Results tagged ‘ Mets ’

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

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.

OUTFIELD

RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)

CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)

LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)

In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.

That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?

Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.

On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.

The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.

Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.

So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.

So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .

Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.

“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”

The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.

Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.

Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.

By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.

The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.

“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”

There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.

On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.

But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.

After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.

With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.

Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.

One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.

Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.

Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.

Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.

He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.

Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.

Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.

Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.

The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.

Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.

The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.

Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.

On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.

Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.

Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.

The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.

The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.

One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.

Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.

They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.

Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.

Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.

Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.

The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.

Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.

Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.

Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.

Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.

He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.

One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.

In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.

With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.

He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.

The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.

Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.

The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.

Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.

The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.

But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.

The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.

The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.

Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.

But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.

Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.

Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.

The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

Beltran’s Belated Blast Boosts Bombers By Birds

GAME 72

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 3

After he was activated from the disabled list on June 5, Carlos Beltran hit .171 through June 18. Then on Thursday Beltran showed signs of coming around with the bat by driving in two runs and one of those RBIs coming on a ground-rule double.

Well, on Friday there can be no doubt that Beltran is back to the old form that allowed him to make eight National League All-Star teams.

With two out and two on and the Yankees trailing by one run in the ninth, Beltran clobbered a high 3-1 fastball from left-hander Zach Britton and sent it majestically to the back of the lower-level bleachers in left-field as New York scored four runs in the frame to take a sure victory away from Baltimore.

As Beltran rounded third base, most of the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,197 were on their feet cheering as Beltran’s teammates greeted him exuberantly at home plate thankful for the team’s first walk-off home run of the season and Beltran’s first since June 11, 2008 with the New York Mets.

“It really means a lot for us right now,” Beltran told reporters after he received a Gatorade shower from his teammates. “We’re playing against teams that are in our division, so it’s important.”

The Yankees have now won four consecutive games  –  all against division opponents  –  and they have won eight of their past 10 games to move to a season-high six games over the .500 mark.

The improbable rally began when Brett Gardner led off with a single against Britton (3-1), who entered the contest having only blown one save in 10 chances this season.

Things then looked bleak for the Yankees when Britton struck out Derek Jeter looking and retired Jacoby Ellsbury on a routine fly ball to center.

However, Mark Teixeira drew a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Kelly Johnson. Then Brian McCann came through with an RBI single to center to score Gardner. McCann then was replaced by pinch-runner Francisco Cervelli.

That set up Beltran’s dramatic home run off Britton.

Up to that point it had been a pretty frustrating evening for the Yankees.

Despite the fact that right-hander Hiroki Kuroda held the Orioles hitless for the first five innings and Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez gave up six hits and walked six batters, the Yankees found themselves trailing from the sixth inning on.

The Yankees held an early 1-0 lead thanks to a two-out single in the first inning by Ellsbury, who later stole second. Teixeira then brought Ellsbury home with a double into the right-field corner.

However, the Yankees’ offense failed to take advantage of chances to score that Jimenez provided them.

The Yankees loaded the bases off Jimenez in the second, the fifth and the sixth innings. Yet they could not push across a run.

Gardner hit a fly ball to center with the bases loaded and one out in the second but center-fielder Adam Jones was able to cut down Beltran at home plate for a double play that ended the inning.

Teixeira bounced out to first with the bases loaded in the fifth and left-hander T.J. McFarland, who replaced Jimenez when he walked the bases loaded after getting the first two outs in the sixth, was able to retire Gardner on a groundout.

Jimenez was charged with one run on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 5 2/3 innings.

Kuroda, however, was unable to keep the Orioles off the board in the sixth.

Nick Hundley broke up Kuroda’s no-hitter with a leadoff double to right-center and, one out later, Steve Pearce doubled to left to score Hundley. Jones gave the Orioles the lead with an RBI single to right.

Kuroda yielded two runs on four hits and one walk while he struck six in six innings.

The game remained 2-1 until the Orioles were able to tack on what looked to be a key insurance run in the ninth inning off left-hander David Huff.

Pinch-hitter Jonathan Schoop led off with a ground ball that was misplayed by third baseman Yanjgrevis Solarte for an error. Hundley advanced Schoop to second with a sacrifice bunt.

Nick Markakis moved Schoop to third when his ground ball struck Huff’s foot and caromed away for a single. Pearce then plated Schoop with a lined single to center.

Huff (2-0) was credited with the victory despite giving up the run. However, the run was unearned due to Solarte’s error.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 39-33 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who the Yankees had swept just before opening the series with the O’s. The Orioles trail the Yankees by two games and they are 37-35.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Beltran, 37, batted .296 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs for the National League-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. So anyone could understand he was not going to finish the season batting .218 as he was for the Yankees on June 18. The Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year contract to be a force in the middle of the lineup with his power and production. After missing 21 games with a bone spur in his right elbow and a slow start when he first came back, Beltran appears primed to provide big numbers the rest of the way.
  • Beltran’s heroics overshadowed McCann’s RBI single that preceded the walk-off home run. McCann was 2-for-5 in the game and, like Beltran, he appears to ready to start contributing with the bat after a dreadful 2 1/2 months of hitting in the .220s. Despite the fact that McCann is hitting .226, his RBI single in the ninth tied him for the team lead in RBIs with Teixiera with 34.
  • Kuroda deserved a much better fate. He yielded two runs in six innings and was handed a no decision because the offense could not come through with a big hit against Jimenez when they had so many chances, In the past four games, Yankees starters have now given up just seven runs in 24 innings for a sparkling 2.63 ERA.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

If the team had lost I would had a lot of negatives. There was just no excuse for scoring just one run on Jimenez. But they rallied in the ninth and this was a “statement” victory. The Yankees seem to be riding the crest of a wave right now and it is coming while they are playing teams within their division.

BOMBER BANTER

Johnson was held out the starting lineup on Friday nursing sore fingers on his left hand. Johnson injured himself attempting a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning against the Blue Jays on Thursday. As he attempted the bunt, the ball struck Johnson’s fingers and he left the game in favor of Solarte. Though Johnson pinch-ran in the ninth, he is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Brian Roberts, 36, singled in the second inning off Jimenez for the 1,500th hit of his career. The milestone came against the team for which he played from 2001 through 2013.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Orioles on Saturday.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-3, 5.90 ERA) will start for the Yankees with his spot in the rotation on very shaky ground. Nuno served up a pair of three-run homers in the first and second innings in a 10-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday and he has not won a game since May 7.

Right-hander Bud Norris (6-5, 3.73 ERA) will pitch for the Birds. Norris held the Blue Jays to one run on seven hits and one walk in seven innings on Saturday to win his third straight game. He has not faced the Yankees this season.

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

 

Mission Possible: Mr. Phelps Holds A’s At Bay

GAME 66

YANKEES 7, ATHLETICS 0

In his previous four starts, David Phelps was 0-4 with a 6.57 ERA and he was shelled for 13 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings in his last two starts. Despite facing the first-place team in the American League West and their ace, Phelps on Friday posted one of the best starts of his career.

Phelps pitched 6 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball and the Yankees were able to get three runs on the board in the first two innings against Sonny Gray as New York broke a seven-game road losing streak against Oakland in front of a sellout crowd of 36,067 at O.co Coliseum.

Phelps (2-4) set the tone early by retiring the first 10 batters he faced until he walked John Jaso in the fourth inning. He only allowed a one-out bloop single to Derek Norris in the fifth inning and a two-out double to Jed Lowrie in the seventh before being replaced by Dellin Betances.

Phelps ended up walking three batters and striking out four in his 6 2/3 innings of work.

He got all the support he really needed in the first inning when the Yankees jumped on Gray (6-3) for three consecutive singles by Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury’s single not only extended his major-league-leading hitting streak to 17 games, it also drove in Gardner with the game’s first run. Mark Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Jeter.

In the second inning, Brian Roberts reached first on an infield single, Kelly Johnson drew a walk and Gardner slapped an opposite-field single to left to score Roberts.

Jeter then singled to load the bases but Gray escaped further trouble by getting Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice in which Johnson was cut down at home plate and Teixeira flew out to left.

Ellsbury and Teixeira began a run of 13 consecutive batters Gray was able to retire until Ichiro Suzuki reached on an infield single with two out in the sixth. The final five outs Gray recorded were on swinging strikeouts.

But Gray was charged with loss after yielding three runs on seven hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in six innings.

The Yankees were able to turn the game into a rout by scoring four runs in the eighth inning off veteran left-hander Jeff Francis  –  all of them scoring with two outs.

After Teixeira and Brian McCann hit back-to-back one-out singles, Suzuki, Roberts and Johnson all stroked two-out RBI singles. On Roberts’ single Suzuki was able to score from first when the throw from right-fielder Brandon Moss caromed off Norris’ glove at the plate for an error on Norris.

Betances retired all four batters he faced, two of them by strikeout. Fellow rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez pitched a perfect ninth to allow the Yankees to claim their fourth straight victory.

The Yankees improved their season record to 35-30 and they are in second place in the American League East, 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The A’s fell to 40-27.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps had been a major disappointment as a replacement starter when Michael Pineda was placed on the disabled list and his past two starts were dreadful. But on Friday he was very good despite the fact he walked three and threw 45 balls among his 102 pitches. Phelps used his cutter and his slider to keep the A’s hitters off balance. His only “stress” inning came in the fifth when he walked Lowrie and gave up the bloop single to Norris. But he got out of the inning by getting Andy Parrino to fly out and he struck out Kyle Blanks.
  • Ellsbury continues to roll along on his hitting streak. He was 1-for-4 with a walk and he drove in a run on Friday. He is now 25-for-67 (.373) during the streak with two home runs an 12 RBIs. Ellsbury is now hitting .290 with four home runs and 30 RBIs and he leads the team in stolen bases with 18. He has been the Yankees’ most consistent player on offense and, if you add his excellent defense, he has been the team’s best all-around player.
  • Jeter returned for the last time to the field where he made his iconic “flip play” in the American League Division Series in 2001 and he celebrated it by going 2-for-4 with a run scored. Jeter is red hot at the plate in his past four games. He is 9-for-18 (.500) with two RBIs and five runs scored in that span. That has raised the 39-year-old team captain’s season average to .275.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

In their past four games the starters have yielded only five runs in 29 innings for an ERA of 1.55 and the team has scored 20 runs. The defense has also been exceptional. The Yankees need to start piling up victories if they want to be contenders and they doing just that.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees signed veteran right-hander Heath Bell to a minor-league contract and he was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre. Bell, 36, compiled a 1-1 mark with a 7.27 ERA in 13 games with the Tampa Bay Rays this season. After being released by the Rays, Bell signed with the Baltimore Orioles. However, he opted out of his minor-league deal with them after posting a 4.22 ERA in 10 2/3 innings. Bell has recorded 168 saves in 590 games with the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, the then-Florida Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Rays.   . . .  Pineda, 25, has not resumed throwing and manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Friday that the right-hander likely will not return until August. Pineda is on the 60-day disabled list with strain of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder. He had to be scratched from a June 1 start in an intrasquad game after feeling soreness in the shoulder muscle.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend series with the A’s on Saturday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (4-4, 4.12 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda held the Kansas City Royals to two runs in seven innings on Sunday but ended up taking the loss because the Yankees offense snoozed to the tune of going 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

Left-hander Scott Kazmir (7-2, 2.20 ERA) will pitch for the Athletics. Kazmir threw seven shutout innings to defeat the Orioles on Sunday. He beat both Kuroda and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 3, giving up two runs and striking out 10 in 6 1/3 innings.

Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Whitley Chases What Matters: First Victory In KC

GAME 60

YANKEES 4, ROYALS 2

In his major-league debut on May 15 against the New York Mets, Chase Whitley drew high praise from former Atlanta Braves right-hander John Smoltz, who was providing color commentary of the game for the MLB Network. After the way the rookie pitched against the Royals on Friday, now Yankee fans can see what Smoltz noticed.

Whitley pitched seven solid innings in his longest start of his career and he went on to earn his first major-league victory behind the hitting of Brian McCann as New York edged Kansas City in front of a paid crowd of 23,418 at Kauffman Stadium.

Whitley (1-0) yielded two runs on five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out three in his first outing to last more than five innings. Whitley threw 51 strikes out of 87 pitches for a 59 percent strike ratio, keeping the Royals off balance with his fastball, slider and change-up.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to break a 1-1 tie in the third inning, keyed by a one-out, bases-loaded, three-run double off the bat of McCann.

Jacoby Ellsbury opened the inning with a single up the middle off veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2-6). Brett Gardner then looped an opposite-field single into left and  –  one out later  – Guthrie brushed the right shoulder of Mark Teixeira with a pitch to load the bases.

McCann then stroked an outside fastball into the left-field corner to clear the bases and hand Whitley and the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

Guthrie was charged with four runs on six hits and one walk while he fanned two in seven innings of work. He has now winless in his past 11 starts dating back to April 9.

Dellin Betances tossed a scoreless eighth and David Robertson threw a scoreless ninth to earn his 14th save in 16 chances this season.

The Yankees took an 1-0 lead in the second inning when Teixeira led off by lining a single to right off Guthrie. Yangervis Solarte drew a one-out walk and Brian Roberts provided a two-out RBI single to center to score Teixeira.

However, the Royals were able to tie it up in the bottom of the second when Alex Gordon laced a one-out double into the right-field corner and Salvador Perez followed with an RBI single to left.

The Royals did close to within two runs in the fifth when Gordon led off the frame with a single and stole second. One out later, Lorenzo Cain bounced a ball into left-center that he was able to hustle into a double.

However, Whitley ended the threat by retiring Mike Moustakas on a groundout and Alcides Escobar on a flyout.

The 24-year-old was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15 as the Yankees lost starters CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda to injury in quick succession. The converted reliever did not get a decision in his previous four starts despite the fact he is sporting an excellent 2.42 ERA.

With the victory the Yankees have won two in a row and they improved their season record to 31-29. They also were able to pass the Baltimore Orioles to claim second place in the American League East six games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Royals, who have now lost 21 of the past 31 games to the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium, fell to 29-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Whitley may end up being more than just a fill-in starter until Sabathia and Pineda are expected to return in July. His first five starts  –  and particularly this one  –  prove that Whitley deserves to stay in the rotation as long he continues to pitch this well. David Phelps is 1-3 with a 4.19 ERA in six starts and Vidal Nuno is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in nine starts as replacements. Whitley has simply been more impressive as a starter than they have, period.
  • McCann has been a major disappointment at the plate this season after entering the season as a career .275 hitter with 20 or more homers in the past six seasons. But his big three-run double showed he is willing to hit the ball where it is pitched to beat the extreme shifts teams play on him. Since May 27, McCann is quietly resurrecting his hitting. He is 14-for-33 (.424) in that span to raise his season average to .231.
  • Roberts entered the game in a 1-for-14 (.071) funk that dates back to May 31. But his two-out RBI single gave the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. The Yankees have been really disappointed with the production they have gotten from the free agents (Ellsbury, McCann, Roberts, Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson) they signed this past winter. They all need to really start picking it up soon.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After the team went through a horrendous four-game losing streak while the Blue Jays were red hot, they finally seem to have some life back in them. So after getting a huge victory out a pitcher they had not planned to use at all this season things may be finally falling into place. It’s about time, too.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Royals on Saturday.

Phelps (1-3, 4.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. The right-hander is coming off his worst start of the season on Monday against the Seattle Mariners. He was tagged for six runs on six hits and three walks in six-plus innings.

The Royals will start left-hander Danny Duffy (3-5, 3.05 ERA). The converted reliever will be making his seventh start and he is 2-4 with a 3.27 ERA in those starts. He shut out the St. Louis Cardinals on one hit and one walk while striking out five in six innings on Monday.

Game-time will be 7:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Despite Split With Bucs, Yankees Claim First Place

GAME 42

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 3

The Yankees’ hitters must have gotten an early wakeup call on Sunday because they came out blazing against the Pirates.

The Yankees scored three runs in the first inning and added a run in the second and then they let Hiroki Kuroda and their bullpen hold it as New York extended its winning streak to four games with a victory over Pittsburgh in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.

Kuroda (3-3) was touched for a run in the first inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Neil Walker but he settled in after the Yankees came back to give him a 4-1 cushion.

The Yankees jumped on hard-luck right-hander Charlie Morton (0-6) when the first five batters he faced reached base.

Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Derek Jeter followed with a perfectly placed bunt single. Morton then loaded the bases when he hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a curveball.

Mark Teixeira stroked a two-run single and Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a RBI single.

The Yankees added a run in the second inning on a leadoff single by Kelly Johnson, who later stole second and reached third on an error by catcher Tony Sanchez. Gardner then scored him with an RBI double.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, their bats promptly went to sleep after Gardner’s double. Morton went on to retire 16 of the 17 batters he faced. The only batter who reached, Zoilo Almonte singled with two out in the fourth inning, was picked off first base by Morton.

Morton was charged with four runs on six hits and on walk while he struck out six in seven innings.

Kuroda was touched for two runs in the fifth when Sanchez led off with a home run into the left-field bleachers. Clint Barmes then doubled and he scored one batter later on an RBI single by Walker.

Kuroda left after giving up three runs on six hits and two walks while he fanned seven batters in six innings.

The Yankee bullpen combination of Matt Daley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Pirates scoreless on one hit over the final three innings to seal the victory for the Yankees.

Robertson pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief to earn his eighth save in eight chances this season.

GAME 43

PIRATES 5, YANKEES 3

Reserve utility player Josh Harrison broke  a 3-3 tie with two out in the seventh inning with a home run as Pittsburgh salvaged one game of the three-game series with New York in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Gerrit Cole (4-3) yielded three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out eight in six innings of work to earn the victory. Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.

Reliever Alfredo Aceves (0-2), who came in relief of left-hander Vidal Nuno in the seventh, was charged with his second loss in the past eight days.

Nuno yielded three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk and he struck out five batters in six innings.

Despite splitting the doubleheader, the Yankees  –  with a season record of 23-20  –  pulled into a half-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates are now 18-25.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda was hardly at his best. But he did pitch much better than he has previously this season. Kuroda had much better command of his slider, which made his fastball and split-finger fastball much more effective. After winning two of his first three starts, Kuroda was 0-2 with a 5.10 ERA in his past five starts.
  • Teixeira extended his hitting streak to eight games in the opener and managed to end the day one RBI in back of Yangervis Solarte for the team lead in RBIs with 22.
  • Gardner has been on a hitting tear that began on May 3 and he has not stopped. In his past 15 games he is 20-for-58 (.345) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He was 3-for-7 in the doubleheader and has raised his season average to .297.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi basically gutted the Yankees’ offense in the second game by holding out Jeter, Ellsbury, McCann and Alfonso Soriano. I understand that he needed to rest McCann (as the catcher) and Ellsbury (due to his recent illness). My only quibble is he could have balanced it so that two of them played in one game and two the other. In the second game, Johnson batted cleanup. Huh?
  • Aceves, 31, may be quickly paving his way to being designated for assignment of he does not get his act together real soon. In his past four appearances, he has yielded eight runs on nine hits and three walks in six innings. That is an ERA of 12.00 and a Walks-To-Innings-Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 2.00. Pitchers who get shelled in relief do not stay in a Girardi bullpen for long.
  • Solarte and Brian Roberts cost Nuno and the Yankees a valuable run in the second inning when Solarte made an errant throw after fielding a Starling Marte grounder and Roberts then dropped a potential double-play relay from Solarte one out later which would have ended the inning. Instead, Chris Stewart, of all people, drove in a run with a two-out single.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a well-deserved day off on Monday before flying to Chicago to open a two-game series with the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (6-0, 2.17 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off his his first major-league complete-game shutout, which he threw against the New York Mets on Wednesday. He gave up only four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out eight. He also beat the Cubs by shutting them out for eight innings ay Yankee Stadium on April 16.

Veteran right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 3.06 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Cubs. Hammel surrendered five runs on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in his last start on Thursday. He also took the loss to the Yankees on April 16 at Yankee Stadium.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.

 

Bronx Bombers’ Barrage Buries Bewildered Bucs

GAME 41

YANKEES 7, PIRATES 1

On a day when David Phelps was struggling with his command and his pitch count was exploding the Yankees found a time-honored way to dispatch the Pirates: Break out the home-run ball.

Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann connected for a pair of two-run home runs and Zoilo Almonte, Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano each added solo shots as New York deep-sixed Pittsburgh in front of a national TV audience and a paid crowd of 47,353 at Yankee Stadium.

It was only the second time this season the Yankees have hit more than three home runs in a game and they tied their season high with five set against the Boston Red Sox on April 12.

Despite his struggles, Phelps (1-0) managed to pitch five shutout innings, yielding five hits, three walks and a hit batter while striking out five. Phelps did not have a single 1-2-3 inning but kept the Pirates off the scoreboard by wriggling out of jams.

He escaped a two-on, no out situation in the second by retiring Gaby Sanchez on a flyout and striking out Jordy Mercer and Tony Sanchez. He did the same thing in the fifth by striking out Neil Walker, getting Andrew McCutchen on a flyout and Pedro Alvarez on a groundout.

He also gave up three hits in the fourth, but he escaped without giving up a run thanks, in part, to a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play when Ike Davis struck out and McCann threw out Starling Marte attempting to steal second base. Gaby Sanchez then stroked a two-out double and Mercer followed with a single to right but Soriano nailed Sanchez with a perfect throw to McCann.

Four of the five home runs came off Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez (1-4), who had given up just one homer in his first five starts but has surrendered eight in his past four starts. he was charged with five runs on six hits and struck out three in 6 1/3 innings.

Teixeira opened the barrage in the first inning by following a one-out single by Derek Jeter with his ninth home run in just 23 games after coming off the disabled list on April 20.

Almonte, who was a late addition to the lineup because Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from the lineup due to flu-like symptoms, hit Volquez’s first delivery in the third inning deep into the second deck in right-center for his first home run of the season and only the second of his major-league career.

Dellin Betances relieved Phelps and the sixth and he was greeted on his first pitch with a line-drive homer into the left-field bleachers by Marte to account for the Pirates’ only run of the day.

Gardner got the run back by stroking his third home run of the season to lead off the sixth inning, making the score 4-1.

Soriano added his sixth home of the season to lead off the seventh and McCann capped the scoring by cracking a two-run shot, also his sixth of the season, with two out in the eighth off right-hander Vin Mazzaro.

The Yankees have hit 25 home runs in just 20 games at Yankee Stadium compared to 13 home runs in 21 games on the road.

After going through a stretch of losing four games in a row earlier this week, the Yankees have now won three straight and Yankee pitchers have given up just one earned run (Marte’s homer) over the past 27 2/3 innings.

The Yankees improved their season record to 22-19 and they also climbed into a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East, one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates dropped to 17-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • To put Phelps’ struggles in perspective, he threw 25 pitches in both the first and second innings and 26 in the fifth. His breaking pitches were diving out of the strike zone and the Pirates were not looking for anything but fastballs. But give Phelps credit for keeping the Pirates scoreless and he now owns a 1-0 record and a 2.93 ERA in his three starts in place of the injured Michael Pineda.
  • McCann looks like he is beginning to be heating up with the bat. He was hitting .209 on May 6 but since then he has had at least one hit in six of his past seven games. In that span he is 8-for-28 (.286) with two homers and five RBIs to raise his season average to .225.
  • Teixeira has hit in seven straight games and is 9-for-25 (.360) with four homers and nine RBIs in that stretch. With Carlos Beltran on the disabled list and McCann hitting well below his normal level, Teixeira has helped the Yankees by providing consistent production in the middle of the order.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The starter pitches five shutout innings, the team hits five home runs and the defense chips in by nailing base-runners at second and at the plate. Despite Betances blowing the shutout there is not much to criticize in this one.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees’ banged up outfield took another hit when Ellsbury had to be scratched before Saturday’s game. He had only missed one game this season. Ellsbury is day-to-day but the Yankees hope to have him available for Sunday’s doubleheader.  . . .  Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki, who has missed all of this week with a lower-back strain, was used as a defensive replacement in right-field in the ninth inning of Saturday’s game. He is expected to start at least one of two games on Sunday.  . . .  Although CC Sabathia will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on May 26, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday that he will need more time. Sabathia had right knee drained of fluid and a degenerative change in the knee was treated with a cortisone and stem-cell injection this week by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, AL. Sabathia is expected to be back in New York on Sunday and he will be re-evaluated early next week.

ON DECK

Because of a rainout on Friday the Yankees will play a single-admission doubleheader against the Pirates on Sunday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-3, 4.62 ERA) will pitch the first game for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings against the New York Mets on Monday before the bullpen imploded after he left. He did not get a decision.

The Pirates will counter with hard-luck right-hander Charlie Morton (0-5, 3.22 ERA). Morton yielded three unearned runs in the first inning and lost to St. Louis Cardinals despite yielding just one earned run on seven hits in six innings last Sunday.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-1, 6.43 ERA) will pitch the second game for the Yankees. Nuno has been a disappointment so far as a No. 5 starter, having given up seven runs (five earned) on four hits and four walks in just 3 1/3 innings against the Mets on Tuesday. He is 1-1 with a 4.94 ERA in his five starts.

He will be opposed by hard-throwing right-hander Gerrit Cole (3-3, 3.76 ERA). Cole was tagged for three runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out six in 5 2/3 innings of a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.

Game-time for the first game will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the second game will start approximately 30 minutes after the first game is completed. Both games will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees’ Young Guns Shut Out Mets On Three Hits

GAME 40

YANKEES 1, METS 0

In the 1990 Western “Young Guns II,” Sheriff Kimbrel (Jerry Gardner) is asked to go after Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez). His reply was classic. He said, “I’d rather drink turpentine and piss on a brushfire. I ain’t touchin’ this one.”

That is pretty much how the New York Mets’ hitters must have felt on Thursday as they were gunned down one by one by the New York Yankees’ own version of Young Guns.

Chase Whitley, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson, all who are products of the Yankees’ minor-league system, combined to shut out the Mets on three hits while striking out 14 batters as the Yankees earned a split of the 2014 Subway Series in front of a paid crowd of 40,133 at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y.

Whitley, 24, made his major-league debut and threw 4 2/3 innings, yielding just two hits and two walks while fanning four batters. He even managed to pick up his first major-league hit in his first at-bat in the third inning against Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, who also was making his major-league debut.

The Yankees managed to push across the only run of the game against deGrom in the seventh inning on a misplayed double-play grounder.

Mark Teixeira drew a one-out walk and Brian McCann followed by hitting a routine ground ball to second baseman Daniel Murphy, who gunned down Teixeira with a throw to third baseman David Wright. Wright, the third baseman who was playing shortstop in an extreme  shift on McCann, threw the relay to first baseman Lucas Duda into the dirt and McCann was able to reach first base safely.

Alfonso Soriano then stroked a double into the gap in left-center that rolled to the wall and allowed the slow-footed McCann to score from first base for the first time in a game since the 2009 season.

Though deGrom (0-1) was tagged with the loss he pitched as brilliantly as Whitley. He gave up just the one run on four hits and two walks while he struck out six batters over seven innings.

Betances (2-0) relieved Whitley and he earned the victory in relief by retiring all seven batters he faced and he struck out the final six batters, four of them looking. Betances entered the game in the fifth with two on and two out but he escaped when he induced Eric Young Jr. to ground out.

Warren struck out two in the eighth but he left with pinch-runner Juan Lagares on third after a walk to pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu and Murphy on first after a single.

But Robertson came in to retire Wright on a ground out to end the threat. He then pitched perfect ninth with two strikeouts to earn his seventh save in seven chances this season.

The game marked the first time since Sept. 7, 2010 that two pitchers squared off in their major-league debuts since the Mets’ Dillon Gee, who coincidentally was replaced as the starter for this game by deGrom because a strained lat muscle landed him on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, faced off against Yunesky Maya of the Washington Nationals.

After giving up 21 runs on 24 hits in the two Subway Series games at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees held the Mets scoreless on seven hits and three walks with 22 strikeouts in their two victories at Citi Field. Masahiro Tanaka tossed his first major-league complete-game shutout on Wednesday, holding the Mets to just four hits while striking out eight.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 21-19. They are in sole possession of second place in the American League East a half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles. The Mets fell to 19-21.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Whitley has found a niche as a starter this season after being mostly a relief pitcher in the minor leagues. Though his velocity hovers in the low 90-mile-per-hour range, Whitley was able to stymie the Mets by keeping his fastball, slider and change-up down. Wright struck out swinging in his three at-bats against Whitley, who was starting in place of the injured CC Sabathia.
  • Betances is drawing raves from pundits who believe he could be a closer now. Betances threw 20 of 27 pitches for strikes in his dominant 2 1/3-inning outing. Betances has recorded 39 strikeouts out of the 67 batters he has retired this season. He lowered his ERA to 1.61 and batters are hitting a miserable .154 off of him.
  • Soriano struck out in his first two at-bats but he doubled and singled to end the night 2-for-4. The Yankees are still waiting for Soriano to go off on one of his hot streaks as he did last season after the Yankees acquired him from the Chicago Cubs. Soriano is hitting . 248 with five homers and 16 RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The offense could have been better but the Yankees seem to always struggle against pitchers they have not seen before. But I will give them a mulligan because Whitley, Betances, Warren and Robertson were so brilliant. They dominated the Mets and made them look bad.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, on the 15-day disabled list with a bone spur on his right elbow. But Beltran told reporters that he still hopes to avoid having surgery, which could sideline him for six to eight weeks. Beltran first noticed the pain in his elbow when he was taking swings in the batting cage during Monday’s game against the Mets. Beltran had a cortisone injection and he hopes that will relieve the pain when he is eligible to be reinstated. To replace Beltran on the roster the Yankees purchased the contract of Whitley from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. To make room on the 40-man roster for Whitley the team activated right-hander Bruce Billings from the disabled list and designated him for assignment.  . . .  Thursday’s game was the final visit to Citi Field for Derek Jeter and the 39-year-old shortstop was awarded a subway tile mosaic with his No. 2 and featuring both Yankee and Met colors. The Mets also handed Jeter a check worth $222, 222. 22 for his Turn 2 Foundation.

ON DECK

The Yankees do not have far to go home to Yankee Stadium as they open a three-game weekend series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.

Right-hander David Phelps (0-0, 4.09 ERA) will make his third start for the Yankees in place of right-hander Michael Pineda. Phelps yielded four runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out one in five innings in a no-decision against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.

Phelps will be opposed by veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez (1-3, 4.36 ERA). Volquez was tagged for three runs on four hits and four walks while fanning four in 4 2/3 innings in a no-decsion against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

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

 

Tanaka Stays Perfect With 4-Hit Shutout Of Mets

GAME 39

YANKEES 4, METS 0

Throughout Wednesday’s game at Citi Field in Flushing, NY, you could honestly hear crickets because the paid crowd of 35,577 and the bats of the New York Mets were silenced by a pitcher who is legend in the making.

Masahiro Tanaka, in only his eighth major-league start, shut out the Mets on just four hits in a masterpiece of a complete game as the Yankees snapped a six-game losing streak to the Mets in the Subway Series and also ended their current four-game skid.

Tanaka (6-0) did not walk a batter and struck out eight in an 114-pitch effort that extended his streak to 42 games without losing a regular-season start that dates back to Aug. 18, 2012 in the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Tanaka even capped his night by getting his first major-league hit in the top of the ninth inning against right-hander Jose Valverde.

Yangervis Solarte and Mark Teixeira backed Tanaka with a pair of solo home runs and Brian Roberts hit a pair of triples to spoil the major-league debut of Mets right-hander Rafael Montero (0-1).

The Yankees broke through on Montero with two outs in the second inning when Montero issued a walk to Solarte and Roberts followed with a sinking line drive to left that Eric Young Jr. allowed to skip by him for a triple that scored Solarte.

Solarte, a 26-year-old rookie who entered the game leading the American League in batting with a .336 average, added to his own miraculous rookie season by lining his fourth home run of the season into the right-field bleachers with two out in the fourth inning.

Teixeira blasted his eighth home run of the season and his third in his past five games to pad the Yankees’ lead to 3-0.

Montero yielded three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out three in six innings of work.

The Yankees “stole” a run with two out in the seventh inning off right-hander Carlos Torres when Brett Gardner narrowly beat out a infield single. He then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a infield dribbler off the bat of Derek Jeter that he legged out for an RBI single.

But Tanaka appeared in such command that he really only needed one run.

The quote of the night came from Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, who had on elf the four hits Tanaka gave up. He told reporters after the game:

“I knew what was coming and I could not hit it.”

Tanaka became the first Yankee rookie pitcher to throw a shutout since Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez did it on Sept. 14 1988 against the Boston Red Sox.

He also silenced a Mets offense that had pounded the Yankees for 21 runs on 24 hits the past two nights across town at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY.

“I think you could argue that he’s been as valuable as anyone on our team, with what he’s done so far this year,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 20-19 and they are tied with the Red Sox for second place in the American League East, one half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles. The Mets dropped to 19-20.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s brilliance against the Mets was tied a lot to his pitch selection. He and catcher Brian McCann noticed that the Mets were not swinging much at Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball on two-strike counts so they used Tanaka’s slider and two-seam fastball instead. Tanaka’s shutout lowered his season ERA to 2.17 and he now has struck out 66 and walked seven in 58 innings. WOW!
  • Solarte is long past just being lucky. This youngster is the real deal. His 1-for-3 night kept his average at .336 with four home runs and a team-leading 23 RBIs. “It’s become a running joke, pretty much, in our dugout about [Solarte being] the best player I’ve ever seen at this point,” Roberts told reporters. “It’s a great story. It’s fun to watch.”
  • Roberts was actually shortchanged in his 2-for-4 night because he hit a blistering liner off Torres’ left wrist in the seventh and then hit a scalding liner to center in the ninth that was caught by Curtis Granderson. On May 1, Roberts was hitting .213. Since then he is 12-for-40 (.300), raising his season average to .243.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Tanaka pitched just like an ace should. He stopped a losing streak, gave the shell-shocked bullpen a rest and picked up a team that was scuffling to win lately. There is nothing to complain about.

BOMBER BANTER

CC Sabathia visited Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, AL, on Wednesday and the orthopedist found some “degenerative changes” in the left-hander’s troublesome right knee, general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. Sabathia was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 11 and he later had fluid drained from the knee. Andrews has prescribed a cortisone and stem cell injection that will be administered on Thursday. Although there is no structural damage to the knee there still is no set timetable for Sabathia’s return.  . . .  Outfielder Carlos Beltran sat out Wednesday’s game after having a cortisone injection for a bone spur in his right elbow earlier this week. The Yankees will re-evaluate Beltran’s elbow in a few days. They are hoping the veteran can avoid having surgery.

ON DECK

The Yankees will complete their Subway Series with Mets on Thursday with a chance of earning a split.

The Yankees will call up right-hander Chase Whitley to make his major-league debut in place of Sabathia. Whitley, 24, is 3-2 with a 2.39 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has a career minor-league ERA of 2.64.

The Mets will counter with a rookie right-hander named Jacob deGrom, who also will be making his first start in the majors. DeGrom, 25, is 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Las Vegas. He will be starting in place of right-hander Dillon Gee, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lat strain.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Tanaka Signing Thrusts Yankees Into Contention

The key to winning baseball has always been pitching and the New York Yankees solidified their 2014 starting rotation by agreeing to terms with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday.

After a disastrous season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons, their stated “goal” of remaining under the $189 million payroll limit and the loss of Robinson Cano to free agency, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner fought back by loosening the pursestrings for general manager Brian Cashman.

The result was a dizzying array of signings that included All-Star catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the additions of key pieces like infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and the re-signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda.

But none of those signings would have mattered much at all unless the Yankees landed Tanaka.

Tanaka, 25, came off a season with Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in leading his team to the Japanese championship. In his seven seasons he was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 1,238 batters in 1,315 innings.

The right-hander possesses a 94-mile-per-hour fastball along with a world-class splitter and a slider. More importantly, Tanaka is not a nibbler in the tradition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last season he struck out 183 batters while walking 32 in 212 innings.

Those eye-popping stats led the Yankees front office to offer a seven-year contract worth $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Golden Eagles. The signing also proved pundits wrong for predicting that the Los Angeles Dodgers had the inside track in signing Tanaka because his wife, a singing star of some note, preferred to be on the West Coast and craved the glitter of Hollywood.

Tanaka will receive $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020. The deal also allows the contract to be terminated after four seasons to permit Tanaka to seek free agency. He also has a full no-trade clause.

He also was allotted a $35,000 moving allowance and annual payments of $100,000 per season for housing for the New York metropolitan area or Tampa, FL. The Yankees threw in $85,000 in annual salary for an interpreter and four annual first-class flights from the United States to Japan.

Doubters will question this largesse heaped upon a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. But the Yankees’ front office and scouts were convinced that Tanaka has the potential to be even better than countryman Yu Darvish, 27, who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in his first two seasons as the ace of the Texas Rangers.

Tanaka will slide into the No. 2 spot behind CC Sabathia and join fellow Japanese right-hander Kuroda and 27-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova in a revamped Yankee rotation in 2014.

The Yankees believed they needed to upgrade the rotation this season after the retirement of left-hander Andy Pettitte and the loss of right-hander Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins.

There also are questions swirling around Sabathia, 33, after his disappointing 2013 campaign in which he slipped to 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. The ace left-hander had to adjust with a huge drop in velocity on his fastball and his record shows there are more adjustments necessary.

But Sabathia vows that he will show up this spring ready to prove he is still the same pitcher who was 74-29 in his previous four seasons in pinstripes.

That would be a good thing because Sabathia never found his groove after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA in April. His ERAs in succeeding months were 4.14, 5.11, 6.60 and 5.94. Yankee fans can take some comfort in the fact Sabathia was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in September.

That could indicate he will indeed adjust as Pettitte and Mike Mussina did when they lost velocity.

The odd thing is that after four seasons of being accused of not paying attention to his weight as the season progressed, many of those same “so-called experts” thought Sabathia lost velocity last season because he was too thin. Well, who really knows? But it is ironic those “experts” would mention it.

The Yankees will settle for Sabathia arriving in Tampa in shape and they believe he has enough weapons to remain effective as a starting pitcher because he never really has been a pitcher totally dependent on his fastball to get by.

He will remain atop the rotation in 2014 with the help of the infusion of a young Tanaka behind him.

Strangely, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter was their best pitcher in 2013 despite making only 20 starts.

Nova began the season pitching horribly in spring training and in his first four starts of 2013 before succumbing to a inflammation in right triceps. After spending time on the disabled list, a rehab stint in the minors and pitching briefly out of the bullpen, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23.

From that point on, Nova was absolutely brilliant. He was 7-4 with a 2.59 in his last 15 starts beginning on July 5. This came after a season in which Nova’s game flew off the rails and he ended up 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012.

So the Yankees believe that Nova’s second half is more indicative of what he is as a pitcher after he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.

Nova decided not to use his slider very much last season in order to concentrate on his mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. The result was 79 strikeouts in those 15 starts. The fact that he still just 27 makes him an excellent No. 3 starter in this bolstered rotation.

Before Nova came on, Kuroda, who will be 39 on Feb. 10, was the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. In fact, on Aug. 12, Kuroda was sporting a 11-7 mark with a 2.33 ERA on one of the weakest hitting Yankee teams in generations.

But a heavy workload of 154 2/3 innings began to take a toll on the veteran. In his last eight starts, Kuroda was 0-6 with a awful 6.56 ERA. It is clear that Kuroda was overtaxed into pitching past six innings too early in the season because he was not getting adequate offensive support.

Manager Joe Girardi was forced to keep him in a lot of close games and Kuroda paid a heavy price down the stretch. Even still, Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA and he will certainly benefit from an improved offense in 2014.

The Yankees are impressed with the way Kuroda is able to adjust midstream in games by dipping into his arsenal of fastballs, sliders, splitters and curves to find the pitches that are working best for him that night, That is why they chose to re-sign him to a third one-year contract for $16 million.

Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki should also help make Tanaka feel at home in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

The big concern for the Yankees now is who will claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Fortunately, they have some options to fill the spot.

The “dream scenario” for the Yankees would have 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda ready to take the ball this spring and run with it. Pineda, after all, was obtained in a 2012 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Jose Campos, 21, for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.

However, after a 2011 rookie season in which Pineda made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a weak-hitting Seattle team, Pineda ended up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder after his last spring training start in 2012.

He missed the entire season and pitched only 40 2/3 innings in the minors last season until he was shut down in August after experiencing some minor shoulder soreness.

The Yankees still have high hopes for Pineda, who boasted a mid-90s fastball, an above average change-up and a slider before his injury. The Yankees took a lot of heat from their fans when they traded away their No. 1 prospect in Montero and allowed the Mariners to deal Pineda instead of parting with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

So there is some pressure on Pineda as he enters spring training having not thrown a single pitch for the Yankees in two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much Pineda has lost off his heater and if he still can be effective for the Yankees.

But the Yankees claim he is healthy and should be ready to go.

Another option for the No. 5 spot is right-hander David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, started his second major-league season in his usual role as a long man in the bullpen until he was thrust into the rotation on May 1 to replace the injured Nova.

Phelps showed great promise by going 2-2 with a 4.32 in six starts in May. But he stumbled to a 3-2 record with a 5.57 ERA in his next six starts before he landed on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.

Phelps did not return to the roster until Sept. 15 and was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances.

The Yankees see Phelps as a solid Plan B if Pineda is not quite ready to pitch or he suffers a setback in his rehab. But the Yankees clearly see Phelps more valuable in the bullpen, as his numbers in 2012 indicate. Phelps was 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in his rookie season.

Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admire Phelps fearlessness in attacking hitters though he owns only a pedestrian fastball.

Phelps makes up for a lack of velocity with good command of the strike zone and he can ring up a lot of strikeouts with his breaking stuff and pitching smarts.

The Yankees also have right-hander Adam Warren, 26, who was 2-2 with a 3.39 ERA in a long relief role for the Yankees in his rookie season in 2013.

Warren did make two late-season spot starts and was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those starts. Unlike Phelps, Warren has above-average velocity on his fastball. But the Yankees are not sure how high Warren’s ceiling extends as a starter. They would prefer to keep him as a long reliever if they could.

The Yankees got an unexpected boost with a reclamation project in left-hander David Huff last season. Huff, 29, who was former starter with the Cleveland Indians, was signed after his release from the Indians and recalled from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in mid-August.

He was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. Huff was tagged for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 7. Without that disastrous appearance Huff had a 2.37 ERA in his other nine appearances.

Huff also seemed comfortable in a long relief role as well as in his two spot starts in September. He also brings some value as a left-hander.

However, because the Yankees have to make room on the 40-man roster for Tanaka, Huff was designated for assignment. He will only return to the Yankees as a free agent if he is unable to find work elsewhere, which is unlikely considering he is left-handed and he pitched so well in 2013 for the Yankees.

There has been an ongoing rumor this winter that the Yankees might be interested in signing former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Santana, 34, became a free agent when the New York Mets declined to pick up his option for 2014. Santana did not pitch in 2013 after suffering a second tear of his anterior left shoulder capsule. Santana was 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Mets.

The signing of Tanaka makes Santana’s signing less likely. Santana was scheduled to make $25 million before the Mets bought out his option for $5.5 million. If the Yankees can get him for less than $10 million they might take a shot. But Santana also has to prove he is healthy.

The Twins, the team with whom he won those two Cy Young awards, are among the teams interested in Santana when he is given the go-ahead to throw from a mound for scouts at his Fort Myers, FL, home in February.

The Yankees do have some good young pitchers in the minors but none of them look ready to break camp with the team. A few could be called up during the season if they progress well.

At the top of the list is left-hander Vidal Nuno, 26, who was the Yankees top rookie of spring training in 2013.

Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA at Scranton and he received a midseason call-up to the Yankees. In five appearances, including three starts, Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He missed most of the remainder of the season with a strained left groin.

For some reason Nuno is able to keep batters off-balance with a mix of breaking stuff that he features with a very lackluster upper 80s fastball. The reason is he has pinpoint control. He walked only eight batters in his combined 45 minor- and major-league innings in 2013.

If he has another strong showing this spring, Nuno could certainly leapfrog Phelps or Warren for the No. 5 spot. In addition, he could also make the squad as a long reliever and spot starter. Girardi loves pitchers who challenge hitters and don’t issue walks.

This spring all eyes will be on 22-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, who missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Banuelos was considered the team’s No. 1 prospect at the time he was injured in 2012. In 2011, Banuelos was 1-1 with 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings in spring training, earning him the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie.

However, the young Mexican lefty struggled with his control in 2011, walking 71 batters in a cobined 129 2/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. He was 6-7 with a 3.45 ERA that season.

In 2012, he made only six starts before being shelved with elbow soreness and he ended up having to undergo surgery to repair a ligament in his left elbow in October.

The Yankees love his low-90s fastball and change-up combination that saw him strike out 125 batters in 2011. He is still young and talented enough to progress quickly if he puts it all together. But the Yankees would like to see him do that at Scranton before they bring him up to the big club.

He remains the team’s No. 8 prospect. He just has to prove he is healthy and regain his control.

The Yankees are also very high on 24-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez, who was 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts at Trenton before going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts at Scranton. Ramirez struck out 78 batters in 73 2/3 innings and the Yankees believe he has a very high ceiling.

But he likely needs a full season at Scranton before he makes a bid for the big club.

The same can be said for left-hander Nik Turley, 24.

Turley, a relative of former Yankees right-hander Bob Turley, was 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 26 starts at Trenton last season. Compared to Pettitte in style, teammates call him “Little Andy” and he backed that up by fanning 137 batters in 139 innings last season.

Below Banuelos, Ramirez and Turley the Yankees have a nice corps of young starters who are a few years away from making it to the majors.

The biggest buzz is surrounding the team’s No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula, 22.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander hits up to 99-mph on his fastball and he has a hard curve and a change-up. He was a combined 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA at High-A Tampa and Charleston last season. More impressive was his 146 punch-outs in only 113 1/3 innings.

DePaula enters the 2014 season as the team’s best young arm and deservedly so. This young Dominican has quality starter written all over him.

Don’t forget about the right-handed Campos, either. Campos, 21, was obtained along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he may have even an higher ceiling than Pineda.

Campos suffered an elbow injury that did not require surgery in 2012, In 2013, he was 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) at Charleston. He has an above-average fastball to go along with very good control of two secondary pitches.

That mix will take him far as long he can prove he can stay healthy in 2014.

The Yankees also have high hopes for 22-year-old right-handed flamethrower Bryan Mitchell, who likely will be at Trenton this season. Mitchell was 4-11 with a 4.71 ERA at Tampa and Trenton last season. The Yankees need only to see him command his 96-mph fastball and nearly unhittable curve to make a giant leap this season.

Two others to watch are 2013 first-round draft pick Ian Clarkin, a left-hander, and 20-year-old right-hander Ty Hensley, who was picked in the first round in 2012.

Unlike the position players, the Yankees are pretty rich in young starters at the minor-league level. It is quite possible that three or four of them could be strong contributors with the big club very soon.

In the meantime, the signing of Tanaka has given the Yankees a major shot in the arm. Just ask the rival Boston Red Sox. They see that the $471 million the team has spent on free agents has thrust them back among the top tier teams in the American League East.

Without pitching it is hard to compete in such a tough division. It appears now the Yankees will have a starting staff that can get them back to the playoffs.

That would require one huge “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) to the signing of Tanaka.

 

Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.

The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.

Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.

He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.

Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.

The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.

Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.

Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.

He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.

But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.

On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.

That is a shame.

Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.

He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.

But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.

But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.

On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.

Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.

Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.

Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.

Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.

His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.

On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.

The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.

Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.

In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.

The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.

Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.

The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.

Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.

So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.

The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.

The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.

The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.

The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.

Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.

He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.

The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.

Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.

The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.

The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.

In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.

Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.

Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.

His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.

Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.

But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.

His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.

These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.

In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.

The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.

 

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