Results tagged ‘ Prince Fielder ’

Here Are Five Key Yankees To Watch This Spring

Spring training is here!

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

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

In reverse order of importance, here are the five:

NO. 5 – DEAN ANNA, 27, INFIELDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cano Inching Closer To Re-Signing With Yankees

When Robinson Cano fired combative player agent Scott Boras to become the first sports client for recording artist Jay-Z and his new agency, Yankee fans figured it was a given that a loyal Yankee fan like Jay-Z would steer his client to the Yankees without any problem.

Well, it has not quite been that way so far.

Cano, 31, and the Yankees still remain very far apart in negotiations on a new contract for the All-Star second baseman.

Representatives for Cano kind of stunned the Yankees and the baseball world as a whole by seeking a 10-year contract in excess of $300 million. Many observers claim that Cano’s agents are marketing him as a baseball version of Michael Jordan and it is hard to see the analogy.

Cano is a talented player with great appeal but his jersey and other gear is not even selling among the top 20 players in the sport. He even trails fellow second baseman Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox.

However, Yankee fans, reality and circumstances may be settling in at Camp Cano now.

Cano’s representatives, Brodie Van Wagenen and Juan Perez of CAA Baseball, met with Yankees president Randy Levine on Tuesday and Cano has reportedly lowered his contract demands. However, the two sides remain far apart. After all, the Yankees were offering seven years at $160 million.

But the fact that Cano’s people are lowering his demands shows there is some wiggle room in the talks. More talks are planned and we could see the Yankees raise their offer a bit.

The Yankees were extremely fortunate to gain an upper hand in the negotiations when two prime teams Cano could have coaxed into a bidding war for his services solved their second base problems early.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed 27-year-old Cuban star Alexander Guerrero to fill their big need at the position. That was strike one on Cano.

Then this week the Detroit Tigers dealt first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in return for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Strike two.

That has given Yankees general manager Brian Cashman just the kind of leverage he needed to lower Cano’s very lucrative demands. Now it appears common sense will prevail and the two sides can work something out because their is one very salient fact about all this: The Yankees can’t afford to lose Cano.

Cano is simply the best player the Yankees have and on the heels of a disastrous injury-marred 2013 campaign the Yankees don’t want their franchise player to leave.

The Yankees are playing it like they are cool with it. I’m sure the rumor the Yankees were talking with free agent Omar Infante had all the hallmarks of Cashman behind the scenes fanning the flames.

But even he knows that Infante is not even a blip on the radar compared to what Cano can do for a team. But, hey, if it works, it works for Cashman.

Infante, 31, hit a robust .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs for the Tigers last season. Cano, on the other hand, batted .314 with 27 home runs and drove in 107 runs and should have won a Gold Glove after just committing six errors last season. (Pedroia dives and flops around like a dying carp while Cano glides to everything and the voters think Pedroia is better. Geesh!)

Cano’s growth as a player has been immense. He came up as a colt in 2005 but he is now a bona fide thoroughbred.

He is a career .309 hitter with 204 home runs and 822 RBIs. He is four-time All-Star, he has won two Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards and he is simply the best second baseman in baseball today. You don’t replace that with Infante.

Last season, the Yankees lost a huge chunk of its power when players such as Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez left as free agents. Then the team lost most of its remaining power with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter rehabbing from offseason surgeries and Curtis Gramderson and Mark Teixeira sustaining injuries before the season even started.

The one constant the Yankees could count on all season long was Cano. Despite the fact teams pitched around him all season, Cano delivered.

The other hallmark of Cano’s career has also been his durability.

Since 2007, Cano has not played in less than 159 games in any season. Last season, he answered the bell for 160.

The only knock on Cano has been that label of “lazy” that dogged his early career and cost him a few more Gold Gloves because he made everything seem so dang easy. He has mostly beaten that rap in the field but it still dogs him as a base-runner.

Cano has a habit of coasting to first on grounders and he has been embarrassed by getting thrown out at second base on balls he thought were going out of the park. But all his positives far outweigh that negative. The sum of the parts adds up to the greatest second baseman in Yankees history.

And should Cano remain in pinstripes, he could certainly make a case for himself up against the likes of Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. He and Jeter have formed the best double-play combination in Yankees history.

There is no telling what Cano will do if he remains a Yankee.

The only question remains is will he?

There is no doubt Infante remains the only viable fallback position should Cano leave.

After all, the Yankees have some players who play the position but none of them hold a match, much less a candle, to Cano.

The Yankees dealt right-hander Ben Paullus to the San Diego Padres for second baseman Dean Anna on Nov. 20. Anna, 27, was a Triple-A All-Star at Tucson in 2013 and batted .331 with nine home runs and 73 RBIs. Another big plus in his favor is that he bats left-handed.

The word on Anna is that he is solid fielder. In fact, he also played 60 games at shortstop and seven at third base. His versatility seems to make him a player worth watching this spring. But he is not likely going to be the heir apparent to Cano if he leaves. The Yankees are not fools.

Anna is going to compete for a backup infield spot, period. He will get some stiff competition from holdover Jayson Nix.

The Yankees have not given up on David Adams but they certainly were disappointed with what he produced when he was pressed into service as a third baseman in 2014.

Adams, 26, has primarily been a second baseman in the minor leagues and he will get a shot at both second and third this spring. But after hitting .193 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees in 2013, he will be on a very short leash if he does not produce this spring.

Meanwhile, after a very strong 2012 season, 25-year-old Corban Joseph slipped mightily in 2013 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He hit .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 47 games. With the acquisition of Anna, Adams and Joseph are quickly dropping off the radar as prospects if they were at all.

At lower levels the Yankees have hot-hitting Jose Pirela, 24, who batted .272 in 124 games at Double-A Trenton and 21-year-old speedster Angelo Gumbs, who hit .213 in 91 games at two stops at the A level last season. Though Gumbs is pretty raw with the bat the Yankees love his potential.

But all talk surrounding second base with the Yankees begins and ends with Cano. Yankee fans would just love to hear that Cano has re-signed with the team. It is hard to imagine 2014 without him.

The signs, though, are pointing toward the Yankees retaining him. The question just remains at what price. It is looking at this point that it will be the Yankees price and Cano will just have to settle on a more realistic number.

Then he can start racking up more big numbers with his bat.

 

CC Outguns Verlander As Yankees Blank Tigers

GAME 6

YANKEES 7, TIGERS 0

After being outscored 16-7 and outhit 26-12 in the first two games and having to face the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner in Sunday’s series finale, the Yankees countered that by throwing a former Cy Young Award winner of their own. The result was the polar opposite of what happened in the first two games.

CC Sabathia shut out the Tigers on just four hits in seven innings to outduel Justin Verlander and the Yankees busted loose for seven runs and 13 hits as New York salvaged the third game of the series to whitewash Detroit in front of a paid crowd of 39,829 at Comerica Park.

Sabathia (1-1) put the controversy surrounding the reduced velocity on his pitches by showing excellent command of his fastball and changeup to prevent any Tiger baserunner to get past second base. Sabathia also improved his career record against the Tigers to 19-12.

Meanwhile, Sabathia received some welcome run support from a pair of unlikely run producers in the second inning.

Picking on a less-than-sharp Verlander (1-1) with one out and Ichiro Suzuki on first, Francisco Cervelli laced a line-drive double to the wall in left-center to score Suzuki with the game’s first run. One out later, Jayson Nix, who was subbing at shortstop for Eduardo Nunez, who was subbing for Derek Jeter, cranked a fat changeup into the first row of bleachers in left-field to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

It was a lead that Sabathia refused to relinquish to a deep power-laden lineup that had destroyed the Yankees the past two games.

Sabathia ended his afternoon having walked three and striking out four. It was hardly a dominant outing but it did best Verlander, who left after 7 1/3 innings having surrendered seven hits and two walks while striking out four.

The Yankees then added a pair of runs in both the eighth and ninth innings off left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Octavio Dotel, respectively.

Suzuki touched Coke with a run-scoring fly ball in the eighth and Cervelli followed with a lined RBI single to center.

Red-hot Kevin Youkilis capped the scoring with one out in the ninth off Dotel by lacing a two-run single.

David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera tossed a scoreless ninth to allow the Yankees to complete the shutout of the Tigers and salvage the series finale.

The Yankees’ season record improves to 2-4. The Tigers fell to 3-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia hovered mostly in the 88-91 mile-per-hour range on Sunday but it was good enough to keep the Tigers at bay. The Tigers 3, 4 and 5 hitters  -  Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez  -  were a combined 0-for-9 with two strikeouts off Sabathia. More importantly Sabathia quieted the critics who ripped him after his Opening Day loss to the Boston Red Sox.
  • Nix entered the game 0-for-7 with five strikeouts but he broke out of it in a big way against Verlander and Dotel. He was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Nix was pleased because he has not had much success against Verlander in the past. “It’s great. It feels really good,” Nix said. “I haven’t had a whole lot of success off him. He is who he is, you know?”
  • With Nix batting ninth, Cervelli held up his end batting seventh. He was 2-for-4 with two big RBIs. That raised Cervelli’s early-season batting average to .308.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Every starter had at least one hit except Lyle Overbay (0-for-4), Sabathia pitched with great precision to shut down a powerful lineup and the team did not commit an error in the field. That is a reason not to dwell on any negatives in what has been a rough week for the team.

BOMBER BANTER

Nunez was unable to get back into the starting lineup on Sunday but he was able to pinch-run for Travis Hafner in the eighth inning and he scored a run. Nunez has been hampered the past two games because of a bruised right bicep he sustained when he was hit by a pitch from Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Friday. Nunez tried to swing a bat and throw on Sunday but his right arm was still sore. He is still listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Most experts figured the Yankees would not succeed with a bunch of aging newcomers and journeymen starting or filling in for injured starters. But Youkilis, Hafner, Overbay, Vernon Wells, Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch were a combined 22-for-75 (.293) with four homers and 12 RBIs in the Yankees’ first five games.

ON DECK 

The Yankees boarded a flight for Cleveland late Sunday and will open a three-game series against the Indians on Monday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 13.50 ERA) recovered from a bruised right middle finger he suffered in the second inning of his first start against the Bosox on Wednesday and will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his two career starts against the Indians.

The Indians will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-0, 1.50 ERA). Jimenez allowed one run on three hits, walked two and struck six in six innings in his season debut against the Blue Jays in Toronto on Wednesday. He is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Tigers Take Out Claws On Hughes, Yanks’ Bullpen

GAME 5

TIGERS 8, YANKEES 4

The Yankees might be decimated by injuries but manager Joe Girardi figures that in the five seasons he has managed the team that he can always count on his strong bullpen. That is until now.

For a second straight day in Detroit the bullpen imploded in the late innings as Detroit downed New York on a chilly, windy day in front of a paid crowd of 42,453 at Comerica Park.

Phil Hughes (0-1) held the Tigers to one unearned run over the first four innings in his first start of the season after missing all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. However, the Tigers broke a 1-1 tie by batting around against Hughes, Boone Logan and David Phelps, scoring four runs on six hits in the fifth inning.

The injury-depleted Yankee offense responded in the top of the sixth against starter Max Scherzer (1-0) and reliever Al Alburquerque   –  taking advantage of four walks  -  scoring three runs Travis Hafner ended Scherzer’s day with an RBI single and Lyle Overbay slapped a hanging slider from Alburquerque for a two-run double.

The Yankees could have scored more runs but after Vernon Wells was initially called safe at first base by umpire Brian O’Nora on a potential line-drive double play off the bat of Brennan Boesch, but home-plate umpire and crew chief Jerry Layne overruled the call.

The Yankees’ real downfall actually began in the bottom of the sixth when Phelps remained in the game.

Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter opened the frame with singles and Miguel Cabrera drew a walk to load the bases. Prince Fielder scored Jackson on a fielder’s choice grounder and Andy Dirks later scored Hunter on a two-out RBI single.

Dirks added a run in the bottom of the eighth on an sacrifice fly that scored Cabrera off Joba Chamberlain, who helped Cabrera reach third by walking Fielder after Cabrera had singled and then uncorking a wild pitch to allow Cabrera to reach third.

The Yankees’ bullpen has now pitched 20 innings in the first five games and they have given up 18 runs (17 earned) on 28 hits and 12 walks for an ERA of 7.65 and a WHIP of 2.00.

Wit the loss the Yankees drop to 1-4. The Tigers are 3-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Vernon Wells drew the Yankees even with a solo home run to left-field leading off the second inning. It was his second home run of the season and Wells is showing that he rediscovered the stroke that saw him hit 32 home runs and drive in 106 runs in 2006 when he was an All-Star outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays.
  • Overbay is proving to a valuable pickup as well. In the first five games, Overbay, 35, was 2-for-4 in the game and is hitting .267 with a pair of two-out, two-run hits this week and he is fielding first base flawlessly in place of 2013 Gold Glove winner Mark Teixeira.
  • Though he had a horrible spring, Hafner is also picking it up as the season starts. He was 1-for-3 with an RBI and he is hitting .313. I guess you have to give general manager Brian Cashman credit for picking up some key replacements for the Yankees’ depleted lineup. They seem to be paying early dividends.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankee bullpen has been a shambles in the early going and it is the real reason why the Yankees are 1-4. Granted, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and Hughes did not pitch far enough into the first starts but the bullpen has to do much better than it is doing now. The odd thing is that it not just one guy. One day it is Cody Eppley, the next it is Joba Chamberlain and the day after that it is Shawn Kelley. They have to pitch better, period!
  • Brett Gardner is 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series and that kind of kills the offense a bit when he can’t get on base to use his legs and disrupt the pitcher. He is hitting .150 and the Yankees need for him to get going with the bat like he did in spring training. Gardner did make a diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Victor Martinez that saved two runs in the third inning. So his defense is still great.
  • Phelps was excellent last season as a spot starter and reliever but he was awful on Saturday. He gave up two runs on six hits and a walk in 2 2/3 innings of work. His ERA has ballooned to 6.75 and it is hard to figure out why quality pitchers like him in the bullpen are failing.

BOMBER BANTER

A day after being struck in the right arm by a pitch from Tigers right-hander Doug Fister, Eduardo Nunez was held out Saturday’s game. But Nunez said it is possible that he could return to the lineup on Sunday. Nunez was helped off the field in the fourth inning but X-rays showed only a bruised right bicep. Jayson Nix started at shortstop on Saturday and was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and he committed an error in the first inning that led to the Tigers scoring an unearned run.  . . .  Derek Jeter fielded 41 ground balls hit directly to him, took some batting practice and played long toss on Saturday at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL. Jeter, 38, has been trying to recover from off-season surgery on a fractured left ankle. After suffering a setback in his rehab on March 23 the Yankees have not established a timetable for his return.  . . .  When the Yankees activated Hughes from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday they optioned right-hander Eppley to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to salvage the final game of the series against the Tigers on Sunday.

If so, they are going to need for ace left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1, 7.20 ERA) to pitch better than he did in his first start. Sabathia allowed four runs in five innings in a loss against the Red Sox. He is 18-12 with a 4.43 ERA in his career against the Tigers.

He will be opposed by American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Verlander pitched five shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field to earn his first Opening Day victory in six tries. He is 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:08 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

 

A.L. King Tigers Use Prince’s Power To Slay Yanks

GAME 4

TIGERS 8, YANKEES 3

In adventure tales you can usually bank on a heroic prince coming to the rescue just when he is needed. That pretty much sums up what happened for the Tigers in their 2013 home opener at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday.

Prince Fielder blasted a pair of home runs  -  a three-run shot in the fifth that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 lead and a mammoth two-run blast in the seventh that put the game away  -  as Detroit picked up right where they left off in the American League Championship Series by drubbing New York in front of a paid crowd of 45,051.

Despite the fact that Tigers right-hander Doug Fister (1-0) was touched for three runs in the top of the fifth, keyed by a two-run home run off the bat of Kevin Youkilis that gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead, he was rescued by Fielder’s bat to get credit for the victory.

Fister gave up three runs on six hits, two walks, hit two batters and struck out two in five innings. Left-hander Drew Smyly pitched four perfect innings of relief to earn a save.

Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova (0-1) gave up four runs on five hits and two walks and struck out five batters in 4 2/3 innings. But the bullpen did him no favors because Boone Logan gave up Fielder’s home run in the fifth and Shawn Kelley was tagged by his home run in the seventh.

The Yankees’ early-season record is now 1-3. The Tigers are 2-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Youkilis blasted his first home run as a Yankee in the fifth inning after Fister had given up a one-out single to Robinson Cano that advanced Bret Gardner to third. While pitching to Youkilis, Fister uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Gardner to score and the Yankees halved the Tigers’ lead to 2-1. Then Youkilis connected on 3-1 fastball and he deposited the ball into the Tiger bullpen in left-center to give the Yankees a short-lived 3-2 lead.
  • David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and need only needed four pitches to record three outs. He was the only Yankee hurler on the day who did not give up a hit or a run.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova shocked reporters after the game by saying he did not believe he pitched that poorly. Though he did keep the team in the game, Nova was hardly effective. He was in three-ball counts to nine of the 21 batters he faced and threw 96 pitches with only 53 being strikes (55 percent). Nova will be on a short leash if he continues to struggle like this.
  • Logan was brought in to the game specifically to face Fielder with two on and two out in the fifth and Fielder swatted his second pitch just over the wall in right to allow the Tigers to reclaim the lead. In a perfect world the Yankees would have a second left-hander because Logan is not a lefty specialist but the Yankees elected to release side-winding left-hander Clay Rapada.
  • Kelley, 29, not only gave up the two-run blast by Fielder that still might be orbiting Earth, but he also gave up a long solo blast to Alex Avila in the sixth. Kelley was selected by the Yankees over veteran David Aardsma because he is capable of pitching multiple innings. I guess the Yankees’ brain trust did not realize he also is capable of surrendering multiple homers in multiple innings.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees injury list grew on Friday when Eduardo Nunez was forced to leave the game in the fourth inning after being struck by a pitch from Fister. Nunez thought that he might have a broken his right arm but X-rays showed only a bruised right bicep and he is listed as day-to-day. Jayson Nix took over for Nunez at shortstop and was 0-for-2.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series in the Motor City on Saturday.

Originally, the Yankees were scheduled to start David Phelps. But the Yankees decided they will activate right-hander Phil Hughes from the 15-day disabled list and he will make the start instead. Hughes was sidelined during all of spring training with a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in his career against the Tigers.

The Tigers will send right-hander Max Scherzer to the mound. Scherzer was 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 2012. he is 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Yankees Roll Early, Hang On Late To Tame Tigers

GAME 110

YANKEES 12, TIGERS 8

Sometimes a victory can be as majestic and beautiful as a priceless painting and sometimes they can look like a 5-year-old child’s refrigerator drawing. The New York Yankees victory on Wednesday at Comerica Park looked more like the latter to manager Joe Girardi but he will cherish it all the same.

Fueled by a home run and four RBIs from Curtis Granderson and with CC Sabathia on a the mound nursing a 7-0 cushion, New York ended up having to fight their rear ends off in the final three innings to gain a huge win over Detroit.

Sabathia (12-3) was coasting with a 7-1 lead in the sixth inning when the Tigers pushed across two runs on a one-out single by Jeff Baker. After the Yankees added a run in the top of the seventh on an Ichiro Suzuki infield single, the Tigers then used a fielding error by third baseman Casey McGehee in the seventh to score another run on a Prince Fielder groundout to pull within 8-4 when Sabathia was removed in favor of David Robertson.

Robertson then suffered through one of those “House of Horrors” moments coming in with two out and a runner on second base.

A Delmon Young grounder that was headed to Robinson Cano for what could have been the final out was cut off by first baseman Mark Teixeira and it rolled off his glove for a infield single. Pinch-hitter Andy Dirks was fooled so badly on a 1-1 pitch he swung late and rolled a single just inside the third base bag and into left to drive in a run.

Robertson then had Brennan Boesch in a 2-2 hole when he swung at a pitch off the plate and bounced it slowly to McGehee for a single that scored another run. Pinch-hitter Alex Avila then rolled another ball past third to bring the Tigers to within a run at 8-7 before Robertson retired Ramon Santiago to end the rally.

Because of the four-run frame, Sabathia was charged with five runs (three earned) on eight hits and a walk while he struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings. Robertson, though none of the four singles he gave up would have broken a pane of glass, was charged with three runs on five hits in one inning of relief.

The Yankees, however, had just about enough of the Tigers in the eighth and they jumped on former Yankee left-hander Phil Coke for a pair of one-out runs on a Teixeira RBI single and an RBI groundout off the bat of Eric Chavez, who is 7-for-12 (.583) in the series.

They added another pair of runs with two out in the ninth off Bryan Villarreal on a balk with Jayson Nix on third and an RBI single off the bat of Cano. Those two runs pretty much declawed the Tigers before the bottom of the inning as Rafael Soriano retired the side in order, striking out two, to give the Yankees the victory.

Granderson, who was dropped to the No. 6 spot in the batting order after going 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in the first two games of the series, slapped a two-out RBI single as part of a two-run first inning and he added a three-run home run in the third off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez (6-9).

Sanchez and a vengeful Tigers manager Jim Leyland paid the price for their anger dearly in that third inning after Sanchez had hit Teixeira with a pitch in the first inning and Sabathia reciprocated by hitting Prince Fielder with a pitch in the bottom of the stanza.

With one out in the third Sanchez plunked Cano in the backside in what clearly was a purpose pitch. Home-plate umpire Tim Welke warned both benches against any further incidents. But Leyland may want to reconsider that strategy now since it worked to the detriment of his team.

Cano stole second and, one out later, Chavez drew a walk to set the stage for the former Tiger, Granderson. He launched a weak fluttering 0-1 change-up from Sanchez deep into the seats in right to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead.

The Yankees finally chased Sanchez in the fourth after an RBI single by Nick Swisher and Teixeira made it 7-0 on a sacrifice fly off reliever Duane Below.

Sanchez, who entered the game with a 3.99 ERA, was charged with seven runs on seven hits and two walks and struck out two in three-plus innings.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 64-46 and they remain 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Tigers fell to 60-51 and their 10-game home winning streak is, like Sanchez, history.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson has pretty much been a vexing problem this season. He goes into stretches where he swings at every off-speed pitch in the dirt and a foot outside. Then there are times he goes 3-for-5, including a double and a home run, he scores two runs and drives in four. Granderson has 30 home runs and 66 RBIs this season but he is hitting .244 and has struck out 136 times, the third most in the majors behind Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena.
  • Chavez is making the most of his increased playing time in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. Since July 30, Chavez is 12-for-26 (.462) with three home runs and eight RBIs. On the season, Chavez is now hitting .284 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Alex who?
  • Girardi might have panicked a bit by pulling Sabathia in the seventh in favor of Roberrson. Sabathia actually was pitching pretty well at that point and he had thrown only 94 pitches. But because the Yankees have struggled this month, Girardi made the move to Roberrtson and what happened to him was borderline unfair. But Sabathia has his 12th victory and he earned it.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Girardi decided to use six-time Gold Glove winner Chavez as the designated hitter to “rest” him and the manager found out McGehee is a butcher in the field with no range. He brought Nix in to play third in the eighth inning but, by that time, the Tigers had clawed back into the game at 8-7 because of McGehee’s substandard play at third. I guess Girardi has learned a valuable lesson.
  • Cano committed an error and Teixeira also misplayed a pair of grounders so the Yankee defense was somewhat lacking. With Chavez playing third, the Yankees have a combined total of 27 Gold Gloves including every member infield. They also were on a steak of 13 errorless games since July 24. However, they did not play that way on Wednesday.
  • For some reason, Girardi also turned his players loose on the base-paths and two of them got picked off. Swisher got the green light after one-out walk and was picked off by Below. Cano and Teixeira followed with singles but the Yankees did not score that inning. An inning later, Suzuki took off too early with one out and ended up be being picked off by rookie left-hander Darin Downs. Those things hurt.

ON DECK

The Yankees will complete their four-game series against the Tigers on Thursday.

Hiroki Kuroda (10-8, 3.19 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up just one run on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday but ended up a 1-0 loser to Felix Hernandez. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 3.46 ERA in limited action against the Tigers in his career.

The Tigers will counter with right-hander Doug Fister (6-7, 3.52 ERA). Fister threw a complete-game victory over the Cleveland Indians on Saturday. He is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees in his career.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Hughes Goes Route To Declaw Motor City Kittys

GAME 53

YANKEES 5, TIGERS 1

With Justin Verlander pitching for Detroit on Sunday it was no real surprise that there could be a complete game thrown. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was his New York opponent, Phil Hughes, who went nine innings to give the Yankees a hard-earned victory.

Hughes (5-5) gave up just one run on four hits and three walks and he struck out eight batters as the Yankees took the weekend series from the Tigers at Comerica Park and completed their nine-game road trip with a 5-4 record.

It was only the second complete game in 81 career starts for Hughes and the first nine-inning complete game of his career . His first complete game victory in 2011 was a rain-shortened six-inning contest.

Verlander (5-4), by contrast, was in trouble from the first pitch of the game. Derek Jeter swatted a first-pitch fastball into the right-field bleachers to give Hughes and the Yankees an early 1-0 lead.

The Yankees tacked on a second run in the inning after an unusually wild Verlander walked both Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and a passed ball moved them up to second and third base, respectively. With one out, Mark Teixeira lifted a fly ball to center-field that scored Granderson.

The Yankees kept the pressure on Verlander and, in the third inning, Alex Rodriguez blasted a one-out solo home run that traveled 450 feet into the wall of retired numbers in the left-center bleachers. It was his ninth home run of the season and the 638th of his career.

Hughes made his only real mistake in the bottom of the fourth inning by thowing Prince Fielder a first-pitch curveball to begin the inning. Fielder launched the hanger deep into the right-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season.

But Hughes shut down the Tigers’ offense the rest of the way on just two hits and one walk over the final six innings. Despite giving up seven runs on a career-high 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Angels in his last start, Hughes is on a stretch where he has won four of his last six starts and he has a 3.60 ERA in that span.

Verlander, however, was touched for two more runs in the fifth when Robinson Cano followed Granderson’s one-out double with a two-out triple and he scored on an error by Danny Worth, whose throw to try to get Cano sliding into third bounced into the dirt and slipped past Verlander into the Tigers’ dugout.

The Yankees chased Verlander in the seventh and he ended up surrendering five runs (three earned) on nine hits and four walks and he struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 29-24. The struggling Tigers are 25-29.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • This was, by far, Hughes’ best outing of the season and it came at a great time. Despite his last start against the Angels, Hughes is beginning to flash the form that he showed in 2010, when he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. Besides the home run to Fielder, Hughes only gave up two singles to Jhonny Peralta, who entered the game with an average over .400 against Hughes in his career, and a two-out ninth inning single to Delmon Young. Hughes entered the game having pitched 15 straight scoreless innings at Comerica Park. He now has only given up on run in his last 24 innings there.
  • Jeter’s home run was the 27th leadoff home run of his career and it was his first homer since May 5 against the Royals in Kansas City. Jeter was 2-for-5 in the game and raised his season’s average to .336. He leads the American League with 73 hits.
  • Rodriguez’s home run was his second in the series and he has four in his last 10 games. Six of his home runs this season have been solo shots. Rodriguez is hitting a woeful .170 with runners in scoring position and an even worse .111 with the bases loaded this season. With the bases empty, Rodriguez is hitting .346.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the victory, the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Cano fanned in the first inning with runners on second and third and no out. The Yankees had two on and one out in the second inning but Jeter bounced into an inning-ending double play. Russell Martin lined into an inning-ending double play two two and one out in the fourth. Cano bounced out to first with two on and one out in the seventh. And, after a leadoff double by Martin in the ninth, Jeter, Granderson and Rodriguez were retired in order without getting a ball out of the infield.
  • Outfielder Raul Ibanez was 0-for-4 in the game and he was 0-for-9 in the series. He has not gotten a hit in his last 10 at-bats and his batting average has fallen to .252.

ON DECK

The Yankees are heading back to Yankee Stadium and will have Monday off. They will begin a six-game homestand on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (2-2, 3.49 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Pettitte gave up five runs on nine hits and struck out three in seven innings in a loss against the Angels in his last start. He is 15-5 with a 4.32 ERA against the Rays since 2002.

The Rays will counter with right-hander James Shields (6-3, 3.95 ERA), who was roughed up in his last stat. He gave up six runs (five earned) on 10 hits and a walk to the White Sox. Shields is 5-12 with a 4.39 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

CC, Yankees Tame Tigers In Walk In The Park

GAME 21

YANKEES 6, TIGERS 2

When your team’s starting pitching is ineffective and its bullpen is being taxed by having to pitch too many innings, the ace of your staff must step up and deliver a victory and go most of the way.

CC Sabathia did just that on Sunday for the Yankees.

Sabathia (3-0) pitched eight innings of two-run baseball and his offense backed him with home runs from Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones as New York took the weekend series against Detroit with a victory at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y.

Sabathia limited the Tigers to just four hits and two walks while he struck out eight en route to his third consecutive victory.

His mound opponent, Max Scherzer (1-3), spent most of his outing dodging disaster while he was doling out hits and walks like candy to children. Scherzer gave up seven hits and a career-high seven walks in 4 2/3 innings but somehow only gave up three earned runs.

The Yankees loaded the bases on Scherzer in the second inning when Derek Jeter reached first safely on an infield single with two outs. Curtis Granderson got credit for an RBI when Scherzer walked him on a 3-2 pitch. The Yankees tacked on another run when Alex Rodriguez rolled an infield single that Miguel Cabrera was unable to field cleanly.

Prince Fielder halved the Yankees lead in the fourth with his third home run of the season, a solo blast into the second deck in right-field.

The Yankees got that run back in the fourth on Granderson’s eighth home run of the season and his fifth in his last nine games. Tigers center-fielder Austin Jackson nearly leaped over the wall and brought it back in what would have a been a spectacular catch. However, he was unable to keep the ball in his glove as his left arm hit the fence which separates the stands from the Yankees’ bullpen.

The Tigers drew to within a run in the sixth on a Brennan Boesch single with one out and Cabrera followed with an RBI double off the wall in center-field.

Sabathia was forced to pitch with the slimmest of leads despite the fact the Yankees had put 17 runners on base over the first six innings without getting that one big hit that could have broken the game open.

They did, however, break through in the seventh inning off rookie reliever Luke Putkonen, who was making his major-league debut.

Backup catcher and No. 9 hitter Chris Stewart started it with a leadoff single. Jeter drew another walk and Granderson just missed a second home run to center but both Stewart and Jeter were able to advance a base. Stewart then scored when Cabrera chose to throw home on a bouncer off the bat of Rodriguez and Stewart slid safely under the tag of Gerald Laird.

Robinson Cano added a sacrifice fly to score Jeter and the Yankees finally provided a three-run cushion for Sabathia.

Jones hit his third home run of the season in the eighth off reliever Collin Balester to give the Yankees their final margin.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to 12-9. The Tigers fell to 11-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia was at his best on Sunday, hitting his spots with his fastball and striking out batters with his slider. With his eight strikeouts on Sunday, Sabathia is now leading the American League in that category with 38. He also lowered his ERA to 4.68. More importantly, a weary bullpen got some rest. David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth to close it out but pitchers like David Phelps, Clay Rapada and Boone Logan got some much needed rest.
  • Granderson’s home run turned out to be the deciding run of the game and it overcame a situation where the Yankees were a horrible 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Granderson leads in the team in home runs and he is second to Nick Swisher in RBIs with 16. Granderson is hitting .364 in his last nine games with five home runs and 10 RBIs.
  • Rodriguez’s two RBIs gave him 1,904 for his career, which moved him past Willie Mays for ninth place on the all-time list. After a slow start with the bat this April, A-Rod has nine RBIs in his last eight games and he now has four home runs and 11 RBIs on the season.
  • Cano contributed two hits and an RBI but he still has been largely MIA this season with one home run, four RBis and a .264 average.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Hitting with runners in scoring position seems to be a particular problem for the Yankees this season. It was in this game. Cano grounded out weakly to first base with two on and one out in the first and he struck out swinging with the bases loaded and two out in the second. The Yankees left the bases loaded three times in the game and stranded 15 runners overall. This has to change.
  • Mark Teixeira must have finally realized it was April. After his two-homer, six-RBI game against the Red Sox on April 20, Tex has fallen into a 2-for-24 (.083) tailspin. He was 0-for-5 on Sunday and he was 0-for-12 in the weekend series against the Tigers. He is now hitting .223. But, cheer up, Mark! The month of May begins on Tuesday and you can start hitting then like you always do.

BOMBER BANTER

Swisher left the game for a pinch-runner (Jones) in the third inning with a mild strain of his left hamstring and he is expected to miss the next few games, at least. However, the Yankees do not believe Swisher will need to go on the disabled list at this time. He is listed as day-to-day for now.  . . .  As expected, the Yankees have announced that struggling right-hander Freddy Garcia will pitch out of the bullpen and Phelps has been elevated to the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Garcia, 35, is 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA in his four starts and he was chased after giving up six runs in 1 2/3 innings on Saturday. Phelps, 25, is 0-0 with a 3.57 ERA in six appearances covering 17 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. The rookie right-hander figures to make his first major-league start on Thursday in Kansas City against the Royals.  . . .  The Yankees made a roster move on Sunday to bolster their overtaxed bullpen by calling up rookie right-hander D.J. Mitchell from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and sending right-hander Cody Eppley to Scranton.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a three-game home series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.

Hiroki Kuroda (1-3, 4.38 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. However, he lost in a pitcher’s duel against fellow countryman Yu Darvish. Kuroda has never faced the Orioles in his career.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Jason Hammel (3-0, 1.73 ERA). Hammel is coming off an outing in which he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays over seven innings en route to a 3-0 victory. He is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees Begin Spring As Favorites In AL East

With the New York Yankees exactly one week away from their Grapefruit League opener in Clearwater, FL, against the Philadelphia Phillies, there is a relaxed and upbeat mood filtering throughout their spring training complex in Tampa, FL.

There are 67 players in camp and yet most every role on the 25-man roster has been resolved, barring injury, of course.

There is one starting pitching spot up for grabs between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. Hughes is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season in which he was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Garcia, meanwhile, rescued what looked to be a thin rotation by going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA.

If the Yankees’ management and coaching staff had their druthers, Hughes would be 100% healthy and pitching like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. If Hughes did that he would make the rotation even stronger because not many teams could boast having a No. 5 starter who won 18 games.

If Garcia loses the battle for that final starting spot, he would be shifted to the bullpen as a long relief man and spot starter. Garcia also is good insurance should any of the starters come down with an injury. Depth in the rotation will be a key in 2012.

There will be a battle this spring for a job as a second left-hander in the bullpen to pair with Boone Logan.

The two main candidates are 30-year-old veteran Clay Rapada, who was signed this week when former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima failed his physical and was released, and 23-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees received from the Kansas City Royals after the Royals selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox.

Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season. However, he held left-handed batters to a .104 batting average.

Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA with Class A Salem and 2-4 with a 3.52 ERA with Double-A Portland. More impressive was the fact that he struck out 70 batters in 55 innings.

The Yankees also invited Juan Cedeno and Michael O’Connor to camp as non-roster players. Cedeno, 28, was 3-1 with 6.49 ERA with Rio Grande Valley in the North American Baseball League in 2011. O’Connor, 31, was 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in nine games with the Mets last season and 5-5 with a 5.22 ERA with the Mets’ Triple-A team in Buffalo.

If none of the four left-handers are impressive enough to remain on the roster, manager Joe Girardi said he would just select another right-hander and keep Logan as the only left-hander in the bullpen.

The backup catcher role behind starter Russell Martin is also an open competition between veteran Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine.

Cervelli, 25, hit .266 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees last season. However, Cervelli began the 2011 season on the disabled list with a broken bone in his left foot and his season was ended in early September when he suffered a concussion in a collision at home plate with the Orioles’ Nick Markakis.

Cervelli has been cleared to resume baseball activities but he will have to prove he can stay healthy to remain the backup catcher.

Romine, 23, is already a very polished defensive catcher but he has to prove he can hit at the major-league level. Romine hit .286 with six home runs and 47 RBIs in 85 games for Double-A Trenton. He hit .15o in 20 at-bats with the Yankees when he was called up to replace Cervelli as the backup catcher last September.

The prevailing wisdom in camp is that the job is Cervelli’s to lose. The Yankee brain trust would prefer that Romine get an additional year of seasoning at the Triple-A level and he would still be available if Martin or Cervelli had to be placed on the disabled list.

Theoretically, there also is a competition for one backup infield spot. The holdover, Eduardo Nunez, would seem to have a huge edge in retaining it. Nunez, 24, hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBis and 22 stolen bases. Nunez particularly shined when he replaced shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez when they were on the disabled list.

However, Nunez plays the field like he is Edward Scissorhands. His 21 errors in 122 1/3 innings in the field is horrific. Nunez will have to show marked improvement this spring.

Former backup Ramiro Pena, 26, lost his job to Nunez last spring and is back to try to reclaim it. He is pretty much the polar opposite of Nunez. Pena is an exceptional player in the field but his offense is severely lacking. Pena hit .100 in 40 at-bats with the Yankees last season.

The Yankees also invited 31-year-old utility infielder and outfielder Bill Hall to camp as a non-roster invitee. Hall hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in separate stints with Houston and San Francisco last season. Hall is valuable in that he can play all spots on the diamond except first base and catcher.

But Hall and Pena are both longshots to make the roster. Pena likely will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could be called up in case of an injury to an infielder.

The starting lineup is set and Girardi will likely set the batting order as follows:

  1. Derek Jeter SS
  2. Curtis Granderson CF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Alex Rodriguez 3B
  5. Mark Teixeira 1B
  6. Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones DH
  7. Nick Swisher RF
  8. Russell Martin C
  9. Brett Gardner LF

The starting rotation is mostly set and reads as follows:

  1. CC Sabathia
  2. Ivan Nova
  3. Michael Pineda
  4. Hiroki Kuroda
  5. Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia

One oddity for the Yankees is that if Nunez and Cervelli make the team the Yankees would have the same bench as last season with the following:

  1. Francisco Cervelli
  2. Eduardo Nunez
  3. Eric Chavez
  4. Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones

The bullpen will consist of the following:

  1. Mariano Rivera (closer)
  2. David Robertson (setup)
  3. Rafael Soriano (setup)
  4. Boone Logan (lefty)
  5. Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada (second lefty)
  6. Corey Wade (middle innings)
  7. Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes (long relief and spot starts)

You can sum up this roster by saying the starting rotation has been improved from the 2011 rotation and the starting lineup with the addition of Ibanez replacing the retired Jorge Posada looks formidable if they can remain healthy. The bullpen, the strength of the 2011 club, looks to just as string in 2012 and the bench is pretty deep and talented.

This team led the American League with the 97 wins in 2011 despite the fact the team suffered through key injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano. They also won despite having a patchwork rotation filled by free-agent right-handers Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

I would not dare predict a 28th world championship because the Los Angeles Angels with Albert Pujols and the Detroit Tigers with Prince Fielder could lie in wait in the playoffs. But this easily is the class of the American League East and I do not think there is any doubt about it.

The division is the Yankees to lose.

 

Yankees Getting Closer To Signing New DH

Here are some news and notes updates on the Yankees:

  • Buster Olney of ESPN reports the Yankees are within a week of signing a left-handed hitting veteran to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012. The choices have narrowed to Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Raul Ibanez. The Yankees are familiar with Matsui and Damon. Both of them were integral to the team’s 2009 championship season. Ibanez, 39, has apparently told the Yankees he would take less money in order to play for them in 2012. But there are also indications that the prices the players are seeking must come down before the Yankees are ready to make a deal. The Yankees’ one-year, $10 million contract offer to Hiroki Kuroda and the $4-plus million offered in a one-year deal to Freddy Garcia (which in retrospect was a mistake) have limited what the Yankees can spend on a DH to replace the bat of Jesus Montero, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda.
  • Newsday reported that the Yankees signed a minor-league deal with veteran utility man Bill Hall, who played for the Houston Astros and the San Francisco Giants last season. Hall, 32, hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 62 games with both teams. Hall’s main calling card is his versatility. He can play second, shortstop and third base and all three outfield spots. With the Yankees’ signing of Hall they will not have the roster space to re-sign Eric Chavez, who was an infield backup with the Yankees last season. Chavez, 34, hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.
  • As expected, MLB.com ranked lefty starter Manny Banuelos and right-hander Dellin Betances as the top two prospects in the organization. Banuelos, 20, started 20 games at Double-A Trenton and seven games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was a combined 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA with a 125 strikeouts and 75 walks in 129 2/3 innings. The Yankees marvel at his fastball, curve and change-up arsenal but he needs another full season in the minors to harness his control. Betances, 23, made 21 starts at Trenton and four starts at Scranton and was a combined 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA and 142 K’s and 70 walks in 126 1/3 innings. Betances has much better velocity on his fastball than Banuelos and he has a good power curve. However, Betances’ change-up needs work and he also will have to throw more strikes in 2012. The Yankees’ No. 3 prospect is 19-year-old Gary Sanchez, who now replaces Montero as the team’s catcher of the future. Sanchez hit .256 with 16 doubles, 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 82 games in the Sally League. Scouts project he will hit for better power and average and he already possesses top-flight defensive skills.
  • Also of note in the rankings: Jose Campos, who was acquired in the trade that brought Pineda from Seattle in exchange for Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi, was ranked fifth behind outfielder Mason Williams. Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA. He was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA and 85 K’s in 81 1/3 innings. The right-hander will be making his first appearance in a full-season league in 2012 and he could progress quickly on the basis of his 95-mile-per-hour fastball and an excellent curve.
  • A day after prosecutors brought extortion and stalking charges against a woman centered around an extramarital affair, the wife of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman filed for divorce. Mary Cashman filed the paperwork in a court in Stamford, CT, on Friday. Neither party would comment publicly. Last Thursday, Manhattan prosecutors charged 36-year-old Louise Neathway with harassing Cashman and threatening to harm his reputation if Cashman did not pay her $30,000. A source close to the family said the Cashmans have been living apart for the past year. This leads me to two observations: No. 1, it is gratifying to know that Cashman has been able to function well as a G.M. during all this personal upheaval. He has done a fine job of improving the Yankees, particularly the starting pitching. No. 2, if you took out the name Cashman and substituted the name Alex Rodriguez in the story than it would have been reported on the Yankees.com website. But because it was someone in the front office, it was not mentioned at all. That seems like an odd double standard. This is similar to Rangers manager Ron Washington failing a drug test and never being punished by the Rangers or Major League Baseball. Again, a double standard!
  • This is the first offseason I can remember that no impact free agents signed with American League East teams. Yankee fans may have been stunned by the lack of Yankee offers to top-flight free agents like Albert Pujols, Cecil Fielder, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle or Japan’s Yu Darvish. But the other teams in the AL East whiffed at signing those players also. Boston was hamstrung from a payroll that is settling close to the mark in which they would have to pay a luxury tax to the league. The Jays lost in the posting process for Darvish. The Rays can’t attract top free agents because of their substandard facilities and a shoestring budget. The Orioles seem to be stuck in reverse as an organization and they are limited in what they can do. So you can make a case that the signing of Kuroda and the acquisition of Pineda was the two best moves involving AL East teams this winter and both of them were moves by the Yankees.

 

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