Results tagged ‘ Mariano Rivera ’

Astros Flip Script To Take Opener Over Yankees

CC Sabathia continued his fine work from spring training with six strong innings and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira led a newly retooled Yankee offense as the New York downed Houston in their season opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Oops!

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GAME 1

ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2

Somehow the Astros did not get the memo on how Opening Day was supposed to go.

The Astros scored six runs in the first two innings off CC Sabathia, including home runs by Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, as Houston rolled to an Opening Day victory over New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park.

Sabathia (0-1) was tagged for four runs in the first and two more in the second before he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings to save the bullpen. Meanwhile, Astros starter Scott Feldman (1-0) held the Yankees in check by using a series of slow-pitch softball speed pitches.

Feldman held the powerful Yankee lineup to no runs on two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander entered the contest with a career record of 51-56 with a 4.59.

The Yankees did not get their first hit off Feldman until Carlos Beltran slapped a one-out single to left in the fourth inning. Mark Teixeira looped a one-out single to right in the seventh for the team’s only other hit off Feldman.

The Astros did not waste any time against Sabathia when Dexter Fowler led off the first with a double to deep center. He moved to third on a flyout and scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve. After a stolen base and a wild pitch advanced him to third, Altuve scored when Teixeira’s throw to home on a grounder off the bat of Jason Castro was thrown wide past McCann.

Guzman lined the first offering from Sabathia deep into the left-field bleachers to make the score 4-0. Guzman entered the game with only 23 career homers over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

Hoes opened the second inning with a solo blast of his own. Hoes entered the contest with only one previous major-league homer in 49 games.

The Astros capped the scoring in the second when Fowler laced another double with one out. Altuve later added a two-out single to score Fowler.

The Yankees had two chances to score against Feldman. In the fourth, Beltran singled with one out and Teixeira drew a two-out walk. However, Alfonso Soriano struck out to end the threat.

In the seventh, Teixeira’s one-out single was followed by a pair of two-out walks to Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Astros manager Bo Porter replaced Feldman with left-hander Kevin Chapman and he induced Kelly Johnson into a force out to leave the bases loaded.

The Yankees did finally break through in the eighth inning when Chapman opened the frame by walking Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter then greeted right-hander Chad Qualls with a single to right.

Beltran advanced Ellsbury and Jeter with a groundout and Brian McCann and Teixeira followed with RBI singles.

However, Qualls ended the rally by getting Soriano to hit into an inning-ending double play.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Two big concerns the Yankees had opening the season was how Jeter and Teixeira would fare after both players, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, struggled to hit this spring. But Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
  • Give both McCann and Teixeira a lot of credit for the their RBI singles. Both decided to hit to the opposite field with shifts on against them and a ground-ball pitcher on the mound in Qualls. If you try to pull outside pitches you end up grounding into the shift. Both recognized that and hit to the opposite field.
  • Both Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitched an inning of relief and both were impressive. Betances struck out two in a perfect inning in the seventh and Nuno struck out the side in the eighth. The Yankees are hoping that Betances, 26, and Nuno, 26, will contribute a lot to a completely retooled bullpen that is missing closer Mariano Rivera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The reality is that Sabathia was NOT defeated by his reduced velocity. Sabathia was beaten because he missed location with his pitches. When he was up in the strike zone he got hammered. When he got the ball down he was successful in the final four innings. Sabathia was making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and the 11th of his career. He is the team’s ace out of courtesy and you can actually make a case that he is the weakest of the Yankees five starters. Once Yankees fans accept that fact they may just be able to accept Sabathia for what he is at age 33.
  • Soriano can be a maddening player. When he is red hot you can’t get him out. When he is cold he can kill your offense. He killed the offense pretty well on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a inning-ending double play. Soriano stranded a team-high five runners. Ouch!
  • Though the Yankees were charged with one error they actually were extremely sloppy in the field in this game. McCann overthrew third base trying to nab Altuve. Teixeira’s throw home to get Altuve was to the first-base side of home plate and skipped past McCann. They just did not look sharp in the field with the exception of some fine plays at third by Johnson.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game the Yankees purchased the contract of infielder Yangervis Solarte from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designated infielder Eduardo Nunez for assignment. The team will have 10 days to trade, release or outright Nunez to the minor leagues. Nunez, 26, was once viewed as the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop but he was outplayed this spring by Solarte, 26, and Dean Anna, 27.  . . .  The Yankees Opening Day lineup had only one holdover from Opening Day in 2013 and that was Gardner. Last season, both Jeter and Teixeira were on the disabled list and 2013 starters Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were on the bench on Tuesday. The 2013 lineup also included Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Nunez.  . . .  The Astros plan to honor Jeter with a special ceremony on Wednesday with former teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on hand. Jeter announced just before spring training began that this will be his final season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have to recover from their loss as they play the second game of a three-game seres with the Astros.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31 ERA in 2013) will make his first start of the season. He was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA this spring.

He will opposed by right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season. He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA this spring.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Rain Forces Cancellation Of Pirates-Yankees Game

GAME 22

YANKEES VS. PIRATES (CANCELED RAIN)

The New York Yankees’ exhibition game scheduled against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, was canceled on Monday due to rain.

The Pirates placed the tarp on the field 30 minutes before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. EDT start time and they opted to cancel the game 40 minutes later because of weather reports indicating an advancing storm that was expected to cover the Florida Gulf Coast the rest of the day.

The Yankees were scheduled to start right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA), who was coming off a start last Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers in which he was raked for six runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.

Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was the scheduled starter for the Pirates.

With most of the Yankees’ starters returning from the Legends Series in Panama this weekend, the Yankees only brought three starters: second baseman Brian Roberts, first baseman Mark Teixeira and catcher Brian McCann on the trip to Bradenton.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees split the two-game series against the Miami Marlins at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City, Panama. They were no-hit by a combination of four Marlins pitchers on Saturday en route to a 5-0 defeat. Brad Hand (2-0) pitched five perfect innings to get credit for the victory. Adam Warren (1-1) gave up a run on two hits while fanning six in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. CC Sabathia got himself and the Yankees back on track on Sunday by pitching five hitless innings as the Yankees got even with the Marlins for a 7-0 victory. Sabathia struck out five and evened his record to 1-1. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1) was tagged with the loss. Francisco Cervelli and Yangervis Solarte led the offense with three hits apiece and catching prospect Gary Sanchez added a solo home run. The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 10-9-2. The Marlins fell to 11-6.  . . .  The Legends Series was a chance for the Yankees to honor retired closer Mariano Rivera in his native country and most of the proceeds from the series will go to Rivera’s foundation.

ON DECK

The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday to play their fiercest rival in the Boston Red Sox.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Yankees coming off two shaky outings. The Yankees are also expected to play most of their starters in this game. However, former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will not play due to tightness in his right calf.

The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (0-0, 0.00 ERA). The Red Sox are scheduled to bring Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and David Ross.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES 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 Succumb To Pirates’ Late 4-Run Rally

GAME 1

PIRATES 6, YANKEES 5

Chris McGuiness capped a four-run rally in the seventh inning with an RBI single as Pittsburgh came from behind to defeat New York in both teams’ Grapefruit League opener at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.

Duke Welker (1-0) pitched one inning of relief to get credit for the victory. Chase Whitley (0-1) was hammered for four runs on three hits, a walk and he hit a batter in one inning plus to get tagged with the loss.

Five batters before McGuiness’ game-winning hit, Tony Sanchez cranked a three-run homer off Whitley to turn a 5-2 Yankees’ lead into a tie.

Right-hander Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, however, he did not have much command. Nova surrendered two hits and two walks and had to be replaced by right-hander Bruce Billings in the second innings because he had reached his pitch limit.

The game was played in front of announced crowd of 6,870, which is a record for exhibition opener at McKechnie Field, the Pirates’ spring home since 1969.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The late rally overshadowed what was a great day for two of the Yankees’ three high-priced free agents who started the game. Jacoby Ellsbury collected an infield single and two walks and he scored two runs. Catcher Brian McCann was 1-for-2 with an RBI single in the first inning. The third free agent, Carlos Beltran, was 0-for-2.
  • The Yankees also received key offensive contributions from shortstop Yangervis Solarte and outfielder Ramon Flores. Solarte, 26, a minor-league free agent out of the Texas Rangers’ organization, slugged a two-run home run in the second inning off veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez. Flores, 21, followed McCann’s RBI single in the first with an RBI single of his own off left-hander Francisco Liriano.
  • The Yankees’ pitching was shaky most of the day, but one pitcher did shine despite the gloomy windy and overcast game conditions. Right-hander Dellin Betances, 25, pitched two scoreless innings, giving up one bloop single and striking out two. Betances, a former top pitching prospect as a starter, is opening eyes as a reliever.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Whitley’s first spring outing was a disaster. After pitching a scoreless sixth inning, Whitley, 24, gave up a single, hit a batter and then was tagged for a wind-aided three-run home run by Sanchez. After walking Chris Dickerson he was replaced by Preston Claiborne.
  • Claiborne, 25, did not help matters much by surrendering a walk and the game-winning RBI single to McGuiness. After pitching in 44 games with the Yankees in 2013, Claiborne is being counted upon to shore up a Yankee bullpen that lost closer Mariano Rivera and Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain.
  • After collecting four hits in the first two innings, the Yankees managed to rap out just three more hits the rest of the game. The also hit into a pair of double plays.

ON DECK

Derek Jeter will begin his final spring training on Tuesday as he makes his first start against the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Right-hander David Phelps, one of four competitors for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, will get the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, was 6-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 22 games (12 starts) last season.

The Yankees also should play most of what will be their projected starting lineup for the 2014 season. They also will wear their regular-season pinstripe uniforms.

Right-hander Charlie Morton will start for the Pirates. He was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 20 starts last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a delayed basis at 9 p.m. by the MLB Network.

 

Starting Spot, Bench, Pen Yankees Only Unknowns

With the first exhibition a day away the New York Yankees pretty much have answered all their roster questions.

By investing $475 million on free agents this winter they have turned a team that was ravaged by injury in 2013 into a possible contender in 2014.

The rotation is almost set with C.C. Sabathia heading up a group that includes a Japanese sensation in Masahiro Tanaka and holdovers Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.

The starting lineup is set with shortstop Derek Jeter returning from injury along with first baseman Mark Teixeira. Free agents Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will primarily play second and third base, respectively. Fellow free agent Brian McCann gives the Yankees the best hitting catcher they have had since Jorge Posada retired.

The outfield was strengthened with the free-agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carlos Beltran in right. Brett Gardner, fresh off signing a new four-year extension, will move back to left and last year’s key acquisition, Alfonso Soriano, will be the primary designated hitter.

The bullpen is pretty set with David Robertson being asked to fill the mighty big cleats of the best closer the game as ever seen in Mariano Rivera.

With him are free agent left-hander Matt Thornton, who will assume the role of the departed Boone Logan. Shawn Kelley will also try to build on what was a fairly good first season with the team.

The Yankees even added to the bullpen with the signing of oft-injured former closer Andrew Bailey, who could easily slip into Robertson’s setup role if he is sound.

The bench already will have backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Ichiro Suzuki, who suddenly became the odd man out of a job with the new outfielders looks to have the backup outfield spot assured unless he is traded.

So there are few jobs left to fill. But here they are and the players who are competing for them:

NO. 5 STARTER

The Candidates: Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

Pineda, 25, has missed two complete seasons following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2012. The Yankees hope and Pineda believes it is time for him to resume what was once a promising career. The velocity may not be what it was in his rookie season in 2011 when he was an American League All-Star and he had nine victories, 173 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA with the Seattle Mariners. But the Yankees hope that his stuff is still effective enough to get out major-league hitters. If Pineda proves that this spring the job is really his. That is why they traded Jesus Montero for him. Now it is time for results.

Phelps, 27, has spent the past two seasons as the Yankees’ long man and spot starter out of the bullpen. He has done the job pretty well. He is 10-9 with 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 of them starts) the past two seasons. But Phelps had his 2013 season interrupted by a right forearm strain that sidelined him for two months. But he is 100 percent this spring and he will get a chance to win the final spot in the rotation. However, he likely won’t get it if Pineda shines. The reason is that Phelps’ numbers the past two seasons have been better out of the bullpen than as a starter. Phelps actually might move into a short relief role, where he could even end up setting up Robertson at some point. Phelps, barring injury, will leave spring training with a role. The only question is what role.

Warren, 26, surprisingly made the team out of spring training last season and he was the team’s long reliever. Warren also pitched very well. He was 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two starts). Warren is excellent insurance if Pineda is not ready because Warren is actually better suited as a starter than Phelps. But his value as a long reliever is excellent. So a likely scenario is that Pineda becomes the starter, Warren keeps his long man and spot starting gig and Phelps shifts to the bullpen again. It is hard for Warren not to want to start. Obviously he does. He will get a lot of chances to do it. Do not be surprised if you see very little of Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda early this spring. The reason is you will be seeing a lot of these four pitchers instead.

Nuno, 26, won the James P. Dawson Award last spring as the team’s most impressive rookie after going 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over seven games. That does not even include the five shutout innings he tossed against the Yankees when he was offered to the Dominican Republic for an exhibition game before the World Baseball Classic. Nuno was sent out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five games before he was summoned to fill a spot in the bullpen. In five games with the Yankees (three of them starts), Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings. Nuno subsequently had his season ended by a groin injury. Nuno is the real wildcard in this equation. His fastball barely reaches 88 miles per hour yet he keeps hitters off-balance and doesn’t walk many either. But if Nuno loses out to any of the other three he likely will be returned to Scranton, where he will be available should an injury occur. Nuno is not as experienced pitching out the bullpen and the Yankees prefer he remain stretched out as a starter.

BACKUP INFIELDER

The Candidates: Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler.

Nunez, 26, has had huge opportunities after he batted .265 with 22 steals in 112 games in 2011. In the past two seasons, Nunez has blown those chances. In 2012, his inconsistent fielding got him sent to Scranton and Nunez injured his right hand and missed a huge chunk of the summer. In 2013, the Yankees lost Jeter for most of the season as he battled to get back from a severe ankle injury. Nunez was handed the job early but it went downhill in a hurry after he got injured himself. Nunez hit .260 in 90 games but he did not have that same fire he had in 2011. It was a shame because Nunez worked on a new throwing motion and cut down on his errors. The Yankees sealed Nunez’s fate by deciding to keep Ryan, who can also play second base. That means the only way Nunez can make the team is as a right-handed portion of a platoon with Johnson at third base. This is Nunez’s last shot with the Yankees and he could very well be dealt away before the spring is over.

Anna is a year OLDER than Nunez but has never received a single at-bat in the majors. Yet, Anna chances of making the team may be better than Nunez. Anna was traded to the Yankees by the San Diego Padres in return for right-hander Ben Paulus. The reason Anna is intriguing is that he led the Pacific Coast League in batting in 2o13 with a .331 average with nine homers and 73 RBIs. Anna also bats left-handed and he can play second, third, shortstop and the two corner outfield spots. He lacks speed and range in the field but his fielding is above average. So a good spring could catapult Anna into a backup spot with the Yankees. He could be valuable in that Roberts has spent the past four seasons battling injuries. He also could win the primary starting spot over Johnson at third. The Yankees can’t wait to see what Anna can do this spring.

Sizemore, 29, was a hot minor leaguer like Anna in 2009 when he batted .308 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs at two stops in the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system. He was handed the starting second base job for the Tigers in 2010 and he promptly handed it back by hitting .224 in 48 games. He did not fare much better by hitting .245 in 110 games for the Tigers in 2011. For the past two seasons Sizemore has had two separate surgeries for a torn ACL in his left knee. He reinjured the ACL just 10 days into the 2013 season with the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Sizemore is working out with the Yankees but he is not going all-out just yet. Sizemore has hopes of winning a job as a backup at second and third base. As a right-handed hitter, Sizemore could be of use if he could recapture his old form. The odds are not in his favor but Sizemore is not one to give up that easily.

Canzler, 28, is different from the other three because he can play first base. With Teixeira coming off surgery to repair the sheath in his right wrist, having someone on the roster who can first would be a plus. The current depth chart lists Johnson as the backup there but Johnson has started only two games in his career there. That was why the Yankees re-signed Canzler to a minor-league contract after they cut him loose from the 40-man roster when the team signed designated hitter Tracis Hafner last February. Canzler spent the 2013 season at Triple A, first with the Baltimore Orioles and later with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted a combined .252 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s real value is that he can play both corner infield and both corner outfield spots. That means if the right-handed slugger is impressive he could end up in a platoon with Johnson at third and back up for Teixiera at first. That is why Canzler bears watching so closely this spring.

FOUR BULLPEN SPOTS

The Candidates: Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Bailey, Phelps, Warren, Nuno and Dellin Betances

Robertson is a lock at closer. Thornton and Kelly seem to safe as late-inning options. The Yankees are also very high on the first two names on the candidate list, Cabral and Claiborne. Both made their major-league debuts last season and both impressed manager Joe Girardi. Cabral, 25, missed all of the 2012 season and most of 2013 after fracturing his left elbow in his final spring appearance in 2012. The big left-hander is deadly to left-handed hitters and the Yankees covet a specialist as they had in Clay Rapada in 2012. Something they did not have in 2013. That why it is almost certain that Cabral will make the team, barring injury.

Claiborne, 26, did not walk his first major-league batter until his 15th appearance. He also carried a 2.13 ERA into August before he was shuttled from Scranton to New York five times. His control left him and he got shelled hard in his final 11 games. But the Yankees think very highly of Claiborne. With Logan and Joba Chamberlain gone, the Yankees have a need for Claiborne in their bullpen. Girardi only wants to see the youngster attacking the strike zone consistently this spring to add him to the roster.

Bailey, 29, is the former closer for the A’s and the Boston Red Sox. However, a series of injuries have derailed his once-promising career. After saving 75 games for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, Bailey was acquired by the Red Sox but he endured an injury-plagued 2012 season, pitching in only 19 games and recording a 7.04 ERA. He began 2013 well but ended up having right shoulder surgery in July. The Bosox opted to cut him from the roster by not tendering him a contract. He will not be ready to pitch to start the season. But the Yankees are hoping he may be able to bolster the bullpen later. If he comes back healthy he could very well become the team’s setup man.

The other two bullpen spots likely will go to the losers of the No. 5 starter competition – with the exception of Pineda. If Pineda is not ready to pitch in the majors the Yankees likely will keep him for some while in extended spring training in Tampa, FL. They then would ship him to some rehab assignments before they choose to bring him up later in the season.

That leaves Phelps, Warren and Nuno to fight for the last two spots in addition to a former top-rated starting prospect in Dellin Betances. Betances, 25, was shifted into a bullpen role last season after he struggled with his command as a starter. The result is that Betances is on the verge of becoming a dominant relief pitcher with much better control. He made his major-league debut in September after posting a 6-4 record and a 2.68 ERA with five saves at Scranton. Betances struck out 108 while walking 42 over 84 innings in 38 (six starts) games . Betances looks to be a budding future closer candidate and the Yankees could have him up sometime in 2014 if he does not make the team this spring.

 

Here Are Five Key Yankees To Watch This Spring

Spring training is here!

We are days away from the New York Yankees’ spring home opener and camp is already abuzz about Derek Jeter’s final season, the anticipation of seeing Japanese star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the new boatload of free agents the team signed like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.

But before the games begin I have picked five players to watch this spring. They are not necessarily big names but they do bear watching because of how they will affect the makeup of the Yankees’ 25-man roster that will open the season.

In reverse order of importance, here are the five:

NO. 5 – DEAN ANNA, 27, INFIELDER

The name may not be familiar because Anna played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in Tucson and he batted .331 with nine homers and 73 RBIs in 132 games. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade with the Padres for minor-league right-hander Ben Paulus. Anna is primarily a second baseman but he also has logged time at shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots in his pro career. That versatility makes him potentially valuable to the Yankees if he can hit anywhere near his .286 minor-league career average.  Anna will be battling Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore for a backup infielding spot on the roster. His acquisition shows the Yankees do not have much faith in the development of Corban Joseph and David Adams was released after he flopped in his brief major-league trial last season. With injury-plagued veteran second baseman Brian Roberts as the starter and with Kelly Johnson the primary starter at third base with the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, Anna could back up at both positions. He has the bat to produce and his glove is more than adequate. If Anna impresses the Yankees, Nunez could be packaged in a deal to strengthen the bullpen or bench. If Anna fails to make the roster, he will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he will be phone call away should any of the infielders get injured during the season. Watch him closely.

NO. 4 – PRESTON CLAIBORNE, 26, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER

Claiborne was recalled from Scranton and made his major-league debut on May 5. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander made an immediate impression on manager Joe Girardi by not walking a single batter in his first 14 appearances. If you want to get on Girardi’s good side you don’t walk batters. Claiborne did that and also impressed everyone with his effectiveness out of the bullpen. By Aug. 9, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.08 in 33 games. The Texas native, who was nicknamed “Little Joba,” for his resemblance to Joba Chamberlain had actually supplanted his namesake in the bullpen pecking order. However, a roster numbers crunch forced the Yankees to send Claiborne back and forth from the Bronx to Scranton five times in a 10-day period in August. Claiborne was not the same the rest of the season. In his final 11 appearances, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent losses of Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan, Claiborne will get a chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues. If he does and pitches as he did initially in 2013, the Yankees might have a stronger bullpen than the experts imagine. Claiborne has the ability. It is just a matter of doing well this spring,

NO. 3 – RUSS CANZLER, 27, INFIELDER/OUTFIELDER

Canzler actually was acquired by the Yankees last winter but was designated for assignment before the exhibition season started because the team had signed designated hitter Travis Hafner. Canzler instead was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles, sent to their Triple-A affiliate and then traded late in the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two minor-league stops, Canzler batted .252 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s value is that he is capable of playing both infield corner spots as well as both corner outfield spots. Last season he started 42 games at first, 13 at third and 16 in the outfield. He even started one game at second base. But Canzler’s calling card is power. The right-handed hitter has 118 career home runs in the minors. The reason he intrigues the Yankees is because the current depth chart lists Johnson as the primary backup to Mark Teixeira at first base. Teixeira is coming off surgery on his right wrist after playing in only 15 games last season. The Yankees could stand to have a player who can play the position. Johnson has only made two major-league starts at first. So Canzler could make the roster if he has an impressive spring. That would allow him to platoon with Johnson at third and back up Teixeira at first and he could even log some time in the outfield, if needed. The odds of Canzler making it are slim. But he bears watching.

NO. 2 – CESAR CABRAL, 25, LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER

Bad luck forced this 2012 Rule V draft pick from the Kansas City Royals via the Boston Red Sox to delay his major-league debut. Cabral came into camp in 2012 as a candidate to be a lefty specialist out the bullpen. Throughout the spring, Cabral battled Clay Rapada until the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dominican fractured his elbow in his final appearance of the spring. He did not pitch at all in 2012 and he missed the early stages of the 2013 season while rehabbing the injury. But once he got started, Cabral got rolling. In three minor-league stops he was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. That does not look impressive but he struck out 43 batters in 36 2/3 innings. That got him a September call-up to the Yankees. Cabral took advantage of the opportunity by going 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings in eight games. Lefties hit .125 off him. Girardi was very impressed and Cabral enters the spring with an excellent chance of making the team as a lefty specialist. The other lefties on the team’s 40-man roster are starters and the two non-roster invitee lefties, Fred Lewis and Francisco Rondon, are huge longshots to make the roster. Cabral is worth watching because he has 376 career strikeouts in 383 2/3 innings in the minors. With the bevy of strong left-handed hitters such as David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and our old buddy Robinson Cano around, it helps to have a effective lefty who can get them out. Cabral could be that guy for the Yankees.

NO. 1 – MICHAEL PINEDA, 25, RIGHT-HANDED STARTER

This selection was really a no-brainer. Since the Yankees elected to trade promising prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Pineda and right-hander Jose Campos in 2012, the anticipation of seeing what Pineda could do has been palpable. After he made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in his rookie season in Seattle, the Yankees could not wait to see this 6-foot-7, 260-pound righty bring out his best. Unfortunately, Pineda showed up to camp overweight in 2012 and he did not pitch well during the exhibition season. His velocity was down and he was getting hit hard. It ended with a shellacking from the Philadephia Phillies in his last start of the spring and Pineda admitted after the game his right shoulder was sore. That led to surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. Pineda, as a result, missed the entire 2012 season and he was not ready to answer the bell at the start of the 2013 season either. Pineda made three stops in the minors last season with hopes of receiving a call back to the majors in September. He was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings in 10 starts. But minor soreness in the surgically repaired shoulder ended his season. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the free-agent loss of Phil Hughes, the Yankees want Pineda to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation. They figure it is about time he produce something. Pineda will battle right-handers David Phelps and Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno for the spot. But the smart money is on Pineda. His velocity may not be what it was but the Yankees think he can be effective. We will soon find out how effective Pineda can be.

 

 

Yankees’ Post-Rivera Bullpen Still Looks Talented

This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.

For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.

Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?

Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The question is who will take Mo’s place?

Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.

Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.

In four full seasons and parts  of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.

The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.

When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.

But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?

Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.

The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.

The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.

The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.

In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?

A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.

The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.

The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.

The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.

Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.

The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.

Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.

The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.

Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.

The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.

Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.

A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.

His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.

Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.

It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.

The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.

Should Michael Pineda claim a  spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.

In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.

Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.

Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).

Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.

The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.

Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.

He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.

Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.

At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.

One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.

Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.

He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.

Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.

The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.

Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.

In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.

He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.

Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.

Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.

In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.

One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.

The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.

Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.

The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.

The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it  is Robertson.

A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.

 

Ellsbury Signing Buoys Yankees, Weakens Bosox

In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.

The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.

Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will  –  after passing a physical  –  sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.

Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.

On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.

After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.

The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.

Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.

The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.

The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?

Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?

If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?

The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.

Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.

Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.

There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?

With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.

But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.

The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.

Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.

The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25,  who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.

The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.

The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.

The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.

The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.

He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.

After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.

 

Rivera Halts Late Rally As Yankees Sweep Chisox

GAME 139

YANKEES 6, WHITE SOX 5

If Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to have a conversation after the season with Mariano Rivera just to make sure he really wants to retire who could blame him. The 43-year-old future Hall-of Fame closer has shown no signs of his age or lost an of his effectiveness.

Rivera came with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday and “Mo’ed” down all four batters he faced for a rare four-out save to propel New York to a three-game sweep of Chicago in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,082.

The Yankees actually were cruising with a 6-1 lead behind CC Sabathia in the top of the eighth when Girardi pulled him with Alexei Ramirez on second and Paul Konerko on first after he singled with one out.

Little did Girardi and the Yankees realize that the usually reliable David Robertson would have a meltdown that allowed the White Sox to climb back into the game.

Avisail Gracia greeted Roberston with an RBI single to left to score Ramirez and, one out later, Dayan Viciedo drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.

Josh Phegley followed with a two-run single to left and Marcus Semien, who was making his major-league debut, ripped an RBI single up the middle to bring the Chisox to within a run of the Yankees and send Robertson to the dugout.

Rivera came on to strike out Alejandro De Aza looking to shut the rally down and he then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 41st save in 46 opportunities this season.

Sabathia (13=11) pitched 7 1/3 string innings to run his career record against the White Sox to 19-4. He gave up three runs on five hits and four walks while he struck four in his longest outing since Aug. 7.

Other than the two runs, Sabathia was charged with in the eighth, he only gave up a single run in the first inning when Garcia stroked a two-out, opposite-field double to drive in Gordon Beckham, who had drawn a one-out walk.

The Yankees, however, tied it with two out in the bottom of the first when Robinson Cano blasted his 26th home run of the season to right-field off right-hander Erik Johnson, who was also making his major-league debut.

The Yankees added four runs in the fourth inning off Johnson (0-1) as Alex Rodriguez led off with a lined single to center and Ichiro Suzuki reached first when Johnson’s throw to first base pulled Jeff Keppinger off the bag for an error.

Lyle Overbay followed with an RBI single and, one out later, Brett Gardner laced a two-run triple off the wall in left-center. Cano then capped the inning by driving in his 91st run of the year by scoring Gardner on a sharp comebacker off Johnson that was scored as an infield single.

Johnson, 22, was charged with five runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks while he fanned one batter in six innings. That one batter was Suzuki, who struck out with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning.

The Yankees added what looked to be just another tack on run in the seventh inning off right-hander Daniel Webb, who was the third player for the White Sox who was making his major-league debut.

Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and Cano advanced him to third with a lined single to right for his third hit of the night.

Alfonso Soriano then scored Jeter with a sacrifice fly to deep right for his 91st RBI of the season and his 40th in just 37 games with the Yankees. That run actually ended up being the margin of victory for the Yankees, who managed a home sweep of the Chisox after they swept the Yankees in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field a month ago.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 75-64 and they remain in third place in the American League East eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. However, they are just 2 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card spot. The last-place White Sox fell to 56-82, assuring them a season below .500.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is red-hot at the plate at just the right time for the Yankees’ playoff push. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday with a pair of singles, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Since Aug. 2, Cano is 42-for-117 (.359) with five home runs and 21 RBIs. Soriano is providing him with a lot of protection in the cleanup spot and he is getting better pitches to hit as a result.
  • Gardner has also been on fire of late. He was 2-for-4 with a single, a triple, a run scored and two RBIs on the night. In his past nine games, Gardner is 12-for-35 (.343) with six doubles and a triple, eight runs scored and four RBIs. His triple on Wednesday was his eighth of the season, which is a career high.
  • Sabathia actually pitched creditably after going through a stretch in which his ERA was an incredible 7.33 in his past nine starts. Sabathia has managed to win four his past five starts but he has been getting by with more run support than he received earlier in the season. The Yankees are hoping he can turn in a very good September to get the team into the playoffs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Robertson’s outing was very jarring because he was rocked for two runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning. Robertson had only given up one earned run over his past 29 1/3 innings covering 17 appearances since June 19. Considering his season ERA is still 1.88 after his outing on Wednesday I doubt Girardi will lose sleep over it.
  • Suzuki was 0-for-4 and did allow Johnson to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first when he struck out on a pitch that actually bounced in the batter’s box at his feet. He did not get a ball out of the infield and he is just 1-for-9 in his past four games and is hitting just .182 in his past 10 games.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi dropped a bombshell when he announced on Wednesday that right-hander Phil Hughes has been shifted from the starting rotation to the bullpen in favor of left-hander David Huff. Hughes, 27, is 4-13 with a 4.86 ERA in 26 starts this season. He has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions and he has a 6.12 ERA since August.  Huff, 29, has compiled a 2-0 record with 1.13 ERA in 16 innings covering seven appearances with the Yankees, most of them in long relief. Huff is scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s game against the Red Sox as part of the four-game home weekend series.  . . .  Right-hander Ivan Nova was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for August on Wednesday. Nova, 26, was 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his six starts and he is coming off his first major-league complete-game shutout in his last start against the Orioles on Saturday.

ON DECK

The Yankees’ hopes to win the A.L. East hinge on their four-game weekend series with the Red Sox that starts on Thursday.

Nova (8-4, 2.88 ERA) will be starting for the Yankees and he is the team’s hottest pitcher of late. Nova held the Orioles to three hits, walked one and struck out five batters in what was his most dominant start of the season. Nova is 2-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his career against the Bosox.

Nova will be opposed by right-hander Jake Peavy (3-1, 3.18 ERA). Peavy held the White Sox to two runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings to win his last start on Saturday. However, Peavy has had no luck against the Yankees. He is 0-4 with a 3.86 ERA lifetime against them.

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

 

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