YANKEES 5, BRAVES 5 (10 INNINGS)
LAKE BUENA VISTA – Just when it looks like the Yankees are going to coast to a win in a Grapefruit League game something happens to snatch a tie out of the jaws of victory. That played out for the third time this spring on Wednesday.
George Kontos was called upon to pitch the ninth inning with a 5-3 lead. However, Kontos issued a one-out walk to Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward made him pay with a two-run home run as Atlanta rallied to earn a tie with New York in 10 innings at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Heyward’s home run spoiled an excellent outing from Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, who gave up two runs on six hits and no walks and he struck out a half-dozen in seven innings. For the 37-year-old right-hander, who was named the team’s No. 2 starter on Tuesday, it was his best outing of the spring.
The Yankees got a huge offensive boost from Eric Chavez, who had a pair of two-out RBIs singles in the first and third innings and added a two-out RBI double in the eighth as the Yankees built their lead from 3-0 in the third to 5-2 in the eighth.
The Yankees tagged Braves starter Brandon Beachy for three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks in five innings. They added a pair of runs in the eighth off reliever Eric O’Flaherty in the eighth.
The Yankees’ spring record remains 13-10. The Braves are 9-14.
- You had to be directly behind home plate like I was on Wednesday to appreciate how smart Kuroda is as a pitcher. He mixed all of his pitches, varied speeds and locations to keep the Braves off-balance all day. His wild pitch with Heyward on third in the fifth allowed one run to score. Freeman touched him for a solo home run to right-center (his third home run in two games) in the seventh was Kuroda’s only other blemish in what otherwise was a masterful performance.
- Chavez was hitting .120 as of March 20 but he is 5-for-10 in his last three games and he has raised his spring average to .235. Chavez, 34, was 3-for-4 with a double, two singles and three RBIs in the game. Chavez has already locked down the backup corner infield spot for the Yankees. Their only concern with the six-time Gold Glove winner is keeping him healthy for a full season.
- Raul Ibanez was 1-for-3 with a single in the game. You are likely wondering why I mention him. Well, Ibanez also hit what would have been a two-run home run to right in the third inning but Heyward ran to the wall, leaped and brought it back into the ballpark with a spectacular catch. Ibanez, 39, may be hitting .089 but he is making much better contact of late. He may be showing signs of life – finally.
- Failing to win three games that ended up in ties in the past seven games may seem like something that would concern Yankee fans. But look at the pitchers who were on the mound and who was in the lineup when those games were tied. Against the Red Sox on March 22, Juan Cedeno and Kontos combined to give up the lead in the bottom of the ninth. On March 25 against the Tigers, the Yankees stranded 10 runners over 10 innings after Derek Jeter led off the first inning with a solo home run. Then on Wednesday, Kontos was victimized by Heyward’s home run. Those two pitchers will not make the Yankees’ 25-man roster and the Yankees pulled most of their starters against the Tigers in the sixth and seventh innings. That would not happen in regular-season game.
- Cory Wade continues to struggle of late. He has been scored upon in his last three appearances, including Wednesday against the Braves. Wade, 28, gave up a run on two hits in the eighth inning on Wednesday. He has now given up five runs on nine hits over three innings of work. His spring ERA is 7.27.
- Francisco Cervelli was 0-for-4 in the game and his spring average dipped to .176. I doubt, however, that the Yankees really care how much their backup catcher hits.
A MRI taken on Curtis Granderson’s sore right elbow showed no structural damage but the outfielder remains day-to-day. Meanwhile, fellow starting outfielder Nick Swisher had 10 at-bats in a minor-league game on Wednesday and he is expected to both hit and play the outfield in another minor=league game on Thursday. Swisher is nursing a sore right groin. . . . Manager Joe Girardi confirmed that there is a “decent” chance that a second lefty reliever could make the 12-man pitching staff to start the season. Girardi is also pretty sure that the Yankees will lose either 30-year-old Clay Rapada (0.00 ERA) or 23-year-old Cesar Cabral (1.74 ERA) if they do not make the roster. . . . The Yankees on Wednesday claimed veteran catcher Craig Tatum off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks because Austin Romine has suffered a setback in his recovery from lower-back inflammation. Romine, 23, likely will not be able to start the 2012 season in order to continue his rehab from the injury. Tatum is former catcher with the Baltimore Orioles and came up out of the Cincinnati Reds’ organization.
The Yankees return home on Thursday to play host to the Orioles.
Ivan Nova was originally scheduled to make the start but Girardi said that Nova will pitch in a minor-league game instead. Right-hander D.J. Mitchell will start that game. Veteran right-hander Jason Hammel will start for the Orioles.
Game-time will be at 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and locally by the YES Network.