Results tagged ‘ Kevin Long ’

Five-Run Fifth Draws Yankees Closer To Orioles

GAME 134

YANKEES 7, ORIOLES 5

With time running out in their chase for a playoff spot, the Yankees were hoping on Friday that struggling left-hander CC Sabathia could find some of his old magic to hold down the Orioles. But, instead, their rejuvenated offense came through with a five-run fifth inning to win the first game of a very important weekend series.

Ichiro Suzuki cranked a two-run homer and Robinson Cano added a key two-run single in the fifth as New York overcame a 4-2 deficit to defeat Baltimore and climb within a half-game of third place in the division standings in front of paid crowd of 45,159 at Yankee Stadium.

Sabathia (12-11) actually began the game pitching a perfect 3 1/3 innings before giving up a double to Manny Machado. Two batters later, Chris Davis blooped a single to center to score Machado with the game’s first run.

However, the Yankees reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Cano drew a two-out walk from right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (8-7) and Alfonso Soriano swatted his 29th home run of the season and 12th since he was acquired by the Yankees on July 26.

The Orioles then answered with three runs off Sabathia on a two-run home run by Danny Valencia and two-out RBI single by Machado.

The Yankees took the lead for good, however, in the fifth when Curtis Granderson led off with a double and Mark Reynolds slapped an RBI double of the wall in left-center. Suzuki then cranked a two-run homer to right, his eighth of the season, that gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

Austin Romine doubled and Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a single to left. Derek Jeter then drew a walk that loaded the bases with no outs and ended Gonzalez’s evening.

Cano then greeted left-hander T.J. McFarland with a two-run single to right to put the Yankees up 7-4. The Yankees entered the evening 22-1 this season in games in which they have scored at least seven runs.

Gonzalez, who started the game with a career record of 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in six starts against the Yankees, gave up seven runs on six hits and three walks in four-plus innings.

After Adam Jones led off the sixth with a double and Nick Markakis delivered a two-out RBI single, manager Joe Girardi elected to pull Sabathia from the game early.

Despite getting credit for the victory, Sabathia yielded five runs on seven hits and one walk while he fanned four in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees added an insurance run in the seventh off McFarland on a two-out RBI single by Alex Rodriguez that scored Cano.

The Yankees’ bullpen of Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the O’s over the final 3 1/3 innings on two hits and a walk while they struck out one to preserve the victory for the Yankees.

Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 39th save in 44 chances this season.

The Yankees now are 71-63 on the season and they are eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. However, they are only a half-game behind the Orioles, who are now 71-62.  They are tied with the Cleveland Indians in the wild-card standings, 4 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was unclear if Cano would be able to start because of a bruised left hand he sustained when he was hit with a pitch on Tuesday night by J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays. But Cano started and was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, a walk, two runs scored and two RBIs. Cano still leads the Yankees in batting (.307), home runs (24) and RBIs (87).
  • Since July 26, Soriano and American League MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers lead the major leagues with 12 home runs apiece. Davis of the Orioles, who leads the majors with 47, is third with 10. Soriano is hitting .270 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 32 games with the Yankees.
  • Of the Yankees’ 13 hits, Reynolds contributed three of them, including a pair of doubles. Reynolds worked with batting coach Kevin Long to eliminate a left toe tap in order to shorten his swing and Reynolds has responded by going 7-for-12 (.583) with a homer and three RBIs in his past three starts.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is becoming quite clear that Sabathia is a liability as a starter this season. His season ERA now stands at 4.91, which would be the highest ERA he has recorded in a season since he was 17-5 with a 4.39 ERA in his rookie season with the Indians in 2001. The Yankees have no choice but to pitch him but they can’t expect much when he does.
  • Base-running mistakes cost the Yankees some additional runs in this game. Reynolds was thrown out at third base by Jones from center-field on a single by Suzuki with one out in the sixth. With Soriano on third and Rodriguez on second with two out in the seventh, Granderson bunted a ball along the third-base line. Soriano froze at third, realized Rodriguez was advancing to third and he ended up being tagged out easily by catcher Taylor Teagarden. Reynolds also was thrown out at home by shortstop J.J. Hardy on a high-hopper off the bat of Romine in the eighth.

BOMBER BANTER

Though Cano returned to the lineup, infielder Eduardo Nunez missed a second straight game with a sore right knee. But Nunez insisted he was available to play if needed. Nunez twisted his knee in Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays.  . . .  Reynolds started at first base despite the fact the right-handed Gonzalez was pitching because he been hotter at the plate than lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay. Since being signed off waivers from the Indians, Reynolds is batting .316 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 12 games with the Yankees.  . . .  The Yankees elected on Friday to move right-hander Phil Hughes’ next start back to Monday against the Chicago White Sox and named Andy Pettitte to start the series finale against the Orioles on Sunday. Hughes has not won a game since July 2 and he has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to move ahead of the Orioles into third place in the division with a victory on Saturday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova walked six batters (one intentional) but still was able to hold the Rays to two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision on Sunday. He is 4-2 with a 4.95 ERA in his career against the O’s.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Scott Feldman (4-3, 4.56 ERA). Feldman gave up one run on three hits and four walks in five innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics last Saturday. He is 3-3 with a 4.78 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

 

Kuroda, Hafner Lead Way As Yankees Edge Astros

GAME 26

YANKEES 7, ASTROS 4

On the final day of April, a day in which the Yankees placed their ninth player on the disabled list, they did pretty much what they have been doing most of the month:  Finding a way to win.

Hiroki Kuroda recovered from a shaky first three innings to complete the best April of his career and Travis Hafner continued his hot month with three RBI singles as New York downed Houston on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 34,401 at Yankee Stadium.

Kuroda (4-1) surrendered three hits and four walks in throwing 67 pitches in the first three innings but he stranded all seven base-runners. With Kuroda struggling with his command, pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggested the 38-year-old right-hander try pitching only from the stretch.

Over the next four innings, Kuroda gave up only a leadoff single by Jose Altuve in the fifth inning. Kuroda retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced to earn the victory. He shut out the Astros on four hits and four walks while striking out a season-high eight batters.

Meanwhile, the Yankees wasted no time getting to Astros right-hander Philip Humber (0-6).

Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a infield single off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. One out later Hafner delivered the first of his three run-scoring singles, a line drive to the opposite field that left-fielder Brandon Barners trapped in his glove to allow Gardner to score.

Hafner delivered again in the third inning after Suzuki reached first on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike. Suzuki advanced to second on a stolen base and scored on Hafner’s single up the middle against an exaggerated Astros’ shift on the left-handed slugger.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fifth after back-to-back one-out singles by Suzuki and Robinson Cano. After Humber uncorked his second of his three wild pitches of the night, Hafner was walked intentionally and Gardner scored when Brennan Boesch beat out a potential inning-ending double play.

Jayson Nix followed with an RBI single to score Cano.

Humber was touched for four runs on nine hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings.

The Astros cut the lead in half against reliever David Robertson in the eighth inning when Carlos Pena drew a two-out walk and Chris Carter followed with an opposite field two-run home run to right-center.

The Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning when Lyle Overbay led off the inning with his third home run of the season off reliever Brad Peacock. Eduardo Nunez followed with his third hit of the game  –  a double to center  – and Chris Stewart slapped an RBI single up the middle to chase Peacock.

After one out, Suzuki singled to right off reliever Rhiner Cruz and with two out Hafner closed out the scoring on a bloop single to the opposite field in left that scored Stewart.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Shawn Kelley could not hold the team’s five-run cushion in the ninth.

With two out and a Marwin Gonzalez on first, Robbie Grossman singled to right-center and Altuve followed a two-run double.

Manager Joe Girardi replaced Kelley with Mariano Rivera and Rivera struck out Jason Castro swinging to earn his 10th save in 10 chances.

The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and they completed April with a 16-10 record, which puts them in second place in the American League East. The Astros fell to 8-19.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Give Kuroda a lot of credit for shutting down the Astros despite the fact he did not initially have his best stuff. With his seven shutout innings, Kuroda lowered his season ERA to 2.25 and he is tied with CC Sabathia for the team lead in victories with four. His career ERA of 3.38 is the lowest of any Japanese pitcher in history.
  • Hafner finished the month with a flourish. With his 3-for-4 night, Hafner is hitting .318 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. His three-RBI game drew him into a tie with Cano for the team lead in RBIs. That is not bad for a player who has not played a full major-league season since 2007. The Yankees have needed his power with so many players injured and Hafner has delivered.
  • Two players who have been scuffling most of the month are suddenly getting hot. Suzuki was 3-for-5 and scored two runs. In his last seven games, Suzuki is 11-for-27 (.407) with three runs scored and two RBIs. His hot streak has raised his batting average to .268. Meanwhile, Nunez went 3-for-4 with two doubles and run scored. Since hitting coach Kevin Long tweaked his batting stance, Nunez is 5-for-14 (.357), which has raised his season average to .203.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The usually reliable Robertson let the Astros back into the contest by giving up the two-run home run to Carter. Robertson had a uncharacteristically poor month in which he was touched for five runs on nine hits and two walks in 10 2/3 innings over 11 games. His 4.22 ERA is a product of giving up two homers.
  • Kelley may have an excellent slider but he is really having trouble getting ahead in counts to use it. He has surrendered nine runs on 12 hits (four them home runs) and four walks in 10 1/3 innings. He has been scored upon in four of his eight appearances and he soon may be punching his own ticket to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • In his three at-bats in the game, Boesch came up to the plate with six runners on base and he managed to score just one of them. He bounced into an inning-ending double play in the first and then two fielders’ choices. He did drive in a run by beating out a double-play relay in the fifth. The lefty swinging Boesch was 0-for-3 and he is now batting .200 on the season. He is hitting just .167 against righties and .273 against lefties, which is very odd.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed corner infielder Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday after an MRI indicated a lumbar spine sprain. He is the ninth player the Yankees have placed on the DL. Infielder Corban Joseph was recalled from Scranton to take Youkilis’ spot on the roster. Youkilis had missed six games before playing in a game on Saturday. However, Youkilis re-aggravated his back injury in the game and now he can’t be activated until May 13. General manager Brian Cashman and Girardi both admitted playing Youkilis on Saturday was a big mistake. The 34-year-old veteran was hitting .266 with two homers and seven RBIs in 17 games. Joseph, 24, was hitting .273 with four home runs and nine RBIs in 22 games.  . . .  Injured outfielder Curtis Granderson may soon progress to playing in some minor-league rehab games. Granderson has been sidelined with a fractured right forearm suffered in his first at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24. Meanwhile, first baseman Mark Teixeira has not advanced past taking some dry swings and his return is looking more likely in June. Teixeira is on the disabled list with a partially torn sheath in his right wrist.

ON DECK

The Yankees can take the three-game series against Houston with a victory in the rubber game on Wednesday.

Right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.29 ERA) will make his first start of the season as a replacement for injured right-hander Ivan Nova. Phelps, 26, was brilliant in four innings of relief after Nova left Friday’s game with an inflamed right triceps. Phelps gave up one run and struck out a career-high nine. Phelps has never faced the Astros.

The Astros will start veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.98 ERA). Bedard has not pitched more than four innings in any of his four starts. He has allowed 13 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his last three starts. He is 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees Repel Rays With Walk-Off Homer In 10th

GAME 28

YANKEES 7, TAMPA BAY 6 (10 Innings)

TAMPA  –  There are times when things may look its bleakest but a proud team decides it needs to make a statement. On Sunday the Yankees made a bold statement that they they will not go down without a pretty fierce fight.

Kevin Youkilis launched a pair of long-distance two-run home runs and Ronnier Mustelier cracked a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning as New York defeated Tampa Bay in a see-saw affair in front of a paid crowd of 10,894 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Youkilis reclaimed the lead for the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth inning with his second home run of the game his fifth of the spring. However, the Rays rallied for a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 6-6 on an RBI double by Jake Hager off David Aardsma.

That set the stage for Mustelier’s fly-ball home run off a 3-2 offering from Josh Lueke (2-1) that just cleared in the wall in left-field.

Preston Claiborne (1-0) retired the only two batters he faced in the top of the 10th to gain credit for the victory.

The Yankees improved to 12-17 this spring. The Rays fell to 14-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It appears that signing the Youkilis to replace Alex Rodriguez at third base while he recovers from hip surgery was about the smartest thing that general manager Brian Cashman accomplished this winter. With batting coach Kevin Long’s help, Youkilis has lowered his hands a bit and he’s making solid contact again. With his 2-for-4 day and two home runs, Youkilis now leads the team with five homers and 12 RBIs this spring and he is hitting .262.
  • Mustelier, 28, could not have picked a better time to hit his second home run of the spring. Though it appears his chances of making the team out of spring training are near zero, he is making a big impression on the front office with his .324 batting average.
  • Other than Aardsma, the Yankees bullpen was near flawless in the 5 1/3 innings they pitched. Vidal Nuno, Cody Eppley, Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Josh Spence and Claiborne combined to give up no runs on five hits and three walks while striking out six batters.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Though Youkilis drove in four runs it ended up being a wash because his error on a ground ball off the bat of Jose Molina with a runner on third and two out in the fourth inning opened the floodgates for four unearned runs to score that inning. Youkilis won a Gold Glove with the Boston Red Sox as a first baseman in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a fielder at third.
  • Aardsma, 31, simply did not get the job done in the bottom of ninth inning. He issued a leadoff single by Ben Zobrist, Jason Bourgeois bunted him to second and Hager scored him with his double. Aardsma’s spring ERA is now to 3.86 and it is unclear if he will make the bullpen coming out spring training.
  • There was some bad base-running that cost the Yankees in the fifth inning. After one out, Eduardo Nunez singled but was thrown out attempting to steal by Molina because he got a bad jump off first. Than Ichiro Suzuki rolled a ball down the line in left and was thrown out because he rounded first too far allowing Matt Joyce to gun him down.

BOMBER BANTER

Derek Jeter reported that he was experiencing soreness again in his surgically repaired left ankle and the team has ordered him to rest for at least two days. Cashman said it is looking extremely unlikely that the 38-year-old shortstop will be available on Opening Day. The team likely will place him on the 15-day disabled retroactively so that he could be activated as soon as April 6.  . . .  Reports indicate that the Yankees and Angels are trying to work out a trade that would send outfielder Vernon Wells to the Yankees. Wells, 34, is a fifth outfielder with the Angels but he was hitting . 361 (13 for 36) with four homers and 11 RBis this spring. Wells has a no-trade clause in his contract but he reportedly would be willing to waive it to get more playing time. The big stumbling block is how much the Angels will pay of the $42 million left on Wells’ contract.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take their third day off of the spring on Monday. On Tuesday they will play host to the Houston Astros.

CC Sabathia will make his final spring tuneup before pitching for the Yankees on Opening Day on April 1. The Astros have not named a starter.

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

 

Yankees Have Totally Forgettable Day In Dunedin

GAME 19

BLUE JAYS 17, YANKEES 5

Jose Bautista ran for two touchdowns and Melky Cabrera kicked a long field goals as  . . .  Oops! Right score but wrong sport.

Cabrera was 3-for-3 and drove in four runs and Maicer Izturis was 2-for-3 with five RBIs as Toronto took advantage of 10 walks and three errors to crush New York on Thursday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.

Josh Johnson (3-0) threw three shutout inning, giving up two hits – one of them a solo home run to Kevin Youkilis in the first inning – and striking out five to earn the victory.

Right-handers Jose Ramirez (1-1) and Adam Warren were tagged for a combined 14 runs on six hits and nine walks in just 1 2/3 innings.

The Yankees’ four game spring winning streak was snapped and they are now 7-12. The Blue Jays are 8-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Without a doubt the Yankees allowing to Blue Jays to run so much around the bases on Thursday will certainly tire them out for their scheduled exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland on Friday.
  • Youkilis is starting to come around with the bat in a big way. He was 2-for-3 with his second spring homer and a triple. He scored two runs and drove in another. In his last four games, Youkilis is 5-for-10 with two home runs, a triple, two doubles and three RBIs. He has raised his spring to .263. It appears the work with hitting coach Kevin Long has paid off because Youkilis has dropped his hands to allow himself to get to the ball quicker.
  • With Clay Rapada sidelined with a sore shoulder, Josh Spence is showing he is pretty capable as a lefty reliever. Spence 25, gave up just one hit and struck out three and is still unscored upon this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is real easy to get down on Ramirez for his poor start but, in truth, the 23-year-old has not pitched above High-A Tampa. Entering the game he had pitched nine scoreless innings this spring so the Yankees are a long way from giving up on him.
  • The same can’t be said for Warren, 26. In his last two outings, Warren has given up 12 runs on 10 hits and and six walks in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander had no shot to make the team this spring but was being looked upon as a potential call-up as a emergency starter during the season. Let’s hope the Yankees do not need him because he is never going to be a good major-league starter.
  • The Yankees committed three errors but that mostly was attributable to the windy conditions on the field and the fact the Yankees were already down 9-1 after two innings.

BOMBER BANTER

Phil Hughes, 26, threw a 26-pitch bullpen session on Thursday and said that he believes he still can be ready to pitch when the regular season begins. Hughes has been sidelined all spring with a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes will pitch in a simulated game on Monday but it unclear if he will be able to be able to get up the 90 to 100 pitches necessary to make his first start.

ON DECK

The Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to play host to the Miami Marlins.

Yankee ace left-hander CC Sabathia, 32, will make his spring training debut. He has been rehabbing from minor elbow surgery this offseason. Sabathia will be opposed by former New York Mets right-hander John Maine.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network.

 

Yanks’ Hopes Center On Grandy’s Gifts, Failings

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

CENTERFIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (43 HRs, 106 RBIs, .232 BA)

It is hard to find a player who has hit 84 home runs over two seasons like Curtis Granderson and yet has taken more criticism.

Though no one in major-league baseball has hit more home runs in the past two seasons, Granderson enters the 2013 season facing questions about his low batting average, his franchise-record 195 strikeouts, his ability to play centerfield and whether the Yankees should just trade him rather than pay to sign him again in 2014.

Granderson, 31, set himself up for the criticism by having a career year in 2011, when he led the major leagues in runs scored (136), hit 41 home runs and drove in 119 runs and hit a respectable .262. It is hard to top a year a like that but Granderson did give it a good try last year.

While the production was there in 2012, the negatives in Granderson’s game started to emerge last season.

The strikeouts were maddening. The most frustrating part of them was how many came on breaking pitches out of the strike zone and – in some cases – hit the dirt in front of home plate. Just like bananas Granderson’s strikeouts came in huge bunches.

For all the talk of hitting coach Kevin Long improving Granderson’s stroke against left-handed pitching in 2010, Granderson is sorely in need of a refresher course this spring. He hit just .218 against left-handers in 2011 – though he did hit 14 home runs off them.

Granderson also fell off a proverbial cliff at the plate after the All-Star break. He hit just .212 in the second half after hitting .248 in the first half of the season. Granderson also fell victim when he was behind in the count. He hit .286 when he was ahead and a lousy .155 when he was behind.

In the field, Granderson has always been considered a pretty good outfielder. Blessed with great speed, he can get to a lot of balls slower centerfielders can’t. He has never committed more than five errors in his eight seasons in the majors. Last season he committed only three.

Yet there were times that he would lose the flight of the ball and they would drop in for hits. When it happens more than a few times there has to be some concern and the Yankee coaching staff and front office suggested Granderson get his eyes checked this winter because of his propensity to swing at pitches in the dirt and his problems tracking balls in the outfield.

Granderson has had his eyes checked before and he does wear contact lenses, but the Yankees were fearful there might be something more serious at play with Granderson’s sight and depth perception. Hopefully, those issues can be put to rest this spring, when the Yankees will have a chance to evaluate Granderson’s play.

There are still a lot of positives in Granderson’s game.

His power is amazing for a player who is built so slight. Not many people believe Granderson really weighs the 195 pounds that which he is listed on the roster. Many believe Granderson’s newfound power is simply a product of the short porch in Yankee Stadium. After all, Granderson did hit 26 of his home runs at home last season.

But a lot of Granderson’s 26 home runs went into the far reaches of the right-field bleachers and into the second deck. In addition, Granderson did hit 30 home runs for the Detroit Tigers in 2009 and Comerica Park is not a friendly place for left-handed power hitters. So I do not buy the premise that Granderson would be unable to hit for power outside Yankee Stadium.

But it is true that the short porch does allow him to hit a few more.

There are all kinds of rumors about Granderson possibly being traded soon. Granderson is earning $15 million in the final year of a six-year, $43 million contract he signed with the Tigers in 2008. He can become a free agent after the season and the Yankees would seem to be willing to listen to offers for him to get something out of the deal before he walks.

But there is a real huge problem with that line of thinking. By trading Granderson before the season would rob the team of its best power hitter at a time the team has lost a lot of home runs to free agents who signed elsewhere such as Nick Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14).

In addition, the fifth-most prolific home run hitter in baseball history, Alex Rodriguez, is headed for hip surgery this month that will force him to miss about half the season.

It would seem silly to trade Granderson when so much of the Yankees’ power in 2012 has not been replaced on the roster. That is why I believe Granderson will remain with the team unless the team falls out of serious contention in 2013. There would be no justification for doing otherwise.

But with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner’s edict to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and Robinson Cano headed for free agency after this season, it is pretty much assured Granderson will be playing his final season in pinstripes. The scale-back in payroll pretty much ties general manager’s Brian Cashman’s hands in retaining players who are not signed to long-term deals and the team seems willing to back up a Brink’s truck in order to keep Cano.

The problem with Grandrson is whether his likely final season will be played in centerfield or leftfield.

Though there has been no official word about a switch, rumors have floated that the Yankees might consider using leftfielder Brett Gardner in centerfield this season and shift Granderson to left because of Gardner’s superior defensive ability, which is Gold Glove-worthy in leftfield.

Gardner spent most of the 2012 season dealing a strained right (non-throwing) elbow that eventually required surgery. But he is expected arrive in camp at 100 percent this spring and the Yankees know Gardner is a natural centefielder and they would only need to acclimate Granderson to left.

The Yankees likely will be coy about it by splitting up Granderson and Gardner during spring exhibition games and playing them both in center. But, on occasion, Girardi could shift Granderson to left in order to take a look at rookie Melky Mesa, 25, who came up to the team as a September call-up in 2012.

Then, late in the spring, Girardi could either leave things as they are or make the shift, claiming Granderson is needed to cover Yankee Stadium’s expansive leftfield, which would be true. Either way, it won’t have a huge impact because with Ichiro Suzuki manning rightfield the Yankees actually have one of their best defensive outfields in their history.

One misconception about Granderson is that because of his ability to score runs and his speed he should be a great base-stealer. However, that has never really been the case. Granderson’s major-league high in steals was 26 in 2007. He stole 25 for the Yankees in 2011.

However, Granderson is not a real instinctive base-stealer, much like Bernie Williams. In his career he has only a 78 percent success rate in steals, which is not real good for someone who has Granderson’s speed.

Granderson dropped off to only 10 steals in 13 attempts in 2012. But with the loss of so much power in the lineup and the fact the team will have Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Gardner, Suzuki and Granderson capable of steals in the double digits, the Yankees may be looking for more opportunities to run in 2013.

Granderson is one player who will have to step up his game on the bases this season. So look for it.

Yankee fans would be happy if Granderson showed up this spring with no issues with his eyes, he reduces his strikeouts some, hits lefties better and raises his average closer to his career mark of .262. That way his 40 plus homers and 100-plus RBIs would mean a whole lot more that it did in 2012.

With Granderson needing a productive season to get himself a lucrative new contract with some team in 2014 he is going to be very motivated to improve his all-around game. That is all the Yankees can ask from Granderson. They will very much lean on his power and production in the coming season.

NEXT: RIGHTFIELD

 

Yankees Hoping Youkilis Healthy, A-Rod Returns

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

THIRD BASE – KEVIN YOUKILIS (19 HRs, 60 RBIs, .235 BA)

With Alex Rodriguez headed for surgery to his left hip this month the Yankees were forced to take a plunge into the free-agent market for a replacement and they chose 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis.

The former Red Sox nemesis has had his own issues with injuries throughout his career but the Yankees needed someone who could play the position and provide some offense until Rodriguez is ready to to return to action, which won’t come until at least June.

Youkilis enters 2013 free of the swirling rumors of his commitment to the game former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thrust upon him last season. After he was traded to the Chicago White Sox he did pick up his production, hitting .236 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, largely batting second.

After undergoing sports hernia surgery that ended his 2011 season, Youkilis suffered through the early part of 2012 with a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. When Will Middlebrooks produced good numbers in his absence, the Red Sox decided to send him packing to make room for the rookie.

Youkilis has never played in more than 147 games in any of his seven full major-league seasons, which was in first full season with the Red Sox in 2007. His best season with the Bosox was in 2008, when he hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs.

But Youkilis’ all-out style of play has also left him susceptible to nagging injuries, which have lessened his power and production numbers. In addition, Youkilis’ unusual batting style, which worked well for him when he was younger (He hit a career-high .312 in 2008), has left him less effective the last two seasons in which he has hit .258 and .235.

It will be the job of hitting coach Kevin Long to get Youkilis back on track at the plate with is timing and to get Youkilis driving the ball as he did so well at Fenway Park. As a right-hand hitter, the Yankees will not be looking for big-time power from Youkilis. But they would like him to get back to hitting closer to his lifetime .283 average and driving in runs.

There is a good possibility that Youkilis might slide into the No. 3 or No. 5 spots in the batting order to separate left-handers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. That means the Yankees will be counting on Youkilis to provide solid production in the heart of the batting order.

A lot will depend if Youkilis is 100 percent healthy when he reports to camp in Tampa, FL, and he can remain healthy. He will have to because the Yankees’ options behind him are quite limited and much less productive.

As a fielder, Youkilis is considered an excellent first baseman. He won a Gold Glove for his work there in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a third baseman. Of course, he is actually still considered above average at the position.

There is no doubt that injuries have had an effect on his fielding at third the past two seasons. He made nine errors in 2011 and he committed the same total in 2012. So the slip in his fielding percentage at third had to be due in large part to the sports hernia and groin injuries.

His career fielding percentage at first is .997 but at third it is .966. But the Yankees feel if he is healthy, he can play the position more than adequately. Fielding, after all, was not a strength of A-Rod’s game either.

Of course, it is hard to know what the strength of Rodriguez’s game is really. Last season was another one of those seasons that he has failed to provide the production the Yankees needed and his season ended with a late injury which may or may not have contributed to his poor postseason.

After playing in just 99 games in 2011, largely due to a right knee injury, Rodriguez played in 122 games in 2012. He missed more than a month of the season and returned in early September after being struck in the left hand with a pitch from Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

But when he was healthy, Rodriguez did not produce much in the way of power or runs batted in. He finished the season hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. Batting in the middle of the most productive lineup in baseball in 2012, A-Rod  hit .200 with the bases loaded and .230 with runners in scoring position.

But the most telling statistic is this: Rodriguez hit a home run every 25.7 at-bats in 2012. In his career, he has hit a home run every 14.9 at-bats. To say the 37-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player is suffering through a serious erosion of his skills is putting it mildly. It even lead to his being pinch-hit for at a critical point in the 2012 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

So even when Rodriguez returns the question is how much can the Yankees count on him? Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since 2007.

What looked to a be a lock that he would eventually break Barry Bonds’ dubious all-time home run record of 762 looks to a longshot now. But the real problem is the Yankees are on the hook for paying Rodriguez, in sickness and unproductive health, through the 2017 season.

So unless A-Rod gets tired of being booed, looking like a fool striking out against mediocre pitchers and he decides to retire, the Yankees have a 6-foot-3, 225-pound albatross around their necks. General manager Brian Cashman has been ordered to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and it will be hard to see how they can remain competitive as long as they are paying big bucks to an unproductive has-been.

But we will see how it all plays out when Rodriguez does make it back to the field in 2013.

Likely, he will not play much third base.

Though Rodriguez two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 2003, he has never been considered a very good fielder at third base. His career fielding percentage at the position is .964 and it was .957 in 2012. He committed eight errors in 81 games at the position last year.

The previous injury to his right hip pretty much has robbed him of some of the lateral quickness and smoothness he needs to field at the hot corner.

So upon Rodriguez’s return it is more likely he will assume the designated hitter role for most of the rest of the season in order to keep his surgically repaired left hip from acting up again.

The Yankees do not have much in the way of options at third base behind Youkilis.

They were hoping that they could convince Eric Chavez, 35, to come back for a third season. But the free agent elected to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Though Chavez was unable to physically handle playing third base on a daily basis, he did contribute mightily to the Yankees at third and first base and as a DH and pinch-hitter. He hit .281 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012. He also played 64 games at third base and flashed some of the form that led to him winning six consecutive Gold Gloves at the position from 2001 through 2006 with the Oakland Athletics.

He and his left-hand bat will be missed in 2013.

Instead the Yankees will have to look to Jayson Nix, 30, as the primary backup in 2013.

Nix entered the 2012 season as a minor-league player invited to spring training by the Yankees. After hitting over .300 in the spring Nix was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he was recalled on May 3 when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez was ill-suited to be a utility infielder.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats as largely a backup to Rodriguez at third base and Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30, 2011 to make room on the 40-man roster for All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera, who was signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed to accept an assignment to Triple A in order to remain with the team. He will be invited to spring training and he has an excellent chance of retaining his backup infielder role.

Though Nix will not knock down any fences, he will play solidly in the field and give a good effort at the plate. That is what the Yankees hope he can do.

Nunez, 25, started the season as the team’s infield backup but his careless errors in the field cost him the job. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ front office agreed to send Nunez back to Triple A to play shortstop exclusively.

However, Nunez spent most of his time in the minors sidelined with a right-hand injury. There are no questions about Nunez’s bat. He is a career .272 hitter with the capability of stealing 40 bases in a full season.

But Jeter, 38, is still the shortstop and Nunez is a butcher in the field, hence the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” He was on a pace to commit 42 errors if he had played every day in 2012.

The Yankees look at Nunez as a potential right-hand DH in 2013 at this point. Nunez is not a home run hitter but he could possibly hit 10 home runs and drive in 60 runs if he got 425 or so at-bats. The Yankees also missed his speed last season.

Nunez stole 22 bases in 112 games in 2011 and he actually led the Yankees for most of the 2011 season with 11 until A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki passed him in September. Nunez along with left-fielder Brett Gardner and Suzuki would give the Yankees a speed game they were lacking in 2012.

But the Yankees likely will not use Nunez at third base and there is a good possibility that Nunez could be traded to a team needing a shortstop before the season starts. They will listen to offers anyway.

Behind Nix the Yankees do not have a lot of major-league-ready options at the position.

David Adams, 25, and Corban Joseph, 24, are on the 40-man roster but both are primarily second basemen.

Adams hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2012 while Joseph hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.

Adams, a third-round draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2008, has been held back by a severe ankle injury. Joseph is a fourth round pick in 2008 out of Franklin High School in Franklin, TN.

Joseph would seem to have more upside because of his power and the fact that he bats left-handed. The Yankees could use a left-handed hitting infield backup. But Joseph is not considered as a shortstop. The same for Adams.

Both were elevated to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013 and both will get opportunities to play in spring training. But Nix and Nunez have a huge upper hand on them because neither of the youngsters have played a significant amount of time at third base. In addition, neither player is among the Yankees’ Top 20 prospects.

The only third baseman among the Top 20 prospects is the Yankees’ first selection in the 2011 draft Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger of the same name.

Bichette, 20, opened eyes last spring when he was placed on the traveling squad for an exhibition game against the Houston Astros and he hit a pair of solo home runs in his two at-bats in the only game in which he played. However, his 2012 season was a major disappointment because he hit only three home runs, drove in 46 runs and batted .248 at Class-A Charleston (SC).

But because he was the Most Valuable Player of the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and he has adapted better than expected at third base, the Yankees have high hopes for the Maitland, FL, native. However, he appears to be more than two years away from being ready for the major leagues.

Third base appears to be a big issue for the Yankees entering 2013.

Rodriguez is sidelined once again and his replacement Youkilis has had issues with injuries of his own. There appears to be an adequate backup in Nix but the Yankees have limited options behind him. The jury on Bichette is out for now but the Yankees remain optimistic he can follow in his father’s footsteps.

This is definitely not the Yankees’ strongest position entering the season and there will be a lot of people crossing their fingers Youkilis stays healthy and Rodriguez come back strong. It seems an awful lot to ask for at this point.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP

 

Jeter Bests Shortcomings To Have Banner Season

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (15 HRs, 58 RBIs, .316 BA, 99 Runs, 9 SB)

There are just some people who are fortunate enough to have everything go their way in life.  They have a dream job, they make a good amount of money and they date all the beautiful women.

That is Derek Jeter and his 2012 season was something he can brag about.

In 2010, he suffered through a subpar campaign in which he hit .270 and he looked like he was nearing the end at age 36. In the first half of 2011, it got much worse.

Jeter was struggling with a no-stride batting approach that batting coach Kevin Long suggested. He abandoned it and his average tumbled even more. Then he suffered a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list.

He went to Tampa,FL, to rehab the injury and then took the time to work with his old batting coach Gary Dembo to rediscover his old swing. All Jeter did after rejoining the Yankees was hit .336 the rest of the way and it re-established his credentials as one of the best singles hitters of his generation.

But as the 2012 season began there were still those that doubted Jeter could maintain the stroke that got him 3,000 hits and had him at a lifetime batting average of .313.

In the first half, Jeter was able to keep that pace by hitting .303. It seemed every day he was passing players like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken on the all-time hits list. He also was driving the ball well enough to hit seven home runs and drive in 25 runs from the leadoff spot.

The only negatives is that he scored only 42 runs and stole six bases. The runs total had a lot to do with the fact the Yankees were the worst team in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position. The stolen base total had more to do with Jeter turning 38.

He stole 30 bases in 2009 but is pretty obvious that Jeter has to choose his spots more carefully now. The good thing is that Jeter realizes it and does not get thrown out on the bases trying to prove he can. He is much smarter than that.

Jeter made the All-Star team as the starting shortstop and he actually earned it rather than getting the nod simply because of his reputation.

You would think Jeter might have slowed down a bit in the second half. Instead, he just got better.

He raised his overall average 10 points, hit eight home runs, drove in 33 runs and scored 57 runs to come within a single run of scoring 100.

Jeter had scored at least 100 runs in 13 of his 17 full seasons in the majors. But the fact he missed had more to do with the flux in the batting order behind with injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and the inconsistency of the team’s hitting with runners in scoring position.

Jeter’s numbers this season are unprecedented for shortstops his age. There are few shortstops who are in baseball at that age. There are fewer who actually able to start. And Jeter is the only one who has actually led the major leagues in hits with 216.

That is Jeter’s second highest total of hits in his career. He had 219 hits in his magical 1999 season when he hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs when he was 25.

Jeter is not 25 any more and he will never approach those gaudy power numbers of 1999. But the Yankees can live with the 2012 numbers.

“The Captain” is not quite ready to take his commission and retire. Why should he?

The only area where Jeter does show his age, besides stealing bases, is in the field. But even there, Jeter can still make the plays with amazing precision.

Jeter only committed 10 errors this season, two less than he committed in 2011. He also did that with much more chances because he was on the disabled list for about a month last season.

I know the sabermetricians out there use Jeter as their favorite whipping post because of his reduced range in the field. That is true. Jeter is no longer able to range far to his right and he maybe lets a few balls get through he used to reach easily. But he still plays the position at a high degree of skill.

His five Gold Glove awards do not lie.

It goes back to that old argument of do you want a steady hand at shortstop who may not have much range or do you want a shortstop with the range of half the Earth who too often throws the ball into the seats? Given this choice I would take Jeter every time. That is the choice manager Joe Girardi has made when critics have suggested Eduardo Nunez should play shortstop.

Girardi knows better and the fans who sit along the first-base line at Yankee Stadium thank him for it.

The only comparison to Jeter I can make is Ozzie Smith, who played at a very high level with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 at age 38. He hit .295 and stole 43 bases.

“The Wizard” is in the Hall of Fame and Jeter is going to join him someday. Special players to do special things and Jeter and Smith are as special as it gets at the shortstop position.

Smith is the best fielder I have seen at the position and Jeter is, by far, the best pure hitter of them all.

MIDSEASON GRADE: A-

SECOND-HALF GRADE: A

OVERALL GRADE: A

BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (4 HRs, 18 RBIs, .243 BA)

Nix was discussed in detail in my post grading Robinson Cano.

He spent most of the season as Jeter’s backup at short after Nunez was demoted for treating the baseball like it was a hand grenade.

Nix started 15 games at shortstop and committed only one error. He was steady with the glove and he contributed well with the bat, too.

Nix, 30, will never come close to being the athlete Nunez, 25, is. Nunez is faster, a better hitter and he has much better range in the field. But you also know Nix will make the pays in the field and he will not hurt you when he plays.

Nix, however, will miss the early part of the playoffs with a left hip flexor injury. So Nunez will be Jeter’s backup at shortstop for now.

The Yankees have high hopes he can be the future of the Yankees at shortstop. But he is a work in progress.

He was making an alarming number of errors when the Yankees demoted him in May. Girardi said they were hurting Nunez’s development by making him a utility infielder and said the team will try to keep him at shortstop.

That should help Nunez, who is more comfortable there. Nunez is a very good line-drive hitter with excellent speed and he helps balance the Yankees’ lefty-laden lineup. If he can just harness the fielding aspects of the game he could become a very good player at short.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND-HALF GRADE: C

OVERALL GRADE: C

Nunez played in only 38 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre due to a nagging right thumb injury so Ramiro Pena ended up playing the most there. However, after Pena was recalled on Sept. 1 a calf injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to bring in Steve Pearce to back up at first and Pena was designated for assignment.

The Yankees also played veteran Doug Bernier at Scranton but he is career journeyman without any prospect of remaining with the Yankees except as a future coach.

The Yankees do have a potential star in 20-year-old Austin Aune, who hit .273 with one home run and 20 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. Aune is a lefty hitter with a potential power bat and has good range and a great arm at shortstop. But scouts believe Aune might have to move to center-field at some point to maximize his speed and arm.

Cito Culver, 19, appears to be a bust as the team’s No. 1 choice in 2010. He hit just .215 in 122 games at Class-A Charleston.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A

Jeter has always been an intangibles player. He is given credit for playing the game smart with his positioning and his knowledge of the game is second to none. But when he hits like he did this season, it is something special to watch.

When a career .313 hitter leads the majors in hits and bats .316 at age 38, you have to tip your cap to the abilities of a player like this.

Will he do it again in 2013? Who can say for sure?

All you have to do is watch Jeter in the playoffs because that has been his playground for 17 seasons. Jeter is a career .307 hitter in the playoffs.

So the big stage is not something he ever has dodged. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the Yankees will go as far as No. 2 takes them.

 

‘Little-Ball Yanks’ Use 2-Run Error To Deflect Rays

GAME 136

YANKEES 6, RAYS 4

When things are going bad on the field and nothing seems to help, baseball teams sometimes revert to one tried-and-true method to get back on track: A closed-door team meeting. The New York Yankees held one two hours before the game on Wednesday and it maybe turned their fortunes around.

The Yankees benefitted from a seventh-inning throwing error by Elliot Johnson to score two runs as New York downed Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 16,711 at Tropicana Field to reclaim sole possession of first place in the American League East.

After a slide that eroded a 10-game lead on the second-place Baltimore Orioles on July 18 to a tie going into Wednesday’s game, the players and coaches held a 20-minute meeting in the visitors’ clubhouse to stress what Alex Rodriguez suggested as “doing the little things” the rest of season instead of trying to hit home runs all the time. They then put the new credo into practice and it appeared to work.

With the game tied 4-4 in the seventh, Andruw Jones and Steve Pearce opened the inning with back-to-back singles off Rays left-hander Matt Moore. Manager Joe Girardi then put the team’s new motto into action by having Jayson Nix drop down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then removed Moore in favor of former Yankee fan punching bag and reliever Kyle Farnsworth.

Derek Jeter slapped a high-hop bouncer into a drawn-in infield and second baseman Johnson fielded it and fired to home plate to nip pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki. However, Johnson’s throw was high and up the third-base line and eluded catcher Jose Lobaton. Suzuki scored and Pearce also was able to score as the ball caromed along the fence in front of the Yankees’ dugout.

The bullpen trio of Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano blanked the Rays over the final three innings to preserve the victory for starter Hiroki Kuroda (13-10). Kuroda gave up four runs – including a solo home run by Luke Scott in the sixth that re-tied the game – on eight hits and two walks and he struck out three batters.

Soriano hurled a perfect ninth to record his 36th save in 39 chances this season.

The Yankees awoke from their hitting doldrums, which saw them limited to six hits or less in their previous five games, as they trailed 1-0 in the fourth inning against Moore (10-9).

Jeter opened the frame with a bloop single that Johnson actually had in his glove but dropped in shallow center-field. One out later, Robinson Cano drew a walk. Rodriguez then followed with an RBI double down the left-field line to score Jeter and advance Cano to third.

Russell Martin then stroked an opposite-field, ground-rule double to score Cano and Rodriguez.

However, Kuroda could not hold the lead. In the fifth, Sam Fuld drew a two-out walk, Desmond Jennings singled and Ben Zobrist smacked a two-run triple.

Martin regained the lead for Kuroda and the Yankees with a two-out home run, his 15th of the season and with the hit he also raised his season batting average over the “Mendoza line” at .202.

Moore ended up surrendering six runs (four earned) on eight hits and one walk while he fanned nine.

The victory, combined with the Orioles’ 6-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, allowed the Yankees to reclaim first place in the division to themselves, a position they had held for 84 consecutive days until Tuesday. The Yankees’ season record is now 77-59. With the loss, the Rays drop 2 1/2 games back in third place.  They are 75-62.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • They finally won a game. Shall we have a ticker-tape parade for them on Thursday?
  • Martin, batting fifth behind Rodriguez despite his low batting average, came up with a clutch double and home run and drove in three runs. This season has been very disappointing for the 29-year-old catcher and his contract expires at the end of the season. It is about time he starts contributing to the offense.
  • Jeter continues his amazing resurgence at the plate. He was 3-for-5 to raise his season average to .319. He also tossed in a clutch running catch of a two-out flare to shallow left off the bat of Matt Joyce that stranded two runners and perhaps saved the game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kuroda somehow was unable to pitch as well as he had been pitching for the Yankees. He came in having lost his last two games because he gave up three runs early and the Yankees’ offense could not get back into the game. This time, the Yankees handed him two leads and he handed them right back. The Yankees need Kuroda to pitch great down the stretch to have a chance to win the division.
  • Nick Swisher was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and it appears his recent hot streak has come to an end. He was 0-for-11 in the three-game series with the Rays and he struck out seven times. Perhaps he needs to take to heart the Rodriguez mantra and not try to do too much.
  • Curtis Granderson was also 0-for-4 and 0-for-8 in the series. Granderson, all of a sudden, has become virtually useless at the plate. He is 3-for-31 with 10 strikeouts in his last 10 games. His season average has dipped to .231 and it is sinking fast. Granderson seems to have reverted back to his early 2010 form before hitting coach Kevin Long restructured his swing.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte threw a short simulated game to hitters at Tropicana Field on Wednesday to get a step closer to rejoining the team. Pettitte threw 15 pitches off a mound in his rehab from a fractured left ankle. However, there is no firm date for his return. Pettitte is scheduled for another throwing session in Baltimore this weekend.

ON DECK

The Yankees open an important four-game series with the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday.

Rookie David Phelps (3-4, 3.13 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Phelps allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Orioles in his last start. Despite the fact that Phelps had absolutely no command of any of his pitches, he still limited the O’s to three hits and the Yankees won the game. He is 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA against the Orioles this season.

Right-hander Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) will come off the disabled list to pitch. Hammel has not made a start since July 13 because he had surgery on his right knee. His pitch count will be limited in this game, Hammel is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Martin’s Mission: Catch Fire Or Pack Your Gear

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.  

CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (8 HR, 21 RBIs, .184 BA)

Of all the positions the Yankees have it was thought in 2012 the catching position was one the strongest and had the most depth.

Despite the retirement of Jorge Posada, the Yankees were loaded with catchers in Martin as the starter and Francisco Cervelli as the backup. Rookie sensation Jose Montero was expected to take over as a designated hitter and part-time catcher. In the minors were defensive wizard Austin Romine and two up-and-coming stars in J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez.

The immediate present looked good and the future looked bright. But things have changed drastically.

First, Montero was traded over the winter to the Seattle Mariners for right-handed starter Michael Pineda. The Yankees were not sold that Montero could handle the defensive part of catching and shipped him off for a young pitcher who was dazzling in the first half of the 2011 season.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Pineda’s drop in velocity in the second half of 2011 continued in spring training this season until Pineda finally admitted his right shoulder was not feeling good. Pineda ended up being diagnosed with a partially torn labrum and his surgery has him on track to return to the Yankees sometime in early 2013 at the earliest.

Montero, on the other hand, has hit .249 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs as mostly a DH for the Mariners. He has started only 31 games for Seattle behind the plate.

The Yankees also made a move on the last day of spring training to claim catcher Chris Stewart off waivers from the San Francisco Giants and, because he was out of options, they sent Cervelli to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre.

The reason was that the Yankees found out during spring training that Romine had issues with a recurring back injury. Romine was unable to play any games in spring training and still has not played a game in the minors this season. The Yankees are hoping Romine will be able to play at some point this season but it unclear when that will be. Back injuries are tricky and the Yankees are taking a cautious approach.

So Cervelli toils in Scranton and he will remain there for a long time.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had high hopes for Martin because, unlike the 2011 season, Martin showed up healthy after he hit .237 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. Apart from the low batting average the Yankees were pleased with Martin’s power and production at the bottom of the batting order.

But what really sold the Yankees was Martin’s defense. He was exceptional at blocking pitches in the dirt, calling games and his arm was a deterrent to base-stealers. Manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, both former catchers, raved about his exceptional defense.

That said, the Yankees were not counting on Martin’s complete regression at the plate this season. Martin started out cold, got colder, picked it up for a week and then went cold again.

Martin, 29, is a career .262 hitter and it is odd that he has suddenly lost the ability to even hit his weight at 205 pounds.

For the past two weeks, Martin suffered a recurrence of the lower-back stiffness that shelved him for about 10 days during the 2011 season. That certainly is not going to make it any easier for Martin to regain his batting stroke and it may mean he could miss a few more games in the second half.

Martin has worked with batting coach Kevin Long on moving back off the plate some and shortening his stride. But the work has yet to really bear any fruit. So Martin will trudge on, hoping the light switch flickers on in a hurry to salvage what may be his future with the Yankees.

Martin signed a one-year deal with the Yankees last season coming off a knee injury and two injury-marred seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Martin was extended a second season but he had hoped to sign a long-term deal with the Yankees before the start of the season.

Perhaps the Yankees were lucky they did not accommodate him. It is looking like Martin may get his walking papers at the end of the 2012 season if he does not start picking it up with the bat.

The Yankees still love his defense but they have options with catchers within their system and through the free-agent route who can perhaps hit as well defend. So Martin’s fate is in his own hands the rest of the way. If he wants to remain with the Yankees he is going to have to hit better in the second half.

As defense goes, Martin is very good.

In 56 starts and 62 games, Martin has committed two errors and been charged with four passed balls. He has thrown out 28 percent of the base-runners who have attempted to steal on him, just two notches below his rate from 2011.

Martin also gets high marks for handling this mix of veterans and young pitchers. He has their respect and he calls a good game.

Defense, however, goes only so far in defining what the Yankees need from Martin. The Yankees are just tired of seeing Martin being used as an escape hatch with runners in scoring position.  He is hitting just .149 in those situations this season and he is going to have to pick it up if he wants to remain in pinstripes past 2012.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C-

BACKUP – CHRIS STEWART (0 HRs, 9 RBIs, .270 BA)

Stewart came to the Yankees with a reputation of being a good defensive catcher with a strong arm.

He has somewhat disappointed the Yankees in that regard. In 22 starts and 25 games, Stewart has committed four errors and been charged with five passed balls.

Stewart, 30, only committed seven errors with only two passed balls in 63 games with the Giants last season. This season he has been erratic in his throws to second and he has let way to many balls get by him.

He is still good enough to deter teams from turning games into track meets, however. He has nabbed four base-stealers in 14 attempts for a 29 percent rate. He threw out 39 percent for the Giants last season.

Stewart has hit better with the Yankees this season. He is a .216 hitter in his career.

The reason Stewart has succeeded with the bat is because he is aggressive at swinging at strikes because pitchers are giving him fastballs. Rather than trying to pull them, Stewart is content just to hit the ball hard somewhere and he has been finding holes.

The Yankees really don’t care what Stewart hits but they have to be pleased with what he has contributed in his limited play.

Stewart has also turned into the personal catcher of CC Sabathia, although Girardi refuses to call it that. The fact that Sabathia is 9-3 with a 3.45 ERA and was selected to the 2012 American League All-Star team indicates Stewart is doing something right.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

If fans are thinking Cervelli is coming back, think again. Stewart will remain the backup the rest of the season, barring injury.

Cervelli, 26, is hitting .244 at Scranton with two home runs and 27 RBIs. The pitching staff at Scranton must be giving him fits because he has committed only three errors but has 13 passed balls in 60 starts behind the plate.

He is nabbing base-runners at a 26 percent rate.

The Yankees have said that if anything were to happen to Martin, Cervelli would be recalled and would be inserted into the lineup as the starting catcher. Hopefully, that will not be necessary. But Cervelli likely would be called up on Sept. 1 when the rosters expand to give the Yankees some depth at the position.

Sanchez, 19, is hitting .299 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 67 games for Class-A Charleston (SC) in the Carolina League.

Murphy, 21, is hitting .257 with five home runs and 28 RBIs in High Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

With Martin struggling at the plate, Montero gone, Cervelli in the minors and Romine shelved with a back injury this position suddenly looks a lot weaker than it did at the end of the 2011 season. The only saving grace appears that Sanchez appears to be for real as the catcher of the future. Unless Martin turns it around at the plate he is going to be let go after this season. So he certainly has the incentive to get better. Defensively, the Yankees are in good hands with Martin and Stewart and they have a legitimate major-league catcher in Cervelli in the wings. But Yankee fans can be forgiven for missing the offense Posada provided in his prime. The team is missing that now.

 

Yankees ‘Martinize’ Mets In 9th For Bronx Sweep

GAME 59

YANKEES 5, METS 4

Amid all the chatter about the struggles of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez and talk about the team not hitting with runners in scoring position, Russell Martin was slumping worse than any of the Yankees and it was something he was suffering through silently.

He went to hitting coach Kevin Long and they worked on some adjustments and quietly they have been paying off since May 20. For the Yankees those adjustments looked golden on Sunday but for the Mets they were a source of some painful heartbreak.

Martin blasted a huge two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to draw the Yankees to within a run of the Mets at 3-2. Two innings later, Martin led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a walk-off solo home run that gave the Yankees a home Subway Series sweep over the luckless crosstown Mets.

The Mets, who had led the game since the second inning 3-0, surrendered the lead in the bottom of the eighth but managed to tie it in the ninth by putting a run across off closer Rafael Soriano for his first blown save of the season.

So the Mets sent reliever Jon Rauch to the mound in the ninth and Martin managed to battle him into a 3-2 count. Rauch hung a slider and Martin deposited the mistake into the seats in left-field for his second homer of the game and his eighth of the season.

A sellout crowd of 49,010 at Yankee Stadium rose to its feet cheering as Martin headed around third toward a sea of pinstripes waiting at home plate to greet him. But Martin mistimed his leap and stumbled across home plate with the run that nonetheless gave the Yankees a huge leg up on their annual six-game home-and-away series with the rival Mets.

Boone Logan (1-0), who rescued Soriano from a first-and-third with one out jam in the top of the ninth by striking out pinch-hitter Josh Thole looking and retiring Kirk Nieuwenhuis on a hard-hit grounder Robinson Cano saved from rolling into right-field  to score the tie-breaking, got credit for the victory.

Rauch (3-6) was saddled with the loss.

The late-inning drama overshadowed a superb effort by Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese, who had shut out the Yankees through 6 2/3 innings only to be hurt by a throwing error by David Wright on a grounder off the bat of Andruw Jones. Three pitches later, Martin was able to shoot a lined shot to the right-field wall over the glove of a leaping Scott Hairston. The ball struck the padding of the top of the wall in right-field and was caught by a fan in the first row for a home run.

So Niese ended the day having given up two runs (neither earned) on seven hits and one walk and he struck out six batters.

Meanwhile, the Mets used a combination of well-placed hits, some questionable umpiring and an error to bat around in the second inning against Yankees starter Andy Pettitte.

Hairston led off the frame with a double to left-field. One out later, Vinny Rottino rolled a ground ball just past Jayson Nix at short to score Hairston to give the Mets an early 1-0 lead.

Pettitte then threw a 3-2 pitch to Omar Quintanilla that looked to be over the plate at the knees on the outside corner. However, home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski called it a ball. Then Mike Nickeas rolled a ball up the middle and Cano – in his haste to turn a double play – had the ball carom off his glove for an error that loaded the bases.

No. 9 hitter Jordany Valdespin, who entered play on Sunday hitting .133, then inside-outed a ball just past Teixeira at first to increase the Mets’ lead to 3-0.

Pettitte walked Andres Torres but got out of further trouble by striking out both Jason Bay and Wright swinging.

Pettitte recovered to pitch three scoreless innings but left the game after six innings because of a bruised pitching hand he sustained when he bare-handed a hard-hit one-hopper off the bat of Hairston to open the inning. Pettitte completed the inning but left the game to have some precautionary X-rays.

He gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks and he fanned eight.

The Yankees, meanwhile, down 3-2 in the eighth, preyed upon the departure of Niese, the weakness of the Mets’ bullpen and some more shoddy infield play.

Derek Jeter opened the inning against Mets reliever Bobby Parnell with a slow roller to Quintanilla at short. The ball rolled under his glove and into shallow center while Jeter legged it into second base with an infield single and an error. Curtis Granderson followed with a sharp single to right that advanced Jeter to third.

The Mets inexplicably decided not to deploy a shift on the lefty-swinging Teixeira and he made them pay by rolling a ball up the middle to score Jeter with the tying run and Granderson advanced to third.

Rodriguez then gave the Yankees their first lead of the day by blooping a well-placed single into shallow right-field just out of the reach of Valdespin to score Granderson.

However, the lead was short-lived when Lucas Duda greeted Soriano in the ninth with a double over the head of Granderson in center and slumping first baseman Ike Davis followed a double of his own to the wall in right-center.

After Quintanilla grounded into a fielder’s choice in which Nix deftly threw to third to nip a sliding, pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy singled to right and Soriano was replaced with Logan.

Logan’s escape from the one-out jam set the stage for Martin’s heroics in the bottom of the ninth.

The Yankee have now defeated the Mets in 52 of 87 contests in the Subway Series and it gave them their first home sweep of the series since 2003.

The Yankees are now 34-35 on the season and they remain a half-game back of the Rays in second place in the American League East. The Mets dropped to 32-29.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Martin served notice that his season-long slump is definitely over. Martin was 2-for-4 with the two home runs and three very important RBIs. As of May 20, Martin was hitting .168. Since that time, he is 15-for-47 (.319) with four home runs and 10 RBIs. He has raised his batting average to .216 and .222 is his season high.
  • Logan bailed out Soriano and the Yankees with some excellent clutch pitching in the ninth to retire Thole and Niewenhuis with the go-ahead runner at third and one out. Logan has not been scored upon since May 20, which spans 3 1/3 innings in his last eight appearances. He has been scored upon in only four of his 29 games this season and his season ERA is now 2.66.
  • Clutch eighth-inning singles by Teixeira and Rodriguez are welcome sights to Yankee fans after watching them largely fail in those situations in the first two months of the season. Rodriguez had an RBI in each of the three weekend games and he has six RBIs this month after driving in only eight runs in May. Teixeira had only 20 RBIs on May 22, since then he has 16 in his last 18 games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nick Swisher wins the “Bonehead Player of the Game” award handily. With two on and no outs in the second inning he took it upon himself to bunt to get the runners over despite the fact the Mets could have chose to walk Jones intentionally to pitch to Martin and Nix to get out of the jam. But he compounded that mistake by bunting the ball right to Niese, who threw Rodriguez out at third by a country mile. Swisher later grounded into a double play after Cano had singled in the seventh. Swisher was 0-for-4 in the game and his season average fell to .247.
  • Cano’s error in the second inning really hurt Pettitte and the Yankees. In what could have been at least a force play and at most a double play, the Yankees got nothing and Valdespin followed with his two-run double. A Gold Glove second baseman has to make that play. It was only Cano’s third error of the season but, boy, did it hurt.
  • Soriano was 9-for-9 in save opportunities until Sunday. The run he gave up was his first since a May 10 game at Yankee Stadium against the Rays. Soriano, who spent a portion of  2010 on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder, blew three saves in five opportunities last season.

BOMBER BANTER

X-rays on Pettitte’s left hand showed no damage but the hand was bandaged as a precaution. Pettitte said his hand was bruised and swollen but it would not prevent him from making his next scheduled start in Washington against the Nationals on Saturday.  . . .  Right-hander Freddy Garcia rejoined the team on Sunday after attending his grandfather’s funeral in Venezuela. He was activated from the bereavement list and reliever Ryota Igarashi was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

ON DECK

The Yankees will embark on a six-game road trip that starts in Atlanta with a three-game series that opens on Monday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (7-2, 5.09 ERA) will open the series on the hill for the Yankees. Nova limited the Rays to one run on four hits in eight-plus innings in what may have been his best major-league outing. Nova has never faced the Braves.

The Braves will start right-hander Randall Delgado (4-5, 4.26 ERA). In his last start, Delgado gave up one run on two hits over 6 1/3 innings against the Marlins. He walked one and set a career high with seven strikeouts. Delgado has never faced the Yankees.

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

 

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