Results tagged ‘ Kauffman Stadium ’

Cano, Wells Deal Out Yankees’ Royal Flush Of K.C.

GAME 36

YANKEES 4, ROYALS 2

If winning games is fun then the New York Yankees’ charter plane to Cleveland must be a barrel of laughs.

Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells each homered and drove in two runs and Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the eighth inning as the New York swept the three-game series against Kansas City and extended their winning steak to five games in front of 29,515 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

Kuroda (5-2) collected his third victory in his past four outings, limiting the Royals to two runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out one batter in 7 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Cano gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day in the third inning.

With the Yankees trailing 1-0, Chris Stewart stroked a one-out single to left and, one batter later, Cano connected with the first offering from Royals right-hander Ervin Santana (3-2) on a two-run blast into the bleachers in right-field for his 10th home run of the season.

Cano was using a pink bat as part of Major League Baseball effort to bring awareness on Mother’s Day for breast cancer research and an eventual cure.

Right after Cano gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, Wells laced a 1-0 fastball from Santana down the line into the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season.

Wells added another run for the Yankees in the fifth. Brett Gardner slapped a one-out opposite-field double to left. One out later, Wells singled to left to plate Gardner.

Santana gave up four runs on eight hits and he fanned four in 6 1/3 innings.

The Royals scored both their runs off Kuroda on the strength of leadoff doubles.

Jarrod Dyson led off the first inning with a double down the right-field line and he advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Alcides Escobar. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Alex Gordon.

Elliot Johnson led off the eighth with a double off the wall in right-center. He advanced to third on a flyout to deep center by Dyson and he scored on an infield groundout off the bat of Escobar.

After the Royals drew to within two runs, Gordon doubled off Kuroda. Manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with right-hander David Robertson, who retired Billy Butler on a routine flyout to end the Royals’ threat.

Mariano Rivera came in to pitch a scoreless ninth to save his 14th game in 14 tries this season and it was his 28th consecutive save against the Royals, which dates back to the 1998 season.

With the victory the Yankees are now 22-9 since April 7 and they remain in first place in the American League East one game in front of the Baltimore Orioles with a 22-13 season mark. The Royals, who have now lost six of their past seven games, are now 18-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is way ahead of his home-run pace of 2012, a year in which he set a career high with 33 home runs. Cano leads the team in batting (.311), runs scored (22), doubles (10), home runs (10) and RBIs (23).
  • Wells hit only nine home runs in 77 games with the Los Angels Angels last season. Wells is second on the club in batting (.295), runs scored (19), home runs (9) and RBIs (20).
  • Kuroda pitched another gem to become the first Yankee starter to win five games. Kuroda also leads all Yankee starters in ERA (2.31) and Walks To Innings Pitched (WHIP) (1.05).

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Though the Yankees’ No. 9 through No. 4 hitters were a combined 9 for 19 (.474), the No. 5 through No. 8 hitters were a combined 0-for-16 against Santana and relievers Tim Collins and Greg Holland.
  • Third baseman Chris Nelson was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and since he has joined the Yankees on May 4 he is 5-for-29 (.172) with no home runs and two RBIs in eight games.
  • Jayson Nix was 4-for 6 with two walks in the first two games of the series but on Sunday he was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. When he did reach base on a two-base throwing error by Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning he was doubled up off second after Nelson lined out on a diving catch by Dyson in center-field.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Sunday elected to place shortstop Eduardo Nunez (left ribcage tightness) on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 6 and he will be eligible to activated on May 20. To replace Nunez on the roster the Yankees bought the contract of infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Gonzalez, 30, previously played for the Yankees from 2006 through 2007 after being acquired as part of the Randy Johnson trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was acquired from the Chicago Cubs last week in a trade for a player to be named later. He is career .241 hitter and also has played with with the Nationals, Padres and Rangers.  . . .  Right-hander Ivan Nova experienced discomfort in his right side while throwing at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, and he will not be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Monday. Nova, who has been on the disabled list with inflammation in his right triceps, was being considered for a start in the team’s doubleheader on Monday. It is unclear how long Nova will remain on the DL.  . . .  Reliever Joba Chamberlain three 30 pitches in a bullpen session at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday and he is scheduled to pitch in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton on Tuesday. Chamberlain has been on the disabled list since April 28 with a right oblique strain.  . . .  Chamberlain and Rivera apologized to each other on Sunday after a intense shouting match erupted between the two on Saturday. Rivera was conducting an interview with reporters in the dugout during batting practice while Chamberlain apparently was shouting up to family members in the stands. Rivera asked Chamberlain to be quiet and Chamberlain took exception to it. Both players said it was an exchange in the heat of the moment and all has been forgiven.

ON DECK

The red-hot but limping Yankees will be in Cleveland on Monday for day-night doubleheader as part of a makeup of two rained out games against the Indians on May 10 and May 11.

The Yankees will open the doubleheader with right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA). Phelps, 26, is coming off a six-inning no-decisoon against the Colorado Rockies in which he yielded two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out four. Phelps is making his third start of the season but he has never faced the Indians.

The Indians will counter with ace right-hander Justin Masterson (5-2. 3.67 ERA). Masterson is 2-2 with a 5.91 in his past five starts after starting the season 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA. Masterson is 3-3 with a 3,00 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 12:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

Rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his first major-league start in the second game. Nuno, 25, has pitched only once for the Yankees, tossing three shutout innings against the Houston Astros on April 29. Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts at Scranton before he was recalled on April 28.

Nuno will be opposed by right-hander Trevor Bauer (1-1, 2.78 ERA). Bauer is being called up from Triple-A Columbus to make this start. He is 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA in four outings at Columbus.

Game-time will be determined and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Pettitte, Wells Star As Yanks Spin KC Masterpiece

GAME 35

YANKEES 3, ROYALS 2

A pitcher losing command of one of his best pitches is like a skilled surgeon trying to work without a scalpel. But that is what happened to Andy Pettitte in his two previous starts. He did not have a feel for his signature cutter.

But he certainly rediscovered it on Saturday as he pitched seven strong innings and struck out seven batters while Vernon Wells backed him up with a two-run home run in the fifth inning that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead as New York edged Kansas City in front of 30,910 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

Pettitte (4-2) settled into a groove after allowing Billy Butler to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning with a leadoff home run to center-field. After that Pettitte gave up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar and walked Lorenzo Cain in the fifth. But he ended that threat by retiring Alex Gordon on a groundout.

The 40-year-old left-hander gave up two runs on five hits and walk and retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced to pick up his first victory since April 19.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took advantage of a big mistake by James Shields (2-3) to take control of the game.

Shields hit Chris Stewart on the left triceps on a 1-2 pitch as Stewart led off the fifth. Two batters later, Wells ripped a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his eighth home run of the season that gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender the rest of the way.

Shields gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks and he fanned five in eight innings of work.

David Robertson pitched in the eighth and struck out the side for the Yankees.

Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and gave up a two-out double to Salvador Perez. But he retired Mike Moustakas on a flyout to Wells in left to earn his 14th save in as many chances this season.

The save for Rivera was also the 70th time in his career he has saved a game started by Pettitte, which is the most for any starter and closer tandem in major-league history.

The Yankees actually took advantage of an error on a throwing error by Moustakas in the third inning to take an early 1-0 lead.

Chris Nelson opened the inning by lacing a double down the left-field line. Two outs later, Robinson Cano slapped a bouncing ball to the left of Moustakas. The Royals’ third baseman dove, got up and threw high and wide of first base to allow Nelson to score from second.

The Royals manufactured a run of off Pettitte in bottom of the third to tie it.

Elliot Johnson reached on a swinging bunt down the third-base line and he later stole second. He advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a groundout off the bat of Cain.

The Yankees extended their current winning streak to four games and they are now 14-4 this season in games decided by two runs or less.

The victory also allowed the Yankees to claim full possession of first place in the American League East with a record of 22-13. The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles are a full game out in second place. The Royals, who have now lost five of their past six games, are 18-15.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In his last two starts, Pettitte was hammered for 11 runs (10 earned) on 14 hits and five walks in 9 1/3 innings. On Saturday, he looked more like the pitcher who was 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA before those two dreadful outings. Pettitte had command of the cutter and he mixed his curve and slider to keep the Royals’ batters off balance all evening. The Yankees’ top four starters, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes, are a combined 14-9 this season.
  • Wells was 0-for-5 in Friday’s 11-run, 16-hit explosion against the Royals but he bounced back nicely in this game. Wells is currently second on the team with a .281 batting average and has eight home runs and 18 RBIs on the season. It is going to be difficult for manager Joe Girardi to bench him when Curtis Granderson is activated form the disabled list this month.
  • Robertson came out the bullpen firing seeds in the eighth inning. Robertson needed only 12 pitches to strike out Escobar and Cain looking and Gordon swinging. In his past four outings, Robertson has not give up a run or a hit and he has walked one while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

How can you complain when the team got a great effort out of Pettitte and the bullpen? Wells hit a timely home run and the Yankees took sole possession of first place. Who said this team would be awful because of all of the injuries they suffered? Not me.

BOMBER BANTER

Shortstop Eduardo Nunez missed his sixth straight game because he was unable to shake nagging discomfort in his left ribcage and the Yankees may have to place him on the 15-day disabled list if he is unable to play by Monday’s doubleheader in Cleveland against the Indians. Nunez told trainer Steve Donohue on Saturday that he still is feeling pain when he is doing fielding drills.

ON DECK

The Yankees can use their big broom and sweep the Royals in the three-game series finale on Sunday.

Kuroda (4-2, 3.20 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda, 38, limited the Colorado Rockies to two runs on seven hits in seven innings but took the loss on Tuesday because the Yankees were blanked. The veteran right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.66 ERA in his career against Kansas City.

The Royals will start former Angels right-hander Ervin Santana (3-1, 2.36 ERA). Santana surrendered three runs on seven hits and one walk in six innings of a no-decision against the Orioles on Tuesday. He is 5-6 with a 5.90 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

 

 

Overbay’s 5 RBIs Make Royals Look Like Paupers

GAME 34

YANKEES 11, ROYALS 6

Mark Who?

It is getting to the point that Yankee fans may forget their injured first baseman Mark Teixeira because his replacement Lyle Overbay is doing so well in his absence.

Overbay was 4-for-5 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs on Friday to lead 16-hit attack as New York outslugged Kansas City in front of a paid crowd of 24,521 at Kauffman Stadium.

Though starter Phil Hughes (2-2) was staked to 4-0 and 5-3 leads, he was unable to hold onto it in the fifth inning when Alex Gordon followed back-to-back bloop one-out singles by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain with a two-run double just over the outstretched glove of left-fielder Vernon Wells on the warning track to tie the game at 5-5.

However, the Yankees had already scored five runs off former Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Wade Davis (2-3) on a pair of two-run home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Overbay in the second inning and an RBI double off the bat of Overbay in the fourth.

So the Yankees opened the sixth with a double off the right-field wall by Suzuki and a soft lined single to center by Jayson Nix that advanced Suzuki to third and chased Davis from the game.

Royals manager Ned Yost replaced Davis with left-hander Bruce Chen and Overbay greeted him with a double off the top of the wall in center-field that scored Suzuki that broke the 5-5 tie and gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the night.

Chris Nelson followed with a two-run single to right, his first RBIs as a member of the Yankees.

The Yankees went on to bat around against Chen and add two more runs in the inning to extend the lead to 10-5 and dash any hopes the Royals might have had about another rally.

Hughes was the winner despite giving up a three-run home run to Jarrod Dyson in the second inning  -  which broke Hughes’ 22-inning homerless streak entering the contest  -  and a solo shot to Mike Moustakas in the sixth.

Hughes gave up six runs on seven hits, two walks and one hit batter while he struck three in 5 2/3 innings.

But the Yankees pounded Davis for seven runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned three in five-plus innings of work.

The No. 5, 6 and 7 hitters  for the Yankees  -  Suzuki, Nix and Overbay  -  combined to go 9-for-13 (.692) with two home runs, four doubles, eight runs scored and seven RBIs.

With the Yankees’ bullpen short because Preston Claiborne, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were unavailable to pitch, the team got a strong effort out of right-hander Shawn Kelley.

Kelley pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out six of the seven batters he faced. Boone Logan pitched a perfect ninth to close out the game.

The Yankees’ victory was their third in a row and gave Joe Girardi his 500th triumph as manager of the Yankees.

The Yankees also improved to 21-13, which keeps them percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles in first place in the American League East. The Royals dropped to 18-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Considering that when he signed a huge contract with the Toronto Blue Jays and was later sarcastically nicknamed “Lyle Overpaid” when he did not deliver big numbers there and he was released this season in the last week of spring training by the Red Sox, Overbay should have the moniker “Lyle Underpaid” with the Yankees. All Overbay has done in 32 games (29 starts) is hit .264 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Oh, he has committed only one error at first base while flashing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the position. Geesh! What a pickup for general manager Brian Cashman.
  • Suzuki entered the contest hitting .372 at Kauffman Stadium, which is the highest average for any opposing hitter in history. Well, he raised that average by going 3-for-5 with his second home run of the season, a double, a single, a stolen base, three runs scored and two RBIs. In his past nine games, Suzuki is 12-for-33 (.364) which has raised his season average from .247 to .282.
  • Kelley was absolutely sensational when he came out the bullpen in the sixth inning. Of his six strikeouts, four were swinging and he struck out the first five batters he faced. After being hammered for 10 earned runs on 13 hits and four walks in 10 1/3 innings of work over nine appearances through May 4, Kelley has not been scored upon his last three outings covering 4 1/3 innings. In that span he has fanned nine batters, mostly on his devastating slider.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Hughes pitched aggressively against the Royals, throwing first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. However, the Royals were able to catch up with his fastball and hit him hard. After pitching brilliantly in his last four starts in which his ERA was 1.93 and he won only one of those starts, Hughes was hammered for six runs and yet he won because the Yankees backed him with a lot of run support. Go figure!
  • The Royals’ pitchers must have really wanted to bear down on Wells and designated hitter Travis Hafner. The two combined to go 0-for-9 on a night the team scored 11 runs and knocked out 16 hits. Fortunately for the Yankees, the rest of the lineup was 16-for-34 (.471), which more than made up for Wells and Hafner.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees held shortstop Eduardo Nunez out of a fourth straight game but he was available to the team in an emergency. Nunez, who has been slowed by tightness in his left ribcage, could be available to start on Saturday if he suffers no setbacks throwing and taking batting practice on Saturday.  . . .  Curtis Granderson homered on Friday in his second rehab game with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Granderson, who was 1-for-5 in the game, hit his home run in the eighth inning. Granderson started the game in left-field and batted second. The 32-year-old outfielder has been on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured left forearm and he could be activated within the next 10 days.  . . .  Because Kauffman Stadium was the scene where Rivera suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on May 5 last season, some of the Yankees decided to have a little fun with the 43-year-old future Hall-of-Famer. Some teammates drew a chalk outline of Rivera on the warning track and placed a sign on the outfield wall lined with stop signs and yellow tape that read “No Mo Zone.” When Rivera strolled out to look at it he laughed and he intends to keep the sign.

ON DECK

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

The Yankees will start veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-2, 4.06 ERA), who yielded four runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks in five innings on Sunday against the Oakland Athletics. But he loves Kansas City because he is 9-2 with a 3.72 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Royals.

The Royals will counter with the second former Rays right-hander in a row in James Shields (2-2, 2.52 ERA). Shields threw eight shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox on Monday but he lost a victory when the bullpen allowed the Chisox to rally for a 2-1 victory in 11 innings. Shields in 7-14 with a 4.56 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Mo’s Return In 2013 Keeps Yanks’ Bullpen Strong

PART 2: THE BULLPEN:

The Yankees figured to have a strong bullpen as they entered the 2012 season. Perhaps the best in baseball.

Of course, having the best closer baseball has ever seen and will see in Mariano Rivera was a large part of that strength. However, in 2012 Rivera was not a big part of the team’s success.

Everybody remembers that day at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City last May when “Mo” tried to shag a ball he should not have and tore his MCL in his left knee. He later had surgery and missed the rest of the season.

But the Yankee bullpen was rescued by a fluke signing of Rafael Soriano in 2011 over the objections of general manager Brian Cashman. Nonetheless, the Yankee brass overruled Cashman and signed the former Tampa Bay Rays closer coming off a 2010 season in which he saved 45 games and a had a 1.73 ERA.

That deal looked wasted in 2011 when Soriano pitched in mediocrity and then injured his elbow before finishing with just two saves and a 4.12 ERA. He was baseball’s most expensive seventh inning pitcher in history.

In 2012, he saved the bullpen by stepping in for Rivera and notching 42 saves in 46 opportunities with a sparkling 2.26 ERA. Many thought that with Rivera gone that the Yankees would sink in the American League East. But Soriano proved them wrong.

It is no wonder that Soriano elected to opt out of his contract and seek a closer’s role of his own as a free agent. The Yankees might have panicked to find a suitable closer for 2013 had Rivera not decided to come back for one last hurrah.

Indications are Rivera will be ready to go when spring camps open in February. Rivera, 43, was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA and five saves in six chances when he went down in 2012. In 2011, he was 1-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 44 saves in 49 opportunities. So as long as Rivera’s knee is sound, the Yankees will have no worries about their closer in 2013.

With Soriano gone, it would seem to be an issue if the Yankees did not have David Robertson, who was an American League All-Star selection in 2011 with a 4-0 record and 1.08 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. In 2012, Robertson got off to a slow start with a ankle injury suffered in spring training.

He later had to be placed on the disabled list at midseason in May with an oblique strain. He simply was not the same pitcher early in the season as he was in 2011. But in the second half, Robertson flashed his old form. After a brief and unsuccessful trial as a closer he was shifted back to his eighth inning role and he flourished again.

He was 2-7 with a 2.67 ERA but he was finally his old self by late August and for the September stretch run. At age 27, Robertson becomes a very valuable pitcher for the Yankees with the departure of Soriano. Robertson will also have to adapt to close on days Rivera is unable to pitch. The Yankees do not seem worried about it though.

Behind these two hard-throwing relievers, the Yankees will seek to build another strong bullpen with a pair of similarly hard-throwing veterans in right-hander Joba Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan.

Chamberlain, 27, missed most of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He missed the start of the 2012 season after suffering a break of his right ankle in a trampoline accident in Tampa, FL.  He was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over 22 appearances late in the season.

He returns in 2013 without injury and seeking to regain the consistency he enjoyed in 2011 when he was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA before he injured his elbow. If he does the Yankees will not miss Soriano at all. Chamberlain figures to be the logical choice to pitch most in the seventh inning. If he measures up to the challenge the Yankees’ bullpen will again be very strong.

Logan, 28, has been the unsung hero of this bullpen for a long time.

Sure he can be erratic at times. But he also has now put together three very good seasons with the Yankees. Miscast as a lefty specialist for two seasons, he was able to step out of that role in 2012 and post a pretty good season.

He was 7-2 with a 3.74 ERA and held opponents to a .234 batting average. The elevated ERA was largely due to the fact that he was pressed into service more than he had in the past and the additional innings caught up to him. He pitched in a league-high 80 games and manager Joe Girardi would like to cut that down to a more realistic 60 to 65 in 2013.

But with Chamberlain, Robertson and Rivera on the disabled list at one point last season, Logan pitched in a lot of games he would not have pitched in normally. A healthy bullpen should make him more effective as well as additional man to pitch in the seventh inning.

Girardi was able to cobble together a pair of specialists out of left-hander Clay Rapada and right-hander Cody Eppley and he was very pleased with the results he got from them.

Rapada, 31, was 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA. But against lefties he was plain nasty. They hit just .186 off him and he looks to have an inside track on keeping that role in 2013.

Eppley, who was picked up off waivers from the Texas Rangers early in 2012, turned into an effective pitcher against right-handers. He had a 1.93 ERA against righties and they hit just .227 against him. The 27-year-old veteran was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA overall and he earned Girardi’s trust as the season progressed.

Depth in 2013 does not look to be an issue. There are a number of candidates to challenge for spots in 2013.

David Phelps, 26, is thought of primarily as a starter based on his success in the minor leagues. But he could settle into a long reliever/spot starter in 2013, the role he largely held in his rookie season as he compiled a 4-4 mark with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts).

Phelps will get a chance to crack the 2013 starting rotation in the spring but he only likely will have a chance if there is an injury or Ivan Nova continues to pitch poorly. Long relief looks to be a good bet or he could be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to keep him stretched out as a starter as an insurance policy on what is a veteran starting rotation.

The Yankees signed free-agent right-hander David Aardsma last season even though they knew he was recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Aardsma, 30, saved 38 games in 2009 and 31 games in 2010 for the Seattle Mariners before he injured his elbow.

He pitched in only one game for the Yankees late last season but the Yankees saw enough renew his contract option for 2013. So Aardsma could very well win a spot in the Yankees bullpen this spring if he regains his hard-throwing dominant arsenal. Aardsma could be helpful both in the middle innings or as a late-inning option for Robertson and Rivera when they are unavailable to pitch.

The Yankees also have a veteran right-hander in Jim Miller, 30, who was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 33 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season. Miller oddly is tougher on lefties than he is on righties. Lefties hit just .136 off him in 2012 while righties solved him to the tune of .283. The Yankees will see how he fits in this spring.

Cesar Cabral, a 2012 Rule 5 draft acquisition, spent the entire season on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left elbow as he was competing for the lefty specialist role with Rapada last spring. After compiling a 3-4 record and a 2.95 ERA in the minors 2011 with 70 strikeouts in 55 innings, Cabral will get a chance to display his power stuff this spring with a chance of supplanting Rapada or earning a spot as a third lefty in the bullpen. Cabral is only 23 and he has a high ceiling as a reliever.

The Yankees do have some interesting young reliever candidates in their minor-league system but most of them have to be considered as longshots to make the 2013 roster.

Chase Whitley, 23, was 9-5 with a 3.25 ERA at Scranton and the right-hander compiled a 1.07 WHIP in 80 1/3 innings over 41 games. The Yankees like his competitiveness though he does not appear to have closer stuff.

Right-hander Preston Claiborne, 24, pitched impressively enough at Double-A Trenton (2-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 30 games) to earn a promotion to Scranton, but he may need some more work. He was 4-0 with a 4.05 ERA in 20 games there. But the Yankees still like the tall Texan and he does have strikeout stuff (78 punchouts in 82 innings).

The most impressive young pitcher the Yankees have in the minors is 22-year-old right-hander Mark Montgomery. Montgomery began 2012 with the High-A Tampa Yankees, where he was 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA. He also struck out an unbelievable 61 batters in 40 1/3 innings.

He carried that power stuff to Trenton, where he was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 15 games. He saved 15 games overall in 2012 and to say that Montgomery figures to be a long-range prospect as a future major-league closer would be putting it mildly. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he may not seem like your typical closer. But neither was Robertson and look where he is now.

Montgomery’s progesss is worth watching in 2013.

The Yankees 2013 bullpen prospects, much like their starting staff, appears to be in pretty good shape and fairly set. I do not expect Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to be begging Cashman for additional help here. Soriano walked out but with Rivera back for one last season and depth at the back end the Yankees’ bullpen should remain one of its strengths.

Girardi has been a master at building a bullpen and utilizing it in a proper way. Other than Logan, no one was really overused in 2012 and that should be the trend again in 2013.

Not many teams can boast a bullpen this good and this deep.

NEXT: STARTING LINEUP

 

Yankees Give Big Sigh Of Relief As Soriano Shines

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

RELIEF PITCHERS

RAFAEL SORIANO (2-0, 1.72 ERA, 19 SAVES)

DAVID ROBERTSON (0-3, 2.42 ERA)

BOONE LOGAN (3-0, 3.54 ERA)

CORY WADE (0-1, 5.79 ERA)

CLAY RAPADA (2-0, 3.00 ERA)

CODY EPPLEY (0-0, 2.53 ERA)

D.J. MITCHELL (0-0, 3.38 ERA)

The New York Yankees season could have very easily ended on May 3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was shagging balls during batting practice, as has been his custom his entire career, when his right knee buckled as he reached the warning track. Rivera went down in a heap and the Yankees lost the best closer in the history of the game for the rest of the season.

However, on May 22 the Yankees ran off a record of 28-11 and they moved from tied for last place in the American League East 5 1/2 games behind to first place in the division and five games ahead.

The starting pitching was a big reason why. The starters who struggled in April pitched better. But there was something else that kept the Yankees going without Mariano Rivera.

That something was Rafael Soriano.

Soriano, 32, was signed by the Yankees for $12 million a season over three seasons in the winter of 2011. Soriano had just come off a season in which he saved a league-leading 45 games in 48 chances with the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA.

But why pay so much for someone who would not close games?

General manager Brian Cashman quickly pointed out publicly the signing was not his idea and he disavowed it. But after the Yankees lost out in trying to sign left-hander Cliff Lee the front office figured that with Rivera, Soriano and David Robertson that the Yankees could shorten the game to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies.

On paper, it made sense. In practice, it did not work out entirely as planned.

Soriano was hit hard early and often at the start of the 2011 season. The fans quickly turned on him for his seeming uncaring attitude as he pitched worse and worse. Then he ended up on the disabled list for two months with soreness in his right elbow. The fans also do not like players drawing rich contracts while rehabbing injuries.

Soriano did come back and ultimately was given the seventh inning as Robertson owned the ninth and Rivera was king of the ninth. Soriano finished the 2011 season with a 2-3 mark and a gaudy 4.12 ERA. He saved two games and blew three others.

Soriano then surprised a lot of people by deciding not exercise his opt-out clause in his three-year deal. He was getting paid good money to pitch the seventh inning and he figured it was more advantageous for him to stay. As far as Yankee fans go, they may have enjoyed booing him, but Soriano saved the Yankees’ season by deciding to stay.

When Robertson failed in his first attempt to close for Rivera on May 9 against the Rays and then ended up on the disabled list for a month with a left oblique injury, Soriano was reborn as a closer. He is also proving to be very good at it.

Since he has taken over, Soriano has saved 19 games out of his 20 opportunities and erased the team’s fears they could not win without Mo.

The fans? They booed him unmercifully at Yankee Stadium when he blew his only save on June 10 against the Mets. Tough crowd.

Yankee fans should be hoisting this man up and celebrating him because Soriano will be a big component of the Yankees’ run in the playoffs. They certainly do miss Mo but they have to be thankful they have a replacement in Soriano who has saved 91 games out of 99 chances since the 2009 season. That is a 92 percent success rate.

The Yankees actually have other more pressing bullpen issues. They revolve around Robertson, who came off the 15-day disabled list on June 15.

In the 11 appearances Robertson, 27, has made beginning on June 15, he is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA. That is a far cry from the Robertson who made 13 appearances before May 9 and was unscored upon in his first 13 innings of the season with 23 strikeouts.

The Yankees need Robertson to settle back into his groove and just, well, be Robertson again. We will see how it unfolds after the All-Star break.

The injuries to Rivera and Robertson have meant that Boone Logan has pitched in more games and for more innings than he has been used since he was acquired by the Yankees in 2009. The most innings he ever pitched in pinstripes was the 41 2/3 innings he pitched last season in 64 appearances.

But because Logan is no longer the lefty specialist in the bullpen he is being used more often and for longer stretches. Logan, 27, has already thrown 29 2/3 innings and made 41 appearances.

The strain is beginning to show. Logan’s ERA for the first three months was excellent: He was 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA on June 30. But in July, Logan has been scored upon in all four of his appearances and, if anybody deserved an All-Star break it was Logan.

The hope is that Logan will bounce back in the second half and pitch like he did before June 30. The Yankees need Logan to be good in the seventh inning so the Yankees can use Robertson in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth. Logan will be a big key to the Yankees in the second half, no doubt.

Manager Joe Girardi has been praised, and rightfully so, for his ability to maximize a bullpen. This season he has proven what a skill it is.

The Yankees found a lefty specialist in side-armer Clay Rapada during spring training and Rapada has been excellent as getting left-handers out since the 2012 season began.

Rapada, 31, is holding left-handed hitters to a .150 average this season. Amazingly, Rapada is retiring right-handers also. They are hitting .227 off him. But Girardi has wisely tried to keep Rapada as a specialist as much as he can this season.

The Yankees also got lucky when the Texas Rangers waived 26-year-old side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley early in the season. The Yankees claimed him and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Recalled on April 20, Eppley has provided Girardi with a righty specialist to twin with Rapada.

The results have been very good. Eppley is holding right-handers to a .231 average. Much like Rapada with right-handers, Girardi must keep Eppley away from dangerous left-handed hitters. Overall, Eppley has done an excellent job and he and Rapada have strengthened what already was an excellent bullpen.

That can’t be said of Cory Wade, however.

Wade, 29, was picked up off waivers from the Rays in 2011 – much like Eppley was this season – and he put together a great season. Wade was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA last season and drew a lot of praise from Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

But 2012 has a been nightmare for Wade.

He compiled an ERA of 1.69 in April and an ERA of 2.92 in May. But in June, Wade hit the skids and he has not recovered.

Beginning on June 16, Wade gave up a home run to Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals in a game the Yankees won 5-3. Since then, Wade has given up 16 runs in his last 8 innings covering his last seven appearances. Wade’s ERA has ballooned to 6.48 and he has been sent back to Scranton to try and get his groove back.

The Yankees filled out their bullpen just before the break by calling up Triple-A starter D.J. Mitchell to be the long man in the bullpen now that Freddy Garcia is being used as a starter to replace the injured Andy Pettitte.

Mitchell, 25, has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA at Scranton in 14 starts but Mitchell may have more value as a reliever in the majors because he has the best sinking fastball in the organization.

The Yankees would like to use him in situations they might need a double play. But Mitchell is strictly a long man for now.

To replace Wade, the Yankees picked up veteran right-hander Chad Qualls off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Qualls, 33, is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over three games. That is certainly a step up from what the Yankees have been getting from Wade. We will see if he continue to pitch well in the second half.

Overall, this has been one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball this season despite the loss of Rivera.

Girardi was able to slide Soriano into the closer’s role and he has Robertson and Logan to pitch in setup roles. Plus he can mix and match with the righty-lefty combo of Eppley and Rapada. Wade is the only reliever who has been a major disappointment but Qualls was picked up to fill his role until Wade finds it again or not.

MIDESEASON GRADES:

RIVERA: I (for Incomplete)

SORIANO: A

ROBERTSON: B+

LOGAN: B+

WADE: C-

RAPADA: B+

EPPLEY: B

QUALLS: I (for Incomplete)

MITCHELL: I (for Incomplete)

OTHERS

DAVID PHELPS (1-1, 6.46 as a reliever)

RYOTA IGARASHI (0-0, 22.50 ERA)

David Phelps began the season in the bullpen as the long reliever and he actually pitched much better than his ERA indicates. He was shelled for three runs in back-to-back appearances against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox in late April.

But Phelps, 25, is more suited as a starter and is thought of that way by the organization. After two starts in place of Freddy Garcia in early May, Phelps was sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was activated on May 13. He stayed until June 2, when he was shipped to Double-A Trenton to get his arm in shape to become a starter.

However, before the process could be completed Pettitte was placed on the disabled list with a broken tibia in his right leg and CC Sabathia had to be shelved because of a groin injury.

Phelps was recalled and pitched out of the bullpen until he was pressed into a start against the Rays on the Fourth of July. Phelps struck out eight batters and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings in his best performance of the season.

Now Phelps has been sent back to Trenton to complete the process of building up his pitch count so he can start. It is unclear when Phelps might return to the Yankees or what role he will assume. My guess is we have seen the last of Phelps as a reliever, barring an injury.

Igarashi was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen on May 25 and pitched poorly in the two games in which he pitched. He was sent back to Scranton and was recalled again on June 8 and he gave one run in his one inning of work against his former Met teammates.

Igarashi, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and three saves at Scranton this season. He is there for depth purposes but the Yankees could do better. Igarashi does not appear to be the answer for the Yankees based on what he has done in three games.

MIDSEASON GRADES

PHELPS : I (for Incomplete)

IGARASHI: I (for Incomplete)

The Yankees have some veteran relievers at Scranton, including Igarashi.

Kevin Whelan 28, is the main closer and is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA and 12 saves.

Meanwhile, left-hander Juan Cedeno, 28, is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA and former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen is 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.

The most impressive young relievers the Yankees are developing are Preston Claiborne, 24, and Chase Whitley, 23.

Claiborme was just promoted to Scranton after going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and saving five games at Trenton.

Whitley is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 games in Scranton.

Both are right-handers.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+

There are whispers that Rivera is progressing well in his rehab after surgery on his right knee and that he might be able to pitch this season. That would be bad news to the teams in the A.L. East staring up out of a huge hole in which the Yankees have placed them.

Whether Rivera returns or not the Yankees have an exceptional bullpen that rarely coughs up leads late in the game.

Soriano has 19 saves after 81 games and he has been sensational as Rivera’s stand-in.

There are some concerns before the second half begins.

Both Robertson and Logan need recapture their early-season form. They both have a long enough track records in the majors that they should be able to rebound. Robertson just needs to regain command of the strike zone and Logan just needs rest after absorbing a huge workload in the first half.

Logan leads the American League in appearances and that is an aberration from what Girardi and Rothschild would like from him. But Rivera’s loss impacted Logan the most and he has been forced to pitch a lot of innings and it is catching up to him. Hopefully, the rest over the break rejuvenates his valuable left arm.

The Yankees also have to hope that Wade rediscovers his karma in the minors. Most of the karma he has been exhibiting on the mound these days is bad.

Rapada and Eppley have proved to very valuable specialists and they have been impressive in the first half. They just have to continue to do what they have been doing.

Qualls is a place-holder for Wade and Girardi seems to trust him.

Mitchell can be valuable as a long man but Girardi rarely calls on him. His sinker could have some value in the second half and he is the one reliever that can give Girardi a lot of innings out of the bullpen.

The biggest hope for the second half has nothing to do with any of the pitchers I mentioned.

The Yankees just sent Joba Chamberlain out on a minor-league rehab stint. Because Chamberlain, 26, is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severely displaced fractured right ankle, the Yankees were not really expecting much out of the big right-hander.

But if all goes well in his extended rehab stint, Chamberlain could return to the Yankees within a month. That would be a big boost to the Yankees and it should make Logan really smile.

Yankee fans may have forgotten that Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 games before injuring his elbow last season. If he can get back to that level, Chamberlain could a valuable piece to the bullpen in the sceond half and heading into the playoffs.

The Yankees also had high hopes for former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma in the second half. Aardsma, 30, was coming off Tommy John surgery himself last July and was making his final rehab appearances when he suffered a setback and had to be shut down.

Aardsma underwent some tests and is consulting Dr. James Andrews, who performed his surgery, about what his next step will be. But it looks doubtful Aardsma will be able to help the Yankees this season. That is a shame.

But the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been gong this season, they may not need him. The return of Chamberlain, however, could be a real big boost.

 

Yankees Reach Break By Outlasting Bosox Again

GAME 85

YANKEES 7, RED SOX 3

It took four hours and two minutes and 371 pitches were thrown but the New York Yankees were able to defeat the Boston Red Sox to win the four-game series at Fenway Park 3-1 and begin the All-Star break with both the best record in baseball and the biggest lead of any of the division frontrunners.

Two players stood out for the Yankees in this Sunday marathon in front of national TV audience and a sellout crowd of 38,270.

Ivan Nova pitched six superlative innings to notch his 10th victory of the season and Andruw Jones drove in three runs and hit his fourth home run of the series in the seventh inning to put the game out of reach.

Nova (10-3) gave up two runs (one earned) on six hits and two walks and struck out 10 very befuddled Red Sox to give the Yankees a 5-1 record against Bosox, all of the those games in Beantown.

Jones, who entered the series against the Red Sox with only three homers in 91 career at-bats at Fenway, finished the four-game series (he did not play in the opener on Friday) 5-for-13 (.385) with four home runs and six RBIs.

The Yankees opened the game much like they have in the first three games of the series – by scoring runs early. They jumped on left-hander Jon Lester for two runs in the first inning.

Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson stroked back-to-back singles and Mark Teixeira drove in Jeter with a double down the left-field line.

After one out, Robinson Cano walked to load the bases and the the Yankees cashed in another run as Red Sox third baseman Mauro Gomez fielded Nick Swisher’s bouncer stepping on the bag but he threw a three-hopper to first to allow Swisher to reach and Granderson to score.

During the four-game series, the Yankees scored 14 of their 28 runs in the first inning.

The Red Sox received a gift-wrapped run the bottom of the inning courtesy of a rare misplay by Jeter.

The Red Sox had Pedro Ciriaco on second and David Ortiz on first with two out when Cody Ross lifted a routine infield popup that Jeter dropped and Ciriaco scored to halve the Yankee lead.

The Yankees added a lone run in the third after Jayson Nix led off with a double to left-center and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia committed a passed ball just before Chris Stewart lofted a sacrifice fly to center to score Nix.

The Red Sox nicked Nova for a run in the third when Ciriaco singled with one out and Ortiz followed with a double off the Green Monster in center.

But the Yankees chased Lester in the fifth when Alex Rodriguez followed a Teixeira single with a 410-foot triple to the cutout in center in which center-fielder Ryan Sweeney crashed his head against the padded wall attempting a sliding catch. Sweeney was able to stay in the game.

After a one out walk to Swisher, Jones stroked a single in the hole between third and short to score Rodriguez and Lester’s night was over.

Lester (5-6) gave up five runs (four earned) on nine hits and two walks and fanned six in 4 1/3 innings.

While Nova settled into a groove, the Yankees put the Red Sox away in the seventh when Swisher doubled off reliever Scott Atchison and Jones followed with his 11th home run of the season, which landed well into the seats above the Green Monster.

Though the Yankees relievers showed a bit of arm weariness by giving up six walks over the final three innings, they managed to hold the Red Sox to just one run. Rafael Soriano closed it out in the ninth inning by striking out the side despite walking two batters.

The Yankees’ victory gives them a record at the All-Star break of 52-33 and they extended their lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East to seven games. The Red Sox, meanwhile, fell to 43-43 and they are tied with the the Toronto Blue Jays for last place 9 1/2 games back while playing with mostly reserves and minor-league call-ups.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I have said it before but it bears repeating: Nova is the Yankees’ second-best pitcher behind CC Sabathia because he has such an awesome assortment of quality pitches. Though his slider was a bit shaky on Sunday, he used his 12-to-6 curve to devastating effect against the Red Sox. Eight of his 10 strikeouts were on swings and misses and most of them came on the curveball that broke out of the strike zone. His major-league career record is now 26-7 and it is not all due to run support. This 25-year-old right-hander can pitch.
  • Jones entered the weekend hitting .230 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs and he leaves hitting .244 with 11 home runs and 22 RBIs. His 11 home runs in just 127 at-bats means he hitting a home run on average every 11.5 at-bats. Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, who leads the major leagues with 27 home runs, is hitting homers at a rate of one for every 11.1 at-bats. So Jones is doing well in limited playing time.
  • Jeter collected another three hits on Sunday and he finished the weekend in Boston 8-for-20 (.400) to raise his season average to .308. After hitting .232 in June, Jeter is hitting .344 in July.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Though Jeter shone brightly with the bat his fielding in the series left a lot to be desired. Besides his dropped popup he also misplayed a grounder off the bat of Ciriaco in the third that was mercifully scored a single. His error in the sixth inning on Saturday, one of four the Yankees committed, led to a three-run inning.
  • It is obvious that the loss of Mariano Rivera is taking a toll on the bullpen when they are forced to work so much against teams like the Red Sox and Rays. Cody Eppley, David Robertson and Soriano walked two apiece and they threw an amazing 76 pitches in just 2 2/3 innings of work! They can use the break to rest their weary limbs.
  • The Yankees were 3-for-14 (.214) with runners in scoring position and they stranded 11 base-runners. It is something they just have to improve upon in the second half.

BOMBER BANTER

Sabathia threw a bullpen session on Sunday and he is on track to return to the Yankees’ rotation in the second series after the All-Star break. Sabathia has been on the 15-day disabled list since June 28 with a left groin strain. The All-Star left-hander threw 43 pitches and he told reporters that he has not experienced any discomfort from the injury. Sabathia is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and a simulated game at Yankee Stadium on Friday. If all goes well, the Yankees will activate him on July 17 so he can start at home against the Blue Jays.

ON DECK

Jeter, Granderson, Cano and Sabathia are headed to the All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday. The rest of the Yankees will get some well-deserved rest until Friday when the Yankees will host the Los Angeles Angels.

Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.50 ERA) will start the game for the Yankees. The Angels have not named a starting pitcher.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

Cano’s Blazing Hot Bat Leaves Him Second To None

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (20 HR, 50 RBIs, .316 BA)

If this had been written two weeks ago, it would be written from the standpoint of how the great Robinson Cano was underachieving this season. What a difference two weeks makes.

Cano, 29, has been on fire of late and it could not have come at a better time for the American League’s starting All-Star second baseman. He has driven in runs in eight consecutive games and has 23 in his last 17 games. On June 3, he was batting .284. He has reached the season’s halfway point hitting .316.

In his last 10 games he is hitting .429.

By any definition, Cano is red hot.

That is good for Cano, but it is even better for the New York Yankees.

For much of the first half of the season, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Cano have struggled to hit home runs and drive in runs, particularly with runners in scoring position. That has been borne out by the fact that Nick Swisher had led the team in RBIs for most of the first half until Cano passed him this week.

For most baseball experts, it is not a surprise that Cano has finally began to hit. The only surprise is that it took him this long.

Cano began April by .267 with one home run and four RBIs. That is not a misprint. It was just a single home run and four RBIs.

On May 6, Cano hit a grand slam home run against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium which doubled his production in just one at-bat. That lit a spark that brought Cano close to what he has always been for the Yankees: Their best pure hitter.

In fact, it is safe to say with Derek Jeter and Rodriguez in the twilight of their careers that Cano is simply the Yankees’ best all-around player, period, exclamation point.

Cano leads the team in batting average, is second in home runs, first in RBIs and he fields his position at a Gold-Glove level. He also hits in the middle of the order and he is the hitter opposing pitchers fear the most.

There is no second baseman in baseball that can touch him in the combination of average, power, production and fielding combined. Cano has been the Yankees’ Rock of Gilbraltar. He is the guy Reggie Jackson would say “stirs the drink.”

The only hole in his game this season has been the same problem from which the whole team suffered in the first half of the season: Getting a hit with runners in scoring position. Just a few weeks ago, Cano was last on the team with RISP, hitting a woeful .149 in those situations.

That kind of makes you scratch your head when you see Cano swing so beautifully balanced and with those lightning-quick hands sweeping his bat through the ball. But, for whatever reason, Cano just continued to fail to get hits with runners on base.

He has brought number up to .200 of late. It is still low but pitchers who are scheduled to face the Yankees in the second half may want to prepare for the worst when Cano comes up in those situations from now on.

Cano is on a pace to hit considerably more home runs than the 29 he hit in 2010. He could also shatter the 118 RBI plateau he reached in 2011. He has not come close to the .342 he hit in 2006 but don’t put it past Cano not to do that either. Cano could easily win a batting title or two or three.

The fact is while Teixeira and Rodriguez continue to struggle with their production, Cano is undoubtedly the most important part of the Yankee lineup going forward. If he can continue his pace of June and July, the Yankee offense should continue to be potent and will improve its numbers with runners in scoring position.

If you want to talk defense, Cano has committed just four errors this season. However, that just scratches the surface when you are talking about what Cano contributes in the field.

For years, Cano was overlooked as a defensive player because of the concentration errors he used to make. Cano, because he glides so effortlessly to the ball, often was viewed as a “lazy” fielder. But that ended in 2010, when he won his first Gold Glove.

He should win it annually anyway for his extraordinary range, his unbelievable arm strength and the smoothness with which he turns a double play.

His ability to range from the right-field foul line to left-center to catch pop flies is special in itself.

Yankee fans are very fortunate to be living at a time when the Yankees can boast the best shortstop in their history (Jeter) with the best second baseman in their history. They may not rival the Tigers’ middle infield of  Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell in terms of years played together but they are certainly more productive as hitters and just as good or better in the  field.

Cano is a durable player as well. He has not played in less than 159 games since 2006, his second season with the Yankees when he spent his only stint on the disabled list. This season, he has started 78 of the Yankees’ 81 games and he has played in all of them.

Cano’s prospects for the second half are very good and the Yankees certainly need him to be that good as they head into the more difficult games with their division rivals. There is a chance this could be Cano’s best overall season and that is saying something considering how good his last two seasons have been.

MIDSEASON GRADE: A-

BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (2 HRs, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)

You won’t see Nix play this position much. Cano rarely gets a day off and apparently does not need one.

Since the Yankees chose to send Eduardo Nunez back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nix has made just two starts for Cano.

He is pretty good as fielder in that he has not committed an infield error this season. But his range is very limited. You also suffer a big dropoff in production with Nix replacing Cano. But that goes without saying.

Nix, 29, is just a solid backup with average skills but has great versatility in that he can also play in the outfield. The Yankees just will miss Nunez’s line-drive bat and speed on the bases. But, then again, Nix will not throw the baseball all over the diamond and kick easy grounders as Nunez did with regularity.

That is the reason he is here and not Nunez.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

The Yankees have a few really promising middle infield prospects in Claudio Custodio and Angelo Gombs who are far away from the majors. They also have David Adams, who has battled injuries but nonetheless was protected by being placed on the 40-man roster this winter. But it is obvious the Yankees have no plans to let Cano go when his contract expires in two seasons.

At Triple-A Scranton, Ronnier Musteller is trying to hold off up-and-coming prospect Corban Joseph.

Joseph, 23, is hitting .266 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 32 games played since his promotion from Double-A Trenton. Musteller, 27, is hitting .301 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in 55 games. But at Musteller’s age the prospect label is pretty much been removed and Joseph is progressing nicely.

Meanwhile, Adams is doing pretty well at Double-A Trenton. The 25-year-old is hitting .284 with three home runs and 24 RBis in 40 games in the Eastern League.

None of these players will have an impact at the major-league level this season because the Yankees have Ramiro Pena and Nunez at Triple-A in case something happens to Cano.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-

Cano is very simply the best second baseman I have ever seen. If you combine his ability to hit for average, power and produce runs with his great dexterity, range and arm in the field, there is just no second baseman in baseball that compares to him.

As his career progresses, he should pass Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg as the best second basemen in the modern era.

But his prospects for 2012 look very good as well. Cano is dangerous when he is struggling but he is pure hell to face when he is seeing the ball and hitting with authority. Even when he makes outs he is hitting the ball hard. That should tell you how good he is as a player.

Cano also possesses the ability to carry the Yankee offense much the way Rodriguez used to be able to do. He is the one player the Yankees can least afford to loss due to injury and he is the team’s key to success in the second half.

He could ride this current hot streak the rest of the way into the playoffs and to a World Series, if the Yankees can get there. It is on that stage, Cano should shine.

He is shining pretty brightly now as the Yankees’ best player.

 

Yankees Look Poised To Take Control Of A.L. East

The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.

OFFENSE

Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.

Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.

It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.

The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.

The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.

What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?

The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.

The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.

Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.

The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.

There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.

Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.

Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.

The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.

Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.

Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.

It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.

Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.

Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.

Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.

The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.

Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.

But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.

Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.

STARTING PITCHING

The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.

In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.

This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.

They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.

A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.

He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.

The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.

After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.

The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.

In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.

The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.

Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.

The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.

Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.

The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.

The enigma of the group has been Nova.

When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.

So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.

The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.

The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.

So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.

But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.

That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.

Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.

At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.

He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.

BULLPEN

For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.

No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.

But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.

However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.

However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.

Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.

In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86).  Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).

So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.

The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.

One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.

The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.

FORECAST

The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.

They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.

That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.

The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.

The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.

The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.

If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.

The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.

The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.

The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.

So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.

 

Hughes, Yankees Give Upstart KC The Royal Flush

GAME 28

YANKEES 10, ROYALS 4

Once again the Yankees witnessed a starting pitcher who failed to get past the third inning and surrendered seven runs. But this time it wasn’t a Yankee starter.

Phil Hughes pitched into the seventh inning and New York pounded Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar for six runs in the third inning – punctuated by a grand-slam home run from Robinson Cano – as the Yankees salvaged a split of a four-game road series on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO.

Hughes (2-4) gave up three runs on six hits and one walk and struck seven in 6 2/3 innings in an effort that may yet keep him in the starting rotation.

Hochevar (2-3), a former No. 1 draft pick in 2006, gave up seven runs on seven hits and one walk and he lasted only 2 1/3 innings.

The Yankees, who have been struggling to score runs for the past six games, broke out in a big way in the third inning with the score knotted at 1-1.

Dewayne Wise, making only his second start for the Yankees, opened the frame with a single and Derek Jeter followed it up with a bunt single. Curtis Granderson then smacked an RBI single into right-field to score Wise and it gave the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish the rest of the afternoon.

Hochevar then compounded his problems by hitting Alex Rodriguez on the left elbow with a pitch, which loaded the bases and Cano made him pay for it dearly.

Cano, who entered the game with an uncharacteristic .255 average with a home run and four RBIs, doubled his home run and RBI total by walloping a 2-1 change-up into the pavilion deep in right-center.

One out later, Nick Swisher, who was returning to the lineup for the first time since he left a game on April 29 with a strained left hamstring, blasted a 1-2 Hochevar fastball deep in the bleachers down the right-field line. Hochevar’s day was done and the Royals were left stunned looking up out of an early 7-1 hole.

The Royals rallied to score single runs in the fifth and seventh innings but Rodriguez put the game out of reach for good with a three-run blast of his own in the eighth inning off Royals reliever Tommy Hottovy.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 15-13. The Royals dropped to 9-18.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was good to see Hughes pitch a solid game and command his fastball to earn seven strikeouts. Pitch count is still an issue because Hughes threw 20 or more pitches in three of the first four innings. But Hughes did retire 14 of the 18 batters he faced after getting the 7-1 lead as he started the bottom of the third inning. This outing is something Hughes can build upon.
  • Cano was 2-for-5 and his home run was the key blow of the game. Yankee fans had to scratching their heads wondering what was going on with one of the best pure hitters in the game struggling with only one home run and four RBIs on May 6. It is hard to say if the slump is over but Cano’s bat is very important to the offense and the team’s overall success.
  • Rodriguez’s home run was his fifth of the season and his first since April 27 in a game against the Tigers. His three RBIs were his first RBIs since April 29 in a game also against the Tigers. The Yankees have gone through a major offensive slump largely due to slow starts by Cano, Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and injuries to Swisher and Brett Gardner.
  • All Jeter did was go 2-for-3 with two walks and he scored two runs. It was just another day at the office for “The Captain.” Jeter’s batting average is .397, which is the best in the major leagues.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Russell Martin was 3-for-4 and his solo homer provided the Yankees’ only offense on Saturday. On Sunday, Martin was 0-for-5, including two infield groundouts, hitting into a double play and he was called out on strikes in his final at-bat. His average is at .192 and the Yankees could use consistent offense from him.

BOMBER BANTER

Swisher cleared all of the medical hurdles in order to return to the lineup as the designated hitter on Sunday. He homered in his second at-bat and the home run was his seventh of the season. Swisher hopes to be able to return to right-field when the Yankees open their homestand on Tuesday.  . . . Meanwhile, Gardner tested his ailing right elbow in the batting cage at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday and he will head out to play in two or three minor-league rehab games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being activated from the 15-day disabled list.  . . .  Eric Chavez, who is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion is expected to be activated on Thursday, which is the first day he would be eligible to return to action.  . . .  In his fourth minor-league rehab start on Sunday, Andy Pettitte gave up five runs (three earned) on eight hits over five innings for Scranton in a loss to Pawtucket. Pettitte, 39, admitted he did not pitch as well as he would have liked but he said he feels ready to join the Yankees immediately. However, general manager Brian Cashman, who was not in attendance at the game, will make the determination if Pettitte requires another start or not.

ON DECK

The wounded and struggling Yankees get a well-deserved day off on Monday to collect their thoughts before opening a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (3-1, 5.58 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Nova had his 15-game winning streak that dated back to June of last year snapped in a game against the Orioles on Wednesday. Nova gave up five runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 3.47 ERA in his career against the Rays.

The Rays will start right-hander James Shields (5-0, 3.05 ERA). Shields struck out 11 in 6 innings for a victory against the Mariners on Wednesday. Shields is 5-11 with a 4.39 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

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.

 

Perhaps Hughes The Key To Yankees Minus Rivera

As weeks go you would have to say this week for the New York Yankees was not a good one and that is putting it mildly. It was disastrous.

The loss of the greatest closer to ever walk the planet is a pretty steep price to pay for any team. But it was just the tip of the iceberg.

It all started on April 29 when Nick Swisher left a game against the Tigers in the bottom of the third inning with a strained hamstring. At the time Brett Gardner was on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow he sustained making a diving catch on a ball on April 17.

Swisher has been unable to play since and Gardner, who was expected to return on Thursday, had his return delayed for four days.

That means the Yankees have been playing Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eduardo Nunez and now Jayson Nix in the outfield in place of their two injured starters.

That has led some pretty bad outfield play in the past week, especially by “Eduardo Scissorhands” in left-field against the Orioles.

Though the Yankees may have had some laughs when Nunez slipped and slid his way through his first start in left on Monday, it was no laughing matter the next night when he allowed a fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson fall and two runs to score.

It was initially scored as a two-base error. But MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Friday reversed the call into a double. However, whether it was scored an error or a double, it still cost the Yankees two runs in three-run inning that ended up in a 7-1 defeat. The point is that the ball should have been caught and it wasn’t.

This outfield roulette the Yankees are playing does not even take into account how the offense has been hurt by losing Gardner and Swisher for this long a period of time.

At the time of his injury, Gardner was hitting .321. Swisher was even better. He was hitting .284 with six home runs and he was leading the American League in RBIs with 23. You can’t expect to replace 67 percent of your starting outfield with older veterans and young neophytes and expect the offense and defense to be there. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.

The loss of Gardner has allowed manager Joe Girardi to use his platoon designated hitters, Jones and Ibanez, in the field and give Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez half-days off as the DH. That means Scissorhands plays shortstop and Eric Chavez plays third base.

Nunez promptly goes into a 0-for-19 slide this week and the preciously delicate exoskeleton and inner body linings and muscles of Chavez again reared its ugly head – literally – on Wednesday night.

Chavez dove for a ball off the bat of J.J. Hardy and his head slammed the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium pretty hard. The next thing you know Chavez is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. If this anything like the fractured bone in his foot he injured at about the same time last season, we should see Chavez back in a Yankee uniform during the 2016 Yankee Old-Timers’ Day celebration and I hope Eric brings a football helmet and pads to play in the game.

This does not even address the starting pitching problems Girardi is already faced and with which he is still dealing.

While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be settling into their roles as the ace and No.2  starter of the staff, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia seem to be playing a contest amongst themselves of who could give up the most hits and runs in the shortest stretch of innings.

Well, Garcia won that contest hands down and he was banished to the bullpen and rookie David Phelps made his first major-league start on Thursday.

This was not the way it was supposed to be with Andy Pettitte on the verge of coming back and when the Yankees were counting on getting Michael Pineda back from his sore right shoulder problems in May. Now Pineda is lost for the season with shoulder surgery and Pettitte can’t get back to the Yankees soon enough to suit Yankee fans.

The loss of Mariano Rivera makes it even harder to decipher.

For now, it looks as if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will share the closer’s role. But with Joba Chamberlain still recovering from both Tommy John and Chuckie Cheez ankle surgeries the bullpen suddenly looks a whole lot thinner than it did before Mo collapsed in pain on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on Thursday.

Perhaps there could be a silver lining if Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are open to see their way clear of this mess. Some good could come of it if they play it correctly.

First, they have to allow Phelps to continue to pitch in the rotation and give him a chance to show what he can do. It is only fair they do that to what looks to be a promising 25-year-old right-hander. Nova’s 15-game winning streak is over but he certainly is capable of pitching better than he did this week. So you have to continue to roll with him.

But when Pettitte returns you have to make a move to take one person out of the rotation and there is no better candidate than Hughes.

If you look at the period of time Hughes was most successful it was when he was the setup man for Rivera during the Yankees second-half push to the playoffs and the world championship in 2009. His bullpen numbers were even better than Rivera’s numbers that season.

In 2010, he was needed as a starter and he won 18 games. However, after the second half of 2010 it was obvious he was not the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break that season. His year-long struggles with weakness in his right shoulder in 2011 bore that out.

So far in 2012, Hughes has not struggled with velocity. He is back to throwing an average of 92 mph and getting up to 94 and 95 with ease. But he also has been victimized by the longball and he is carrying a 1-4 record with a 7.48 ERA after five starts.

In the past the presence of Robertson, Soriano and Chamberlain made it impossible for Hughes to shift back to the bullpen. But with Soriano and Robertson sharing the eighth and ninth innings and Chamberlain likely out for the season it would seem to make sense to try Hughes in the seventh inning role that Chamberlain, Robertson and lately Soriano have made so vital.

I do understand that once you shift Hughes to that role there is no shifting him back to a starting role. But if Phelps eventually falters you can always give Garcia another try and there also is a number options that can made through trades and signing of free agents.

I have heard Roy Oswalt’s name and I hope that is all I hear about him because he has a chronic back condition that makes him risky. However, the Yankees have a farm system rich enough to be able to make trades to acquire 2013 free-agents-to-be like Matt Cain of the Giants and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has this option in his back pocket through the end of July and he will have plenty of time to evaluate the need for that trade by that time.

The Yankees also are looking at having former Mariners closer David Aardsma to add to the bullpen. He could perhaps also take the seventh inning role if he is healthy. But I think they need to keep Hughes in mind as a potential player in the bullpen because I still believe he can shine there.

For one thing he can shelve his awful secondary pitches like his change-up and concentrate on his fastball, curve and cutter. His velocity should also move up to the 97 mph mark he used to throw and that wll cover for a lot of mistakes in his location he makes as a starter.

We will see how it plays out but the Yankees just need to get Swisher and Gardner back on the field and hopefully Robinson Cano will stop hitting like Luis Sojo in time for the Yankees make a run at the 2012 playoffs.

They may as well try because they are now finding there are much lower expectations on this team now.

 

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