Results tagged ‘ Raul Ibanez ’

Cano Inching Closer To Re-Signing With Yankees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only question remains is will he?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buck Cries Over A-Rod’s Pact Off Yanks’ Payroll

When it comes to Alex Rodriguez and the impending suspension amid the Biogenesis scandal, I have been silent because it really does not concern me much.

I mean, I do write a blog about the New York Yankees but I do not consider Rodriguez a true member of the team. After all, how long has he been AWOL or virtually useless to the team? Three years?

But I got my dander up when Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided to open his big mouth about it on Friday.

“If [Commissioner] Bud [Selig] lets them get away with that, they’re under the luxury tax,” Showalter told USA TODAY Sports. “If they can reset, they can spend again and I guarantee you in two years Matt Wieters is in New York.”

Of all the managers in Major League Baseball you would think that Showalter, who formerly toiled for the so-call “Evil Empire,” would know when he should hold his tongue before looking like the horse’s ass he now appears.

First of all, the decision MLB makes concerning Rodriguez is none of his business. The second point is does he really in his right mind think the Yankees’ front office will go to Selig and request that baseball should apply the portion of A-Rod’s contract he forfeits while on suspension be applied to the team’s payroll and the luxury tax?

Geesh, to hear Showalter you would think that the Yankees have dear old Bud wrapped around their finger and they were dictating the penalty they want for A-Rod so they avoid paying him the $82 million they owe him through the 2017 season. That is just plain poppycock.

The Yankees have been MIA since 2009 in the annual free-agent signing sweepstakes. They have let free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson go to the highest bidders while they have filled their roster with blowout patches like Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. That suited the Old Buckeroo just fine because it allowed teams like the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays to play on a more even playing field.

But now that the Yankees might get to write off A-Rod’s contract for the rest of 2013 and all of the 2014 season (if A-Rod accepts the the deal baseball is offering) to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million in 2014. In addition, they can write off the entire $82 million if Rodriguez draws a lifetime ban.

That has Buck soiling his Pampers.

He obviously fears his team’s potential future free agents like Wieters, Chris Davis and Manny Machado may see the Yankees holding up stacks of cash and have them running from the exits at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Poor Buck sees the potential to lose his best players to the enemy and it irks him.

But there is one way to prevent any of that from happening, Buck. Pay those damn players what they worth to keep them happy. Period. Exclamation point!

In the meantime, the Bucker needs to shut his fat trap and stay out of the whole business.

The Yankees were victimized by Rodriguez. Remember in 2007 when A-Rod opted out of his $275 million deal he originally signed with the Texas Rangers (while the Buckeroo was managing them I recall)? A-Rod’s venomous agent Scott Boras was seeking a mega-deal by getting other teams to bid on his All-Star client.

Unfortunately, no bidders were looking to pony up the $200 million-plus it was going to take to get Rodriguez to put his signature on a contract.

Rodriguez sheepishly told Boras to take a hike and he put his enormous tail between his legs to crawl back to the Yankees for forgiveness. Perhaps the Steinbrenners, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman should have kicked that enormous tail of his back to the curb.

But they instead hammered out a 10-year, $252 million deal that Rodriguez for which Rodriguez is now beholden. It also is the one contract that has hung around the Yankees’ necks like an albatross ever since Rodriguez’s effectiveness as a run producer has moved from an upper tier to the level of an ordinary third baseman like Juan Uribe of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Be sure that Rodriguez wants all the money that is due him whether he plays at a respectable level or not. I honestly believe he could hold on through 2017 hitting .210 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs as a part-time player with the Yankees. A-Rod has no real pride in his craft and abilities. As long as he is being paid he has no shame.

So the partial ban and the ever-looming potential of a lifetime ban does benefit the Yankees in their ability to rebuild the ballclub going forward. But it is not if the Yankees deliberately staged the whole thing with A-Rod so they could sign Wieters in 2015, Buck!

So, Mr. Showalter, you go about patching that disaster area of a pitching staff that has your team falling like a stone in the American League East and keep your bulbous nose out of issues that do not really concern you. Come to think of it, the Orioles recent drop in the standings is likely behind much of this childish tirade.

It is perfect for the papers in Baltimore. After all, it takes attention away from his deficient managing and makes the Yankees the bad guys. That is the strategy after all, Buck. Deflect your shortcomings off to another subject.

It seems to me that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has done his share of spending on free agents over the years. If Buck is really worried about the Yankees getting his players he should just beg Angelos to open his huge saddlebags  to keep the players he wants to remain as Orioles.

That would make sense, right?

After all this I actually do hope the Yankees do sign a few Orioles so the Bucker can wail like Kim Kardashian’s North West over it.

Now, now little Bucky, quiet down. Sssshhhh! Here is your pacifier. We are here to make it all better. How about some Gerber split pea? That will make it all okay.

Even Wieters thinks you are acting like a child and he is less than half your age.

 

RBI Single By Yankees’ Hot ‘Stew’ Cooks Mariners

GAME 63

YANKEES 2, MARINERS 1

With the home run much less part of their arsenal the 2013 New York Yankees have had to rely on solid pitching from its starters and bullpen, a timely hit or two to claim a late lead and utilizing the best closer in baseball history to win games. That formula worked to perfection on Sunday.

Right-hander David Phelps matched the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch, Chris Stewart hit a two-out RBI single in the top of the ninth inning to break a 1-1 tie and Mariano Rivera ended his career at Safeco Field with his 37th save in 39 tries against the Mariners as New York edged Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 43,389.

Stewart’s game-winning hit in the ninth off reliever Yoervis Medina (1-2) was set up by a leadoff walk by Ichiro Suzuki and a sacrifice bunt by Jayson Nix that moved Suzuki into scoring position. Stewart followed one out later by slapping a 1-0 pitch into left-field and Suzuki was able to beat the throw from left-fielder Raul Ibanez with ease.

David Robertson (4-1) got into a jam in the eighth inning by giving up a leadoff double to Alex Liddi and a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Ryan that advanced Liddi to third. But Robertson escaped further trouble and earned the victory by striking out Jason Bay and and Nick Franklin.

Rivera gave up two singles and a walk in the ninth inning but he earned his 23rd save in 24 opportunities this season by inducing Michael Saunders to fly out to left with two on and two out.

Phelps, however, deserves a lot of credit for holding the Mariners to just one run on three hits and three walks while he fanned six in six innings of work. In his past two starts, Phelps has given up one run on four hits and seven walks with 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Phelps held a 1-0 lead going into the second inning, but Kelly Shoppach touched him for a one-out double to left. Phelps then issued a costly two-out walk to Liddi before Ryan swatted a roller deep into the hole at short upon which Reid Brignac was unable to make a play, allowing Shoppach to score the tying run.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got to Hernandez early by pushing across a run in the top of the second.

Nix led off the frame with a single to center and he later stole second. One out later, Stewart dropped down a perfect bunt single to advance Nix to third. Brett Gardner, who would end up 4-for-5 in the game, then delivered a lined single to center to score Nix.

Hernandez yielded just the one run on five hits and two walks and he struck seven batters in seven innings.

With the victory the Yankees claimed three of the four games against the Mariners and they improved their season record to 37-27. They Yankees remain in second place in the American League East 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Mariners fell to 27-37.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Stewart’s value is going far beyond that of a great defensive catcher with a career .217 batting average. Since being pressed into a starting role due to a broken right hand suffered by starter Francisco Cervelli, Stewart has been contributing much better with the bat than was expected. He was 2-for-4 in the game to raise his season average to .276, which is second to only Gardner on the team.
  • Speaking of Gardner, the 29-year-old center-fielder is hotter than Hades with the bat. His 4-for-5 day raised his season average to a team-best .284. Since May 24, Gardner is 23-for-63 (.365) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He has failed to get at least one hit in only two of his past 17 games and has a seven-game hitting streak.
  • Phelps is beginning to settle in nicely as the team’s No. 5 starter and it is doubtful we will be seeing Ivan Nova reclaim that spot anytime soon. Other than his terrible outing against the New York Mets on May 29 when he only lasted one-third of an inning, Phelps is 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA. He has given up just 13 runs on 31 hits and 17 walks with 40 strikeouts in 45 innings covering his other seven starts.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Mark Teixeira had a real tough day at the office. He was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Teixeira is now hitting just .167 in his first 10 games. But, at the same time, Teixeira has also delivered three home runs and eight RBIs.
  • Robinson Cano did reach base in the eighth after being hit by pitch and drew a walk in the ninth, however, he was 0-for-3 in the game. Cano is in a huge slump since May 31 in which he is 4-for-34 (.118) with one home run and four RBIs. That slump has lowered his season average from .292 to .272.
  • Brignac is a good defensive shortstop and he does have value as left-handed hitter. But Brignac was 0-for-4 on Sunday and he is just 4-for-29 (.138) without a homer or RBI since he joined the Yankees. It would be nice if Eduardo Nunez would get over that nagging oblique injury so the Yankees can cut Brignac loose.

BOMBER BANTER

It would not be a day with the Yankees without an injury to report. Corner infielder Kevin Youkilis missed Sunday’s game due to a recurrence of lower back stiffness. Youkilis re-injured his back on Saturday when he slid into first base to record an out of Ibanez in the second inning in the Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Mariners on Saturday. Manager Joe Girardi hopes Youkilis will be able to return to the field on Tuesday. He is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their West Coast road trip against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.

Red-hot left-hander CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.74 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on seven hits and a walk while he fanned nine batters in a complete-game victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday. Sabathia is 8-9 with a 4.50 ERA against the A’s in his career.

Former Yankee right-hander Bartolo Colon (7-2, 3.14 ERA) will oppose Sabathia. Colon surrendered one run on eight hits and two walks while striking out four in seven innings in a victory against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. Colon is 3-7 with a 6.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 10:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

‘Pronk’ Bonks O’s In Ninth, Wells Wins It In 10th

GAME 44

YANKEES 6, ORIOLES 4 (10 Innings)

Some teams are built with a lot of money. Some teams are built with a collection of players with special skills. But successful teams are built with lots of players who have heart.

The 2013 New York Yankees are a team with an awful lot of heart and that was on display Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Down 4-3 with one out in the ninth inning and Orioles closer Jim Johnson on mound, Travis Hafner blasted an opposite-field home run into the bleachers in left-center to tie it and Vernon Wells laced a game-winning RBI double in the 10th inning as New York came from behind to down Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 24,133.

Hafner and Wells embody the heart of what has been called “The Replacements” and they provided the Yankees with the clutch hitting just when they needed it.

The Orioles took a 3-2 lead away from left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh inning when Nick Markakis slapped an RBI double to left-center to score Alexi Casilla and J.J. Hardy followed one out later with an RBI double down the right-field line.

The Orioles made their 2012 wild-card run largely on the strength of their incredible 24-6 record in one-run games. But 2013 is looking like a much different season for them.

Johnson, who had entered the game having blown his last two save opportunities, fell behind Hafner 3-1 when the 35-year-old designated hitter sent a belt-high outside fastball into the 80-degree evening air and by the time it landed Johnson was hanging his head in disbelief.

David Robertson (3-0) came in to pitch a scoreless ninth inning that sent the game into extra innings, where the Orioles posted an incredible 16-2 record in 2012.

What a difference a year makes!

Ichiro Suzuki opened the top of the 10th with a line-drive double into the right-field corner off right-hander Pedro Strop (0-2)

Wells, who entered the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning then picked on a 1-2 hanging slider from Strop and slashed it to the base of the wall in left and the ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double that scored Suzuki.

After Austin Romine bunted Wells to third, Brett Gardner was retired on hard grounder and Strop walked Robinson Cano intentionally.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter replaced Strop with left-hander Brian Matusz to face Hafner. But Hafner spoiled the strategy by slashing a 0-1 slider into right for a single to score Wells with an insurance run.

Mariano Rivera, who entered the evening a perfect 16-for-16 in saves this season, pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, punctuating his 17th save by striking out Chris Dickerson swinging to push the Orioles’ current losing streak to six games.

Believe me when I say that this one really hurt the Orioles.

Sabathia, who was 19-4 with a 2.90 ERA in his career against the Orioles including two victories in the 2012 playoffs, was unable to keep any of leads the Yankees kept providing him with throughout the evening.

Cano opened the scoring with a solo home run  -  his American League-leading 13th of the season  -  off former Yankee right-hander Freddy Garcia with one out in the first frame. David Adams followed with a one-out homer of his own, his first in the major leagues, in the second inning.

But Chris Davis reclaimed a share of the A.L. lead in homers with his 13th home run off Sabathia with one out in the bottom of the second.

Two innings later, Markakis tied it up at 2-2 with a one-out RBI single to score Steve Pearce, who led off the inning with a double.

But Lyle Overbay promptly untied it for the Yankees in the seventh with a leadoff home run in the bleacher sin right center off left-hander Troy Patton.

Sabathia then ran out of gas in the seventh and surrendered the lead to the Orioles.

Sabathia gave up four runs on 11 hits and he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Garcia, meanwhile, yielded two runs on three hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings for the O’s.

The Yankees extended their winning streak to three games and, combined with the loss by the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox, they extended their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games. The Orioles fell to 23-21 and they are now a whopping five games behind the Yankees in third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner’s dramatic home run and RBI single in the 10th must have Yankee fans saying “Raul who?” because Hafner is making them forget how important Raul Ibanez was to the Yankees during the stretch drive and in the playoffs last season. Hafner is hitting .267 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs.
  • Wells, another reclamation project courtesy of general manager Brian Cashman, knew his playing time would be reduced when Curtis Granderson returned but he is proving to be very valuable off the bench. With his game-winning double in the 10th, Wells is hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs, which is third on the club behind Cano and fellow “Replacement” Overbay.
  • Adams’ rookie legend may be growing by leaps and bounds in just five major-league games. Adams was 2-for-4 including his homer. Adams also made some sterling plays in the field, which is surprising because he is not considered to be a good fielder. Adams is 6-for-18 (.333) with a home run and two RBIs and is looking like he might be staying long after Kevin Youkilis comes off the 15-day disabled list.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia was just not very sharp at all in this game. In his past two starts, Sabathia has given up 21 hits and two walks in 12 1/3 innings for Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) of 1.82. The Orioles used an opposite-field approach against the left-hander and they burned him repeatedly with it. Sabathia is also paying for a dip in velocity in his fastball.
  • Granderson is struggling at the plate and it may be a byproduct of rushing through his rehab in just five games. Granderson was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. He is 4-for-19 (.211) without a home run and an RBI in five starts.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira reported on Monday that he took his first at-bats in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, and he was 1-for-2 with a double and a walk. It was the first at-bats for Teixeira since he tore the sheath in his right wrist in March. Teixiera is hoping to play in his first game of the season by June 1 but that timetable may be a bit too optimistic.  . . .  Both Youkilis (back) and Alex Rodriguez (hip) took ground balls and batting practice at the team’s spring complex on Monday as both rehab their injuries. Manager Joe Girardi said that Youkilis likely will not be activated before the Yankees return home in a week. Though Rodriguez was able to take ground balls at third base on Monday, his timetable has not changed. He is expected back some time after the All-Star break.  . . .  The Yankees entered the day with a all-time major-league best 18-0 record in one-run games this season and they were within two outs of losing their first one-run game. But Hafner’s homer and Wells’ RBI double allowed them to extend the mark to 19 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game road series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-3, 5.88 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes will have to better on Tuesday because he is coming off what he called his worst major-league start on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners. Hughes lasted only two-thirds of an inning and gave up seven runs on six hits and two walks. He is 6-5 with 5.47 ERA lifetime against the Orioles.

Baltimore is countering with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (2-2, 4.58 ERA). Gonzalez is being activated from the 15-day disabled list after he sustained a troublesome blister on his right thumb. He is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees Sink Mariners After ‘King Felix’ Exits Early

GAME 39

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 3

The epic showdown between former American League Cy Young Award winners Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia on Tuesday may have ended in what could be scored a draw. But the New York Yankees ended up victorious by virtue of a technical knockout of Hernandez.

Trailing 3-1 when “King Felix” abdicated the mound, New York rallied for three runs in the seventh inning off the Mariners’ bullpen to defeat Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 41,267 at Yankee Stadium.

Reliever Shawn Kelley (2-0) bailed Sabathia out of a jam in the top of the seventh with runners on first and third and one out by striking out Kelly Shoppach and retiring former Yankees’ 2012 playoffs legend Raul Ibanez on a flyout to get credit for the victory.

Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his 624th career save and his 16th save in as many chances this season.

Mariners left-hander Charlie Furbush (0-2) was saddled with the loss.

Lyle Overbay, who in some way “caused” Hernandez to leave the game, and Robinson Cano keyed the crucial rally in the seventh.

Chris Nelson led off the frame with a bloop single to center off right-hander Yoervis Medina and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Austin Romine struck out swinging, Mariners manager Eric Wedge summoned Furbush.

Brett Gardner drew a walk and Cano followed by lacing a 3-2 slider off the base of the wall in right-center to score Nelson and Gardner to tie the game at 3-3.

Wedge elected to have Furbush walk Vernon Wells intentionally but Furbush also ended up walking Curtis Granderson  -  who was activated from the 15-day disabled list and was playing in his first game of the season  -  to load the bases.

That brought up Overbay, who had stroked a two-out double off Hernandez in the sixth to plate the Yankees’ first run of the night. After working the count to 3-2, Overbay laced a line drive to deep center that easily scored Cano with what proved to be the game-winning run.

Hernandez had been in control against the Yankees much of the night. However, a misplay by Hernandez that led to a collision with Overbay in the fourth inning doomed him.

With one out and Wells on first, Overbay hit a bouncer that just eluded a dive by first baseman Kendrys Morales but the ball was gloved by second baseman Robert Andino, who double-clutched and threw to Morales at first base. However, Hernandez also came over to cover first and was standing in the baseline behind Morales when Overbay collided with him, striking the back of Hernandez’s left knee.

Though first-base umpire Alan Porter originally called Overbay out, the umpiring crew discussed the play, ruled Hernandez was guilty of obstruction and awarded first base to Overbay.

Hernandez noticeably limped and stretched out his back throughout the rest of his outing until he was removed after six innings. The 27-year-old ace yielded one run on five hits and two walks while he punched out eight batters.

The Mariners, meanwhile were able to build a 3-0 lead on Sabathia.

They scored an unearned run in the third when, with one out ,Overbay committed a fielding error on a ball off the bat of Michael Saunders. One out later, Kyle Seager ripped a double to the wall in right-center to score Saunders.

They padded their lead in the sixth when Shoppach slapped a first-pitch single to the opposite field in right and Ibanez, who hit three dramatic late-inning home runs for the Yankees during the 2012 playoffs, showed the fans what they were missing when he roped a two-run home run into the first row of the bleachers in right-field.

Sabathia left in the seventh having given up three runs (two earned) on a season-high 10 hits and two walks but he also fanned season-high 10 in 6 1/3 innings.

With the come-from-behind victory the Yankees are now 8-2 in one-run games this season.

The Yankees have also won seven of their past eight games and they improved their season record to 25-14. They also extended their lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles to two games in the American League East. The Mariners are now 18-21.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Overbay committed his second error of the season and misplayed another ground ball by Ibanez that was ruled a single, his contributions at the plate have been huge all season. He was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and he is hitting .256 with six home runs and 24 RBIs. In fact, his RBI total is only one behind the team leader, Cano, who has 25.
  • Cano came through in the clutch against a left-hander on a night the Yankees ended up 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Cano was 2-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. The two hits pushed his season average back over the .300 mark at .306. He came in hitting .299.
  • Rivera remains perfect in saves this season and he needed only 11 pitches to close out the Mariners in the ninth. The Yankees bullpen trio of Kelley, David Robertson and Rivera held the M’s s off the board over the final 2 2/3 innings to extend the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 23 2/3 innings, which extends back to May 5.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia did not pitch well in this game. The Mariners had at least one base-runner on in every inning against him except the first inning. In the fourth they loaded the bases with two out, but Sabathia escaped the jam by fanning Saunders swinging.  Sabathia left in the seventh having thrown 112 pitches.
  • Granderson had a rough return to lineup having to face Hernandez. It showed. Granderson grounded into a double play in the first, struck out swinging in the fourth and hit into a fielder’s choice in the sixth. But he did draw a key walk in the seventh against Furbush that set up Overbay’s game-winning sac fly.
  • Romine also had a rough night. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he is now hitting .071. Romine also misplayed a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Brendan Ryan in the eighth inning. Robertson earlier had walked pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley on four pitches to open the inning. Romine fielded the bunt and tried to throw out Ackley at second instead of taking the sure out at first. But Ackley beat the throw. Robertson escaped the jam by striking out Saunders and retiring pinch-hitter Justin Smoak on an unassisted double-play liner to shortstop Jayson Nix.

BOMBER BANTER

Granderson returned to the lineup since breaking his right forearm on his first at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24 and he batted fourth and played left-field. In order to get Granderson on the 25-man roster the Yankees optioned rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre a day after he won his first major-league game in first major-league start by pitching five shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians.  . . .  It would not be the Yankees if on the same day they get one player back (Granderson) they possibly lost another for a period of time. Designated hitter Travis Hafner, 35, did not play in Tuesday’s game because of tendinitis in his chronic problem right shoulder. An MRI taken on the shoulder was negative but Hafner did receive a cortisone injection for the inflammation. He is listed as day-to-day.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home set against the Mariners on Wednesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-2, 4.43 ERA) will get the call for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off his second straight victory, but he gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out three against the Kansas City Royals on Friday. Hughes is 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA against the M’s in his career.

Hughes will be opposed by right-hander Hasashi Iwakuma (4-1, 1.74 ERA). Iwakuma, 32, gave up two runs on four hits and punched out nine in seven innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. In his two starts against the Bronx Bombers last season he was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA.

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

 

Pettitte, Backed By 3 Homers, Clips Jays’ Wings

GAME 15

YANKEES 9, BLUE JAYS 4

A lot of the experts predicted the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League East in 2013 and that the injury-riddled New York Yankees would finish in last place. I wonder after watching Friday’s game at Roger’s Centre if those so-called “experts” feel the same way.

Andy Pettitte showed no signs of any problems with his back in pitching into the eighth inning and the Yankees teed off on the Blue Jays for three home runs  -  two of them by former Blue Jays  -  as New York pounded Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 40,028.

Pettitte (3-0) gave up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out five in 7 1/3 innings to notch his 23rd career victory against the Blue Jays. The 40-year-old left-hander had not pitched in 10 days because his spot in the rotation was skipped due to back spasms.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to build Pettitte a huge lead early against right-hander Brandon Morrow (0-2).

The Yankees scored two runs in the opening frame on Travis Hafner’s RBI double and a RBI groundout off the bat of former Blue Jays Vernon Wells.

They added three more runs in the third inning on Hafner’s fifth home run of the season and a two-base throwing on Toronto center-fielder Colby Rasmus that allowed two unearned runs to score.

The Yankees finally chased Morrow in the sixth when former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay led off with a solo home run and Francisco Cervelli slapped an opposite-field ground-rule double.

Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Morrow with left-hander Brett Cecil and Brett Gardner greeted him with an RBI triple. Robinson Cano then scored Gardner and on an RBI groundout to make the score 8-1.

Wells, who was booed heavily by Blue Jays fans each time he was introduced, closed out the scoring for the Yankees by slapping a line-drive home run to left off Cecil in the seventh.

Morrow gave up seven runs (five earned) on nine hits and one walk and he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings of work.

With the victory, the Yankees improved to 9-6. The Blue Jays fell to 7-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner’s early-season hot streak continued on Friday. He was 2-for-5 with a double, a home run,  a run scored and two RBIs. He now leads in the team in hitting with a .349 average. He also is tied for the team lead in home runs with Cano with five and second to Cano in RBIs with 10. 
  • Wells and Overbay came back to the Rogers Centre with a vengeance. They were a combined 3-for-10 with a single, two home runs and three RBIs. Both were booed heavily throughout the game by the fans that used to cheer them. But they both also got a measure of revenge of against the team for which they used to toil.
  • Pettitte did give up a leadoff triple to Rajai Davis that led to an RBI groundout by Melky Cabrera in the inning. He also gave up a two-run home run to Jose Bautista in the seventh following a Cabrera single. But the rest of night he was in command. He threw only 90 pitches on the night and 61 of them were strikes (68 percent). He also lowered his season ERA to 2.01.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Kevin Youkilis was 0-for-4 and he is in a bit of batting slump over his past six games. He is 3-for-25 (.120) with no home runs or RBIs. That has lowered his season average from .424 to .293.
  • Eduardo Nunez is also in a bit of a batting funk. He was 0-for-4 and his season average is at .206. Nunez got the news on Thursday that he will have a chance to start at shortstop until Derek Jeter returns after the All-Star break but he might lose the role to Jayson Nix if he does not produce.
  • Shawn Kelley came in to pitch the final 1 2/3 innings and he could not resist giving up a solo home run to J. P. Arencibia with two outs in the ninth. Kelley has been tagged for four home runs in just seven innings over five appearances this season. His season ERA is 9.00.

BOMBER BANTER

For those baseball experts who thought the Yankees would be in big trouble without Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list and with free agents like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez elsewhere here is a statistic for you to chew on. The Yankees lead the American League with 25 homers.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series in Toronto on Saturday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 2.87 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda is coming off a complete-game shutout against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. He gave up five hits, walked none and fanned five. Kuroda, 38, is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

The Jays will counter with left-hander Mark Buehrle (1-0, 7.31 ERA). Buehrle shut down his former Chicago White Sox teammates on just two runs for his first victory of the season. He is 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Eclipse Rays Behind Three-Run Eighth

GAME 17

YANKEES 3, RAYS 1

Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.

Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters.  His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.

The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.

Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.

The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.

Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.

With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
  • In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
  • Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
  • Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
  • Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs  Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.

The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.

 

Gardner’s Shift Becomes Yanks’ Center Of Attention

Well, the worst-kept secret through the New York Yankees’ rumor mill became a reality on Thursday. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner will be swapping outfield positions this spring.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson will play left and Gardner will play center this spring in an “experiment” to gauge if the move will improve the Yankees’ defense. Of course, Girardi always has the prerogative to change his mind and switch them back, but it doubtful that will be the case.

Gardner, 29, has provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense in left-field – when healthy – since the 2009 season.

Granderson, 31, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers before the 2010 season, has played center-field, at times, shakily. Granderson does not make instinctive reads on balls and loses some. He also takes strange routes to balls and he has to rely a lot on his speed to make up for his mistakes.

The Yankees also have asked him to get his vision checked on a few occasions.

So the move of Gardner to center was almost inevitable and it looks like it could become permanent.

Granderson also is playing in the last year of his four-year contract and it is no secret that the Yankees are not looking to keep him by signing him to multiyear extension. So it makes sense to make the shift now because it is whole lot easier to find a quality player who can play left than it is to find someone with the skills to play good defense in center.

The Yankees are actually quite fortunate that they have three starting outfielders who are capable of playing center, which includes Ichiro Suzuki, 39. Not many teams can say that.

However, there is a big difference from saying someone is capable of playing center than it is to say that someone is better off playing the corner positions. The Seattle Mariners made that decision some years ago with Suzuki because Franklin Gutierrez had more range in center and Suzuki’s arm was perfect for right.

The Yankees are just making a similar decision with Granderson.

With all the talk this offseason that the Yankees offense took a major hit with the departures of Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, it would seem that there would be a premium be placed on pitching and defense this season.

Moving Gardner does that and the Yankees actually boast in Granderson, Gardner and Suzuki one of the best fielding outfields in baseball. They have good speed, range and excellent arms. A good defensive outfield should pay off on preventing a few runs here and there from crossing the plate as the season unfolds.

Managers love it, pitchers love it and the fans will be happy too.

“I have a pretty good idea how they react in center and left, and they do a pretty good job. I just want to see if it improves or stays the same or what happens,” Girardi said. “More, in a sense, how they play individually, but how the tandem works together with covering from right-center all the way over.”

Granderson still considers himself a centerfielder but said that he is good with the move. He said he would have more of an issue if he was benched entirely. Moving to left seems to be a better option than that and so he will play the good soldier.

Gardner has always considered himself a centerfielder. But when he came up in 2009, Melky Cabrera was already entrenched in center. Granderson’s arrival in 2010 pretty much meant he would stay in left since Granderson had not played left since 2007, and only then to play just a handful of games there.

So 2013 is Gardner’s year to shine in center.

But that does not mean Granderson is unimportant in left. Because of the amount of real estate in left-center at Yankee Stadium, leftfielders must possess the range and the ability to cut balls off in the alleys. Granderson can do that and that is why it should not really much of an issue come late May.

The novelty will wear off and there will be other things to talk about.

But the bottom line here is that the Yankees are making a move that is a positive step for the team’s defense and it is going to work out well for both players.

NEWS AND NOTES

  • The Yankees will open their spring schedule on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Field at Lake Buena Vista, FL. Right-hander David Phelps, 26, will start for the Yankees and he is expected to pitch two innings. Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm will pitch for the Braves. The game will start at 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on MLB Radio only.
  • Girardi also announced that first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Eduardo Nunez will make the trip. In addition, catchers Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine will play with Cervelli getting the starting nod. After Phelps, right-handers Brett Marshall, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder and Chase Whitley and left-hander Nik Turley are scheduled to pitch.
  • Girardi announced that after Adam Warren starts the Yankees home spring opener against a Toronto Blue Jays split squad on Sunday that left-hander Vidal Nuno and right-hander Jose Ramirez will start the next two games.
  • Phil Hughes, 26, continues to feel better in his recovery from a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes is taking anti-inflammatory medication and expects to be able to advance to working out in a pool in several days. He hopes to be able to return to action within two weeks.
  • Alex Rodriguez issued a statement through his spokesman Thursday saying he is working out twice a day in New York in his recovery from hip surgery under the supervision of Dr. Bryan Kelly and trainer Pete Draovitch. Rodriguez is targeting a return to the team at midseason. Kelly performed Rodriguez’s two-hour operation in January at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
  • For those of you planning to attend Saturday’s game at Disney’s Wide World Sports complex along with me you will not have to pay a dime for parking. That is the best part of seeing games here. But most of the stadium gets a pretty good dose of sun so you will need to lather on the sunblock.
  • The Disney staff is generally accorded to be the best in customer service but last season I was not feeling it. Before the game began I was snapping photos of the Yankees during batting practice when a Disney attendant barked at me for being a section over behind home plate. It was more than an hour before the game and no one was sitting there. Huh? Much later I chose to leave the hot sun and watch the game from the standing-room section behind home plate. Another Disney attendant came up to me and yelled at me for – of all the most serious transgressions – having my right foot a half-inch over the line painted on the floor behind the section. I understand if you put your foot all the way over the line they have to stop the game and remove you for interfering with play. Geesh!

 

My Spring Coverage Of Yankees Will Be Top-Notch

I started this blog in 2009 and I have vowed to my loyal readers that I would provide an unvarnished and journalistic approach to covering the New York Yankees. I feel I have fulfilled that promise and more over the years.

With the opening of spring exhibition games beginning for the Yankees on Feb. 23 against the Atlanta Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL, through the spring finale against the Washington Nationals in Washington, D.C. on March 29, I will be personally attending 18 games to provide reporting and analysis.

In addition, I will have access to one national television broadcast through ESPN and 13 additional games through radio broadcasts to ensure you will be getting complete and authoritative coverage of the Yankees this spring.

I will provide game coverage but I also will look at how the team is shaping up as a whole. I will look at the starting rotation, the bullpen battles, how the starting lineup is shaping up and how the young Yankees and spring invitees are doing in seeking roster spots.

If there is an injury that could affect the Yankees in 2013 you will know about it fast and accurately.

Last spring, I lamented through my game reports about how poorly the Yankees were hitting with men in scoring position. As we later learned, it became a significant issue for the team in the first half of the season and it was their ultimate undoing in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

I will try to provide the same analysis that I have through the past three spring training schedules. It will be done as if I was the Yankees’ correspondent for yankees.com. I was passed over for that post some years ago despite the fact I have been a journalist for more than 20 years and have worked for a number prestigious newspapers and wrote my own syndicated sports column.

But their loss is your gain because I always tell the truth about the Yankees and I do not hold punches in order avoid angering players, coaches and club executives as yankees.com reporters do. I am free to speak my mind and tell you that Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross around the necks of the Yankees and will be through the 2017 season.

I also have already told you my belief that Phil Hughes would be more suited and more effective of he pitched out the bullpen rather than basically a two-pitch starter.

Earlier this winter, I wrote how the Yankees are missing so much of their power from the 2012 club (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones) that manager Joe Girardi would be wise to use a more unconventional slash and dash approach using his better base-runners like Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter.

Call it the “Bronx Bunters.”

That would mean more bunting, hit and runs and base stealing instead of waiting for the home run. We will see if the Yankees implement that strategy this spring.

Join me for my reports direct from Tampa, FL, and I promise you will be ready and primed for my regular season game reports when the Yankees open their 2013 schedule at Yankee Stadium on April 1 when they will play host to the Boston Red Sox.

Thank you for those who have been my loyal readers and thank you to the new readers I have picked up along the way. I intend to give you the best information I can. Your feedback is always appreciated and encouraged.

Go Yankees in 2013!

 

 

Yanks Sign DH Hafner, Invite 43 Others To Camp

With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.

Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.

Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.

Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.

In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.

Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.

Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.

Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.

Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.

Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.

Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.

Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.

He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.

With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.

The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.

The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.

The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.

Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.

However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.

Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.

Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:

CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.

INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.

OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.

PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.

 

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