Results tagged ‘ Robinson Cano ’

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

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

OUTFIELD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

Drew Thankful For Second Chance With Yankees

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

SECOND BASE 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: INADEQUATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: THIRD BASE

 

2015 Yanks Likely Will Extend Playoff Drought

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!

 

Yankees Overcome Angels On Wild Pitch In Eighth

GAME 25

YANKEES 3, ANGELS 2

On a night where Masahiro Tanaka was not at his best  –  yet still plenty good enough  –  the Yankees struggled to get their offense going against the Angels. It was one of those “just get ‘er done” situations and the Yankees did just that on Sunday night.

With the game tied at 2-2 in the bottom the eighth inning Jacoby Ellsbury scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch as New York somehow took a series victory over Los Angeles in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 40,028 at Yankee Stadium.

Mark Teixeira led off the seventh inning with his second home run of the season to tie the game.

It remained that way until Angels right-hander Michael Kohn (1-1) opened the eighthly walking Ellsbury and  –  one batter later  –  he walked Carlos Beltran.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia then summoned left-hander Nick Maronde from the bullpen to pitch to Brian McCann but catcher Chris Iannetta was charged with a passed ball that allowed Ellsbury and Beltran to advance a base.

Then Maronde uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ellsbury and the Yankees to score the game-deciding run without the benefit of a hit.

David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez with the potential game-tying run at second, to earn his fourth save and his second in two days against the Angels.

Tanaka entered the game having only issued two walks in 29 1/3 innings but he ended up matching that total by the second inning against the hot-hitting Angels.

The Angels did finally break through against Tanaka in the fourth inning as Erick Aybar led off with a double and one out later the usually in command Tanaka hit Ian Stewart with a pitch. Iannetta then worked a walk to load the bases and J.B. Schuck scored Aybar on a fielder’s choice groundout.

Right-hander Garrett Richards, meanwhile, was mowing down the Yankees, yielding only one hit in the first four innings.

The Yankees were able to tie the game in the fifth when Teixeira drew a leadoff walk and one out later Brian Roberts hit an opposite-field double to left to advance Teixeira to third. Ichiro Suzuki then scored Teixeira on an infield groundout for his first RBI of the season.

Tanaka, however, was unable to hold the lead when David Freese jumped on Tanaka’s first offering in the sixth and deposited it in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center.

Though Tanaka was not at his best, he left with one out in the seventh inning having given up just two runs on five hits and four walks while he struck out 11 on his magical split-finger fastball in the dirt that the Angels could not seem to resist.

Adam Warren (1-1) came in the seventh and held the Angels to one hit in 1 2/3 innings to get credit the victory.

Richards left with the game tied after seven innings and he was charged with two runs on three hits and two walks while he ended up with seven strikeouts.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 15-10 and they have moved to a 2 1/2-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. The Angels fell to 11-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It must be nice to be so good that in a game where you issue four walks and you hit a batter while yielding only two runs and striking out 11 is considered a bad outing. But that is what some observers might have thought about Tanaka on Sunday. It was a chilly and windy night in the Bronx. So Tanaka had some command issues probably associated with trying to grip the ball. But he was still very good. In five starts covering 35 2/3 innings, Tanaka has given up 10 runs (nine earned) on 27 hits and six walks while he struck out 46. His ERA is a sparking 2.27 and you might as well face it but he IS the ace of the pitching staff already.
  • Robertson is falling into the closer’s role nicely after the retirement of the legendary Mariano Rivera. In the past two days Robertson has held one run leads facing some pretty tough hitters. The Angels have hit more home runs than any team in baseball. Yet, Robertson gave up a hit and a walk but fanned four in those two innings of work. Give him credit. He is doing the job.
  • Teixeira’s home run was significant not only because it tied the game. It also was his first homer from the left side of the plate this season. It was a no doubter, too. It landed well into the second deck in the right-field bleachers. The left side is the side where Teixeira might have trouble hitting after undergoing right wrist surgery last season. It appears that the wrist is getting better as the season moves along.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It was hard to tell if the Yankees were that bad or if it was Richards making them look that way. Believe me, it was Richards, who was throwing 97-mile-per-hour fastballs with movement. Nonetheless, nobody looked worse that Alfonso Soriano, who was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a groundnut into a double play. He stranded four runners.
  • The pitching on both sides was so good that the teams combined to go 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees were 0-for-5. Kelly Johnson reached third base on a wild pitch with one out in the third inning but Suzuki struck out and Ellsbury flied out to end the treat. That kind of summed the Yankees’ futility early in the game.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees played Sunday with two starters not in the lineup. Brett Gardner was held out of the game due to a sore left foot he incurred when he was struck by a pitch from Angels right-hander Ernesto Frieri in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game. X-rays taken on the foot were negative but Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Gardner still had some lingering soreness.  Suzuki started in left field for Gardner. Girardi also planned to play rookie Yangervis Solarte at second base but he had to scratched just before the game because of a sore right shoulder. Solarte injured the shoulder diving for a ball in Friday’s game and he did not look good in batting practice on Sunday. So Roberts started at second base and Solarte is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Right-hander Michael Pineda threw a bullpen session on Sunday and he will throw a simulated game on Tuesday in order to keep him sharp during his 10-game suspension for using pine tar. Pineda is scheduled to pitch Monday in Anaheim, CA, against the Angels.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Monday before welcoming back old “friend” Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-2, 4.78 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Sabathia, 33, is coming off two straight victories, including holding the Boston Red Sox to two runs on three hits and three walks while fanning eight in six innings on Thursday. Sabathia seems to have recaptured his old mojo after a horrible 2013 season.

The Mariners will start right-hander Chris Young (0-0, 3.50 ERA). Young, 34, surrendered three runs on five hits and four walks while striking out six in seven innings of a no-decison against the Houston Astros on Wednesday.

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

 

Beltran Boosts Yankees As They Limp Past Red Sox

GAME 13

YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2

Carlos Beltran has wanted to be a Yankee for a long time. At age 36, he is finally getting the chance to wear pinstripes and he is loving every minute of it.

Beltran slugged a two-run home run and collected three hits overall to back the solid pitching of Ivan Nova as New York held on to beat Boston on Sunday to win the home weekend series three games to one.

As rivalries go, this one is the greatest in sports. There have been many memorable games over the years and this one  –  played in front of a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,081 and a national television audience –  was pretty eventful for an early April contest.

Nova (2-1) entered the game with a 8.68 ERA but he weathered some early problems to pitch into the eighth inning.

His mound opponent, Felix Doubront, posted an ERA of 9.00 and he did not make it out of the third inning of his last start. Yet, Doubront pitched into the seventh inning.

How this pair of starters made it that far was a testament to their toughness and some very odd things, which usually occur when these two teams meet.

Doubront started out as if he would not last the first inning after Beltran laced a one-out single to left and Jacoby Ellsbury lined a double into the right-field corner. Alfonso Soriano then lofted a sure-fire sacrifice fly into center.

But Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. fired the ball to third base and Ryan Roberts tagged a sliding Ellsbury before Beltran could cross the plate with the run.

The Red Sox then literally took aim at Nova with two out in the second inning.

Roberts singled and Bradley followed with ball that caromed off Nova’s foot for a single. Jonathan Herrera then scored Roberts with a lined single that narrowly missed Nova’s head. Grady Sizemore then came through with the fourth straight single off Nova but left-fielder Brett Gardner threw Bradley out at the plate.

The Yankees then took the lead in the third inning when Gardner stroked a one-out single and Beltran followed with the 361st home run of his career, a lined shot that landed in the first row in the left-field bleachers.

The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Doubront opened the frame by walking Brian McCann and Yangervis Solarte. After Solarte was retired on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kelly Johnson, Francisco Cervelli hit a ball to Roberts that he turned into a double play.

Cervelli stumbled through about a half-dozen steps past first base and fell holding the back of his right leg.

Manager Joe Girardi challenged the out call at first base by umpire Bob Davidson as Cervelli was helped off the field with an obviously severe pull in his right hamstring.

Meanwhile, television replays indicated Cervelli touched first base before the ball hit first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, which allowed McCann to score the Yankees’ third run without the benefit of a hit. The umpires reversed the out call.

Red Sox manager John Farrell stormed out onto the field to protest the reversal and immediately was ejected from the game by Davidson. Managers are not allowed to argue calls that have been overturned.

Nova, meanwhile, settled in and pitched well. He only allowed a leadoff home run in the sixth inning to Napoli, which drew the Bosox to within a run at 3-2. He exited with one out in the eighth having given up two runs on eight hits, no walks and four strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings.

The Yankee bullpen then turned the game into an adventure.

Matt Thornton replaced Nova to face David Ortiz and Ortiz laced a deep drive that would have hit the top of the auxiliary scoreboard for a sure double. However, Ichiro Suzuki, who only entered the game as the right-fielder when Cervelli left the game, leapt and caught the ball before it reached the wall.

David Phelps then replaced Thornton and he ended up yielding a double to Napoli, a walk to Daniel Nava and hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch to load the bases. He then got locked into a tense eight-pitch battle with pinch-hitter Mike Carp that  –  luckily for Phelps and the Yankees  –  ended with Carp swinging and missing to end the threat.

Shawn Kelley pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two batters, to earn his third save in three opportunities.

Doubront (2-1) was tagged with loss, giving up three runs on seven hits and three walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.

The victory gives the Yankees a 7-6 record on the young season. The Red Sox dropped to 5-8.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Beltran has always been a big-stage performer throughout his career and his 3-for-4 night substantiated that reputation. In his past six games, Beltran is 11-for-26 (.423) with three home runs and six RBIs. This is the production the Yankees were expecting when they signed Beltran as free agent to the three-year contract after Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners.
  • Nova always has been a captive to his pitches working. When they are not working he gets lit up like a roman candle. When they are working he can be very good. His stuff was working on Sunday and he was able to hold the Red Sox to just the one run on three hits over his last 5 1/3 innings.
  • Suzuki’s catch on Ortiz’s deep drive was set up by Cervelli’s injury. Suzuki entered the game as a pinch-runner for Cervelli in fourth and he was placed in right-field. That moved right-fielder Beltran to first base, a position he has never played in 17 major-league seasons. If Beltran had been in right it is likely that drive would have not been caught. It truly was a game saver. For a 40-year-old player, Suzuki can still flash some leather.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It appears the Yankees’ issues with injuries that beset them in 2013 seem to have cropped up again early in 2014. The Yankees are already without first baseman Mark Teixeira, closer David Robertson and backup infielder Brendan Ryan. All three are on the disabled list. They played Sunday’s game with shortstop Derek Jeter nursing a mild quad injury and second baseman Brian Roberts out with a back injury. The loss of Cervelli left the team with no other bench players and no backup catcher. McCann took a ball off the fingers of his right index finger catching in the eighth inning and Solarte took an inadvertent shot to the groin from Napoli as he was running out a grounder in the sixth. Fortunately, both players were able to stay in the game. The Yankees will need to add some depth to their roster in a hurry.

BOMBER BANTER

Cervelli was taken for an MRI after he left the game but it is certainty that he will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The Yankees are expected to recall catcher Austin Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace Cervelli on the roster.  . . .  Jeter said he felt his right quadriceps tighten up in Friday’s game against the Red Sox. He already was scheduled for a day off on Saturday but Girardi opted to hold Jeter out a second day. Jeter was not scheduled to have any tests and he is expected to play to play on Tuesday.  . . .  Roberts is listed as day-to-day after he experienced some lower-back soreness. A precautionary MRI came back negative but it is not clear when Roberts will be able to play.

ON DECK

The Yankees will finally get their first day off of the season and it is a good thing with all of their walking wounded. They will open a two-game home series with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 3.21 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Tanaka struck out 10 batters in seven innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. But he had to settle for a no-decision.

Right-hander Jason Hammel (2-0, 2.63 ERA) will start for the Cubs. Hammel gave up three runs on three hits (all homers) and struck out six in seven innings as he defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.

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

 

McCann Swats Two As Yankees Unravel Bosox

“I’ve seen all the movie stars
In their fancy cars and their limousines
Been high in the Rockies under the evergreens
But I know what I’m needing
And I don’t want to waste more time
I’m in a New York state of mind”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         –  Billy Joel

GAME 12

YANKEES 7, RED SOX 4

Ever since Georgia native Brian McCann left the Atlanta Braves to sign as a free agent with the Yankees the team’s fans have been waiting to see just how special this seven-time All-Star catcher can be. On Saturday they got a pretty good idea just how good.

McCann hit a pair of home runs and drove in three runs and the Yankees pounded out five homers in all as New York shelled John Lackey and Boston in front of a paid crowd of 48, 572 at Yankee Stadium.

Both of McCann’s homers came off Lackey (2-1), who ended up yielding a career-high four home runs. McCann, who entered the game hitting .162 in the midst of a 1-for-17 slump, hit a solo shot off Lackey in the fourth and a two-run shot in the sixth.

Carlos Beltran blasted a two-run shot of his own in the first inning and Alfonso Soriano followed McCann’s round-tripper in the fourth with a solo shot of his own. It is the first time the Yankees have gone back-to-back in home runs since June 6 last season when Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira did it.

Kelly Johnson added a solo homer off reliever Burke Badenhop in the eighth inning.

The power-driven run support worked to the benefit of Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (2-1), who throughout his major-league career has not really been accustomed to getting so much offense.

Kuroda yielded only a two-run home run to A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning through his first six innings of work. However, a pair of walks sandwiched around a strikeout in the seventh brought David Ortiz to the plate and manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with left-hander Matt Thornton.

Thornton struck out Ortiz for the second out but he then hit Mike Napoli with an 0-1 pitch and Mike Carp followed with a two-run single. Both runs were charged to Kuroda so he ended the day being charged with four runs on six hits and three walks while struck out five in 6 1/3 innings.

The Yankees, meanwhile, really put the wood to Lackey, who entered the game 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. Lackey yielded six runs on 10 hits and no walks while he fanned six batters.

The Red Sox actually missed what might have been a golden chance to tie the game in the seventh after Thornton gave up the two-run single to Carp that made the score 6-4. A boneheaded decision by manager John Farrell ended up costing the Red Sox dearly.

With Napoli on third, Carp at first and Xander Bogaerts at the plate with an 0-2 count against right-hander Dellin Betances, Farrell  –  for some reason that escapes baseball logic  –  sent the slow-footed Carp (two career steals) to second. McCann rounded out his great afternoon by catching Betances’ high fastball and throwing Carp out easily at second base to end the inning.

Adam Warren pitched a perfect eighth and Shawn Kelley hurled a perfect ninth to preserve the victory. Kelley earned his second save in two opportunities this season subbing for David Robertson as the closer.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though McCann was only 6-for-37 with six singles it was only a matter of time before he was going to start hitting. Unfortunately for Lackey and the Red Sox it came on Saturday. McCann’s 2-for-4 day raised his average to .195. True, McCann’s swing is perfect for the short right-field porch. But neither of his two blasts were cheapies. The one hit to right in the fourth landed in the second deck and the one in the sixth was hit to deep right-center.
  • Carp’s two-run single ruined what what was a great performance by Kuroda despite the fact that he was having trouble with his curveball. Kuroda adjusted, however, and he has now pitched three excellent games to start the season. The 3.86 ERA is deceiving. He is pitching much better than that.
  • Beltran was 2-for-4 with a homer and a double, two runs scored and two RBIs. With Mark Teixeira out of the lineup the No. 4 (Beltran), No. 5 (McCann) and No. 6 (Soriano) hitters combined to hit four home runs and drive in six of the seven runs. That is very good production from the power slots.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

How can you say anything negative when you pound out five home runs, score seven runs and collect 14 hits to back some excellent pitching by Kuroda? The bullpen, despite the one slip by Thornton, did its job and the Yankees can’t end the four-game series with Bosox with anything less than a tie.

BOMBER BANTER

Major League Baseball admitted its replay system made a mistake after a challenge lodged by Farrell in the eighth inning. With Yangervis Solarte on first and one out, Dean Anna laced a ball to the right-field wall. Daniel Nava fielded the ball and threw to second base, where Bogaerts held the tag on Anna as he tried to stand up on the base. A replay showing Anna’s right foot briefly came off the base as the tag was applied was not made available to the representatives in New York, who upheld the original safe call by umpire Ron Kulpa. However, Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts were retired and Solarte and Anna were stranded anyway.  . . .  Girardi elected to sit shortstop Derek Jeter and play Anna at shortstop for Saturday’s day game following Friday’s night game. It was Jeter’s second day off this season and his first at home.  . . .  Teixeira told reporters on Saturday that he is targeting a return to the lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, FL, on April 20, the first day on which he ca be activated from the disabled list. Teixeira, 34, is recovering from a mild strain of his right hamstring.

ON DECK

The Yankees can take the series against their much-hated rival on Sunday with a victory.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 8.68 ERA) will get the call for the Yankees. Nova was tagged for seven runs on 10 hits in only 3 2/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.

His mound opponent will be left-hander Felix Doubront (1-1, 9.00 ERA). Doubront gave up five runs on six hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday. He is 3-2 with a 4.17 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN (or as it is otherwise known, the Red Sox Promotional Network).

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Nuno Stars But O’s Edge ‘Watered-Down’ Yankees

GAME 18

ORIOLES 2, YANKEES (SS) 1

Jonathan Schoop scored pinch-runner Jemile Weeks on a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie as Baltimore edged a New York split squad on Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.

Non-roster outfielder Delmon Young opened the seventh with a double of right-hander Mark Montgomery (0-1). Weeks pinch-ran for Young and stole third to set up Schoop’s scoring fly ball.

Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his first major-league appearance to get credit for the victory. Evan Meek pitched the ninth inning to earn his second save of the spring.

With most of the Yankees’ best players either in Panama participating in the two-game Legends Series or resting at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, the Yankees – who brought 13 players who were not on their 40-man roster or who were not invited to spring training – scored their lone run of the game on a leadoff homer in the sixth inning by Francisco Arcia off Orioles starter Chris Tillman.

Tillman had held the Yankees scoreless on two hits and two walks and struck out five in five innings before Arcia’s blast chased him from the game.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got four strong innings of shutout baseball from 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno. Nuno yielded only a hit and a walk while he fanned three batters against an Orioles lineup that included starters Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the Orioles tied the score with two out in the sixth when Davis launched his third home run of the spring off right-hander Danny Burawa.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record slipped to 8-8-2. The Orioles improved their record to 10-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nuno made a strong case for the fifth spot in the rotation with his effort on Saturday. Nuno threw 38 of his 59 pitches for strikes and only reached three-ball counts on three hitters. Nuno spotted his fastball well and mixed in his off-speed pitches more to keep the Orioles off-balance. Though Michael Pineda is expected to get the No. 5 spot, Nuno showed he deserves some consideration. His spring ERA is now down to 1.50.
  • Brian Roberts was one of the few starters to make the trip and he had a great day against his former teammates. Roberts was 2-for-3 and he also contributed a fine defensive play in the sixth inning to rob Cruz of a single. Roberts, 36, may not be Robinson Cano but he is a fine second baseman as long as he can stay healthy.
  • Ramon Flores was 2-for-3 on Saturday, including a double and single. Flores, 21, is hitting only .217 this spring but, after a season where he hit .260 with six homers and 55 RBIs in 136 games at Double-A Trenton, he will have a chance to develop this season at Triple A.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It may be time for Ichiro Suzuki to admit that his days in baseball are waning. He was 0-for-3 on Saturday and he is 3-for-24 (.125) this spring with only three singles and two RBIs. He has not really stung the ball much this spring either. Though the Yankees might be open to trade Suzuki, it is hard to see if there would be any suitors for his services. Suzuki is in the final year of two-year contract with the Yankees and he is slated to be the fifth outfielder this season.
  • After getting off to a quick start with the bat this spring, Austin Romine has been slumping of late. Romine, 25, batted cleanup and was 0-for-2 with a walk on Saturday. He is 5-for-25 (.200) with no RBIs in 11 games. Though Romine is a superior defensive catcher, his weak bat makes it almost certain that Francisco Cervelli will win the backup catching job. Romine likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • Burawa learned a valuable pitching lesson on Saturday. With two out in the sixth, Davis came up the plate for his last at-bat with his team trailing 1-0. Obviously Davis was thinking about hitting a home run to tie it. Burawa, 25, opted to pitch aggressively to Davis instead of making him hit pitches out of the strike zone. His 1-1 fastball was thigh high and Davis drove it deep to left-center and over the wall. If he had walked Davis, Burawa would then have pitched to Steve Pearce, a journeyman who had four homers last season. Davis hit 53. Duh!

ON DECK

The Yankees split squad returns to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday to play host to the Atlanta Braves.

Free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Catcher Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira are also scheduled to play in the game.

McCann’s former team will start right-hander Julio Teheran. Brothers Justin and B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons are scheduled to make the trip for the Braves.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network and MLB Radio through WFAN (660-AM/99.1-FM).

 

Pineda Dazzles In Debut As Yankees Edge Tigers

GAME 10

YANKEES 3, TIGERS 2

TAMPA – On a chilly and windy Friday evening the New York Yankees received a huge boost to their starting rotation but their eventual victory came from an ill-timed flinch by a Tigers relief pitcher.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Zelous Wheeler scored from third on a balk committed by Luis Marte as new York defeated Detroit in an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Wheeler slapped a sharp single to left and Francisco Cervelli advanced him to third on a single to center.

Jim Miller (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory. Marte (0-1) took a very embarrassing loss.

But the star of the evening was 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who threw two dominant scoreless innings in relief and struck out four of the seven batters he faced after not pitching in a major-league game in two years.

The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Derek Jeter stroked a two-out single off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. Carlos Beltran followed with a titanic blast to right that nearly cleared the right-field bleachers.

The Yankees held that lead until Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton entered the game in the seventh inning.

With one out, Alex Avila singled and Austin Jackson laced a triple to the wall in right-center. Steve Lombardozzi then scored Jackson with the tying run on a looping single into right.

The Yankees boosted their Grapefruit League record to 6-4. The Tigers fell to 5-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was clear from the beginning of spring training that if Pineda was healthy he WOULD be the team’s No. 5 starter. Judging by his first effort after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum Pineda has the job. Pineda entered the game in the fifth inning and gave up one hit, walked none and threw an amazing 22 of his 27 pithes for strikes. Among the batters he fanned were Jackson, Rajai Davis and Miguel Cabrera. If Pineda pitches anything near what he did in 20011 when he was an American League All-Star with the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees’ American League East rivals will be cringing.
  • Hiroki Kuroda started for the Yankees and pitched a very workmanlike 2 1/3 innings. He yielded a hit and a walk while he fanned five in a 51-pitch outing. The Yankees’ top four starters (Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova) have surrendered just three earned runs in their first 16 innings of the spring for a tidy 1.13 ERA.
  • Beltran, who was the designated hitter for the Yankees on Friday, has only two hits in 13 at-bats this spring. However, both of those hits have been home runs. In the first 2 2/3 innings Sanchez had held the Yankees to two hits and he had not walked a batter while he struck out four.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The biggest loss the Yankees suffered during the winter really was not Robinson Cano. It was left-hander Boone Logan, who signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies after four consistent seasons with the Yankees. Thornton, 37, is Logan’s replacement and he was disappointing in what his first extended outing this spring. After retiring Victor Martinez in the seventh, Thornton was tagged for four consecutive hits, coughing up the 2-0 lead before getting the last two outs with runners on second and third.
  • Alfonso Soriano looked a bit better on Friday but is still 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his first two games. It looks as if the flu that sidelined him for the first two weeks of the spring has set him way behind the other hitters. But he still has plenty of time tune up for the regular season.

BOMBER BANTER

Carmen Berra, the wife of Yankee legend Yogi Berra, died on Friday from complications from a stroke that she suffered earlier this year. She was 85. A moment of silence was observed in honor prior to the game.

ON DECK

The Yankees travel to face a Houston Astros split squad on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.

Nova will get the start for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is scheduled to start his second game of the spring while Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson and Cervelli will join him on the trip.

The Astros will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros in 2013.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.

 

 

Super Nova Dominates Nats As Yankees Roll On

GAME 6

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

From July 5 to the end of the 2013 season, Ivan Nova was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his last 15 starts. That same dominant right-handed pitcher showed up on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Nova (1-0) pitched three hitless shutout innings to set the tone for New York’s Grapefruit League victory over Washington.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander threw 30 of his 35 pitches for strikes and struck out four in just his second outing of the spring.

The Yankees backed Nova with a four-run second-inning uprising off Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler (0-1), keyed by RBI hits by Kelly Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki and Corban Joseph as the Yankees claimed their fourth straight exhibition victory.

Brian Roberts and Francisco Cervelli opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Johnson then followed with a bloop double to left that scored Roberts.

Suzuki extended the rally when Nationals shortstop Zach Walters fielded his slow roller and threw wildly to first, allowing both Cervelli and Johnson to score.

After Zoilo Almonte laced a double to right, Joseph plated Suzuki with the final run of the inning with a solid single to right.

New closer David Robertson made his first appearance of the spring in relief of Nova in the fourth and pitched around hitting Danny Espinosa with his second pitch by retiring Tyler Moore on a double-play grounder and getting Scott Hairston on a flyout to left.

The Nationals scored their two runs on a solo home run by Walters off right-hander Shawn Kelley in the fifth and on a fielding error in the sixth by Derek Jeter on a ground ball off the bat of Espinosa that allowed Eury Perez to score with right-hander Danny Burawa on the mound.

Right-hander Jim Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for a save.

The Yankees are 4-2 in early spring play while the Nationals fell to 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I have said for a very long time and it does bear repeating that Nova IS the Yankee starter with the best overall stuff. His mid-90s fastball and crackling curveball were on full display on Monday. When Nova commands his pitches he is as nasty and dominant as any pitcher the Yankees have. After suffering through a horrible 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA and sustaining an early bout of forearm tendinitis last season, Nova has been everything the Yankees had hoped he would be when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season. If he pitches this season as he did on Monday he could have a very good record in 2014.
  • Johnson, 32, is settling in nicely with the Yankees as the team’s primary third baseman this season. Johnson averaged 24 home runs and 61 RBIs from 2010 through 2012. Last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Johnson hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 runs in only 118 games. The Yankees think the lefty swinging Johnson can produce as much for the Yankees while Alex Rodriguez sits out his season-long suspension.
  • Cervelli, 28, went 2-for-3 with a single, a double and run scored. Cervelli is 4-for-7 (.571) in early spring action and it seems he is determined not to lose the backup catching spot to Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy this spring. One thing in Cervelli’s favor is that he is out of options and the team would lose him if he did not win the job.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The infield defense this spring has not been as crisp as it could be. Of course, with Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira yet to play in a game and with the free-agent loss of Robinson Cano at second that is to be expected. The main offenders have been Joseph and Addison Maruszak. Maruszak has committed three errors and Joseph has committed two, including one at first base on Monday. The Yankees committed a franchise-record low of errors last season. It would be nice of they get close to that again in 2014.
  • There is nothing to be alarmed about yet, but Jeter is 0-for-7 in the three games he has played this spring. I would be alarmed if it stretched into another week or so. But the good news is the Yankee captain is moving without discomfort or a limp due to his surgically repaired left ankle.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees had football legend Joe Namath throw out the first pitch for Monday’s game. Namath, the 70-year-old former great of the New York Jets and a Hall of Fame quarterback, wore a Yankee jersey with his iconic No. 12 as he escorted manager Joe Girardi to exchange the lineup card at home plate and he spent the rest of the day next to Girardi in the Yankees’ dugout as a “co-manager.”  . . .  Teixeira took some swings on Monday against left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Jose Campos. Teixeira reported no issues with his surgically repaired right wrist. He hopes to take some more swings on Tuesday leading up to his first game action either Thursday or Friday.  . . .  Andy Pettitte was in camp on Monday as a special guest instructor but he made a point to insist that he not going to come out of retirement this time.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play there first night game of the spring at home playing host to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander David Phelps will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran will start in the outfield and Jeter will also be in the lineup as the designated hitter.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who was 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 23 starts with the O’s last season.

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

 

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