Results tagged ‘ Wilson Betemit ’

Nova Tosses Goose Eggs As Yankees Down Birds

GAME 135

YANKEES 2, ORIOLES 0

When Ivan Nova took the mound on Saturday he carried the weight of a pennant race, a proud franchise and a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 42,836 on his broad shoulders. After watching him pitch, though, it appeared as if he was toying with the Baltimore Orioles as he calmly and cooly retired them one after another.

The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander surrendered only three hits and a walk while he fanned five en route to a complete-game shutout over Baltimore to allow the Yankees to claim third place in the American League East standings.

Nova (8-4) threw only 104 pitches in recording his first major-league shutout over an Oriole team that did more flailing at Nova’s sharp curveball than a dodo bird pointlessly trying to take flight.

Nova received all the support he really required in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a sharply stroked double down the right-field line off Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman (11-10). One out later, Robinson Cano laced a double of his own off the right-field wall to score Gardner.

The game remained 1-0 until Feldman left the game after seven innings, giving up just the one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Left-hander Troy Patton opened the eighth by throwing a 2-1 slider that Cano drove over the auxiliary scoreboard in right and about 12 rows back for his 25th home run of the season, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Nova only gave up a bloop single off the bat of Matt Wieters with no outs in the second inning, a ground-ball single to left by Manny Machado with two out in the sixth and an infield single off Nova’s glove by Nate McLouth to leadoff the ninth.

Nova opened the second by hitting Adam Jones on a 1-0 pitch and Wieters followed with his single. But Nova escaped the jam by retiring Nick Markakis on a double-play grounder and J.J. Hardy flew out with Jones on third to retire the side.

Nova also hit Chris Davis with a errant curve with one out in the fifth. But Nova retired Jones and Wieters to end that inning.

Nova also walked Hardy to lead off the eighth but he then induced Wilson Betemit to hit into a double play and ended the inning by cutting down Brian Roberts on a come-backer to the mound.

After McLouth’s single in the ninth, Nova got Machado on a routine fly to left, survived a scare when Davis flew out to the warning track in right and ended the game by getting Jones on a line drive to short.

Since returning to the rotation as full-time starter on July 5  -  ironically with a complete-game 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium over the Orioles  -  Nova is 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his 10 starts during that span.

The Yankees not only have won this crucial three-game weekend series with the Orioles. They now are 72-63 and are a half-game ahead of the Orioles in third place in the division. The Orioles fell to 71-63. In addition, the Cleveland Indians lost 10-5 to the Detroit Tigers, which allowed the Yankees to move ahead of the Indians in third place in the wild-card standings, four games away from a playoff spot.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes struggling of late, Nova came through with one his best starts in of his career. Nova threw no more than 16 pitches in any inning and retired the Orioles in six frames on 12 pitches or less. Nova also allowed the vaunted Yankee bullpen to get a well-deserved day off. After falling off measurably last season and spending most of the first half of this season on the disabled list, Nova is becoming the pitcher the Yankees thought he was when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season in 2010.
  • Cano was pretty much the team’s offense again on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Cano finished August by batting a sizzling .370 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has raised his season average to .309 and he leads the Yankees in home runs (25) and RBIs (89).
  • Gardner reached base in three of his four plate appearances and ended up 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored. Gardner’s double in the first inning gave him 133 hits for the season, which is a career high. Gardner had 132 hits in both 2010 and 2011. Gardner struggled in August, hitting just .238 with a home run and nine RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There is nothing negative to this effort. Nova was sensational from his first pitch to his last, Cano provided the team just enough offense and the defense helped Nova mow down the Orioles like tall blades of grass. This was a very important victory for the Yankees. But they can’t rest on their laurels. They have to keep winning.

BOMBER BANTER

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez had to be scratched late from the starting lineup due to weakness associated from flu-like symptoms. Mark Reynolds was moved from first base to third base to replace Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay was inserted into the lineup to play first. Overbay, who entered the game hitless in his past 16 at-bats, was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles in the game. Manager Joe Girardi said he is hopeful that Rodriguez will be able to play on Sunday.  . . .  Since Aug. 16 the Yankees can boast of having the best bullpen in the major leagues. In that span, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.05 with a 3-0 record and five saves.  . . .  The Yankees are undecided about what players and how many players they will add when the rosters expand on Sunday. The only obvious choice will be the recall of rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne to bolster the bullpen.

ON DECK

The Yankees can collect a sweep of the Orioles on Sunday and put some distance between them in the division.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, has won his past three starts and he is coming off the seven scoreless innings he threw against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 3.76 ERA). Chen was shelled for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday in what Chen said was the worst start of his career. Chen is 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Granderson’s 5 RBIs Fuel Yankees’ Rout Of Birds

GAME 140

YANKEES 13, ORIOLES 3

When you are talking about the New York Yankees since their season pinnacle on July 18 until now, it has been the proverbial one step forward and two steps back. But on Sunday their slumping bats awoke to take a giant leap forward and the Baltimore Orioles paid the price by allowing the Bronx Bombers to leave Oriole Park at Camden Yards in first place in the American League East.

Curtis Granderson has been so horrible at the plate that he was benched to start the game. But he came off the bench with a vengeance as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning to swat the first pitch he saw into the Orioles’ bullpen in left-center. He ended the day with five RBIs to lead a relentless 14-hit attack on Oriole pitching as New York salvaged a split of their four-game battle for supremacy in the division.

It was the Yankees’ biggest blowout victory of the season and it could not have come at a much better time.

Joba Chamberlain (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief while striking out four of the five batters he retired to earn the victory.

Meanwhile, Oriole left-hander Zach Britton (5-2) found control to be an elusive thing in the fourth inning and he was saddled with the loss.

Britton perhaps got an inkling of how frustrating the day would be when Derek Jeter opened the contest with a infield single and he advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Manny Machado. Britton then walked Nick Swisher.

Alex Rodriguez stopped the momentum a bit by hitting into a double play but Britton then served up an RBI single to Robinson Cano.

In the fourth, Britton found that his sinker was sinking out of the strike zone and he paid dearly for it.

Rodriguez singled to begin the inning and Britton then walked Cano and Russell Martin to load the bases.

Steve Pearce then drew a bases-loaded walk to score Rodriguez to make 2-0. After Andruw Jones struck out, Jayson Nix hit a dying quail single into shallow center to score Cano. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a “Baltimore-chop” to shortstop J.J. Hardy and Suzuki beat out Hardy’s throw to first to score Martin.

Britton then ended his day appropriately by issuing a bases-loaded walk to Jeter that made it 5-0.

Britton gave up five runs on five hits and five walks and struck out two in 3 1/3 innings.

However, the Yankees were unable to savor their four-run inning for long because starter Freddy Garcia stumbled in the bottom of the inning.

Garcia walked Nate McLouth and then hit Hardy with a pitch. Wilson Betemit followed with a two-run double to center and, one out later, Matt Wieters plated Betemit with a single to right.

Manager Joe Girardi, showing the veteran Yankee right-hander one of the shortest leashes of the season, removed Garcia in favor of Chamberlain to keep the game at 5-3.

The Yankee bullpen of Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Derek Lowe threw 4 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, surrendering just one hit and two walks the rest of the way.

At the same time, the Yankees continued to pile on the runs in front of a paid crowd of 40,346.

Granderson, who has been benched the past two games mired in a 5-for-43 (.116) slump, then teed off on Jake Arrieta’s first offering in the sixth inning for his 35th home run of the season and his 100th home run with the Yankees.

Granderson later really broke the game open with a two-run single in the seventh that ran the score to 8-3 and he and Jeter keyed a five-run eighth inning that buried the Orioles and sent their new-found bandwagon fans home disappointed.

Jeter blasted a two-run home run, his 15th of the season, off Kevin Gregg and Granderson later added a two-run double.

The Yankees ran their record against the Orioles this season to 9-9 and they are 79-61 on the season. The Orioles are 78-62.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson’s 3-for-3 day with a homer, a double and five RBIs was a welcome sight for fans who were growing disgusted with him swinging and missing at breaking pitches in the dirt or out of the strike zone. Granderson is the team’s leading home run hitter and, in order to have a shot at the playoffs, he has got to start producing better. Sunday was a nice first step.
  • Chamberlain has never looked better and perhaps has turned the corner in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Chamberlain reached as high as 97 miles per hour on his fastball and, even better, he had command on the location of it. It is the first time Chamberlain has struck out four batters in an outing since his electric rookie season in 2007.
  • Jeter was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. Jeter is batting .324 this season, which third in the American League. He trails Mike Trout of the Angels by .004 and he could possibly win his first batting title at age 38.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Garcia’s magical run as a starter may be over. He has failed to pitch five innings in three of his last four starts and he is 0-1 with a 7.64 ERA in those four starts. With Ivan Nova poised to return to the rotation and Andy Pettitte right behind him, Garcia likely will not start another game this season. He is 7-6 with a 5.19 ERA overall.
  • Swisher is in a worse slump than Granderson. He was 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout on Sunday and he is now hitless in his last 28 at-bats. His batting average has dipped from .271 to .255 in that span. The question is with the team in a pennant fight can they afford to bench him?
  • Jones has also fallen on hard times and he was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Sunday. He is now batting .202. Teams are beating the bushes to toss left-handers at the Yankees because it neutralizes lefty hitters like Cano and Gramderson and benches Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. Jones’ ineptitude at the plate has been a big bonus for the opposing teams.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira is scheduled to undergo an MRI in New York on Monday and it is possible he may miss the final 3 1/2 weeks of the season. Teixeira re-aggravated his left calf injury while unsuccessfully trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Girardi said he would use Swisher and Pearce at first base to replace Teixeira.  . . .  Pettitte is scheduled to throw a side session on Monday at Yankee Stadium and he hopes to be cleared to continue his comeback from a fractured left ankle. If the team physician clears him, Pettitte will then throw a simulated game of about 60 pitches and then could be activated off the disabled list.

ON DECK

The Yankees have earned a day off on Monday before resuming their pennant chase on Tuesday at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.14 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out three in six innings in a victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA against the Bosox this season.

The struggling Red Sox will counter with left-hander Jon Lester (9-11, 4.99 ERA). Lester surrendered three runs on nine hits over six innings in a victory over the Seattle Mariners. Lester is 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season.

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

 

Yankees Drown Sorrows With Deluge On Orioles

GAME 104

YANKEES 12, ORIOLES 3

Suffering through a miserable four-game losing streak is like a farmer suffering though a horrendous drought. But the Yankees, like the down-on-his-luck farmer, got the benefit of some rain at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and they then showered the Baltimore Orioles with a torrent of runs that finally drowned their closest American League East pursuer.

Robinson Cano blasted a grand-slam home run and Derek Jeter drove in three runs as New York used a seven-run third inning to deliver a thrashing to a Baltimore team that was benefitting in the standings from the Yankees recent 3-8 slide in their last 11 games.

Phil Hughes (11-8) scattered nine hits, walked two and struck out two in giving up just one run in six solid innings in a game played in front of a paid crowd of 44,593 despite the fact that they had to sit through a steady downpour throughout the contest. Hughes is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his last 10 starts and he now leads the team’s starters in victories.

The Orioles only scored off Hughes on a pair of one-out singles by Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds and an RBI groundout by Endy Chavez in the second inning, which at the time halved the Yankees’ lead at 2-1.

Meanwhile, Hughes’ counterpart, Zach Britton (1-1), seemed afraid to throw a fastball anywhere near the strike zone. Britton lasted just 2 2/3 innings and was tagged for seven runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out three batters.

In his three career starts in New York, Britton has totaled just eight innings, giving up 20 runs (17 earned). That is a 19.13 ERA.

He gave up two runs in each of the first two innings. Curtis Granderson smacked his 29th home run of the season in the opening frame and Andruw Jones later scored in the inning on a Nick Swisher sacrifice fly.

In the second, Jeter stroked an RBI single to score newly acquired corner infielder Casey McGehee, who was making his Yankee debut. Swisher later made it 4-1 with a RBI single to left to score Jayson Nix.

Britton’s bad day ended in the third when Nix stroked an RBI double to the wall in left-center to score Russell Martin and McGehee to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in Kevin Gregg to face Jeter, but Jeter greeted Gregg with a two-run single to right. After Granderson singled and Swisher drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases, Cano launched a rocket into the second deck in right for the Yankees’ major-league best ninth grand slam of the season and Cano’s second.

The game was pretty much over at that point and many in the crowd left soon after.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by McGehee off reliever Tommy Hunter.

The Orioles scored single runs in the seventh and eighth off recently activated righty-hander Joba Chamberlain, who was pitching in his first game since June 5, 2011 due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last season and a displaced broken right ankle in March.

J.J. Hardy greeted Chamberlain with a leadoff home run in the seventh and the Orioles tacked on a run in the eighth when Chavez doubled off the wall in left to score Reynolds from first base.

Chamberlain, showing signs of a lack of velocity on his fastball, surrendered two runs on four hits and a walk with no strikeouts in his 1 2/3 innings of work.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 61-43 and pushed their lead over the O’s in the division back to 6 1/2 games. The Orioles are 55-50.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Hughes gave up nine hits in 6 innings, those totals are a bit misleading because he Orioles did not hit the ball hard that often off Hughes. Most of their hits were bloop or broken-bat hits that fell in perfect spots in the wet outfield. The Orioles could not have thrown them into better spots. Hughes used a pair of double plays and some excellent defense from his teammates to keep the O’s from climbing back into the game.
  • Cano was in an o-for-14 funk entering play on Tuesday. In the final two games of the three-game series, Cano went 3-for-6 with two home runs and six RBIs. He now has 24 home runs, which is second on the team to Granderson, and 62 RBIs, which second on the club to Mark Teixeira.
  • Jeter’s three-hit game give him 137 hits on the season, which is most in the American League. In his last seven games, Jeter is 13-for-30 (.433), which has raised his season average to .316 and moved him ahead of Cano (.312) for the best batting average on the team.
  • Nix, making a spot start at third base against a left-handed starter, took advantage with a 3-for-4 game, including a double, two runs scored and an RBI. Nix has five hits in his last 11 at-bats and has driven in six runs in that span. He had only seven RBIs in limited play up to that point.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After losing eight of 11 games I am not going nitpick this victory. The team could have easily lost and brought the Orioles to within 4 1/2 games of the lead, Instead, they moved them back to 6 1/2 games back. Hughes pitched well again and the team was 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

BOMBER BANTER

McGehee, 29, was acquired in a last-minute trade deadline deal with the Pirates for right-hander Chad Qualls on Tuesday. He arrived on late Tuesday and started the game at first base in place of Teixeira, who is nursing a sore left wrist. McGehee was 0-2 but walked twice, scored two runs and drove in a run on a sac fly in the eighth. Manager Joe Girardi said the veteran corner infielder would backup at first base and also will get some starts at third base until Alex Rodriguez returns off the 15-day disabled list from a broken left hand.  . . .  Ichiro Suzuki made his first major-league regular-season game start in left-field and made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the sixth inning on a ball off the bat of Reynolds, which saved a run from scoring. Suzuki also extended his hitting streak to nine games with an infield single in the fourth inning.  . . .  Swisher was used as the designated hitter on Wednesday, which means he has not played right-field July 20, when he left a game at o.co Stadium in Oakland with a sore left hip flexor. Girardi said Swisher could start in right-field on Friday. Jones played right-field on Wednesday and was 1-for-3 with a sac fly RBI.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a well-earned day off after suffering through a spate of key injuries and losses lately. They will open a three-game weekend home series with Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57 ERA) will get the ball for the Yankees. Sabathia has not won a game since July 17 and he is coming off an outing in which the Boston Red Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on Saturday. He is 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA in his career against the Mariners.

The Mariners will counter with right-hander Kevin Millwood (4-8, 3.90 ERA). Millwood ended a streak of 10 starts without a victory on Saturday with a good effort against the Kansas City Royals. In the past 10 seasons, he is 3-6 with a 4.40 ERA against the Yankees.

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

 

Maryland Native Teixeira Clips Orioles’ Wings

GAME 35

YANKEES 8, ORIOLES 5

For the past four seasons Orioles fans having been booing Maryland native Mark Teixeira whenever he comes to the plate at Camden Yards in some misguided thought that Teixeira owed the city of Baltimore enough that he should have signed a free-agent contract with their team for less money.

On Monday night, Teixeira treated those fans to what they have been missing the last four years by launching a majestic two-run blast in the seventh inning to break up a 5-5 tie to lead New York to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Baltimore.

Former Yankee reliever Luis Ayala (1-1) gave up a leadoff single to Alex Rodriguez, his third single of the game. One out later, Teixeira ripped into a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner and pulled into the right-field bleachers for his fifth home run of the season.

Reliever David Phelps (1-1) picked up his first major-league victory in relief with a scoreless inning of work. Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his second save of the season.

The game was a back-and-forth affair because neither starting pitcher was able to pitch effectively.

The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Ivan Nova in the first inning on an RBI single by J.J. Hardy and an RBI double by Adam Jones.

But the Yankees struck back against Jason Hammel in the fourth inning on a two-run double off the bat of Nick Swisher. They added another run in the fifth on a two-out solo home run by Curtis Granderson, his 12th of the season which was hit so hard it landed over the right-field  stands and out onto Eutaw Street.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Nova was unable to hold the lead in the fifth. Nova walked Robert Andino, rookie Xavier Avery then tripled to right-field to score Andino. Then Hardy followed with a his ninth home run of the season to hand the Orioles a 5-3 lead.

But Hammel was unable to hold the lead either.

The Yankees loaded the bases on Hammel in the sixth on a Robinson Cano double and successive walks to Teixeira and Swisher, which ended Hammel’s night. Ayala induced a ground ball off the bat of Raul Ibanez but it was misplayed into an error by Chris Davis and two runs scored.

Hammel was charged with five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks and he struck out three in five-plus innings. Hammel had previously not given up more than two runs in any of his previous six starts.

Nova left the game with one out in the sixth inning when he came up limping on his right foot after fielding a high bouncing ball off the bat of Wilson Betemit. With two out in the third inning, Nova was struck on the right foot on a ball hit by Nick Markakis but he was able to remain in the game.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record against the Orioles to 5-2 and the season record is now at 20-15. The Orioles dropped to 22-14.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Once again, the bullpen showed its superiority over the Orioles. In the final 3 2/3 innings Clay Rapada, Phelps, Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Soriano combined to shut out the Orioles the rest of the way on three hits and one walk and they struck out six batters. In contrast, the Orioles’ ineffective bullpen gave up three runs on four hits, three walks, two hit batters and struck out two in four innings. Ouch!
  • After his average dropped to .212 last Thursday when he was 0-for-3 against the Rays, Teixeira has a modest four-game hitting streak going with his 2-for-4 night against the Orioles. In that span, Teixeira is 6-for-16 (.375) with a six runs scored and two RBIs. He has raised his average to .231.
  • Granderson’s 12th home run ties him with Adam Dunn of the White Sox for second place in the American League in home runs. Josh Hamilton of Texas leads with 18. Granderson also contributed a sensational running catch to the deepest part of the ballpark on a shot off the bat of Hardy in the seventh inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova did not pitch effectively because he struggled with his command. He sureendered five runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out four in his 5 1/3 innings of work. Despite the fact he is 4-1, his ERA is now 5.44 and he will need to pitch much better going forward.
  • Weird stat of the game: Despite the fact the Yankees scored eight runs and collected 11 hits they were a miserable 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
  • Derek Jeter entered Sunday’s game with the Mariners having not hit into a double play this season. But he hit into two of them on Sunday and he hit into two more on Monday. So he now has hit into four double plays in his last eight at-bats. He also struck out with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and he is 0-for-5 this season with the bases loaded.

BOMBER BANTER

This game could be very costly for the Yankees. Nova left the game with a bruise and a sprain in his right ankle. X-rays of his right ankle taken after the game were negative but it is unclear if Nova will be able to make his next scheduled start. In addition, Rapada had to be helped in to the clubhouse because of a severe viral infection and Ibanez left the game in the ninth inning after being struck on the right elbow on a pitch from reliever Dana Eveland. Ibanez told reporters he thought he would able to play on Tuesday.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday that reliever David Robertson has been unable to pitch for the past four days due to a soreness in his left ribcage. Robertson felt the discomfort after a he threw two-thirds of an inning in a non-save situation against the Rays on Thursday. He is scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the Orioles in this two-game road series on Tuesday.

The Yankees will have a good shot with CC Sabathia (5-0, 3.51 ERA) starting. Sabathia has won his last five starts and he is coming off his best start of the season. He threw eight innings of shutout baseball and struck out a season-high 10 in beating the Rays on Thursday. Sabathia also owns a 16-2 record and a 2.86 ERA in his career against the Orioles.

His opponent will be left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (3-0, 2.43 ERA). Chen held the Rangers to two runs in 7 2/3 innings in his last start. He has no record and 3.18 ERA after just one start against the Yankees this season.

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

 

Yankees Say Sayonara To O’s With Kuroda’s Gem

GAME 22

YANKEES 2, ORIOLES 1

Just when the pundits, press and fans became apoplectic over the inconsistency of the Yankees’ starting pitching Hiroki Kuroda followed CC Sabathia’s outstanding eight-inning outing on Sunday with a gem of his own on Monday.

Kuroda (2-3) held the Orioles to one run on four hits and one walk and struck out three over seven innings of work and he got a two-run home run from Eric Chavez as New York continued their dominance over Baltimore at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y.

The 37-year-old right-hander even protected his one-run lead with a dazzling defensive play of his own at home plate in the seventh inning.

With Nick Markakis on third and Matt Wieters on second and two out, Kuroda threw a 1-0 pitch to Wilson Betemit that hit the dirt and rolled past Russell Martin. Markakis broke for home, Martin scrambled to the ball, made a backhand toss to Kuroda, who blocked the plate and applied the tag to Markakis to end the inning.

Right-hander Jason Hammel (3-1) took his first loss of the season, giving up two runs on five hits and two walks and fanning five in six innings. His big mistake came on a first-pitch fastball to Chavez in the second inning with Mark Teixeira on first and one out.

Chavez blasted the pitch 375 feet off the wall of the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish thanks to Kuroda and the bullpen duo of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.

Robertson pitched a perfect eighth by striking out the side. Meanwhile, the 42-year-old future Hall-of-Fame closer Rivera needed only nine pitches to dispatch the Orioles in the ninth for his fifth save of the season and the 608th of his career.

The Orioles broke the seal on the scoring in the top of the second inning when Adam Jones drew a walk, he adavnced to third on a Matt Wieters single and he scored on a deep sacrifice fly off the bat of Chris Davis. However, Kuroda, with help from the Yankees’ bullpen, shut down the Orioles the rest of the way.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 13-9. The Orioles, who have now lost all four contests they have played against the Yankees this season, fell to 14-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is real easy to see now why the Yankees shelled out $10 million on a one-year contract for Kuroda. He kept the Orioles off balance with a mixture of sliders and split-finger fastballs. He threw 52 of his 87 pitches for strikes (60 percent) and he lowered his season ERA to 3.69. In his last two outings against good-hitting teams in the Rangers and the Orioles, Kuroda has given up just three runs on nine hits and three walks in 13 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 2.03 and a WHIP of 0.90.
  • Once Kuroda handed off the one-run lead to Robertson and Rivera, it was lights out for the Orioles. Robertson blew away the Orioles with a fastball clocked as high as 94 mph. He fanned Betemit swinging and Mark Reynolds and Robert Andino were caught looking on perfectly placed fastballs on the outside corner at the knees. Rivera has not been scored upon since he blew his first save on opening day against Tampa. In his last 7 1/3 innings, he has given up just three hits and no walks and he has struck out seven batters.
  • Chavez’s home run in the second was his third of the season and that is one more than Chavez hit all of last season for the Yankees in 58 games. Chavez is getting more playing time with Brett Gardner on the disabled list and manager Joe Girardi’s decision to use Alex Rodriguez more often as the designated hitter. The 34-year-old veteran is taking advantage of it, hitting .321 with three home runs and five RBIs.
  • Teixeira was 2-for-3 in the game and he finished April with a .244 average, which is far cry better than his career average of .190 in the opening month.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the starter goes seven innings, the bullpen holds a slim one-run lead and the team plays errorless defense, there is not much negative to say. The Yankees could have gotten their offense untracked more, but Hammel is the Orioles’ ace and he entered the game with a 1.73 ERA.

BOMBER BANTER

Eduardo Nunez made his first major-league start in left-field and he handled all five of his chances without making an error. He made an excellent catch on sinking liner off the bat of Markakis in the first inning and he made an excellent catch at the wall on Davis’ sac fly in the second. But his catch of liner off the bat of Andino was a bit of an adventure as he caught the ball sprawling awkwardly to the turf.  . . .  One reason Nunez played left was because Nick Swisher is out with a slight strain of his left hamstring. Swisher hopes to return in three days but Girardi said it will be closer to a week before he allows Swisher play.   . . .  Gardner, meanwhile, is targeting a return from the disabled list on Thursday when he is eligible to be activated. He has been sidelined with a strained right elbow  . . .  The numbers may not show it, but Andy Pettitte declared himself ready to help the Yankees now. Pettitte gave up six runs (five earned) on 10 hits, walked none and struck out eight in six innings of work for Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League on Monday. Pettitte threw 96 pitches and he said he could make his next start for the Yankees. However, general manager Brian Cashman said the Yankees would prefer that Pettitte make one more minor-league start on Saturday and he could be ready to pitch for the Yankees on May 10.

ON DECK

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

The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes (1-3, 7.88 ERA). He lasted just 2 2/3 innings of his last start against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday. Hughes is 4-2 with a 5.24 ERA in his career against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with struggling left-hander Brian Matusz (0-3, 5.66 ERA). Matusz gave up two runs in six innings in his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays but he did not get a decision. He has lost 12 straight decisions dating back to last season and he is 2-5 with a 5.10 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Orioles Seem To Have Stranglehold On 5th Place

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.

But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.

This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.

STARTERS

One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.

The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.

Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.

Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.

Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.

The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.

BULLPEN

The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.

The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.

STARTING LINEUP

A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.

Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.

With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.

The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.

Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.

The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.

They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.

BENCH

Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.

The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.

ANALYSIS

With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.

The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.

The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.

Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.

Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.

It is a spot for which they are built.

ON TUESDAY – PART 2  TORONTO BLUE JAYS

 

Cano’s Slam, 6 RBIs Declaws Tigers In Game 1

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 1

YANKEES 9, TIGERS 3

When managers and coaches get together with their pitchers to discuss a game plan to how to attack the hitters on the New York Yankees they all say “Do not let Robinson Cano beat you.”

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and the Tiger pitching staff got a close-up view on why they say that about Cano on Saturday night.

Cano absolutely crushed two doubles as well as a majestic grand slam homer and drove in a franchise-tying record of six RBIs in a postseason game to back the strong “relief” pitching of Ivan Nova as the Yankees took the fight out the Tigers for a Game 1 victory in their American League Division Series.

Nova (1-0), meanwhile, picked up for CC Sabathia in third inning and only allowed two hits and three walks before faltering in the ninth inning. The rookie 24-year-old right-hander came into the game having won 12 consecutive decisions and had not lost a game since June 3.

The Yankees and Tigers played to a 1-1 tie on Friday before the game was suspended after an hour and 17 minute rain delay.  So Game 1 resumed in the bottom of the second inning at Yankee Stadium with nary a drop of precipitation but a brisk was blowing in from right and the temperature dipped into the mid-50s.

However, the weather did not deter 50,940 fans from showing up to watch the completion of Game 1, the largest crowd to ever see a game at Yankee Stadium, old or new.

It was Cano and the Yankees who struck first off the Tigers’ right-hander Doug Fister, who in a sense was coming in relief of likely American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.

With none on and two out in the fifth inning, Curtis Granderson singled to right field off Fister. Cano followed with a deep line-drive to left-center that either hit off the top of the wall, caromed off a fan and fell back onto the field for a home run or a double that hit the top of the wall and just spun back into play to score Granderson.

Crew chief Gerry Davis immediately took his umpires into the replay room off the third-base dugout and came out shortly signaling Cano had indeed hit a double. Although the Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead, Fister and the Tigers felt they were lucky to have just allowed a run in that situation.

However, luck turned into unmitigated disaster for Fister in the sixth inning.

Mark Teixeira greeted Fister with a first-pitch, opposite field double to left. One out later, Fister appeared content to pitch around Posada by walking him on a 3-2 pitch well out of the strike zone. Russell Martin then dribbled a slow grounder to Jhonny Peralta at short and Peralta’s only play was to first to retire Martin.

Fister then went after Brett Gardner to end the inning.

He immediately jumped ahead on the count 0-2. Fister then opted for a curve to finish Gardner off. But, instead, Fister hung the pitch and Gardner squirted a roller to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and on into centerfield to score Teixeira and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

That proved to the key at-bat of the game because Derek Jeter followed with a single to right-center to advance Gardner to third. Jeter later stole second and Fister ended up losing Granderson by walking him to load the bases.

Leyland opted to make a move to the bullpen, where he had left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Al Alburquerque warming. Most managers in this situation would bring in the lefty to face the left-hand hitting Cano. But Leyland must have made a wrong turn at Alburqueque because he did the opposite.

On Alburquerque’s second offering, Cano uncoiled his familiar picture-perfect swing and connected solidly and decisively. Despite a brisk breeze blowing in from right, Cano’s drive cut through the wind to land in the second deck of the right-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ slight 4-1 lead had turned into a decisive 8-1 margin.

Alburquerque had the entered the game coming off a season in which he was 6-1 with a 1.97 ERA. he had allowed only three inherited runners to score all season and he had not allowed a home run in the major leagues. Cano took care of all of that with just one beautiful swing.

But the big loser in this Alburquerque mess was Fister (0-1).

Despite pitching well early and escaping trouble, he was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. He came into the game with an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA since the Tigers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. He also had not allowed more than a run in his last 55 innings during the regular season. The Yankees ended string that with six runs in the sixth.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth off lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth. And as with all the runs the Yankees scored in this game, it came with two outs.

Jeter stroked a single and that same guy Cano laced a double over the head of Jackson in center for a double that scored Jeter easily. That gave Cano his sixth RBI of the night to tie him with Bobby Richardson, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui for the franchise record for RBIs in a postseason game.

Nova, meanwhile, was able to escape some trouble of his own with a little help from his defense.

After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Nova walked Alex Avila on a 3-2 pitch. Raburn followed with an opposite-field single to right. Peralta then laced a line-drive single that fell just in front of Granderson in center. Avila got a slow read on the ball and, as he headed for home, Jeter took the relay throw from Gramderson and fired home to Martin. Martin caught the ball in the right-hand hitters’ batters box just as Avila lunged into him.

Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Avila out and the Yankees kept a big run for the Tigers off the board.

To open the sixth, Nova walked the only Tiger hitter with speed in Austin Jackson. Leyland figured it was time to send Jackson to second to get something started for the Tigers with then down 2-1. Jackson broke for second on a 1-2 pitch to Magglio Ordonez and Ordonez hit the ball right to Cano, who was covering second waiting for a throw to nab Jackson. Cano merely scooped the grounder, stepped on second, avoided Jackson’s slide and flipped to first to double up Ordonez.

Nick Swisher then laid out to catch a liner to right off the bat of Delmon Young to end the inning.

However, Nova was unable to escape the ninth.

With one out, Young lined a ball of Nova’s backside for an infield single. Miguel Cabrera coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Victor Martinez singled sharply to right to load the bases.

Manager Joe Girardi, hoping to avoid using Mariano Rivera, selected right-hander Luis Ayala instead. Ayala was coming off a rough outing against the Rays on Thursday in which Boone Logan and he had combined to give up six runs to the Rays in the eighth inning with the Yankees holding a 7-0 lead. That led to the Rays’ eventual 8-7 victory in 12 innings to allow the Rays to make the playoffs.

For Yankee fans it was almost deja vu all over again.

Ayala induced Avila to hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed a run to score. But he compounded the problem by giving up a single to left by Raburn that scored another run and Peralta followed with a bloop single to center reloaded the bases. Girardi mercifully pulled the plug on Ayala and Rivera was forced to come in as Ayala was showered with a chorus of Bronx jeers – well-earned, too.

Rivera came in to face former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit. But if any Tiger fans had gone to the kitchen for a bag a chips, they would have missed Rivera blowing three pitches past Betemit for the final out to give the Yankees an important 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Verlander unable to pitch again until Game 3.

It is funny how in a regular season in which the Yankees were plagued by 22 rain delays and nine postponements that forced so many doubleheaders and lost off days and yet the rain that fell on Friday actually worked so greatly to the Yankees’ benefit on Saturday.

Rain, rain, don’t go away.

Swish Rights Season With Stellar Second Half

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

RIGHTFIELD – NICK SWISHER (23 HRs, 85 RBIs, .260 BA)

On May 25, Nick Swisher was hitting .204 with two home runs and 18 RBIs. The fact that Swisher rebounded enough to get close to the numbers he had produced for the Yankees in 2009 and 2010 was amazing. Swisher began hitting in the late stages of May and never stopped. The power was down some but in his three seasons with the Yankees, Swisher has averaged 27 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .267 batting average. That is pretty good consistency for a solid contributor like Swisher. Swisher also drew 95 walks to put up his best on-base percentage as a Yankee at .374. Swisher’s patient approach helped the Yankeees raise starter’s pitch counts and produced runs. Swisher is also versatile enough to hit anywhere in the Yankee lineup and be productive. This season he seems to have settled in as the No. 6 hitter and the Yankees need him to produce behind Robinson Cano, who teams love to walk at crunch time. Swisher’s only deficiencies are his lack of speed and his lack of range in rightfield. But Swisher does give effort and he has the strongest outfield arm. He committed only one error and he collected nine outfield assists this season. But Swisher suffered a late-season elbow injury which is still nagging him. Entering the playoffs, Swisher’s ability to throw is a question mark. It may not hurt against the slow Tigers but it could be an issue with teams who can run the bases.

When Swisher was not starting, the Yankees used Andruw Jones, Chris Dickerson and even Eduardo Nunez here. Because Jones is largely a platoon leftfielder with Brett Gardner in leftfield, Chris Dickerson will likely be used this postseason as a late-inning defensive replacement for Swisher. Dickerson is not much of a hitter. He hit .260 with a home run and seven RBIs in 50 at-bats this season. But Dickerson is a very smooth outfielder with an excellent arm. The Yankees love his range. Dickerson also can provide speed off the bench as a pinch-runner, much like Greg Golson did in 2009 playoffs.

SECOND HALF GRADE

SWISHER  B

Swisher really raised his game after two months of awful at-bats. To Swisher’s credit his numbers were pretty much what they had been his previous two seasons with the Yankees. Considering that Swisher was obtained from the White Sox for backup infielder Wilson Betemit, this is another trade by general manager Brian Cashman (like the Curtis Granderson deal) that has worked in the Yankees’ favor. Swisher provides power, he produces runs and he gets on base. Swisher will strike out some. He fanned 125 times this season. But the overall package is a solid and consistent one.

OVERALL GRADE

SWISHER  B-

Swisher earned a C for his poor first half numbers. So his B for the second half raises his overall grade to a B-. Swisher, 30, will never reach star status. But he is one of those players that championship teams need. His enthusiasm and effort on the field are superior and the Yankees need him in the middle of the lineup with his power, clutch hitting and his ability to get on base. You can overlook his limited range when you also know he is not going to hurt the team by making a silly error. You add up all the positives with Swisher and you get a pretty solid player. He will also be a key player for the team in the postseason.

 

When Swish Is Right, Yanks Have More Fight

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (.248 BA, 10 HRs, 44 RBIs)

When the Yankees traded backup infielder Wilson Betemit for Nick Swisher in 2009, it turned out to beone of the best trades Brian Cashman has made. Swisher was coming off a career worst season of 24 home runs, 69 RBIs and a dreadful .219 average.

The funny thing is Swisher was acquired to play first base because all the outfield spots were taken by Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and Xavier Nady. Then the Yankees unexpectedly received an enexpected gift when Mark Teixeira expressed an interest in signing with the Yankees. That left Swisher as a spare part.

But fortune has always shined a light on the upbeat Swisher. Nady tore an elbow ligament in April and Swisher became the Yankees’ full-time right-fielder. All he did was hit .249 with 29 home runs and 82 RBIs and help lead the Yankees to their 27th world title.

In 2010, Swisher vowed to raise his average and tinkered with his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long. The effort paid dividends when Swisher hit .288 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs last season. Swisher even got married in the off-season to actress Joanna Garcia. So things in 2011 were looking up for the 30-year-old veteran.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to Swisher’s continued success. He took an unexpected detour.

Swusher slumped in spring training. Swisher slumped in April. Swisher even slumped in May. The usually ebullient outfielder was having a hard time staying positive when things were going so bad. Pitchers were using him and designated hitter Jorge Posada to escape jams and succeeding.

The failures piled up and it took its toll.

On May 25, Swisher was hitting .204 with two home runs and 18 RBIs.

But Swisher started hitting that last week of May and he has not stopped. After hitting a woeful .200 in May, Swisher hit .326 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in June. At the midpoint he is hitting .249 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs. After two months of darkness, Swisher is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

The odd thing was Swisher was hitting exceptionally well right-handed (.333) and was not hitting as well left-handed (.215). But that is changing and Swisher has raised his average to around his career average of .252. The question is will Swisher raise his average back to his 2010 mark of .288 or will it stay closer to his career mark?

His power is down even though he is still getting on base and driving in runs like he always has. He is on pace for 88 RBis once again.

Swisher’s value is immense because he is a power threat who bats behind Robinson Cano. If Swisher hits well, Cano should flourish. If Swisher slumps, it’s a pretty good bet that Cano will not see as many good pitches to hit. So getting Swisher going in the right direction is very important to this team.

Swisher becomes a good barometer on how successful the Yankees will be in the second half.

With Alex Rodriguez out of the lineup for four to six weeks, Swisher becomes even more important as a power and production source in the middle of the lineup. Pitchers are no longer looking at him as an escape hatch out of danger. Swisher made a lot of pitchers pay for that strategy in June.

Swisher’s contributions with the bat are even more important when you realize that he contributes nothing on the bases and he is just about average in the field.

Swisher’s lack of foot speed limits his range in right-field. But it is hard to call Swisher a bad outfielder. He has not committed an error and he has seven outfield assists. He also has made some pretty difficult catches going back on balls and has adapted well to the Yankees’ decision to play the outfielders more shallow this season.

Still, Swisher is the outfielder manager Joe Girardi will replace when the Yankees are winning in the late innings because his lack of speed limits his range to his right. But Swisher is better than you would think as a fielder because of his effort and he has an exceptional arm. Those seven assists show that.

Swisher gets a solid C for his first half. He is going to have to continue to raise his average and hit for a more power in the second half. If he could hit right-handers better he will likely be able to do just that.

The odd thing is Swisher has always been a fast starter with the Yankees. This is the first season in which he has struggled so much in the early part of the season. But maybe that will mean that this season he will be fast finisher. The Yankees certainly hope that is the case. Swisher is just that much of a key to the offense.

His patience at the plate is excellent, He is on pace to draw 100 walks for the first time since he did it with Oakland in 2004. That patience allows Swisher to see more pitches than most hitters. It also gives him a chance to hit pitchers’ mistakes.

As long as Swisher can avoid injuries, he should have a resurgent second half and he likely will end up with about the same numbers he usually puts up with the Yankees.

OTHERS

The Yankees primarily have used only two other outfielders this season: Andruw Jones and Chris Dickerson.

Jones is hitting a woeful .210 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 81 at-bats. He has started 21 games in the outfield, most of those in left-field to sit Brett Gardner against tough left-handers. But Jones has not produced like he did last season with the White Sox, where he 19 home runs in 278 at-bats.

In addition, Jones is a far cry from his 10 Gold Gloves with the Braves. Jones is overweight and it has significantly slowed him down in the outfield. He still can make the plays look easy. But he also is a few steps slow to some balls that drop in front of him or that sail over his head. If the Yankees need to upgrade one spot on the bench this might be it.

Dickerson was called up a few times after he recovered from a late spring injury and he has been solid.

He is hitting .263 in only 19 at-bats. His main value is as a defensive replacement for Swisher in the late innings. Dickerson is an excellent fielder and a very good athlete with a decent arm in right. He also can play left and center in a pinch.

Dickerson also can serve as a pinch-runner off the bench and he is a pretty good bunter.

The Yankees can also call upon infield reserves Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena in the outfield. Though both are good athletes, they are more suited as infielders. They likely will not see a lot of action in the outfield unless in an emergency situation.

The Yankees have some former major leaguers at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They are Greg Golson and Justin Maxwell.

Golson has been up with the Yankees before. His calling card is his excellent speed and he has a cannon for an arm. He can also play all three outfield spots. But the Yankees have opted for Dickerson though Golson is hitting .295 with five home runs and 25 RBis in the minors.

Maxwell played last season for the Nationals and he is hitting .260 with 16 home runs and 35 RBIs. Maxwell is a talented athlete but he also strikes out too much (72 in 177 at-bats).

Most of the better Yankee outfield prospects are at the Double-A level and below. Melky Mesa at Double-A Trenton is hitting a disappointing .219 but the Yankees still think highly of his ability as an athlete and they believe he will hit for consistent power  in the major leagues. Mesa is just 24 years old.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Swisher C

Jones D

Dickerson I (Incomplete)

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-

A-Rod’s 3-Homer, 5-RBI Exhibition Royally Flushes K.C.

GAME 116
YANKEES 8, ROYALS 3

Recently Hall of Fame outfielder told YES Network broadcaster Ken Singleton that once Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th home run the pressure on him would end and he would begin to hit home runs in bunches.
Unfortunately for the Royals, Willie Mays prophecy came true.
Rodriguez put on a power display at Kauffman Stadium like no other and the end result was three home runs, five RBIs and a victory for the New York Yankees over Kansas City.
Rdoriguez began his power display while leading off the sixth inning of a 1-1 game with a solo home run into the left field bleachers off Royals starter and losing pitcher Sean O’Sullivan (1-4). In fact, Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson followed Rodriguez one-out later with back-to-back solo home runs of their own to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
After the Royals touched Phil Hughes with two runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth inning, on the first pitch Rodriguez blasted a mammoth shot into the batter’s eye in center-field off reliever Kanekoa Texeira with one out in the seventh inning with Mark Teixeira on first after a single.
In the ninth inning, Teixeira again led off the inning with a single off reliever Greg Holland. After falling behind 2-0, Holland uncorked a fastball up and over the middle of the plate and Rodriguez deposited this one into a fountain in left-field to put the game out of reach at 8-3.
It was the 56th multiple home run game and the fourth three-homer game of his career. The three home runs also gave him 604 for his career and he now has 21 home runs and 97 RBIs for the season. 
With the five RBis, Rodriguez passed the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and now leads the major leagues in runs batted in.
Hughes (14-5) pitched a solid six innings, giving up three runs on nine hits and one walk. He entered Saturday’s game with 7.68 runs per game, the best in the major leagues.
The Royals managed to put pressure on Hughes with some well-timed but not exactly well-stroked hits. They also benefitted from a lost ball in the lights. 
Wilson Betemit scored Billy Butler, who had doubled, with a seeing-eye single up the middle in the first inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
The Yankees tied it in the fifth inning when Brett Gardner scored from third when Derek Jeter hit into a double play.
Betemit, who is 4-for-11 in the series, struck again leading off the sixth inning with his fifth home run of the season. The Royals added a run off Hughes with an infield hit from rookie Kila Ka’aihue, a bloop opposite field single by Alex Gordon and Yuniesky Betancourt ended up loading the bases with none out when Gardner lost Betancourt’s easy fly ball in the lights.
Ka’aihue scored one out later on a slow infield groundout to Teixeira at first base. Hughes wriggled out of further trouble by retiring Gregor Blanco and he left the game having thrown 98 pitches on a hot, humid Missouri evening.
Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Sergio Mitre shutout the Royals the rest of the way, giving up only one hit in three innings.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 72-44 and they maintained their two-game lead on the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Red Sox remain six games back in third place.
The Royals, meanwhile, fell to 48-69.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Rodriguez told reporters after the game that he owed hitting coach Kevin Long for correcting a flaw in his swing so that he could clear his hips more consistently. The first two home runs Rodriguez hit on Saturday were on pitches at the knees and on the inside corner.
  • Teixiera has just three hits and one RBI in the series but he is putting a fielding clinic in Kansas City. On Friday night he made a spectacular running, leaping over the shoulder catch of a foul pop in the sixth inning. On Saturday, he made four highlight reel-worthy plays. Two diving stops of hot grounders, one leaping grab of a high-hopper and a deft scoop of one-hop throw from Ramiro Pena, who played third base in place Rodriguez so Rodriguez could be the DH.
  • Posada’s home run was his 13th of the season but it was his first home run since July 24 at Yankee Stadium against Kyle Davies and the Royals.
  • Granderson’s home run was his 11th of the season and three of them have come off of O’Sullivan. On July 25 at Yankee Stadium, Granderson hit two home runs off O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan has faced the Yankees three times within 26 days and is 1-2. 
NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Before the three solo home runs in the sixth and Rodriguez added his pair of two-run shots, the Yankees struggled with runners in scoring position. In the first two games of the series they were 4-for-24 (.167) and they were 1-for-8 in this game. That means in three games they are hitting .156 with RISP.
  • In the second inning with Rodriguez and Posada having just pulled off a double steal, Granderson and Gardner struck out. In the third inning, Jeter had stolen second base and Nick Swsiher walked with one out but Teixeira was retired on an infield pop and Rodriguez struck out. Jeter then hit into a rally-killing double play but Gardner did manage to score the game-tying run.
  • Gardner did lose the ball in the lights in the sixth inning, however, Granderson did not hustle in from center to help his teammate and the ball dropped 20 feet in front of Gardner for a single.
BOMBER BANTER

Andy Pettitte threw all 50 pitches he was expected to throw in his bullpen session in Tampa, FL, but he said he did not feel completely comfortable pushing off the mound. This means he will have to wait for an evaluation from trainer Gene Monahan before he can take his next step in his attempt to come back from a left groin strain. The setback means Pettitte will not make a rehab start next week and the team will determine when Pettitte will resume throwing.  . . .  Reliever Alfredo Aceves, who is on the disabled list with lower back stiffness, threw 26 pitches in a rehab stint at Double-A Trenton. He is expected to pitch again on Tuesday and go three innings or 40 pitches. Aceves likely will be activated after that. The Yankees have missed the versatile Aceves in the bullpen this season and they will be pleased when he returns.
ON DECK

The Yankees have now clinched at least a split of the four-game series with the Royals and they will go for the series victory on Sunday.
Right-hander A.J. Burnett (9-9, 4.87 ERA) will get the nod for the Yankees. Burnett shook off back spasms which delayed his start until last Tuesday and pitched well against the Rangers. He gave up three runs on six hits in seven innings but ended up with a no-decision. He is 3-2 with a 2.96 ERA in his career against the Royals.
Burnett’s opponent will be rookie right-hander Brian Bullington (0-2, 4.85 ERA), who will only be making his second major-league start. Bullington gave up three runs on five hits and a walk over six innings against the Angels on Tuesday. The Yankees have generally not fared too well against pitchers they are seeing for the first time.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
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