Results tagged ‘ Manny Banuelos ’

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Mets Sink CC, Yankees With Home Run Barrage

GAME 21

METS 7, YANKEES 0

The Mets hit three home runs off left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander Matt Harvey shut out the Yankees over 5 2/3 innings as the Bronx Bombers’ crosstown rival handed them an embarrassing loss at sold-out Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL.

Juan Lagares opened the bottom of the first inning with an inside-the-park home run. Lucas Duda added a two-out solo shot to right-center in the same inning. Two innings later, David Wright tagged Sabathia with a one-out, two-run blast to make it 4-0.

Sabathia (0-2), making only his second start of the spring, left in the third inning after having given up four runs on five hits and no walks and he struck out four batters.

However, Harvey (1-0) was impossible for the Yankees to solve. He yielded just two hits with no walks and fanned four in 5 2/3 innings to earn the victory.

Eric Campbell added to assault on the Yankees with a two-out solo homer in the ninth off left-hander Chasen Shreve.

With the loss, the Yankees’ spring record falls to 12-8.

FIELD FOCUS

From 2008 through 2010, right-hander Scott Baker was sitting atop the world with the Minnesota Twins.

During those three seasons, the right-hander was a combined 38-22 with a 4.11 and he was clearly the ace of the young Twins’ staff. But in 2011, Baker  –  sporting an 8-6 record and sparkling 3.14 ERA after 21 starts  –  had his season ended with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

He missed the entire 2012 season and Twins cut him loose, unsure about his future recovery and unwilling to pay him a multiyear deal.

So Baker has bounced around from the Chicago Cubs in 2013 to the Texas Rangers in 2014, making only 28 appearances in those two seasons. But the Yankees decided to take an chance on the 33-year-old veteran and they signed him to a minor-league contract on Jan. 30.

Baker was invited to spring training and he has a chance to earn $1.5 million if he makes the major-league roster. Baker was immediately thrown into the mix of potential starters for the spring but his importance grew larger when No. 5 starter Chris Capuano suffered a Grade 2 quad strain on March 11.

He may soon be paying a big dividend to the Yankees with what he did on Sunday.

Baker, making only his third appearance, entered the game in the fourth inning and promptly began mowing down the same Mets hitters that had no trouble hitting Sabathia and Shreve. He ended up being the highlight of the day for the Yankees.

Baker pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up just a scratch looping single to Travis d’Arnaud to leadoff the seventh inning. He walked none and fanned two in needing only 53 pitches (37 of them strikes) to retire 13 batters.

It gives manager Joe Girardi some pause before just handing the fifth starter spot to right-hander Adam Warren, who is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA. Warren has been battling with Baker along with right-handers Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell.

But Baker may have something to say about it.

After a rough start against the Houston Astros on March 7, Baker has been sensational. He has yielded just one run on three hits in 7 1/3 innings with no walks and five strikeouts.

If Sunday’s game is any indication, Baker may just be of some help to the Yankees in 2015. The question now is just a matter of when that will be.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • There were no positives. The Yankees might have been better off skipping the long bus ride from Tampa, FL, and just forfeited the game considering the fact they mustered no runs on three singles, hit into three double plays and their pitchers gave up four home runs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The party line on the Yankees is that Sabathia’s velocity is up to as high as 93. They also are saying that his right knee is healthy and that is the important thing. But after two outings Sabathia also has been hammered for six runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings and he is 0-2. “For him it’s just just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work,” Girardi told reporters. Fine. We will see if Girardi is saying that in May. We need to start seeing results. Results, period.
  • Girardi brought the starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley. Teixeira was 1-for-3 and even stole a base off Harvey. But the rest were a combined 0-for-8 with a walk for Headley. They also combined for three strikeouts. Granted, Harvey is a tough pitcher but the regulars are not getting it done with the bat this spring and it is very troubling.
  • The lefty Shreve, 24, came over with David Carpenter from the Atlanta Braves in the trade for left-hander Manny Banuelos and he has been touted as potential third left-hander in the bullpen. Girardi may want to revisit that idea because Shreve was lit up after there were two outs in the ninth inning for a solo home run by Campbell, a single by Kirk Niewenhuis and RBI double by light-hitting Ruben Tejada. In his past two outings, Shreve has given up five runs (four earned) on six hits in just 1 2/3 innings. Shreve may need some time refining his craft at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

BOMBER BANTER

On Thursday, Girardi elected to try infielder Jose Pirela in center-field in game against the Philadelphia Phillies. In the ninth inning, Pirela dropped a routine fly ball for a three-base error that allowed two additional runs to score in the inning. Girardi decided again on Sunday to try Pirela in center and he lasted one batter. Pirela, 25, failed to catch a fly ball off the bat of Lagares and ended up crashing into the wall. He sustained a concussion and had to be removed from the game. A CT scan and MRI conducted at Tradition Medical Center came back with no anomalies but Pirela will not be able to resume baseball activities until he completes the concussion protocol and it is unclear how long he will be out. Blame this on Girardi. Pirela has no business playing center.  . . .  Right-hander Dellin Betances threw a bullpen session in Tampa and told reporters that he will throw his first back-to-back outings of the spring on Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers and Wednesday against the Mets.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to play the Washington Nationals on Monday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.

Mitchell, 23, will get the start for the Yankees. He is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two appearances this spring.

Right-hander Doug Fister will pitch for the Nationals. He faced the Yankees earlier in the spring and pitched two shutout innings. He is 0-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts overall.

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

 

After Rally Yankees Fall To Phils In ‘Ruf’ Ending

GAME 18

PHILLIES 7, YANKEES 3

Darin Ruf broke up a 3-3 tie with a leadoff home run in the eighth inning and the Phillies added three more in the ninth as Philadelphia outlasted New York on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL

Ruf’s blast into the right-field bleachers came off right-hander Nick Goody (0-1). Left-hander Andy Oliver (2-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings and fanned four batters to pick up the victory. Right-hander Luis Garcia pitched a perfect ninth to notch his third save of the spring.

The Yankees trailed from the first inning until the bottom of the sixth when Didi Gregarious singled, Stephen Drew walked and Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI single up the middle off left-hander Joely Rodriguez.

The loss drops the Yankees to a 10-7 record in Grapefruit League play.

FIELD FOCUS

Ever since Robin$on Cano took his bat, ball and glove to the Pacific Northwest in an angry huff, second base has been sort of a mess for the Yankees.

General manager Brian Cashman tried to replace a Michelin tire with a well-worn B.F. Goodrich with a blowout patch on it in Brian Roberts last season.

The 37-year-old veteran batted .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 91 games until he was released on Aug. 1. The former All-Star who suffered through four previous seasons of injuries just had nothing left in the tank. He announced he was retiring on Oct. 18.

The Yankees shifted gears and dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox for Drew with the intention of making him a second baseman.

Drew played 46 games for the Yankees and ended up batting .150 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. To say that second base was a black hole for offense in 2014 would be putting it mildly.

It is also why there were raised eyebrows when Drew was offered a one-year, $5 million contract to stay with the Yankees and he was quickly named this spring by manager Joe Girardi as the team’s starting second baseman.

Eyebrows were raised even farther when Drew began spring training 1-for-13 (.077).

Since then Drew has picked up his offense and he is in the middle of a very encouraging hot streak. He was 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI against the Phillies on Thursday.

That means in his past three games, Drew is 3-for-7 (.429) with a home run and four RBIs. Even when he is making outs now they are loud outs to the outfield.

The Yankees would like for Drew to return to his form of 2013 when he batted .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs for the Red Sox. Those numbers for a second baseman with the Yankees would look great compared to what they got from the position last season.

Drew is just hopeful that he can continue his steady progression with the bat throughout the rest of the spring. He may not be a Michelin but he just might still have a decent amount tread life left at age 32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Considering the Yankees only managed four hits, the best thing you can say is that no one got injured. That is a positive, I guess.
  • Chase Headley continues to swing a red-hot bat. Headley cracked a solo home run with one out in the second inning off Phillies starter Aaron Harang. Although it seemed unwise last season for the Yankees to trade for a third baseman who was struggling with back issues, Headley seems to be over the back problems and he seems primed for a big season. He is batting .370 with two home runs and three RBIs.
  • Gregorius was 3-for-3 on Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, FL, and one of the hits came off a left-hander. On Thursday, he started a rally that tied the game in the sixth with a hit off the lefty Rodriguez. Perhaps he might be on the road to solving them after hitting below .200 against them for his career.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Yankee starter Esmil Rogers, competing to replace the injured Chris Capuano as the team’s No. 5 starter, was not sharp at all on Thursday. After not being scored upon this spring, the Phillies touched Rogers, 29, for single runs in the first three innings. Ryan Howard tagged him for a two-out RBI single in the first. Cody Asche hammered a leadoff homer in the second and Carlos Ruiz added a two-out RBI single in the third off Rogers.
  • Left-hander Chasen Shreve, acquired along with right-hander David Carpenter from the Braves in exchange for left-hander Manny Banuelos, is vying to become a third lefty in the bullpen behind Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson. But Shreve, 24, took a step backwards when he was shelled for three runs (two earned) on three hits in the ninth inning.

BOMBER BANTER

Jacoby Ellsbury told reporters that despite being restricted from all baseball activities for a week that he will be ready for Opening Day. Ellsbury, 31, sustained a mild oblique strain throwing in the outfield prior to Sunday’s game against the Phillies. “I think the good thing is we do have time and I’m fully confident that I’ll be there Opening Day, ready to play,” Ellsbury told reporters.  . . .  Right-hander Jared Burton, 33, sustained a strained lat and will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. Burton is a non-roster invitee who is competing for a bullpen spot this spring.  . . .   Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, who has been sidelined all spring with a mid-back strain, is scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland FL, on Friday to face the Detroit Tigers.

Adam Warren, who is battling Rogers for the fifth spot in the rotation, will start for the Yankees. Warren is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts this spring.

The Tigers will counter with right-hander Alfredo Simon, who is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be not be broadcast via TV or radio.

Tanaka Shines In Debut As Yankees Edge Braves

GAME 11

YANKEES 3, BRAVES 2

With all the Bronx, the Yankee front office and the coaches having completely chewed off their fingernails all winter worrying about Masahiro Tanaka’s right elbow they can now relax. The Japanese right-hander made his spring debut on Thursday and he looked just fine  –  really.

Tanaka pitched two perfect dominant innings and Jake Cave’s RBI ground-rule double and Nick Noonan’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of seventh inning propelled New York to a come-from-behind victory over Atlanta at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

The Yankees entered the seventh trailing 2-1. With one out and pinch-runners Jonathan Galvez and Jose Pirela on second and first, respectively, Cave laced long double to center that plated Galvez to tie the game at 2-2. Noonan followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Pirela from third with the go-ahead run.

Left-hander Justin Wilson (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh inning and recorded two strikeouts to get credit for the victory. Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-1) was saddled with the loss. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth and earned a save.

The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 6-4.

FIELD FOCUS

Tanaka, 26, looked every bit the same pitcher who was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts last season. It did not take the Braves too long to see it.

He retired Andrelton Simmons and Alberto Callaspo on routine grounders and struck out Freddie Freeman looking on a pitch that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez disputed so vehemently that he was ejected from the game after the first pitch of the bottom of the inning by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

Tanaka then opened the second by fanning Jonny Gomes and inducing groundball outs from Christian Bethancourt and Chris Johnson. And that was Tanaka’s evening.

All told he threw only 19 pitches, 15 of them for strikes and he threw first-pitch strikes to four of the six batters. He was so efficient he had to go the bullpen to throw enough pitches to get up the 35 he had been allotted.

“Overall, I think it was good,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Probably the best part is that I was able to get first-pitch strikes a whole lot tonight.”

He was clocked as high 94 miles per hour on his fastball and he stayed within 88 to 91 most of the outing. He drew raves from his catcher, Brian McCann.

“He looked great, kind of picking up right where he left off last year,” McCann told reporters. “His sinker tonight was what impressed me the most. He had good downward action on it. His split was there, and he had a couple of quick innings. He was putting the ball where he wanted.”

Manager Joe Girardi now feels relieved to have his ace pass his first test of the elbow.

“You want to get all your starters out there and try to get them going,” Girardi told reporters. “You can’t spend your time worrying about what might be. You just approach every day, you know what you have, and you go forward.”

Tanaka also was glad to have his first outing out of the way.

“I feel better right now,” he told reporters. “I’ve had the time to prepare myself up to this point. It has gone well thus far.”

Now all of Yankee Universe can exhale. The team’s ace is just fine –  really.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The concern about Didi Gregorius has not been his glove or arm because both have been sensational. The real issue has been his bat but Gregorius ripped a leadoff triple into left-center off Braves starter Shelby Miller. The 25-year-old shortstop later scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Brett Gardner to give the team a 1-0 lead.
  • After getting shelled for three runs on six hits in the first inning by the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL, on Saturday in his spring debut, non-roster invitee Scott Baker pitched two perfect innings before giving up a one-out double to Bethancourt and two-RBI single to Todd Cunningham in the fifth. Baker, 33, now has a chance to stick with the Yankees due to the right quad injury of left-hander Chris Capuano, who will sidelined for a month.
  • Cave, 22, is very quietly have a great spring training. The speedy outfielder is 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and home run and four RBIs. Cave advanced from Class-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton in 2014 and batted a combined .294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 132 games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Right-hander  David Carpenter looked a little shaky in his one inning work against his former teammates. Carpenter was tagged for a pair of singles by Pedro Ciriaco and Simmons to begin the sixth. Callaspo followed with a sac fly to score Ciriaco from third. Carpenter, 29, and left-hander Chasen Shreve were acquired over the winter in exchange for former Yankees No. 1 pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Carpenter figures to be the primary setup man in the bullpen for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
  •  I am always being reminded that it is early but Stephen Drew keeps extending his hitting woes. He was 0-for-2 on Thursday and is 1-for-13 (.077) this far. Drew likely will break camp as the team’s starting second baseman. But after he hit a combined .162 with the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees last season he better get going with the bat sooner rather than later.

BOMBER BANTER

With the bad news about Capuano’s injury it is about time the Yankees got some good news about their starters. Along with Tanaka’s successful debut the Yankees were encouraged by left-hander CC Sabathia’s 29-pitch simulated session earlier in the day. Sabathia, 34, said he has not felt any pain in his surgically repaired right knee and thinks he is ready to take the next step of starting in an exhibition game. That could come as soon as next Tuesday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays or in Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday against the Braves.

ON DECK

The Yankees will make their only trip of the spring to Fort Myers, FL, on Friday to face the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.

Right-hander Adam Warren will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Warren, 27. has no record and has a 1.80 ERA.

McCann will play along with Garrett Jones, Chris Young and John Ryan Murphy.

The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello, 26, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers and is 0-0 and with 0.00 ERA after one outing.

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

 

Pirates Use Power To Down Yankees Split Squad

GAME 5

PIRATES 3, YANKEES (SS) 1

Tony Sanchez cracked a two-run home run in the second inning and Jeff Decker added a mammoth solo shot to lead off the fifth inning on Friday as Pittsburgh edged a New York split squad on a chilly night at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

The Sanchez homer came off Yankee starter Chris Capuano (0-1). Jeff Locke (1-0) started for Pittsburgh and got credit for the victory. Wilfredo Boscan pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn a save.

The Yankees, who were limited to only five hits, scored their lone run in the eighth inning when Eddy Rodriguez doubled, advanced to third on a hit by Francisco Arcia and then scored on a single by Jake Cave.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Carlos Beltran made his spring debut in right field and he drew a walk and struck out twice in his first action since undergoing surgery on his right elbow last September. Beltran reported no problems. “The good thing is I am pain-free,” Beltran told reporters.
  • Right-handed reliever David Carpenter made his spring debut and he pitched a scoreless inning, striking out one batter. Carpenter, 29, was acquired along with left-hander Chasen Shreve from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for former No. 1 pitching prospect Manny Banuelos.
  • Cave, 22, is speedy outfield prospect with a decent bat. He is making the most of his early chances and he is batting .400 in the early going. The non-roster invitee batted ..294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 132 games in two minor-league stops last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Capuano gave up two runs on three hits and no walks while fanning four batters in two innings. Sanchez tagged him for a two-run shot over the right-field bleachers. Though Capuano was better than the result indicated, he still needs to make sure to keep the ball inside the yard.
  • Pirate pitchers fanned the Yankees 12 times, including two each by Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Galvez. At times it appeared the Yankees were mailing this one in because of the temperatures, which dipped into the high 50s with a stiff breeze.
  • Brian McCann was 0-for-2 with a walk and still has not had a hit this spring. It is still early and it is doubtful manager Joe Girardi is too concerned. But with the Yankees struggling to hit it would be nice if McCann, Beltran and Mark Teixeira would get untracked soon.

BOMBER BANTER

CC Sabathia pitched a 20-pitch batting practice session on Thursday and Masahiro Tanaka faced live hitters in a simulated game on Friday. The Yankees are encouraged by the progress of both starters and they are expected to be ready by Opening Day.  . . .  Alex Rodriguez played his second game of the spring as the team’s designated hitter and went 0-for-2 with a walk.

ON DECK

The Yankees are on the road on Saturday to face the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.

Journeyman right-hander Scott Baker, a non-roster invitee, will start for the Yankees. Baker, 33, was 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA in 25 games (eight starts) with the Texas Rangers last season.

The Yankees’ starting infield of Teixeira, Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Chase Headley are expected to make the trip.

The Astros will start right-hander Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel, 27, was 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA in 29 starts with the Astros last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST an the game will be broadcast live on WFAN radio in New York through MLB Radio.

 

Betances, Miller Lead Yankees Revamped Bullpen

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

BULLPEN

Co-closers: Dellin Betances, 26 (5-0, 1.40 ERA, 1 save, 70 games), Andrew Miller, 29 (5-5, 2.02 ERA, 1 save, 73 games)

Set-up man: David Carpenter, 29 (6-4, 3.54 ERA, 3 saves, 65 games)

Lefty specialist: Justin Wilson, 27 (3-4, 4.20 ERA, 70 games)

The Yankees have had somewhat of a revolving door at the closer position for the past three seasons and 2015 will the fourth consecutive season they will be featuring a new closer or closers.

In 2012, an early-season injury to Mariano Rivera forced the Yankees to use Rafael Soriano as the team’s closer. In 2013, Rivera returned to health to complete a great final chapter to Hall-of-Fame career. And in 2014, David Robertson assumed the closer’s role and all he did was go 4-5 with a 3.08 ERA and convert 39 of his 44 save opportunities.

However, Robertson was unhappy that the Yankees did not look to extend his contract. So he declined their qualifying offer and signed a four-year, $46-million deal with the Chicago White Sox on Dec. 9.

Once again the Yankees will be auditioning another new closer in 2015.

The obvious choice is Betances after his meteoric rise from a spring training curiosity to the devastating setup weapon he became in 2014. The numbers speak for themselves.

He allowed only 46 hits and 24 walks in 90 innings. Batters hit an anemic .149 against him. He fanned 135 batters. The 6-foot-8, 265-pound right-hander dominated hitters from Opening Day to the end of the season.

The question then becomes could he do what he did last season in the ninth inning in 2015?

Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild believe that he can but they are not going to leave that question to chance without a Plan B.

On Dec. 5, the Yankees signed left-hander Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36-million contract with the intention of making him a setup man for what was Robertson at the time. Miller struck out 14.87 batters per nine innings and held opponents to a .153 batting average for the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles last season.

For now, Girardi says that although the Yankees would prefer to have one set closer when they begin the season, they are not averse to having Betances and Miller work as co-closers.

“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of meetings about that,” Girardi told reporters last Sunday. “We’ll decide what’s best. We want to see how they’re both throwing the baseball at the end of spring training. There will be just a lot of discussion of how we feel our team is built. Could they be interchangeable? Yeah.”

There is no doubt that however they are used both Betances and Miller have great stuff and are nearly impossible to hit consistently. That gives the Yankees two powerful weapons at the back end of the bullpen.

Betances was originally drafted as a starting pitcher out of New York City and his high-octane fastball seemed to have him on a fast track to the Yankees’ starting rotation. But control problems plagued him and got worse as he progressed through the minor-league system

His status as a top prospect diminished until the Yankees decided to try him in the bullpen in 2013. That turned everything around. Betances found a delivery that he could repeat and that devastating fastball and slider combination left batters baffled.

He impressed Girardi in a spring game when he faced Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays with the bases loaded and retired both of them to get out of the jam unscathed. It was inevitable Betances would make the roster as a reliever from that point on.

That led to Betances’ impressive first season with the big club and his reward could be eventually becoming the team’s closer.

Ironically, Miller’s career path was very similar.

Miller was a former No. 1 draft pick of the Detroit Tigers who just could not harness his control as a starter. After a short and unsuccessful stop with the then-Florida Marlins, Miller reached rock bottom when he was 6-3 with a 5.54 ERA in 12 starts with the Boston Red Sox in 2011.

Miller walked 41 batters in just 65 innings.

Then the Red Sox shifted him to the bullpen and he has not looked back. From 2012 through 2014, Miller has developed into what could be considered the most devastating left-handed relievers in all of baseball.

His walks have dropped, his strikeouts have increased and Miller is now in line to perhaps share a closers role  –  a job he also has never had before.

The Yankees are obviously thrilled they have both of these pitchers available for the ninth inning.

A curious thing happened after the 2014 season. For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees basically reshuffled the deck on the rest of the bullpen. David Phelps, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and Preston Claiborne are gone.

Phelps was dealt to the Marlins in the trade where the Yankees acquired starting right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones. Kelley was shipped to the San Diego Padres for minor-league right-hander Johnny Barbato. Thornton was waived last August and is now with the Washington Nationals. Claiborne was released and signed with the Marlins.

So behind Miller and Betances will be a whole new cast of characters.

The team’s primary setup man will be Carpenter, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves along with left-hander Chasen Shreve for left-hander Manny Banuelos, who was once considered the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization.

Carpenter comes to the Yankees highly recommended by Brian McCann, who was his primary catcher in 2013 when Carpenter was 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 65 innings over 56 appearances.

Carpenter’s numbers slipped considerably last season but he is very excited to be reunited with his former battery mate.

“B-Mac is the kind of guy that you love going to battle with,” Carpenter told reporters. “He’s a team guy, he busts his butt out there, he’s everything you could ask for in a leader, especially a catcher. To be reunited with him, it’s going to be really, really special.”

The Yankees also made a deal for a second left-hander by trading veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Wilson, who like Carpenter had a sensational 2013 season.

Wilson, a converted starter, was 6-1 with 2.08 ERA in 58 games with the Pirates in 2013. Last season his numbers slipped a bit but general manager Brian Cashman said Wilson will remind Yankee fans of Boone Logan, who had a very successful stint with the Yankees as their primary left-hander.

Beyond these four, the makeup of the rest of the bullpen will be up for grabs this spring, although Adam Warren eventually will be part of it. It is just unclear when that will be because Warren is slated to pitch as a starter in spring training.

The Yankees are looking to possibly use Warren as a sixth starter in the first six weeks of the season because several Yankee starters are coming off injuries and the Yankees face a stretch in late April and early May in which they are scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days.

Warren, 27, is coming off a sensational year in the bullpen. He was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 games, all in relief. Between Warren’s ability to pitch in almost in any role, including that of a starter, and the fact that he pitches effectively in those roles, it is easy to see why he was one of the few relievers the Yankees opted to keep for 2015.

Warren will be a big help either in the middle or late innings when he finally is shifted back in mid-May.

Right-handers Chase Whitley (25), Esmil Rogers (29) and Bryan Mitchell (23) also will get opportunities to start this spring. All three have started in the past but Whitley is better suited to be a relief pitcher. Rogers has not fully developed as a starter or a reliever but he has been better in the bullpen. Mitchell is a capable starter but the Yankees will evaluate him for both roles this spring.

Mitchell likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre so that he could be available as a emergency starter this season. The Yankees really like his ability.

There are several relievers on the 40-man roster who will get a look this spring including Danny Burawa, Jose De Paula, Branden Pinder and Shreve.

Burawa, 26, is a right-hander who was 3-1 with a 4.70 between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. De Paula, 27, was signed out of the San Francisco Giants system and the left-hander was 4-3 with a 4.21 ERA at Triple-A Fresno in 2014. Pinder, 26, is a right-hander who was 3-0 with 2.04 ERA in three minor-league stops last season, ending with a stint in Scranton. Shreve, 24, was acquired along with Carpenter in the Banuelos trade and was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA at stops in Double-A and Triple-A in 2014.

Most of the time non-roster pitchers are invited into camp for a look but they don’t make the team. But the Yankees invited a veteran right-hander reliever to camp who was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2009 and a two-time All-Star with the Oakland Athletics.

He is 30-year-old Andrew Bailey, who saved 75 games in 84 opportunities for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, but has suffered through a series of injuries that have hindered his effectiveness and kept him off the field.

Bailey was released by the Red Sox in July 2013 after posting a 3-1 record with 3.77 ERA in 30 games. Bailey suffered a torn capsule and labrum in his right shoulder and underwent surgery in 2013. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract in 2014 knowing he would be unavailable to pitch until 2015.

The Yankees extended him an invitation this spring and Bailey will have an opportunity to test where he is in his rehab. If he is healthy, Bailey could be a valuable addition to the bullpen. Though his closing days are over he could land a spot to pitch in the middle innings. If he is anywhere close to the pitcher he was in Oakland the Yankee bullpen will be even more formidable.

Another intriguing pitcher to watch this spring will be former starting prospect Jose A. Ramirez, 25, who was converted to relief because of recurring oblique injuries.

Ramirez was once a very highly touted prospect as a starter and he did make his major-league debut with the Yankees as a reliever last season. He was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in eight appearances in relief.

At Scranton, the Dominican right-hander was 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA in nine appearances after spending an early part of the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain.

The Yankees see their 13th-ranked prospect as a full-time reliever and they hope it does for Ramirez what it did for Betances. Ramirez just maybe could make a leap to the majors this season because of his change-up, which is the best in the organization  –  including those in the majors now.

He also features a plus fastball though he lacks overall command and he is working hard to develop his slider. Because he has struggled to work more than 115 innings the Yankees believe keeping in the bullpen will lessen his injury issues and keep his arm fresh for a full season.

Another young pitcher to watch is 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Lindgren, who pitched Mississippi State to the 2013 College World Series title as a starter and then was shifted to the bullpen by the Yankees last summer.

The Yankees selected him with their first pick of the 2014 draft in the second round and he immediately paid dividends by advancing all the way to Trenton. In his four minor-league stops he combined to go 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA He struck out 48 batters in 25 innings.

Lindgren was able to increase his fastball speed up to 95 mph and his slider (82-84 mph) has enough bite on it to make it a wipeout pitch. It is very possible that Lindgren could make the Yankees’ bullpen in 2015 if he shows that he can throw strikes consistently in the minors.

He is ranked as the team’s No. 9 prospect.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT

The bullpen has been the strength of the team for the past two seasons, though the team as a whole has not had much success. Even with the reshuffling of a lot of new faces and new roles in the bullpen, it remains one of the team’s strengths.

Another reason is that Girardi has been a master at selecting the best organization arms and utilizing a bullpen to the team’s advantage. No one gets overworked because Girardi is strict about not using pitchers three days in a row if he can help it.

This season the big test will be if Betances can take the reins as the team’s closer. The odds are that he is capable and he should be successful. If he isn’t Miller is there back him up. Whether they work as setup man and closer or as co-closers, the fact remains they are two very nasty hombres that hitters do not feel comfortable hitting against.

Neither pitcher also has a decided bias pitching against right-handed or left-handed batters. They are equal-opportunity strikeout artists. That will make it awful difficult for teams who are behind come the eighth inning.

Carpenter will likely ease into what was Kelley’s role last season. He will set up for Miller and Betances. Though Carpenter struggled a bit last season, he still is considered a good young pitcher with a very good arm.

Once Warren finishes his role as a starter in the early part of the season he will join Carpenter in a setup role. Though Warren came out of the minors as a starter, he has had great success pitching out of the bullpen and he can pitch multiple innings if needed.

The Yankees also traded Cervelli for a second left-hander in Wilson and he provides a great opportunity for Girardi to match him up against a tough left-handed hitter in the middle innings.

With these five players set in their roles, the other three spots are up for grabs this spring.

Whitley and Rogers have a great shot at winning two of those spots because they both are former starters. Whitley is ideal for the long-relief and spot-start role Phelps once had. Rogers has not harnessed his ability yet and time is running out. But he is veteran with a good arm.

The last spot will be decided in spring training with a lot of potential candidates.

One good thing is that a lot of those candidates such as Burawa, Pinder and Shreve are young, Behind them are a pair of up-and-coming prospects like Ramirez and Lindgren.

There is good chance you may see both Ramirez and Lindgren on the 25-man roster this season. The Yankees have developed a lot of great depth here.

END OF SERIES

Tanaka Dazzles As McCann Sinks Former Team

GAME 20

YANKEES 7, BRAVES 4

TAMPA – There was a buzz amongst the 10,527 in attendance at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch. Such is the anticipation for what the 2014 season holds for the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander.

He did not disappoint.

Facing a large portion of the Braves’ everyday lineup, Tanaka allowed one run on three hits and two walks while he fanned six in 4 1/3 innings in his his second start of the spring.

His mound opponent, Julio Teheran, was every bit as impressive, giving up a run on five hits and a walk while striking out five in four innings of work.

But the game actually turned on a key hit from former Braves catcher Brian McCann, who delivered a two-run double with one out in the fifth inning as part of a six-run rally that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 7-2 lead.

The Braves had just broken a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth against Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton on an RBI single by B.J. Upton that scored Jason Heyward.

The Yankees started the pivotal fifth when Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez drew back-to-back walks off left-hander Atahualpa Severino. One out later, McCann laced his game-winning double down the right-field line that scored Suzuki and Nunez.

The Yankees added runs on a wild pitch, an RBI single by Ramon Flores, a sacrifice fly by Mason Williams and an error by shortstop Andrelton Simmons as the Yankees brought 10 men to the plate in the frame.

Thornton (1-0) got credit for the victory despite having a shaky outing. Severino (1-2) took the loss, giving up five runs on three hits and two walks in a third of an inning.

The Yankees evened their spring training record to 9-9-2. The Braves fell to 7-12.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Braves hitters were raving about Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball after the game. “That split-finger he’s got, it’s a good pitch. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman told reporters. It looks as if the Yankees’ $155 million commitment to Tanaka was a very wise move. Tanaka looks to be something very special.
  • McCann is a Georgia native who spent nine seasons playing for the Braves. So it was an emotional day for him to visit with his former teammates. But his two-run double made the day complete. McCann originally was supposed to head to Panama this weekend for the Legends Series. But he was held back to work some more with Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda.
  • Suzuki and Nunez did some serious table setting in this game. They combined to go 4-for-6 with a double, three singles, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. Neither player will start this season but they could make a huge impact off the bench if they hit like they did on Sunday.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • I have not been impressed with the pitching of Thornton so far this spring. His ERA is a staggering 11.57 and lefties are hitting .750 off him. Ouch! If the Yankees had acquired Thornton in 2010 it would have been great. But he is 37 years old and his ERA in the past three seasons has ballooned from 3.32 in 2011 to 3. 46 in 2012 to 3.74 in 2013. That is not a good sign. This team will miss Boone Logan.
  • Catcher Pete O’Brien should receive an endorsement deal from Carrier air conditioners. This spring he is 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts. He was 0-for-2 with a walk on Sunday and struck out twice. O’Brien, 23, played baseball at the University of Miami and was the team’s pick in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2012. O’Brien hit .291 with 22 homers and 96 RBIs at two stops at Single A in 2013. He also struck out 134 times.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from Sunday’s lineup due to tightness in his right calf. Ellsbury also will be held out of Monday’s game. The Yankees called the decision “precautionary.” Ellsbury, 30, said it was nothing serious but he did feel his calf tighten up on Saturday during a workout.  . . .  The Yankees optioned left-hander Manny Banuelos to Class-A Tampa on Sunday. General manager Brian Cashman said Banuelos, 23, will remain a starter. Banuelos was once considered the team’s No. 1 pitching prospect but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and he missed the 2013 season. Banuelos hopes to get on track enough to earn his way to the major leagues this season.  . . .  There is still buzz that the Yankees are receiving offers for backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is out of options and is hitting .409 with three homers this spring. Cashman declined to comment.  . . .  Backup infielder Brendan Ryan (back stiffness) is beginning to hit off a tee and is getting closer to returning to action in a few days.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take to the road to Bradenton, FL, to play the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on Monday.

Kuroda, coming off an outing in which he was tagged for six runs 10 hits last Wednesday, will try to get back on track for the Yankees.

The Pirates will start right-hander Stolmy Pimentel.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay at 11 p.m. by the MLB Network.

 

Twins Use Dunkers And Bloops To Overtake Yanks

GAME 17

TWINS 7, YANKEES 3

TAMPA – Eric Farris hit a dying-quail bloop single just over Mark Teixeira’s head for a two-run double with one out in the sixth inning to break a 3-3 tie as Minnesota stormed back from an early 3-1 deficit to defeat New York on Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Farris’ lucky dunker came off reliever Manny Banuelos (0-1), who had loaded the bases with no outs on a leadoff bloop single and a pair of walks. The 23-year-old left-hander was charged with four runs on two hits and two walks in one-third of an inning in only his second spring appearance.

Twins left-hander Caleb Thielbar (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning of relief to get credit for the victory.

The Yankees greeted Twins starter Kyle Gibson with three runs in the first inning, keyed by an RBI double by Brian Roberts, and RBI single by Teixeira and an RBI groundout off the bat of Eduardo Nunez.

The Twins scored a run in the first inning and added another in the third off Yankees starter David Phelps.

Chris Colabello slapped a two-out RBI single in the first to score Aaron Hicks. Two innings later, Brian Dozier led off with a solo home run to left.

Phelps, who is still vying for the No. 5 starter position, yielded two runs on five hits and a walk while he fanned four batters in four innings.

The Twins tied the game in the fifth off right-hander David Herndon on a leadoff walk and stolen base by Dozier and an RBI single by Colabello.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now 8-7-2. The Twins are 6-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is always a good sign when Teixeira drives in a run. Though Teixeira is hitting only .167 on the spring, he is having no lingering issues after undergoing wrist surgery and looks to be ready to go for the regular season. The Yankees definitely need his power and production, not to mention his Gold Glove at first base.
  • Roberts is also showing signs of coming around with the bat. He was 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI in the game. Roberts is only hitting .150 but he will be the Yankees’ starting second baseman and the Yankees plan to use the switch-hitter every day despite his past injury problems.
  • Dellin Betances has been the talk of camp and he pitched splendidly again on Friday. He pitched a perfect 1 2/3 innings with two strikeouts and he remains unsecured upon on the spring. If the 25-year-old right-hander is not on the 25-man roster leaving Tampa it will be a crime.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees rapped out three hits in the first inning off Gibson and then they decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. The Yankees did not manage to get a hit for the rest of the contest against Gibson, Thielbar, Sean Gilmartin, Ryan Pressly and Aaron Thompson. Are these Twins no-name pitchers that good or are the Yankees’ hitters just that bad?
  • Don’t get down on Banuelos too much. He was not hit hard. Both hits were bleeders. Remember that Banuelos missed most of 2012 and all of 2013 following Tommy John surgery. The Yankees need for him to pitch and build up his arm strength. The results may be ugly now but the young lefty deserves a chance to fulfill his promise with a full season at Triple A.

BOMBER BANTER

Nunez had to leave the game in the fifth inning after he was kicked above in the left knee on a unnecessary takeout slide by Colabello. Wilkin Ramirez hit a high-hop grounder to Nunez at short while Colabello was advancing from first and Nunez took the play himself by stepping on second. Colabello then leg-whipped Nunez even though the ball was not hit hard enough to turn a double play.  Nunez was checked out by the Yankees’ medical staff and Nunez said he was fine.

ON DECK

The Yankees will be in two faraway locations on Saturday. A contingent of players are in a Panama to play against the Miami Marlins in two games called the Legend Series and reunite with future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankees will travel to Sarasota to take on the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno will be making his second spring start for the Yankees. The Orioles will counter with right-hander Chris Tillman.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.

In Panama, Adam Warren will start for the Yankees and Brad Hand will pitch for the Marlins.

Game-time will be 9:05 p.m. EDT and there will be no television or radio broadcast of the game.

 

Yankees Utilize Skill, Luck To Orbit Past Astros

GAME 11

YANKEES 9, ASTROS 6

KISSIMMEE – There is an old saying that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. On Saturday, the Yankees needed a bit of both to down the Astros in a seesaw affair.

Trailing 6-4 in the sixth, Mason Williams hit a sacrifice fly to bring the Yankees to within a run and Brett Gardner stroked a single that center-fielder Dexter Fowler threw into the Astros dugout to allow two runs to score as New York rallied to down Houston at Osceola County Stadium.

The Yankees actually held a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth when Jose Altuve doubled and Jason Castro walked just ahead of Chris Carter’s three-run blast to left off Yankees’ left-hander Manny Banuelos, who was making his first major-league appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2012.

Chase Whitley (1-2) struck out the only batter he faced in relief of Banuelos in the fifth to get credit for the victory. Chris Leroux pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.

Jose Cisnero (0-1) was charged with three runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in his one inning of work to take the loss.

Right-hander Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and he suffered through what was his worst outing of the spring, yielding three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in four innings.

The Yankees scored two runs (one earned) off Astros starter Jarred Cosart in the second inning and they added a pair of runs in the third off left-hander Darin Downs on Mark Teixeira’s first hit of the spring, a double, and Kelly Johnson’s first home run of the spring.

The Yankees added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh off right-hander Jake Buchanan on an RBI single by Scott Sizemore and an RBI fielder’s choice by Ramon Flores in which Astros first baseman Telvin Nash started to turn a double play but instead elected to throw home to get a sliding Yangervis Solarte.

But the throw was late and the Yankees extended their lead to 9-6.

The Yankees won their straight Grapefruit League game and are now 7-4. The Astros fell to 3-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The most encouraging sign for the Yankees was that Teixeira doubled to deep left batting right-handed. Teixeira, 33, was playing in only his second spring game after undergoing surgery to repair his right wrist. Teixeira was 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.
  • Johnson is quietly having an excellent spring with his new team. Johnson was 1-for-2 with a home run, a walk, a run scored and an RBI. Johnson is 5-for-14 (.357) with a homer and five RBIs. He also has not committed an error at third base in five starts, even though he has only played 16 major-league regular-season games there.
  • An injury last season stunted the development of Williams and some of his other fellow outfielders also stalled. That forced the Yankees into looking to sign veterans such as Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury to multi-year deals. Williams is showing signs of rebounding after lacing an RBI double in the second and adding a sac fly in the sixth. Williams is rated as the team’s No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • With Nova it always seems to be a step forward and two steps back. Coming off a dominant three innings of shutout baseball on March 3 against the Washington Nationals, Nova was lit up like a bottle rocket from the first batter he faced. Granted, after giving up three runs on six hits in the first two frames, Nova did throw two scoreless innings in the third and fourth and yielded only two hits. His spring ERA shot up from 4.15 to 5.40.
  • Banuelos, 22, could not command his pitches, fell behind batters and paid the ultimate price when Carter launched a titanic three-run shot to left in the fifth. In Banuelos’ defense, he was never expected to make the roster this spring. The Yankees want him to build up his arm strength at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and work on his control. He will likely not fight for a starting job until 2015.
  • Eduardo Nunez is not guaranteed a roster spot and he needs to pick things up a bit. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Saturday. He is 4-for-17 (.235) with a homer and two RBIs this spring.

BOMBER BANTER

The Astros and Yankees welcomed University of Central Florida head football coach George O’Leary to Saturday’s game and he drew a huge round of applause from most of the paid crowd of 5,001. O’Leary led the Knights to a 12-1 record, including a 52-42 victory over No. 5 Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. By the way, UCF is my alma mater and I am darn proud of it!

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday as they will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Right-hander David Phelps, who is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in two spring starts, will start for the Yankees. Derek Jeter, who has four hits in his past four at-bats, will start at shortstop.

The Rays are scheduled to pitch right-hander Chris Archer (1-0, 0.00 ERA).

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on tape delay at midnight by the MLB Network.

 

Super Nova Dominates Nats As Yankees Roll On

GAME 6

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

From July 5 to the end of the 2013 season, Ivan Nova was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his last 15 starts. That same dominant right-handed pitcher showed up on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Nova (1-0) pitched three hitless shutout innings to set the tone for New York’s Grapefruit League victory over Washington.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander threw 30 of his 35 pitches for strikes and struck out four in just his second outing of the spring.

The Yankees backed Nova with a four-run second-inning uprising off Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler (0-1), keyed by RBI hits by Kelly Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki and Corban Joseph as the Yankees claimed their fourth straight exhibition victory.

Brian Roberts and Francisco Cervelli opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Johnson then followed with a bloop double to left that scored Roberts.

Suzuki extended the rally when Nationals shortstop Zach Walters fielded his slow roller and threw wildly to first, allowing both Cervelli and Johnson to score.

After Zoilo Almonte laced a double to right, Joseph plated Suzuki with the final run of the inning with a solid single to right.

New closer David Robertson made his first appearance of the spring in relief of Nova in the fourth and pitched around hitting Danny Espinosa with his second pitch by retiring Tyler Moore on a double-play grounder and getting Scott Hairston on a flyout to left.

The Nationals scored their two runs on a solo home run by Walters off right-hander Shawn Kelley in the fifth and on a fielding error in the sixth by Derek Jeter on a ground ball off the bat of Espinosa that allowed Eury Perez to score with right-hander Danny Burawa on the mound.

Right-hander Jim Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for a save.

The Yankees are 4-2 in early spring play while the Nationals fell to 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I have said for a very long time and it does bear repeating that Nova IS the Yankee starter with the best overall stuff. His mid-90s fastball and crackling curveball were on full display on Monday. When Nova commands his pitches he is as nasty and dominant as any pitcher the Yankees have. After suffering through a horrible 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA and sustaining an early bout of forearm tendinitis last season, Nova has been everything the Yankees had hoped he would be when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season. If he pitches this season as he did on Monday he could have a very good record in 2014.
  • Johnson, 32, is settling in nicely with the Yankees as the team’s primary third baseman this season. Johnson averaged 24 home runs and 61 RBIs from 2010 through 2012. Last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Johnson hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 runs in only 118 games. The Yankees think the lefty swinging Johnson can produce as much for the Yankees while Alex Rodriguez sits out his season-long suspension.
  • Cervelli, 28, went 2-for-3 with a single, a double and run scored. Cervelli is 4-for-7 (.571) in early spring action and it seems he is determined not to lose the backup catching spot to Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy this spring. One thing in Cervelli’s favor is that he is out of options and the team would lose him if he did not win the job.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The infield defense this spring has not been as crisp as it could be. Of course, with Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira yet to play in a game and with the free-agent loss of Robinson Cano at second that is to be expected. The main offenders have been Joseph and Addison Maruszak. Maruszak has committed three errors and Joseph has committed two, including one at first base on Monday. The Yankees committed a franchise-record low of errors last season. It would be nice of they get close to that again in 2014.
  • There is nothing to be alarmed about yet, but Jeter is 0-for-7 in the three games he has played this spring. I would be alarmed if it stretched into another week or so. But the good news is the Yankee captain is moving without discomfort or a limp due to his surgically repaired left ankle.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees had football legend Joe Namath throw out the first pitch for Monday’s game. Namath, the 70-year-old former great of the New York Jets and a Hall of Fame quarterback, wore a Yankee jersey with his iconic No. 12 as he escorted manager Joe Girardi to exchange the lineup card at home plate and he spent the rest of the day next to Girardi in the Yankees’ dugout as a “co-manager.”  . . .  Teixeira took some swings on Monday against left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Jose Campos. Teixeira reported no issues with his surgically repaired right wrist. He hopes to take some more swings on Tuesday leading up to his first game action either Thursday or Friday.  . . .  Andy Pettitte was in camp on Monday as a special guest instructor but he made a point to insist that he not going to come out of retirement this time.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play there first night game of the spring at home playing host to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander David Phelps will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran will start in the outfield and Jeter will also be in the lineup as the designated hitter.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who was 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 23 starts with the O’s last season.

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

 

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