Results tagged ‘ Ichiro Suzuki ’

Ellsbury Returns To Fenway As Yanks Pester Lester

“The bad boy’s back
The bad boy’s back in town, oh yeah
The bad boy’s back
Don’t you shoot him down”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          - Asia

GAME 20

YANKEES 9, RED SOX 3

To Red Sox Nation, leaving the fold to play for the Yankees is tantamount to Benedict Arnold’s treachery during the Revolutionary War. They let Jacoby Ellsbury know it as he stepped into the batter’s box for his first at-bat. But Ellsbury quickly showed the Fenway Park faithful what they are missing in the leadoff spot and in centerfield.

Ellsbury was 2-for-5 with a double and a triple, scored two runs, drove in two runs and made a sensational sliding catch in center while Masahiro Tanaka pitched into the eighth inning as New York bedeviled Boston in front of a crowd of 37,041 and national television audience.

The Yankees frustrated and unnerved Jon Lester (2-3) for 4 2/3 innings, scoring eight runs (three earned) on 11 hits and four walks while Lester struck out seven.

Tanaka (3-0), in contrast, was cool, calm and in command as he held the Red Sox to two runs  -  on a pair of back-to-back homers by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli with one out in the fourth  -  on seven hits, no walks and he fanned seven to remain undefeated after posting a 24-0 record in his final season in Japan.

The Yankees rattled Lester from the beginning when Ellsbury ignored the boos  -  and a few cheers  -  to lace a ball to the wall in deep center that a fan reached into the field play to deflect and the umpires awarded Ellsbury a triple. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single and the undoing of Lester began.

A combination of an A.J. Pierzynski passed ball and a Pierzynski throwing error allowed Jeter to advance to third. Jeter then scored on an RBI single by Carlos Beltran.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the third when Alfonso Soriano slapped a double off the Green Monster and Mark Teixeira followed with a bloop single to right that scored Soriano. Brian McCann then scored Teixeira with a RBI double off the Monster that made it 4-0.

After Ortiz and Napoli homered to fool the fans into thinking they were actually back in the game, the Yankees chased Lester in the fifth with four unearned runs.

With Teixeira on second after he was walked and McCann on first with a single, Lester struck out Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro Suzuki. However, Napoli was unable to hold Brian Roberts’ lined drive in his glove at first base for the third out and Teixeira scored when the ball rolled into rightfield.

The Red Sox had an opportunity to end the inning if Grady Sizemore had thrown the ball to second base because McCann did not see Napoli lose the ball and he was walking off the field. But Sizemore threw home to try to get Teixeira as McCann scrambled back to second.

It was that kind of night for Lester and the Red Sox. Leave it to Ellsbury to make the his old team pay for the mistake.

He followed with a two-run double on Lester’s 118th and final pitch of the evening.

Jeter then greeted left-hander Chris Capuano with an RBI single into center and Ellsbury crossed the plate to make a 8-2 laugher.

Beltran capped the scoring in the eighth by blasting his fifth home run of the season with one out in the eight inning off right-hander Edward Mujica.

The Red Sox scored an “oh-by-the way” run in the ninth off Dellin Betances on a one-out double by Jonny Gomes and and two-out double off the bat of Xander Bogaerts that scored Gomes.

The 11 hits the Yankees nicked Lester with were the most hits he has given up to them in his career. Every Yankee starter with the exception of Solarte had at least one hit in the game.

The Yankees have won four of the first five meetings against the Red Sox this season.

With the victory the Yankees improved their record to 12-8 and the lead the American League East by one game over the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox are 9-12 and in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury, 30, proved to his former team he was worth the seven-year, $153-million contract he received from the Yankees. His hitting (.342), speed (leads American League with eight steals) and Gold-Glove defense in center are worth rewarding. The Red Sox two biggest weaknesses are their leadoff spot and the fact that centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .228. The fans can boo him all they want but as Bob Costas said on his call of the game for the MLB Network, “They are booing the laundry and not the player.”
  • Tanaka was a great contrast to his mound opponent Lester. While Lester fumed about hits that dropped in, hard-hit balls off the Monster and the strike zone of home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, Tanaka did not show any emotion at all and looked to be in command at all times. For all his hype, Lester’s career ERA is 3.73 and his WHIP is a staggeringly high 1.30. He also showed the Yankees you can rattle him. Tanaka proved pretty much the opposite.
  • Want to hear a stunning stat about Jeter? In the past 11 games that he has played he has at least one hit in all of them. In fact, he has only failed to get a hit in two of the 14 games in which played this season. His 2-for-4 night raised his season average to .298. Anybody really think he is washed up at age 39?

NAGGING NEGATIVES

On a night where the Red Sox had their ace pounded for 11 hits, the Yankees’ imported free agent from Japan made them look silly on his split-finger fastball and Ellsbury laid it on his former club there is nothing that I can say that would be close to being negative. The world is just a better place when the Yankees put the Red Sox in their place  -  last.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees activated closer David Robertson from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday and outrighted left-hander Cesar Cabral to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster. Robertson has been sidelined sidelined since April 6 with a strain in his left groin. With Robertson’s reinstatement, Shawn Kelley will move back into the eighth inning setup role after saving four games in four chances filling in as the closer.  . . .  An MRI on Tuesday indicated that right-hander Ivan Nova has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and he likely will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. The recommendation for surgery came from Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team’s physician. The recovery time for the surgery is 12 to 18 months.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1, 1.00 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pineda is coming off six innings of shutout baseball to defeat the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. He gave up four hits and one walk while he struck out three. Pineda also defeated the Red Sox on April 10, yielding just one run on six hits in six innings.

Pineda will be opposed by veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-2, 5.15 ERA). Lackey has been pounded for 12 runs on 20 hits and four walks in 11 innings in his past two starts against the Yankees (April 12) and the Baltimore Orioles on Friday. It is the first time in his career he has given up as many as 10 hits and six earned runs in two consecutive starts.

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

Anna’s Bases-Loaded Walk In 12th Eclipses Rays

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 1 (12 INNINGS)

Sometimes when they say it is game of inches they really mean it. On Sunday at Tropicana Field the Yankees ended up winning a game against the Rays on a very close checked swing by rookie infielder Dean Anna.

Anna just barely held up on a 3-2 pitch from left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser with the bases loaded and two out as part of a four-run uprising as New York gladly will leave St. Petersburg, FL, with split of their four-game series against Tampa Bay.

After right-hander Heath Bell (0-1) opened the 12th by walking Yangervis Solarte, Riefenhauser came on to retire Solarte on a fielder’s choice grounder by Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts on lineout.

However, Brian McCann singled to advance Gardner to third and Rays manager Joe Maddon decided to walk Jacoby Ellsbury intentionally in order to pitch to Anna. Niefenhauser’s  3-2 pitch to Anna was called a ball by home-plate umpire Clint Fagan and third-base umpire Marty Foster correctly called that Anna checked his swing in time to allow Gardner to score to break the 1-1 tie.

That opened the floodgates as right-hander Josh Lueke replaced Riefenhauser and was tagged by a two-run single by Carlos Beltran and an RBI single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.

Preston Claiborne (1-0), who was called up on Sunday after the Yankees had been hammered for 27 runs on 32 hits in two days, pitched the final two innings to get credit for the victory.

The Yankees actually held a 1-0 lead in the game after the top of the fourth inning, when Soriano led off with a double and Gardner followed two batters later with a deep drive to right that outfielder Will Myers appeared initially to have caught at the wall.

However, after Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged the call, replays clearly indicated that the ball landed just under the yellow home-run line on some netting and then caromed into Myers’ glove. Gardner was awarded a double and RBI that allowed Soriano to score.

Emergency starter Vidal Nuno actually held the Rays scoreless over five innings, yielding only three hits and two walks while fanned six batters in his first start since June of last season.

The Yankees bullpen, which had been shredded the past two days, held up well until a one-out error by Roberts in the bottom of the seventh inning allowed the Rays to tie it with an unearned run.

Matt Thornton entered the game with one out in the frame but was greeted by a single by James Loney. Brandon Guyer then rolled a easy two-hopper to Solarte at third. But Roberts bobbled the ball at second and umpire Joe West ruled Loney safe at second also.

Adam Warren came in to replace Thornton and Yunel Escobar singled to load the bases and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce launched a sacrifice fly that scored Loney just ahead of the tag from John Ryan Murphy on the throw from Beltran in right.

The victory allowed the Yankees to improve their season record to 11-8. They remain a game up on the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Rays fell to 9-10 and are two games back.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Give Nuno, 26, a lot of credit for tossing five spotless innings in his first start in almost a year. Nuno was used because of Tuesday’s rainout at Yankee Stadium in a game scheduled against the Chicago Cubs, which pushed back Masahiro Tanaka’s next start until Tuesday. But Nuno likely will get at least one more start since right-hander Ivan Nova likely will miss the rest of the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
  • Anna, 27, only was in the game because Girardi had elected to pinch-run Ichiro Suzuki in the 11th inning to replace Derek Jeter after he led off the frame with a single off Bell. Suzuki ultimately was called out on a steal attempt after he initially was called safe. The call was overturned on a replay requested by Maddon. So Anna ended up stepping into the batters’ box facing a left-hander and sporting a .136 batting average. But he earned the walk and it was a very impressive eight-pitch at-bat.
  • Shawn Kelley highlighted an unyielding performance by the bullpen after they had been shelled so badly in the two previous games. Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th innings and struck out four batters to allow the Yankees to win the game in the 12th. The bullpen of David Phelps, Thornton, Warren, Kelley and Claiborne shut out the Rays on three hits and three walks while fanning nine in seven innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Roberts had a day he would like to forget. Along with committing a senseless fielding error that cost the Yankees the lead he was 0-for-5 with a couple of strikeouts and he stranded four base-runners. Roberts is off to a slow start with the bat and is now hitting just .156.
  • Thornton is certainly nothing like his predecessor Boone Logan. He does not have Logan’s sweeping slider and lefties make him pay for it. He was called into the game to retire the left-handed Loney but Loney slapped a fastball to the opposite field for a single. Thornton has to be prepared to push good lefty hitters off the plate to keep them from going the other way.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees activated Mark Teixeira from the disabled list and he started at first base on Sunday and was 2-for-6 with fielding error in the game. Teixeira, 34, had been out of the lineup since he strained his right hamstring in a game against the Blue Jays on April 4.  . . .  David Robertson is on schedule to be activated on Tuesday. Robertson, 29,  suffered a strained left groin on April 6. He will resume his closer’s role and Kelley will move back into the main setup role. Kelley was 4-for-4 in save opportunities.

COMMENTARY

I have said this before and I will say this again: The Rays’ organization is great to its own players and fans (which is fantastic) but they treat everyone else with disdain because they are very insecure. One example: If there is giveaway such as an Evan Longoria T-shirt for kids age 14-and-under they will not hand the shirts to any kids wearing an opposing team’s jersey. Yep! They do that that at the Trop because they are small-minded people. But it all trickles down from the top. To most of the nation, Maddon is seemingly lovable guy. But witness him at a press conference and you see that he puts a capital A in the term a–hole. Asked to comment on Nuno and the Yankee bullpen’s performance after Sunday’s game, Maddon told reporters: “There really is no solid explanation. I can’t stand here and say that the Yankees pitched that great. We just did not have a good offensive day.” Most managers tip their cap to the opponent but Maddon can’t be bothered because when his team loses it can’t be because the other team is better that day. I’m sure that there was no explanation for Mark Buerhle’s perfect game either, Joe. He is an A–hole. Period!

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Monday off before making their first trip to Fenway Park to play the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

Tanaka (2-0, 2.05 ERA) steps into his first foray into sports’  biggest rivalry after totally dominating the Cubs on Wednesday. Tanaka, 25, struck out 10 batters and only gave up two bunt singles and a walk in seven very strong innings. I am sure Cubs manager Rich Renteria has no explanation for it.

He will be opposed by left-hander Jon Lester (2-2, 2.17 ERA). Lester evened his record by giving up just one run on seven hits and he struck out nine en route to a victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

Beltran Boosts Yankees As They Limp Past Red Sox

GAME 13

YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2

Carlos Beltran has wanted to be a Yankee for a long time. At age 36, he is finally getting the chance to wear pinstripes and he is loving every minute of it.

Beltran slugged a two-run home run and collected three hits overall to back the solid pitching of Ivan Nova as New York held on to beat Boston on Sunday to win the home weekend series three games to one.

As rivalries go, this one is the greatest in sports. There have been many memorable games over the years and this one  -  played in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,081 and a national television audience –  was pretty eventful for an early April contest.

Nova (2-1) entered the game with a 8.68 ERA but he weathered some early problems to pitch into the eighth inning.

His mound opponent, Felix Doubront, posted an ERA of 9.00 and he did not make it out of the third inning of his last start. Yet, Doubront pitched into the seventh inning.

How this pair of starters made it that far was a testament to their toughness and some very odd things, which usually occur when these two teams meet.

Doubront started out as if he would not last the first inning after Beltran laced a one-out single to left and Jacoby Ellsbury lined a double into the right-field corner. Alfonso Soriano then lofted a sure-fire sacrifice fly into center.

But Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. fired the ball to third base and Ryan Roberts tagged a sliding Ellsbury before Beltran could cross the plate with the run.

The Red Sox then literally took aim at Nova with two out in the second inning.

Roberts singled and Bradley followed with ball that caromed off Nova’s foot for a single. Jonathan Herrera then scored Roberts with a lined single that narrowly missed Nova’s head. Grady Sizemore then came through with the fourth straight single off Nova but left-fielder Brett Gardner threw Bradley out at the plate.

The Yankees then took the lead in the third inning when Gardner stroked a one-out single and Beltran followed with the 361st home run of his career, a lined shot that landed in the first row in the left-field bleachers.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Doubront opened the frame by walking Brian McCann and Yangervis Solarte. After Solarte was retired on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kelly Johnson, Francisco Cervelli hit a ball to Roberts that he turned into a double play.

Cervelli stumbled through about a half-dozen steps past first base and fell holding the back of his right leg.

Manager Joe Girardi challenged the out call at first base by umpire Bob Davidson as Cervelli was helped off the field with an obviously severe pull in his right hamstring.

Meanwhile, television replays indicated Cervelli touched first base before the ball hit first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, which allowed McCann to score the Yankees’ third run without the benefit of a hit. The umpires reversed the out call.

Red Sox manager John Farrell stormed out onto the field to protest the reversal and immediately was ejected from the game by Davidson. Managers are not allowed to argue calls that have been overturned.

Nova, meanwhile, settled in and pitched well. He only allowed a leadoff home run in the sixth inning to Napoli, which drew the Bosox to within a run at 3-2. He exited with one out in the eighth having given up two runs on eight hits, no walks and four strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.

The Yankee bullpen then turned the game into an adventure.

Matt Thornton replaced Nova to face David Ortiz and Ortiz laced a deep drive that would have hit the top of the auxiliary scoreboard for a sure double. However, Ichiro Suzuki, who only entered the game as the right-fielder when Cervelli left the game, leapt and caught the ball before it reached the wall.

David Phelps then replaced Thornton and he ended up yielding a double to Napoli, a walk to Daniel Nava and hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch to load the bases. He then got locked into a tense eight-pitch battle with pinch-hitter Mike Carp that  -  luckily for Phelps and the Yankees  -  ended with Carp swinging and missing to end the threat.

Shawn Kelley pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two batters, to earn his third save in three opportunities.

Doubront (2-1) was tagged with loss, giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.

The victory gives the Yankees a 7-6 record on the young season. The Red Sox dropped to 5-8.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Beltran has always been a big-stage performer throughout his career and his 3-for-4 night substantiated that reputation. In his past six games, Beltran is 11-for-26 (.423) with three home runs and six RBIs. This is the production the Yankees were expecting when they signed Beltran as free agent to the three-year contract after Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners.
  • Nova always has been a captive to his pitches working. When they are not working he gets lit up like a roman candle. When they are working he can be very good. His stuff was working on Sunday and he was able to hold the Red Sox to just the one run on three hits over his last 5 1/3 innings.
  • Suzuki’s catch on Ortiz’s deep drive was set up by Cervelli’s injury. Suzuki entered the game as a pinch-runner for Cervelli in fourth and he was placed in right-field. That moved right-fielder Beltran to first base, a position he has never played in 17 major-league seasons. If Beltran had been in right it is likely that drive would have not been caught. It truly was a game saver. For a 40-year-old player, Suzuki can still flash some leather.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It appears the Yankees’ issues with injuries that beset them in 2013 seem to have cropped up again early in 2014. The Yankees are already without first baseman Mark Teixeira, closer David Robertson and backup infielder Brendan Ryan. All three are on the disabled list. They played Sunday’s game with shortstop Derek Jeter nursing a mild quad injury and second baseman Brian Roberts out with a back injury. The loss of Cervelli left the team with no other bench players and no backup catcher. McCann took a ball off the fingers of his right index finger catching in the eighth inning and Solarte took an inadvertent shot to the groin from Napoli as he was running out a grounder in the sixth. Fortunately, both players were able to stay in the game. The Yankees will need to add some depth to their roster in a hurry.

BOMBER BANTER

Cervelli was taken for an MRI after he left the game but it is certainty that he will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees are expected to recall catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace Cervelli on the roster.  . . .  Jeter said he felt his right quadriceps tighten up in Friday’s game against the Red Sox. He already was scheduled for a day off on Saturday but Girardi opted to hold Jeter out a second day. Jeter was not scheduled to have any tests and he is expected to play to play on Tuesday.  . . .  Roberts is listed as day-to-day after he experienced some lower-back soreness. A precautionary MRI came back negative but it is not clear when Roberts will be able to play.

ON DECK

The Yankees will finally get their first day off of the season and it is a good thing with all of their walking wounded. They will open a two-game home series with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 3.21 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Tanaka struck out 10 batters in seven innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. But he had to settle for a no-decision.

Right-hander Jason Hammel (2-0, 2.63 ERA) will start for the Cubs. Hammel gave up three runs on three hits (all homers) and struck out six in seven innings as he defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.

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

 

One Bad Pitch In One Bad Inning Dooms CC, Yanks

GAME 11

RED SOX 4, YANKEES 2

There is nothing in baseball more frustrating for a pitcher than to be in total command of a game and to have it all fall apart in the blink of an eye with one bad pitch in one bad inning. But that is exactly what happened to CC Sabathia on Friday.

Entering the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead, Jonny Gomes led off with a home run and four batters later Sabathia’s former teammate Grady Sizemore blasted a hanging slider for a three-run blast as Boston downed New York in front of a paid crowd of 44,121 at Yankee Stadium.

The game featured a pitcher’s duel between the two team’s aces.

Up until the sixth, Sabathia (1-2) had shut out the Red Sox on just one hit with two walks and six strikeouts. Left-hander Jon Lester (1-2) was just about as good. But he was victimized by a home run to leadoff the second inning by Alfonso Soriano.

If not for the “OBI” (one bad inning) Sabathia’s fate might have been different.

Gomes tied it with a long blast over the scoreboard in right, his first home run of the season.

One out later, David Ortiz was tied up on an inside pitch and rolled a swinging-bunt single near third base and against the shift the Yankees employ against him. Mike Napoli then laced a single up the middle and set the stage for Sizemore’s game-changing homer.

Sabathia ended up being charged with four runs on six hits and two walks and he struck out a season-high nine in seven innings.

Lester struggled in the seventh after he had retired the first two batters.

Ichiro Suzuki singled and Brian Roberts drew a walk after two close pitches home-plate umpire James Hoye called balls. Lester became visibly angry at the calls and Kelley Johnson ended Lester’s evening by stroking an RBI single to right that scored Suzuki.

Lester yielded two runs on six hits and two walks while fanning six batters in 6 2/3 innings.

Relievers Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica retired the final seven batters to preserve Lester’s first victory of the season. Mujica pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ season record to 5-6. The Red Sox have the same mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Soriano was 2-for-4 in the game including his second home run of the season. After his 0-for-17 start, Soriano has at least one hit in five of his past six games and is 8-for-21 (.381) with two home runs and three RBIs in that span.
  • Despite the fact Sabathia lost the game give the big left-hander some credit for perhaps turning a corner in which he is learning to pitch with diminished velocity. For the first five innings, he had the Red Sox flailing at his change-ups and sliders. “I look at it as one pitch  -  the slider he left up to Sizemore was the real difference in the game,” manager Joe Girardi said told reporters. “Besides that, I thought he had really good command and threw the ball well.”
  • Johnson was 0-for-14 in his career against Lester when he delivered his two-out RBI single that chased the left-hander from the game. Johnson is hitting just .258 but he has two homers and six RBIs and all six of them have come in his past six games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The injury to Mark Teixeira forced Girardi into some odd lineup choices on Friday. He benched left-handed hitters Brett Gardner and Brian McCann, he used Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot and he had Francisco Cervelli batting fifth.  Until Teixeira returns, the Yankees are going to have a much weaker lineup against lefties.
  • Carlos Beltran entered the game on a pretty good roll with a four-game hitting streak. But he could not solve Lester. He killed a rally in the third inning by bouncing into a force play, stranding two runners. He also stranded Jacoby Ellsbury at second with one out by watching strike three on a 3-2 pitch. He ended up 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield.
  • Rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte is starting to fall back to Earth as pitchers are now giving him a steady diet of breaking pitches. Solarte was 0-for-4 in the game and he is hitless in his past nine at-bats to drop his batting average to .343.

BOMBER BANTER

The MLB Network and NESN showed Michael Pineda with what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand on Thursday and it stirred a lot of bellowing out of Boston (as one would expect anytime they lose). However, Joe Torre, baseball’s executive vice president of operations, told reporters that the right-hander will not face suspension. Because the Red Sox did have the umpires check Pineda’s hand there is nothing that can be done. Torre did say he would talk to the Yankees about the incident. Pineda claimed it was not pine tar on his hand; it was dirt.  . . .  The Yankees expect Teixeira to return from the disabled list before the end of April, however, backup infielder Brendan Ryan may be out for an extended period of time. Teixeira is progressing well recovering from a strained right hamstring. Ryan, who has a pinched nerve in his cervical spine, missed most all of spring training and he only begun some very light baseball-related activities.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Red Sox on Saturday.

The Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 2.92 ERA) to the hill. Kuroda gave up just two runs on eight hits and struck four in 6 1/3 innings in defeating the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 on Monday.

The Red Sox will counter with veteran right-hander John Lackey (2-0, 1.38 ERA). Lackey shut out the Rangers on five hits and two walks in seven innings on Monday to keep his record perfect this season. He is 1-1 with a 7.64 ERA in three starts at the new Yankee Stadium.

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

 

Tanaka Bows To Pressure But Still Wins Debut

GAME 4

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

With the crush of American and Japanese media on hand and an unfriendly sellout crowd at Rogers Centre on Friday it was understandable if Masahiro Tanaka was a little nervous making his major-league regular season debut.

After Melky Cabrera deposited his third offering over the center-field wall reality set in. But Tanaka gradually overcame his nerves and settled in to win his first game in the United States as New York pounded out 16 hits to defeat Toronto in front of paid crowd of 48.187.

Tanaka (1-0) actually lost a 2-1 lead in the second inning when two hits and an error loaded the bases and Jonathan Diaz touched him for a two-run single. But after that hit, the 25-year-old right-hander retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced, striking out six of them to allow the Yankees to come back and win the game.

Tanaka’s final line was excellent. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks and he struck out eight batters in seven innings.

“I was missing some spots earlier in the game, but as the game progressed, I think I was getting better out there,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Obviously I’m happy. I think No. 1 is that I’m relieved.”

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was once again sparked by rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI in his major-league debut against Houston Astros on Thursday.

With the Yankees trailing 3-2 in the third inning, Brian Roberts drew a one-out walk from Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-1) and stole second. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki bound a ground ball to Ryan Goins at second base and Suzuki was called out on a close play at first.

However, manager Joe Girardi successfully overturned first-base umpire Dana Demuth’s call through a instant-replay challenge, which put Roberts at third and Suzuki at first for Solarte.

The 26-year-old switch-hitter Solarte then laced a two-run double to right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish.

That hit also ended McGowan’s evening. The 32-year-old right-hander, who was making his first major-league start since 2011, was charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out three in 2 2/3 innings.

The Yankees took an early 2-0 lead against McGowan in the first inning as Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 with a walk, stole two bases and scored two runs in the game, cranked a double to deep center. Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a hard-hit single to left.

Carlos Beltran then scored Ellsbury with a bloop single to left-center and Mark Teixeira scored Gardner with a single to right.

The Yankees only bad news of the evening came in the third inning as the Blue Jays took the lead against Tanaka. Teixiera injured his right hamstring while moving to field a foul ball. He was forced to leave the game and his immediate status is unclear.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a one-out RBI single off left-hander Aaron Loup after the Blue Jays elected to intentionally walk Beltran to face the lefty swinging McCann.

They added single runs in the eighth on Gardner’s RBI single off right-hander Steve Delabar and in the ninth on another RBI double by Solarte off right-hander Jarred Jeffress.

With the victory, the Yankees evened their season record to 2-2. The Blue Jays fell to 2-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s ability to recover from the mistakes he made pitching to Cabrera and Diaz are a testament to the fact he is not just a thrower. Tanaka knows how to pitch and make adjustments at a very young age. That attribute actually may be just as valuable as his split-finger fastball. The $155 million the Yankees invested in him may end up being a bargain. He is that good.
  • After two games, Solarte is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles and two runs scored. He also leads the team in RBIs with four. If Teixeira is sidelined for any length of time it is a pretty good bet that Kelly Johnson will move from third base to play first and Solarte will become the starting third baseman. The Yankees may have found a real gem in this youngster.
  • Ellsbury showed what he can do from the leadoff spot on Friday. His two doubles, two stolen bases and two runs scored really set the tone for the evening. To top it all off, Ellsbury also made a nice sliding catch of Dioner Navarro’s sinking line drive in the sixth inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Teixeira’s injury exposes the weakest area on the Yankees’ roster. Johnson is not an experienced first baseman and he will be asked to fill in while Teixiera is out. The Yankees do have corner infielder Russ Canzler at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he is not anywhere close to Teixeira in offense or defense. he also is not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees have to hope Teixiera is not sidelined for an extended period of time.
  • Dellin Betances was brought in to the game in the eighth to face Jose Bautista with two out and a four-run lead. He walked him. Although he got out of the inning by retiring Edwin Encarnacion, he opened the ninth by walking Adam Lind on four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. Girardi then summoned David Robertson to close out a game in which he should not have had to appear. Betances has had control issues in the past so he bears watching.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira will be re-evaluated on Saturday but it is highly unlikely he will play. The strain is is considered mild but Teixeira is scheduled to have an MRI on the right hamstring in New York on Monday. Teixeira played in only 15 games last season before having to undergo surgery to repair a torn sheath in his right wrist.  . . .  After Solarte got his first major-league hit in his debut on Thursday, Dean Anna singled in the ninth inning in his first major-league start on Saturday. Anna, 27, was in the lineup at shortstop to give Derek Jeter a rest. Anna was 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run.

ON DECK

The Yankees wil continue their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Saturday.

After trading top prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners before the 2012 season the Yankees will finally see Michael Pineda on the mound for them in a major-league game. Pineda, 25, was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 innings this spring after missing almost two seasons due to  shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

He will be opposed by right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (0-1, 10.80 ERA), who was out of sync in his 2014 debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. Dickey walked six batters and ended up surrendering six runs on five hits in five innings.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Rookie Solarte Ignites Yankees To First Victory

GAME 3

YANKEES 4, ASTROS 2

There was a popular TV game show in the 1950s and 1960s called “To Tell the Truth” in which two impostors would join a real guest to try an fool a panel. At the end of some probing questions the host Bud Collyer would say “Would the real (name) please stand up.”

After the first two games of the season where they looked like impostors, the real New York Yankees decided to stand up on Thursday.

Rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was making his first major-league start, sparked the victory by going 3-for-3 and Ivan Nova and the Yankees bullpen held the Astros without a hit after the fifth inning as New York finally defeated Houston in front of a paid crowd of 26,348 at Minute Maid Park.

Solarte, 26, had a hit in all three innings in which the Yankees scored.

With one out in the third inning and the Yankees trailing 1-0, Solarte followed an Ichiro Suzki single with his first major-league hit  -  a single  -  to advance Suzuki to third. Brett Gardner then tied the game with an RBI single.

After Derek Jeter walked to load the bases, the Yankees took their first lead of the game and the three-game series when Carlos Beltran scored Solarte on a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fifth when Solarte delivered a one-out double and Jeter scored him on a two-out single to right in which Astros first baseman Marc Krauss chose to cut off a throw from Alex Presley in right that appeared it might get Solarte at the plate in order to tag out Jeter rounding first base too far.

The Yankees took a 3-2 lead into the seventh when with two out Suzuki doubled to the wall in left-center off right-hander Brad Peacock and Solarte lofted a towering popup between the mound and home plate. Astros catcher Carlos Corporan allowed the ball to drop to score Suzuki and give Solarte his first major-league RBI.

Nova (1-0) was credited with the victory, although he did not have much command of any of his pitches.

The Astros scored a run in the first inning off Nova on a back-to-back singles by Dexter Fowler and Robbie Grossman and Nova hit Jason Castro with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases with no outs.

Jose Altuve then plated Fowler on a groundout.

After the Yankees took a 3-1 lead off left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (0-1) in the fifth, the Astros added another run off Nova after a leadoff double by Jonathan Villar and an RBI single by Fowler, who was 6-for-12 with a home run, five runs scored and two RBIs in the series.

Fowler’s RBI single would end up as the Astros’ final hit of the evening, however.

Nova left in the sixth having been charged with two runs on six hits and five walks while he struck out one in 5 2/3 innings. He also hit two batters.

Nova managed to limit the damage by recording 12 groundball outs, including four double plays.

Obervoltaer also pitched 5 2/3 innings, yielding three runs on five hits and one walk. He fanned five batters.

The Yankees’ bullpen trio of Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson preserved the victory by retiring all 10 hitters they faced, five of them on strikeouts.

Robertson pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his first save of the season as the new Yankees closer replacing the legendary Mariano Rivera.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The legend of Solarte was already the talk of the spring after he was 18-for-42 (.429) with two homers and nine RBIs. The 26-year-old Venezuelan claimed the final roster spot over veteran Eduardo Nunez and he very quickly made an impression in his first start. I would say that he can relax now that he has his first hit and RBI out of the way but the kid has shown no nerves at all. Can we call him “Never Nervous” Yangervis?
  • Suzuki drew a start in right-field despite the fact there was a left-hander starting and he took advantage by going 2-for-4 and scored a pair of runs. Suzuki got hot at the tail end of the spring, going 9-for-26 (.346) in his final nine starts. It seems like it is carrying over to the regular season.
  • Jeter’s RBI single in the fifth gave him 3,318 hits of this career, which puts him just one behind Paul Molitor in eighth place on the all-time hits list.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova was erratic all evening with his command. His fastball was riding up in the strike zone and his curve had catcher Francisco Cervelli diving all over for it. He threw only 47 of his 88 pitches for strikes. But Nova survived with his ability to induce ground balls and the four double plays behind him really saved his victory.
  • Gardner, Jeter, Suzuki and Solarte combined for all of the Yankees seven hits. That means the batters hitting in the No. 3 spot through the No. 7 spot (Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Cervelli and Brian Roberts) were a combined 0-for-18 in the game.
  • Teixeira and Soriano followed up on their combined 0-for-8 game on Wednesday with another 0-for-8 night on Thursday. Soriano was 0-for-12 in the series with four strikeouts.

BOMBER BANTER

With a left-hander on the mound in Oberholtzer, manager Joe Girardi elected to sit left-handed hitters Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson and shift Gardner to center and the leadoff spot. He inserted Suzuki in right, made Beltran the designated hitter and played Soriano in left. He also used Cervelli behind the plate and put Solarte in at third. Girardi said the day off for Ellsbury was planned because of his abbreviated spring nursing a sore right calf.   . . .  The Yankees announced on Thursday that the “Core Four” will take part in the ceremonial first pitch for the team’s home opener on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles. Pitchers Andy Pettitte and Rivera will throw the opening pitches to catcher Jorge Posada and Jeter.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to Toronto to open a three-game weekend series with the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre beginning on Friday.

There also will be a bevy of Japanese media on hand as Masahiro Tanaka (2-0, 2.14 ERA) will be making his major-league debut with the Yankees. Tanaka, 25, struck out 26 batters in 21 innings this spring, most of them with his world-class split-finger fastball.

The Blue Jays will start right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-0, 3.86 ERA), who will be making his first major-league start since Sept. 26, 2011. McGowan, 32, missed all of the 2012 season and he pitched in 25 games in relief for the Blue Jays last season.

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Astros Flip Script To Take Opener Over Yankees

CC Sabathia continued his fine work from spring training with six strong innings and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira led a newly retooled Yankee offense as the New York downed Houston in their season opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Oops!

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GAME 1

ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2

Somehow the Astros did not get the memo on how Opening Day was supposed to go.

The Astros scored six runs in the first two innings off CC Sabathia, including home runs by Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, as Houston rolled to an Opening Day victory over New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park.

Sabathia (0-1) was tagged for four runs in the first and two more in the second before he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings to save the bullpen. Meanwhile, Astros starter Scott Feldman (1-0) held the Yankees in check by using a series of slow-pitch softball speed pitches.

Feldman held the powerful Yankee lineup to no runs on two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander entered the contest with a career record of 51-56 with a 4.59.

The Yankees did not get their first hit off Feldman until Carlos Beltran slapped a one-out single to left in the fourth inning. Mark Teixeira looped a one-out single to right in the seventh for the team’s only other hit off Feldman.

The Astros did not waste any time against Sabathia when Dexter Fowler led off the first with a double to deep center. He moved to third on a flyout and scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve. After a stolen base and a wild pitch advanced him to third, Altuve scored when Teixeira’s throw to home on a grounder off the bat of Jason Castro was thrown wide past McCann.

Guzman lined the first offering from Sabathia deep into the left-field bleachers to make the score 4-0. Guzman entered the game with only 23 career homers over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

Hoes opened the second inning with a solo blast of his own. Hoes entered the contest with only one previous major-league homer in 49 games.

The Astros capped the scoring in the second when Fowler laced another double with one out. Altuve later added a two-out single to score Fowler.

The Yankees had two chances to score against Feldman. In the fourth, Beltran singled with one out and Teixeira drew a two-out walk. However, Alfonso Soriano struck out to end the threat.

In the seventh, Teixeira’s one-out single was followed by a pair of two-out walks to Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Astros manager Bo Porter replaced Feldman with left-hander Kevin Chapman and he induced Kelly Johnson into a force out to leave the bases loaded.

The Yankees did finally break through in the eighth inning when Chapman opened the frame by walking Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter then greeted right-hander Chad Qualls with a single to right.

Beltran advanced Ellsbury and Jeter with a groundout and Brian McCann and Teixeira followed with RBI singles.

However, Qualls ended the rally by getting Soriano to hit into an inning-ending double play.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Two big concerns the Yankees had opening the season was how Jeter and Teixeira would fare after both players, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, struggled to hit this spring. But Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
  • Give both McCann and Teixeira a lot of credit for the their RBI singles. Both decided to hit to the opposite field with shifts on against them and a ground-ball pitcher on the mound in Qualls. If you try to pull outside pitches you end up grounding into the shift. Both recognized that and hit to the opposite field.
  • Both Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitched an inning of relief and both were impressive. Betances struck out two in a perfect inning in the seventh and Nuno struck out the side in the eighth. The Yankees are hoping that Betances, 26, and Nuno, 26, will contribute a lot to a completely retooled bullpen that is missing closer Mariano Rivera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The reality is that Sabathia was NOT defeated by his reduced velocity. Sabathia was beaten because he missed location with his pitches. When he was up in the strike zone he got hammered. When he got the ball down he was successful in the final four innings. Sabathia was making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and the 11th of his career. He is the team’s ace out of courtesy and you can actually make a case that he is the weakest of the Yankees five starters. Once Yankees fans accept that fact they may just be able to accept Sabathia for what he is at age 33.
  • Soriano can be a maddening player. When he is red hot you can’t get him out. When he is cold he can kill your offense. He killed the offense pretty well on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a inning-ending double play. Soriano stranded a team-high five runners. Ouch!
  • Though the Yankees were charged with one error they actually were extremely sloppy in the field in this game. McCann overthrew third base trying to nab Altuve. Teixeira’s throw home to get Altuve was to the first-base side of home plate and skipped past McCann. They just did not look sharp in the field with the exception of some fine plays at third by Johnson.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game the Yankees purchased the contract of infielder Yangervis Solarte from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designated infielder Eduardo Nunez for assignment. The team will have 10 days to trade, release or outright Nunez to the minor leagues. Nunez, 26, was once viewed as the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop but he was outplayed this spring by Solarte, 26, and Dean Anna, 27.  . . .  The Yankees Opening Day lineup had only one holdover from Opening Day in 2013 and that was Gardner. Last season, both Jeter and Teixeira were on the disabled list and 2013 starters Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were on the bench on Tuesday. The 2013 lineup also included Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Nunez.  . . .  The Astros plan to honor Jeter with a special ceremony on Wednesday with former teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on hand. Jeter announced just before spring training began that this will be his final season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have to recover from their loss as they play the second game of a three-game seres with the Astros.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31 ERA in 2013) will make his first start of the season. He was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA this spring.

He will opposed by right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season. He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA this spring.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast 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!

 

 

CC, Ichiro Lead Way As Yankees Plunder Pirates

GAME 30

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 2

CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki have one thing in common. These two former stars have had a lot of baseball pundits digging their graves and ready to start shoveling dirt on them.

After watching them both play on a damp and cloudy Thursday afternoon at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, it might be time to put away those shovels. Both have a lot left in the tank.

Suzuki was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI and Sabathia extended his spring training scoreless inning streak to 17 as New York defeated Pittsburgh in front of a paid crowd of 8.134.

In his final tuneup before Opening Day on April 1, Sabathia (3-1) held the Pirates to three hits, he did not walk a batter and he threw 33 of his 44 pitches for strikes. The 33-year-old left-hander leaves spring training with a sparkling 1.29 ERA.

Meanwhile, Suzuki helped spark the an offense that tagged right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-1) for four runs on nine hits and a walk over four innings.

Suzuki led off the game with an opposite-field single and he advanced to third on a hit-and-run single by Eduardo Nunez. Mark Teixeira scored Suzuki on a groundout. Two batters later, Zoilo Almonte, who also had three hits in the game, laced a single to left to score Nunez.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fourth after Pimentel had retired the first two batters.

Adonis Garcia doubled to the wall in right-center and Suzuki scored him on another opposite-field single. Suzuki moved to second on a wild pitch and he then scored on a single by Nunez.

The Pirates did not score until the eighth, when Jarek Cunningham greeted reliever David Phelps with a single and Andy Vazquez followed with a double. Travis Snider drew a walk to load the bases and Cunningham scored on a double play off the bat of Drew Maggi.

South African infielder Gift Ngoepe then laced a double to score Vazquez.

With the victory the Yankees assured themselves of a Grapefruit League record over .500. They are 16-12-2. The Pirates completed their Florida schedule with a 14-10 mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After Sabathia finished the 2013 season with a 14-13 record with a 4.78 ERA, he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his work this spring he has a good chance to make good on the promise. A great gauge on Sabathia’s progress is that in 21 innings this spring, he has walked only three while striking out 16. Despite reduced velocity on his fastball Sabathia is able to get outs with command of his pitches, mixing of speeds and the addition of a cutter.
  • Suzuki, 40, even hit the ball hard in the one out he made in sixth. He lined out to left. On March 15, Suzuki was batting .125 and looking his age at the plate. Since then he is 9-for-23 (.391) with five RBIs in his past seven games. Though he likely will be the team’s fifth outfielder unless he is traded, Suzuki appears to be ready to play whenever manager Joe Girardi calls on him.
  • Nunez, 26, was having a disappointing spring until he went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI on Thursday. Nunez is among three players being considered for two backing infield jobs that are open with infielder Brendan Ryan nursing a sore back and headed for the disabled list to start the season. Nunez raised his average to .265 and he has a homer and four RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • In his second appearance after learning he was not chosen as the No. 5 starter, Phelps struggled with his command in his two-thirds of an inning of work. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. Only a bases-loaded double play turned by Carmen Angelini and Jose Pirela saved him from disaster. Phelps will have to get used to throwing out of the bullpen again.
  • Though he drove in the game’s first run on a groundout, Teixeira was 0-for-3 and saw his spring average dip to .091. Because Teixeira underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, he was unable to prepare as he would have liked for spring training. Being a switch-hitter also means he has to work on his stroke from both sides of the plate. Teixeira is likely going to need more time to get going. But, then again, Teixeira has never been known to hit much in April anyway.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees made seven roster moves after Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL. They optioned right-hander Preston Claiborne and Almonte to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In addition, they reassigned infielders Russ Canzler and Scott Sizemore, and right-handers David Herndon, Jim Miller and Yoshinori Tateyama to minor-league camp. On Thursday, the team also reassigned right-handers Danny Burawa and Chris Leroux and left-hander Fred Lewis to minor-league camp. The team is expected to finalize its 25-man roster on Friday.  . . .  Jacoby Ellsbury worked out at the team’s spring training complexion Tampa, FL, and he is expected to play in minor-league contests on Friday and Saturday. Ellsbury is recovering from a strained right calf and he is progressing well, Girardi told reporters.  . . .  Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is continuing to receive treatment for a sore right shoulder. Though the Yankees are monitoring the injury it is not considered serious.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday to face the Miami Marlins.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA) will make his fourth appearance of the spring and his third start. Kuroda likely will be limited to about 50 pitches.

The Marlins will counter with right-hander Jacob Turner (2-1, 2.79 ERA).

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio via WIOD-610 AM in Miami.

 

Buehrle Helps Jays End Yankees’ Winning Steak

GAME 27

BLUE JAYS 3, YANKEES 1

TAMPA - Mark Buehrle pitched 6 1/3 strong innings and Toronto took advantage of some sloppy defensive lapses to end New York’s seven-game wining streak on Sunday in front of a paid crowd of 10,983 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

On this 35th birthday, Buehrle (1-1) yielded one run on seven hits and he did not walk or strike out a batter in a 98-pitch outing. Left-hander Aaron Loup recorded the final two outs in the ninth to earn a save.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1) entered the game not having given a run in nine innings of work covering four appearances (three of them starts).

However, the Blue Jays touched him for a run in the second inning after a Edwin Encarnacion reached first on a fielding error by Eduardo Nunez. Adam Lind followed with a  single and Dioner Navarro scored Encarnacion with a lined single to center.

They added a pair of runs in the fifth when Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie led off the frame with back-to-back singles. On an attempted sacrifice bunt by Ryan Goins, Pineda threw the ball wildly past first to allow Rasmus to score. Lawrie later scored when Pineda uncorked a wild pitch.

Despite the loss, Pineda pitched well in giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk while he struck out two.

The Yankees’ lone run came in the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki led off with a double and Brett Gardner singled him to third. Suzuki then scored on a double play off the bat of Derek Jeter.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record dropped to 15-10-2. The Blue Jays are now 12-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lineup for the past week with a sore right calf, Gardner has been doing a great job in the leadoff spot for the Yankees. He was 2-for-3 on Sunday and is 12-for-42 (.286) this spring with a .354 on-base percentage. The Yankees now look very smart in deciding to not trade him and instead sign him to a four-year extension.
  • Dellin Betances made a giant statement toward staking his claim to a bullpen spot in the seventh inning. With one out, Cesar Cabral entered the game and promptly gave up a single to Maicer Izturis and then walked Munenori Kawasaki and Melky Cabrera to load the bases. Betances came in and struck out Jose Bautista and then retired Encarnacion on a fly ball. In eight games, Betances is 0-0 with an 0.87 ERA with nine strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
  • Carlos Beltran is looking much more comfortable at the plate lately. He was 2-for-3 on Sunday with a single and a double. In his past five starts, Beltran is 8-for-17 (.471) to raise his spring average from .120 to .262.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Because backup infielder Brendan Ryan is nursing a back injury that likely will land him on the disabled list to start the season, Nunez is probably going to earn a spot on the roster. But is becoming increasingly apparent that Nunez’s act is wearing thin. His throwing error, his second of the spring, helped open the floodgates. In addition, he was 0-for-3 and he is hitting .238 this spring. The Yankees need to look into cutting ties with this infielder I have dubbed “Eduardo Scissorhands.”
  • It is a good thing that Jeter is Derek Jeter and not Derek Smith. If he were Derek Smith he would be booed unmercifully for his struggles hitting this spring. After going 0-for-3 on Sunday and hitting into a double play that killed a potential rally, he is 5-for-44 (.114). Jeter also leads the team this spring by grounding into five double plays. Manager Joe Girardi can say he is not concerned all he wants but WE are very concerned.
  • Cabral’s outing on Sunday was shocking considering how well he had pitched up to that point. Despite the hiccup, Cabral has not given an earned run this spring and has eight strikeouts in 8 innings of work. His competition, Fred Lewis, also has 0.00 ERA but hitters have hit .242 off him while they hitting only .115 off Cabral.

BOMBER BANTER

Ellsbury participated in a full workout on Sunday and will play in a minor-league game on Tuesday, Girardi told reporters. Ellsbury has been nursing a sore right calf he injured last Friday. An MRI taken two days ago revealed no structural damage but the Yankees want to make sure their starting center-fielder is 100 percent before he plays.  . . .  With the Yankees not playing a game on Monday, Girardi will have right-hander Ivan Nova pitch in a minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa to stay sharp. Nova pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in his most impressive outing of the spring.

ON DECK

The Yankees will not play again until Tuesday when they play host to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Right-hander David Phelps (1-0, 2.75 ERA) will have his last chance to show he deserves the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He will start for the Yankees.

The Phillies will counter with right-hander Jeff Manship (1-0, 2.25 ERA).

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

 

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