Results tagged ‘ Kelly Johnson ’
YANKEES 3, RAYS 1
Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.
Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters. His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.
The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.
Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.
Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.
- Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
- In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
- Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
- Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
- Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.
The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.
The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.
The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 11, BLUE JAYS 4
The 2012 season has mostly been a house of horrors for Russell Martin, but the veteran backstop has caught fire in September – just in time for the Yankees’ stretch run for the American League East title. On Friday, Martin keyed another crucial victory with a big hit at just the right time.
Martin launched a three-run home run off Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor with two out in the sixth inning to turn what was a 3-1 lead into a comfortable 6-1 cushion as New York outscored Toronto to maintain their slim one-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the division.
With five games left to play the Yankees lowered their magic number to five to clinch their 13th A.L. East crown over the past 15 seasons.
The home run was the 20th of the season for Martin and it is a career high for him. Martin has also punctuated the month of September with six homers and 16 RBIs after driving in just 36 runs before the month started.
Martin’s blast handed a victory to Hiroki Kuruda (15-11), who held the Blue Jays to just two runs but he struggled over 5 1/3 innings, giving up 10 hits and two walks while striking out four batters. In winning his 15th game, Kuroda has established a new career high in victories in the majors, surpassing his high of 13 set in 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Yankee’ offense made Kuroda’s night somewhat easier by providing him with some early support against Blue Jays rookie right-hander Brad Jenkins (0-3).
With two out in the first inning Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano each stroked singles and Nick Swisher scored both with a booming double off the wall in center-field.
An inning later, Raul Ibanez opened the inning with a single and Jenkins then issued back-to-back walks to Martin and Eric Chavez. Derek Jeter then killed the bases-loaded, no-out rally by grounding into a double play, but Ibanez scored on the play and the Yankees held a 3-0 lead.
Meanwhile, base-running blunders by the Blue Jays cost them some runs early.
In the first inning, Brett Lawrie doubled to lead of the inning but he was cut down at second base when he strayed to far off the bag on a hard-hit grounder by Colby Rasmus to Swisher at first base. Swisher threw to Jeter to get Lawrie. One out later, a single by J.P. Arencibia likely would have scored Lawrie.
In the second inning, Yunel Escobar led off with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Kuroda. But he also got caught too far off the bag when Kelly Johnson struck out and Martin nailed Escobar with a throw to Rodriguez. Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose followed with a single and double, respectively. Kuroda then walked Lawrie to load the bases but Kuroda escaped when he struck out Rasmus looking.
The Jays finally did cut the Yankees’ lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Rasmus got a measure of revenge against Kuroda by blasting a leadoff home run.
The Yankees, meanwhile, went to work to extend their lead off left-hander Brett Cecil in the sixth.
Cecil hit Cano in the left hand with his first offering of the frame and Swisher followed with a opposite-field single to left.
It then appeared Cecil might wriggle out of the inning when he registered consecutive strikeouts against Curtis Granderson and Ibanez.
However, Blue Jays manager John Farrell opted to bring the right-hander Frasor to face the right-handed-hitting Martin.
Martin battled all the way back from an 0-2 count to 3-2 by laying off some close breaking pitches before he belted a slider about a dozen rows into the left-field bleachers.
The Yankees then added another run in the inning off Frasor when Chavez drew a walk, Jeter singled and Suzuki drove in Chavez with an opposite-field single to left.
The Blue Jays drew a run closer and chased Kuroda in the sixth when Johnson slapped a one-out double down into the right-field corner and Davis advanced him to third with a bloop single to right. David Phelps came on for Kuroda to retire Gose on a fielder’s choice grounder as Johnson scored.
But the Yankees, already aware the Orioles had defeated the Boston Red Sox 9-1, then added single runs in the seventh and eighth before Chavez connected for his 15th home run of the season in the ninth inning off rookie right-hander Bobby Korecky.
The Blue Jays added to their run total when Adam Lind hit a two-run, opposite-field home run off Phelps in the seventh inning but it was much too little and much too late for the Blue Jays and their home crowd of 25,785 at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees improved their season record to 91-66, which is one game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays fell to 69-88 and they are tied with Red Sox for last place in the division, 22 games behind the Yankees.
- After the Yankees were shut out on Thursday, it was nice to see Martin come through with a clutch two-out home run that knocked the Blue Jays out of the game. Martin very quietly turned around his game after the All-Star break. At the break he was hitting .179 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs. Since then he is hitting a more respectable .241 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Martin is not signed beyond this season and he would like to at least have a chance to stay with the Yankees. If he finishes strong he just may get that chance.
- Swisher’s two-out, two-run double in the first inning gives him 92 RBIs on the season and puts him within striking distance of bettering his career-high 95 RBIs he set in 2006 in his second full season in the majors with the Oakland Athletics. Swisher also could be a free agent this winter, but the Yankees might be forced to let him go because Cano will become a free agent after the 2013 season and the Yankees want to re-sign him to a lucrative long-term deal while cutting payroll before the 2014 season.
- Very quietly Chavez is turning in a great season as a role player for the team. He was 1-for-3 with a homer, two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored batting ninth as the team’s designated hitter. Chavez is 4-for-10 with two home runs and three RBIs in his last three starts. He is hitting .283 with 15 home runs and 36 RBIs coming off the bench this season.
- Kuroda won the contest but there has to be some concern about the way he has pitched in September. Kuroda entered the final month with a 12-10 record and an excellent 3.04 ERA. However, Kuroda is 3-1 with a 5.22 ERA in his five starts this month. He has pitched 212 2/3 innings, which is the most he has pitched since he threw 202 innings last season with the Dodgers. There is a question about him possibly wearing down before the postseason begins.
- The Yankees might be considering using Phelps on Tuesday in a start against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium instead of struggling right-hander Ivan Nova. But Phelps was tagged for a two-run homer by Lind and he threw 24 pitches to get through the seventh inning. Phelps has to have sharp command in order to keep his pitch count down. Manager Joe Girardi will have a tough decision to make on Tuesday.
- Jeter is showing signs of slowing down with the bat of late. He was 1-for-6 in the game and is 1-for 13 since his 19-game hitting streak was halted on Wednesday. He possibly could a use a day off to rest his bruised left ankle but with the division title on the line that seems unlikely.
Cano left Rogers Centre with his left hand wrapped in ice and he was headed to a Toronto hospital to have the hand X-rayed. Cano was struck by a pitch from Cecil as he led off the sixth. He remained in the game and came through with an RBI single in the eighth inning. It is unclear if Cano will miss any time due to the injury. . . . Mark Teixeira took six at-bats in the batting cage in Tampa, FL, on Friday and will play five innings in an Instructional League game on Saturday. Teixeira, who is rehabbing from a strained left calf, hopes to be able to return to the Yankees on Monday when the team opens its final series of the season against the Red Sox.
The Yankees will continue their final road series of the season on Saturday against the Blue Jays.
Left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-3, 2.71 ERA) will make his third start since his return from the disabled list with a fractured left fibula. Pettitte is 2-0 and has been unscored upon in his 11 innings over his first two starts. He also is 13-9 with a 4.70 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Jays.
Left-hander Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.76 ERA) will start for Toronto. Though Romero allowed four runs in his five-plus innings against the Orioles in his last start, he snapped a 13-game losing streak with a victory. He is 3-7 with a 4.76 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 7
Let’s make this perfectly clear. This game on Thursday is not going to go down as a Yankee Classic. With both teams combining for 17 runs on 18 hits, 13 walks, two hit batters, an error, two wild pitches and two passed balls, it likely could be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the either team.
But it was a victory for the Yankees and they will take it.
Ichiro Suzuki continued his hot hitting by driving in three runs and Nick Swisher blasted his third grand slam of the season as part of seven-run fourth inning as New York outslugged Toronto to give themselves a one-game lead in the American League East over the idle second-place Baltimore Orioles.
Phil Hughes (16-12) did not so much win this game as he did not lose it. He gave up four runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out nine batters in five innings to collect his team-leading 16th win of the season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, had to wait out soft-tossing left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-6) to throw a pitch within a neighboring area code of the strike zone before they drove him out of the game in the fourth.
The Blue Jays held a slim 2-1 lead in the fourth when Laffey issued a leadoff walk to Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson reached when second baseman Kelly Johnson treated his routine grounder as if it was a hand grenade.
Laffey then issued another one of the five free passes he handed out on the evening to Casey McGehee to load the bases for Suzuki, who started the night 7-for-8 in the series and had homered in his first at-bat off Laffey to lead off the third inning.
Suzuki brought most of the paid crowd of 40,511 at Yankee Stadium to their feet with a two-run double that gave the Yankees their first lead of the night. Little did they know they would hold the lead for the rest of the night.
Manager John Farrell mercifully ended Laffey’s evening in favor of right-hander Brad Lincoln. However, unlike the vehicles that sport his name, Lincoln was neither original or inspired.
Lincoln walked Jayson Nix to refuel the bases to full and he put it in gear to face Derek Jeter. But Jeter stroked a lined single into right to make it 4-2.
Lincoln then wished he could have put the whole thing in reverse or hit the brakes when Swisher smacked a fat 2-1 fastball into the third row of bleachers in right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard to put a serious dent in the Blue Jays’ night and give the Yankees what they thought might be some breathing room so they could rest up for their weekend series with the Oakland Athletics.
Laffey’s line read five runs given up (four earned) on just two hits but five walks and he struck out three in three-plus innings.
However, in his effort to get five innings in for his victory, Hughes surrendered a two-run home run to to rookie Moise Sierra in the bottom of the fifth.
The Yankees got those two runs back in the bottom of the frame off reliever Brett Cecil on RBI singles by Nix and Jeter to make it 10-4.
After Derek Lowe pitched two shaky but scoreless innings, manager Joe Girardi called upon Cory Wade to pitch the eighth.
Wade spent most of the season at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because he was unable to get anyone out consistently at the major-league level this season. That should have been a huge red flag for Girardi.
Wade opened the third by giving up a solo home run to Johnson that still might be traveling. A single, a strikeout and a double later and Wade was gone in a New York minute. Joba Chamberlain then allowed a an RBI single to Brett Lawrie and a Mike McCoy drove in another run on a fielder’s choice groundout to make it 10-7 .
Chamberlain then gave up a single to Edwin Encarnacion to bring up the tying run in Adam Lind. I bet Girardi loved this part of the game.
Fortunately, Chamberlain got Lind to fly out to medium right and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to collect his second save of the season.
It’s a good thing, too. Whew!
With the victory, the Yankees have now officially righted themselves and have won seven of their last eight games. Their season record improved to 86-63 and they have but 13 contests left to play. The Blue Jays are pretty much sucking on the tailpipe of their own Lincoln after having been swept in the series and they are now 66-82.
- All Suzuki did in the three-game series was go 9-for-12 (.750) with a home run, three doubles, four stolen bases, four runs scored and four RBIs. About the only thing he did not do was deliver margaritas in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Girardi has chosen to keep Suzuki in the lineup against left-handers because Andruw Jones seemingly has not gotten a big hit since Memorial Day.
- Swisher struck out three times and walked in the game. However, his grand slam was the biggest hit of the game and it was a game the Yankees needed to win badly. Swisher hit a franchise record-tying 10th grand slam of the season and it was his third. It also was the seventh grand slam of his career. Swisher now has 21 home runs and 83 RBIs on the season. He has hit at least 20 home runs and driven 80 runs in all four of his seasons with the Yankees.
- Hughes tied a franchise record when he struck out four batters in the fourth inning. Hughes struck out in order J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose and Lawrie, however, Hechavarria reached first on one of the two passed balls charged to Russell Martin on the evening. A.J. Burnett also did it for the Yankees on June 24, 2011 against the Colorado Rockies.
- The Yankees scored 10 runs but Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with a walk. That snapped his modest four-game hitting streak and pushed him under the .300 mark this season. Cano is having an unusually quiet September, hitting just .279 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
- Wade had pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances since his Sept. 1 recall but he was tagged hard by the Blue Jays. Wade is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA on the season after he was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA for the Yankees last season. It is not likely Wade will make the postseason roster and his days with the team appear numbered.
- Martin’s two passed balls give him seven on the season, which is the most he has been charged with in any of his major-league seasons. The Yankees still rave about his defense but it is hard to imagine the Yankees will re-sign him after he thoroughly flopped at the plate this season.
Mark Teixeira took swings in a batting cage at Yankee Stadium before the game on Thursday and he will travel to Tampa, FL, on Monday in order to rehab his left calf strain in some Instructional League games. Teixeira is targeting a Sept 27 return date so he can get in some game action before the playoffs. . . . The Yankees elected not to activate Brett Gardner on Thursday although the move is imminent in the next few days.
The Yankees open a three-game weekend series against the A’s beginning on Friday and they have some payback in mind after they were swept in Oakland.
The Yankees send to the mound left-hander CC Sabathia (13-6, 3.63 ERA). Sabathia has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts covering 13 innings. Though the Yankees say he is fine, Sabathia has not pitched well since his return from the disabled list with left elbow soreness. He is 8-8 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the A’s.
Oakland will start right-hander Jarrod Parker (11-8, 3.51 ERA). Parker allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings in a victory over the Orioles on Saturday. He is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his one career start 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 MY9.
YANKEES 2, BLUE JAYS 1
By the time 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki came up in the eighth inning with the game on the line, he already had a what could be considered a great two games in the day-night doubleheader. He was 6-for-7 with two doubles, two stolen bases and two runs scored plus a game-saving catch in the first game.
Suzuki obviously was not satisfied with it.
With Curtis Granderson at third and two out, Suzuki sliced a bloop single into left off reliever Aaron Loup that broke a 1-1 tie and New York went on to complete a sweep of Toronto in the doubleheader to insure they will remain in first place in the American League East.
Since Suzuki was acquired from the Mariners in July, he is 52-for-164 (.317).
Rafael Soriano was summoned in the ninth and he dispatched the Blue Jays in order to record his second save of the day and his 42nd save in 45 chances on the season.
The Yankees were just happy to carve out a victory at Yankee Stadium in a game when they had repeated chances to score but they could not come through with the big hit until Suzuki did it in the eighth.
The Blue Jays claimed an early 1-0 lead in the second inning by taking advantage of the one inning of the game rookie right-hander David Phelps struggled with his control.
Phelps issued back-to-back one-out walks to J.P. Arencibia and Kelly Johnson before he managed to fan Yan Gomes swinging for the second out. But Adeiny Hechavarria slapped a single under Phelps’ glove and into center-field to score Arencibia.
The Yankees got the run back in the bottom of the inning off Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero, who entered the contest with a franchise-tying record of 13 consecutive losing decisions dating back to June 22. The Yankees also took advantage of some wildness by Romero.
Romero issued a one-out free pass to Jayson Nix and Nix stole second before Romero also walked Casey McGahee.
Suzuki singled into center-field but Colby Rasmas threw out a sliding Nix at the plate with a perfect throw to Arencibia.
Chris Stewart then followed with a ground-rule double down the left-field line that scored McGahee.
But in the rest of the contest, the Yankees pretty much squandered chance after chance to score off Romero, who gave up seven hits, walked five and struck out five in six innings. They did the following:
- The Yankees had Derek Jeter on first with his 200th hit of the season in the first and Nick Swisher walked. But Robinson Cano flew out and Alex Rodriguez hit into an inning-ending double play.
- After Stewart’s double in the second, they had runners at second and third and two out but Jeter struck out swinging.
- Swisher and Cano stroked consecutive one-out singles in the fifth but Rodriguez and Granderson both struck out swinging.
- Suzuki hit a two-out single in the sixth and he stole second and third base while Stewart drew a walk. However, Jeter grounded out to third.
- After Suzuki’s RBI single broke the tie in the eighth, he stole second and third base for the second time in the game. Stewart drew a walk and he also stole a base. Then Jeter drew a walk from reliever Brandon Lyon to load the bases. But Swisher struck out swinging.
Other than Stewart’s RBI double and Suzuki’s two singles with runners on second, the Yankees were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.
However, they did break out a new weapon in their arsenal: The stolen base. They stole a season-high seven bases in the game, including Suzuki’s four.
Phelps deserved a better fate. He gave up one run on just three hits and three walks and he struck out six in 6 1/3 innings.
Cody Eppley (1-2) pitched to one batter in the eighth and struck him out to get credit for the victory.
Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar (4-3) took the loss after surrendering a leadoff walk to Granderson in the eighth. Nix sacrificed him to second on a perfect bunt.
Loup then came on and struck out pinch-hitter Steve Pearce swinging but Suzuki was able to come through with his fourth hit of the game and give the Yankees an important victory.
Coupled with the Baltimore Orioles’ 10-inning 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees maintained a half-game lead in the American League East. The Yankees are also a game up in the loss column at 84-63. The Blue Jays fell to 66-81.
- Suzuki’s day was just absolutely mind-boggling. He did it all with his glove, his bat and his feet. The 7-for-8 day raised his season average to .277. Also give credit to Girardi for playing the 38-year-old Suzuki in both games despite the fact Romero is a left-hander and Suzuki had been benched against most lefties lately. Of course, Suzuki was 9-for-25 (.360) in his career against Romero. So it was an easy decision.
- Phelps was a late addition to start this game because the Yankees did not want to have Phil Hughes and Pettitte on the same rest next week. So Hughes was pushed back a day and Phelps pitched a real gem. In his 10 starts this season, Phelps is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA. He now becomes a valuable arm in the bullpen because he is 4-4 with a 3.24 ERA overall.
- Stewart had his best game in a while. He was 1-for-2 with a double, two walks and a stolen base. He also called a great game for Phelps and he even caught the American League second-leading base-stealer in Rajai Davis trying to take second in the third inning.
- The 0-for- 11 number for the starters other than Suzuki and Stewart is important. This team needs to start doing a better job with runners in scoring position if they want to advance in the playoffs. Home runs will not bail them out against top-flight pitching. So they better improve on this in a hurry.
- Rodriguez was the poster child for the team’s futility. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he grounded into a double play. With Mark Teixeira still out for the forseeable future, A-Rod has to deliver with runners on base and stop stinking up the joint as he did Wednesday.
- Jeter’s hit gave him 200 on the season which makes him the sixth oldest player in the majors to reach 200 hits in a season. He is the first player to reach 200 hits at age 38 since Paul Molitor did it in 1996. But he also failed two times with runners in scoring position to deliver the big hit. He left four runners on base and A-Rod left five.
Jeter returned to short in the second game of the doubleheader, his first start at the position in a week due to a nagging deep bone bruise in his left ankle. Jeter committed his 10th error of the season on a high throw to first after fielding a ball off the bat of Arencibia in the seventh inning. . . . The Yankees elected not to activate outfielder Brett Gardner from the disabled list. Gardner, who has missed most all of the season with a strained right elbow and elbow surgery, may be activated on Thursday but it will require the Yankees to make a move on their 40-man roster. They activated Andy Pettitte by moving pitcher Dellin Betances to the 60-day disabled list.
The Yankees will go for a sweep of their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Hughes (15-12, 3.96 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off 7 1/3 innings of shutout baseball in a victory over the Boston Red Sox last Thursday. He has a 3.24 ERA since June. He is 4-5 with a 4.66 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will start journeyman left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-5, 4.55 ERA). Laffey gave up three runs on four hits and four walks in just 3 2/3 innings against the Red Sox. He has lost his last four starts. He is 0-2 with a 9.56 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast regionally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 2
Since June 27, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been dreaming about the return of all five of his starters, including 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte. On Wednesday afternoon he got his wish and what he got had to exceed even his expectations.
Pettitte threw five scoreless frames, giving up four hits and two walks in a workmanlike 75-pitch outing, as New York put up three runs in the first inning and made them hold up to defeat Toronto in the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
Pettitte (4-3) was making a comeback from a broken left fibula he suffered on a hard-hit comebacker by Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians on June 27. Held to a pitch count of about 70 pitches, Pettitte stranded six Blue Jays by inducing ground ball outs to escape any damage. He also struck out three batters.
His most impressive inning was his last in which he retired Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie in order using only seven pitches.
The Yankees’ offense got busy early off Blue Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez (9-13).
Ichiro Suzuki opened the frame with a solid single to right. Nick Swisher followed with a lined single up the middle and Robinson Cano scored Suzuki with line-drive double that Rasmus misjudged in center-field and allowed to bounce off the wall.
Alex Rodriguez scored Swisher and advanced Cano to third with an RBI grounder and Curtis Granderson drove in Cano with a sacrifice fly to center.
The 3-0 margin held up until the eighth inning when David Robertson again got smacked around by the Blue Jays.
Lawrie greeted him with a double off the wall in left-center and he advanced to third on a seeing-eye single by pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia that got past Jayson Nix at shortstop and rolled into left-field.
Pinch-hitter Kelly Johson then slapped a single into left to score Lawrie.
Robertson fanned Moises Sierra looking but veteran Omar Vizquel doubled into the corner in right to score Arencibia and advance Johnson to third.
Robertson fanned Adeiny Hechavarria looking and Girardi chose to bring in closer Rafael Soriano for what would be his sixth four-out save of the season.
Soriano walked rookie Anthony Gose to load the bases but Davis was retired on a sharp sinking line drive to left that Suzuki made a sliding grab on and barely held onto as the ball rolled up his right arm.
The Yankees added a crucial insurance run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning off Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver.
Suzuki started it by slapping a bloop ground-rule double just inside the line in shallow left-field that was just out of the reach of a diving Gose.
Swisher followed with a hot smash that snuck under the glove of Lawrie at third base and rolled into left to plate Suzuki.
Soriano retired the Blue Jays in order in the ninth, striking out two batters, to record his 41st save in 44 opportunities this season. What was left probably one-third of the paid crowd of 39,859 from last night’s rainout stood and cheered the clutch victory.
The Yankees, for the moment, pulled back ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by a half game. Their season record is 83-63. The Blue Jays fell to 66-80.
- The Yankees got rolling in May when Pettitte joined CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova and that quartet was 30-5 over a stretch of a month and half before Pettitte was injured. Since then the Yankees have also lost Nova and Sabathia in certain stretches and their 10-game lead on June 18 shrunk to zero. But Pettitte showed he could still compete and he has two more starts to build up his stamina for the playoffs. I think the Yankees are breathing a lot easier than they were a few weeks ago.
- Suzuki was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored to raise his season batting average to .272. His catch on Davis’ sinking liner in the eighth inning preserved the victory for Pettitte and Yankees. With Derek Jeter out of the lineup, Suzuki fulfilled his role as a the consummate table-setter at the top of the lineup and he threw in a game-saving catch to boot. The trade the Yankees made to obtain from the Mariners is starting to pay major dividends.
- Swisher was 2-for-4 with a huge RBI single in the eighth that made the ninth inning more comfortable for Soriano and the Yankees. Swisher entered the contest in an 0-for-10 slide but he got a big hit when it counted.
- The way Robertson is pitching lately has to concern the Yankees some. He was tagged for two runs on four hits two-thirds of inning and he is now 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his last 10 appearances. Although his overall ERA is still a respectable 2.98, Robertson has been far more hittable lately and the Yankees need him to shut down teams in the eighth to go anywhere in the postseason.
- Swisher has played marvelous defense at first base for the most part but he actually made two errors on one play in the third inning. With Davis on first and one out, Lawrie hit a ball well off the bag at first. Swisher should have held the ball but attempted an awkward toss to Pettitte covering first and it rolled to the dugout screen to allow Davis to reach third. Pettitte bailed out Swisher by retiring Adam Lind on an inning-ending double-play ball.
- The top three Yankee hitters in the lineup – Suzuki, Swisher and Cano – collected all seven of the Yankees’ hits in the game. The rest of the batting order was a combined 0-for-17. That is a big reason why Alvarez stayed in the game for seven innings despite giving up three runs in the first frame.
NOTE: The BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK features will appear in the post from the second game of the doubleheader.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 3
When the New York Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners they were just expecting some great outfield defense and some singles and some steals at the bottom of the batting order. It is now beginning to look like they have a top-flight RBI man instead.
Suzuki drove in five runs to lead a late-inning seven-run assault on Toronto pitching as New York put away a badly depleted Blue Jay team on Friday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Suzuki gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead in the second inning by driving in a run beating out a potential double-play grounder. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning and a bases-loaded two-run double in the ninth inning. Suzuki, who had only 28 RBis when he was obtained on July 23, has driven in 11 runs in his last 11 games and nine and his last four games with the Yankees.
Meanwhile, veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (6-5) pitched six solid innings to pick up his second straight victory. Garcia gave up two runs on four hits and struck four against a Blue Jays team missing Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind.
The Yankees built an early lead on Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero in second inning after Robinson Cano led off the frame with a single and Romero walked Andruw Jones.
Jayson Nix attempted to bunt the next pitch and it rolled just out in front of home plate. But Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis threw the ball past third baseman Omar Vizquel and into left-field to allow Cano to score and Jones to advance to third. Suzuki followed with a grounder that forced Nix at second but Suzuki beat the relay to first and Jones scored.
The Yankees added a run in the following inning on a leadoff single by Nick Swisher and a one-out RBI single by Cano.
Romero ( 8-9) then shut down the Yankees over the next four innings on just one hit. He left having given up four hits and three walks and struck out two over seven innings.
Kelly Johnson proved to be Garcia’s big nemesis. He struck with one-out solo home run in the bottom of the second inning to halve the Yankees’ lead at 2-1. Two innings later, he followed a bunt single by Yunel Escobar and a lined single by David Cooper with a double down the right-field line that scored Escobar to make it 3-2.
But Garcia ended the threat by striking out Vizquel and inducing Mathis to tap back to the mound.
The game stayed 3-2 until Steve Delabar’s first offering in the eighth inning in relief of Romero was tagged by Mark Teixeira for his 22nd home run of the season.
With two out, Nix and Russell Martin each dunked in a pair of bloop hits and Suzuki followed with an RBI single up the middle to break the game open at 6-2.
The Yankees added four runs in the ninth off rookie reliever David Carpenter and Brad Lincoln. Suzuki culminated the scoring with base-loaded liner that Rajai Davis lost in the lights and it was scored a double.
With the victory the Yankees have now won three games in a row and are 66-46 on the season. They remain 5 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The reeling Blue Jays have lost four in a row and are in last place in the division with a record of 53-59.
- Suzuki has had at least one hit in 16 of the 17 games he has played with the Yankees. The five-RBI night tied a career high and it was the third time in Suzuki’s career he achieved the feat. But it was the first time since the 2004 season. He also started his first game in center-field since the 2008 season and he has now started in all three outfield position since coming to the Yankees. He was acquired to provide speed, defense and a consistent bat at the bottom of the order and he has done all three very well.
- Teixeira’s home run was the second straight game in which he has delivered a home run in the eighth inning on the road. Teixeira and Eric Chaez combined to hit back-to-back solo home runs to turn a 3-2 Yankee deficit on Thursday into a 4-3 victory over the Tigers. It was the first time two Yankees had hit consecutive home runs in the eighth inning or later to win a game on the road since Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle did it during the 1955 season. Teixeira extended his team-leading RBI total to 76.
- Garcia is never going to be confused with Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander, but he put in another solid effort to win his second straight start. In his eight starts since replacing Andy Pettitte in the rotation, Garcia is 4-3 with a 3.83 ERA. The 35-year-old right-hander has been valuable as a placeholder for Pettitte.
I can’t think of much to complain about. Garcia pitched well and the offense has scored 31 runs and notched double-digits in hits over the team’s last four games. Perhaps they can put that stretch of nine losses over 12 games behind them now.
It is possible that left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano could be added to the Yankees’ expanded roster in September. Feliciano has not pitched since the 2010 season with the New York Mets because he underwent surgery for torn rotator cuff. On Friday, Feliciano made his second rehab appearance for the Yankees’ rookie Gulf Coast League. Feliciano was signed to a two-year $8 million deal prior to the 2011 season but he has not pitched a single game for the Yankees. He is 22-19 with a 3.31 ERA over 459 appearances over his eight-season career.
The Yankees will continue their weekend road series with Blue Jays on Saturday.
Ivan Nova (10-6, 4.81 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Nova has a lot to prove after giving up seven runs on 11 hits on Monday against the Tigers. He is 0-3 with a 8.36 ERA in his last five starts. Nova is 2-1 with a 3.75 ERA against the Blue Jays in his career.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-2, 4.39 ERA), who pitched briefly for the Yankees last season. Laffey gave up four runs on six hits in his last start, a victory over the Oakland Athletics. He is 0-1 with an 11.74 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 3
With the bases loaded and two out in the eighth inning, the Yankees had Raul Ibanez striding to the plate carrying an 0-for-11 mark this season with the bases loaded. Well, after Monday’s game he is now 1-for-12 with a grand slam home run.
Ibanez’s dramatic blast off Jason Frasor broke a 2-2 tie and gave New York a hard-fought victory over Toronto to win their seventh of their last nine games in front a paid crowd of 42,819 at Yankee Stadium.
David Robertson (1-3) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to pick up his first victory of the season. Rafael Soriano came in the ninth to get the last two outs to notch his 23rd save in 24 chances this season.
With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Rodriguez stroked a one-out single to left off reliever Aaron Loup (0-1) and advanced to second a passed ball by J.P. Arencibia. Robinson Cano then hit a single up the middle that second baseman Kelly Johnson was able to keep in the infield for a single.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell removed Loup in favor of Frasor, who hit Mark Teixeira in the right foot on a 2-2 pitch to load the bases.
Nick Swisher, who struck out looking with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning, did the same thing in the eighth, leaving it all up to Ibanez.
Frasor got behind in the count 3-1 before serving up a room-service fastball that Ibanez was able to drive deep into the second deck in right-field for his 12th home run of the season. It was also his 10th career grand slam but his first for the Yankees.
The Yankees broke out to an early 2-0 lead on the Jays on the strength of an opposite field solo home run with two out in the second inning by Russell Martin and Rodriguez and Cano hit to back-to-back one out doubles in the third inning off Jays starter Henderson Alvarez.
However, the Jays were able to claw back against Yankees starter Phil Hughes on a two-out solo home run by Adam Lind in the fourth and Edwin Encarnacion blasted a one-out double to the wall to score Jose Bautista from first to tie the game up in the sixth inning.
Hughes gave up two runs on four hits and three walks and struck out four over seven innings.
Alvarez coughed up two runs on five hits and four walks and struck out a career-high six batters in his six innings of work.
With the victory the Yankees improved their major-league-best record to 55-34. They also hold a commanding nine-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 45-45 in last place in the division and trailing the Yankees by 10 1/2 games.
- After slumping through June, when he hit only .162 with two home runs and seven RBIs, Ibanez has started off July going 8-for-25 (.320) with a home run and five RBIs. Ibanez is hitting .242 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs on the season and he is playing more games in left-field than he was expected to play.
- Cano’s RBI double in the third inning extended his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games. During that span, Cano is 31-for-75 (.413) with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Cano is hitting .321 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs this season. Cano also made a spectacular play on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Colby Rasmus to lead off the seventh inning. The ball caromed off the glove of Teixeira but Cano was able to grab the carom and throw to Robertson covering first to nip Rasmus.
- Rodriguez popped up to first with the bases loaded and two out in a 10-8 loss to the Angels on Sunday but he was 2-for-4 on Monday and scored two runs. Rodriguez has actually collected hits in seven of the last eight games in which he has started and is 11-for-35 (.314) during that span. He may not be hitting for much power but he has raised his season average to .273.
- Swisher was 1-for-4 and left a total of seven runners on base in the game. After hitting a robust .321 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in June, Swisher is slumping badly in July. He is 7-for-37 (.189) with one home runs and five RBIs. He also has struck 14 times in his 37 at-bats.
- Derek Jeter had an unusual 0-for-4 night and only got one ball out of the infield. Jeter entered the game with a modest four-game hitting streak but he is still hitting .364 in his last 10 games and .340 in July.
- Dewayne Wise was inserted into the game in the ninth for Ibanez in left-field as a defensive replacement. However, Wise kicked away the ball on a bloop single off the bat of Arencibia in the ninth that allowed Johnson to score a run and force Soriano to get the last two outs while those batters represented the potential tying run.
The ongoing Brett Gardner right elbow rehab saga has taken another ugly turn for the worse. Gardner took four at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Sunday and felt soreness in his elbow. Gardner has been on the disabled since April 17 after he injured his right elbow making a diving catch. He has come close to completing two rehab stints before feeling pain in his elbow and having to shut the process down. It is now unclear how long Gardner will be out. . . . Rodriguez was scheduled to play third on Monday but complained a slightly stiff neck and he was shifted to designated hitter. Eric Chavez played third base for the Yankees and was 0-for-3 with a walk. . . . Mariano Rivera said on Monday that it could be possible he may not be out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Rivera told Michael Kay on ESPN Radio that his rehab is going so well that he possibly could return in September.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series with Blue Jays on Tuesday.
CC Sabathia (9-3, 3.45 ERA) will make his first start since he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin. As a result, Sabathia was unable to pitch in the 2012 All-Star Game, though he was selected to the team. In his 16 career starts against the Blue Jays, Sabathia is 12-3 with a 3.16 ERA.
Opposing Sabathia will be left-hander Brett Cecil (2-1, 6.75 ERA). Cecil surrendered seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in his last start against the Chicago White Sox. He is 4-3 with a 3.96 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast locally by MY9.
BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 3
TAMPA - Kelly Johnson led off the game with a triple and scored on a Yunel Escobar groundout and drove in Yan Gomes with a single in the third inning as Toronto beat New York 4-3 in Grapefruit League game on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Kyle Drabek (2-0) pitched five scoreless innings, giving up five hits and two walks while fanning five batters to earn the victory. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) was touched for three runs on six hits and no walks and struck out five in six innings of work. Aaron Loup of the Jays earned a save despite giving up two runs (one earned) in the ninth inning.
The loss snapped an 11-game unbeaten streak the Yankees have compiled (8 wins, no losses and 2 ties) since March 14 when the Yankees lost a 7-5 decision to these same Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.
The Yankees are 12-10 on the spring while the Blue Jays are 20-4.
- Brett Gardner was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the game. His one-out single off reliever Francisco Cordero in the seventh inning drove in Chris Dickerson with the Yankees’ first run of the game. Gardner also stole a base, his fifth of the spring, which leads the club.
- Lefty Clay Rapada, who is vying for a spot in the bullpen, pitched another scoreless frame in the ninth and struck out a batter. Rapada, 30, has not given up a run in 8 1/3 innings of work in nine spring appearances. He has given up just three hits and three walks and struck out 11.
- If Rapada wins the job that means fellow lefty Cesar Cabral will not and he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. Cabral gave up an unearned run in the eighth inning on one hit and a walk. Cabral 23, has a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over nine appearances. He has given up 11 hits and two walks and has struck out 12.
- Eduardo Nunez came off the bench late and stroked an RBI single in the ninth inning as part of two-run rally that just fell short of tying it in the ninth. Nunez is a robust .375 this spring despite missing most of the first two weeks with a bruised right hand.
- Some of the same issues that plagued the Yankees on Sunday against the Tigers cropped up again Tuesday – an inability to get runners across after the Yankees get on base. Drabek was not dominating in his five innings of work.
- Sabathia was not as sharp as he would have liked to have been. But chalk it up to spring training. Sabathia has a 4.50 ERA this spring but it is doubtful that it truly indicates how he will pitch in the regular season. He will make one more start on Sunday before pitching the season opener on April 6 against James Shields and the Tampa Ray Rays in St. Petersburg, FL.
- Robinson Cano took a rare 0-for-3 in which he failed to get a ball out of the infield. Cano is hitting .196 this spring but I doubt manager Joe Girardi is worried about his All-Star second baseman.
Outfielder Curts Granderson had to be scratched from the lineup on Tuesday due to a sore right elbow. Granderson will undergo a precautionary MRI exam on Wednesday but the injury is not considered serious. Granderson is hitting a red-hot .333 this spring with a home run and four RBIs. . . . Nick Swisher, who has been sidelined by a sore right groin since March 20, also was unable to play on Tuesday and is slated to take some at-bats on a minor-league game on Wednesday. . . . After the game, the Yankees optioned infielder Jorge Vazquez to minor-league camp. Vazquez hit only .091 this spring. . . . It was no surprise that Girardi named 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda as the team’s No. 2 starter and he will face the Rays in the second game of the opening series on April 7. Kuroda also is scheduled to start on April 13 in the Yankees’ home opener against the Angels.
The Yankees take to the road to face the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Kuroda will be making his fifth spring start. Cano, Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez are scheduled to make the trip.
The Braves are scheduled to start 25-year-old right-hander Brandon Beachy.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.
PART 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS
When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.
Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.
This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.
Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.
Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.
The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.
The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.
In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.
The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.
Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.
Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with 2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.
Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.
The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.
Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.
Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.
The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.
The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.
Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.
The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.
The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.
This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.
The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.
Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.
Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.
Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.
Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.
The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.
The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.
The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.
With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.
I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.
ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record.
SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (,292 BA, 14 HRS, 54 RBIs)
After Robinson Cano’s breakout season of 2010, it was hard to imagine how the 28-year-old second baseman could top it. He hit a team-best .319 with 29 home runs and 109 RBIs. He won both the Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove at his position.
How do you top that?
As Cano has witnessed in the team’s first 81 games. You don’t really.
Cano, however, remains the best hitter on the Yankees and the best second baseman in baseball. His first half pretty much proved it and he was voted to start his second straight All-Star Game. All this despite the fact his season was not quite as good as his season in 2010.
The funny thing about Cano is that he is still a superstar that is defining himself even though he is in his seventh season. Those batting titles he was predicted to win have not materialized. His fielding is still wonderful and effortless but fans and critics say he can do more. It is not easy to have all that talent and be able to shape it into what other people think it should be. Cano just seems to be content letting his bat and glove do the shaping and not worry about what people are thinking.
If you double his first half home run and RBI numbers, Cano is right in line with his 2010 numbers. His batting average is 16 points lower than 2010 but only 11 below his career .303 average. It is not hard to imagine that as the warm summer months unfold, Cano’s bat will catch fire as well. He has always been a better second-half hitter. There is nothing to suggest it won’t be the case this season.
There are those who believe, and I am among them, that Cano would actually be the ideal No. 3 hitter for this team. The reason is the No. 3 spot is always reserved for the team’s most feared hitter. Opposing managers will tell you they fear Cano more than any other hitter in the Yankees’ lineup.
It is because his swing is so effortless and the ball jumps so hard off his bat that he can turn a game with a key hit. Managers bring in lefties to neutralize him. But Cano merely hits them better than he does right-handers. Cano is hitting a ridiculous .347 against left-handers and a very pedestrian .270 against right-handers this season. So when you see a manager coming out to the mound to bring in a left-hander they are actually playing into Cano’s strength. Like a cobra, Cano can bite the best-laid of plans to get him out.
There have been clamors about his defense this season. The range is still there. He is also making the most difficult plays look easy. But Cano set a high standard last season by committing only three errors.
Much like his lofty hitting, the standard is hard to maintain. So Cano has made six errors and most of those came on routine plays.
That is the curse of being Cano. When the game is so easy to play it is sometimes easy to get bored with the perfection you play it. Cano sometimes does fall into that trap of looking lazy and disinterested. But it is not really true. Can’s defense is still as sterling as it ever was and it would be a crime of he did not collect another Gold Glove in 2011.
See the big question is that if Cano is not the best second baseman in baseball, who is? Dustin Pedroia? He’s hitting .278 with less power and production. Danny Espinosa of Washington has 15 home runs and Kelly Johnson of Arizona has 14. But they are both hitting south of ,244. Ian Kinsler of Texas and Chase Utley of Philadelphia have had off-seasons and have dealt with injuries. Dan Uggla of Atlanta has more power, but he is not a hitter for average and he is a butcher in the field with limited range.
Rickie Weeks of Milwaukee comes the closest to Cano’s physical gifts. He can run better than Cano. But he is not the fielder Cano is.
So the best thing Yankee fans can do is appreciate what Cano is and what he is providing. They are not likely to see a better second baseman in the history of the franchise. Think of him as an Alfonso Soriano who can field like Roberto Alomar and you get a measure of what Cano means to this team. If this team is to win it all in 2011, Cano will have be right in the middle of it — hitting and fielding.
He may not win that batting title this season. But I think Cano would gladly forego it for a championship ring.
Cano deserves an A- for his first half. The only knock is the .292 average, which I believe will be in the .300 range by season’s end, barring injury. They just do not come any better than Cano.
Here is another Cano trait: He is durable. He has started 79 of the team’s 81 games. Eduardo Nunez started the other two and you are less likely to see Nunez here than you will at short and third for two reasons. One is that it is not a position he is as suited to play. The other is he is needed more often to replace the older Jeter (37) at short and Rodriguez (35) at third. The Yankees also have Ramiro Pena on the roster to play second base.
Nunez starred as a hitter replacing Jeter at shortstop but still needs work in the field at age 24. But the fact he hit .339 in place of Jeter is not lost among manager Joe Girardi. It will be Girardi’s task to find places for Nunez to play so he can get his bat in the lineup more. The fact the team sent outfielder Chris Dickerson back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster for Jeter is one clue. Nunez might be seeing more time in the outfield in the second half.
Pena, 25, who is hitting .111, is the opposite of Nunez. He can play infield with the best of them but he won’t hit much. His real value is that he is the team’s best bunter and he can steal a base or two even though he is not as fast as Nunez.
At the minor-league level, the Yankees’ best second base prospect is Reegie Corona, a 25-year-old switch-hitter. However, Corona is on the 60-day disabled list with a broken arm suffered during the winter. He has a long way to go in his rehab and it just looks like a lost season for him.
Kevin Russo, 27, is playing second base in Scranton and he is hitting .278 with a home run and 28 RBIs. He is solid in the field but he is not the athlete Corona is and he is a long dropoff from Cano at the position. We likely will not see Russo unless something happens to Pena or Nunez.
FIRST HALF GRADES
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-
Cano is right where he should be in production and he should be better with his hitting and fielding in the second half. The Yankees rely on Cano for so much that he gets taken for granted at times. But managers, coaches and scouts from opposing teams think he is the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. That is a scary thought considering Rodriguez was “that guy” for so long and he still is pretty scary. Just enjoy the second half of watching Cano making everything look easy and helping lead this team to a division title and beyond.
It is almost assured Cano will do just that.
NEXT: THIRD BASE