Results tagged ‘ Larry Rothschild ’
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
IVAN NOVA (12-8, 5.02 ERA)
Entering the 2012 season it was not surprising that the Yankees believed they had something special in right-hander Ivan Nova. After all, Nova was nothing short of sensational in his rookie season, going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
Despite the fact he was demoted for a month in midseason, Nova came back and refused to lose another game for the rest of the season. At age 25, Nova seemed to have past fellow minor leaguers like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps and Hector Noesi and even was outshining older Yankee young pitchers like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.
However, Nova’s path to stardom took a long detour in 2012 and he enters 2013 with no guarantee he will even be able to keep his job as the team’s fifth starter.
Nova, now 26, struggled mightily in spring training last season, posting a 1-2 record with a 8.06 ERA in six starts and it did not get much better as the 2012 season unfolded.
In June, Nova posted a 3-0 mark with a 1.26 ERA. But in the other five months his ERAs were: 5.18 in April, 5.87 in May, 5.97 in July, 7.03 in August and 6.23 in September. Nova was so bad that manager Joe Girardi took him out of the rotation entirely in September and inserted the rookie right-hander Phelps in his place.
Command of Nova’s pitches was his undoing in 2012.
At times Nova’s curve would desert him and at other times it was his normally electric slider. On occasion he could not throw either for strikes. So Nova was forced to use his fastball when he was behind in the count and hitters took advantage by blasting him for 28 home runs in just 170 1/3 innings (a home run every 6.1 innings).
For Nova it was a stunning reversal and the doubts about his ability to rebound are swirling even before he reports to spring camp in Tampa, FL. Phelps, 26, who was 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts) last season, is coming into the spring with the expressed intent of taking Nova’s job away from him.
Competition is a healthy thing but Nova has never shied away from it since he came up as cocky youngster at the tail end of the 2011 season and posted 1-2 record with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts.
Truth be told, Nova – scouts will tell you – may actually have the best stuff of any starter on the Yankees’ roster, including CC Sabathia.
Some in Nova’s camp point out that a number of rookie pitchers tend to regress a bit in their second seasons. Tampa Bay Rays rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson beat out Nova for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2011 by going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA.
Last season, Hellickson was below .500 with a 10-11 ledger.
The previous two A.L. Rookie of the Year winners were relievers Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010 and Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics in 2009 and neither have had smooth sailing in their years since. The last National League rookie starting pitcher to win the award was Dontrelle Willis of the then Florida Marlins in 2003 and how did his career turn out?
So Nova enters 2013 with some lingering doubts surrounding him but he also has a chance to return to his 2011 form. Spring training will be a pivotal time for him to prove the problems with his command are over and he can be trusted to pitch consistently every fifth day for the Yankees.
In addition, the Yankees would be foolish to give up on Nova so soon. Nova can be downright untouchable when he is on. Who can forget his heroic “relief” performance in the rain-delayed Game 1 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2011?
Nova throws a mid-90s fastball and compliments it with an excellent curve. When he was demoted in 2011 he added a devastating slider to the mix and he was unbeatable when he returned. He was the Yankees best pitcher this side of Sabathia.
That is probably why Nova’s 2012 travails were so baffling to Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Physically there was nothing wrong with Nova. But the command of his pitches seemed to elude him throughout the season.
The fact Nova turned in a 12-8 record was a testimony to his competitiveness, which has always been a hallmark for him. Nova is simply not afraid of hitters and he does not back down even when he is getting hit hard. Who can forget after Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays took him deep in his first September 2010 start that Nova buzzed Bautista inside his next time up?
Nope, fear is not in Nova’s lexicon.
That just might serve him well when he battles Phelps for the fifth starter job this spring. Nova ceratinly has to be better simply because it hard to believe he can be any worse than he was last season.
Nova also has a lot of things in his favor. He simply has better stuff than Phelps. His fastball is better and his breaking pitches have more bite. The question will simply come down to that command issue that plagued him.
Phelps is not exactly a marginal starter just trying to hang onto a major-league job either.
After four seasons in the minors in which Phelps was 38-15 and the highest ERA he recorded was the 2.99 mark he posted in 2011, Phelps entered the 2012 season behind Nova, Banuelos, Betances, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell despite the fact he was named the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in 2011.
The ex-Notre Dame star was 0-1 with a sparkling 2.08 ERA in seven appearances last spring, which earned him a surprise spot on the roster in the bullpen.
Phelps immediately impressed Girardi with his ability to attack the strike zone when he was called into games. Though Phelps is considered to have a rather pedestrian assortment of pitches, he proved early on that he was still able to get major-league hitters out using nearly pinpoint control.
He struck out 96 batters in 99 2/3 innings last season and Girardi had no qualms about using him as a spot starter, including his stint replacing Nova in late September.
So if Nova thinks that Phelps is just going to cede that No. 5 spot to him he is in for a big surprise. Phelps has always dealt with scouts doubting his abilities to pitch in the major leagues. That has fueled Phelps and he would love nothing more than to prove those scouts wrong.
The fact that the No. 5 spot comes down to two young right-handers who both came out of the Yankees’ farm system is also a testament to the efforts general manager Brian Cashman has made to invest heavily in scouting, signing the best pitchers he can find and keeping them rather them trading them to other teams.
Teams in the current era have been trying to develop the best young pitching they can find and they try to sign the best of them to long-term deals to retain them up to their 30s. That is why you do not see many young quality pitchers become free agents anymore.
So unless the Yankees either trade for a young pitcher like Michael Pineda or develop a Nova and/or Phelps they are going to have a tough time fielding a pitching staff going forward.
Cashman planned ahead and now Nova and Phelps could both play a big role toward making the Yankees’ 2013 a successful one.
Whoever wins the job will mean the loser more than likely will become the long reliever and spot starter for the team. Nova has much less experience in the bullpen and his command issues could get him sent out to Triple A early of he fails to throw strikes out of the bullpen.
But the smart money is that Nova will keep his role and Phelps will resume his in the bullpen.
Nova has come too far in the Yankees’ minor-league system to let this opportunity slip away from him. Of course, Phelps won’t back down either.
So that means that watching these two compete this spring will be the most fun to watch this spring.
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
PHIL HUGHES (16-13, 4.19 ERA)
If you were casting a James Bond movie would you select Owen Wilson for the role? If you were casting a new dramatic Broadway play would you cast Zach Rogan?
Of course, the answer would be no to both. Yet the Yankees still insist on miscasting Phil Hughes as a starting pitcher.
They can point to his two full seasons as a starter in which he is a collective 34-21 with a 4.20 ERA. Considering the fact Hughes came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system as a highly touted starter, why shouldn’t he be a starter?
The reason he shouldn’t is not because of what Hughes has accomplished. It has more to do what he has failed to accomplish that limits his ceiling as a quality starter.
Hughes, 26, is basically a two-pitch starter: Fastball and curve. Efforts to add a cutter and a change-up have been met with mixed results. There is no doubt that with good run support he can remain a successful starter. But think back to a time when Hughes had his best success with the Yankees.
That was in 2009 when Hughes was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a fill-in starter and then, out of necessity, was shifted to the bullpen. Hughes’ two-pitch assortment was perfect for the bullpen and his fastball got some added zip during his short stints. Gradually manager Joe Girardi shifted him into the setup role in front of Mariano Rivera.
Hughes was simply sensational. His ERA, his WHIP and his strikeout rate were all better than Rivera’s in 2009 and Hughes became a major reason why the Yankees won their 27th world championship that season.
There is one huge reason why Hughes has not pitched out of the bullpen since and it has nothing to do with Hughes. It has to do with the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make it as a starting pitcher. Once the Yankees determined that Chamberlain was not suited to start they were not about to do the same with Hughes.
The Yankees did not want to suffer the indignity of having both of their prized homegrown youngsters in the bullpen. Besides, the bullpen has been crowded with hard throwers behind Rivera and Chamberlain like Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.
So Hughes became a starter in 2010 and he had so much initial success (he sported an 11-2 record at the All-Star break and he made the American League All-Star team) that those minor-league scout comparisons to Roger Clemens did not seem so farfetched anymore.
But after the break, the league caught up to him and he was a very pedestrian 7-6 the rest of the way.
High hopes for him in 2011 were very quickly dashed when he showed up to spring training with a noticeable drop in velocity. After getting blasted early and often in April, the Yankees placed him on the disabled list with weakness in his right shoulder. Though Hughes did return late that season, his 5-5 record and 5.79 ERA cast a lot of doubt on his future.
But Hughes worked his way back last season and he did pitch well enough to tie with Hiroki Kuroda for the team lead in victories with 16. Hughes also matched his season ERA of 4.19 in 2010. So not all the numbers were bad or disastrous.
There are still some numbers Hughes with which he can’t be pleased.
Hughes was vulnerable to the longball as the 35 home runs he surrendered in 191 1/3 innings pitched indicate. That was a home run given up every 5 1/2 innings.
Consistency has also been a problem. Hughes started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA before he rebounded to go 8-2 with a 3.34 from May 6 through July 1. From July 1 on, Hughes was pretty mediocre, going 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA the rest of the way.
Pitch count has also been problem for Hughes. In 14 of his 32 starts Hughes failed to pitch at least six innings. That was mostly due to elevated pitch counts coming from batters repeatedly fouling off pitch after pitch. Hughes basically succumbed in a lot of games due to just the attrition of pitches.
Another pitch in his arsenal would help Hughes with this problem but it appears that it is unlikely Hughes will be able to develop a major-league quality third pitch at this stage of his career.
So the Yankees are committed to Hughes as a starter but they are gong to have to accept his limitations. Absent another weapon what you currently see with Hughes is pretty much what you are going to get.
Though the top three pitchers on the staff (Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) might be able to adapt to getting a bit less in run support, Hughes might be severely harmed by the loss in power the Yankees suffered when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones signed with other teams in the offseason.
But with Chamberlain still in the bullpen, along with Robertson and Rivera, the fact that the Yankees top young pitchers such as Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are a long way away from being able to step into the starting rotation, Hughes will be forced to remain a starter this season.
How he fares may come down to his ability to adjust and adapt. At age 26 there is still time for him to improve. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild could be very valuable in putting the final pieces to the Hughes puzzle in place.
However, there is faction of Yankee fans who want Hughes to be traded for some young prospects. That would not seem to make much sense given the plight of Pineda, Banuelos and Betances and the fact that Ivan Nova has his own issues to deal with this spring.
It just seems to be a fact that Hughes is locked in as the team’s No. 4 starter and the Yankees can take comfort in the fact that they could do worse than have a pitcher who has won 34 games in his first two full-time seasons as a starter.
Hughes is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of the Yankees’ staff. He gets little respect for what he has done and he has taken far too much of the blame for what he has failed to accomplish.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander from southern California signed a one-year contract worth $7.15 million last week to avoid arbitration so Hughes can now concentrate on the task of getting ready for the 2013 season.
The Yankees are just hoping that the unusual amount of patience they have accorded a young pitcher in their system like Hughes is rewarded with a huge breakout season. But realistically, the Yankees should be happy if Hughes is healthy for a full season and ends 2013 above .500 in winning percentage.
Those are pretty achievable goals.
Perhaps someday Hughes might get a chance to replace Rivera as the team’s closer. But for now he will just have to continue to play the role he has been given – no matter how miscast he seems to be.
NEXT: IVAN NOVA
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
HIROKI KURODA (16-11, 3.32 ERA)
When the Yankees decided to sign right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract there were a lot of naysayers voicing a litany of concerns about the 37-year-old right-hander.
After all, in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kuroda was 41-46 and only posted one season above .500 in victories – an injury-plagued 2009 season when he was 8-7 in just 20 starts. Though he posted excellent ERAs in those four saesons (3.73, 3.376, 3.39 and 3.07) the conventional wisdom was coming over from the National League to the designated hitter in the American League would see his ERA explode.
The skeptics also pointed out that Kuroda would struggle in the competitive A.L. East.
You won’t hear those arguments anymore. Kuroda silenced his critics with his best season since he left Japan in 2008. He was absolutely brilliant from mid-May through August. Even though his ERA took a big hit in September he finished the season after Sept. 1 with a 4-1 record.
Y0u could even make a case that Kuroda’s season was better than CC Sabathia’s because Kuroda was healthy throughout and he even was more consistent than the Yankees’ left-handed ace.
Kuroda ended up setting carer major-league highs in victories, innings pitched and strikeouts. Kuroda emerged as the team’s No. 2 starter and he earned it by pitching deep into games and baffling hitters with a wide assortment of breaking pitches that offset his 90-mph plus fastball.
After getting blasted early and often in the first month, Kuroda made some adjustments and then never looked back. It was really no surprise when general manager Brian Cashman decided to sign Kuroda for another one-year deal but this time for $15 million.
Kuroda certainly earned the raise.
The veteran from Osaka, Japan made two starts in the playoffs for the Yankees and both were brilliant. However, Kuroda did not get any run support in either start and was 0-1 despite a sparkling 2.81 ERA.
In the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Kuroda gave up just two runs on five hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings but did not earn a decision. Then he gave up three runs on five hits and no walks and struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series but lost because the Yankees did not score him a single run.
There are higher hopes for 2013, which is why Kuroda elected to re-sign with the Yankees.
“I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me,” Kuroda said when he signed. “It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season.”
This season does figure to be a battle for the Yankees because the teams in the A.L. East appear to be stronger while the Yankees lost a lot of offensive firepower when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones left the team as free agents, taking 94 home runs with them.
Kuroda will have to adjust to a less explosive team that might score a lot fewer runs. Of course, that is not unlike Kuroda’s seasons with the Dodgers when he received very poor run support and was a major reason why his season records there were below .500.
Kuroda gradually earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild by limiting his pitch counts so he could last deeper into games. With a bullpen that was missing Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberalain for most of the season, Kuroda’s stamina in games was very much welcome.
Kuroda also won over skeptical Yankee fans, who were absolutely stunned a National League pitcher could have success with the Yankees after the team had suffered through the likes of Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano in previous seasons.
Kuroda will have to adjust this season without his favorite catcher in Martin. Martin, who caught Kuroda in his first three seasons with the Dodgers, elected to take his shin guards and his bat to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But that issue does not seem to be too great because both Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli have caught Kuroda since he became a Yankee.
The only real obstacle may be for Kuroda to stay on the mound long enough to allow the Yankees to get a lead for him in the late innings. With less firepower it also figures the Yankees will be in a lot of close games. That could mean a lot more no decisions for Kuroda.
Though Yankee fans would prefer to see a rotation made up of young hard-throwing starters, Kuroda allows the Yankees to buy time to let their young pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps to develop and also allows Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to rebound from injuries and ineffectiveness.
That is not a bad tradeoff if Kuroda can duplicate his 2012 season. The Yankees will just be hoping for anything close to what he produced for them last season.
One thing is certain: With Kuroda pundits can no longer say the Yankees’ rotation is Sabathia and four other guys. Kuroda is just that good.
NEXT: ANDY PETTITTE
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series that begins now.
CC SABATHIA (15-6, 3.38 ERA)
When the Yankees signed CC Sabathia in 2009 it was the purpose of establishing him the team’s ace. After four seasons in pinstripes there is no doubt that Sabathia has lived up to the obligation that went along with it.
In those four seasons, Sabathia has started 129 games and his cumulative record is 74-29, a .718 winning percentage. He also posted a 7-2 record in the postseason for the Yankees and he was a huge part of the Yankees’ 27th world championship in 2009.
He enters the 2013 season as the team’s unquestioned ace. But there are concerns.
The 6-foot-7, 290-pound left-hander at age 32 is entering a phase of his career where his physical conditioning and the soundness of his arm are paramount concerns.
Sabathia succumbed late last season to a groin injury and elbow soreness. That limited him to 200 innings after he had logged more than 230 innings in his three previous seasons.
Though Sabathia pitched the Yankees into the American League Championship Series by defeating the Baltimore Orioles twice in his two starts in the American League Division Series, he did not fare well in his only start against the Tigers. He gave up six runs (five earned) on 11 hits and two walks in just 3 2/3 innings as the Yankees were swept in the series.
Sabathia underwent surgery Oct. 26 to have a bone spur removed from his left elbow. The procedure was successful and Sabathia is expected to have no problems starting the season with the Yankees.
But manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild plan to be very cautious with their ace in spring training.
Sabathia has resumed throwing after rehabbing three days a week at Yankee Stadium and two days a week in New York City after the surgery. Sabathia says he is feeling fine: “My flexibility is coming back. Hopefully, there are no delays between now and spring training, so I should be ready to go.”
The major concern with Sabathia has always been his girth. His weight has been a cause for alarm with the Yankees in the past. Added weight puts more strain on the knees and the groin and could have the effect causing arm problems as a player gets older.
So the Yankees will have to keep a close eye on Sabathia’s recovery from the elbow surgery, his weight and his conditioning heading into 2013. They will hope their veteran ace will have no setbacks and he can return to being the anchor of the Yankees’ rotation.
Of course, if you had asked general manager Brian Cashman in 2009 he would have hoped that the signing of Sabathia would had given the Yankees an opportunity to develop starting pitchers in their own system who could either augment Sabathia or even challenge him to be the team’s ace.
That process was started but not without some setbacks.
Phil Hughes, 26, showed a lot of promise as a setup man for Mariano Rivera in 2009 and as a starter in 2010. But right shoulder weakness in 2011 short-circuited his advancement. He was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA last season but the Yankees no longer see him as a potential ace.
Ivan Nova, 26, was awesome in 2011 as a rookie when he was 16-4 and a 3.70 ERA but he regressed badly in 2012 (12-8 with a 5.02 ERA). He gave up 28 home runs in 170 1/3 innings. There are no guarantees he will be able to hold onto his spot in the rotation this spring.
David Phelps, 26, emerged last season as a potential starter, going 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in a combination bullpen and spot starter role. Phelps will be competing with Nova for a spot this spring.
But the real disappointment has been the shoulder injury suffered by newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda, 24, and the concerns about the team’s two top pitching prospects Manny Banuelos,21, and Dellin Betances, 24.
Pineda underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and he hopes to be ready for spring training. But the Yankees are going to be very cautious with him. It seems likely Pineda will end up in extended spring training and the Yankees will evaluate his progress before sending him out for a minor-league rehab assignment. Pineda probably will not contribute to the Yankees until 2014.
Banuelos was the team’s No.1 prospect last season but he injured his left elbow at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. After the Yankees downplayed the injury for months, Banuelos ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery and he will not pitch at all this season.
Betances struggled at Scranton with his command and was so bad he was shipped back to Double-A Trenton. He was not much better there. Betances has had issues at 6-foot-8 with repeating his delivery and his wildness has left his former prospect status in question entering 2013.
The disappointments have left Cashman no choice but to sign veterans like 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte to fill out a rotation that Cashman hoped would be much, much younger and filled with some talented hard-throwing youngsters.
While the Yankees continue to watch the progress of Hughes, Nova and Phelps and they pray for rebounds from Pineda, Banuelos and Betances, Sabathia remains the unquestioned king of the Yankee starters.
Based on his past success, there is no reason to doubt that if Sabathia is healthy and remains that way throughout the season, Sabathia will be successful. Sabathia is far from the young flamethrower he started out as with the Cleveland Indians in his rookie season in 2001.
Sabathia is much smarter now and has an wide assortment of pitches to get hitters out. He also has the uncanny ability to adjust his game plan on the fly to drop a pitch that is not working for one that will. He battles from the opening bell and he takes great pride in aiming to finish every game he starts.
That is one reason why the Yankees had no qualms about avoiding Sabathia opting out of his contract last season and they signed him to a $25 million contract extension through 2016 with a vesting option of another $25 million for 2017 if he remains healthy.
So the Yankees could have Sabathia in their rotation for five more years. Hopefully, by that time the Yankees will have surrounded him with a bevy of talented homegrown starters they brought up through their system. For Cashman it is all about continuing to buy time until that day comes.
Sabathia is a nice investment in the Yankees’ future. Though he paid amazing dividends so far, 2013 figures to be more of a challenge. The reason is the offense, particularly the team’s power, took a major hit when players who accounted for 94 of team’s home runs left as free agents.
That means the home run will not be as prominent weapon and the pitching staff is perhaps going to have to deal with a bit fewer runs in offensive support. Sabathia’s highest ERA with the Yankees was the 3.38 ERA he posted last season. That compares to his 3.37 ERA in his first season with the team.
So if there is any pitcher who can deal with fewer runs it would appear to be Sabathia. He is just going to have to limit the other team as much as he can and perhaps accept a few more no decisions.
The Yankees are lucky the big left-hander is just the competitive starter the team needs at the top of the rotation. As long as Sabathia is healthy he will give the team his best.
And his best is just about as good as it gets.
NEXT: HIROKI KURODA
PART 2: THE BULLPEN:
The Yankees figured to have a strong bullpen as they entered the 2012 season. Perhaps the best in baseball.
Of course, having the best closer baseball has ever seen and will see in Mariano Rivera was a large part of that strength. However, in 2012 Rivera was not a big part of the team’s success.
Everybody remembers that day at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City last May when “Mo” tried to shag a ball he should not have and tore his MCL in his left knee. He later had surgery and missed the rest of the season.
But the Yankee bullpen was rescued by a fluke signing of Rafael Soriano in 2011 over the objections of general manager Brian Cashman. Nonetheless, the Yankee brass overruled Cashman and signed the former Tampa Bay Rays closer coming off a 2010 season in which he saved 45 games and a had a 1.73 ERA.
That deal looked wasted in 2011 when Soriano pitched in mediocrity and then injured his elbow before finishing with just two saves and a 4.12 ERA. He was baseball’s most expensive seventh inning pitcher in history.
In 2012, he saved the bullpen by stepping in for Rivera and notching 42 saves in 46 opportunities with a sparkling 2.26 ERA. Many thought that with Rivera gone that the Yankees would sink in the American League East. But Soriano proved them wrong.
It is no wonder that Soriano elected to opt out of his contract and seek a closer’s role of his own as a free agent. The Yankees might have panicked to find a suitable closer for 2013 had Rivera not decided to come back for one last hurrah.
Indications are Rivera will be ready to go when spring camps open in February. Rivera, 43, was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA and five saves in six chances when he went down in 2012. In 2011, he was 1-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 44 saves in 49 opportunities. So as long as Rivera’s knee is sound, the Yankees will have no worries about their closer in 2013.
With Soriano gone, it would seem to be an issue if the Yankees did not have David Robertson, who was an American League All-Star selection in 2011 with a 4-0 record and 1.08 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. In 2012, Robertson got off to a slow start with a ankle injury suffered in spring training.
He later had to be placed on the disabled list at midseason in May with an oblique strain. He simply was not the same pitcher early in the season as he was in 2011. But in the second half, Robertson flashed his old form. After a brief and unsuccessful trial as a closer he was shifted back to his eighth inning role and he flourished again.
He was 2-7 with a 2.67 ERA but he was finally his old self by late August and for the September stretch run. At age 27, Robertson becomes a very valuable pitcher for the Yankees with the departure of Soriano. Robertson will also have to adapt to close on days Rivera is unable to pitch. The Yankees do not seem worried about it though.
Behind these two hard-throwing relievers, the Yankees will seek to build another strong bullpen with a pair of similarly hard-throwing veterans in right-hander Joba Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan.
Chamberlain, 27, missed most of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He missed the start of the 2012 season after suffering a break of his right ankle in a trampoline accident in Tampa, FL. He was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over 22 appearances late in the season.
He returns in 2013 without injury and seeking to regain the consistency he enjoyed in 2011 when he was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA before he injured his elbow. If he does the Yankees will not miss Soriano at all. Chamberlain figures to be the logical choice to pitch most in the seventh inning. If he measures up to the challenge the Yankees’ bullpen will again be very strong.
Logan, 28, has been the unsung hero of this bullpen for a long time.
Sure he can be erratic at times. But he also has now put together three very good seasons with the Yankees. Miscast as a lefty specialist for two seasons, he was able to step out of that role in 2012 and post a pretty good season.
He was 7-2 with a 3.74 ERA and held opponents to a .234 batting average. The elevated ERA was largely due to the fact that he was pressed into service more than he had in the past and the additional innings caught up to him. He pitched in a league-high 80 games and manager Joe Girardi would like to cut that down to a more realistic 60 to 65 in 2013.
But with Chamberlain, Robertson and Rivera on the disabled list at one point last season, Logan pitched in a lot of games he would not have pitched in normally. A healthy bullpen should make him more effective as well as additional man to pitch in the seventh inning.
Girardi was able to cobble together a pair of specialists out of left-hander Clay Rapada and right-hander Cody Eppley and he was very pleased with the results he got from them.
Rapada, 31, was 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA. But against lefties he was plain nasty. They hit just .186 off him and he looks to have an inside track on keeping that role in 2013.
Eppley, who was picked up off waivers from the Texas Rangers early in 2012, turned into an effective pitcher against right-handers. He had a 1.93 ERA against righties and they hit just .227 against him. The 27-year-old veteran was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA overall and he earned Girardi’s trust as the season progressed.
Depth in 2013 does not look to be an issue. There are a number of candidates to challenge for spots in 2013.
David Phelps, 26, is thought of primarily as a starter based on his success in the minor leagues. But he could settle into a long reliever/spot starter in 2013, the role he largely held in his rookie season as he compiled a 4-4 mark with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts).
Phelps will get a chance to crack the 2013 starting rotation in the spring but he only likely will have a chance if there is an injury or Ivan Nova continues to pitch poorly. Long relief looks to be a good bet or he could be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to keep him stretched out as a starter as an insurance policy on what is a veteran starting rotation.
The Yankees signed free-agent right-hander David Aardsma last season even though they knew he was recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Aardsma, 30, saved 38 games in 2009 and 31 games in 2010 for the Seattle Mariners before he injured his elbow.
He pitched in only one game for the Yankees late last season but the Yankees saw enough renew his contract option for 2013. So Aardsma could very well win a spot in the Yankees bullpen this spring if he regains his hard-throwing dominant arsenal. Aardsma could be helpful both in the middle innings or as a late-inning option for Robertson and Rivera when they are unavailable to pitch.
The Yankees also have a veteran right-hander in Jim Miller, 30, who was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 33 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season. Miller oddly is tougher on lefties than he is on righties. Lefties hit just .136 off him in 2012 while righties solved him to the tune of .283. The Yankees will see how he fits in this spring.
Cesar Cabral, a 2012 Rule 5 draft acquisition, spent the entire season on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left elbow as he was competing for the lefty specialist role with Rapada last spring. After compiling a 3-4 record and a 2.95 ERA in the minors 2011 with 70 strikeouts in 55 innings, Cabral will get a chance to display his power stuff this spring with a chance of supplanting Rapada or earning a spot as a third lefty in the bullpen. Cabral is only 23 and he has a high ceiling as a reliever.
The Yankees do have some interesting young reliever candidates in their minor-league system but most of them have to be considered as longshots to make the 2013 roster.
Chase Whitley, 23, was 9-5 with a 3.25 ERA at Scranton and the right-hander compiled a 1.07 WHIP in 80 1/3 innings over 41 games. The Yankees like his competitiveness though he does not appear to have closer stuff.
Right-hander Preston Claiborne, 24, pitched impressively enough at Double-A Trenton (2-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 30 games) to earn a promotion to Scranton, but he may need some more work. He was 4-0 with a 4.05 ERA in 20 games there. But the Yankees still like the tall Texan and he does have strikeout stuff (78 punchouts in 82 innings).
The most impressive young pitcher the Yankees have in the minors is 22-year-old right-hander Mark Montgomery. Montgomery began 2012 with the High-A Tampa Yankees, where he was 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA. He also struck out an unbelievable 61 batters in 40 1/3 innings.
He carried that power stuff to Trenton, where he was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 15 games. He saved 15 games overall in 2012 and to say that Montgomery figures to be a long-range prospect as a future major-league closer would be putting it mildly. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he may not seem like your typical closer. But neither was Robertson and look where he is now.
Montgomery’s progesss is worth watching in 2013.
The Yankees 2013 bullpen prospects, much like their starting staff, appears to be in pretty good shape and fairly set. I do not expect Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to be begging Cashman for additional help here. Soriano walked out but with Rivera back for one last season and depth at the back end the Yankees’ bullpen should remain one of its strengths.
Girardi has been a master at building a bullpen and utilizing it in a proper way. Other than Logan, no one was really overused in 2012 and that should be the trend again in 2013.
Not many teams can boast a bullpen this good and this deep.
NEXT: STARTING LINEUP
YANKEES 8, RANGERS 2
Ryan Dempster was navigating carefully through the New York Yankees’ lineup and he opted to walk Derek Jeter to load the bases with one out in the third inning. But Nick Swisher and a hanging slider proved to be his undoing on Monday.
Swisher’s sixth career grand slam and the 200th home run of his career was all part of a five-run inning and Swisher ended up driving in five runs as New York pounded Texas in the opener of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium between the two American League teams with the best records.
Dempster (6-6) began the third with a 2-0 lead, having retired the first six batters he faced. But, Russell Martin led off by lacing a sharp single to right and Raul Ibanez followed with another hard-hit lined single to right.
Ichiro Suzuki then laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Martin and Ibanez.
On a 2-2 pitch, Jeter smacked a split-finger fastball down the left-field line that just hooked foul. Dempster then opted to toss two pitches off the plate to walk Jeter as if he wanted to pitch around Jeter to look for a double-play ball off the bat of Swisher.
But Dempster hung a slider on a 1-0 delivery and Swisher blasted a mammoth shot into the second deck of the bleachers in right to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead on one swing. The crowd of 45,676 let out huge roar as a smiling Swisher rounded the bases.
Meanwhile, 25-year-old rookie right-hander David Phelps, pitching in place of the injured CC Sabathia, tossed a solid five innings to win his first major-league game as a starter.
Phelps (3-3) gave up a bloop two-out RBI single to Nelson Cruz in the first inning and a solo home run to David Murphy to lead of the second inning. However, he settled in and retired nine of the last 14 batters he faced. In addition, he picked off two Rangers base-runners.
Phelps gave up two runs on six hits and a walk while he struck out three in five innings in which he threw 51 of his 78 pitches for strikes.
Newly acquired 39-year-old right-hander Derek Lowe pitched four scoreless innings in his Yankees debut to pick up his first major-league save since he was a closer for the Boston Red Sox during the 2001 season.
The Yankees offense made only Dempster’s third A.L. start of his career a living nightmare.
After Swisher’s grand slam, the Yankees reloaded the bases in the third and Curtis Granderson lofted a deep fly ball in center to score another run.
Red-hot Eric Chavez, who entered the game 9-for-16 with two home runs and five RBIs in his last four games, swatted a monstrous solo home run of his own over the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center to lead off the sixth inning.
Jeter added an RBI double in the eighth, which chased Dempster, and Swisher ended his night with an RBI single to center off reliever Michael Kirkman to close out the scoring.
Dempster was tagged for eight runs on nine hits and two walks and he fanned four batters in six-plus innings.
The Rangers have lost nine of their last 13 games against the Yankees and are 23-45 against them during the regular season since 2004. They have lost nine of their last 10 regular-season games at Yankee Stadium.
With the victory, the Yankees have the best record in the American League at 68-47. They lead the second-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games in the American League East. The Rangers are now 67-47.
- Swisher was 2-for-4 with home run and five RBIs on the night. It was his 15th homer of the season as well as the 200th of his career. In his last seven games, Swisher is 11-for-30 (.367) with a home run and seven RBIs. The hot streak has raised Swisher’s season average to .264.
- Phelps faced what is arguably the best hitting team in the league and pitched exceptionally. Despite throwing 26 pitches in the first inning, Phelps was able to pitch the longest outing of his career in his fourth major-league start. The rookie is 3-3 with a 2.53 ERA. He entered play having not been scored upon in his last seven relief appearances covering 10 2/3 innings. He had given up just three hits and a walk while striking out 14 in that span.
- Chavez hit his 13th home run of the season and he was 2-for-4 in the game. So Chavez is 11-for-20 (.550) with three home runs and five RBIs. Chavez did not play at all in the road series against the Blue Jays because the team faced three left-handers and Chavez was also unable to play due to back stiffness.
- Lowe, 39, was released by the Cleveland Indians after a July 31 start in which he was blasted for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Royals in Kansas City. The Yankees officially signed him on Monday and he paid immediate dividends by throwing four innings of two-hit, no-run baseball in his debut. Lowe will slot in as a long reliever while Phelps pitches in place of Sabathia.
This was a game the Yankees were supposed to lose. Sabathia is on the disabled list and Phelps had not gotten past 4 2/3 innings in any of his previous starts. But the Yankees were able to put up eight runs on the Rangers and they coasted to a huge victory over a sure-fire playoff team. There is nothing negative to say.
When Lowe was signed and added to the roster the Yankees optioned right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Igarashi gave up three runs on three hits in two innings in Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays and he has no record an 18.00 ERA in his four appearances with the Yankees. . . . Mariano Rivera threw off flat ground on Monday at Yankee Stadium with pitching coach Larry Rothschild looking on. But manager Joe Girardi said there is 99.9 percent chance Rivera would not pitch for the Yankees this season. Rivera has been on the disabled list since May 3 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The Yankees will continue their four-game home series against the Rangers on Tuesday.
Hiroki Kuroda (10-8, 3.24 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up three runs on 10 hits and fanned five in 6 1/3 innings in a no-decision the Yankees rallied to win over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. Kuroda lost in a pitcher’s duel with fellow countryman Yu Darvish on April 24 and he is 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA against the Rangers lifetime.
The Rangers will counter with left-hander Matt Harrison (13-6, 3.31 ERA). Harrison gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings against the Red Sox in a no-decision on Wednesday. Harrison was tagged with five runs in 4 2/3 innings in his last start against the Yankees. He is 2-2 with a 4.76 ERA against them in his career.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by My9.
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.
RAFAEL SORIANO (2-0, 1.72 ERA, 19 SAVES)
DAVID ROBERTSON (0-3, 2.42 ERA)
BOONE LOGAN (3-0, 3.54 ERA)
CORY WADE (0-1, 5.79 ERA)
CLAY RAPADA (2-0, 3.00 ERA)
CODY EPPLEY (0-0, 2.53 ERA)
D.J. MITCHELL (0-0, 3.38 ERA)
The New York Yankees season could have very easily ended on May 3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was shagging balls during batting practice, as has been his custom his entire career, when his right knee buckled as he reached the warning track. Rivera went down in a heap and the Yankees lost the best closer in the history of the game for the rest of the season.
However, on May 22 the Yankees ran off a record of 28-11 and they moved from tied for last place in the American League East 5 1/2 games behind to first place in the division and five games ahead.
The starting pitching was a big reason why. The starters who struggled in April pitched better. But there was something else that kept the Yankees going without Mariano Rivera.
That something was Rafael Soriano.
Soriano, 32, was signed by the Yankees for $12 million a season over three seasons in the winter of 2011. Soriano had just come off a season in which he saved a league-leading 45 games in 48 chances with the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA.
But why pay so much for someone who would not close games?
General manager Brian Cashman quickly pointed out publicly the signing was not his idea and he disavowed it. But after the Yankees lost out in trying to sign left-hander Cliff Lee the front office figured that with Rivera, Soriano and David Robertson that the Yankees could shorten the game to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies.
On paper, it made sense. In practice, it did not work out entirely as planned.
Soriano was hit hard early and often at the start of the 2011 season. The fans quickly turned on him for his seeming uncaring attitude as he pitched worse and worse. Then he ended up on the disabled list for two months with soreness in his right elbow. The fans also do not like players drawing rich contracts while rehabbing injuries.
Soriano did come back and ultimately was given the seventh inning as Robertson owned the ninth and Rivera was king of the ninth. Soriano finished the 2011 season with a 2-3 mark and a gaudy 4.12 ERA. He saved two games and blew three others.
Soriano then surprised a lot of people by deciding not exercise his opt-out clause in his three-year deal. He was getting paid good money to pitch the seventh inning and he figured it was more advantageous for him to stay. As far as Yankee fans go, they may have enjoyed booing him, but Soriano saved the Yankees’ season by deciding to stay.
When Robertson failed in his first attempt to close for Rivera on May 9 against the Rays and then ended up on the disabled list for a month with a left oblique injury, Soriano was reborn as a closer. He is also proving to be very good at it.
Since he has taken over, Soriano has saved 19 games out of his 20 opportunities and erased the team’s fears they could not win without Mo.
The fans? They booed him unmercifully at Yankee Stadium when he blew his only save on June 10 against the Mets. Tough crowd.
Yankee fans should be hoisting this man up and celebrating him because Soriano will be a big component of the Yankees’ run in the playoffs. They certainly do miss Mo but they have to be thankful they have a replacement in Soriano who has saved 91 games out of 99 chances since the 2009 season. That is a 92 percent success rate.
The Yankees actually have other more pressing bullpen issues. They revolve around Robertson, who came off the 15-day disabled list on June 15.
In the 11 appearances Robertson, 27, has made beginning on June 15, he is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA. That is a far cry from the Robertson who made 13 appearances before May 9 and was unscored upon in his first 13 innings of the season with 23 strikeouts.
The Yankees need Robertson to settle back into his groove and just, well, be Robertson again. We will see how it unfolds after the All-Star break.
The injuries to Rivera and Robertson have meant that Boone Logan has pitched in more games and for more innings than he has been used since he was acquired by the Yankees in 2009. The most innings he ever pitched in pinstripes was the 41 2/3 innings he pitched last season in 64 appearances.
But because Logan is no longer the lefty specialist in the bullpen he is being used more often and for longer stretches. Logan, 27, has already thrown 29 2/3 innings and made 41 appearances.
The strain is beginning to show. Logan’s ERA for the first three months was excellent: He was 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA on June 30. But in July, Logan has been scored upon in all four of his appearances and, if anybody deserved an All-Star break it was Logan.
The hope is that Logan will bounce back in the second half and pitch like he did before June 30. The Yankees need Logan to be good in the seventh inning so the Yankees can use Robertson in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth. Logan will be a big key to the Yankees in the second half, no doubt.
Manager Joe Girardi has been praised, and rightfully so, for his ability to maximize a bullpen. This season he has proven what a skill it is.
The Yankees found a lefty specialist in side-armer Clay Rapada during spring training and Rapada has been excellent as getting left-handers out since the 2012 season began.
Rapada, 31, is holding left-handed hitters to a .150 average this season. Amazingly, Rapada is retiring right-handers also. They are hitting .227 off him. But Girardi has wisely tried to keep Rapada as a specialist as much as he can this season.
The Yankees also got lucky when the Texas Rangers waived 26-year-old side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley early in the season. The Yankees claimed him and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Recalled on April 20, Eppley has provided Girardi with a righty specialist to twin with Rapada.
The results have been very good. Eppley is holding right-handers to a .231 average. Much like Rapada with right-handers, Girardi must keep Eppley away from dangerous left-handed hitters. Overall, Eppley has done an excellent job and he and Rapada have strengthened what already was an excellent bullpen.
That can’t be said of Cory Wade, however.
Wade, 29, was picked up off waivers from the Rays in 2011 – much like Eppley was this season – and he put together a great season. Wade was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA last season and drew a lot of praise from Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
But 2012 has a been nightmare for Wade.
He compiled an ERA of 1.69 in April and an ERA of 2.92 in May. But in June, Wade hit the skids and he has not recovered.
Beginning on June 16, Wade gave up a home run to Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals in a game the Yankees won 5-3. Since then, Wade has given up 16 runs in his last 8 innings covering his last seven appearances. Wade’s ERA has ballooned to 6.48 and he has been sent back to Scranton to try and get his groove back.
The Yankees filled out their bullpen just before the break by calling up Triple-A starter D.J. Mitchell to be the long man in the bullpen now that Freddy Garcia is being used as a starter to replace the injured Andy Pettitte.
Mitchell, 25, has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA at Scranton in 14 starts but Mitchell may have more value as a reliever in the majors because he has the best sinking fastball in the organization.
The Yankees would like to use him in situations they might need a double play. But Mitchell is strictly a long man for now.
To replace Wade, the Yankees picked up veteran right-hander Chad Qualls off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Qualls, 33, is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over three games. That is certainly a step up from what the Yankees have been getting from Wade. We will see if he continue to pitch well in the second half.
Overall, this has been one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball this season despite the loss of Rivera.
Girardi was able to slide Soriano into the closer’s role and he has Robertson and Logan to pitch in setup roles. Plus he can mix and match with the righty-lefty combo of Eppley and Rapada. Wade is the only reliever who has been a major disappointment but Qualls was picked up to fill his role until Wade finds it again or not.
RIVERA: I (for Incomplete)
QUALLS: I (for Incomplete)
MITCHELL: I (for Incomplete)
DAVID PHELPS (1-1, 6.46 as a reliever)
RYOTA IGARASHI (0-0, 22.50 ERA)
David Phelps began the season in the bullpen as the long reliever and he actually pitched much better than his ERA indicates. He was shelled for three runs in back-to-back appearances against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox in late April.
But Phelps, 25, is more suited as a starter and is thought of that way by the organization. After two starts in place of Freddy Garcia in early May, Phelps was sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was activated on May 13. He stayed until June 2, when he was shipped to Double-A Trenton to get his arm in shape to become a starter.
However, before the process could be completed Pettitte was placed on the disabled list with a broken tibia in his right leg and CC Sabathia had to be shelved because of a groin injury.
Phelps was recalled and pitched out of the bullpen until he was pressed into a start against the Rays on the Fourth of July. Phelps struck out eight batters and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings in his best performance of the season.
Now Phelps has been sent back to Trenton to complete the process of building up his pitch count so he can start. It is unclear when Phelps might return to the Yankees or what role he will assume. My guess is we have seen the last of Phelps as a reliever, barring an injury.
Igarashi was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen on May 25 and pitched poorly in the two games in which he pitched. He was sent back to Scranton and was recalled again on June 8 and he gave one run in his one inning of work against his former Met teammates.
Igarashi, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and three saves at Scranton this season. He is there for depth purposes but the Yankees could do better. Igarashi does not appear to be the answer for the Yankees based on what he has done in three games.
PHELPS : I (for Incomplete)
IGARASHI: I (for Incomplete)
The Yankees have some veteran relievers at Scranton, including Igarashi.
Kevin Whelan 28, is the main closer and is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA and 12 saves.
Meanwhile, left-hander Juan Cedeno, 28, is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA and former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen is 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.
The most impressive young relievers the Yankees are developing are Preston Claiborne, 24, and Chase Whitley, 23.
Claiborme was just promoted to Scranton after going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and saving five games at Trenton.
Whitley is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 games in Scranton.
Both are right-handers.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+
There are whispers that Rivera is progressing well in his rehab after surgery on his right knee and that he might be able to pitch this season. That would be bad news to the teams in the A.L. East staring up out of a huge hole in which the Yankees have placed them.
Whether Rivera returns or not the Yankees have an exceptional bullpen that rarely coughs up leads late in the game.
Soriano has 19 saves after 81 games and he has been sensational as Rivera’s stand-in.
There are some concerns before the second half begins.
Both Robertson and Logan need recapture their early-season form. They both have a long enough track records in the majors that they should be able to rebound. Robertson just needs to regain command of the strike zone and Logan just needs rest after absorbing a huge workload in the first half.
Logan leads the American League in appearances and that is an aberration from what Girardi and Rothschild would like from him. But Rivera’s loss impacted Logan the most and he has been forced to pitch a lot of innings and it is catching up to him. Hopefully, the rest over the break rejuvenates his valuable left arm.
The Yankees also have to hope that Wade rediscovers his karma in the minors. Most of the karma he has been exhibiting on the mound these days is bad.
Rapada and Eppley have proved to very valuable specialists and they have been impressive in the first half. They just have to continue to do what they have been doing.
Qualls is a place-holder for Wade and Girardi seems to trust him.
Mitchell can be valuable as a long man but Girardi rarely calls on him. His sinker could have some value in the second half and he is the one reliever that can give Girardi a lot of innings out of the bullpen.
The biggest hope for the second half has nothing to do with any of the pitchers I mentioned.
The Yankees just sent Joba Chamberlain out on a minor-league rehab stint. Because Chamberlain, 26, is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severely displaced fractured right ankle, the Yankees were not really expecting much out of the big right-hander.
But if all goes well in his extended rehab stint, Chamberlain could return to the Yankees within a month. That would be a big boost to the Yankees and it should make Logan really smile.
Yankee fans may have forgotten that Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 games before injuring his elbow last season. If he can get back to that level, Chamberlain could a valuable piece to the bullpen in the sceond half and heading into the playoffs.
The Yankees also had high hopes for former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma in the second half. Aardsma, 30, was coming off Tommy John surgery himself last July and was making his final rehab appearances when he suffered a setback and had to be shut down.
Aardsma underwent some tests and is consulting Dr. James Andrews, who performed his surgery, about what his next step will be. But it looks doubtful Aardsma will be able to help the Yankees this season. That is a shame.
But the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been gong this season, they may not need him. The return of Chamberlain, however, could be a real big boost.
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.
CC SABATHIA (9-3, 3.45 ERA)
HIROKI KURODA (8-7, 3.17 ERA)
PHIL HUGHES (9-6, 4.29 ERA)
IVAN NOVA (9-3, 4.05 ERA)
ANDY PETTITTE (3-3, 3.22 ERA)
When the New York Yankees were assembling their starting pitchers for the 2012 season they decided to stay away from high-priced free agents like C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish and when they inquired about potential trades they stayed away from teams that were asking too much in return for pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza.
Their first order of business was make sure CC Sabathia was not going to opt out of his contract. He didn’t and the Yankees rewarded their ace with a very lucrative extension to the contract he signed in the winter of 2009.
With that accomplished they decided to offer a 2012 contract to Freddy Garcia, who impressed the Yankees by recording a 12-8 record and a 3.62 ERA in his first season in pinstripes.
They then bolstered their rotation even further by trading mega-prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in return from rookie sensation Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.
They then signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to one-year, $10 million contract.
The Yankees knew that they needed some additional starters to buy time for five young minor-league starters to develop. Trading for Pineda and signing Kuroda would allow the Yankees to continue the development of 21-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, 24-year-old right-hander Dellin Betances, 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren, 25-year-old right-hander D.J. Mitchell and 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps.
The Yankees hoped that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova would continue to develop after a season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and they were hopeful 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes had put his issues with weakness in his right shoulder behind him and was healthy for the 2012 season.
But, spring training proved to be a little more topsy-turvy than manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.
Pineda, 23, showed up in camp about 20 pounds overweight and as the spring unfolded he was not reaching the mid-90s velocity he exhibited in the first half of the 2011 season. Though publicly the Yankees were saying they were not concerned, privately they were wondering if they had made a terrible mistake in trading away a great prospect in Montero for sore-armed Pineda.
Late in spring training, Pineda came off the mound in a game in which he was shelled by the Phillies complaining of a sore right shoulder. An MRI indicated a partially torn labrum and Pineda would have surgery and miss the entire 2012 season. Oops!
That left the Yankees with five healthy pitchers for five slots. However, Andy Pettitte, who retired after the 2010 season, decided this spring that he wanted to make a comeback and the Yankees were more than willing to accommodate him. He stayed behind at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, to get in shape for a return sometime in early May.
Now the Yankees had six pitchers and five spots available. But Girardi was confident things would work out on their own. Little did he know that his rotation would end up in tatters in April.
In his four April starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA. Garcia’s fastball, which he used to be able to reach the low 90s with was topping out at about 86 miles per hour. That made him fodder for major-league hitters who were willing to wait for something in the strike zone to whack. And Garcia ended up taking some major whackings.
Hughes was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his four April starts and the Yankees possibly were thinking of either shifting him to the bullpen, sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or trading him altogether. It was as if the Yankees had finally reached a point with Hughes that they were willing to give up on him.
Nova was hit really hard in the spring and when the season started there was major concerns about his effectiveness. The funny thing was Nova was 3-0 in April but his ERA was 5.18. Ouch!
Kuroda was getting lit up also. American League East teams found his off-speed stuff worth teeing off on, but Kuroda mixed in a few impressive starts to record an inconsistent 2-3 mark with a 3.69 ERA.
Sabathia, meanwhile, was a lot like Nova. He was 3-0 but his ERA was elevated at 4.58. But, then again, Sabathia has been known to start slow and get hot as the weather warms. So there were no real concerns with him.
Pettitte, meanwhile, returned to the Yankees on May 13 for a start against the Mariners. Garcia was banished to the bullpen to make room for the 40-year-old left-hander.
The week after May 13 also seems to coincide with the resurgence of the pitching staff. Every starter seemed to pull things together and harness their stuff to begin a long winning streak. The starting pitching was strong enough to overcome what was an inconsistent offense that could only hit home runs and not hit with runners in scoring position.
Pettitte seemed to light a spark under Hughes and Nova. Kuroda seemed to make the adjustments he needed to make pitching in the American League for the first time and Sabathia got hot like the weather.
Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in his nine starts through June 27 when a hard-hit ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians struck Pettitte just above his left ankle and fractured his tibia. As a result, Pettitte will miss about two months. But the Yankees are hopeful he will be able to pitch down the stretch enough to be ready for the playoffs.
It is a shame but the staff that Pettitte inspired has really not missed a beat since he was placed on the disabled list.
Since May 25, Nova is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts. Since May 6, Hughes is 8-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Since May 27, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in eight starts.
Sabathia is 6-3 with a 2.89 since May 4. But Sabathia had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time since the 2007 season on June 25 due to a slight strain in his left groin. He missed two starts leading up the All-Star break but is expected to be activated on July 17 for a start at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In Pettitte’s place, the Yankees have discovered a starter with almost an equal ability to mix pitches and speeds to keep batters off balance. He is Garcia. Yep, that same Garcia that took thrashing in April.
The man who was abruptly banished to the bullpen found his old fastball velocity and the difference in his results on the mound have been like night and day.
In his two starts in place of Pettitte, Garcia is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA. The Yankees can certainly live with that until Pettitte returns sometime in late August.
Though the Yankees were criticized for not signing any high-priced free-agent pitchers or trading for some, the Yankees have been patient with what they have and it has paid dividends.
On May 21, the Yankees took a 6-0 walloping from the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium and it dropped their season record to 21-21, which found them tied for last place in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox. They trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games.
The Yankees reached the 81-game mark with a 4-3 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL, to improve their season record to 49-32. Their 28-11 surge since May 21 gave them a .718 winning percentage over that 39-game stretch and put them in first place in the division by 5 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.
The biggest reason the Yankees were able to surge into first place was the strength of their starting rotation, which not only held opponents hitters down but they also pitched deep into games. That ended up helping the bullpen shine in closing out games in the late innings because they were not needed as much as they were in April.
The combined record of the starters at the 81-game mark is 40-24. Their team ERA of 3.73 is fourth in the American League.
With the second half to go, Girardi and Rothschild have to keep this momentum from the starters going while preparing them for the playoffs. At this moment it appears that the Yankees will have a good chance to have four pitchers (Sabathia, Hughes, Nova and Kuroda) win 16 games or more. That would make the staff formidable come the playoffs.
Add to that the most successful starter in modern playoff history in Pettitte, than you have the makings of a strong group heading into the postseason.
PETTITTE: I (Incomplete)
GARCIA: I (Incomplete)
DAVID PHELPS (0-1, 2.08 ERA in 3 starts)
ADAM WARREN (0-0, 23.14 ERA in 1 start)
The Yankees dipped into their minor-league quintet of young starters at Triple-A to make some fill-in starts.
Phelps made two starts in early May in place of Garcia while the Yankees were still waiting for Pettitte to make his 2012 debut. Meanwhile, Warren and Phelps filled in one start apiece for Sabathia just before the All-Star break.
Phelps actually pitched quite well overall in his three starts and he shows some long-term promise as starter for the future. His only negative was that his pitch count got the better of him in all three starts and he was not able to complete five full innings in any one of them.
Earlier in the season, Phelps spent most of the season with the Yankees as a long man out the bullpen and he was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA overall in 41 1/3 innings over 15 appearances.
But after his start for the Yankees on the Fourth of July against the Rays, the Yankees sent him Double-A Trenton to stretch him out as a starter. So if anything should happen to any of the Yankees five current starters, Phelps would likely be first in line as a replacement.
Warren, however, had a disastrous major-league debut on June 29 at Yankee Stadium against the Chicago White Sox. As a result we are not likely to see Warren the rest of the season.
He is 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts at Scranton this season.
WARREN: I (Incomplete)
In addition to Phelps and Warren, the Yankees have also called up Mitchell and he is currently on the 25-man roster as a long reliever.
Mitchell is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell’s main calling card is his sinking fastball that allows him to induce a lot of groundball outs.
He was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA in 14 starts at Scranton this season. The Yankees still consider him a starter but he actually may have more value at the major-league level as a reliever. The Yankees liken him to former Yankee sinker specialist Ramiro Mendoza.
The two biggest jewels in the Yankees’ minor-league system are Banuelos and Betances. Banuelos entered 2012 as the No. 1 prospect and Betances was listed at No. 2. However, neither has distinguished himself at Scranton.
Banuelos was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts before being placed on the disabled list with a left elbow injury. Fortunately for the Yankees, an MRI showed no structural damage to the elbow, but the team is being extremely cautious with their top pitching prospect.
Betances, meanwhile, was 3-5 with an ugly 6.39 ERA at Triple-A in 16 starts before being demoted back to Double-A Trenton. He is 0-1 with an 0.75 ERA there in two starts.
Both pitchers have plus fastballs and they both project to top of the rotation starters in the major leagues. But they both share a problem with harnessing their stuff. Betances walked 69 batters in 74 2/3 innings at Scranton and Banuelos walked nearly five batters every nine innings last season.
The Yankees best pitcher at Triple-A is 39-year-old right-hander Ramon Ortiz. The Dominican is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 16 starts. Though at age 39 he would fit right in with the Yankees’ roster, Ortiz is with his 12th different organization and the Yankees likely would feel more comfortable using Phelps or Mitchell.
Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA last season and the Yankees were excited to get him as part of the deal that brought them Pineda.
Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings before also being shelved with an elbow injury. Like Banuelos, the Yankees are saying the injury is not serious, but Campos is in Tampa rehabbing at a slow pace.
The Yankees most successful minor-league pitcher this season is 22-year-old right-hander Brett Marshall, who is 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 starts with Double-A Trenton. Marshall is not a fireballer like Banuelos or Betances (he has just 61 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings).
After Tommy John surgery Marshall has found that the movement on his pitches is more important than velocity. He is on track to make it to the Yankees within the next two or three years.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B
The much-maligned Yankee rotation has been the biggest factor in the Yankees re-awakening after May 21 and their current comfortable lead in their division.
Veterans Sabathia and Kuroda have mixed well with young guns Hughes and Nova to make this one of the best rotations in baseball.
The addition of Pettitte boosted the staff in May and Kuroda, Hughes and Nova immediately started erasing Yankee fans memories about how awful they were in April. When Pettitte returns the Yankees will have the best No. 1 through No. 5 rotation in baseball.
In the meantime, Garcia has fixed his velocity problem an he appears to be pitching to his 2011 form based on his most recent two starts.
With Phelps in the wings it is doubtful the Yankees will make a trade-deadline move to get an additional starter.
Though I continue to see fellow bloggers and Yankee fans insist the Yankees should make an effort to trade for Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has maintained the Yankees are determined to cut payroll by 2014.
If the Yankees passed on Wilson, Darvish, Buerhle, Gonzalez and Garza before there is no reason to think they will add to the team’s payroll by trading for a high-priced starter at the end of the month. The Yankees think they can win with what they have and it is doubtful they will add anyone significant at the deadline.
Those dyed-in-the-wool Yankee lovers can start crying now. It just is not going to happen.
The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.
Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.
Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.
It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.
The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.
The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.
What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?
The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.
The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.
Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.
The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.
There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.
Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.
Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.
The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.
Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.
Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.
It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.
Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.
Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.
Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.
The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.
Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.
But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.
Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.
The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.
In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.
This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.
They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.
A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.
Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.
He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.
The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.
After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.
The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.
In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.
The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.
Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.
The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.
Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.
The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.
The enigma of the group has been Nova.
When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.
So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.
The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.
The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.
So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.
But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.
That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.
Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.
At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.
He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.
For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.
No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.
But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.
However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.
Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.
However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.
Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.
In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86). Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).
So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.
The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.
One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.
The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.
The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.
They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.
That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.
The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.
The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.
The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.
If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.
The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.
The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.
The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.
So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.