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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.
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
Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.
The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.
The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.
George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.
The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.
Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.
Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).
How did this happen?
Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.
The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.
It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.
Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.
There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.
After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.
From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.
That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.
The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.
If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.
But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.
It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.
Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.
He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.
When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.
He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.
So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.
Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.
The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.
Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.
So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)
There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.
It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.
It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.
But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.
The offense? Don’t ask.
Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.
They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.
The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.
The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.
The bench has some veterans, of course.
Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.
If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.
But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.
But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.
Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.
In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.
I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!
This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.
For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.
Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?
Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.
The question is who will take Mo’s place?
Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.
Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.
In four full seasons and parts of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.
The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.
When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.
But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?
Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.
The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.
The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.
The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.
In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?
A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.
The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.
The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.
The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.
Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.
The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.
Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.
The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.
Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.
The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.
Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.
A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.
His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.
Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.
It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.
The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.
Should Michael Pineda claim a spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.
Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.
In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.
Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.
Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).
Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.
The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.
Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.
He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.
Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.
At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.
One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.
Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.
He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.
Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.
The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.
Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.
In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.
He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.
Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.
Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.
In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.
One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.
The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.
Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.
The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.
The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it is Robertson.
A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.
Because of the spate of injuries the New York Yankees have incurred over the past two seasons there has been a suggestion that the team’s iconic logo should be changed to a Red Cross symbol to replace the “Y” laid over a pair of crutches and a Band-Aid to form the “N.” Most fans know about the injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. But there are some injuries which many fans are not aware to lesser players. Let’s look at all of the injuries, when they might return and what impact they could make upon their return.
As most fans know, Alex Rodriguez had surgery to repair a congenital defect in his left hip in January. There has been some question as to why he waited until January to have this surgery. The answer is because the doctor who was performing the surgery believed A-Rod could cut the rehabilitation time by doing exercises prior to the surgery. The surgery was pronounced successful and Rodriguez, 37, is expected to return sometime after the All-Star break. There has not been any word from the Yankees extending that time frame. However, Rodriguez is facing potential accusations surrounding the Miami clinic Biogenesis, which Major League Baseball believes was distributing performance enhancing drugs to players. Rodriguez’s name surfaced in an examination of the clinic’s documents and there have been allegations representatives attempted to purchase the documents on the All-Star third baseman’s behalf. The surgery on Rodriguez was a major reason why the Yankees elected to sign Kevin Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. Youkilis now is an insurance policy in case A-Rod either can’t come back from his surgery or is suspended by MLB. Rodriguez was back on the field in Tampa, FL, for the first time on Monday. He ran sprints, played catch and hit off a batting tee. If MLB does decide to suspend Rodriguez it likely will come just before he is activated because they don’t want Rodriguez to cheat the suspension by spending part of it rehabbing from his surgery.
Much like Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Jeter, 38, suffered a major injury during the playoffs in 2012, fracturing a left ankle that he had hobbling upon for a month prior. Jeter had surgery to repair the ankle and he vowed to return by Opening Day on April 1. The Yankees held him out of early exhibition games and allowed him to play at first as the designated hitter on May 10. However, it was clear that though Jeter was able to hit as he always has, he still was unable to run at full speed. It became inevitable that when Jeter was shut down because of recurring soreness that something was – if you pardon the pun – afoot. A trip back to Charlotte, N.C., in April to the doctor who performed his surgery led to a new X-ray that showed a tiny break near the spot of the original fracture. Jeter is now in a removable walking boot. He will be able to work out without the boot but the timetable for his return has been shifted back to mid-July. He should be able to return to full workouts when the boot is removed within a month. Jeter vows he will play this season and there does not seem to be any reason to discount it. The only real concern is will he be able to display enough range to play shortstop on a daily basis. The Yankees, in the interim, have Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix to play the position. But Nunez has already been shelved twice for two games after being hit by pitches and is currently day-to-day with tightness in his right rib cage. If Nunez is placed on the disabled list, Nix would have to play short and the only available shortstop at Triple-A Scranton is Addison Marausak. The Yankees might be forced to make a trade for another shortstop, preferably someone who could start at the position ahead of Nix.
Teixeira, 33, accepted an invitation this spring to play first base for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He was taking batting practice prior to exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, AZ, when he felt pain in his right wrist. Tests indicated he sustained a partially torn sheath in the wrist, an injury similar to the one suffered by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista last season, which eventually required surgery after a failed comeback. The Yankees believe Teixeira will be able to avoid surgery because it is partial tear and they are lengthening his rehab from their original timetable of 8-to-10 weeks. Teixeira has had the brace from his wrist removed and he hoped to be cleared to take swings in time to return by May 1. However, his doctor withheld clearance for an additional two weeks. Teixiera is in Tampa, FL, taking “tee and toss” swings and he soon hopes to progress to begin taking swings off live pitching in a batting cage. His target date for his return is now closer to June 1. In his absence the Yankees had hoped to use lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay and righty-swinging Youkilis in a platoon. However, a lower back sprain landed Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list so the Yankees are using Overbay full-time and exposing his weakness against left-handers. But they are hoping to have Youkilis back in the lineup soon.
Granderson, 32, was playing in his first exhibition game of the season on Feb. 24 when Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ hit him in the lower right forearm with his first pitch. Granderson left the game and underwent X-rays that indicated he suffered a fractured right forearm and would miss eight weeks. Though the injury was a major blow to the Yankees, of all the injuries the team has suffered, this one the Yankees felt sure about Granderson’s ability to return because bones do heal eventually. Granderson targeted May 1 for his return but that timetable was adjusted two weeks because Granderson missed all of spring training. So the Yankees have him hitting against live pitching at their complex in Tampa. In fact, Granderson was struck on the left tricep by a pitch on Saturday. But it was termed not serious and Granderson remains on track to return to the active roster in a couple of weeks. The Yankees obtained veteran outfielder Vernon Wells to play in left for Granderson and Wells is hitting .280 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the middle of the lineup. That has forced manager Joe Girardi to shift his thinking of how to use Wells when Granderson returns. Wells obviously could be a right-handed DH but those at-bats would be limited because there are so few left-handed starters. So Girardi is considering rotating some rest for his lefty-swinging outfielders (Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) in order to keep Wells’ bat in the lineup more often.
Two things were apparent when the Yankees signed Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. One was that with Rodriguez injured someone had to play the position for a long period of time. Perhaps the player might have to play there the entire season. The second thing was the Yankees were taking a risk on the 33-year-old Youkilis, who had his past two seasons ruined by injuries to his groin and his back. Because Youkilis was versatile enough to play third and first base he also became the player the Yankees could LEAST afford to lose. That scenario played out when Youkilis was removed in the sixth inning of a game on April 20 against the Blue Jays with stiffness in his lower back. The Yankees held him out of competition for six games when Youkilis assured them he was fine. He started a game on April 27 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. However, CC Sabathia slipped off the mound on a ground ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the third inning. Youkilis was forced to slide hard to beat the speedy Cabrera to the base. Youkilis made it but re-aggravated his back injury and had to be placed on the disabled list on April 28. Youkilis was administered an epidural pain-killing injection and he claims he already is feeling better. However, the Yankees are angry Youkilis “talked” them into believing he was fine. They could have backdated his DL stint April 21 and he would have been able to play on May 7. Now he will be able to be activated on May 13 at the earliest. The Yankees are going to make darn sure he is really 100 percent before they activate him. In his absence the Yankees have used Nix at third base and traded to obtain Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies. Nix, however, has not contributed much offensively (.227 batting average with a home run and six RBIs) and on Sunday Nix was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two weak infield popups and he stranded seven base-runners in 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Nelson has played in two games and is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.
With the departure of free-agent catcher Russell Martin, the Yankees opened up the catching competition this spring to Cervelli, backup catcher Chris Stewart and rookie Austin Romine. But Cervelli, who was shipped to Triple A on the last day of spring training to make room for Stewart in 2012, was determined to prove to the Yankees he belonged in the major leagues. Cervelli, 27, reneged on his commitment to play for Italy in the WBC so he could concentrate on winning the starting catching job. Though Girardi left spring camp without naming a starter, Cervelli quickly won the job by playing good defense, throwing well and surprisingly he was even contributing offensively. Cervelli was hitting .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs when he was struck on the right hand by a foul tip off the bat of Rajai Davis leading off a game on April 26 against the Blue Jays. Cervelli sustained a fractured hand and had to undergo surgery to repair the hand the next day. He will be in a cast for more than a month and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He is expected back sometime after the All-Star break. To Yankee fans Cervelli getting injured should not be a total shock. Bad luck and injuries have hovered over Cervelli like a dark cloud. In spring training in 2009, Cervelli had his wrist broken in a home-plate collision with Elliot Johnson of the Tampa Bay Rays. In spring training in 2010, Cervelli fouled a ball off his foot and missed the most of the first month of the season. In spring training of 2011, Cervelli was hit in the helmet with a pitch and missed time with a concussion and had to wear a special batting helmet upon his return. In September of that season, Cervelli suffered another concussion, the third of his professional career, when he was involved in a home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles. He was unable to play for the rest of the season and missed the playoffs. In his place, Stewart is now the starter. Stewart is hitting .256 with two home runs and four RBIs but he is definite step down offensively from Cervelli. Romine was recalled from Scranton to be the backup catcher. Romine’s defense is excellent but his bat is major question mark. Romine also has had his development derailed by a recurring back problem. Stewart is a fabulous defensive catcher but the offense will definitely suffer until Cervelli returns in July.
Chamberlain, 27, returned to the Yankees last season because he missed most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and freakishly breaking his ankle in a spring training trampoline accident. He pitched in 22 games and was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. With Rafael Soriano gone via free agency, much was expected of Chamberlain this season. He was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings over 10 appearances when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain last Thursday. Oblique strains are tricky. He might be back in two weeks but he may miss a month. Either way it shortens the Yankees bullpen considerably. The Yankees recalled 25-year-old right-hander Preston Claiborne to replace him. Claiborne pitched two perfect innings of relief in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the A’s on Sunday. Claiborne is perhaps the best of the young relievers the Yankees have been developing within their system. He is going to have a chance to prove his 95-mile-per-hour fastball can hold up against major-league hitters. With Chamberlain a potential free agent after the season, Claiborne has a perfect opportunity to make his future mark in the Yankees’ bullpen with this recall.
Nova, 26, is your typical enigma. After a sensational rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, Nova fell into the deep end of the pool by going 12-8 with 5.02 ERA last season. This spring Nova was put into a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation with David Phelps. Phelps was 3-3 with a 4.18 ERA in seven starts while Nova was 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in five starts. Girardi elected to keep Nova as his fifth starter and keep Phelps in the bullpen role he filled last season. Nova was not impressive in any of his four starts. He was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA when he was pulled from his last start in the third inning of a game against the Blue Jays with what originally was termed a sore elbow. But tests after the game showed a right triceps strain and Nova was placed on the 15-day DL. Nova’s injury could be two weeks but it could turn out to be much longer. In the interim, the Yankees shifted Phelps into the starting rotation to replace Nova and recalled 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno from Scranton to fill Phelps’ role in the bullpen. Phelps gave up four runs on eight hits, a walk and hit two batters in 5 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros on May 1. Nuno pitched three scoreless innings and gave up three hits in his only outing on April 29 against the Astros. Phelps got better as the season progressed in 2012 so there is no doubt he will pitch better. Nuno was sensational this spring, winning the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie. He just needs chances to prove he can pitch well in the majors. The Yankees actually may be better off without Nova until he conquers his command issues.
It is almost like Pineda is the forgotten Yankee. After all, he has never worn pinstripes in a major-league game even though he has been a member of the team for two seasons. He was acquired in the 2012 offseason in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero. He showed up at training camp 20 pounds overweight and he proceeded to throw some horrible spring training games culminating with a terrible beating at the hands of the Phillies in his final spring tuneup. It turned out Pineda, 24, was pitching with some right shoulder pain and he did not bother to mention it until after that game. Pineda underwent tests that showed he had a torn labrum and the surgery would mean he would need at least a year to recover. Pineda was one of the most impressive young rookie pitchers in 2011 when he made the American League All-Star team. But the Mariners as a team and Pineda had a horrible second half and Pineda finished with a 9-10 record and a 3.74 ERA. There were whispers about Pineda losing velocity in the second half but the Yankees made the trade for the right-hander just the same. Now they are hoping he will be able to make it back to the big leagues this season. He has been rehabbing at the team’s complex in Tampa and reports indicate he has been hitting 95 mph on the radar gun. However, the hope is that Pineda might be ready to start pitching in games in June. The question is will those games be with the Yankees or with a minor-league team. It is looking more likely Pineda will pitch in the minors until he indicates he is ready to pitch in the majors. It is unclear when that will be.
Even more obscure than Pineda is Cabral. The 24-year-old left-handed reliever was a Rule V selection for the Yankees by the Kansas City Royals from the Boston Red Sox in the winter of 2012. Cabral had racked up some impressive numbers with two Red Sox minor-league teams but was left off their 40-man roster. With those two teams Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and racked up 70 strikeouts in only 55 innings. The Yankees saw him as a potential second left-hander to Boone Logan in the bullpen and Cabral battled fellow lefty Clay Rapada all through spring training until Cabral sustained a fractured left elbow in what would have been his final appearance. Cabral has not pitched in a game since and the Yankees are hoping that he can begin throwing this month in a rehab stint that might lead to him being available to pitch in the majors. They hope that could mean he could pitch for them this season. But until Cabral begins throwing it is unclear if he will be able to help and when.
That said, it leads us to some injuries the Yankees have suffered that are actually under the radar. They are not part of the 10 players the Yankees have listed on the disabled list but they actually are important injuries that are having an effect on the current roster. Here they are:
Rapada, 32, benefitted from Cabral’s injury but he likely would have won the job anyway. He also did a great job as the lefty specialist in Girardi’s bullpen last season, recording a 3-0 record and 2.82 ERA while keeping lefties to a low .100 batting average. Rapada likely would have kept his job this season if he did not come down with bursitis in his left shoulder that prevented from pitching this spring. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster but they were able to sign him to a minor-league contract and they have him pitching at Scranton. Rapada has pitched just one inning of one game but there is hope that he might be able to return to the Yankees sometime soon this season because the Yankees have a starting pitcher in Nuno along with Logan in the bullpen. Neither Nuno or Logan are really lefty specialists like Rapada. There is a good possibility that Rapada will be back with the Yankees real soon if he has overcome the bursitis.
Mustelier, 28, is the Cuban defector who turned heads all spring with his hitting. The corner outfielder even was utilized late in the spring at third base and actually had a good shot to make the team. That was until he ran smack into a camera well along the third base line chasing a foul popup in the fourth inning of a game in Tampa against the Miami Marlins on March 15. Mustelier suffered multiple bone bruises to both legs and his shot of making the team was over. In fact, Mustelier only recently recovered enough to be able to start playing at Scranton. He is hitting .231 with a home run and one RBI in five games. Mustelier still has a great shot of being able to help the Yankees at some point this season. He bats right-handed and can play the outfield and third base. In fact, if the Yankees had a healthy Mustelier when Youkilis injured his back, he would have been the player the team recalled from Triple A instead of Corban Joseph or would have not forced the team’s decision to trade for Nelson.
Banuelos, 22, remains as the team’s top pitching prospect despite the fact he has not pitched since the early stages of the 2012 season. Banuelos came up with a sore elbow last season and later tests showed ligament damage that required Tommy John surgery. So Banuelos will miss all of the 2013 season with hopes of being able to compete for a roster spot with the Yankees in spring training in 2014. After impressing the Yankees with a fine 2011 season in which he was 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA at Double-A Trenton the Yankees wanted to see him pitch in the spring in 2012. His combination of a plus fastball and devastating change-up had them salivating at the prospect of him in the majors. But Banuelos took a detour on his control in 2012 and the balky elbow might have been the cause. With veteran starters Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one-year contracts and Phil Hughes eligible for free agency, Banuelos’ recovery could be important to their prospects in 2104.
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
PHIL HUGHES (16-13, 4.19 ERA)
If you were casting a James Bond movie would you select Owen Wilson for the role? If you were casting a new dramatic Broadway play would you cast Zach Rogan?
Of course, the answer would be no to both. Yet the Yankees still insist on miscasting Phil Hughes as a starting pitcher.
They can point to his two full seasons as a starter in which he is a collective 34-21 with a 4.20 ERA. Considering the fact Hughes came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system as a highly touted starter, why shouldn’t he be a starter?
The reason he shouldn’t is not because of what Hughes has accomplished. It has more to do what he has failed to accomplish that limits his ceiling as a quality starter.
Hughes, 26, is basically a two-pitch starter: Fastball and curve. Efforts to add a cutter and a change-up have been met with mixed results. There is no doubt that with good run support he can remain a successful starter. But think back to a time when Hughes had his best success with the Yankees.
That was in 2009 when Hughes was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a fill-in starter and then, out of necessity, was shifted to the bullpen. Hughes’ two-pitch assortment was perfect for the bullpen and his fastball got some added zip during his short stints. Gradually manager Joe Girardi shifted him into the setup role in front of Mariano Rivera.
Hughes was simply sensational. His ERA, his WHIP and his strikeout rate were all better than Rivera’s in 2009 and Hughes became a major reason why the Yankees won their 27th world championship that season.
There is one huge reason why Hughes has not pitched out of the bullpen since and it has nothing to do with Hughes. It has to do with the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make it as a starting pitcher. Once the Yankees determined that Chamberlain was not suited to start they were not about to do the same with Hughes.
The Yankees did not want to suffer the indignity of having both of their prized homegrown youngsters in the bullpen. Besides, the bullpen has been crowded with hard throwers behind Rivera and Chamberlain like Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.
So Hughes became a starter in 2010 and he had so much initial success (he sported an 11-2 record at the All-Star break and he made the American League All-Star team) that those minor-league scout comparisons to Roger Clemens did not seem so farfetched anymore.
But after the break, the league caught up to him and he was a very pedestrian 7-6 the rest of the way.
High hopes for him in 2011 were very quickly dashed when he showed up to spring training with a noticeable drop in velocity. After getting blasted early and often in April, the Yankees placed him on the disabled list with weakness in his right shoulder. Though Hughes did return late that season, his 5-5 record and 5.79 ERA cast a lot of doubt on his future.
But Hughes worked his way back last season and he did pitch well enough to tie with Hiroki Kuroda for the team lead in victories with 16. Hughes also matched his season ERA of 4.19 in 2010. So not all the numbers were bad or disastrous.
There are still some numbers Hughes with which he can’t be pleased.
Hughes was vulnerable to the longball as the 35 home runs he surrendered in 191 1/3 innings pitched indicate. That was a home run given up every 5 1/2 innings.
Consistency has also been a problem. Hughes started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA before he rebounded to go 8-2 with a 3.34 from May 6 through July 1. From July 1 on, Hughes was pretty mediocre, going 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA the rest of the way.
Pitch count has also been problem for Hughes. In 14 of his 32 starts Hughes failed to pitch at least six innings. That was mostly due to elevated pitch counts coming from batters repeatedly fouling off pitch after pitch. Hughes basically succumbed in a lot of games due to just the attrition of pitches.
Another pitch in his arsenal would help Hughes with this problem but it appears that it is unlikely Hughes will be able to develop a major-league quality third pitch at this stage of his career.
So the Yankees are committed to Hughes as a starter but they are gong to have to accept his limitations. Absent another weapon what you currently see with Hughes is pretty much what you are going to get.
Though the top three pitchers on the staff (Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) might be able to adapt to getting a bit less in run support, Hughes might be severely harmed by the loss in power the Yankees suffered when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones signed with other teams in the offseason.
But with Chamberlain still in the bullpen, along with Robertson and Rivera, the fact that the Yankees top young pitchers such as Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are a long way away from being able to step into the starting rotation, Hughes will be forced to remain a starter this season.
How he fares may come down to his ability to adjust and adapt. At age 26 there is still time for him to improve. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild could be very valuable in putting the final pieces to the Hughes puzzle in place.
However, there is faction of Yankee fans who want Hughes to be traded for some young prospects. That would not seem to make much sense given the plight of Pineda, Banuelos and Betances and the fact that Ivan Nova has his own issues to deal with this spring.
It just seems to be a fact that Hughes is locked in as the team’s No. 4 starter and the Yankees can take comfort in the fact that they could do worse than have a pitcher who has won 34 games in his first two full-time seasons as a starter.
Hughes is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of the Yankees’ staff. He gets little respect for what he has done and he has taken far too much of the blame for what he has failed to accomplish.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander from southern California signed a one-year contract worth $7.15 million last week to avoid arbitration so Hughes can now concentrate on the task of getting ready for the 2013 season.
The Yankees are just hoping that the unusual amount of patience they have accorded a young pitcher in their system like Hughes is rewarded with a huge breakout season. But realistically, the Yankees should be happy if Hughes is healthy for a full season and ends 2013 above .500 in winning percentage.
Those are pretty achievable goals.
Perhaps someday Hughes might get a chance to replace Rivera as the team’s closer. But for now he will just have to continue to play the role he has been given – no matter how miscast he seems to be.
NEXT: IVAN NOVA
PART 2: THE BULLPEN:
The Yankees figured to have a strong bullpen as they entered the 2012 season. Perhaps the best in baseball.
Of course, having the best closer baseball has ever seen and will see in Mariano Rivera was a large part of that strength. However, in 2012 Rivera was not a big part of the team’s success.
Everybody remembers that day at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City last May when “Mo” tried to shag a ball he should not have and tore his MCL in his left knee. He later had surgery and missed the rest of the season.
But the Yankee bullpen was rescued by a fluke signing of Rafael Soriano in 2011 over the objections of general manager Brian Cashman. Nonetheless, the Yankee brass overruled Cashman and signed the former Tampa Bay Rays closer coming off a 2010 season in which he saved 45 games and a had a 1.73 ERA.
That deal looked wasted in 2011 when Soriano pitched in mediocrity and then injured his elbow before finishing with just two saves and a 4.12 ERA. He was baseball’s most expensive seventh inning pitcher in history.
In 2012, he saved the bullpen by stepping in for Rivera and notching 42 saves in 46 opportunities with a sparkling 2.26 ERA. Many thought that with Rivera gone that the Yankees would sink in the American League East. But Soriano proved them wrong.
It is no wonder that Soriano elected to opt out of his contract and seek a closer’s role of his own as a free agent. The Yankees might have panicked to find a suitable closer for 2013 had Rivera not decided to come back for one last hurrah.
Indications are Rivera will be ready to go when spring camps open in February. Rivera, 43, was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA and five saves in six chances when he went down in 2012. In 2011, he was 1-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 44 saves in 49 opportunities. So as long as Rivera’s knee is sound, the Yankees will have no worries about their closer in 2013.
With Soriano gone, it would seem to be an issue if the Yankees did not have David Robertson, who was an American League All-Star selection in 2011 with a 4-0 record and 1.08 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. In 2012, Robertson got off to a slow start with a ankle injury suffered in spring training.
He later had to be placed on the disabled list at midseason in May with an oblique strain. He simply was not the same pitcher early in the season as he was in 2011. But in the second half, Robertson flashed his old form. After a brief and unsuccessful trial as a closer he was shifted back to his eighth inning role and he flourished again.
He was 2-7 with a 2.67 ERA but he was finally his old self by late August and for the September stretch run. At age 27, Robertson becomes a very valuable pitcher for the Yankees with the departure of Soriano. Robertson will also have to adapt to close on days Rivera is unable to pitch. The Yankees do not seem worried about it though.
Behind these two hard-throwing relievers, the Yankees will seek to build another strong bullpen with a pair of similarly hard-throwing veterans in right-hander Joba Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan.
Chamberlain, 27, missed most of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He missed the start of the 2012 season after suffering a break of his right ankle in a trampoline accident in Tampa, FL. He was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings over 22 appearances late in the season.
He returns in 2013 without injury and seeking to regain the consistency he enjoyed in 2011 when he was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA before he injured his elbow. If he does the Yankees will not miss Soriano at all. Chamberlain figures to be the logical choice to pitch most in the seventh inning. If he measures up to the challenge the Yankees’ bullpen will again be very strong.
Logan, 28, has been the unsung hero of this bullpen for a long time.
Sure he can be erratic at times. But he also has now put together three very good seasons with the Yankees. Miscast as a lefty specialist for two seasons, he was able to step out of that role in 2012 and post a pretty good season.
He was 7-2 with a 3.74 ERA and held opponents to a .234 batting average. The elevated ERA was largely due to the fact that he was pressed into service more than he had in the past and the additional innings caught up to him. He pitched in a league-high 80 games and manager Joe Girardi would like to cut that down to a more realistic 60 to 65 in 2013.
But with Chamberlain, Robertson and Rivera on the disabled list at one point last season, Logan pitched in a lot of games he would not have pitched in normally. A healthy bullpen should make him more effective as well as additional man to pitch in the seventh inning.
Girardi was able to cobble together a pair of specialists out of left-hander Clay Rapada and right-hander Cody Eppley and he was very pleased with the results he got from them.
Rapada, 31, was 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA. But against lefties he was plain nasty. They hit just .186 off him and he looks to have an inside track on keeping that role in 2013.
Eppley, who was picked up off waivers from the Texas Rangers early in 2012, turned into an effective pitcher against right-handers. He had a 1.93 ERA against righties and they hit just .227 against him. The 27-year-old veteran was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA overall and he earned Girardi’s trust as the season progressed.
Depth in 2013 does not look to be an issue. There are a number of candidates to challenge for spots in 2013.
David Phelps, 26, is thought of primarily as a starter based on his success in the minor leagues. But he could settle into a long reliever/spot starter in 2013, the role he largely held in his rookie season as he compiled a 4-4 mark with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts).
Phelps will get a chance to crack the 2013 starting rotation in the spring but he only likely will have a chance if there is an injury or Ivan Nova continues to pitch poorly. Long relief looks to be a good bet or he could be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to keep him stretched out as a starter as an insurance policy on what is a veteran starting rotation.
The Yankees signed free-agent right-hander David Aardsma last season even though they knew he was recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Aardsma, 30, saved 38 games in 2009 and 31 games in 2010 for the Seattle Mariners before he injured his elbow.
He pitched in only one game for the Yankees late last season but the Yankees saw enough renew his contract option for 2013. So Aardsma could very well win a spot in the Yankees bullpen this spring if he regains his hard-throwing dominant arsenal. Aardsma could be helpful both in the middle innings or as a late-inning option for Robertson and Rivera when they are unavailable to pitch.
The Yankees also have a veteran right-hander in Jim Miller, 30, who was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 33 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season. Miller oddly is tougher on lefties than he is on righties. Lefties hit just .136 off him in 2012 while righties solved him to the tune of .283. The Yankees will see how he fits in this spring.
Cesar Cabral, a 2012 Rule 5 draft acquisition, spent the entire season on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left elbow as he was competing for the lefty specialist role with Rapada last spring. After compiling a 3-4 record and a 2.95 ERA in the minors 2011 with 70 strikeouts in 55 innings, Cabral will get a chance to display his power stuff this spring with a chance of supplanting Rapada or earning a spot as a third lefty in the bullpen. Cabral is only 23 and he has a high ceiling as a reliever.
The Yankees do have some interesting young reliever candidates in their minor-league system but most of them have to be considered as longshots to make the 2013 roster.
Chase Whitley, 23, was 9-5 with a 3.25 ERA at Scranton and the right-hander compiled a 1.07 WHIP in 80 1/3 innings over 41 games. The Yankees like his competitiveness though he does not appear to have closer stuff.
Right-hander Preston Claiborne, 24, pitched impressively enough at Double-A Trenton (2-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 30 games) to earn a promotion to Scranton, but he may need some more work. He was 4-0 with a 4.05 ERA in 20 games there. But the Yankees still like the tall Texan and he does have strikeout stuff (78 punchouts in 82 innings).
The most impressive young pitcher the Yankees have in the minors is 22-year-old right-hander Mark Montgomery. Montgomery began 2012 with the High-A Tampa Yankees, where he was 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA. He also struck out an unbelievable 61 batters in 40 1/3 innings.
He carried that power stuff to Trenton, where he was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 15 games. He saved 15 games overall in 2012 and to say that Montgomery figures to be a long-range prospect as a future major-league closer would be putting it mildly. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he may not seem like your typical closer. But neither was Robertson and look where he is now.
Montgomery’s progesss is worth watching in 2013.
The Yankees 2013 bullpen prospects, much like their starting staff, appears to be in pretty good shape and fairly set. I do not expect Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to be begging Cashman for additional help here. Soriano walked out but with Rivera back for one last season and depth at the back end the Yankees’ bullpen should remain one of its strengths.
Girardi has been a master at building a bullpen and utilizing it in a proper way. Other than Logan, no one was really overused in 2012 and that should be the trend again in 2013.
Not many teams can boast a bullpen this good and this deep.
NEXT: STARTING LINEUP
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3 (12 INNINGS)
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman badly wanted to sign Raul Ibanez this winter but the front office told him he had to trim salary before he could. Cashman finally was able to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates the weekend before spring training opened to clear enough salary and Ibanez was signed.
That signing looks huge now because in the 161st game of the season Ibanez blasted a pinch-hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and then delivered a game-winning RBI single in the 12th as New York reduced its magic number to just one with a thrilling come-from-behind classic defeat over arch-rival Boston on Tuesday.
The 40-year-old outfielder first brought the paid crowd of 41,564 at Yankee Stadium to its feet when he stroked a low line-drive home run off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey into the fifth row of the right-field bleachers with Curtis Granderson aboard to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 tie.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team then managed to load the bases with one out in the same inning but Mark Teixeira, who spent all night dashing the team’s scoring hopes, and Robinson Cano could not deliver off reliever Mark Melancon.
So the game, played on a very chilly 62-degree and rainy evening, trudged on to the bottom of the 12th.
Things did not look promising when left-hander Andrew Miller retired Teixeira and Cano to begin the inning and Francisco Cervelli, pressed into service because manager Joe Girardi had pinch-run and pinch-hit for Russell Martin and Chris Stewart earlier in the contest, was making his first plate appearance of the season.
He also was down in the count 0-2 on the first two pitches. But Miller threw four straight pitches out of the strike zone to walk him. Granderson then came to the plate and he drew a four-pitch walk to advance Cervelli into scoring position.
Girardi was also forced to keep potential pinch-runner Chris Dickerson in the dugout because Cervelli was the last catcher on the roster.
But Girardi’s concerns became moot when Ibanez laced an 0-1 pitch into the hole between shortstop and third base. Cervelli raced around third and headed for home as Daniel Nava scooped the ball and threw it towards home plate. But Cervelli crossed the plate well before the ball arrived and the Yankees flooded the field to celebrate one of their most hard-fought comebacks of the season with the division title on the line.
The Yankees knew that the Baltimore Orioles had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 earlier on Tuesday. A Yankee loss would have hurtled them back into a flat-footed tie with the Orioles atop the American League East.
The Yankees can clinch their third division title in the past four seasons on Wednesday with a victory over the Red Sox in the final game of the regular season or if the Orioles lose to the Rays.
Derek Lowe (9-11) came on pitch two scoreless innings in the 11th and 12th to pick up the victory. Miller (3-2) took the loss.
Frustration as a word does not begin to tell the story of the evening for the Yankees.
They collected 11 hits and a walk over the first eight innings of the game but they failed to get any big hits to add to the one run they scored in the second inning off Red Sox starter Jon Lester.
With two out, Granderson reached first on an infield single and advanced to second when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco’s throw to get Granderson bounced into the stands. Eduardo Nunez, who started as the designated hitter instead of struggling Andruw Jones, delivered a hard-hit single off the glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias to score Granderson.
That run halved the deficit to 2-1 because the Red Sox jumped on rookie right-hander David Phelps early.
Jacoby Ellsbury laced a leadoff single and Dustin Pedroia, playing despite a fracture in his left thumb, then stroked an RBI double in the gap in right-center to score Ellsbury.
Pedroia advanced to third on a infield groundout off the bat of Nava and he scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Cody Ross.
However, Phelps pitched well the rest of the way. He left with one out in the sixth after giving up just two runs on three hits and two walks while he struck out four.
Lester, in addition to his teammates in the bullpen, kept walking the tightrope between trouble and disaster but he kept escaping thanks to some poor hitting by the Yankees with runners in scoring position:
- In the first inning, Derek Jeter singled and and reached third one out later on a bloop single by Alex Rodriguez. However, Teixeira – still hobbling on a sore left calf – hit into an inning-ending double play.
- In the third inning, Nick Swisher slapped a one-out double and advanced to third on an infield single by Rodriguez. But, Teixiera again hit into an inning-ending double play.
- In the fifth inning, Cano led off with a single and Nunez stroked a two-out double. Alas, Ichiro Suzuki lined a shot into center but right at Ellsbury to end the inning.
- In the ninth, Bailey gave up a one-out double to Jeter after Ibanez’s game-tying home run. Swisher was intentionally walked and Rodriguez followed by drawing a walk to load the bases. However, Melancon entered the game and retired Teixeira on a broken-bat pop to shallow center and Cano grounded out weakly to Pedroia at second.
- In the 11th inning, Swisher slapped an opposite-field single with two out off Vicente Padilla and Rodriguez followed with a blast to the warning track in center that Ellsbury was able to run down before he crashed into the wall.
Lester left after five innings having given up one unearned run on eight hits and one walk while he fanned one.
The Red Sox added to their lead in the top of the ninth when James Loney uppercut a 2-1 offering from Rafael Soriano in to the second deck down the line in right-field. The Red Sox and their beleaguered manager Bobby Valentine were figuring that it was the insurance run that would put the Yankees away with Bailey on the mound.
Ibanez had other ideas.
The Yankees ended up with 16 hits and five walks in the game and they stranded a total of 14 runners. Teixeira left nine runners on base in his six at-bats.
But none of that all matters much now because of Ibanez.
The Yankees, thanks to the Oakland Athletics’ 3-1 defeat of the Texas Rangers late Tuesday, now also hold claim to the best record in the American League at 94-67. The Red Sox had their season record fall to 69-92.
- Ibanez entered the game in the ninth and ended up 2-for-3 with a home run and three very big RBIs. Since Sept. 22, Ibanez is 14-for-34 (.412) with five home runs and nine RBIs in largely a platoon role against right-handers. He is hitting .235 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs on the season. His single in the 12th was his 11th career walk-off hit.
- The bullpen, with the exception of Soriano’s hiccup to Loney, was actually very good. In 6 2/3 innings, they gave up one run on five hits and two walks and struck out seven batters. Lowe was especially good in his two innings of work. In a game when the relievers needed to hold the Red Sox down long enough to wake up the bats, they did a very good job.
- Girardi chose to go with Phelps in place of Ivan Nova and Nunez in place of Jones. Both moves paid off for the Yankees. Nunez was 2-for-3 with an RBI until Ibanez pinch-hit for him in the ninth and Phelps pitched into the sixth and kept the Yankees in the game. You have to give the manager credit for those moves.
- Fans do have a right to question Girardi’s move to put Swisher second in the order with Rodriguez and Teixeira behind him. That left Cano, the team’s hottest hitter batting fifth. Teixera ended up 0-for-6 and he only got that weak pop to shallow center out of the infield in those at-bats. Teixera’s at-bats killed the Yankees all night long and it was Girardi’s fault. Shifting Suzuki to ninth did not seem to make sense either. Suzuki has owned Lester throughout his career.
The Yankees end their regular season with a chance to clinch the division and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a series sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda won his last start despite giving up 10 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA this season against the Red Sox.
The Red Sox will counter with every hitter’s dream in Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA). Matsuzaka gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in three innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his last outing on Sept. 19. This likely will be the last start of his career for the Bosox, who can’t wait to shed his huge contract. He is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 9, BLUE JAYS 6
Through the course of a 162-game season, teams have to go through many difficult tests to prove their worthy of moving on to the playoffs. On Sunday, the Yankees were down 5-1 to Blue Jays after five innings in a game the Yankees desperately needed to win.
Somehow and someway they got off the mat and scored one of their most crucial victories of the season in front of a paid crowd of 31,418 at Rogers Centre.
The Yankees benefitted from a wild pitch to tally a run in the sixth, tied it with three runs in the eighth (the tying run scoring on another wild pitch) and Eduardo Nunez hit a sacrifice fly to deep left to score Curtis Granderson with the tie-breaking run in the eighth as New York came back from the brink of despair to down Toronto and clinch their 17th playoff spot over the past 18 seasons.
The victory also allowed the Yankees to maintain a first-place tie in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles, who completed a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
The heroic comeback began in the sixth when Robinson Cano led off with a double and he advanced to third on Nick Swisher’s line-drive single to right off Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez. With Granderson at the plate, Alvarez tossed 1-2 pitch into the dirt past catcher J.P. Arencibia to allow Cano to score.
The Yankees opened the seventh against lefty reliever Brett Cecil with a lined single by Eric Chavez, who had accounted for the Yankees’ first run of the game in the third with a solo home run, his 16th of the season.
Manager John Farrell replaced Cecil with right-hander Steve Delabar and Derek Jeter greeted him with a ground-rule double down the right-field line to chase Chavez to third. Ichiro Suzuki scored Chavez with a sacrifice fly to center.
Alex Rodriguez then battled back from 0-2 count to draw a walk and Cano laced a double into deep right to score Jeter and advance Rodriguez to third.
Farrell replaced Delabar with left-hander Aaron Loup and, with Swisher at the plate, Loup tossed a slider into the dirt past Arencibia to allow Rodriguez to tack on the tying run.
The Yankees hoped the rally would continue with Cano on third and one out, but Swisher laced a bullet line-drive that Yunel Escobar caught with a dive to his right and he threw to Brett Lawrie at third to double up Cano.
But the Yankees were not through by any stretch.
In the eighth, Granderson drew a leadoff walk from veteran left-hander Darren Oliver (3-4) and Raul Ibanez followed it by lashing a single into right, forcing Farrell to replace Oliver with right-hander Brandon Lyon.
Russell Martin slapped a sacrifice bunt to Lawrie at third to advance Granderson and pinch-runner Brett Gardner and Nunez hit the very next pitch to deep right and right-fielder Moises Sierra made a spectacular grab of the ball before it reached the wall. However, it was plenty deep enough to score Granderson and give the Yankees their first lead in the game.
Jeter provided insurance by dropping a sinking liner into right to score Gardner.
The Yankees even added a pair of runs in the ninth by loading the bases with no outs against veteran right-hander Jason Frasor and Granderson laced a two-run single into right to give the Yankees a seemingly “comfortable” 9-5 lead. The RBIs for Granderson gave him exactly 100 on the season.
While the Yankees did not receive much in the way of pitching from 16-game winner Phil Hughes, the bullpen pitched well enough to allow the Yankees to make their comeback.
Hughes was tagged for five runs on eight hits and two walks while he struck out four batters in 4 2/3 innings.
Veteran sinker specialist Derek Lowe relieved Hughes in the fifth after Hughes gave up three runs on five hits and left the game with runners on first and third and two out. But Lowe ended the inning by getting Arencibia on a flyout.
Lowe then retired the next four batters he faced on groundouts before Boone Logan (7-2) came with one out in the seventh and he retired the side despite issuing a two-out walk to Escobar.
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth, which set up the Yankees hoped would be a routine ninth with Rafael Soriano on to close it out.
However, anyone who has followed this tortuous and trying season with the Yankees knows there is no such thing as routine when it comes to the Yankees and their victories.
Lawrie opened the frame with a single and Rajai Davis added his ninth hit of the series with a single to center. Soriano then walked Colby Rasmus to load the bases.
But Soriano was able to induce Escobar to hit into a double-play, which scored Lawrie but left the Yankees with just one out to get. Soriano then retired Adam Lind on a groundout from Cano to Swisher to end the game.
The Yankees collected on the field to celebrate but it was a subdued one. They are waiting to really celebrate when they win the division.
The Yankees are 92-67 – as are the Orioles. But they also are one game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays, who seemed to play this series to a tie as if their lives were on the line, fell to just 70-89, 21 games back in fourth place in the division.
- Nunez’s sacrifice fly was huge and it could not have happened to a more deserving player. Nunez battled his way back from a demotion to Triple-A and a thumb injury to come back with vengeance since his Sept. 1 recall. He has driven in runs in three of his last four games and there is a good possibility that the Yankees might use him as a right-handed designated hitter in the playoffs over outfielder Andruw Jones.
- After slumping much of September, it appears Cano is getting back on track at the plate. He was 3-for-5 with two doubles, one RBI and two runs scored. He now has a six-game hitting streak in which he is 15-for-24 (.625) with five RBIs. With Mark Teixeira out of the lineup and Alex Rodriguez scuffling all month, Cano pretty much has had to produce for the Yankees to have a chance to win.
- Lowe stopped the bleeding in the fifth and retired all five batters he faced. Though Lowe got cuffed around pretty good in his first eight appearances (0-1 with a 5.79 ERA), he has pitched much better over his last eight appearances (0-0 with a 1.46 ERA). There is a good chance Lowe could make the postseason roster over Freddy Garcia because he has more value out of the bullpen.
- Hughes did not pitch very well at all. But the Blue Jays are a bad matchup for a flyball pitcher like Hughes. The Blue Jays scored two off Hughes in the first, keyed by a one-out double by Escobar. Lawrie tagged him for a two-run homer in the fifth, the 28th Hughes has given up this season. Sierra chased him with an RBI single later in the fifth. Hughes is 1-1 with a 7.16 ERA in his last three starts. This is not how Hughes wanted to enter the playoffs.
- Soriano’s shaky ninth was a bit of a concern. But you have to chalk that up to the fact that he has only pitched one-third of an inning overt the past week because he has not gotten save opportunities in the games the Yankees have won in that stretch. His last save was on Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays.
- Lost in the excitement over the victory is the fact the Yankees did not take full advantage of their situation in the sixth after Alvarez uncorked a wild pitch to allow Cano to score. Granderson was up with Swisher at second but he grounded out to Alvarez, which was an unproductive out. Ibanez grounded out weakly to Lind at first and Martin struck out swinging. This is a microcosm of the Yankees’ season. They blow a lot of chances to score runs by not delivering with runners in scoring position.
Girardi said Teixeira will start at first base on Monday for the Yankees in his first action since he reinjured his left calf on Sept. 8. Teixiera worked out in Tampa, FL, on Sunday after playing the previous day in an Instructional League game and he reported no issues with his injured calf. Teixeira will see the team physician in New York on Monday and he is expected to be cleared to play. . . . Nunez will make the postseason roster because reserve infielder Jayson Nix is expected to miss the next 10 to 14 days with a strained left hip flexor. Nix sustained the injury during Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays. . . . The Yankees continue to have Ivan Nova penciled in as the starter for Tuesday’s game but no definite word has been issued. Nova is 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his three starts since coming off the disabled list.
The division title is on the line and the Yankees will have to beat the “Dead” Sox to win it over the last three games.
Ace lefty CC Sabathia (14-6, 3.42 ERA) will open the series. Sabathia is coming off an impressive outing in which he gave up two runs on six hits and struck out 10 in eight dominant innings against the Minnesota Twins. He is 7-9 with a 4.35 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox.
Clay Buchholz (11-7, 4.22 ERA) will start for the last-place Red Sox. Buchholz gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings in loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. He is 2-4 with 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.