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Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.
The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.
The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.
George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.
The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.
Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.
Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).
How did this happen?
Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.
The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.
It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.
Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.
There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.
After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.
From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.
That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.
The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.
If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.
But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.
It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.
Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.
He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.
When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.
He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.
So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.
Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.
The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.
Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.
So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)
There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.
It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.
It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.
But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.
The offense? Don’t ask.
Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.
They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.
The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.
The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.
The bench has some veterans, of course.
Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.
If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.
But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.
But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.
Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.
In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.
I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.
Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.
Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.
However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.
Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.
Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.
“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”
The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.
Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.
Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.
The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.
The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.
Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.
- After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
- Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
- Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.
- Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
- Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.
The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.
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.
With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than two weeks (Feb. 14) and the full squad coming in on Feb. 19, the New York Yankees have invited a total of 26 players to spring training.
Nine players have been signed to minor-league deals including right-hander Bruce Billings, infielder Russ Canzler, right-hander Robert Coello, right-hander Brian Gordon, right-hander Chris Leroux, outfielder Antoan Richardson, infielder Scott Sizemore, infielder Yangervis Solarte and infielder Zelous Wheeler.
Canzler (29 games), Coello (28), Sizemore (160) and Leroux (63) all have previous major-league experience. In addition, left-hander Matt Daley, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Jim Miller also received invites after spending time with the Yankees last season.
Among the position players with major-league experience, the infielders Canzler, Sizemore and Joseph will get opportunities to actually make the squad this spring.
If Canzler’s name is familiar it is because he was on the Yankees’ original spring training roster last season before he was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Travis Hafner. Canzler, 27, was then picked up by the Baltimore Orioles and he was later sent to their Triple A affiliate in Norfolk.
He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 13 and spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Combined at the two stops, Canzler hit .252 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 125 games.
Canzler is valuable utility player in that he can play both corner infield and outfield spots.
In his 29 games in the majors, he is a .271 hitter with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
The Yankees see the 6-foot-2 right-handed power hitter as a possible platoon at third base with left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson and a fill-in for Mark Teixeira at first-base. The fact Canzler also can play the outfield would be a definite bonus.
Sizemore, 29, on the other hand, is primarily a second baseman who figures to be in line as a backup infielder at second, shortstop and third base.
The right-handed-hitting Sizemore, a product of the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system, was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2011. In 160 games, Sizemore has hit .238 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs.
Sizemore elected to become a free agent this winter after knee injuries limited him to just two games since 2011.
Joseph, 25, is product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he made his major-league debut with the Yankees on May 13 during a doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians. Sizemore was 1-for-6 in the two games.
Primarily a second baseman, the lefty-swinging rookie can also play third base.
In 47 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Joseph hit only .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs. He was placed on the disabled list on May 31 and missed the remainder of the season with a right shoulder injury that required surgery.
With Brian Roberts entrenched at second and Johnson penciled in at third, Joseph’s chances of making the major-league roster in 2014 are virtually nil. The Yankees also have veteran backups such as Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez ahead of him as well as second base prospects Dean Anna and Jose Pirela knocking on the door.
Of the pitchers, Miller has the best shot to make the team after spending most of the 2013 season at Triple A, where he was 3-5 with a 3.55 ERA and six saves in nine chances in 43 games.
In one game with the Yankees, Miller, 31, had a 20.25 ERA in 1 1/3 innings. Miller also has pitched for the Orioles, the Colorado Rockies and the A’s in his career.
The list of 26 invitees also includes outfielder Mason Williams, right-hander Danny Burawa, outfielder Tyler Austin, right-hander Chase Whitley and left-hander Fred Lewis. All five were selected by the Yankees during the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Williams, 22, is the team’s No. 2 prospect, and Austin, 22, is the team’s No. 3 prospect.
The organization’s Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, right-handed reliever Mark Montgomery, also was invited.
The other invitees include: Catchers Pete O’Brien, Francisco Arcia and Jose Gil; outfielder Adonis Garcia; infielder Pirela; right-handers Yoshinori Tateyama and David Herndon; and left-hander Francisco Rondon.
The 26 invitees brings the number of players invited to camp to 66, which is 18 fewer than in 2014. Among the 26 players are 13 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders.
The key to winning baseball has always been pitching and the New York Yankees solidified their 2014 starting rotation by agreeing to terms with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday.
After a disastrous season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons, their stated “goal” of remaining under the $189 million payroll limit and the loss of Robinson Cano to free agency, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner fought back by loosening the pursestrings for general manager Brian Cashman.
The result was a dizzying array of signings that included All-Star catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the additions of key pieces like infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and the re-signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda.
But none of those signings would have mattered much at all unless the Yankees landed Tanaka.
Tanaka, 25, came off a season with Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in leading his team to the Japanese championship. In his seven seasons he was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 1,238 batters in 1,315 innings.
The right-hander possesses a 94-mile-per-hour fastball along with a world-class splitter and a slider. More importantly, Tanaka is not a nibbler in the tradition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last season he struck out 183 batters while walking 32 in 212 innings.
Those eye-popping stats led the Yankees front office to offer a seven-year contract worth $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Golden Eagles. The signing also proved pundits wrong for predicting that the Los Angeles Dodgers had the inside track in signing Tanaka because his wife, a singing star of some note, preferred to be on the West Coast and craved the glitter of Hollywood.
Tanaka will receive $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020. The deal also allows the contract to be terminated after four seasons to permit Tanaka to seek free agency. He also has a full no-trade clause.
He also was allotted a $35,000 moving allowance and annual payments of $100,000 per season for housing for the New York metropolitan area or Tampa, FL. The Yankees threw in $85,000 in annual salary for an interpreter and four annual first-class flights from the United States to Japan.
Doubters will question this largesse heaped upon a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. But the Yankees’ front office and scouts were convinced that Tanaka has the potential to be even better than countryman Yu Darvish, 27, who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in his first two seasons as the ace of the Texas Rangers.
Tanaka will slide into the No. 2 spot behind CC Sabathia and join fellow Japanese right-hander Kuroda and 27-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova in a revamped Yankee rotation in 2014.
The Yankees believed they needed to upgrade the rotation this season after the retirement of left-hander Andy Pettitte and the loss of right-hander Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins.
There also are questions swirling around Sabathia, 33, after his disappointing 2013 campaign in which he slipped to 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. The ace left-hander had to adjust with a huge drop in velocity on his fastball and his record shows there are more adjustments necessary.
But Sabathia vows that he will show up this spring ready to prove he is still the same pitcher who was 74-29 in his previous four seasons in pinstripes.
That would be a good thing because Sabathia never found his groove after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA in April. His ERAs in succeeding months were 4.14, 5.11, 6.60 and 5.94. Yankee fans can take some comfort in the fact Sabathia was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in September.
That could indicate he will indeed adjust as Pettitte and Mike Mussina did when they lost velocity.
The odd thing is that after four seasons of being accused of not paying attention to his weight as the season progressed, many of those same “so-called experts” thought Sabathia lost velocity last season because he was too thin. Well, who really knows? But it is ironic those “experts” would mention it.
The Yankees will settle for Sabathia arriving in Tampa in shape and they believe he has enough weapons to remain effective as a starting pitcher because he never really has been a pitcher totally dependent on his fastball to get by.
He will remain atop the rotation in 2014 with the help of the infusion of a young Tanaka behind him.
Strangely, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter was their best pitcher in 2013 despite making only 20 starts.
Nova began the season pitching horribly in spring training and in his first four starts of 2013 before succumbing to a inflammation in right triceps. After spending time on the disabled list, a rehab stint in the minors and pitching briefly out of the bullpen, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23.
From that point on, Nova was absolutely brilliant. He was 7-4 with a 2.59 in his last 15 starts beginning on July 5. This came after a season in which Nova’s game flew off the rails and he ended up 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012.
So the Yankees believe that Nova’s second half is more indicative of what he is as a pitcher after he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.
Nova decided not to use his slider very much last season in order to concentrate on his mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. The result was 79 strikeouts in those 15 starts. The fact that he still just 27 makes him an excellent No. 3 starter in this bolstered rotation.
Before Nova came on, Kuroda, who will be 39 on Feb. 10, was the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. In fact, on Aug. 12, Kuroda was sporting a 11-7 mark with a 2.33 ERA on one of the weakest hitting Yankee teams in generations.
But a heavy workload of 154 2/3 innings began to take a toll on the veteran. In his last eight starts, Kuroda was 0-6 with a awful 6.56 ERA. It is clear that Kuroda was overtaxed into pitching past six innings too early in the season because he was not getting adequate offensive support.
Manager Joe Girardi was forced to keep him in a lot of close games and Kuroda paid a heavy price down the stretch. Even still, Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA and he will certainly benefit from an improved offense in 2014.
The Yankees are impressed with the way Kuroda is able to adjust midstream in games by dipping into his arsenal of fastballs, sliders, splitters and curves to find the pitches that are working best for him that night, That is why they chose to re-sign him to a third one-year contract for $16 million.
Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki should also help make Tanaka feel at home in the Yankees’ clubhouse.
The big concern for the Yankees now is who will claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Fortunately, they have some options to fill the spot.
The “dream scenario” for the Yankees would have 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda ready to take the ball this spring and run with it. Pineda, after all, was obtained in a 2012 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Jose Campos, 21, for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.
However, after a 2011 rookie season in which Pineda made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a weak-hitting Seattle team, Pineda ended up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder after his last spring training start in 2012.
He missed the entire season and pitched only 40 2/3 innings in the minors last season until he was shut down in August after experiencing some minor shoulder soreness.
The Yankees still have high hopes for Pineda, who boasted a mid-90s fastball, an above average change-up and a slider before his injury. The Yankees took a lot of heat from their fans when they traded away their No. 1 prospect in Montero and allowed the Mariners to deal Pineda instead of parting with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.
So there is some pressure on Pineda as he enters spring training having not thrown a single pitch for the Yankees in two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much Pineda has lost off his heater and if he still can be effective for the Yankees.
But the Yankees claim he is healthy and should be ready to go.
Another option for the No. 5 spot is right-hander David Phelps.
Phelps, 27, started his second major-league season in his usual role as a long man in the bullpen until he was thrust into the rotation on May 1 to replace the injured Nova.
Phelps showed great promise by going 2-2 with a 4.32 in six starts in May. But he stumbled to a 3-2 record with a 5.57 ERA in his next six starts before he landed on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.
Phelps did not return to the roster until Sept. 15 and was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances.
The Yankees see Phelps as a solid Plan B if Pineda is not quite ready to pitch or he suffers a setback in his rehab. But the Yankees clearly see Phelps more valuable in the bullpen, as his numbers in 2012 indicate. Phelps was 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in his rookie season.
Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admire Phelps fearlessness in attacking hitters though he owns only a pedestrian fastball.
Phelps makes up for a lack of velocity with good command of the strike zone and he can ring up a lot of strikeouts with his breaking stuff and pitching smarts.
The Yankees also have right-hander Adam Warren, 26, who was 2-2 with a 3.39 ERA in a long relief role for the Yankees in his rookie season in 2013.
Warren did make two late-season spot starts and was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those starts. Unlike Phelps, Warren has above-average velocity on his fastball. But the Yankees are not sure how high Warren’s ceiling extends as a starter. They would prefer to keep him as a long reliever if they could.
The Yankees got an unexpected boost with a reclamation project in left-hander David Huff last season. Huff, 29, who was former starter with the Cleveland Indians, was signed after his release from the Indians and recalled from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in mid-August.
He was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. Huff was tagged for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 7. Without that disastrous appearance Huff had a 2.37 ERA in his other nine appearances.
Huff also seemed comfortable in a long relief role as well as in his two spot starts in September. He also brings some value as a left-hander.
However, because the Yankees have to make room on the 40-man roster for Tanaka, Huff was designated for assignment. He will only return to the Yankees as a free agent if he is unable to find work elsewhere, which is unlikely considering he is left-handed and he pitched so well in 2013 for the Yankees.
There has been an ongoing rumor this winter that the Yankees might be interested in signing former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
Santana, 34, became a free agent when the New York Mets declined to pick up his option for 2014. Santana did not pitch in 2013 after suffering a second tear of his anterior left shoulder capsule. Santana was 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Mets.
The signing of Tanaka makes Santana’s signing less likely. Santana was scheduled to make $25 million before the Mets bought out his option for $5.5 million. If the Yankees can get him for less than $10 million they might take a shot. But Santana also has to prove he is healthy.
The Twins, the team with whom he won those two Cy Young awards, are among the teams interested in Santana when he is given the go-ahead to throw from a mound for scouts at his Fort Myers, FL, home in February.
The Yankees do have some good young pitchers in the minors but none of them look ready to break camp with the team. A few could be called up during the season if they progress well.
At the top of the list is left-hander Vidal Nuno, 26, who was the Yankees top rookie of spring training in 2013.
Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA at Scranton and he received a midseason call-up to the Yankees. In five appearances, including three starts, Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He missed most of the remainder of the season with a strained left groin.
For some reason Nuno is able to keep batters off-balance with a mix of breaking stuff that he features with a very lackluster upper 80s fastball. The reason is he has pinpoint control. He walked only eight batters in his combined 45 minor- and major-league innings in 2013.
If he has another strong showing this spring, Nuno could certainly leapfrog Phelps or Warren for the No. 5 spot. In addition, he could also make the squad as a long reliever and spot starter. Girardi loves pitchers who challenge hitters and don’t issue walks.
This spring all eyes will be on 22-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, who missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Banuelos was considered the team’s No. 1 prospect at the time he was injured in 2012. In 2011, Banuelos was 1-1 with 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings in spring training, earning him the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie.
However, the young Mexican lefty struggled with his control in 2011, walking 71 batters in a cobined 129 2/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. He was 6-7 with a 3.45 ERA that season.
In 2012, he made only six starts before being shelved with elbow soreness and he ended up having to undergo surgery to repair a ligament in his left elbow in October.
The Yankees love his low-90s fastball and change-up combination that saw him strike out 125 batters in 2011. He is still young and talented enough to progress quickly if he puts it all together. But the Yankees would like to see him do that at Scranton before they bring him up to the big club.
He remains the team’s No. 8 prospect. He just has to prove he is healthy and regain his control.
The Yankees are also very high on 24-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez, who was 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts at Trenton before going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts at Scranton. Ramirez struck out 78 batters in 73 2/3 innings and the Yankees believe he has a very high ceiling.
But he likely needs a full season at Scranton before he makes a bid for the big club.
The same can be said for left-hander Nik Turley, 24.
Turley, a relative of former Yankees right-hander Bob Turley, was 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 26 starts at Trenton last season. Compared to Pettitte in style, teammates call him “Little Andy” and he backed that up by fanning 137 batters in 139 innings last season.
Below Banuelos, Ramirez and Turley the Yankees have a nice corps of young starters who are a few years away from making it to the majors.
The biggest buzz is surrounding the team’s No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula, 22.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander hits up to 99-mph on his fastball and he has a hard curve and a change-up. He was a combined 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA at High-A Tampa and Charleston last season. More impressive was his 146 punch-outs in only 113 1/3 innings.
DePaula enters the 2014 season as the team’s best young arm and deservedly so. This young Dominican has quality starter written all over him.
Don’t forget about the right-handed Campos, either. Campos, 21, was obtained along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he may have even an higher ceiling than Pineda.
Campos suffered an elbow injury that did not require surgery in 2012, In 2013, he was 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) at Charleston. He has an above-average fastball to go along with very good control of two secondary pitches.
That mix will take him far as long he can prove he can stay healthy in 2014.
The Yankees also have high hopes for 22-year-old right-handed flamethrower Bryan Mitchell, who likely will be at Trenton this season. Mitchell was 4-11 with a 4.71 ERA at Tampa and Trenton last season. The Yankees need only to see him command his 96-mph fastball and nearly unhittable curve to make a giant leap this season.
Two others to watch are 2013 first-round draft pick Ian Clarkin, a left-hander, and 20-year-old right-hander Ty Hensley, who was picked in the first round in 2012.
Unlike the position players, the Yankees are pretty rich in young starters at the minor-league level. It is quite possible that three or four of them could be strong contributors with the big club very soon.
In the meantime, the signing of Tanaka has given the Yankees a major shot in the arm. Just ask the rival Boston Red Sox. They see that the $471 million the team has spent on free agents has thrust them back among the top tier teams in the American League East.
Without pitching it is hard to compete in such a tough division. It appears now the Yankees will have a starting staff that can get them back to the playoffs.
That would require one huge “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) to the signing of Tanaka.
For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.
The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.
Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.
He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.
Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.
The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.
Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.
Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.
He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.
But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.
On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.
That is a shame.
Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.
He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.
But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.
Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.
But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.
On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.
Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.
Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.
Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.
Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.
His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.
On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.
The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.
Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.
In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.
Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.
The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.
Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.
The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.
Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.
So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.
The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.
The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.
The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.
The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.
Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.
He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.
The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.
Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.
The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.
The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.
In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.
Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.
Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.
His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.
Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.
But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.
His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.
These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.
In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.
The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.
YANKEES 6, WHITE SOX 4
Through 7 1/3 innings on Tuesday the White Sox were sailing along behind left-hander Chris Sale and boasting a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 edge. But the wind got let out of their “Sale” and the Yankees got off the poop deck for an epic, exciting come-from-behind victory that kept their playoff hopes alive.
Curtis Granderson stroked a one-out, pinch-hit RBI single off left-hander Donnie Veal and, one out later, Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run double off right-hander Matt Lindstrom to cap a five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning as New York stunned Chicago in front of a raucous paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 33,215.
Sale, a two-time American League All-Star, had held the Yankees to an unearned run on only three hits through 7 1/3 innings until Derek Jeter slapped a 0-1 pitch into center that ignited the miracle comeback. Robinson Cano followed by lining a 1-2 pitch off the base of the left-field wall for a double to advance Jeter to third and chase Sale from the game.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura replaced Sale with right-hander Nate Jones and trade-deadline sensation Alfonso Soriano greeted Jones by lofting a 0-2 slider into center-field to score Jeter and Cano. Alex Rodriguez followed with a single to center on a 3-2 slider to advance Soriano to third.
Ventura replaced Jones with Veal and Granderson, batting in place of Vernon Wells, lined a 3-1 pitch into center to score Soriano with the tying run.
After Veal struck out Mark Reynolds on a 3-2 fastball, Ventura brought in his third reliever of the inning in Lindstrom to face Nunez.
Nunez then slapped a 1-1 fastball down the left-field line to score Rodriguez and Granderson as what was left of the huge throng stood on its feet and cheered as if the Yankees already had clinched a playoff spot. Nunez stood at second base and raised both arms to celebrate his heroic hit.
Mariano Rivera came in the ninth to earn his 40th save with a perfect frame, striking out two batters and punctuating the grand evening with a called strike three on pinch-hitter Leury Garcia.
Boone Logan (5-2) pitched a perfect eighth in relief to earn the victory. Jones (4-5) took the loss.
The game was very much a pitchers’ duel between the Chisox ace, Sale, and Yankee right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
The White Sox opened the scoring in the first inning when Gordon Beckham blasted a one-out double off the left-field wall and Alexei Ramirez then reached on a fielding error at short by Nunez.
Adam Dunn then singled to center to score Beckham.
The Yankees resorted to some rare base-running trickery to score the tying run in the second inning.
Wells singled up the middle and advanced to second on an error by Beckham when the second baseman kicked the ball into left-field. One out later, Nunez reached first on a fielding error by third baseman Conor Gillaspie allowing Wells to move to third.
With two out, Yankees manager Joe Girardi rolled the dice and had Nunez break for second and stop midway between first and second base. When catcher Josh Phegley threw the ball to Beckham at second base, Wells broke for home and he slid in ahead of the return throw to Phegley from Beckham.
But the White Sox reclaimed the lead in the fifth off Kuroda when Alejandro De Aza singled and stole second. Beckham then drew a walk on 11 pitches. Ramirez scored by De Aza and Beckham with a triple into the left-field corner.
De Aza padded the lead to 4-1 with one out in the seventh inning when he cranked a solo homer into the short porch in right-field. That also ended Kuroda’s evening.
Kuroda was charged with four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned seven in 6 1/3 innings.
Sales yielded three runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk while he struck out six in 7 1/3 innings.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 74-64 and kept them within eight games of the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. However, the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Cleveland Indians, which allowed the Yankees to move back ahead of the O’s in third place in the division.
The Yankees also have climbed to within two games of the slumping Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card playoff spot.
The White Sox, who have gave up eight runs in the fifth inning to the Yankees on Monday and five runs in the eighth inning to the Yankees on Tuesday, are now 56-81.
- The only reason Nunez was in the game at shortstop was because with Sale on the mound Girardi elected to insert Jeter as the designated hitter and have Nunez play shortstop to get seven right-handed hitters into the lineup. Despite his fielding error in the first, Nunez was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, a stolen base and two RBIs in the game. Nunez was hitting a paltry .219 on Aug. 6 but he is 25-for-75 (.333) with a home run and 13 RBIs since then. He also has raised his season average to .255.
- Soriano’s amazing run at the plate since he was acquired by the Yankees on July 26 continued on Tuesday. He was just 1-for-4 but that single drove in two huge runs in the eighth inning that drew the Yankees to within a run of the Chisox. Soriano is hitting .261 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in his 35 games back in pinstripes.
- Jeter entered the game with just four hits in his past 27 at-bats. He responded by going 2-for-3 and a run scored on Tuesday. In his two games against the Chisox, Jeter is 4-for-7 (.571) with two runs scored and two RBIs. The Yankees also took note that Jeter seems to be running much better on his formerly fractured left ankle.
The Yankees can’t be happy with Kuroda’s recent pitching slump, which continued on Tuesday. But they have to be pleased that the team mustered the wherewithal to put together that amazing eighth-inning rally when they so desperately needed a victory to keep pace for a wild-card spot. The Yankees snatched victory out the jaws of defeat and this one possibly may carry them for the next few days.
Jeter’s hit in the eight inning was the 3,315th of his career and moved him ahead of Eddie Collins in ninth place on the all-time hits list. . . . Wells’ steal of home in the second inning on Tuesday was the first of his career and it was the Yankees’ first since Mark Teixeira pulled it off against the Oakland Athletics on June 1, 2011 on an attempted pickoff throw by catcher Kurt Suzuki on Rodriguez at first base.
The Yankees can repay the Chisox for their sweep of the Yankees last month in Chicago with a sweep of them on Wednesday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (12-11, 4.91 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up five runs for the sixth time in his past nine starts on Friday against the Orioles but he still was able to win the game. He is 18-4 with a 3.64 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the White Sox.
The White Sox will start right-handed rookie Erik Johnson, who will be making his major-league debut. Johnson was a combined 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 starts at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Johnson is 23 years old and he is rated as the team’s No. 2 prospect by MLB.com.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, ORIOLES 5
With time running out in their chase for a playoff spot, the Yankees were hoping on Friday that struggling left-hander CC Sabathia could find some of his old magic to hold down the Orioles. But, instead, their rejuvenated offense came through with a five-run fifth inning to win the first game of a very important weekend series.
Ichiro Suzuki cranked a two-run homer and Robinson Cano added a key two-run single in the fifth as New York overcame a 4-2 deficit to defeat Baltimore and climb within a half-game of third place in the division standings in front of paid crowd of 45,159 at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia (12-11) actually began the game pitching a perfect 3 1/3 innings before giving up a double to Manny Machado. Two batters later, Chris Davis blooped a single to center to score Machado with the game’s first run.
However, the Yankees reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Cano drew a two-out walk from right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (8-7) and Alfonso Soriano swatted his 29th home run of the season and 12th since he was acquired by the Yankees on July 26.
The Orioles then answered with three runs off Sabathia on a two-run home run by Danny Valencia and two-out RBI single by Machado.
The Yankees took the lead for good, however, in the fifth when Curtis Granderson led off with a double and Mark Reynolds slapped an RBI double of the wall in left-center. Suzuki then cranked a two-run homer to right, his eighth of the season, that gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead.
Austin Romine doubled and Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a single to left. Derek Jeter then drew a walk that loaded the bases with no outs and ended Gonzalez’s evening.
Cano then greeted left-hander T.J. McFarland with a two-run single to right to put the Yankees up 7-4. The Yankees entered the evening 22-1 this season in games in which they have scored at least seven runs.
Gonzalez, who started the game with a career record of 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in six starts against the Yankees, gave up seven runs on six hits and three walks in four-plus innings.
After Adam Jones led off the sixth with a double and Nick Markakis delivered a two-out RBI single, manager Joe Girardi elected to pull Sabathia from the game early.
Despite getting credit for the victory, Sabathia yielded five runs on seven hits and one walk while he fanned four in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees added an insurance run in the seventh off McFarland on a two-out RBI single by Alex Rodriguez that scored Cano.
The Yankees’ bullpen of Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the O’s over the final 3 1/3 innings on two hits and a walk while they struck out one to preserve the victory for the Yankees.
Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 39th save in 44 chances this season.
The Yankees now are 71-63 on the season and they are eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. However, they are only a half-game behind the Orioles, who are now 71-62. They are tied with the Cleveland Indians in the wild-card standings, 4 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
- It was unclear if Cano would be able to start because of a bruised left hand he sustained when he was hit with a pitch on Tuesday night by J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays. But Cano started and was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, a walk, two runs scored and two RBIs. Cano still leads the Yankees in batting (.307), home runs (24) and RBIs (87).
- Since July 26, Soriano and American League MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers lead the major leagues with 12 home runs apiece. Davis of the Orioles, who leads the majors with 47, is third with 10. Soriano is hitting .270 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 32 games with the Yankees.
- Of the Yankees’ 13 hits, Reynolds contributed three of them, including a pair of doubles. Reynolds worked with batting coach Kevin Long to eliminate a left toe tap in order to shorten his swing and Reynolds has responded by going 7-for-12 (.583) with a homer and three RBIs in his past three starts.
- It is becoming quite clear that Sabathia is a liability as a starter this season. His season ERA now stands at 4.91, which would be the highest ERA he has recorded in a season since he was 17-5 with a 4.39 ERA in his rookie season with the Indians in 2001. The Yankees have no choice but to pitch him but they can’t expect much when he does.
- Base-running mistakes cost the Yankees some additional runs in this game. Reynolds was thrown out at third base by Jones from center-field on a single by Suzuki with one out in the sixth. With Soriano on third and Rodriguez on second with two out in the seventh, Granderson bunted a ball along the third-base line. Soriano froze at third, realized Rodriguez was advancing to third and he ended up being tagged out easily by catcher Taylor Teagarden. Reynolds also was thrown out at home by shortstop J.J. Hardy on a high-hopper off the bat of Romine in the eighth.
Though Cano returned to the lineup, infielder Eduardo Nunez missed a second straight game with a sore right knee. But Nunez insisted he was available to play if needed. Nunez twisted his knee in Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays. . . . Reynolds started at first base despite the fact the right-handed Gonzalez was pitching because he been hotter at the plate than lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay. Since being signed off waivers from the Indians, Reynolds is batting .316 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 12 games with the Yankees. . . . The Yankees elected on Friday to move right-hander Phil Hughes’ next start back to Monday against the Chicago White Sox and named Andy Pettitte to start the series finale against the Orioles on Sunday. Hughes has not won a game since July 2 and he has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions.
The Yankees will have a chance to move ahead of the Orioles into third place in the division with a victory on Saturday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova walked six batters (one intentional) but still was able to hold the Rays to two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision on Sunday. He is 4-2 with a 4.95 ERA in his career against the O’s.
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Scott Feldman (4-3, 4.56 ERA). Feldman gave up one run on three hits and four walks in five innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics last Saturday. He is 3-3 with a 4.78 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 1
After suffering through a stretch of 28 games without a home run from a right-handed hitter the Yankees added some pop to that side by trading for Alfonso Soriano, picking up Mark Reynolds off waivers and they waited for the return of Alex Rodriguez.
Now there is no power shortage at all. Just ask the Blue jays.
Soriano hit a pair of home runs and drove in four runs and Reynolds and Rodriguez added a pair of solo shots to support Andy Pettitte’s seven innings of shutout baseball as New York cruised past Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,047 at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday.
The Yankees wasted no time in getting to left-hander J.A. Happ (3-4).
Brett Gardner led off the contest with a double of the right-field wall and he advanced to third on a wild pitch. Derek Jeter then scored him with an RBI single.
The Yankees did receive a scare, however, when Happ’s 0-2 pitch to Robinson Cano struck the All-Star second baseman in the lower left part of his left palm. Cano immediately left the game for precautionary X-rays but they later indicated no broken bone and he is listed as day-to-day.
Happ is the same pitcher who hit Curtis Granderson in the right forearm with the first pitch in Granderson’s first at-bat in spring training on Feb. 24. Granderson suffered a fractured arm and missed the first eight weeks of the season.
One pitch later, Soriano launched a titanic blast into the second deck down the left-field line to give Petttte a 4-0 lead before he even threw a pitch.
Soriano added his second homer of the evening on the first pitch from Happ in the third inning. It also was the 400th career home run for the 37-year-old outfielder. Since being obtained from the Chicago Cubs on July 26, Soriano is hitting .275 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 30 games with the Yankees.
Reynolds led off the sixth inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers with a home run to left-center, his second with the Yankees since being signed on Aug. 16 after he was released by the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 5.
Rodriguez added a long home run off Rogers to straightaway center with two out in the seventh for his fourth home run – his second in two nights against the Jays – since being activated from the disabled list on Aug. 5.
While the Yankees pounded Happ for five runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings and got to Rogers for two runs on three hits and walk in 3 1/3 innings, Pettitte (10-9) was in cruise control on the mound for the Yankees.
He yielded only five hits and two walks while he fanned three in seven innings to notch his second victory in five days against Happ and the Jays his 25th career victory against Toronto.
The victory improves the Yankees’ season mark to 70-62 and they are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The are 4 1/2 games back in the wild-card standings. The Blue Jays fell to 59-74.
- Can general manager Brian Cashman make a trade or what when it comes to Soriano? Of course, I have been pushing the Yankees to get Soriano ever since Andruw Jones flamed out early last season but it is better late than never. Soriano is not just contributing to the offense. He is pretty much carrying it night after night. If Soriano gets the Yankees into the playoffs it might be the trade of Cashman’s career.
- Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with the home run and he extended his modest hitting streak to four games. He also has hit three of his four home runs and driven in half of his eight runs in his past nine games. The Yankees need both Soriano and Rodriguez to produce as long as teams continue to run lefties out against the Yankees.
- Pettitte, 41, looked real sharp in what has to be his best start of the season. After going five consecutive starts without a victory, Pettitte has now reeled off three straight winning decisions and he has yielded only one earned run on 15 hits and six walks while striking out 11 in 19 2/3 innings in those starts. That is an ERA of 0.46 and a WHIP of 1.07.
Nothing to complain about in this contest. The Blue Jays are now 2-13 against the Yankees this season and they looked defeated after they were down 4-0 in the first inning. The game was a perfect combination of offense and pitching and they put the Blue Jays away early for an easy victory.
Eduardo Nunez replaced Cano at second base in the bottom of the first inning and was 1-for-4 in the game. However, he received a scare in the eighth inning when he caught a spike in the stadium’s artificial turf and tweaked his right knee. Lyle Overbay pinch-ran for him in the ninth inning and Reynolds shifted from first base to second base in the bottom of the inning. It was only the third time in his career Reynolds has played second base. Cano has a left hand contusion but Nunez’s status for Wednesday is unclear also. . . . Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday he is not going to pull right-hander Phil Hughes from the rotation just yet. There has been speculation that Hughes, who is 2-11 with a 5.26 ERA since May 15, could lose his spot after he lost to the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
The Yankees will attempt to take the rubber game of the three-game series against Toronto on Wednesday.
Staff ace Hiroki Kuroda (11-9, 2.71 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda was tagged for four homers and seven runs at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays last Friday in what probably was his worst start of the season. Kuroda is 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA in his career against the Jays.
The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Todd Redmond (1-2, 4.44 ERA). Redmond surrendered seven runs and failed to get out of the fourth inning in his last start against the Houston Astros. He has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 2
It seemed like it was a night just like every other night for the New York Yankees on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
One of their future Hall of Fame players reached a rare milestone. Alfonso Soriano proved again why he is a godsend. The team lost another player for the rest of the season. And they continued to dominate the Toronto Blue Jays as they have all season.
On a night that Ichiro Suzuki collected his 4,000th hit as a professional, Soriano broke a 2-2 tie with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning with a two-run home run as New York ran its season record against Toronto to 11-1 with a victory in front of a paid crowd of 36,140.
Suzuki, who entered the game with 3,999 combined hits between Japan (1,278) and the majors (2,721), slapped a 1-1 offering from right-hander R.A. Dickey past third baseman Brett Lawrie into left-field in the first inning to join Pete Rose and Ty Cobb as the only three players who reached the 4,000-hit plateau in professional baseball.
The crowd immediately stood up to pay homage as the Yankee players and coaches streamed from the dugout to congratulate Suzuki on his achievement. The 39-year-old outfielder then tipped his batting helmet and bowed to the adoring crowd.
Once the game resumed, it became a battle of wills between the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner in Dickey and a pair of young pitchers who the Yankees used only to give 41-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte an extra day of rest in Adam Warren and David Huff.
The game was locked up into a 2-2 tie until the bottom of the eighth when Robinson Cano laced a 1-1 pitch from the knuckleball-tossing Dickey into right-field for a single. Soriano followed by blasting a belt-high 0-1 knuckler about 12 rows deep into the left-field bleachers for his 26th homer of the season and his ninth for the Yankees since he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 26.
Huff (1-0), who pitched five innings of one-hit, no-run baseball in relief of Warren was credited with the victory.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 37th save of the season.
Dickey (9-12) was saddled with a tough-luck loss despite giving up two runs on four hits and two walks over the first seven innings. Dickey ended up yielding four runs on six hits while he struck out in eight innings. He is the first Cy Young Award pitcher the Yankees have defeated twice in a season since Barry Zito of the Oakland Athletics in 2003.
The Blue Jays opened the scoring after there were two out in the second against Warren when Anthony Gose snuck a bouncing ball just under the glove of Cano into right-field. Gose stole second and scored on a single by Munenori Kawasaki.
The Yankees tied it in the bottom of the frame when Eduardo Nunez led off with a lined single to left. He stole second and reached third on a wild pitch charged to Dickey.
One out later, Dickey struck Jayson Nix in the left hand with a pitch and Nix removed himself from the game to have tests to determine the severity of the injury. The tests indicated that Nix sustained a fractured hand and he likely will miss the remainder of the regular season.
Mark Reynolds was inserted into the game to pinch-run for Nix.
Austin Romine then tied the game with a long sacrifice fly to the wall in left that scored Nunez easily.
The Yankees staked Warren to a 2-1 lead in the third inning when Cano laced a one-out double off the right-field wall and with two out Curtis Granderson slapped a 1-1 Dickey offering into right to score Cano.
Unfortunately, Warren could not hold the lead for long because the Blue Jays tied it back up in the fourth inning when light-hitting catcher Josh Thole smacked a 2-0 fastball off the back wall of the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center for his first home run of the season.
Warren left one batter later after giving up two runs on four hits and two walks while he fanned four batters over three-plus innings.
But Huff became the story by coming in and shutting the Blue Jays out over the next five innings. He only gave up a high-hop infield single to Lawrie as he led off the eighth inning. He walked four and struck out two before giving way to Rivera in the ninth.
The Yankees have now won four straight games and nine of their 10 of their past 13 games.
The team’s season record now stands at 67-59 and they are 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. They are just four games back in the wild-card standings. The Blue Jays have now dropped all nine road games to the Yankees and are 57-70 on the season.
- Soriano was the hottest player in baseball through a five-game stretch from Aug. 13 through Aug. 17 when he was 15-for-22 (.682) with five home runs and 18 RBIs. But he then went into a 0-for-17 tailspin that he broke with his two-run homer in the eighth. Soriano is hitting .260 with 26 home runs and 76 RBIs on the season. But he is hitting .284 with nine homers and 28 RBIs in just 24 games with the Yankees.
- Cano looks to be on one of his patented late-season hitting tears. Cano was 2-for-4 with a double, a single and two runs scored on Wednesday. Since Aug. 5, Cano is 28-for-61 (.459) with two home runs and 11 RBIs. In that 16-game span he has failed to get a hit in only one game and he has raised his season average from .288 to a team-leading .310.
- Huff, who turns 29 on Thursday, was picked up off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in May and he was 1-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre when the Yankees selected his contract on Aug. 15 and placed him on the 25-man roster. He gives the Yankees a left-handed option out of the bullpen and he looked impressive on Wednesday.
It is hard to criticize Brett Gardner and Lyle Overbay for going a combined 0-for-7 in the game because Dickey’s knuckleball was dancing pretty good. The fact the Yankees have turned things around by winning four straight series is encouraging to a team that looked destined for fourth place in the division. Things are starting to look up.
Though it would seem with Nix going on the disabled list on Thursday, it is unlikely the Yankees will recall shortstop Derek Jeter just yet. Jeter is scheduled to begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Thursday with the Scranton RailRiders. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild strain in his right calf, will likely play two games and return to the team in St. Petersburg on Saturday for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. . . . Suzuki’s 4,000th hit also gave him 2,722 in the United States, which ironically allowed him to pass Yankee legend Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list. Suzuki said that although 4,000 hits means a lot to him he still would like to reach 3,000 hits in the major leagues.
The Yankees can sweep the four-game series and go 10-0 at home against the Blue Jays this season with a victory on Thursday.
Pettitte (8-9, 4.39 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte won his first game in more than month on Friday against the Red Sox allowing three unearned runs in 6 1/3 innings. He is 14-10 with a 4.66 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will start left-hander J.A. Happ (3-2, 4.93 ERA). Happ gave up two runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings in a victory against the Rays on Sunday. He is 2-0 with a 5.16 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.