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Betances, Miller Lead Yankees Revamped Bullpen

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

BULLPEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ironically, Miller’s career path was very similar.

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

Miller walked 41 batters in just 65 innings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END OF SERIES

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

Drew Thankful For Second Chance With Yankees

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.

SECOND BASE 

Stephen Drew, 31 (.162, 7 HRS, 26RBIs, 85 games)

It was not that long ago that the Yankees could boast about an infield of Mark Teixeira at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Alex Rodriguez at third and team captain Derek Jeter at shortstop. From an offensive and defensive standpoint it could have been considered the best in baseball.

Entering 2015, the Yankees may end up with one of the weakest infields in baseball because Teixeira is in a steep decline, Cano is playing in Seattle, Jeter has retired and Rodriguez is not considered the starting third baseman anymore.

But no place on the team is any weaker than second base because the Yankees declined to offer Cano a 10-year, $325 million contract last winter. Cano went to the Mariners and the Yankees opted to fill the void with then 36-year-old Brian Roberts, who had been allowed to leave the Baltimore Orioles after four injury-plagued seasons.

Roberts was nowhere near the player who had hit 18 home runs and drove in 73 runs while batting .314 for the O’s in 2005. Nor was he the player who stole 50 bases in 2007.

Instead the Yankees got a switch-hitter who batted .237 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 91 games before the Yankees decided they had enough and they designated him for assignment on July 31 to make room for Drew.

(Roberts very smartly decided to announce his retirement this winter.)

The Yankees had dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in order to obtain Drew even though Drew was mired in one of the worst seasons in his career.

After sitting out all of spring training and the first two months of the season after rejecting a qualifying offer, Drew finally signed a deal with Boston and promptly struggled to hit .176 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 39 games with Boston before the trade.

Drew languished in limbo without any offers from other teams after he hit .253 with 13 homers and 76 runs driven in with Red Sox in 2013. His lack of timing at the plate was obvious all season.

He fared even worse with the Yankees, hitting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games.

To say that 2014 was a season to forget for Drew would be putting it mildly. Please also forgive Yankee fans to not get too excited about Drew starting at second base after Cano batted over the .300 mark for the sixth consecutive season with the Mariners last season.

Drew, who spent the all eight seasons of his career at shortstop before he joined the Yankees last season and was immediately shifted to second base since Jeter was playing his final season at shortstop for the Yankees.

There is still a possibility that Drew could wind up at shortstop this season if 25-year-old Didi Gregorius does not show an ability to be able to hit major-league pitching after the Yankees acquired him in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers on Dec. 5 that cost the Yankees 26-year-old right-hander Shane Greene.

Gregorius hit .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 90 games with the D-backs last season. There is no doubt Gregorius is a major-league quality defensive player. He committed only five errors in 66 starts at the position last season and he also was utilized at second and third base.

Drew, however, is considered a steady fielder at shortstop and he is still learning the intricacies of second base, having played there all of 34 games (31 of them starts). Drew registered four errors at second base and three in 46 starts at shortstop between the Red Sox and Yankees.

The Yankees are not worried that Drew will be able to pick up second base enough to start. The only major question is whether he can snap out of what amounted to his worst season in the major leagues. The late start had to have a major part in it.

But, at the same time, Drew should have been able to get better at the plate as the season progressed. The fact he never did come around has Yankee fans scratching their heads as to why the Yankees elected to sign him to a one-year, $5 million contract that was made official on Jan. 16.

But there he is penciled in as the Yankees’ second baseman at the start of spring.

“If I could take a year back and kind of restart it, it’d be this year (2014), offense-wise,” Drew told reporters in September. “Other than that, you can’t do anything about it.”

Drew, who spent the first six seasons plus playing for the Diamondbacks has averaged .256 with 97 homers and 442 RBIs in his major-league career entering 2015. The Yankees are only hoping he hits closer to that career average and that he can play solid defense at second.

If Drew should continue to falter as he did last season the Yankees will have to put a ready-made Plan B in place.

Veteran infielder Brendan Ryan, 32, is slated to be the backup at both second base and shortstop for the Yankees in 2015. Offense, however, has never been a strong suit for Ryan. He batted just .167 with no homers and eight RBIs in 49 games with the Yankees last season.

Ryan was sidelined early in spring training with a neck injury and he was not activated until May 5.

The reason Ryan was signed to a two-year, $5 million deal last season was his ability to play defense at shortstop. In fact, because Gregorius struggles against left-handers Ryan is expected to get most of the starts at shortstop against lefties this season.

Ryan is a defensive wizard at short and he is well above average at second base. He committed only four errors with the Yankees in 176 innings at second, third and shortstop in 2014.

Fortunately for the Yankees they have a pair of Plan B alternatives who will be a phone call away in the minors this season.

Jose Pirela, 25, is on the team’s 40-man roster entering spring training after he made his major-league debut with the Yankees in late September.

Pirela showed some flashes of brilliance in hitting .333 in 24 at-bats. Pirela had batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.

There are doubts that Pirela is a long-term solution at second base but the Yankees believe that he could eventually take over Ryan’s utility infielder role at some point. Pirela is a pretty versatile player having played first base, second, short and even 45 games in the outfield.

After making 37 errors at shortstop in 2011, Pirela was shifted to second base and his fielding has improved a great deal since then. If he continues to hit well, Pirela could be a super sub along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr.

You could see him get a call-up this season. But he likely is returning to Scranton when spring training ends.

The Yankees are very excited by 23-year-old second baseman Rob Refsnyder, who is currently ranked as the Yankees’ sixth best prospect. There is a good reason why.

Refsnyder followed up a good 2013 minor-league season with an even better 2014 season between stops at Double-A Trenton and Scranton where he hit a combined . 318 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs.

The former University of Arizona star burst onto the scene in 2012 by hitting .476 with two homers in leading the Wildcats to the College World Series title. He also was named the series’ Most Outstanding Player.

He was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of 2012 First-Year Player Draft as an outfielder but was converted to second base in the minors.

Refsnyder is considered the best pure hitter in the organization and he shows a professional approach by using all fields. His power was unexpected bonus that could translate into 15-homer power at the major-league level.

His defense is shaky, at best, which is to be expected after being moved from the outfield. But Refsnyder has the ability to develop into an adequate defender at the position.

With Drew and Ryan already signed the Yankees would prefer to keep Refsnyder on track to play at Scranton to get more experience at second base under his belt. But his Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) is looking to be 2015 as a late-season call-up.

He could emerge as a starter in 2016 if he progresses as the Yankees expect.

Also keep an eye on 20-year-old Gasuke Katoh, who hit .222 with three homers and 37 RBIs in 121 games for Class-A Charleston (SC) in 2014. He was selected in the second round by the Yankees in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and the Yankees love his speed (20 bases) and his ability to get on base (.345 OBP).

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: INADEQUATE

I personally have some real doubts about Drew’s ability to bounce back from his horrible 2014 numbers.

In the past good Yankee teams have had such greats at second base such as Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph and Cano. The decision the Yankees made to allow Cano to walk as a free agent last winter will have the Yankees paying dearly for a long time.

I doubt Drew will hit .150 again. But even if he hits .253 he is still going to pale in comparison to Cano, who is the best second baseman in baseball now. There is no doubt this position is in a transition phase and Drew is just placeholder until something better comes along.

The Yankees would be in big trouble if Gregorius fails at shortstop and they are forced to move Drew there. That would open up a huge hole at second base and the Yankees do not want to have use Pirela or Refsnyder at the position this season.

The Yankees want Drew, Gregorius and Ryan to remain healthy and productive throughout the 2014 season to allow Refsnyder to develop as a second baseman.

If they get that time Refsnyder might reward them by becoming a productive hitter with an adequate enough glove to hold the position for years to come. That is the hope anyway.

NEXT: THIRD BASE

 

Keeping Tex Healthy First Priority For Yankees

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.

FIRST BASE

Mark Teixeira, 34 (.216,22 HRs, 62 RBIs, 123 games)

There was a time not long ago that Teixeira was considered to be among the best players at his position and he was a feared hitter in the middle of Yankees’ lineup.

But the past three seasons Teixeira has had to deal with a series of injuries that have rendered him ineffective when he did play and unavailable to play for long stretches. He has played in only 138 games in the past two seasons largely because of a wrist injury he suffered in March 2013.

Teixeira was taking batting practice before an exhibition game for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic when he tore the sheath in his right wrist. Rather than surgery on the wrist, Teixeira elected to rehab it and come back to play for the Yankees in May of 2013.

However, after 15 excruciatingly painful games Teixeira had to admit he needed surgery and 2o13 ended up being a lost season after he hit just .151 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

So Teixiera entered 2014 hopeful that after the surgery in July and a chance to heal slowly that he would be back to averaging the 37 homers and 114 RBIs he put up for the Yankees from 2009 to 2012.

After a cautious spring things looked good when Teixiera displayed his old power and he was producing offense for a very weak Yankees’ lineup. There also were some hints along the way that things were still not right with the wrist.

Early in the season he suffered a calf strain that shelved him for two weeks and then there were short stretches where Teixeira had to admit to manager Joe Girardi that he could not play because wrist was sore.

Many MRIs and cortisone shots followed and Teixeira learned from doctors that the wrist surgery was successful and the soreness was normal. But it pained Teixiera that he could not suit up and play. Even more, he also could not produce the power and runs the team needed when it so badly needed it.

Teixeira was not able to generate much for the Yankees in the second half, hitting only five homers after the All-Star break. He also struggled from the right side of the plate, where he managed just four of his 22 home runs.

There also were signs of fatigue from not being able to work out over the winter as he would have liked because of the surgery. He also suffered through a ribcage injury, a left lat strain and an injury to his left pinkie finger.

The problem for Girardi and the Yankees was exacerbated by the fact that the Yankees had precious little power at all and there was no one on the roster who specifically was designated to play first base behind Teixiera in 2014.

As a result, the Yankees were forced to use eight other players when Teixeira was sidelined: Kelly Johnson (23 starts), Brian McCann (11), Chase Headley (6), Francisco Cervelli (5), Scott Sizemore (1) and Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan and Austin Romine were moved there during games.

None of these players had any significant experience at the position and it showed.

Teixeira has always been considered among the best fielding first basemen in baseball. He has five Gold Gloves to his credit, including three of them won with the Yankees. But even that skill left Teixeira to some degree last season.

After averaging 4.3 errors a season over 10 seasons in the major leagues, Teixiera committed six in just 116 starts in 2014.

The Yankees do have to be asking themselves if Teixeira is in a permanent decline due to advancing age or can he somehow regain his health enough to produce the 39 homers and 111 RBIs he produced in 156 games in 2011.

The other problem Teixeira has had to face is his sinking batting averages.

From his second season with the Texas Rangers in 2004 through his first season with the Yankees in 2009, Teixiera never hit below .281 while hitting all those home runs and driving in all those runs.

But since 2010 Teixeira has never batted above .256. Teixeira even understood this and tried to correct it in 2012. But he gave up when he realized that he was signed in 2009 by the Yankees to a eight-year, $180 million contract to hit a lot of home runs and drive in a lot of runs no matter where his batting average landed.

So Teixeira continues to take a pull-happy approach and utilize an uppercut swing designed to elevate the ball over the short porch in right-field. That is why he receives a pretty steady diet of breaking pitches and a lot of pitches on the outside corner that are harder for him to pull. Hence, the lower batting averages.

At this point, the Yankees open camp hoping that Teixeira is healthy and the wrist is no longer an issue. After all, both David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays were able to put up great numbers in their second season after similar wrist surgeries. The same should hold for Teixeira.

The Yankees, however, do have a fallback position for Teixeira in 2015 to make up for the grievously stupid mistake they made of not having an experienced backup in 2014.

The Yankees were able to acquire veteran first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones from the Miami Marlins in December as part of a five-player deal where the Yankees shipped infielder Martin Prado in exchange for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

Jones, 33, is a left-handed hitter with power who hit 15 homers and drove in 53 runs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as their starting first baseman (122 starts).

Much like Teixeira, Jones is not looking to win a batting title. He has averaged .253 in his seven major-league seasons. But he also has hit 117 home runs in that span, including a career-high of 27 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.

So Jones gives Girardi and the Yankees some flexibility if Teixeira can’t answer the bell for a game or two this season or is simply in need of a day off. Jones’ power also means the Yankees won’t suffer as much of a dropoff without Tex.

It is first time the Yankees have had a creditable backup for Teixeira since the Yankees had outfielder Nick Swisher, who the Yankees allowed to walk as free agent after the 2012 season.

The Yankees attempted to trade for Jones in the past when he was with the Pirates but were not successful. The reason general manager Brian Cashman wanted Jones so badly is because he has a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium’s shorter dimensions in right field.

“Obviously, his left-handed bat is made for our ballpark,” Cashman told reporters. “You saw us go through a season last year where we didn’t have a legitimate backup first baseman. Now we do.”

Jones came to the major leagues as an outfielder and he is not considered a skilled fielder at first base. He committed 13 errors there last season. But even with the defensive shortcomings it is good to know he can play the position for significant stretches if he is needed.

Jones’ versatility also makes him a potential backup in right field for Beltran, who also went through a injury-plagued 2014 season that was derailed by a bone spur in his right elbow. Jones has started as many as 78 games in a season in the outfield in his career and Girardi would be comfortable playing him there if he is needed.

In addition, Jones is the odds-on favorite to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season. Because of Jones’ defensive shortcomings he is a natural DH because the Yankees would love to have his power bat available on a team that desperately needs it in 2015.

Behind Jones the Yankees may be doing some experimentation this spring with third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

The 39-year-old veteran might see some work at the position this spring since Headley is projected to start the season as the team’s third baseman. Though Rodriguez did move from shortstop to third base when the Yankees signed him as a free agent in 2004, he has never played a single game at first base in his career.

So it remains to be seen how A-Rod will fare at first base. But his former Rangers teammate Teixeira made the switch in 2003 and became proficient. The jury is out on Rodriguez being able to make the same switch at this advanced stage of his career.

And even should he be successful in making the switch, he will not be playing the position much with Teixeira and Jones ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Yankees also were very pleased with what they saw of McCann in the 11 games he started at first base in 2014. McCann, 31, showed good reflexes and some defensive skill at the position.

However, he would just be an emergency candidate in 2015, although we could see the Yankees eventually shift McCann to the position when Teixeira’s contract expires after the 2016 season.

The Yankees also have a potential replacement for Teixeira in their minor-league system named Greg Bird.

The 22-year-old former high school catcher for Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman in Aurora, CO, has flourished as a hitter ever since he was moved to first base.

Bird, who bats left-handed, hit a combined .271 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs in 102 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season.

Bird takes a very patient approach to the plate and he led the minor leagues with 103 walks in 2013. The Yankees believe he has the ability to hit for both power and average at the major-league level.

Bird was the sensation of Arizona Fall League in 2014. He was named the AFL Most Valuable Player representing Scottsdale this winter. The Yankees have issued him a non-roster invite to spring training.

Realistically, Bird has no shot of making the team. But he will get his first chance to see how he measures up against some of the best in the game. He is ticketed for Double-A with a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season possible.

In any event, Bird gives the Yankees a solid young player who could be a productive first baseman at the major-league level.

Kyle Roller, 26, hit .300 with 26 home runs and 74 RBIs in 125 games between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. His 26 home runs actually was the not only the best minor-league total, it was also the best in the entire organization.

Unlike Bird, Roller takes more of an all-or-nothing approach to the plate as his 289 strikeouts in his past two minor-league seasons would attest. Though Roller does have very good power from the left side, his path to the majors is blocked.

He also is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He likely will end up at Scranton for another season but could see a temporary call-up should the Yankees need a backup first baseman.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

Because of Teixeira’s declining batting average and injury problems, he is no longer considered among the elite first basemen. Having said that the Yankees still do need a healthy Teixeira in 2015.

They need the more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs he produced from 2004 to 2011. Only one other first baseman did that for a longer period of time and that was Albert Pujols.

If you throw in Teixiera’s sparkling defense and his ability to save his fellow infielders errors, you have the makings of a quality first baseman. However, Father Time seems to have caught up with Tex.

He begins the spring with a lot to prove this season. The Yankees hope he is up to the challenge. They see him as a player who will fill either the fourth or fifth spot in the batting order so they do have a lot riding on his health.

Having a quality backup like Jones available makes the Yankees feel a whole lot better have the parade of players they out there in 2014. Though his defense is nowhere near that of Teixeira’s, Jones gives the Yankees a productive power bat to deploy at first should Teixeira for some reason be unable to play.

Bird appears to be a potential star in the making if he continues to develop as he has in the minors. It gives the Yankees some hope when the Teixeira era at first base finally ends.

NEXT: SECOND BASE

 

Nuno Silences Critics As Yankees Bombard Bosox

GAME 78

YANKEES 6, RED SOX 0

The New York media hounded Yankees manager Joe Girardi for days about his decision to start Vidal Nuno on Friday instead of skipping him in favor of rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka. The pundits pointed out Nuno’s 0-3 record and his 7.09 ERA at home and the fact he had not won a game at all since May 7.

Well, Nuno, buoyed by Girardi’s faith in him, managed to shut those windbags up real quick.

Nuno pitched 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball and he got the backing of three home runs as New York continued its mastery over struggling rival Boston in front of a sellout crowd of 48,522 at Yankee Stadium.

Nuno (2-4) yielded just two hits and and two walks while he fanned five in what easily was his best start of the season. The 26-year-old left-hander used his fastball to set up his slider and curve to keep the Red Sox at bay, retiring 10 batters in a row at one stage.

The only hits he gave up were a lead off single to Jonny Gomes in the second inning and a one-out double to Brock Holt in the third.

Meanwhile, the Yankees used the long-ball to their advantage against right-hander Brandon Workman (1-1).

The Yankees broke on top in the first inning when Derek Jeter stroked a one-out single and former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury delivered a ringing double down the right-field line. Mark Teixeira then scored Jeter with a sacrifice fly.

But the Yankees added to their lead in the fourth when Brian McCann slapped an opposite-field single to left and two outs later Kelly Johnson blasted a two-run shot into the back end of the lower-level bleachers in right-center for his fifth home run of the season.

Just after Johnson got his final high-five in the Yankees’ dugout Brett Gardner hit a high-arcing shot that landed in the first row over the auxiliary scoreboard in right for his seventh home run of the season.

Workman managed to settle in long enough to pitch seven innings, giving up four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five.

The Yankees added a pair of runs off left-hander Craig Breslow in the eighth when Teixeira led off with a single and McCann followed one out later with a majestic blast into the second deck in right-field on a 3-1 fastball for his ninth homer of the season.

The bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Matt Thornton held the Red Sox scoreless over the final 3 1/3 innings, surrendering just one hit and one walk while they struck out four.

The Red Sox entered the contest 13th in the American League in runs scored.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 41-37. They are just a half-game behind the second-place Baltimore Orioles and they trail the first-place Toronto Blue Jays by just two games in the American League East. The flagging Red Sox, however, fell to 36-44 and they are eight games behind the Blue Jays in fourth place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nuno entered the game having yielded 15 home runs in 61 2/3 innings this season, many of those homers (9) were two- and three-run shots. But Nuno was spot on with his location on Friday and he was able to keep the Red Sox off balance throughout his outing. This game not only was helpful for the Yankees in their division fight but it also saved Nuno’s job as the team’s fifth starter.
  • After losing his role as the team’s primary third baseman to Yangervis Solarte, Johnson languished on the bench. But he has been getting more starts lately and his 1-for-2 evening with a walk and strikeout extended his modest hitting streak to three games. Johnson did hit 16 home runs in only 366 at-bats with the Tampa Bay Rays last season so his power could be helpful to the Yankees, especially at home.
  • McCann has been a major disappointment in the first half but he is quietly beginning to get untracked. He was 2-for-4 on Friday and now is 8-for-27 (.296) with two homers and seven RBIs in his past seven starts. The Yankees desperately need a power source in the middle of the lineup besides Teixeira.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

You could almost guess there are not going to be any negatives from this game. Nuno and the bullpen shut out the Red Sox and the Yankees were able to put some balls into the seats for a change. That makes for a perfect night in the Bronx, NY.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi got a little heated on Friday when the media kept asking about why he was not skipping Nuno in favor of Tanaka. Girardi bristled at the notion that he was answering the question, he said, for the 10th time. Girardi explained that Tanaka is used to pitching on seven days rest, rookie Chase Whitley is new to starting, David Phelps just came out of the bullpen and Hiroki Kuroda got tired late last season. Girardi said the team is in a stretch of 17 games without an off day until the All-Star break and his pitchers could use the rest. So there!  . . .  Left-hander CC Sabathia is expected to throw between 40 to 45 pitches on Saturday in his first rehab start for High Class A Tampa at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Sabathia, 33, has been on the disabled list since May 10 with a degenerative weakness in his right knee. He is expected to make three starts during his minor-league rehab stint.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend home series against the reeling Red Sox on Saturday.

Tanaka (11-2, 2.11 ERA) will finally get the start that will please the New York media. Tanaka had his five-game win streak snapped by the Orioles on Sunday. He gave up only three runs on six hits and a walk while he struck six in seven innings but he got no run support in what ended up an 8-0 loss.

The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Jon Lester (8-7, 3.14 ERA). Lester gave up two runs on four hits and two walks and fanned four batters in 7 2/3 innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday in a no decision.

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

 

Kuroda, Tex Help Yankees End Skid Against Jays

GAME 77

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.

Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.

However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.

Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.

Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.

“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”

The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.

Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.

Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.

The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.

The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
  • Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
  • Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
  • Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.

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.

 

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.

 

Yankees Force Jays Back To Earth With Sweep

GAME 71

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4

When the Yankees came off their recent West Coast road trip to face the first-place Blue Jays at home they were hoping that they could just gain some ground on them. After completing a three-game sweep of them on Thursday the Yankees have to feel extremely blessed.

David Phelps pitched seven very gutty innings and the offense, while it did not send a single ball into the seats, wore down their American League East rivals as New York won its 16th straight game against Toronto at Yankee Stadium in front of a paid crowd of 40,169.

Phelps (3-4) held the booming bats of the Blue Jays in check except for a two-out two-run home run he served up to Melky Cabrera in the third inning that tied the score at 2-2. Those two runs were all Phelps would give up while holding the Jays to six hits while he walked two and struck out seven.

Phelps even helped himself out with a do-or-die fielding play in the fifth inning. With two out and Colby Rasmus on third, Cabrera hit a rocket shot that ricocheted off Phelps and rolled behind the mound. Phelps scrambled back to the ball and fired quickly to Mark Teixeira at first to barely nip Cabrera.

Meanwhile, the Yankees hitters were putting right-hander Drew Hutchinson (5-4) through a draining pitch-count wringer.

They scored single runs off him in the first two innings on sacrifice flies by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first and Kelly Johnson in the second. They then broke the 2-2 tie in the third inning when Ellsbury led off with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a single by Teixeira.

One batter later, Carlos Beltran scored Ellsbury with the Yankees’ third sacrifice fly of the evening. In the meantime, they had forced Hutchison to throw 76 pitches in the first three innings.

The Yankees added a run in the fifth when Ellsbury laced a one-out single and, again, stole second. Then Teixeira drew a walk that ended the night for Hutchison.

Left-hander Aaron Loup was able to retire Brian McCann on an infield liner but Beltran lofted a ground-rule double into the bleachers in left-center to score Ellsbury.

Hutchinson was charged with four runs on six hits and four walks while he struck out three in 4 1/3 innings.

The Yankees added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to extend their lead to 6-2 on a night when two big contributors to their bullpen, Dellin Betances and closer David Robertson, were unavailable.

Brian Roberts and his base-running keyed the sixth inning when he led off the frame with a single and stole second and third base. But manager Joe Girardi deserves some credit for some strategy after Brett Gardner drew a one-out walk.

Girardi elected to send Gardner as Derek Jeter bounced a ball to Jose Reyes at shortstop. Instead of being able to turn a double play, Reyes was forced to retire Jeter at first as Roberts scored and Gardner was standing safely at second.

The Yankees were able to load the bases on right-hander Steve Delabar in the seventh inning when Roberts drew a walk with two outs. Delabar then walked Yangervis Solarte to force in a run.

The Blue Jays did manage to make things interesting in the eighth inning when Jose Bautista drew a one-out walk from right-hander Shawn Kelley and Edwin Encarnacion followed by planting his 21st home run of the season into the left-field bleachers.

However, Kelley retired Dioner Navarro and Matt Thornton got the final out in the eighth and the first out in the ninth before he was touched for a single off the bat of Rasmus.

Adam Warren then came in to get pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki and Reyes to complete the sweep and earn his second save of the season.

With the victory, the Yankees are 38-33 and they are 1 1/2 games out of first place in the A.L. East. The struggling Blue Jays fell to 41-33.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps lost four consecutive starts from May 22 through June 7 and he was 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA at that point. But in his past two starts he has defeated the team with the best record in the American League (Oakland) and the best team in the A.L. East (Toronto). In those two starts he has given up two runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out 11 in 13 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 1.32 ERA in those starts, which has lowered his season ERA to 4.11.
  • The Yankees very much need Beltran’s bat and they got it on Thursday. Beltran was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. It was his first multiple RBI game since he drove in two runs against the Boston Red Sox on April 22 at Fenway Park. Beltran entered the contest 7-for-40 (.175) with a home run and three RBIs since he came off the disabled list on June 5.
  • Ellsbury had another good night in going 2-for-4 with two stolen bases, two runs scored and an RBI. Ellsbury is now hitting .279 with four homers and 31 RBIs. But he also has stolen a team-best 20 bases and has an on-base percentage of .346. Add his skilled fielding in center and you have a very good player and a very smart free-agent signing by the Yankees.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Why complain when starters Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley and Phelps combined to give up just five runs in 19 innings (a 2.37 ERA) in the three games against the hard-hitting Blue Jays. Whitley and Phelps may be considered as blowout patches for a starting rotation that lost Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda. But they are more than holding their own for Yankees at a time when they are very much needed. No complaints about this game.

BOMBER BANTER

The game was delayed for some time in the fourth inning when a rare base-runner interference play was called on Encarnacion after he led off with a single. Navarro followed with a routine pop fly to Teixeira just inside the first-base bag. Encarnacion used both of his hands to slide around Teixiera to return to first base while the ball was in the air and he was immediately called for interference by first-base umpire Chris Conroy. After initially calling Navarro out on the pop fly, the umpires conferred and placed Navarro at first base on a fielder’s choice.  . . .  Johnson had to leave the game in the sixth inning when the fingers on his left hand were struck with the ball as he was attempting a bunt. Johnson was removed from the game and replaced by Solarte with a 3-2 count. Solarte struck out but the Yankees later scored Roberts on Jeter’s groundout. Johnson underwent X-rays that did not indicate any broken bones. But Johnson is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees now hope to continue their momentum against their A.L. East rivals when they begin a weekend three-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 3.42 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda lost his start on Saturday, giving up four runs on five hits and three walks against the Oakland Athletics. Kuroda is 1-0 against the Orioles this season after beating them 4-2 on April 7 at Yankee Stadium in his second start of the season.

Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (2-8, 4.86 ERA) will start for the O’s. The disappointing free agent gave up two runs on three hits and five walks in six innings in a loss to the Blue Jays last Friday. He has not won a game since May 8 and he was the losing pitcher to Kuroda in that game on April 7.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

McCann-ical: Yankee Catcher’s 5 RBIs Dumps Jays

GAME 70

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

For most of the season, the Yankees have been wondering where their All-Star slugging catcher Brian McCann was because the one they have been watching was hitting ,220 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. Well, cross your fingers and do a sign of the cross, but there was a rare McCann sighting at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.

McCann lined a two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead and later added a three-run triple as part of a career-best-tying five RBIs to lead New York past Toronto to bring them to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.

A paid crowd of 41,342 in the Bronx, N.Y., watched the Yankees win their 15th consecutive game over the Blue Jays at home.

Chase Whitley (3-0), buoyed by an early 1-0 lead, held the Blue Jays scoreless until the fourth inning when he was stung by back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game.

But the Yankees were able to answer in the bottom of the fourth against left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-4), who has now lost his past three starts.

Carlos Beltran led of the frame with a single and McCann, after battling Buehrle to a 2-2 count in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a curveball into the second row of the bleachers in right-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.

The home run was McCann’s eighth of the season but his first since May 23 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Buehrle was also touched for an unearned run in the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a single, one of his four singles on the night. Derek Jeter then reached when Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie misplayed Jeter’s slow roller into an error.

Two batters later, another one of the Yankees struggling sluggers, Alfonso Soriano, slapped Buehrle’s first pitch up the middle to score Gardner.

Buehrle was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.

Whitley, however, was able to hold on for his third straight victory and the Yankees are now 7-0 in his starts since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15. He yielded two runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings.

The Yankees were able to put the game away in the seventh inning against right-hander Chad Jenkins and left-hander Brett Cecil.

Gardner singled and, two outs later, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Jenkins with Cecil and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk for score Gardner.

McCann then followed with a base-clearing triple into the gap in right-center to become the first Yankees catcher to hit a home run, a triple and drive in five runs in a game since Elston Howard did it in 1962.

The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth off rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez on a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista. But the bullpen combination of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson pitched four scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and six strikeouts to close out the victory for Whitley.

The Yankees’ season record is now 37-33 and they only trail the Jays by one game in the loss column in the tightly bunched A.L. East. The Blue Jays fell to 41-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann was 2-for-3 with a walk and his five RBIs on Tuesday leave him in a tie with Teixeira for the team lead with 33. McCann, 30, a career .274 hitter, is still hitting only .226 but the Yankees are hoping that he is about to break out of what has been a prolonged power and hitting drought to provide what he did for the Atlanta Braves in his previous eight seasons.
  • Gardner entered the game hitting .325 at Yankee Stadium this season and he added to it with a 4-for-5 night with four singles and two runs scored. In 30 games at home, Gardner is now 41-for-119 (.345) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. In his past nine games, Gardner is 14-for-38 (.386) with two homers and five RBIs.
  • Whitley, who turned 25 on Saturday, got caught up in a heavy pitch count in trying to battle the major league’s best home run hitting team. But he kept the Yankees in the game until the Yankees were able to take the lead in the fourth. Whitley’s walk to Cabrera with one out in the fifth was the first he has issued since May 21 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In 38 2/3 innings, Whitley has walked just four batters. It looks like he is going to be a keeper in the rotation.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There are hints that the Yankees may be ready to bust out of their offensive funk and it could not have come at a better time because the Yankees are in the midst of 15 games against teams in their division. They have now won the first two of those 15 games against the best team in the division. They need to keep it going.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for a second consecutive day and he is expected to throw another bullpen session on Saturday. Sabathia, who was limited to throwing just fastballs on Tuesday, mixed in some sliders on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right knee after the session. Sabathia has been sidelined since May 10 after having a stem-cell injection in his right knee.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that he is not considering any shakeup in the starting rotation but he is watching left-hander Vidal Nuno closely. Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA this season and he was shelled for eight runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. With right-hander Shawn Kelley back in the bullpen after a stint on the DL, Warren could be inserted into the rotation if Girardi needs to make a move.

ON DECK

The Yankees have a chance to sweep the first-place Blue Jays on Thursday and draw to within 1 1/2 games of the lead in the division.

Right-hander David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, is coming off what may have been the best start of his career on Saturday when he shut out the A’s on two hits and three walks while fanning four in 6 2/3 innings. That victory broke a string of four straight losses for Phelps.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 23, shut out the Baltimore Orioles on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings for his fifth victory on Friday. He was lit up for six runs on six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings by the Yankees in Toronto on April 6.

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

 

Tanaka Earns 11th Win As Yankees Top Blue Jays

GAME 67

YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 1

Whispers around the American League caution teams that to beat Masahiro Tanaka you better get to him early in the count and in the game. The Toronto Blue Jays applied that game plan in Tanaka’s first major-league start and again on Tuesday and it did not work either time.

In Tanaka’s major-league debut, Melky Cabrera led off the game with a home run and the Blue Jays lost the game 7-3. Jose Reyes led off Tuesday’s game by hitting Tanaka’s first delivery into the right-field bleachers and Toronto still lost the game.

Tanaka (11-1) pitched six innings to record his major-league-leading 11th victory as New York cut a game off the Blue Jays’ lead in the American League East with a victory over Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 41,834 at Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old right-hander yielded just that one run on five hits and two walks and he fanned 10 to lower his A.L.-leading ERA to 1.99 and post his 14th quality start in as many games pitched.

“What he’s done has been remarkable,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

The victory also was Girardi’s 600th in his career as the team’s manager, the sixth skipper to reach that mark.

Tanaka and the Yankees weathered the early 1-0 deficit before taking the lead in the bottom of the third against rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman, who is a native of nearby Medford, N.Y.

Kelly Johnson laced a one-out double to the wall in right-center and Brett Gardner followed by lining a 2-1 slider off the netting of the right-field foul pole for his sixth home run of the season.

Stroman (3-2) was charged with two runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out two in 3 2/3 innings.

The Yankees pushed across another run against left-hander Aaron Loup when Derek Jeter reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Jacoby Ellsbury’s groundout advanced Jeter to third, Loup made a mistake by failing to walk Mark Teixeira on a 3-1 pitch.

Instead, the switch-hitting Teixeira lined Loup’s inside fastball up the middle for a one-out RBI single with the left-hand-hitting Brian McCann on deck.

Meanwhile, Tanaka got even tougher, striking out Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion on swinging strikes in succession in the fifth inning.

Rookie Dellin Betances pitched a perfect two innings, striking out three, and David Robertson pitched around a two-out triple by Munenori Kawasaki to notch his 17th save in 19 chances this season.

The victory improves the Yankees’ season record to 36-33 and boosts them into second place in the A.L. East 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays. The Jays are now  41-31.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The conventional wisdom prior to the game was that because Tanaka’s loss came against the only team he has faced twice this season, the Chicago Cubs, that the Blue Jays would have success against him in their second meeting. It did not happen. Tanaka was even better. “They mowed us down pretty good tonight,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters.
  • If you combined the numbers this season for Tanaka, Betances and Robertson they are 15-3 with a 2.09 ERA with 224 strikeouts in 164 innings. I doubt seriously you can name a better starter and two-man bullpen combination in baseball today. They just dominate hitters and they combined on Tuesday to strike out 15 batters against the best home-run hitting team in baseball.
  • Gardner was batting .344 in his past 14 home games and his home run on Tuesday was his fourth at Yankee Stadium. Overall, Gardner is hitting .325 at home this season and he also leads the Yankees in bating with runners in scoring position at .315. Despite mostly batting in the leadoff spot, Gardner is tied with McCann and Yangervis Solarte for third on the team in RBIs with 28.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees probably could have done better than just six hits against Stroman and the Blue Jays relievers but with Tanaka on the mound it just does not seem to matter. The Yankees face the Blue Jays in five of the next 10 games. So winning the first one is a good start in cutting their lead in the division.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected on Tuesday, the Yankees activated catcher Francisco Cervelli from the 60-day disabled list and John Ryan Murphy was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cervelli, 28, has been sidelined since April 13 with a torn right hamstring and just completed a 10-game minor-league rehab stint. Murphy, 22, hit .286 with a home run and eight RBIs and drew raves about his play over 24 games. Cervelli, however, was out of options and the Yankees did not want to risk losing him.  . . .  CC Sabathia reported no issues with his right knee of Tuesday after throwing a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Sabathia, 33, has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 11 after requiring a stem-cell injection to his knee when some degenerative breakdown in the cartilage was discovered by Dr. James Andrews. There is still no firm date for Sabathia’s return but it likely will be sometime after the All-Star break.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game midweek series with Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.41 ERA) will make his seventh start of the season. Whitley is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in past two starts including giving up just two runs on five hits with no walks and six K’s in his major-league best 7 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.28 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Buehrle is coming off back-to-back losses and yielded four runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.

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

 

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