Results tagged ‘ Russell Martin ’

CC Tosses 7 Scoreless As Yanks Win 6th Straight

GAME 25

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 0

TAMPA – After CC Sabathia ended the 2013 season with a disappointing 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his past two spring starts, he is well on his way to delivering on that promise.

Sabathia (2-1) threw seven shutout innings and fanned seven Pirates as New York went on to blank Pittsburgh 4-0 on Friday in front of a paid crowd of 10,890 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The slimmed-down left-hander gave up only four hits and a walk while stretching his current scoreless inning streak to 13. In his past two starts, Sabathia has yielded no runs on four hits and one walk while striking out 12 in 12 innings.

The Yankees handed Sabathia all the runs he really needed in the first two innings against right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-3).

Brian McCann started it with a two-out RBI double in the first and Carlos Beltran later scored on a wild pitch. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter each delivered RBI groundouts in the second as the Yankees touched Volquez for four runs on five hits and two walks in five innings.

The Yankees backed Sabathia’s strong outing with four double plays and two of them came from McCann.

The seven-time All-Star catcher nailed Josh Harrison attempting to steal as Andrew McCutchen struck out in the first. Then in the third inning he did it again as Harrison struck out and he threw out Robert Andino.

The Yankees have now won six consecutive Grapefruit League contests and they outscored their opponents 36-7, with three of the victories coming via shutout.

The Yankees’ spring record is now 14-9-2. The Pirates fell to 11-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia arrived in camp more than 30 pounds slimmer and determined to regain his ace status despite reduced velocity on his fastball. This spring he has sort of reinvented himself much like Andy Pettitte had to do when he lost velocity on his fastball. For those who were ready to shovel dirt on Sabathia’s career may be in for a huge surprise. Sabathia has always been more of a pitcher than a thrower so he can adapt at age 33.
  • When McCann signed a free-agent contract the Yankees knew they were getting one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Though he is solid defensively, the weakest part of his game has been his throwing. On Friday, he looked every bit as good as Russell Martin and Chris Stewart. McCann’s spring batting average is now .235, but that is misleading. Even McCann’s outs are hit hard and the ball jumps off his bat. The Yankees might have found the perfect successor to Jorge Posada.
  • Very quietly Brian Roberts has been getting better this spring. After a slow start, he is hitting .290 with his 1-for-3 night on Friday. Roberts has to prove he can remain healthy but his last season like that was 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles. That year all Roberts did was score 110 runs, blast 16 home runs, drive in 79 runs, hit 56 doubles, steal 30 bases and bat .283. The Yankees don’t expect that kind of production but don’t be surprised if he gets near those numbers.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees have had their best week of the spring. The pitching has been magnificent. The starting lineup is beginning to hit and even the defense and the bullpen have been good. No need to dwell on any negatives here.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury tested his sore right calf on Friday by running on grass and he possibly could return to action as early as Tuesday. That would give Ellsbury five games before the season begins on April 1 in Houston. Ellsbury was the only starter not in the lineup on Friday.  . . .  Jeter played seven innings on Friday despite the fact he fouled two balls off his surgically repaired left ankle. Jeter told reporters after the game that he was fine. He said the ankle was sore but he hopes to be ready to play on Sunday. Jeter was not scheduled to play on Saturday.  . . .  MRIs taken on backup infielder Brendan Ryan indicate a pinched nerve in his upper back and it is almost certain that he will begin the season on the disabled list. Ryan has not played in a game since March 4. He was scheduled to start on Thursday in Fort Myers against the Boston Red Sox. But during infield drills, Ryan’s upper back stiffened and he had to be scratched. To replace Ryan on the roster, manager Joe Girardi told reporters that he will pick two players from among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte.  . . .  Prior to the start of the game on Friday the Yankees infielder Greg Bird and right-handed pitcher Shane Greene were named winners of the 2013 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ minor-league “Player of the Year” and “Pitcher of the Year,” respectively. Bird, 21, batted .288 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 84 RBIs in 130 games with the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs. Greene, 25, played for both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, posting a 12-10 record with a 3.38 ERA over 27 appearances (26 starts).  . . .  Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Friday’s game. Marino threw a strike to Posada, who is in camp as a special instructor.

ON DECK

The Yankees make the long trek to Fort Myers on Saturday to face the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium.

The Yankees have selected Masahiro Tanaka (0-0, 1.93 ERA) to make his third start of the spring. Gardner, Francisco Cervelli and Kelly Johnson are expected to make the trip.

The Twins will counter with right-hander Kevin Correia (1-1, 6.00 ERA).

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

 

Nuno Looks Sharp As Yankees Defeat Seminoles

EXHIBITION GAME

YANKEES 8, FLORIDA STATE 3

Vidal Nuno fanned three and gave up only an infield single in two innings and Ramon Flores homered while Dean Anna and JR Murphy each stroked RBI doubles as New York defeated the Seminoles in an exhibition game on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Nuno, 26, who is one of four pitchers vying for the team’s No. 5 starter role, threw 17 of his 26 pitches for strikes and did not walk a batter in earning credit for the victory.

The Seminoles drew a huge contingent of fans among the announced crowd of 7,708 and the colors of garnet and gold lined the upper decks of the stadium.

The contest marked the team’s first meeting against Florida State since 1958, when the Yankees defeated the Seminoles 7-3 in a game played in Tallahassee, FL.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston entered the game for the Seminoles in the fifth inning as a defensive replacement in left field. He was 0-for-2 in the game with a groundout and a strikeout.

Winston told reporters after the game that baseball is just as important to him as football and that he would not mind pursuing a career in both sports as Bo Jackson and FSU alumni Deion Sanders did.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Tuesday that newly signed free-agent starter Masahiro Tanaka will make his Yankee and spring training debut in relief on Saturday in a game at Steinbrenner Field against the Philadelphia Phillies. Girardi said CC Sabathia will start the game. He will be followed by right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and then Tanaka. Each pitcher is expected to go two innings and throw about 35 pitches. The idea to feature the three starting pitchers in one game, Girardi said, was that of pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Girardi indicated that the three will pitch in a normal rotation after this first outing.

ON DECK

The Yankees officially open their Grapefruit League schedule on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.

The Yankees will start with right-hander Ivan Nova, who is coming of a 2013 season in which he was 9-6 with a 3.10 ERA in 23 games (20 of them starts). Nova was the Yankees’ hottest pitcher in the second half of the season. He was 7-2 with a 1.73 ERA after July 5.

The Pirates will counter with their 2013 Opening Day starter in left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was 16-8 with 3.02 ERA in 26 starts last season.

The Yankees are scheduled to play three of their high-priced free agents, catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Each are expected to play about four or five innings.

The Pirates will play their projected starting lineup, including former Yankee catcher Russell Martin and All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Gametime will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio through KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh.

 

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.

 

McCann Deal Shows Yankees Are Rebuilding

It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.

It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.

McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.

As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.

Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.

After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.

The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.

First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.

Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.

Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.

The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.

Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.

However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.

On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.

McCann certainly can do that.

The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.

McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.

In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.

Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.

The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.

The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.

The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.

Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.

The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.

Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.

Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.

With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.

The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.

While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.

The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.

The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.

The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.

Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.

General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.

There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.

 

Yankees’ Myriad Injuries Defy All Logic Or Reason

Because of the spate of injuries the New York Yankees have incurred over the past two seasons there has been a suggestion that the team’s iconic logo should be changed to a Red Cross symbol to replace the “Y” laid over a pair of crutches and a Band-Aid to form the “N.” Most fans know about the injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. But there are some injuries which many fans are not aware to lesser players. Let’s look at all of the injuries, when they might return and what impact they could make upon their return.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ

As most fans know, Alex Rodriguez had surgery to repair a congenital defect in his left hip in January. There has been some question as to why he waited until January to have this surgery. The answer is because the doctor who was performing the surgery believed A-Rod could cut the rehabilitation time by doing exercises prior to the surgery. The surgery was pronounced successful and Rodriguez, 37, is expected to return sometime after the All-Star break. There has not been any word from the Yankees extending that time frame. However, Rodriguez is facing potential accusations surrounding the Miami clinic Biogenesis, which Major League Baseball believes was distributing performance enhancing drugs to players. Rodriguez’s name surfaced in an examination of the clinic’s documents and there have been allegations representatives attempted to purchase the documents on the All-Star third baseman’s behalf. The surgery on Rodriguez was a major reason why the Yankees elected to sign Kevin Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. Youkilis now is an insurance policy in case A-Rod either can’t come back from his surgery or is suspended by MLB. Rodriguez was back on the field in Tampa, FL, for the first time on Monday. He ran sprints, played catch and hit off a batting tee. If MLB does decide to suspend Rodriguez it likely will come just before he is activated because they don’t want Rodriguez to cheat the suspension by spending part of it rehabbing from his surgery.

DEREK JETER

Much like Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Jeter, 38, suffered a major injury during the playoffs in 2012, fracturing a left ankle that he had hobbling upon for a month prior. Jeter had surgery to repair the ankle and he vowed to return by Opening Day on April 1. The Yankees held him out of early exhibition games and allowed him to play at first as the designated hitter on May 10. However, it was clear that though Jeter was able to hit as he always has, he still was unable to run at full speed. It became inevitable that when Jeter was shut down because of recurring soreness that something was  –  if you pardon the pun  –  afoot. A trip back to Charlotte, N.C., in April to the doctor who performed his surgery led to a new X-ray that showed a tiny break near the spot of the original fracture. Jeter is now in a removable walking boot. He will be able to work out without the boot but the timetable for his return has been shifted back to mid-July. He should be able to return to full workouts when the boot is removed within a month. Jeter vows he will play this season and there does not seem to be any reason to discount it. The only real concern is will he be able to display enough range to play shortstop on a daily basis. The Yankees, in the interim, have Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix to play the position. But Nunez has already been shelved twice for two games after being hit by pitches and is currently day-to-day with tightness in his right rib cage. If Nunez is placed on the disabled list, Nix would have to play short and the only available shortstop at Triple-A Scranton is Addison Marausak. The Yankees might be forced to make a trade for another shortstop, preferably someone who could start at the position ahead of Nix.

MARK TEIXEIRA

Teixeira, 33, accepted an invitation this spring to play first base for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He was taking batting practice prior to exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, AZ, when he felt pain in his right wrist. Tests indicated he sustained a partially torn sheath in the wrist, an injury similar to the one suffered by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista last season, which eventually required surgery after a failed comeback. The Yankees believe Teixeira will be able to avoid surgery because it is partial tear and they are lengthening his rehab from their original timetable of 8-to-10 weeks. Teixeira has had the brace from his wrist removed and he hoped to be cleared to take swings in time to return by May 1. However, his doctor withheld clearance for an additional two weeks. Teixiera is in Tampa, FL, taking “tee and toss” swings and he soon hopes to progress to begin taking swings off live pitching in a batting cage. His target date for his return is now closer to June 1. In his absence the Yankees had hoped to use lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay and righty-swinging Youkilis in a platoon. However, a lower back sprain landed Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list so the Yankees are using Overbay full-time and exposing his weakness against left-handers. But they are hoping to have Youkilis back in the lineup soon.

CURTIS GRANDERSON

Granderson, 32, was playing in his first exhibition game of the season on Feb. 24 when Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ hit him in the lower right forearm with his first pitch. Granderson left the game and underwent X-rays that indicated he suffered a fractured right forearm and would miss eight weeks. Though the injury was a major blow to the Yankees, of all the injuries the team has suffered, this one the Yankees felt sure about Granderson’s ability to return because bones do heal eventually. Granderson targeted May 1 for his return but that timetable was adjusted two weeks because Granderson missed all of spring training. So the Yankees have him hitting against live pitching at their complex in Tampa. In fact, Granderson was struck on the left tricep by a pitch on Saturday. But it was termed not serious and Granderson remains on track to return to the active roster in a couple of weeks. The Yankees obtained veteran outfielder Vernon Wells to play in left for Granderson and Wells is hitting .280 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the middle of the lineup. That has forced manager Joe Girardi to shift his thinking of how to use Wells when Granderson returns. Wells obviously could be a right-handed DH but those at-bats would be limited because there are so few left-handed starters. So Girardi is considering rotating some rest for his lefty-swinging outfielders (Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) in order to keep Wells’ bat in the lineup more often.

KEVIN YOUKILIS

Two things were apparent when the Yankees signed Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. One was that with Rodriguez injured someone had to play the position for a long period of time. Perhaps the player might have to play there the entire season. The second thing was the Yankees were taking a risk on the 33-year-old Youkilis, who had his past two seasons ruined by injuries to his groin and his back. Because Youkilis was versatile enough to play third and first base he also became the player the Yankees could LEAST afford to lose. That scenario played out when Youkilis was removed in the sixth inning of a game on April 20 against the Blue Jays with stiffness in his lower back. The Yankees held him out of competition for six games when Youkilis assured them he was fine. He started a game on April 27 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. However, CC Sabathia slipped off the mound on a ground ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the third inning. Youkilis was forced to slide hard to beat the speedy Cabrera to the base. Youkilis made it but re-aggravated his back injury and had to be placed on the disabled list on April 28. Youkilis was administered an epidural pain-killing injection and he claims he already is feeling better. However, the Yankees are angry Youkilis “talked” them into believing he was fine. They could have backdated his DL stint April 21 and he would have been able to play on May 7. Now he will be able to be activated on May 13 at the earliest. The Yankees are going to make darn sure he is really 100 percent before they activate him. In his absence the Yankees have used Nix at third base and traded to obtain Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies. Nix, however, has not contributed much offensively (.227 batting average with a home run and six RBIs) and on Sunday Nix was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two weak infield popups and he stranded seven base-runners in 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Nelson has played in two games and is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.

FRANCISCO CERVELLI

With the departure of free-agent catcher Russell Martin, the Yankees opened up the catching competition this spring to Cervelli, backup catcher Chris Stewart and rookie Austin Romine. But Cervelli, who was shipped to Triple A on the last day of spring training to make room for Stewart in 2012, was determined to prove to the Yankees he belonged in the major leagues. Cervelli, 27, reneged on his commitment to play for Italy in the WBC so he could concentrate on winning the starting catching job. Though Girardi left spring camp without naming a starter, Cervelli quickly won the job by playing good defense, throwing well and surprisingly he was even contributing offensively. Cervelli was hitting .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs when he was struck on the right hand by a foul tip off the bat of Rajai Davis leading off a game on April 26 against the Blue Jays. Cervelli sustained a fractured hand and had to undergo surgery to repair the hand the next day. He will be in a cast for more than a month and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He is expected back sometime after the All-Star break. To Yankee fans Cervelli getting injured should not be a total shock. Bad luck and injuries have hovered over Cervelli like a dark cloud. In spring training in 2009, Cervelli had his wrist broken in a home-plate collision with Elliot Johnson of the Tampa Bay Rays. In spring training in 2010, Cervelli fouled a ball off his foot and missed the most of the first month of the season. In spring training of 2011, Cervelli was hit in the helmet with a pitch and missed time with a concussion and had to wear a special batting helmet upon his return. In September of that season, Cervelli suffered another concussion, the third of his professional career, when he was involved in a home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles. He was unable to play for the rest of the season and missed the playoffs. In his place, Stewart is now the starter. Stewart is hitting .256 with two home runs and four RBIs but he is definite step down offensively from Cervelli. Romine was recalled from Scranton to be the backup catcher. Romine’s defense is excellent but his bat is major question mark. Romine also has had his development derailed by a recurring back problem. Stewart is a fabulous defensive catcher but the offense will definitely suffer until Cervelli returns in July.

JOBA CHAMBERLAIN

Chamberlain, 27, returned to the Yankees last season because he missed most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and freakishly breaking his ankle in a spring training trampoline accident. He pitched in 22 games and was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. With Rafael Soriano gone via free agency, much was expected of Chamberlain this season. He was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings over 10 appearances when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain last Thursday. Oblique strains are tricky. He might be back in two weeks but he may miss a month. Either way it shortens the Yankees bullpen considerably. The Yankees recalled 25-year-old right-hander Preston Claiborne to replace him. Claiborne pitched two perfect innings of relief in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the A’s on Sunday. Claiborne is perhaps the best of the young relievers the Yankees have been developing within their system. He is going to have a chance to prove his 95-mile-per-hour fastball can hold up against major-league hitters. With Chamberlain a potential free agent after the season, Claiborne has a perfect opportunity to make his future mark in the Yankees’ bullpen with this recall.

IVAN NOVA

Nova, 26, is your typical enigma. After a sensational rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, Nova fell into the deep end of the pool by going 12-8 with 5.02 ERA last season. This spring Nova was put into a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation with David Phelps. Phelps was 3-3 with a 4.18 ERA in seven starts while Nova was 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in five starts. Girardi elected to keep Nova as his fifth starter and keep Phelps in the bullpen role he filled last season. Nova was not impressive in any of his four starts. He was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA when he was pulled from his last start in the third inning of a game against the Blue Jays with what originally was termed a sore elbow. But tests after the game showed a right triceps strain and Nova was placed on the 15-day DL. Nova’s injury could be two weeks but it could turn out to be much longer. In the interim, the Yankees shifted Phelps into the starting rotation to replace Nova and recalled 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno from Scranton to fill Phelps’ role in the bullpen. Phelps gave up four runs on eight hits, a walk and hit two batters in 5 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros on May 1. Nuno pitched three scoreless innings and gave up three hits in his only outing on April 29 against the Astros. Phelps got better as the season progressed in 2012 so there is no doubt he will pitch better. Nuno was sensational this spring, winning the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie. He just needs chances to prove he can pitch well in the majors. The Yankees actually may be better off without Nova until he conquers his command issues.

MICHAEL PINEDA

It is almost like Pineda is the forgotten Yankee. After all, he has never worn pinstripes in a major-league game even though he has been a member of the team for two seasons. He was acquired in the 2012 offseason in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero. He showed up at training camp 20 pounds overweight and he proceeded to throw some horrible spring training games culminating with a terrible beating at the hands of the Phillies in his final spring tuneup. It turned out Pineda, 24, was pitching with some right shoulder pain and he did not bother to mention it until after that game. Pineda underwent tests that showed he had a torn labrum and the surgery would mean he would need at least a year to recover. Pineda was one of the most impressive young rookie pitchers in 2011 when he made the American League All-Star team. But the Mariners as a team and Pineda had a horrible second half and Pineda finished with a 9-10 record and a 3.74 ERA. There were whispers about Pineda losing velocity in the second half but the Yankees made the trade for the right-hander just the same. Now they are hoping he will be able to make it back to the big leagues this season. He has been rehabbing at the team’s complex in Tampa and reports indicate he has been hitting 95 mph on the radar gun. However, the hope is that Pineda might be ready to start pitching in games in June. The question is will those games be with the Yankees or with a minor-league team. It is looking more likely Pineda will pitch in the minors until he indicates he is ready to pitch in the majors. It is unclear when that will be.

CESAR CABRAL

Even more obscure than Pineda is Cabral. The 24-year-old left-handed reliever was a Rule V selection for the Yankees by the Kansas City Royals from the Boston Red Sox in the winter of 2012. Cabral had racked up some impressive numbers with two Red Sox minor-league teams but was left off their 40-man roster. With those two teams Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and racked up 70 strikeouts in only 55 innings. The Yankees saw him as a potential second left-hander to Boone Logan in the bullpen and Cabral battled fellow lefty Clay Rapada all through spring training until Cabral sustained a fractured left elbow in what would have been his final appearance. Cabral has not pitched in a game since and the Yankees are hoping that he can begin throwing this month in a rehab stint that might lead to him being available to pitch in the majors. They hope that could mean he could pitch for them this season. But until Cabral begins throwing it is unclear if he will be able to help and when.

That said, it leads us to some injuries the Yankees have suffered that are actually under the radar. They are not part of the 10 players the Yankees have listed on the disabled list but they actually are important injuries that are having an effect on the current roster. Here they are:

CLAY RAPADA

Rapada, 32, benefitted from Cabral’s injury but he likely would have won the job anyway. He also did a great job as the lefty specialist in Girardi’s bullpen last season, recording a 3-0 record and 2.82 ERA while keeping lefties to a low .100 batting average. Rapada likely would have kept his job this season if he did not come down with bursitis in his left shoulder that prevented from pitching this spring. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster but they were able to sign him to a minor-league contract and they have him pitching at Scranton. Rapada has pitched just one inning of one game but there is hope that he might be able to return to the Yankees sometime soon this season because the Yankees have a starting pitcher in Nuno along with Logan in the bullpen. Neither Nuno or Logan are really lefty specialists like Rapada. There is a good possibility that Rapada will be back with the Yankees real soon if he has overcome the bursitis.

RONNIER MUSTELIER

Mustelier, 28, is the Cuban defector who turned heads all spring with his hitting. The corner outfielder even was utilized late in the spring at third base and actually had a good shot to make the team. That was until he ran smack into a camera well along the third base line chasing a foul popup in the fourth inning of a game in Tampa against the Miami Marlins on March 15. Mustelier suffered multiple bone bruises to both legs and his shot of making the team was over. In fact, Mustelier only recently recovered enough to be able to start playing at Scranton. He is hitting .231 with a home run and one RBI in five games. Mustelier still has a great shot of being able to help the Yankees at some point this season. He bats right-handed and can play the outfield and third base. In fact, if the Yankees had a healthy Mustelier when Youkilis injured his back, he would have been the player the team recalled from Triple A instead of Corban Joseph or would have not forced the team’s decision to trade for Nelson.

MANNY BANUELOS

Banuelos, 22, remains as the team’s top pitching prospect despite the fact he has not pitched since the early stages of the 2012 season. Banuelos came up with a sore elbow last season and later tests showed ligament damage that required Tommy John surgery. So Banuelos will miss all of the 2013 season with hopes of being able to compete for a roster spot with the Yankees in spring training in 2014. After impressing the Yankees with a fine 2011 season in which he was 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA at Double-A Trenton the Yankees wanted to see him pitch in the spring in 2012. His combination of a plus fastball and devastating change-up had them salivating at the prospect of him in the majors. But Banuelos took a detour on his control in 2012 and the balky elbow might have been the cause. With veteran starters Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one-year contracts and Phil Hughes eligible for free agency, Banuelos’ recovery could be important to their prospects in 2104.

 

Yankees Play Bombs Away Against Buehrle, Jays

GAME 21

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

The New York Yankees entered the 2013 season believing they would need to bunt, steal and scrap for runs without the vaunted power that made them the famous “Bronx Bombers.” But on Thursday they proved they could still slug with the best of teams by hitting three big home runs.

Robinson Cano slammed a three-run homer and Vernon Wells and Francisco Cervelli added a pair of solo shots to back Hiroki Kuroda as New York outslugged Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 31,445 at Yankee Stadium.

Cano’s seventh round-tripper of the season came with two out and two on in the third inning off veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle with the Yankees trailing 3-1. Cano launched a 3-1 fastball into the bleachers in right-center that gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender the rest of the night.

Kuroda (3-1) got off to a rocky start in the first inning by giving up a two-out walk to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a two-run homer to left. Brett Lawrie later greeted Kuroda with a leadoff opposite field solo shot to right in the second frame that gave Toronto an early 3-0 lead.

However, Kuroda pitched brilliantly after Lawrie’s home run, retiring 15 of the last 17 batters he faced. Kuroda gave up just the three runs on six hits and one walk and he struck out three in seven inning of work.

Wells, who played for the Blue Jays for 12 seasons, continued his reign of terror against his former team by leading off the second inning with a 400-foot-plus blast that landed in Monument Park in center-field. It was Wells’ sixth home run of the season, his third against his former team and his second within five days off Buehrle.

Cervelli led off the third inning with his third home run of the season  –  a lined shot into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees their final margin of victory.

Buerhrle (1-1) gave up five runs on seven hits and no walks and he struck three in 5 1/3 innings.

The bullpen trio of Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Jays over the final three innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out two of the three batters he faced, to earn his seventh save in as many chances this season.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano has basically strapped the Yankees on his back is carrying the team after a slow start. Since April 8, Cano is 25-for-64 (.391) with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His three-run shot came after a one-out infield single by Jayson Nix and Brett Gardner bounced a single up the middle. One out later, Buehrle, with Wells looming on deck, opted to challenge Cano on a 3-1 pitch and lost. 
  • Wells entered Thursday’s game owning Buehrle. Wells was hitting .500 in his career against the left-hander with four home runs. For a player who was ticketed to be just a fifth outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels, Wells, 34, is hitting .293 with six home runs and 10 RBIs for the Yankees after being obtained in trade late in spring training.
  • We are going to have to change Cervelli’s first name to “Babe” the way he has been hitting for the Yankees. Cervelli entered this season with only five career home runs and now he has three in his 15 starts. Cervelli is making the Yankees forget about departed free agent Russell Martin. He is batting .269 with three homers and eight RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi said he was going to stick with Ben Francisco as the designated hitter against left-handers but Francisco continues to struggle. He did leg out a bunt single in the seventh inning but he is only hitting .103 this season. The Yankees have struggled against left-handers this season and Francisco is part of the reason why.
  • The back injury to Kevin Youkilis also has forced Girardi to play lefty swinging Lyle Overbay against left-handers and it is exposing his inability to hit them. In his last 15 at-bats, Overbay is hitless. He was 0-for-4 on Thursday including hitting into a double play and a strikeout. His season average has skidded to .221.
  • Eduardo Nunez is also off to a horribly slow start. He was 0-for-3 on Thursday and is 3-for-29 (.103) in his last nine games. His season average has plunged to .173. He is getting a chance to show with Derek Jeter out that he should be a starting shortstop and he is not proving it.

BOMBER BANTER

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was ejected from the game in the seventh inning by crew chief Jeff Kellogg after the four umpires agreed to reverse an out call by first-base umpire Chad Fairchild on Francisco’s bunt single in the seventh inning. Television replays indicated that Encarnacion trapped the throw from Lawrie.  . . .  Youkilis was held out Thursday’s game after his stiff lower back acted up when he attempted to take swings in a batting cage. The 33-year-old corner infielder has now missed five straight games since leaving in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays in Toronto. He is still listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Jeter conducted a news conference at the stadium before the game on Thursday and said he definitely will play this season. Jeter is not expected to play until after the All-Star break as he recovers from surgery on a fractured left ankle. Jeter says he has a date for his return in mind but he would not reveal it.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game weekend series with Toronto on Friday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 6.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova issued a season-high four walks in five-plus innings in a no-decision against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He allowed four runs and has not pitched six innings in any of three starts. He is 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

He will opposed right-hander Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.86 ERA). Johnson unraveled in the fifth inning against the Yankees on Saturday walking two batters with bases loaded. He gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He is 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two starts against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast in a regional basis by the MLB Network and locally 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 Will Prevail In 2013’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

The New York Yankees open defense of their American League East championship on Monday against the Boston Red Sox with pundits and even their own fans criticizing them for their many injuries and their reluctance over the past few years for opening their wallets to get quality young players. I will try to examine how I believe the division race stacks up and predict how it might go. You may be surprised by my conclusion.

REAL LIFE GAME OF THRONES

If you are a fan of HBO’s series “Game of Thrones” you might notice that the American League East is a lot like the many kingdoms in the show.

The Yankees, with their money and dominance, are a lot like the Lannisters. The Boston Red Sox are a lot like the Starks, highly principled and loyal folk who fight the good fight only to suffer myriad indignities and failures. Of course, you also have those teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles who also are swirling around the periphery of Kings Landing believing they have a rightful claim to wear the crown.

The 2013 season will play out a lot like the television series and I can tell you why I believe that.

A DOMINANT KING

Since 1995 the Yankees have only missed the American League playoffs once (in 2008) and they have won the division championship in 16 of the past 17 seasons. If that is not dominance than what is? Like the Lannisters, the Steinbrenner family has lavished riches of the kingdom on the best knights to defend the realm and their loyal subjects have been a fairly happy lot for the most part.

But their knights have grown old and their battle wounds have been severe. Some are ready for the fight in 2013 but others are not. Their apparent weakness has given their rivals confidence they take the crown away and you saw that play out this spring.

THE KING NORTH OF THE WALL

The Blue Jays had a legendary team in the early 1990s and they won two world championships during that period. But since then they have fallen into a barren abyss of failure. But their general manager Alex Anthropoulos engineered a winter campaign to load his roster with the best players the Miami Marlins and New York Mets could offer him.

They boast a starting lineup with the speedy Jose Reyes and a line-drive hitting machine in Melky Cabrera to add to their long-ball threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They also pried away National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets to add to right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle from the Marlins to form a strong rotation with their own holdover Brandon Morrow.

The kings of North think they now have a team that storm the wall protecting the kingdoms that lie s to the south such as Kings Landing in 2013.

But there are some warning signs that could give them pause before they are able to proclaim victory.

One is the Blue Jays’ bullpen. I was listening to their broadcasters this spring lamenting about how weak this group appears to be.

Closer Casey Janssen is coming off shoulder surgery and they HOPE he will available for Opening Day. Behind him is failed closer Sergio Santos and his awful 7.88 spring ERA and Esmil Rogers and his 6.39 ERA.

Of all the teams in the A.L. East, this bullpen projects to be the worst in the division, especially if Janssen is unable to capture lightning in a bottle and return as the closer he was last season when he saved 22 of 25 games. The Blue Jays may have to cover there bullpen weakness by asking their starters to go longer than they should.

That tends to weaken the starters and it also could be discouraging when the offense builds a 6-1 lead after six innings and they end up losing the game 7-6. That will get mighty old for the Rogers Centre faithful this summer.

The offense has its own issues.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie plays the game all out and he also tends to get hurt a lot. He enters the season banged up and there are questions about how good centerfielder Colby Rasmus, catcher J.P. Arencibia and designated hitter Adam Lind really are. They have yet to establish themselves as quality major-league players.

There also is a major questions about whether Reyes, whose talents in the past have been held back by leg issues, will be able to play a full season on the hard artificial surface of Rogers Centre without issues at age 29.

So instead of automatically installing them as the kings of this division, you may want to look deeper into these drawbacks. Teams do not win championships on paper. Just ask the 2012 Marlins.

THE LORDS OF BALTIMORE

The Orioles remind me of the twisted and tortured King Stannis, who attacked Kings Landing in season two of the “Game of Thrones” only to be turned back at the gates by the eldest of the Lannisters and his men just as if seemed they were winning.

Stannis had a magical sorceress behind him convincing him that he could win the battle, but he failed in the end. She later told him he still could prevail even as he was licking his wounds in defeat. Manager Buck Showalter is much like this sorceress. His skill of masking weaknesses and enhancing strengths of a ballclub made the Orioles seem much stronger than they appeared to be in 2012.

They won such a ridiculous amount of one-run and extra-inning games that they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card only to be dispatched in Game 5 of the American League Division Series by the CC of Sabathia. They were at the gates of the kingdom of The Bronx only to be turned away by their elders, Prince Derek Jeter and the eldest of Lannisters, Raul of of the House Ibanez.

Showalter still believes his charges can storm the gates of the castle and take the throne in 2013. But, unlike most teams in this division, he did not add much of anything to this team. He is largely counting on the same black magic of 2012, which rarely happens.

Those one-run victories in 2012 can easily turn into one-run losses in 2013. Those extra-inning miracles can become extra-inning nightmares a year later.

Their rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta really scares no one. Nobody is going to get up out of bed at the hotel and say “Oh no, we have no chance of winning because Arrieta is pitching tonight!”

The bullpen with closer Jim Johnson is solid but hardly merits superlatives.

The team largely returns the same cast in 2012 minus Mark Reynolds and with the return of second baseman Brian Roberts, who has not played a full season in the majors since 2009.

Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are marvelous talents and Nick Markakis is healthy after missing the stretch run. But I have to wonder if all the magic Showalter spun in 2012 really will return in 2013. Teams like this usually fall back to the pack and that is what I see for the Birds.

DRAGONS AT THE PORT CITY

The Tampa Bay Rays remind of the Targaryens, who once sat upon the throne in 2008 when they faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series but have been unable to mount the offensive to get back there.

They have been trapped wandering in a hot climate in Florida and they have been restricted by the lack of soldiers and a lack of money to really win it all.

One year they lose Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. Another year they lose B.J. Upton and James Shields. They try to compensate with their own farm system because they lack money to compete with the Lannisters or the Starks of this division.

They only have the fire of their small but growing dragons who someday might destroy the mightier armies they have to face. For now, it appears the dragons are way too small and too inexperienced to go the entire distance.

The Rays rely on a pitching staff led by the American League Cy Young Award-winner David Price. How ironic that a team that has to pinch its pennies would be beholden to man named Price.

Behind him on promising youngsters like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. But there are problems here.

Hellickson spent most of the spring throwing much less than fire at opposing batters. He was rocked often and ended up with a 6.75 ERA. Moore did not fare much better. His velocity was way off and his command was even worse. He finished the spring much better but his once-high promise has faded some.

The Rays have to rely on these pitchers and their bullpen led by reclamation project Fernando Rodney and his 48 saves because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Without Upton, the Rays will have to rely on Evan Longoria even more for power. Longoria himself has a problem staying healthy and, if he is missing for any portion of the season, the Rays can kiss their hopes bye-bye.

They have a semblance of an offense with Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and new shortstop Yunel Escobar. But they also are starting guys like Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who have not proven they can establish careers for themselves and help a team win.

They also are still counting on Jose Molina to do a bulk of the catching at age 37.

The Targaryens in the television series did not have enough money to purchase the ships to ford the sea leading back to Kings Landing. That kind of jives with the subjects who live in Tampa, FL, who are unwilling to lay down their riches or mount their horses to ford the bridge that leads to the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The low attendance puts even more stringent strains on the team’s coffers to keep players like Price in the kingdom for their entire careers.

The Rays, with their young dragons, should remain afloat long enough to mount a serious challenge to take the throne. But the rich Lannisters in the Bronx still have the wisdom and wherewithal to stem the tide. Like in the series, men do not blindly follow the bravest warriors but remain loyal to the men with the gold.

The gold remains in the Bronx.

THE STARKS OF BOSTON

In Season Two of “Game of Thrones” the elder Stark loses his head, the eldest daughter is enslaved to the Lannister king, the youngest daughter is lost in the hinterlands, the two youngest boys have their home burned while the man’s widow and the eldest son plot to overthrow and vanquish the Lanisters to avenge the patriarch’s death.

That pretty much wraps up the Red Sox of 2012. Winterfell befell Landsdowne.

Their king (Bobby Valentine) had his head lopped off and served to the media, they abandoned their home fans and cast adrift a lot of their high-priced talent in order to restock and rebuild to defeat their arch-enemy in the rich Bronx. It was indeed a completely lost season for the Red Sox and the Starks.

They hold out hope that a new manager (Jon Farrell) and a team built around Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury will help get them back to the promised land they have failed to reach since 2007. In fact, they have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons.

They want left-hander Jon Lester and right-hander Clay Buccholz to pitch better while young Felix Doubront develops and they pray retreads Ryan Dempster and John Lackey (all kingdoms must have their lackeys) have something left. The problem is that this was the division’s worst pitching staff in 2012 and no swordsmanship will make it much better in 2013.

The bullpen has undergone a two purges since Jonathan Papelbon rode off for the riches of the Phillies. They are now hoping a Pirate can plug the leaks in the hull of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan has come over from Pittsburgh to be the closer while former closer Andrew Bailey and lost child Daniel Bard try to figure out what happened to their talent.

Bailey is the team’s setup man while the Bard (in true Shakespearean fashion) has been cast into the dungeons of the minor leagues. For shame, for shame!

It also appears that the kingdom’s version of Hodor, David Ortiz, is finally showing signs that those seasons of carrying excess weight have a price. He has a bad heel and he can’t even trot, let alone run. Without Ortiz, most of the power and production will fall upon first baseman Mike Napoli.

There are lots of weaknesses everywhere, including shortstop (Stephen Drew, really?) and catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia hits home runs in small bunches and strikes out in major droves.

Though young outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. promises to give the Fenway faithful something to cheer about when the team is dredging the bottom depths of the division, the ponderous weight of the anchor of this foundering team will keep them from even getting a whiff of the roses near the Iron Throne.

THE RICHES OF KINGS LANDING

The Evil Empire in the Bronx has paid its knights Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira handsomely over the years. Along with the reward of titles and championships, the team has also fallen short of its goals of late due to injury and the age of these players.

It actually started last season when spring injuries to Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain was just a mere hint of what 2012 would bring. Rodriguez missed time, CC pitched with a sore elbow, Pettitte was lost for a time, Jeter hobbled until he broke in the playoffs,

Speedy outfielder Brett Gardner played in only 18 games.

So why should 2013 be any different?

The rich Lannisters are already missing Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones because payroll concerns were such they were ordered to cut back on their excesses.

Injuries to Teixera, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes and a slow recovery by Jeter this spring heightened the concerns of fans who have loyally followed this team over the years. The town criers, the scribes and pundits all denounced this team and said it was dead. They would not win the title in 2013.

They may even finish last.

STARK REALITY

But an odd thing happened on Friday. The team that was battered all spring played a Washington Nationals team that many say will win the world championship in 2013 fell to the Yankees. Oh, it was just an exhibition game. I know it did not count.

But what you saw in the Yankees was a semblance of a very good team. Pettitte pitched well and the bullpen proved to be as strong as ever.

The major surprise was the offense with Robinson Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez and Vernon Wells seemed to respond and it all seemed to come together in one cohesive package.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said earlier this spring that he fails to believe that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. He said he thinks they will be as difficult to beat as they always have been. I agree.

You see injuries do heal. The Yankees will get Jeter, Hughes, Granderson and Teixeira back at some point this season. They also might get Rodriguez back.

They are a team that has always gotten off to slow starts and got better as the season moved along. I see the same scenario this season.

The pitching with Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps is deep. They have Rivera in the bullpen for one last season and David Robertson, Chamberlain and Boone Logan form a strong setup group for the King of Closing.

The offense features the two best singles hitters of their generation in Ichiro Suzuki and Jeter along with the speedy Gardner. Cano, who is due to become a very rich free agent signing after the 2013 season, is poised for breakout season of offense and defense. He could very well win the Most Valuable Player award this season.

Youkilis looks like the Youkilis of 2007, when he led the rival Red Sox to their last championship. You add Granderson and Teixera to that and you have a good offense to go along with strong pitching.

The “new guys” Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner will have pressure on them to keep the team afloat until the stars come back. They might fail but they can’t be any worse than last season’s Yankees that failed to hit with runners in scoring position.

It also behooves manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman that the Yankees are looked upon as dead meat awaiting a fork to be thrust into them. Perhaps lower expectations is a good thing for the Yankees after always being the team expected to win.

Girardi has a chance to really manage this season and Cashman has staked his reputation by finding these veteran pieces to fill in while the wounded heal in the tent.

That is why I truly believe that some how, some way the Yankees, the rich Lannisters of the Bronx, will have just enough to win this division again.

They may stumble in the playoffs. That is almost as much expected by their fans. But I do see victory here.

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. YANKEES
  2. BLUE JAYS
  3. RAYS
  4. ORIOLES
  5. RED SOX

For fans of the show “King of Thrones” I must add a note that Season Three premieres tonight at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO. If you liked this analogy to the A.L. East please pause a moment miladies and milords to send me a raven. 

 

Youk, Mesa Turn Up Power To Cast Pirates Adrift

GAME 23

YANKEES 11, PIRATES 9

All the experts seem to agree that the Yankees will have a hard time winning the American League East because they lack power. However, someone should tell the Yankees that.

Kevin Youkilis drove in three runs, two of them coming on a two-run blast in the first inning, and Melky Mesa added a grand slam in the third as New York slugged their way to an 8-0 lead and then held on to defeat Pittsburgh on Sunday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.

Youkilis, who is hitting .444 with three home runs since March 10, hit a towering shot over the left-field wall off starting pitcher Phil Irwin (0-1).

Irwin left in the third inning with one out after walking the first two batters. Pirates reliever Mike Zagurski then walked Dan Johnson to load the bases and Mesa cleared them with a high-arcing fly ball that cleared the wall in left for Mesa’s third home run of the spring, which ties him with Youkilis for the team lead.

Although, he struggled in his final two innings, Ivan Nova (1-0) got credit for the victory. After throwing three scoreless innings, Nova was tagged in the fourth and fifth innings for four runs on four hits, a walk and a hit batter.

The Pirates scored a two-out run in the seventh off reliever Branden Pinder and then staged a four-run rally in the ninth off Matt Tracy until Chase Whitley recorded the last three outs with the tying run at the plate to get credit for a save.

With the victory the Yankees are now 9-14 on the spring season. The Pirates fell to 9-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Youkilis is providing the Yankees with power and production they will need this season in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. During his current hot streak he has three homers, a triple and five doubles and he has driven in six runs. It appears that he and Robinson Cano will have to keep the Yankees afloat offensively until Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are healthy enough to return to the lineup.
  • Mesa’s chances of making the team have been hampered by the signings of Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch but he is not going down without a flight. On the positive side of the ledger, Mesa is tied for the team lead in home runs, he leads in the team in RBIs with nine and is right there with Brett Gardner in terms of defensive skills. On the negative side, Mesa is hitting only . 186 and he leads the team in strikeouts with 13. In a lot of ways Mesa is just a younger version of Granderson.
  • The Yankees decided to test former Yankee catcher Russell Martin’s arm on Sunday. The Yankees attempted six steals (including a double-steal in the first inning) and they were successful on five. The double-steal by Eduardo Nunez and Boesch led to a Martin throwing error that allowed Nunez to score the game’s first run. Martin was only able to nab Jayson Nix attempting to steal second in the fourth.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova, 26, looks like he is falling into his old habits from 2012. He was sailing along through three innings with an 8-0 lead and then imploded by giving up a leadoff walk, a one-out RBI double, he hit a batter, then he gave up another RBI double and a sacrifice fly. Clint Barmes led off the fifth with a home run. If Nova wants to remain in the rotation he is going to have concentrate and pitch better when he has a big lead.
  • Tracy, 25, has already been optioned out but his ninth inning meltdown virtually assured we won’t be seeing him in the big leagues any time soon. The lefty was tagged for five consecutive hits and he left with the tying run at the plate. Tracy was a combined 6-7 with a 3.20 ERA as a starter at High-A Tampa and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • In a game in which the Yankees pounded out 10 hits and scored 11 runs somehow Juan Rivera was 0-for-4 and he did not get a ball out the infield. Even with the bad day Rivera is hitting .286 on the spring and almost certainly has made the 25-man roster.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Sunday released non-roster outfielder Matt Diaz. The Yankees invited Diaz, 35, to spring training to compete for a spare outfield spot or right-handed designated hitter role. But Diaz only hit .200 (6-for-30) with no extra-base hits and two RBIs. Diaz now will be able to try to make another team with two weeks left in spring training.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi said left-hander Boone Logan should have time to get some work in before the season starts. Logan has been sidelined with soreness in his left elbow. However, lefty specialist Clay Rapada may face the prospect of beginning the season on the disabled list due to bursitis in his left shoulder.  . . .  Although the Yankees estimated that Teixeira would miss eight to 10 weeks recovering from a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, Teixeira said he now may miss the entire month of May in order to allow the wrist to heal properly. Teixeira said he wants to be cautious to avoid having what could result in season-ending surgery to repair the wrist.

ON DECK

The Yankees will enjoy their second off day of spring training on Monday.

On Tuesday, they will travel to Clearwater to face the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Yankees will send right-hander Adam Warren to start the game. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick.

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

 

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!

 

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