Results tagged ‘ Joba Chamberlain ’

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!

 

 

Yankees Succumb To Pirates’ Late 4-Run Rally

GAME 1

PIRATES 6, YANKEES 5

Chris McGuiness capped a four-run rally in the seventh inning with an RBI single as Pittsburgh came from behind to defeat New York in both teams’ Grapefruit League opener at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.

Duke Welker (1-0) pitched one inning of relief to get credit for the victory. Chase Whitley (0-1) was hammered for four runs on three hits, a walk and he hit a batter in one inning plus to get tagged with the loss.

Five batters before McGuiness’ game-winning hit, Tony Sanchez cranked a three-run homer off Whitley to turn a 5-2 Yankees’ lead into a tie.

Right-hander Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, however, he did not have much command. Nova surrendered two hits and two walks and had to be replaced by right-hander Bruce Billings in the second innings because he had reached his pitch limit.

The game was played in front of announced crowd of 6,870, which is a record for exhibition opener at McKechnie Field, the Pirates’ spring home since 1969.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The late rally overshadowed what was a great day for two of the Yankees’ three high-priced free agents who started the game. Jacoby Ellsbury collected an infield single and two walks and he scored two runs. Catcher Brian McCann was 1-for-2 with an RBI single in the first inning. The third free agent, Carlos Beltran, was 0-for-2.
  • The Yankees also received key offensive contributions from shortstop Yangervis Solarte and outfielder Ramon Flores. Solarte, 26, a minor-league free agent out of the Texas Rangers’ organization, slugged a two-run home run in the second inning off veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez. Flores, 21, followed McCann’s RBI single in the first with an RBI single of his own off left-hander Francisco Liriano.
  • The Yankees’ pitching was shaky most of the day, but one pitcher did shine despite the gloomy windy and overcast game conditions. Right-hander Dellin Betances, 25, pitched two scoreless innings, giving up one bloop single and striking out two. Betances, a former top pitching prospect as a starter, is opening eyes as a reliever.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Whitley’s first spring outing was a disaster. After pitching a scoreless sixth inning, Whitley, 24, gave up a single, hit a batter and then was tagged for a wind-aided three-run home run by Sanchez. After walking Chris Dickerson he was replaced by Preston Claiborne.
  • Claiborne, 25, did not help matters much by surrendering a walk and the game-winning RBI single to McGuiness. After pitching in 44 games with the Yankees in 2013, Claiborne is being counted upon to shore up a Yankee bullpen that lost closer Mariano Rivera and Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain.
  • After collecting four hits in the first two innings, the Yankees managed to rap out just three more hits the rest of the game. The also hit into a pair of double plays.

ON DECK

Derek Jeter will begin his final spring training on Tuesday as he makes his first start against the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Right-hander David Phelps, one of four competitors for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, will get the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, was 6-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 22 games (12 starts) last season.

The Yankees also should play most of what will be their projected starting lineup for the 2014 season. They also will wear their regular-season pinstripe uniforms.

Right-hander Charlie Morton will start for the Pirates. He was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 20 starts last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a delayed basis at 9 p.m. by the MLB Network.

 

Starting Spot, Bench, Pen Yankees Only Unknowns

With the first exhibition a day away the New York Yankees pretty much have answered all their roster questions.

By investing $475 million on free agents this winter they have turned a team that was ravaged by injury in 2013 into a possible contender in 2014.

The rotation is almost set with C.C. Sabathia heading up a group that includes a Japanese sensation in Masahiro Tanaka and holdovers Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.

The starting lineup is set with shortstop Derek Jeter returning from injury along with first baseman Mark Teixeira. Free agents Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will primarily play second and third base, respectively. Fellow free agent Brian McCann gives the Yankees the best hitting catcher they have had since Jorge Posada retired.

The outfield was strengthened with the free-agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carlos Beltran in right. Brett Gardner, fresh off signing a new four-year extension, will move back to left and last year’s key acquisition, Alfonso Soriano, will be the primary designated hitter.

The bullpen is pretty set with David Robertson being asked to fill the mighty big cleats of the best closer the game as ever seen in Mariano Rivera.

With him are free agent left-hander Matt Thornton, who will assume the role of the departed Boone Logan. Shawn Kelley will also try to build on what was a fairly good first season with the team.

The Yankees even added to the bullpen with the signing of oft-injured former closer Andrew Bailey, who could easily slip into Robertson’s setup role if he is sound.

The bench already will have backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Ichiro Suzuki, who suddenly became the odd man out of a job with the new outfielders looks to have the backup outfield spot assured unless he is traded.

So there are few jobs left to fill. But here they are and the players who are competing for them:

NO. 5 STARTER

The Candidates: Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

Pineda, 25, has missed two complete seasons following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2012. The Yankees hope and Pineda believes it is time for him to resume what was once a promising career. The velocity may not be what it was in his rookie season in 2011 when he was an American League All-Star and he had nine victories, 173 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA with the Seattle Mariners. But the Yankees hope that his stuff is still effective enough to get out major-league hitters. If Pineda proves that this spring the job is really his. That is why they traded Jesus Montero for him. Now it is time for results.

Phelps, 27, has spent the past two seasons as the Yankees’ long man and spot starter out of the bullpen. He has done the job pretty well. He is 10-9 with 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 of them starts) the past two seasons. But Phelps had his 2013 season interrupted by a right forearm strain that sidelined him for two months. But he is 100 percent this spring and he will get a chance to win the final spot in the rotation. However, he likely won’t get it if Pineda shines. The reason is that Phelps’ numbers the past two seasons have been better out of the bullpen than as a starter. Phelps actually might move into a short relief role, where he could even end up setting up Robertson at some point. Phelps, barring injury, will leave spring training with a role. The only question is what role.

Warren, 26, surprisingly made the team out of spring training last season and he was the team’s long reliever. Warren also pitched very well. He was 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two starts). Warren is excellent insurance if Pineda is not ready because Warren is actually better suited as a starter than Phelps. But his value as a long reliever is excellent. So a likely scenario is that Pineda becomes the starter, Warren keeps his long man and spot starting gig and Phelps shifts to the bullpen again. It is hard for Warren not to want to start. Obviously he does. He will get a lot of chances to do it. Do not be surprised if you see very little of Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda early this spring. The reason is you will be seeing a lot of these four pitchers instead.

Nuno, 26, won the James P. Dawson Award last spring as the team’s most impressive rookie after going 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over seven games. That does not even include the five shutout innings he tossed against the Yankees when he was offered to the Dominican Republic for an exhibition game before the World Baseball Classic. Nuno was sent out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five games before he was summoned to fill a spot in the bullpen. In five games with the Yankees (three of them starts), Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings. Nuno subsequently had his season ended by a groin injury. Nuno is the real wildcard in this equation. His fastball barely reaches 88 miles per hour yet he keeps hitters off-balance and doesn’t walk many either. But if Nuno loses out to any of the other three he likely will be returned to Scranton, where he will be available should an injury occur. Nuno is not as experienced pitching out the bullpen and the Yankees prefer he remain stretched out as a starter.

BACKUP INFIELDER

The Candidates: Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler.

Nunez, 26, has had huge opportunities after he batted .265 with 22 steals in 112 games in 2011. In the past two seasons, Nunez has blown those chances. In 2012, his inconsistent fielding got him sent to Scranton and Nunez injured his right hand and missed a huge chunk of the summer. In 2013, the Yankees lost Jeter for most of the season as he battled to get back from a severe ankle injury. Nunez was handed the job early but it went downhill in a hurry after he got injured himself. Nunez hit .260 in 90 games but he did not have that same fire he had in 2011. It was a shame because Nunez worked on a new throwing motion and cut down on his errors. The Yankees sealed Nunez’s fate by deciding to keep Ryan, who can also play second base. That means the only way Nunez can make the team is as a right-handed portion of a platoon with Johnson at third base. This is Nunez’s last shot with the Yankees and he could very well be dealt away before the spring is over.

Anna is a year OLDER than Nunez but has never received a single at-bat in the majors. Yet, Anna chances of making the team may be better than Nunez. Anna was traded to the Yankees by the San Diego Padres in return for right-hander Ben Paulus. The reason Anna is intriguing is that he led the Pacific Coast League in batting in 2o13 with a .331 average with nine homers and 73 RBIs. Anna also bats left-handed and he can play second, third, shortstop and the two corner outfield spots. He lacks speed and range in the field but his fielding is above average. So a good spring could catapult Anna into a backup spot with the Yankees. He could be valuable in that Roberts has spent the past four seasons battling injuries. He also could win the primary starting spot over Johnson at third. The Yankees can’t wait to see what Anna can do this spring.

Sizemore, 29, was a hot minor leaguer like Anna in 2009 when he batted .308 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs at two stops in the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system. He was handed the starting second base job for the Tigers in 2010 and he promptly handed it back by hitting .224 in 48 games. He did not fare much better by hitting .245 in 110 games for the Tigers in 2011. For the past two seasons Sizemore has had two separate surgeries for a torn ACL in his left knee. He reinjured the ACL just 10 days into the 2013 season with the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Sizemore is working out with the Yankees but he is not going all-out just yet. Sizemore has hopes of winning a job as a backup at second and third base. As a right-handed hitter, Sizemore could be of use if he could recapture his old form. The odds are not in his favor but Sizemore is not one to give up that easily.

Canzler, 28, is different from the other three because he can play first base. With Teixeira coming off surgery to repair the sheath in his right wrist, having someone on the roster who can first would be a plus. The current depth chart lists Johnson as the backup there but Johnson has started only two games in his career there. That was why the Yankees re-signed Canzler to a minor-league contract after they cut him loose from the 40-man roster when the team signed designated hitter Tracis Hafner last February. Canzler spent the 2013 season at Triple A, first with the Baltimore Orioles and later with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted a combined .252 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s real value is that he can play both corner infield and both corner outfield spots. That means if the right-handed slugger is impressive he could end up in a platoon with Johnson at third and back up for Teixiera at first. That is why Canzler bears watching so closely this spring.

FOUR BULLPEN SPOTS

The Candidates: Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Bailey, Phelps, Warren, Nuno and Dellin Betances

Robertson is a lock at closer. Thornton and Kelly seem to safe as late-inning options. The Yankees are also very high on the first two names on the candidate list, Cabral and Claiborne. Both made their major-league debuts last season and both impressed manager Joe Girardi. Cabral, 25, missed all of the 2012 season and most of 2013 after fracturing his left elbow in his final spring appearance in 2012. The big left-hander is deadly to left-handed hitters and the Yankees covet a specialist as they had in Clay Rapada in 2012. Something they did not have in 2013. That why it is almost certain that Cabral will make the team, barring injury.

Claiborne, 26, did not walk his first major-league batter until his 15th appearance. He also carried a 2.13 ERA into August before he was shuttled from Scranton to New York five times. His control left him and he got shelled hard in his final 11 games. But the Yankees think very highly of Claiborne. With Logan and Joba Chamberlain gone, the Yankees have a need for Claiborne in their bullpen. Girardi only wants to see the youngster attacking the strike zone consistently this spring to add him to the roster.

Bailey, 29, is the former closer for the A’s and the Boston Red Sox. However, a series of injuries have derailed his once-promising career. After saving 75 games for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, Bailey was acquired by the Red Sox but he endured an injury-plagued 2012 season, pitching in only 19 games and recording a 7.04 ERA. He began 2013 well but ended up having right shoulder surgery in July. The Bosox opted to cut him from the roster by not tendering him a contract. He will not be ready to pitch to start the season. But the Yankees are hoping he may be able to bolster the bullpen later. If he comes back healthy he could very well become the team’s setup man.

The other two bullpen spots likely will go to the losers of the No. 5 starter competition – with the exception of Pineda. If Pineda is not ready to pitch in the majors the Yankees likely will keep him for some while in extended spring training in Tampa, FL. They then would ship him to some rehab assignments before they choose to bring him up later in the season.

That leaves Phelps, Warren and Nuno to fight for the last two spots in addition to a former top-rated starting prospect in Dellin Betances. Betances, 25, was shifted into a bullpen role last season after he struggled with his command as a starter. The result is that Betances is on the verge of becoming a dominant relief pitcher with much better control. He made his major-league debut in September after posting a 6-4 record and a 2.68 ERA with five saves at Scranton. Betances struck out 108 while walking 42 over 84 innings in 38 (six starts) games . Betances looks to be a budding future closer candidate and the Yankees could have him up sometime in 2014 if he does not make the team this spring.

 

Here Are Five Key Yankees To Watch This Spring

Spring training is here!

We are days away from the New York Yankees’ spring home opener and camp is already abuzz about Derek Jeter’s final season, the anticipation of seeing Japanese star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the new boatload of free agents the team signed like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.

But before the games begin I have picked five players to watch this spring. They are not necessarily big names but they do bear watching because of how they will affect the makeup of the Yankees’ 25-man roster that will open the season.

In reverse order of importance, here are the five:

NO. 5 – DEAN ANNA, 27, INFIELDER

The name may not be familiar because Anna played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in Tucson and he batted .331 with nine homers and 73 RBIs in 132 games. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade with the Padres for minor-league right-hander Ben Paulus. Anna is primarily a second baseman but he also has logged time at shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots in his pro career. That versatility makes him potentially valuable to the Yankees if he can hit anywhere near his .286 minor-league career average.  Anna will be battling Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore for a backup infielding spot on the roster. His acquisition shows the Yankees do not have much faith in the development of Corban Joseph and David Adams was released after he flopped in his brief major-league trial last season. With injury-plagued veteran second baseman Brian Roberts as the starter and with Kelly Johnson the primary starter at third base with the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, Anna could back up at both positions. He has the bat to produce and his glove is more than adequate. If Anna impresses the Yankees, Nunez could be packaged in a deal to strengthen the bullpen or bench. If Anna fails to make the roster, he will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he will be phone call away should any of the infielders get injured during the season. Watch him closely.

NO. 4 – PRESTON CLAIBORNE, 26, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER

Claiborne was recalled from Scranton and made his major-league debut on May 5. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander made an immediate impression on manager Joe Girardi by not walking a single batter in his first 14 appearances. If you want to get on Girardi’s good side you don’t walk batters. Claiborne did that and also impressed everyone with his effectiveness out of the bullpen. By Aug. 9, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.08 in 33 games. The Texas native, who was nicknamed “Little Joba,” for his resemblance to Joba Chamberlain had actually supplanted his namesake in the bullpen pecking order. However, a roster numbers crunch forced the Yankees to send Claiborne back and forth from the Bronx to Scranton five times in a 10-day period in August. Claiborne was not the same the rest of the season. In his final 11 appearances, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent losses of Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan, Claiborne will get a chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues. If he does and pitches as he did initially in 2013, the Yankees might have a stronger bullpen than the experts imagine. Claiborne has the ability. It is just a matter of doing well this spring,

NO. 3 – RUSS CANZLER, 27, INFIELDER/OUTFIELDER

Canzler actually was acquired by the Yankees last winter but was designated for assignment before the exhibition season started because the team had signed designated hitter Travis Hafner. Canzler instead was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles, sent to their Triple-A affiliate and then traded late in the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two minor-league stops, Canzler batted .252 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s value is that he is capable of playing both infield corner spots as well as both corner outfield spots. Last season he started 42 games at first, 13 at third and 16 in the outfield. He even started one game at second base. But Canzler’s calling card is power. The right-handed hitter has 118 career home runs in the minors. The reason he intrigues the Yankees is because the current depth chart lists Johnson as the primary backup to Mark Teixeira at first base. Teixeira is coming off surgery on his right wrist after playing in only 15 games last season. The Yankees could stand to have a player who can play the position. Johnson has only made two major-league starts at first. So Canzler could make the roster if he has an impressive spring. That would allow him to platoon with Johnson at third and back up Teixeira at first and he could even log some time in the outfield, if needed. The odds of Canzler making it are slim. But he bears watching.

NO. 2 – CESAR CABRAL, 25, LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER

Bad luck forced this 2012 Rule V draft pick from the Kansas City Royals via the Boston Red Sox to delay his major-league debut. Cabral came into camp in 2012 as a candidate to be a lefty specialist out the bullpen. Throughout the spring, Cabral battled Clay Rapada until the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dominican fractured his elbow in his final appearance of the spring. He did not pitch at all in 2012 and he missed the early stages of the 2013 season while rehabbing the injury. But once he got started, Cabral got rolling. In three minor-league stops he was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. That does not look impressive but he struck out 43 batters in 36 2/3 innings. That got him a September call-up to the Yankees. Cabral took advantage of the opportunity by going 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings in eight games. Lefties hit .125 off him. Girardi was very impressed and Cabral enters the spring with an excellent chance of making the team as a lefty specialist. The other lefties on the team’s 40-man roster are starters and the two non-roster invitee lefties, Fred Lewis and Francisco Rondon, are huge longshots to make the roster. Cabral is worth watching because he has 376 career strikeouts in 383 2/3 innings in the minors. With the bevy of strong left-handed hitters such as David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and our old buddy Robinson Cano around, it helps to have a effective lefty who can get them out. Cabral could be that guy for the Yankees.

NO. 1 – MICHAEL PINEDA, 25, RIGHT-HANDED STARTER

This selection was really a no-brainer. Since the Yankees elected to trade promising prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Pineda and right-hander Jose Campos in 2012, the anticipation of seeing what Pineda could do has been palpable. After he made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in his rookie season in Seattle, the Yankees could not wait to see this 6-foot-7, 260-pound righty bring out his best. Unfortunately, Pineda showed up to camp overweight in 2012 and he did not pitch well during the exhibition season. His velocity was down and he was getting hit hard. It ended with a shellacking from the Philadephia Phillies in his last start of the spring and Pineda admitted after the game his right shoulder was sore. That led to surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. Pineda, as a result, missed the entire 2012 season and he was not ready to answer the bell at the start of the 2013 season either. Pineda made three stops in the minors last season with hopes of receiving a call back to the majors in September. He was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings in 10 starts. But minor soreness in the surgically repaired shoulder ended his season. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the free-agent loss of Phil Hughes, the Yankees want Pineda to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation. They figure it is about time he produce something. Pineda will battle right-handers David Phelps and Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno for the spot. But the smart money is on Pineda. His velocity may not be what it was but the Yankees think he can be effective. We will soon find out how effective Pineda can be.

 

 

Yankees’ Post-Rivera Bullpen Still Looks Talented

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

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

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

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

The question is who will take Mo’s place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Soriano ‘Steals’ Show As Yankees Shade Rays in 11

GAME 130

YANKEES 3, RAYS 2 (11 INNINGS)

When the New York Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs on July 26 they desperately needed him for his power from the right side. As a bonus, they also got whatever was left in his 37-year-old legs.

On Sunday the Yankees found out there was still plenty left in those old legs to help win them an important game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Soriano delivered a one-out double in the top of the 11th inning, then stole third and scored on Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly as New York salvaged the final game of a crucial weekend series against Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 34,078.

With the game tied at 2-2, Soriano lined a 2-1 pitch from Jamey Wright (2-2) into left field for a double. With Granderson at the plate, Soriano then surprised the Rays by taking off for third and sliding in head first ahead of the throw from catcher Jose Lobaton.

Granderson then skied the next pitch into deep center-field to score Soriano easily with what proved to be the winning run.

Boone Logan (4-2), who came into the game in the bottom of the 10th with one on and one out to retire Lobaton on a inning-ending double play, was credited with the victory.

Mariano Rivera needed only six pitches to retire the Rays in order in the bottom of the 11th to earn his 38th save of the season and notch only the Yankees’ sixth victory in their past 22 games at Tropicana Field dating back to July 21, 2011.

The game featured a pitching duel between a pair of young right-handers in 26-year-old Ivan Nova for the Yankees and 25-year-old Alex Cobb for the Rays.

The Rays struck in the bottom of the first off Nova when newly acquired David DeJesus led off with a single, Ben Zobrist drew a walk and Evan Longoria plated DeJesus with a sharp single to left.

But the Yankees responded in the top of the fourth when Robinson Cano lifted a one-out line-drive opposite-field home run to left for his 24th home run of the season to knot the score at 1-1.

The Yankees then took the lead in the top of the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki reached first on an infield chopper to second. Cano then followed with a double to the wall in right-center for his 84th RBI of the season.

But the lead was short-lived because in the bottom of the inning, Longoria launched a blast into the left-field bleachers off Nova with out to even the game back up at 2-2.

Cobb gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings.

Nova also yielded two runs on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen of Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Logan and Rivera held the Rays hitless and scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings to give the Yankees the opportunity to win the game in extra innings.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 69-61 and they are seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. However, the Yankees drew to within 3 1/2 games in the wild card standings. The Rays fell to 74-54.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Soriano continues to pay dividends as a trade-deadline acquisition. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a double, a stolen base and a run scored.  Along with his 26 home runs this season (nine with the Yankees), Soriano has stolen 14 bases (four with the Yankees). That is most stolen bases Soriano has racked up since he stole 19 bases for the Cubs in 2008. Along with his 384 career homers Soriano has 284 career steals.
  • Cano entered Sunday’s game with just one single in his past 12 at-bats. But he heated back up Sunday, going 3-for-5 with a single, a double and a homer, a run scored and two RBIs, In his past eight games, Cano is 15-for-34 (.441) with two homers and eight RBIs. His season average is .307, one point below his career batting average of .308.
  • The Yankees won with their bullpen, some timely double plays and some great throwing from Chris Stewart behind the plate. The bullpen shut the Rays down without a hit over 4 1/3 innings. The Yankees turned four double plays on the Rays including one with the bases loaded in the first, one in the third, one in the fourth and one to end the bottom of the 10th. Stewart nailed Yunel Escobar attempting to steal in the fifth and then gunned down DeJesus in the seventh. Stewart has thrown out 15 out of 48 base-stealers this season (31 percent), which is just below his 33 percent career average.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova walked two batters in the first inning and ended up issuing six walks overall, a season high for him. Nova entered the game having walked 27 batters in 93 2/3 innings, which is less than three walks per nine innings. But he was bailed out by the four double plays and Stewart’s arm.
  • Mark Reynolds connected for a home run in his first at-bat as a Yankee on Aug. 16 at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Since then he is 4-for-25 (.160) with nine strikeouts. On Sunday, playing third base in place of resting Alex Rodriguez, Reynolds was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

BOMBER BANTER

Derek Jeter completed a three-game stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will be in uniform with the Yankees on Monday when they open a series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Jeter, who was a rehabbing a strained right calf, was 3-for-9 with one walk, a double, two runs scored and an RBI. The Yankees want Jeter to take it easy running the bases so they may keep him healthy as much as possible for the final 32 games. In order to get Jeter on the roster the Yankees are expected to trim one of their 13 pitchers.

ON DECK

After sweeping the Jays in four games at Yankee Stadium they will try to sweep them for three at Rogers Centre.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-12, 4.88 ERA). Hughes held the Blue Jays to two runs over six innings but did not get a decision. It was his 11th quality start of the season but he has not won a game in his past eight starts. He is 5-5 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (9-12, 4.49 ERA) will match up again with the Yankees. Dickey gave a two-run home run to Soriano in the eighth inning on Wednesday to end up with a loss in his last start. He is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Cano, Stewart Fuel Yankees’ Rally Past Blue Jays

GAME 124

YANKEES 8, BLUE JAYS 4

Two weeks ago, if the Yankees fell behind 4-0 it was a good bet they would end up losing the game. But on Tuesday, bolstered by a new lineup that features a lot more power, they were able to come from behind in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

Robinson Cano rapped out four hits, including a three-run home run  -  the 200th of his career  -  and drove in four runs and Chris Stewart hit a three-run shot of his own that put the Yankees ahead to stay as New York again frustrated Toronto at Yankee Stadium.

Despite not having his best stuff, right-hander Ivan Nova (7-4) pitched 6 1/3 innings to win his third straight decision in front of a paid crowd of 40,248 for a makeup game resulting from a May 19 rainout..

The Blue Jays batted around against Nova as part of four-run second inning to take early command of the game. Maicer Izturis and rookie Kevin Pillar drove in a run apiece and Rajai Davis closed out the scoring by ripping a two-out, two-run double in the gap in right-center.

But the Yankees, who entered the day having won seven of their past nine games, started their comeback in the third inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers.

Brett Gardner stroked a one-out single and Ichiro Suzuki followed by slapping a double down the left-field line to advance Gardner to third.

Cano then lined a 1-0 fastball into Monument Park in center-field for his 23rd home run of the season and became the 16th player in Yankee history to reach the 200-homer plateau.

The score remained 4-3 until the bottom of the sixth inning when Rogers opened the frame by yielding a lined single to left by Alex Rodriguez.

Rogers was removed in favor of left-hander Brett Cecil, who struck out Curtis Granderson, and right-hander Neil Wagner (2-4) came in to strike out pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds.

However, Wagner ended up hitting Jayson Nix with on a 3-1 pitch and Stewart followed by launching a high-arcing blast into the left-field bleachers for only his fourth home run of the season and his first home run since May 15, a span of 173 at-bats.

The Yankees added a pair of solo runs in the seventh and eighth innings on an RBI single in the seventh by Cano and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Gardner that scored Nix in the eighth to close out the scoring.

Nova gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks while he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Relievers Boone Logan, Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera held the Blue Jays hitless and scoreless over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Nova’s counterpart, Rogers, surrendered four runs on seven hits and two walks and fanned four batters in five-plus innings.

With the victory the Yankees have now won all seven home games they have played against the Blue Jays this season. They also have won 10 straight games against them at the stadium and they have won 19 of the past 21 games there dating back to May 2011.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is getting red hot at just the right time for the Yankees. Cano was 4-for-4 with a homer, a double, two singles, a run scored and four RBIs. After having his 11-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday at Fenway Park, Cano is 7-for-9 (.777) in his past two games. He has raised his season average to .307, the highest it has been since he was hitting .310 on May 10.
  • Suzuki was 2-for-5 with a double, a single and two runs scored. The two hits gave him 3,999 in his professional career, including his 1,278 hits he recorded in Japan. Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only players to have reached 4,000 hits in baseball history.
  • Stewart has pretty much been an automatic out for most of the season. He came into the game hitting .230 with three home runs and 20 RBIs as the team’s No. 9 hitter. Though Stewart contributes a lot with his work behind the plate and his ability to throw out base-runners, it is nice to see him get a big hit that won a game for the Yankees.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova did not have good command of his pitches early in the ballgame.  He came into the game 4-2 with a 1.89 ERA in his past seven starts. But after giving up four runs in the second inning, Nova was able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless on five hits over the next 4 1/3 innings.
  • After going 15-for-22 (.6820 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in five games through Saturday, Alfonso Soriano was 0-for-4 in the first game and now is 0-for-10 in his past two games.

The features Bomber Banter and On Deck will appear in the post reporting on the second game of the doubleheader.

 

Hot Dog! Nathan Not Kosher As Yanks Rally In 9th

GAME 100

YANKEES 5, RANGERS 4

All season the Yankees have gotten very little production from their shortstops and third basemen. On Tuesday, they got some very timely production from both in the ninth inning to steal a victory from the Rangers.

Shortstop Eduardo Nunez laced a one-out RBI triple that tied the game and third baseman Brent Lillibridge followed with an RBI single off Ranger closer Joe Nathan as New York rallied for two runs in the ninth to down Texas in front of 42,739 at Ranger Ballpark.

Nathan entered the ninth with a 4-3 lead and a resume boasting 31 saves in 32 opportunities this season. But things unraveled quickly for the American League All-Star right-hander when he issued a one-out walk to Vernon Wells.

Nathan then uncorked a wild pitch as he stumbled off the pitching rubber to allow Wells to take second.

Nunez later laced a 3-2 pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark in center-field for a triple that scored Wells with the tying run. Lillibridge, who had committed a costly one-out error in the sixth inning that helped the Rangers score four runs, then slapped a 1-0 pitch into left-field that scored Nunez with what proved to be the winning run.

Joba Chamberlain (2-0) pitched a perfect eighth inning to earn the victory in relief. Nathan (1-1) was tagged with his first loss of the season.

Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two batters, to earn his 32nd save in 34 chances this season.

The Yankees actually held a 3-0 lead and Phil Hughes had limited the Rangers to only two hits through the first 5 1/3 innings until Lillibridge’s error on a ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz opened the floodgates.

Adrian Beltre followed with an RBI double to left-center and, one out later, Elvis Andrus chased Hughes from the game with a lined opposite-field single to right.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi summoned left-hander Boone Logan form the bullpen and Mitch Moreland greeted him with a two-run home run to center that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead.

Hughes gave up three runs (none of them earned) on four hits and three walks while he struck out one in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees built their 3-0 lead off right-hander Alexi Ogando, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day to make the start.

A pair of rookies got the Yankees on the board in the third. Melky Mesa, making his first start of the season, doubled off the wall in center in his first at-bat of the season. Austin Romine, who entered the game hitting an anemic .158, then slapped an opposite-field double down the right-field line to score Mesa.

Brett Gardner followed with a single to left that advanced Romine to third and Ichiro Suzuki scored Romine with a infield single that Andrus was able to glove deep in the hole at short but he had no play. It was Suzuki’s 25th infield hit of the season, which leads the American League.

The single was also Suzuki’s 2,700th major-league hit.

The Yankees added a run off Ogando in the fourth when Wells led off with a double to the corner in left and Nunez advanced him to third on a deep fly to center. Lillibridge scored Wells on a ground ball to second in which Ian Kinsler’s throw to home plate bounced, allowing Wells to slide in safely without a tag.

Ogando was touched for three runs on six hits and no walks and he fanned two batters in five innings.

By snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat the Yankees improved to 53-47. More importantly, they remain in fourth place in the American League East, seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Rangers fell to 55-45.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nunez was 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run scored and hit the ball hard both times he was retired. Nunez finally is getting untracked at the plate after his average had dipped to .207 on July 19. Since then Nunez is 8-for-17 (.471) and that has raised his season average to .242.
  • Lillibridge was playing third base in place of an injured Luis Cruz and he ended up 1-for-4 with two RBIs, including the game-winner, despite his costly error. Third base has been a sore spot for the team all season but Lillibridge delivered some important runs for the Yankees on a night they desperately needed them.
  • Hughes deserved a much better fate in this game. If not for Lillibridge’s error and Logan picking a bad night to stink, Hughes should have won the game. He is 4-9 but he is one of the worst run-supported starters in the majors this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • This was one night that two of the Yankees’ better hitters, Robinson Cano and Lyle Overbay, did not deliver anything. The pair, batting third and fourth, were a combined 0-for-8 with two strikeouts and they stranded three runners.
  • Girardi looks to have pulled the trigger on Hughes a bit too early and it cost him. Hughes left the game having thrown only 80 pitches. Girardi told reporters after the game that Hughes was getting his pitches up in that inning. But Logan served up the two-run homer to Moreland. I blame Girardi more than I blame Logan because Hughes needed just one out to get out of the inning. Let him pitch, Joe!

BOMBER BANTER

Cruz was sporting a heavy leg brace on his left knee in what appears to be a sprained medial collateral ligament that will likely land him on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday. Cruz injured the knee making a diving grab of  a Moreland popup to shallow left in the third inning of Monday’s game. Cruz’s spike caught in the turf and he landed awkwardly on the knee. He remained in the game but was unavailable to play on Tuesday. If Cruz ends up on the disabled list he will become the 17th player on the team to be disabled covering 21 separate stints.  . . .  Derek Jeter took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran sprints on Wednesday as part of his recovery from a Grade 1 strain of his right quad that he sustained on his first game of the season on July 11. Jeter said he felt no pain and he hopes to be able to be activated on Saturday, the first day he is eligible to come of the DL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Rangers on Wednesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (7-7, 4.47 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pettitte yielded four runs on six hits and a walk with for strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of a loss to the Red Sox last Friday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 6-7 with a 4.53 ERA against Texas.

The Rangers will counter with right-hander Matt Garza, who will be making his debut with the Rangers after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on Monday. In his career, Garza is 1-4 with a 4.48 ERA against the Yankees.

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

 

Yanks’ Holiday Fireworks Lead To Sweep Of Twins

GAME 85

YANKEES 9, TWINS 5

When it comes to Minneapolis and Target Field the Yankees would just as soon remain there playing the Twins forever. As far as the Twins’ players are concerned they probably would have volunteered to drive the Yankees to the airport just to make sure they left.

The Yankees’ offense exploded like a bottle rocket on this Fourth of July and David Phelps pitched a sparkling 6 1/3 innings as New York completed a humiliating four-game sweep of Minnesota on Thursday in front of a sellout holiday crowd of 38,260.

Ichiro Suzuki and Travis Hafner each pounded out three hits and Vernon Wells drove in three runs as the Yankees broke out the heavy lumber against rookie right-hander Kyle Gibson, who was making only his second major-league start.

The Yankees arrived in Minneapolis on the heels of a five-game losing streak and they left having outscored the Twins 29-14 in the four-game series.

Suzuki finished the day a homer shy of hitting for the cycle as the Yankees cruised to a commanding 9-1 lead by the top of the sixth inning.

Phelps (6-5), coming off giving up a career-worst nine runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles in his last start on June 30, turned the tables on the Twins until he ran out gas in the seventh inning. He entered the seventh having given up only a one-out solo home run to Justin Morneau in the fourth inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took little time jumping on Gibson (1-1), the Twins’ No. 1 draft pick in 2009.

Suzuki led off the game with a double down the right-field line and Zoilo Almonte advanced him to third on a lined single to right. Robinson Cano, who entered the day 7-for-11 with three home runs and eight RBIs in the series, drove a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left-field to score Suzuki.

Hafner extended the inning by blooping an opposite-field double to left and Wells, making a rare start, followed with a two-run single that scored Almonte and Hafner.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the third inning after Gibson opened the frame by hitting Hafner with a pitch and then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Hafner to rumble into second. Wells then looped a fly ball that eluded left-fielder Oswaldo Arcia for an RBI double.

Newly acquired shortstop Luis Cruz then delivered his first hit as a Yankee, an RBI single to left that scored Wells.

The Yankees put the game away against Gibson and left-hander Brian Duensing in the sixth with an RBI single by Alberto Gonzalez, a two-run triple by Suzuki and an RBI groundout off the bat of Almonte.

Phelps wobbled in the seventh when Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks opened the frame with a pair of singles. One out later, Pedro Florimon chased Phelps with an RBI single.

Right-hander Joba Chamberlain replaced Phelps and he was greeted with an RBI single from Brian Dozier. Boone Logan came in to face Joe Mauer and surrendered a sacrifice fly to the Twins catcher.

The Twins then jumped on Logan in the eighth when Morneau blasted his second home run of the game and his sixth of the season.

Trevor Plouffe then singled and Parmelee drew a walk before manager Joe Girardi yanked Logan in favor of right-hander Shawn Kelley, who retired the next three hitters  -  two of them via strikeouts  -  to end the threat.

David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth as the Yankees defeated the Twins for the seventh time in their past eight meetings and they now have won nine of their past 11 games at Target Field.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 46-39 and they remain six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in third place in the American League East. The Twins, who have now lost five straight games, fell to 36-46.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Suzuki, who started in center-field and hit leadoff in place of Brett Gardner, took advantage of it by going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Suzuki was hitting an anemic .238 on May 15. Since then he is 45-for-152 (.296). In addition, Suzuki was 7-for-15 (.457) in the four-game series against the Twins. He has raised his season average to .280.
  • Hafner is finally showing signs of coming around with the bat  -  finally. He was 3-for-4 with two doubles and three runs scored. The key for Hafner is that he has stopped trying to pull everything and he collected two opposite-field doubles and a lined single to center on Thursday. Hafner is 9-for-19 (.316) in his past five starts and has raised his season average back to .229.
  • Phelps yielded four runs on eight hits, he did not walk anyone and he fanned five in 6 1/3 innings. However, he pitched better than the final line indicates. Phelps simply ran out of steam having thrown 91 pitches over the first six innings. In addition, Chamberlain and Logan did not help matters by allowing two more inherited runners to score in the seventh inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I was not happy with Chamberlain or Logan for the way they almost let the Twins back into the game. But winning four straight is the important thing. Consider this also: The Yankees scored nine runs and rapped out 13 hits and Cano ended the day 0-for-4 with a strikeout despite driving in his ninth run of the series on a sac fly in the first.

BOMBER BANTER

You got to laugh just to keep yourself from crying about the Yankees and their injuries this season. The latest bad news comes about catcher Francisco Cervelli. The veteran backstop will have to be shut down for at least two weeks and his expected return has been moved back to August due to a stress reaction in his right elbow. Cervelli had been catching simulated games and taking batting practice at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, when he felt pain in the elbow. An MRI on Wednesday revealed the stress reaction. Cervelli has played in just 17 games this season, batting .269 with three homers and eight RBIs.  . . .  Shortstop Eduardo Nunez has moved up to Double-A Trenton as part of his minor-league rehab assignment and he could be activated before the All-Star break. Nunez has been on the disabled list since May 5 with a strained right oblique. Nunez has played in just 27 games this season, hitting .200 with no homers and four RBIs.  . . .  Derek Jeter told reporters on Thursday that he feels the he is close to being cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment. Jeter has not played this season due to complications from surgery on his left ankle.

ON DECK

The Yankees return home hoping to deal a little payback to Baltimore in a three-game weekend series that begins on Friday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (2-2, 4.63 ERA) will start in place of injured right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. Nunez last pitched in relief against the Orioles in Baltimore, giving up two runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Nova is 3-2 with a 5.43 ERA lifetime against the O’s.

Nova will be opposed by right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (6-3, 3.77 ERA). Gonzalez was charged with three runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings at home against the Cleveland Indians on June 29. He is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA against the Yankees.

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

 

Yanks End 5-Game Skid By Beating Hapless Twins

GAME 82

YANKEES 10, TWINS 4

Just when things look the darkest for the Yankees there is a silver lining. When they are mired in a batting slump, when they can’t seem to do anything right and when they have lost five in a row they still have one saving grace left to them. It is when they play the Minnesota Twins.

Trailing 4-3 heading into the eighth inning the Yankees rallied to score seven runs over the final two innings as once again hapless Minnesota snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory against New York in front of 29.619 disbelieving fans at Target Field in Minneapolis.

After Chris Parmelee led off the sixth inning with a home run off left-hander Andy Pettitte to break a 3-3 tie, the Twins handed the ball to right-hander Jared Burton (1-6) in the eighth inning, hoping he could preserve that lead. But things went awry quickly.

Robinson Cano, who was responsible for all three Yankee runs with a solo home run in the first inning and a two-run blast in the third, led off the frame with a lined double into the gap in right-center.

Manager Joe Girardi then pinch-hit for Vernon Wells with Ichiro Suzuki and the veteran outfielder dropped down a bunt single that advanced Cano to third. Burton then uncorked a wild pickoff attempt to first that rolled down the right-field line that allowed Cano to score the tying run and Suzuki to slide in safely into third.

One out later, rookie Zoilo Almonte slapped an opposite-field single between a drawn-in infield into left-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.

The Yankees added a run after left-hander Brian Duensing walked Lyle Overbay, uncorked a wild pitch to advance Almonte and Overbay a base and Almonte scored on a RBI groundout off the bat of Chris Stewart.

The Yankees added four runs in the ninth inning off Duensing and right-hander Josh Roenicke to put the game well out of reach.

Joba Chamberlain (1-0) pitched a scoreless seventh inning to pick up his first victory of the season. David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each also tossed shutout frames to close out the victory for the Yankees.

Despite not pitching well, Pettitte did strike out Justin Morneau with one out and one on in the fifth inning to become the all-time leader in Yankees’ history in strikeouts. It was Pettitte’s 1,958th career strikeout, which moved him past Hall-of-Fame left-hander Whitey Ford.

Pettitte suffered through a 42-pitch first inning in which he was touched for three runs on three hits and two walks while he also committed a throwing error. Ryan Doumit stroked a two-run single to key the inning for the Twins.

But Pettitte recovered to shut down the Twins on just two hits over the next four innings until Parmelee’s solo homer in the sixth chased him from the game. Pettitte gave up four runs on six hits and four walks while he struck out two batters in five-plus innings.

His opponent, left-hander Scott Diamond, shut out eight of the Yankees’ hitters on just five hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings. However, Cano blasted a solo home run off Diamond that traveled more than 400-feet and landed in the batter’s eye in center-field in the first inning.

Cano later followed a fielding error by third baseman Jamey Carroll that allowed Jayson Nix to reach with one out in the third with an opposite-field blast to left that landed just into the left-field bleachers that tied the game at 3-3.

The home runs were the 18th and 19th of the season for Cano and his homer in the third inning gave him three home runs in his past four at-bats.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 43-39 and left them six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. The Twins fell to 36-43.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In Cano’s last four games he is 10-for-17 (.588) with three homers and five RBIs. Cano has raised his season average from .276 to .293 and he leads the team in both home runs (19) and RBIs (51). His resurgence at the plate also comes at a time when he is about to be chosen by the fans as the starting second baseman for the American League in the 2013 All-Star Game.
  • Almonte is winning over Yankee fans in a hurry and his 3-for-5 night with a stolen base, a run scored and two RBIs did not let those fans down a bit. Almonte, 24, is now batting .342 with a home run and seven RBIs. The youngster said he wants to continue to contribute and not be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. By the looks of things he is not going back anytime soon.
  • Wells started in right-field for Suzuki and was 2-for-3 with two lined singles that Wells got off Diamond’s first offerings to him in both the first and third innings. While this does not prove the veteran outfielder with slumping bat is out of it, it could be that he is showing signs he might be getting his stroke back. Of course, with Almonte entrenched in left-field for now, Wells is just a part-time outfielder and designated hitter for the near future.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Pettitte is showing an alarming habit of coughing up leads the team gives him and he also is failing to win largely because he is succumbing to one bad inning in his most recent starts. Pettitte has not won a game since June 8 and in his past four starts he is 0-3 with a 5.84 ERA. In those starts he has been hammered for 16 runs on 32 hits and eight walks in 24 2/3 innings. This is not the Pettitte the Yankees have seen in a long, long time. They have to be concerned.
  • On a night in which the Yankees scored 10 runs on 14 hits, third baseman David Adams was 0-for-5 with a strikeout and only one ball reached the outfield. Adams is 2-for-24 in his past eight games and his batting average has plummeted to an anemic .178. With Kevin Youkilis likely lost for the season and Alex Rodriguez still on the disabled list, third base has become the Achilles’ heel for the team. It is just getting worse by the day.

BOMBER BANTER

Rodriguez on Monday was cleared to begin a rehab assignment with Class-A Charleston (SC) in the South Atlantic League on Tuesday. Rodriguez, who is rehabbing from surgery on his left hip in January, is expected to play no less than three innings at third base. The assignment is scheduled to run for 20 days, which means Rodriguez, 37, could rejoin the Yankees no later than July 22 for the start of a four-game road series in Arlington, TX, against the Texas Rangers.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series against the team they love to beat in the Twins on Tuesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (3-7, 4.82 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off a game in which  -  with his starting role on the line  -  Hughes surrendered just two runs on five hits in eight innings against the Rangers. However, he lost the game because the Yankees managed just two hits and no runs against Derek Holland. Hughes is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his career against the Twins.

The Twins will counter with right-hander Samuel Deduno (4-2, 3.32 ERA). Deduno gave up just one run on five hits and a walk while he fanned three in seven innings against the Kansas City Royals in his last start. Deduno has no record and 0.00 ERA in one outing against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

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