given up four runs on seven hits and two walks and he has hit two batters over 4 1/3 innings. He also has blown two saves in September for the first time in his career.
  • Logan’s and Gaudin’s poor work also may mean that Rivera might not be able to pitch in Tuesday’s game. Wood has also pitched on two consecutive days and he has not appeared in three straight games since coming to the Yankees.
BOMBER BANTER

The ceremony for Steinbrenner brought back former Yankees manager Joe Torre and former hitting coach and All-Star first baseman Don Mattingly. Commissioner Bud Selig also was on hand as the team and the Steinbrenner family unveiled a massive seven-foot wide, five-foot high plaque on the center back wall of Monument Park. Jeter said of the plaque, “It is big. Probably the way ‘The Boss’ would have wanted it. It is the biggest one out there.”  . . .  Torre, who is stepping down as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and turning the reins over to Mattingly next season, also was able to meet with Cashman. Torre’s book “The Yankee Years” written with Tom Verducci offended Cashman and the two men have not seen each other since Torre turned down an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Yankees after the 2007 season. Both men said the chance to talk was good.  . . .  Commissioner Selig said that he thinks Steinbrenner belongs in the Hall of Fame based on his contributions to the Yankees and the game of baseball.
BRIEF COMMENT

Because of baseball’s blackout of local teams on the road, Central Florida Yankee fans are forced to watch Fox Sports broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy, who cover the Rays. Make that shill, cheerlead and umpire for the Rays. Kennedy showed his true colors in the bottom of the sixth inning when Cervelli decided to try to take third on the RBI single by Jeter. It was a close play with Longoria tagging Cervelli just after Cervelli’s left hand hit the bag. 
Kennedy saw an initial replay and claimed Longoria had tagged Cervelli on the elbow before Cervelli’s hand hit the bag. He repeated it over and over again as other replays were shown. Well, during the pitching change that brought in Balfour, viewers were shown a more definitive replay that clearly showed Cervelli’s hand touching the base before the tag was made. Kennedy then covers up his incompetent bias by saying it was a “bang-bang play.” 
Kennedy is a buffoon and always will be, but his failure to give third-base umpire Andy Fletcher credit for making the right call after all that ranting is beyond me.
It also struck me as funny when Kennedy decided to give Balfour a little pitching advice on what to give Granderson. “Balfour needs to stay up on Granderson. Granderson can handle the low fastball like he did with Garza. Balfour has to pitch him up to pop him up.” One pitch later, Granderson hit a high fastball to right for his second home run.
Kennedy, upon seeing the replay showing the ball was indeed up as he suggested, said, “That was in the middle of the plate. If that pitch were in it would have jammed him.”
Nice try at the CYA, Kevin, but you still are a buffoon. We now know why FOX Sports fired you from your national gig. You are better off trying to fool the rubes in St. Petersburg that you really know what you are talking about.
He also said the Yankees were better off with Swisher batting second and Granderson batting lower in the order. Granderson drove in five runs in the second spot and Swisher was 2-for-2 in the No. 6 spot. Kennedy, your lack of baseball acumen is the main reason you are no longer managing in the bigs. I have no clue why you are still employed as an “analyst.”
ON DECK

The Yankees go into the second game of the four-game series with the Rays knowing they will remain in first place whether they win or lose. 
The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes (16-8, 4.31 ERA). Hughes is coming off a tough loss to the Rays. Despite pitching a solid 6 2/3 innings, Hughes was victimized by a pair of two-run home runs to journeyman DH Dan Johnson. He is 2-3 with 4.55 ERA in his career against the Rays.
The Rays will counter with right-hander James Shields (13-12, 4.86 ERA). Shields allowed one run on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings last Wednesday against the Yankees. But he was credited with a no-decision. He is 3-7 with a 4.69 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on MY9.

New Day for Bullpen

Yankees 4, Rays 3


What a difference a day makes.
After a day when the New York Yankees bullpen did not just break down but collapsed, they got some redemption Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.
Alfredo Aceves pitched two innings of near flawless relief and Mariano Rivera sprung up off the mat to hurl a perfect ninth inning as the Yankees frustrated the Rays and won 4-3.
The Rays, behind the pitching of Matt Garza and Joe Nelson, held the Yankees to one run in seven innings — a solo home run from Nick Swisher to lead off the third inning. A 3-1 lead held up until Rays Manager Joe Maddon summoned righthander Grant Balfour to pitch the eighth inning.
The Yankee offense was not blistering hot but they bled the Rays to death with patience and some well placed infield grounders. It all started after Derek Jeter flied out to right to open the frame.
Johnny Damon fought off some tough Balfour pitches to single to the opposite field in left. Mark Teixeira followed with a 3-1 blast off the rightfield wall that ended up being a single it was hit so hard. Damon stopped at third. Balfour then timidly pitched to Alex Rodriquez and walked him to load the bases. Maddon had seen enough of Balfour and brought out the hook.
In the two games against the Yankees, Balfour has pitched to nine batters in 1 1/3 innings of work. In that span he has given up three hits and two walks and surrendered four earned runs for an ERA of 21.60. Of course, J.P. Howell, who came into the game after Balfour, was not much better.
Howell pitched so carefully to Robinson Cano that he walked in Damon. Jorge Posada followed with a grounder just to the left of the third base bag. Rays third baseman Willie Aybar played soccer with it and Teixeira scored to tie the game at 3.
Hideki Matsui then followed with another grounder. This one went to second baseman Ben Zobrist, who tossed too high to shortstop Reid Brignac on the force play and took away any chance of completing a double play. A-Rod scored and the Yankees had the lead for the first time in the game.
The Yankees then turned the ninth over to Rivera and he retired Matt Joyce, Gabe Gross and pinch-hitter Evan Longoria in order for his 13th save. Redemption comes to the closer a day later.
Rivera’s effort followed on the heels of more sensational relief work from 26-year-old right-hander Alfredo Aceves, who lowered his season ERA to 2.70. Aceves gave up one hit in the seventh but it was later erased when Jorge Posada gunned down Brignac trying to steal second. Aceves struck out the Rays big guns Willie Aybar, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist in the eighth to finish with 4 K’s overall.
Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees starter, pitched five good innings and one bad one: the sixth inning. After two outs and two singles by Aybar and Pena, Chamberlain walked Joyce, who entered the game batting .231 as a platoon outfielder.
Veteran DH Gabe Gross made him pay for it by rolling a tricking single just to the right of the second base bag and into centerfield to plate two runs and give the Rays a 3-1 lead. Chamberlain actually pitched well up to that point. Overall he gave up five hits, one unfortunate walk and struck out four. 
The victory, coupled with the Boston Red Sox’ 6-3 drubbing administered by the Texas Rangers, puts the Yankees back in first place in the AL East by a half game. The Yankees will play the rubber game of the three-game set with the Rays tomorrow night at the stadium.
It will be the battle of the Andys as Andy Pettitte (5-2) will oppose Andy Sonnanstine (7.71 ERA).
 
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