Results tagged ‘ Hideki Matsui ’

Phils Spoil A-Rod’s Return In Yanks’ Home Opener

GAME 2

PHILLIES 3, YANKEES 1

Odubel Herrera went 3-for-4, stole three bases and scored two runs to spark Philadelphia to a victory over New York and spoil their 2015 Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday.

Non-roster right-hander Kevin Slowey (1-0) started for the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory. Justin De Fratus weathered a late Yankee rally that fell short to earn a save. Newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1), making his first start for the Yankees, was tagged with the loss.

FIELD FOCUS

The buzz around Alex Rodriguez started early with ESPN actually cutting away from their regular programming to show the former three-time American League Most Valuable Player taking batting practice even though they were not televising the game.

Rodriguez, 39, also drew a rousing chorus of cheers and a small smattering of boos during pregame introductions and before his three at-bats. He did end up providing the fans with a bit of a show in going 1-for-2 with a walk in his three plate appearances.

After a 17-month absence due to a 162-game suspension from Major League Baseball for being involved in a performance enhancing drugs scandal, Rodriguez was just grateful just to be back on the field.

“This is as much fun as I’ve had in a long time in spring training,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I’m just feeling really good that I get to play the game that I love.”

A-Rod batted second and was the team’s designated hitter.

In his first plate appearance against Slowey. Rodriguez took two rusty looking swings before shooting a soft line drive into left for a single. In the third inning against right-hander Paul Clemens he ended the inning by hitting into a force play.

He completed his day in the sixth with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and two on and nobody out against right-hander Ethan Martin. Most of the announced crowd of 9,673 urged Rodriguez on as he worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Kyle Higashioka was sent out to pinch-run and Rodriguez’s first day back was done.

Rookie catching prospect Gary Sanchez followed with a sacrifice fly that scored the Yankees’ only run of the game.

Rodriguez told reporters after the game that he did hear the boos but was pleased by the cheers. “Once you hit rock bottom, anytime you hear a few cheers these days, it’s a pleasant surprise,” he said.

Girardi said he tentatively plans to start Rodriguez at DH again on Friday at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But there also is a chance he could play the field. Either way, Rodriguez is just glad to put the suspension behind him and just play baseball again.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though he was the losing pitcher, Eovaldi did look good in his debut. He gave up a run on two hits with no walks and one strikeout in 31 pitches over two frames. The 25-year-old former Miami Marlins right-hander did strike out Maikel Franco to start the second inning with a split-finger fastball, a pitch the Yankees would like Eovaldi to feature more this season.
  • Left-hander Andrew Miller also made his Yankee debut by pitching in the third inning. Though he gave up a single and two stolen bases to Herrera in the inning, Miller was able to strike out Freddy Galvis and Domonic Brown before retiring Ryan Howard on a groundout to keep Herrera at third base. Miller, 29, was signed as a free agent this winter and he is expected to compete with right-hander Dellin Betances for the closer role.
  • Since he was drafted in the first round in 2009, Cito Culver has always shown an ability to field but his bat has held him back. Culver, 22, made a spectacular play going deep into outfield grass in left and throwing in time to get Darin Ruf by a step.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees did not get a very good day out of Stephen Drew, who is penciled in as the team’s starting second baseman  –  though he has played only 34 games there. All of those came with the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. Drew was retired on two weak infield grounders and on defense he committed a fielding error on the first play of the game. Later, he threw a routine chance into the dirt and only a agile scoop from first baseman Mark Teixeira saved him from another error.
  • The Yankees seemed to sleepwalk offensively throughout the afternoon. They managed only five hits and drew two walks off some pretty ordinary Phillies pitchers. The Yankees recorded a total of five 1-2-3 innings.
  • The Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth and, after Sanchez’s sac fly scored the first Yankee run, catcher/first baseman Francisco Arcia grounded into a double play to shut down the best chance the Yankees had to score multiple runs all day.

BOMBER BANTER

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw a 30-pitch bullpen session in Tampa on Wednesday and told reporters that he is nearly ready to pitch in a Grapefruit League game. Tanaka, 26, is trying to recover from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Manager Joe Girardi said Tanaka will throw again in a simulated game and could make his first start in a game late next week.  . . .  For the first time in 20 seasons, Derek Jeter was not playing shortstop for the Yankees. Didi Gregarious, 24, made his debut with the Yankees and went 0-for-1 with a walk. Gregorious was obtained from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that included the Detroit Tigers. “It was an amazing feeling, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius told reporters. “It was amazing for me just wearing the pinstripes, to go out there with all my teammates.”  . . .  Before the game, the George M. Steinbrenner High School band performed. The Yankees then introduced former Yankee greats who are assisting the team as special instructors such as Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Hideki Matsui.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Bradenton, FL, on Thursday to face the Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Right-hander Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, was 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 18 games with the Yankees after being picked up as a free agent from the Toronto Blue Jays. Outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are scheduled to make the trip.

The Pirates will counter with veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will not be telecast. However, it is available live from station KDKA in Pittsburgh through MLB Radio.

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

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

OUTFIELD

RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)

CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)

LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)

In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.

That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?

Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.

On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.

The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.

Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.

So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.

So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .

Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.

“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”

The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.

Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.

Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.

By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.

The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.

“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”

There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.

On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.

But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.

After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.

With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.

Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.

One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.

Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.

Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.

Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.

He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.

Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.

Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.

Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.

The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.

Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.

The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.

Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.

On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.

Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.

Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.

The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.

The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.

One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.

Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.

They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.

Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.

Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.

Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.

The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.

Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.

Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.

Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.

Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.

He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.

One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.

In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.

With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.

He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.

The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.

Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.

The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.

Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.

The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.

But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.

The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.

The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.

Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.

But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.

Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.

Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.

The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

Icons Jeter, Soriano Spark Yanks’ Walk-Off Victory

GAME 105

YANKEES 6, RAYS 5

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

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

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

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

It set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

‘Super’ Nova Continues His Mastery Over Cold Rays

GAME 55

YANKEES 4, RAYS 1

Through the first third of the season the Yankees have not gotten much consistency from 25-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova, who entered Wednesday’s contest against the Rays with a 5.60 ERA.

Perhaps Nova finally found his groove or the Rays’ offense is in a severe deep freeze. Whatever the reason, Nova looked dominant and he had the Rays in control on the Yankee Stadium mound.

Nova pitched eight-plus innings and just missed pitching a complete-game shutout as New York downed Tampa Bay for the second night in a row and they now have won 10 of their last 13 games.

Nova (7-2) gave up a single to Desmond Jennings to start the game and he did not allow another hit until Sean Rodriguez stroked a one-out double in the eighth inning. In the ninth, Jennings and B.J. Upton hit back-to-back triples to spoil the shutout and end Nova’s evening.

It was the Rays’ first run of the series and their first score in their last 19 innings.

Nova gave up just the four hits, walked one, hit a batter and struck out five to win his third straight start. He faced the minimum in five of his eight innings of work and at one point he retired 13 straight batters.

Rafael Soriano entered the game in the ninth with Upton on third and no outs and he retired Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Hideki Matsui in order to collect his eighth save in eight opportunities.

Meanwhile, Nova received all the support he really needed on a pair of solo home runs.

With one out in the second inning, Mark Teixeira smacked a 0-1 hanging slider from right-hander Alex Cobb into the second deck in right-field for his 10th home run of the season and his fifth in his last 11 games.

Two innings later, Robinson Cano connected off Cobb (2-2) on 2-0 fastball and he lined a rope into the first row of seats over the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center for his ninth home run of the season. It was his fifth home run in his last 13 games.

Those two home runs were only two hits the Yankees managed off Cobb until the bottom of the eighth.

Raul Ibanez led off the inning with a single into right. With Dewayne Wise pinch-running for Ibanez at first, Nick Swisher laced a double down the right-field line that scored Wise easily. Eric Chavez followed with a double off the wall in left-center that scored Swisher to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead.

Cobb left having given up four runs on five hits and one walk and he struck out four in seven-plus innings.

With the victory, the Yankees pulled into second place in the American League East with a 31-24 record, a half-game behind the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays’ season record is 31-25 and they fell into third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nova was at his absolute best on Wednesday. He retired 13 of his 24 outs on ground balls and threw 69 of his 103 pitches for strikes (67 percent). Nova also has run his career record against the Rays to 4-0 and he is 2-0 against them this season. Nova’s effort lowered his season ERA to 5.09.
  • Soriano came to the rescue in the ninth with one run in and a runner on third with nobody out. But he induced Joyce to pop out in foul territory, he fanned Zobrist on a pitch in the dirt and Matsui’s high fly ball to right died at the warning track. Soriano remains perfect in save situations and he lowered his ERA to 1.90. Soriano also has not been scored upon since the Rays scored a run off of him on May 10 at Yankee Stadium, a string of 10 consecutive scoreless outings.
  • Teixeira’s return to driving the ball has led to a recent flurry in which he is 14-for-42 (.333) with five home runs and 12 RBIs over his last 11 games. In that span he has raised his season average from .226 to .249.
  • Despite being hit on the left forearm in Tuesday’s game, Cano was able to play Wednesday and homered. Cano had been in tailspin that had dropped his season average to .286 but he now has a modest four-game hitting streak and he is 5-for-14 (.357) during that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees had a hard time mustering much offense against Cobb, a rookie right-hander. Part of the problem is that Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson were 0-for-7 against Cobb at the top of the lineup. They were 0-for-8 overall and they only managed to get one ball out of the infield.
  • After showing signs of coming out of his season-long funk on Tuesday with a three hits, including a grand-slam home run, Russell Martin was 0-for-3 with a strikeout on Wednesday. That lowered his batting average back to .206.
  • Alex Rodriguez committed a stupid base-running play in the fourth inning. He drew a walk from Cobb with one out and Cobb’s second pitch to Cano bounced under the glove of catcher Jose Molina. However, Molina was able to retrieve it with Rodriguez halfway between first and second base. Rodriguez tried to get back to first but Molina gunned him down easily. Cano homered on the next pitch and Rodriguez’s mistake cost the Yankees a run.

BOMBER BANTER

Closer Mariano Rivera learned the issue with a blood clot in his right calf has been resolved and he is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus in his right knee next Tuesday in New York. Rivera, 42, said he hopes to be able to pitch in 2013.  . . .  All-Star setup man David Robertson will throw a bullpen session on Thursday at Yankee Stadium and he could possibly pitch in a minor-league game on Sunday. Robertson has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 14 with a strained left oblique.  . . .  Brett Gardner will play for Class A Advanced Tampa on Thursday and he could be activated as soon as Sunday. Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 18 with a strained right elbow.

ON DECK

The Yankees will be looking for a clean sweep of their three-game home series against the Rays on Thursday.

They will call upon ace left-hander CC Sabathia (7-2, 3.68 ERA) to get that sweep. Sabathia gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks and fanned five batters in eight innings of work last Friday in a victory over the Tigers. Sabathia is 10-7 with a 3.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.

The Rays are countering with left-hander David Price (7-3, 2.44 ERA). Price struck five in 7 1/3 innings last Friday while giving up four hits and two walks in a victory over the Orioles. Price is 5-3 with 4.15 ERA in his career against the Yankees but one of those losses was this season and Sabathia outpitched him in that game.

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

 

Pettitte’s Masterpiece Renders Rays To Canvas

GAME 54

YANKEES 7, RAYS 0

Michelangelo is generally considered the greatest artist of all-time and the Sistine Chapel is living testimony to that greatness. But I truly doubt that Michelangelo could have painted the corners of the strike zone any better than Andy Pettitte did on Tuesday night.

Home plate at Yankee Stadium was Pettitte’s canvas as he craftily dotted a corner here and skillfully used some heavy brushstrokes there on the Rays in 7 1/3 innings of two-hit, no-run baseball and he struck out 10 batters as New York ended up hanging a masterpiece on Tampa Bay.

The 39-year-old left-hander was truly the “Grand Master” as he took command of the game from the opening pitch all the way to his strikeout of Luke Scott to open the eighth inning that ended his night. Pettitte (3-2) gave up only two singles and two walks and no base-runner got past second base as he thoroughly dominated the Rays with his arsenal of cutters, curves, sliders and fastballs.

Meanwhile, struggling catcher Russell Martin broke out of a season-long funk to collect three hits, including a one-out, grand-slam homer off Rays starter James Shields (6-4) in the fourth inning that gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead.

Shields was undone by a combination of sloppy Rays play and Martin’s well-timed home run.

The Yankees scored two unearned runs off Shields in the first inning aided by a wild pitch, a missed double play and a critical two-out error.

With one out Curtis Granderson singled to right and Shields tossed a wild pitch that advanced him to second. He then walked Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano slapped a one-hopper that bounced off Shields’ glove for a double-play ball that became a single.

In keeping with the Yankees’ 2012 tradition of bases-loaded futility, Mark Teixeira struck out looking and Raul Ibanez dribbled a routine ground ball to shortstop Elliot Johnson. However, Johnson short-armed the throw and the ball bounced off first baseman Carlos Pena’s glove and Granderson and Rodriguez scored.

Then in the fourth, Ibanez drew a one-out walk, Nick Swisher singled sharply to right and Eric Chavez was walked on four pitches.

Martin then stepped the plate after having singled in the second inning to bring his batting average to .200 for the first time since May 5. Down 0-2 in the count, Martin actually swung at a high and outside fastball and he drilled it to the opposite field into the right-field bleachers.

The Yankees added a run in the fifth inning on a one-out double off the right-field wall by Swisher to score Cano, who had led off with a double..

Shields, who has lost three of his last four starts and has an ERA of 5.92 in that span, gave up seven runs (five earned) on seven hits and four walks and struck out two in just five innings. In his three starts against the Yankees this season, Shields is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA.

However, this chilly evening in the Bronx belonged to Pettitte. He threw 103 pitches and 70 were strikes for a percentage of 68 percent. He has won three of his four starts at Yankee Stadium this season and his effort tonight drew the Yankees to within a half-game of the Rays and Orioles, who are tied for first place in the American League East.

The Yankees boosted their season record to 30-24. The Rays fell to 31-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pettitte’s 10 strikeouts were the most he has recorded in a game since 2003. But that really does not tell you just how dominant he was on Tuesday. In one stretch he struck out five Rays batters in a row. The only hits he gave up were a leadoff single to B.J. Upton in the fourth inning and a one-out single by Pena in the fifth. Pettitte lowered his ERA to 2.78, which is the best of all the Yankee starters. It was the 243rd victory of his career.
  • Martin’s grand slam was his fifth home run of the season and it was his fourth career grand slam. Martin’s 3-for-4 night raised his batting average to .211 on the season. He has gotten at least one hit in six of his last seven games and he is 9-for-23 (.391) during that span. The Yankees hope his season-long slump is finally over.
  • Cano was 2-for-3 with a single and a double. He entered the game in a 4-for-26 slump (.154).

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I am not going to dwell on any negatives in a night the Yankees needed to win to move up in the division. Pettitte was spectacular and the Yankees have very quietly won nine of their last 12 games. They are only one game off their pace from last season when they won 97 games.

BRONX BANTER

Hideki Matsui returned to Yankee Stadium wearing No. 35 for the Rays on Tuesday and he received a warm reception from the 40,537 fans in attendance when he stepped to the plate in the second inning. However, Matsui was 0-for-4 in the game and he is 1-for-9 in his career against his former teammate Pettitte.  . . .  Cano was hit by a pitch from Rays reliever Cesar Ramos in the seventh inning and he was removed from the game in the bottom of ninth inning in favor of Jayson Nix. It is unclear if Cano was injured or if he will miss any time as a result.  . . .  Yankee manager Joe Girardi made it clear that when David Robertson is activated from the disabled list he will be the setup man for Rafael Soriano. Robertson is recovering from a left oblique strain and he hopes to return in about two weeks.  . . .  Early balloting indicates that shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Granderson are leading at their positions for the 2012 All-Star Game. Cano and Teixeira are in second place at their respective positions. The balloting will end at midnight on June 28.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Rays on Wednesday.

The Yankees will start right-hander Ivan Nova (6-2, 5.60 ERA). Nova has won his last two starts despite giving up eight runs in 13 2/3 innings (5.27 ERA). The Yankees scored six runs for him in each of those starts. Nova is 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA in his career against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Alex Cobb (2-1, 3.71 ERA). Cobb gave up four runs on nine hits and a walk and he hit two batters in five innings against the White Sox in his last start. He has no record with a 1.50 ERA in his one start against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN2 and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Get 8 CCs Of Sabathia To Outgun Rangers

GAME 16

YANKEES 7, RANGERS 4

If you want to be the best team in the American League than you want to play the best team in the A.L. and beat their best with your best. New York did just that to Texas on Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

CC Sabathia pitched a solid eight innings and Alex Rodriguez homered and Derek Jeter contributed four hits as the Yankees defeated what was a red-hot Rangers team.

Sabathia (2-0) gave up four runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out eight batters to win his second consecutive start. Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning to record his fourth save of the season.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, made life a living hell for Rangers starter Derek Holland (2-0). Holland gave up seven runs on nine hits and four walks and struck out one in six innings. He is now 0-5 in his career against the Yankees.

The Yankees struck early off Holland, loading the bases in the first inning and Curtis Granderson hit a looping two-out single to center give the Yankees an early 2-1 lead.

After the Rangers scored a run on a Josh Hamilton double-play grounder, the Yankees struck for four runs in the fifth inning, capped by Rodriguez’s 414-foot blast into the left-field seats for a three-run home run to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead.

They added a run in the sixth when backup catcher Chris Stewart hit a one-out double off the wall in left-center and Jeter scored him with a double off the wall in right-center.

Sabathia did surrender a solo home run to Hamilton in the sixth and a two-run double by Craig Gentry in the seventh. But he retired the last five batters he faced on routine grounders before giving way to Rivera.

Before the game, manager Joe Girardi was hoping Sabathia would pitch into the late innings to give a needed break to his overtaxed bullpen and Sabathia did just that, throwing 77 of his 109 pitches for strikes and keeping the Rangers’ power-laden offense at bay long enough for the Yankees to get to Holland.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 10-6 and they are now tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the A.L. East. The Rangers fell to 13-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia did give up four runs but this was, by far, his best performance of the season. Other than the scratch run he allowed in the first and Hamilton’s home run in the fifth, Sabathia pitched dominant baseball for the first six innings. He hurt himself with a leadoff walk to Nelson Cruz in the seventh and then he gave up one-out doubles to Brandon Snyder and Gentry, who were the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters in the lineup. He is now 11-3 in his career against the Rangers.
  • Jeter’s amazing start to the season just keeps getting better by the day. He reached on a infield single in the first, singled to left-center in the second, rolled a single into left in the fifth and then stroked his RBI double in the sixth. His 4-for-5 night raised his season average over .400 to .411. He also has 13 RBIs from the leadoff spot.
  • Rodriguez hit his third home run of the season off Holland on an 0-1 fastball that did not get in as far as Holland would have liked. Rodriguez, who was walked in his first two trips to the plate, was waiting for it and sent it into the bleachers in left-center. After a slow start at the plate, Rodriguez has homered twice in his last three games and has driven in five of his seven runs in that span.
  • Granderson’s two-run single set the tone for the game because it came after Mark Teixeira had struck out for the second out of the inning with the bases loaded. Granderson hung in against the left-handed Holland to fist a 1-2 pitch into center to score two runs and give Sabathia an early cushion against the Rangers.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Teixeira entered the game having great success against Holland, who had given up three home runs to him in his young career. But Teixeira struck out with the bases loaded in the first, rolled into a double play in the the third and bounced out to short again the fifth against Holland. He was 0-for-4 in the game coming off his six RBIs against the Red Sox on Saturday.
  • With Brett Gardner on the disabled list, Girardi elected to use Andruw Jones in left and insert Eduardo Nunez as the DH on Monday. They combined to go 0-for-8 and Nunez only managed to get one ball out of the infield.
  • Jeter made a careless error in the second inning on a ground ball off the bat of Cruz. Jeter lobbed the ball to first and it short-hopped Teixeira and bounced away from him. Fortunately, the error did not hurt the Yankees. Sabathia retired the next two batters and Cruz was stranded at first.

BOMBER BANTER

The status of right-handed starter Michael Pineda will have to wait another day. A scheduling conflict will force Pineda to meet with the team physician on Tuesday and he also will undergo an MRI dye contrast test on his ailing right shoulder. The Yankees hope to have the results of the tests later that evening. Pineda, 23, had to halt a bullpen session in Tampa, FL., last week after 15 pitches due to weakness in his shoulder.  . . .  Freddy Garcia has received a reprieve from Girardi. Garcia will make a start in the weekend home series against the Detroit Tigers, despite an 0-3 record and a 9.75 ERA in his first three starts. Girardi said Garcia will pitch either Saturday or Sunday.

ON DECK

Since Hideki Matsui pretty much retired the nickname “Godzilla” then the second game of the Yankees-Rangers series between two former Japanese League stars should be titled “Rodan vs. Anguirus” if you are up on your 1950s Japanese movie monsters.

The Yankees will start 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 5.00 ERA). Kuroda, who pitched 11 seasons for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, has been bad, good and then bad again in his first three starts. He gave up six runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Twins on Wednesday. He is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA against the Rangers.

Opposing him will be Yu Darvish (2-0, 3.57 ERA). The 25-year-old Darvish, who pitched seven seasons for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, gave up just two hits but walked and struck out five in 6 1/3 innings in a 10-3 victory over the Tigers. Darvish has never faced the Yankees.

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

 

Laird’s Walk-Off Sac Fly In 10th Boosts Yankees

GAME 15

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3 (10 Innings)

TAMPA – When you have a team struggling to get on base and score runs it is never too late push a run across – even if it is the 10th inning.

Brandon Laird lofted a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning to score Justin Maxwell with the game-winning run as New York swept it two-game home-and-away set with Washington at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday.

The Yankees, very much like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” depended greatly on “the kindness of strangers.”

Nationals right-hander Atahualpa Severino started his stint in the 10th by walking Maxwell. Pinch-hitter Melky Mesa followed by hitting a routine grounder that was misplayed by Nationals third baseman Mark Teahen, allowing Maxwell to advance to third. One out later, Laird launched a fly ball to right field that plated Maxwell with the deciding tally.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0) pitched a scoreless top of the 10th to gain credit for the victory. Severino (0-1) took the loss.

The game featured a matchup of lefties in CC Sabathia for the Yankees and newly acquired Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals. However, Sabathia struggled with his command and he left after just three innings on the south end of a 3-1 deficit.

Sabathia gave up three runs on six hits and a walk while he fanned two. Gonzalez gave up a run on three hits and three walks and struck out six in 3 1/3 innings.

The Yankees managed to tie the game in the fifth inning off reliever Craig Stammen on a leadoff single by Doug Bernier and a two-out, two-run home run to deep left by Alex Rodriguez, his first home run this spring since he homered on the first pitch he saw by Roy Halladay of the Phillies on March 3.

With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 7-8. The Nationals fell to 5-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With the battle of lefties going on most of the buzz in the sellout crowd of 10,982 was about another left-hander entirely. The news 39-year-old Andy Pettitte had elected to come out of retirement and sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract with the Yankees spread like wildfire through the Yankee faithful on hand. I would consider adding a pitcher to your roster who has 240 major-league victories (203 of them with the Yankees) has got to be considered a positive development.
  • Though the Yankee regulars struck out so much they could have put out a wildfire, it was nice to see Rodriguez connect for a huge two-run home run in the fifth inning. The Yankees, if you can believe this, have only hit a total of five home runs in the first 15 games this spring. Hopefully, this may signal an end to the power outage.
  • Though Sabathia struggled, Phil Hughes turned in a very sharp four innings of work in relief. Hughes, who is still competing with a group of pitchers that now will include Pettitte for a starting spot, held the Nationals scoreless on three hits, did not walk a batter and he struck three. Hughes is showing no signs of the right shoulder fatigue that plagued him last season.
  • Robinson Cano doubled to the opposite field in the first inning off Gonzalez to score Curtis Granderson from first base to draw the Yankees to within a run at 2-1. Cano is off to a very slow start this spring and is hitting .190.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia admitted after the game his fastball was “all over the place” and it cost him early. The Nationals loaded the bases to start the game on a double, single and a walk. They pushed across a run on a double-play grounder off the bat of Wilson Ramos. But they added a second run in the same frame on an RBI double by Jesus Flores. Steve Lombardozzi then touched Sabathia with a leadoff home run in the third inning to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
  • Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. The Yankees struck out 14 times in the game. Raul Ibanez, Francisco Cervelli and Bill Hall fanned two times each. Considering the fact that the Yankees won the game after collecting just five hits in the game you would have to say they were lucky to have won at all. The pitching of Hughes was the big key. The question is when are the Yankees going to wake up and start hitting?
  • Ibanez was 0-for-2 with a walk and fanned twice and he is now hitting .077. Yankee fans are getting a bit impatient with Ibanez considering he is replacing retired Yankee icon Jorge Posada at designated hitter and because the Yankees chose to sign him instead of a pair of former popular Yankees in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

BOMBER BANTER

Injuries have cropped up all over the place and it is now an epidemic in Yankee camp. Derek Jeter missed the game Friday and will not play again until Tuesday due to a tender left calf. The Yankees were quick to point out that they do not consider the injury serious and that is not the same calf that forced Jeter to the disabled list for three weeks last season.  . . .  Meanwhile, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were held out of action with strained left groins. Swisher could return to the lineup on Saturday but Martin will be shelved for a couple of days.  . . .  Those walking wounded join the ranks of Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand), Ramiro Pena (sprained right ankle) and David Robertson (bone bruise of right foot) who are also out of action.  . . .  The Yankees made their first cuts of the spring on Friday, re-assigning 14 players to minor-league camp, including top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Banuelos was among seven pitchers sent out. The others were Dan Burawa, Brett Marshall, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner and Whitley. The other cuts included catchers Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy and Kyle Higashioka, infielders David Adams and Corban Joseph and outfielders Zoilo Almonte and Mesa.

ON DECK

The Yankees will host the Houston Astros for the second time this spring on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Scheduled to start for the Yankees will be 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who will be making his third start of the spring. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and he was displeased with his last start.

The Astros are expected to start right-hander Bud Norris.

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

 

Orioles Seem To Have Stranglehold On 5th Place

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.

But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.

This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.

STARTERS

One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.

The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.

Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.

Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.

Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.

The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.

BULLPEN

The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.

The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.

STARTING LINEUP

A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.

Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.

With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.

The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.

Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.

The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.

They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.

BENCH

Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.

The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.

ANALYSIS

With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.

The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.

The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.

Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.

Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.

It is a spot for which they are built.

ON TUESDAY – PART 2  TORONTO BLUE JAYS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnett Nixing Deal For Abreu Benefits Yankees

If A.J. Burnett does nothing more for the New York Yankees as a pitcher he did them a major favor off the field this week.

The Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels had worked a trade of the 35-year-old right-hander to the Angels in exchange for former Yankee outfielder Bobby Abreu.

However, as part of Burnett’s five-year contract with the Yankees, Burnett had the right to block a trade to up to 10 major-league teams. The Angels so happen to be one of those teams and he rejected the trade.

For the Yankees’ sake, I am very happy that A.J. rejected that swap. Abreu, who will turn 38 in March, is on a fast downward escalator in his career. A career .293 hitter, Abreu hit .255 in 2010 and a career low of .253 in 2011 with only eight home runs and 60 RBIs in 142 games.

Abreu is available because the Angels’ outfield is filled with left-fielder Vernon Wells, center-fielder Peter Bourjos and right-fielder Torii Hunter and, with the signing of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols, the Angels already have a logjam at designated hitter between former starting first baseman Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, who hit 29 home runs as a rookie first baseman last season.

The Angels were seeking Burnett as a No. 5 starter behind ace right-hander Jared Weaver, free-agent lefty C.J. Wilson and right-handers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

Abreu is owed $9 million in the final year of his contract and Burnett is owed $33 million over the final two seasons of his contract. It is unclear how much of Burnett’s salary the Yankees were willing to pay. A source did say it was a “considerable portion” and the Angels would not have been obligated to pay Burnett anything until the 2013 season.

Abreu likely would have assumed a platoon left-handed-hitting DH role with the Yankees in a tandem with the righty-swinging Andruw Jones. The Yankees would then have some money left over to re-sign backup infielder Eric Chavez to complete the 2012 roster. The Angels would get a No. 5 starter and be rid of an expensive bench player without adding money to the 2012 payroll.

Reports indicate that Burnett rejected the trade because his wife does not like flying to attend Bunrett’s games. That is the reason Burnett listed all of the West Coast teams on his 10-team no-trade list. The same reports indicate that the Yankees are still trying to pursue a trade for Burnett with the Pittaburgh Pirates.

So far the Yankees have struck out on deals for Burnett that included 30-year-old first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones of the Pirates, 34-year-old first baseman/DH Travis Hafner and now Abreu. However, if they agree on a deal with the Pirates to unload a portion of Burnett’s salary and the Yankees can get a few young prospects from the Pirates in return for Burnett they likely would have enough money to sign a free-agent DH this weekend and work out a deal with Chavez.

The Yankees are looking to add former Phillie outfielder Raul Ibanez, who said he would be willing to accept less money in order to play with the Yankees. The team also possibly could sign two members of the Yankees’ 2009 world championship club in Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Right-handed-hitting DH Vladimir Guerrero also expressed an interest in playing with the Yankess but the team is strictly looking at signing a left-handed hitter.

Let’s face reality here. The Yankees would be better off with a combination of either Ibanez and Chavez or Damon and Chavez than Abreu and Chavez. That is the reason the Yankees should actually thank Burnett for nixing the deal and exercising his no-trade rights. It now actually forces the Yankees into trying again with the Pirates.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and his Pirates counterpart Neal Huntington have spent so much time talking with each other this week they may end up picking out china patterns. The Pirates remain confident a deal can be reached, but the Yankees have told the Pirates they would like the deal completed before Burnett is required to report to the spring training in Tampa, FL, on Sunday.

The two teams are trying to come to agreement on how much money the Pirates will pay towards Burnett’s contract and what prospects the Pirates would be willing to trade.

STAY TUNED

 

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