Tagged: A.J. Burnett

Ibanez Ties It In 9th, Wins It In 12th As Yanks ‘Raul’

GAME 161

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 3 (12 INNINGS)

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman badly wanted to sign Raul Ibanez this winter but the front office told him he had to trim salary before he could. Cashman finally was able to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates the weekend before spring training opened to clear enough salary and Ibanez was signed.

That signing looks huge now because in the 161st game of the season Ibanez blasted a pinch-hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and then delivered a game-winning RBI single in the 12th as New York reduced its magic number to just one with a thrilling come-from-behind classic defeat over arch-rival Boston on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old outfielder first brought the paid crowd of 41,564 at Yankee Stadium to its feet when he stroked a low line-drive home run off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey into the fifth row of the right-field bleachers with Curtis Granderson aboard to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 tie.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team then managed to load the bases with one out in the same inning but Mark Teixeira, who spent all night dashing the team’s scoring hopes, and Robinson Cano could not deliver off reliever Mark Melancon.

So the game, played on a very chilly 62-degree and rainy evening, trudged on to the bottom of the 12th.

Things did not look promising when left-hander Andrew Miller retired Teixeira and Cano to begin the inning and Francisco Cervelli, pressed into service because manager Joe Girardi had pinch-run and pinch-hit for Russell Martin and Chris Stewart earlier in the contest, was making his first plate appearance of the season.

He also was down in the count 0-2 on the first two pitches. But Miller threw four straight pitches out of the strike zone to walk him. Granderson then came to the plate and he drew a four-pitch walk to advance Cervelli into scoring position.

Girardi was also forced to keep potential pinch-runner Chris Dickerson in the dugout because Cervelli was the last catcher on the roster.

But Girardi’s concerns became moot when Ibanez laced an 0-1 pitch into the hole between shortstop and third base. Cervelli raced around third and headed for home as Daniel Nava scooped the ball and threw it towards home plate. But Cervelli crossed the plate well before the ball arrived and the Yankees flooded the field to celebrate one of their most hard-fought comebacks of the season with the division title on the line.

The Yankees knew that the Baltimore Orioles had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 earlier on Tuesday. A Yankee loss would have hurtled them back into a flat-footed tie with the Orioles atop the American League East.

The Yankees can clinch their third division title in the past four seasons on Wednesday with a victory over the Red Sox in the final game of the regular season or if the Orioles lose to the Rays.

Derek Lowe (9-11) came on pitch two scoreless innings in the 11th and 12th to pick up the victory. Miller (3-2) took the loss.

Frustration as a word does not begin to tell the story of the evening for the Yankees.

They collected 11 hits and a walk over the first eight innings of the game but they failed to get any big hits to add to the one run they scored in the second inning off Red Sox starter Jon Lester.

With two out, Granderson reached first on an infield single and advanced to second when third baseman Pedro Ciriaco’s throw to get Granderson bounced into the stands. Eduardo Nunez, who started as the designated hitter instead of struggling Andruw Jones, delivered a hard-hit single off the glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias to score Granderson.

That run halved the deficit to 2-1 because the Red Sox jumped on rookie right-hander David Phelps early.

Jacoby Ellsbury laced a leadoff single and Dustin Pedroia, playing despite a fracture in his left thumb, then stroked an RBI double in the gap in right-center to score Ellsbury.

Pedroia advanced to third on a infield groundout off the bat of Nava and he scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Cody Ross.

However, Phelps pitched well the rest of the way. He left with one out in the sixth after giving up just two runs on three hits and two walks while he struck out four.

Lester, in addition to his teammates in the bullpen, kept walking the tightrope between trouble and disaster but he kept escaping thanks to some poor hitting by the Yankees with runners in scoring position:

  • In the first inning, Derek Jeter singled and and reached third one out later on a bloop single by Alex Rodriguez. However, Teixeira – still hobbling on a sore left calf – hit into an inning-ending double play.
  • In the third inning, Nick Swisher slapped a one-out double and  advanced to third on an infield single by Rodriguez. But, Teixiera again hit into an inning-ending double play.
  • In the fifth inning, Cano led off with a single and Nunez stroked a two-out double. Alas, Ichiro Suzuki lined a shot into center but right at Ellsbury to end the inning.
  • In the ninth, Bailey gave up a one-out double to Jeter after Ibanez’s game-tying home run. Swisher was intentionally walked and Rodriguez followed by drawing a walk to load the bases. However, Melancon entered the game and retired Teixeira on a broken-bat pop to shallow center and Cano grounded out weakly to Pedroia at second.
  • In the 11th inning, Swisher slapped an opposite-field single with two out off Vicente Padilla and Rodriguez followed with a blast to the warning track in center that Ellsbury was able to run down before he crashed into the wall.

Lester left after five innings having given up one unearned run on eight hits and one walk while he fanned one.

The Red Sox added to their lead in the top of the ninth when James Loney uppercut a 2-1 offering from Rafael Soriano in to the second deck down the line in right-field. The Red Sox and their beleaguered manager Bobby Valentine were figuring that it was the insurance run that would put the Yankees away with Bailey on the mound.

Ibanez had other ideas.

The Yankees ended up with 16 hits and five walks in the game and they stranded a total of 14 runners. Teixeira left nine runners on base in his six at-bats.

But none of that all matters much now because of Ibanez.

The Yankees, thanks to the Oakland Athletics’ 3-1 defeat of the Texas Rangers late Tuesday, now also hold claim to the best record in the American League at 94-67.  The Red Sox had their season record fall to 69-92.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ibanez entered the game in the ninth and ended up 2-for-3 with a home run and three very big RBIs. Since Sept. 22, Ibanez is 14-for-34 (.412) with five home runs and nine RBIs in largely a platoon role against right-handers. He is hitting .235 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs on the season. His single in the 12th was his 11th career walk-off hit.
  • The bullpen, with the exception of Soriano’s hiccup to Loney, was actually very good. In  6 2/3 innings, they gave up one run on five hits and two walks and struck out seven batters. Lowe was especially good in his two innings of work. In a game when the relievers needed to hold the Red Sox down long enough to wake up the bats, they did a very good job.
  • Girardi chose to go with Phelps in place of Ivan Nova and Nunez in place of Jones. Both moves paid off for the Yankees. Nunez was 2-for-3 with an RBI until Ibanez pinch-hit for him in the ninth and Phelps pitched into the sixth and kept the Yankees in the game. You have to give the manager credit for those moves.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Fans do have a right to question Girardi’s move to put Swisher second in the order with Rodriguez and Teixeira behind him. That left Cano, the team’s hottest hitter batting fifth. Teixera ended up 0-for-6 and he only got that weak pop to shallow center out of the infield in those at-bats. Teixera’s at-bats killed the Yankees all night long and it was Girardi’s fault. Shifting Suzuki to ninth did not seem to make sense either. Suzuki has owned Lester throughout his career.

ON DECK

The Yankees end their regular season with a chance to clinch the division and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a series sweep of the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda won his last start despite giving up 10 hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. He is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA this season against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with every hitter’s dream in Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA). Matsuzaka gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in three innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his last outing on Sept. 19. This likely will be the last start of his career for the Bosox, who can’t wait to shed his huge contract. He is 3-3 with a 5.52 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Advertisements

Yankees Outslug Blue Jays In Ugly But Key Victory

GAME 149

YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 7

Let’s make this perfectly clear. This game on Thursday is not going to go down as a Yankee Classic. With both teams combining for 17 runs on 18 hits, 13 walks, two hit batters, an error, two wild pitches and two passed balls, it likely could be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the either team.

But it was a victory for the Yankees and they will take it.

Ichiro Suzuki continued his hot hitting by driving in three runs and Nick Swisher blasted his third grand slam of the season as part of seven-run fourth inning as New York outslugged Toronto to give themselves a one-game lead in the American League East over the idle second-place Baltimore Orioles.

Phil Hughes (16-12) did not so much win this game as he did not lose it. He gave up four runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out nine batters in five innings to collect his team-leading 16th win of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, had to wait out soft-tossing left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-6) to throw a pitch within a neighboring area code of the strike zone before they drove him out of the game in the fourth.

The Blue Jays held a slim 2-1 lead in the fourth when Laffey issued a leadoff walk to Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson reached when second baseman Kelly Johnson treated his routine grounder as if it was a hand grenade.

Laffey then issued another one of the five free passes he handed out on the evening to Casey McGehee to load the bases for Suzuki, who started the night 7-for-8 in the series and had homered in his first at-bat off Laffey to lead off the third inning.

Suzuki brought most of the paid crowd of 40,511 at Yankee Stadium to their feet with a two-run double that gave the Yankees their first lead of the night. Little did they know they would hold the lead for the rest of the night.

Manager John Farrell mercifully ended Laffey’s evening in favor of right-hander Brad Lincoln. However, unlike the vehicles that sport his name, Lincoln was neither original or inspired.

Lincoln walked Jayson Nix to refuel the bases to full and he put it in gear to face Derek Jeter. But Jeter stroked a lined single into right to make it 4-2.

Lincoln then wished he could have put the whole thing in reverse or hit the brakes when Swisher smacked a fat 2-1 fastball into the third row of bleachers in right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard to put a serious dent in the Blue Jays’ night and give the Yankees what they thought might be some breathing room so they could rest up for their weekend series with the Oakland Athletics.

Laffey’s line read five runs given up (four earned) on just two hits but five walks and he struck out three in three-plus innings.

However, in his effort to get five innings in for his victory, Hughes surrendered a two-run home run to  to rookie Moise Sierra in the bottom of the fifth.

The Yankees got those two runs back in the bottom of the frame off reliever Brett Cecil on RBI singles by Nix and Jeter to make it 10-4.

After Derek Lowe pitched two shaky but scoreless innings, manager Joe Girardi called upon Cory Wade to pitch the eighth.

Wade spent most of the season at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because he was unable to get anyone out consistently at the major-league level this season. That should have been a huge red flag for Girardi.

Wade opened the third by giving up a solo home run to Johnson that still might be traveling. A single, a strikeout and a double later and Wade was gone in a New York minute. Joba Chamberlain then allowed a an RBI single to Brett Lawrie and a Mike McCoy drove in another run on a fielder’s choice groundout to make it 10-7 .

Chamberlain then gave up a single to Edwin Encarnacion to bring up the tying run in Adam Lind. I bet Girardi loved this part of the game.

Fortunately, Chamberlain got Lind to fly out to medium right and David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to collect his second save of the season.

It’s a good thing, too. Whew!

With the victory, the Yankees have now officially righted themselves and have won seven of their last eight games. Their season record improved to 86-63 and they have but 13 contests left to play. The Blue Jays are pretty much sucking on the tailpipe of their own Lincoln after having been swept in the series and they are now 66-82.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • All Suzuki did in the three-game series was go 9-for-12 (.750) with a home run, three doubles, four stolen bases, four runs scored and four RBIs. About the only thing he did not do was deliver margaritas in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar. Girardi has chosen to keep Suzuki in the lineup against left-handers because Andruw Jones seemingly has not gotten a big hit since Memorial Day.
  • Swisher struck out three times and walked in the game. However, his grand slam was the biggest hit of the game and it was a game the Yankees needed to win badly. Swisher hit a franchise record-tying 10th grand slam of the season and it was his third. It also was the seventh grand slam of his career. Swisher now has 21 home runs and 83 RBIs on the season. He has hit at least 20 home runs and driven 80 runs in all four of his seasons with the Yankees.
  • Hughes tied a franchise record when he struck out four batters in the fourth inning. Hughes struck out in order J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose and Lawrie, however, Hechavarria reached first on one of the two passed balls charged to Russell Martin on the evening. A.J. Burnett also did it for the Yankees on June 24, 2011 against the Colorado Rockies.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees scored 10 runs but Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with a walk. That snapped his modest four-game hitting streak and pushed him under the .300 mark this season. Cano is having an unusually quiet September, hitting just .279 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
  • Wade had pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances since his Sept. 1 recall but he was tagged hard by the Blue Jays. Wade is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA on the season after he was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA for the Yankees last season. It is not likely Wade will make the postseason roster and his days with the team appear numbered.
  • Martin’s two passed balls give him seven on the season, which is the most he has been charged with in any of his major-league seasons. The Yankees still rave about his defense but it is hard to imagine the Yankees will re-sign him after he thoroughly flopped at the plate this season.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira took swings in a batting cage at Yankee Stadium before the game on Thursday and he will travel to Tampa, FL, on Monday in order to rehab his left calf strain in some Instructional League games. Teixeira is targeting a Sept 27 return date so he can get in some game action before the playoffs.  . . .  The Yankees elected not to activate Brett Gardner on Thursday although the move is imminent in the next few days.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a three-game weekend series against the A’s beginning on Friday and they have some payback in mind after they were swept in Oakland.

The Yankees send to the mound left-hander CC Sabathia (13-6, 3.63 ERA). Sabathia has allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts covering 13 innings. Though the Yankees say he is fine, Sabathia has not pitched well since his return from the disabled list with left elbow soreness. He is 8-8 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the A’s.

Oakland will start right-hander Jarrod Parker (11-8, 3.51 ERA). Parker allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in seven innings in a victory over the Orioles on Saturday. He is 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his one career start against the Yankees.

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

 

Should Yankees Trade For Outfielder For Gardner?

I have been receiving some excellent questions lately and I thought it would be a great time to share some of them of with you all. So let’s dip into the old e-mail and see what is on the minds of some fellow Yankee fans.

Q: With Brett Gardner out do you think the Yankees should trade for another outfielder, preferably someone with some speed? Why not bring Eduardo Nunez back up and play him in left? (CiscoK)

A: Cisco, I would be with on board with a trade for an outfielder with some speed but the news concerning Gardner is actually pretty good. After getting an opinion on his balky right elbow from Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, FL, on Monday, Gardner received a confirmation of the diagnosis from Dr. Timothy Kremchek in Cincinnati on Thursday. The opinion is that Gardner should rest the elbow an additional three to four weeks and he does not require surgery. Gardner received a platelet-rich plasma and cortisone shot on Thursday and he will wear an elbow brace to ensure the elbow is rested properly. That is pretty good news. I have heard rumors about the Yankees may be interested in Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs and Chone Figgins of the Mariners but both those guys earn hefty paychecks and the Yankees want to cut payroll. So unless they can get a team to pay most of the tab like the Yankees did with A.J. Burnett, it does not make much sense. As for Nunez, he injured his thumb and is currently on the minor-league disabled list. So even if the Yankees wanted to call him up, they really can’t because of the injury.

Q: Why did the Yankees send David Phelps down instead of Freddy Garcia or Cody Eppley? (JIMMAJAMMA)

A: The Yankees decided to activate David Robertson on Thursday instead of waiting before Friday’s game against the Nationals in Wasington and Phelps was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The answer, JJ, does not come down to performance or who deserves to go. It is simply because Phelps is 25, he has options left and the Yankees really see him as a starter and not a reliever. Phelps was 1-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings over 13 games (two starts). He impressed the Yankees with aggressiveness and he really has a bright future ahead of him. Garcia (0-2, 7.68 ERA) is being paid more than $4 million this season and the Yankees are not going to eat that contract by sending him out or releasing him at age 35. Eppley is 1-1 with a 5.16 ERA but he has been much better in June than he was in May. He has a 2.08 ERA against right-handers and he gets exposed when he faces lefties (5.40 ERA). Eppley is a specialist like Clay Rapada is from the left side and he seems to have earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi.

Q: Why do the Yankees keep Francisco Cervelli at Scranton when Russell Martin can’t hit? (Martini88)

A: Martin has been hitting a lot better this month and, truthfully, the Yankees are in love with his pitch selection, defense and throwing. Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who know a bit about catching in the majors, think he is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. He does a great job of blocking pitches in the dirt and he does dissuade teams like the Angels and Rays from turning the game into a track meet. Backup Chris Stewart is out of options and he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without losing him as a free agent. The Yankees do not care what he hits and love his defense also. Frankly, Francisco Cervelli is at Scranton because the Yankees were not happy with his throwing accuracy. In 174 games in the major leagues, Cervelli has committed 20 errors and he has nailed base-runners at a subpar 19%. Stewart in 104 games has committed 10 errors and he has nailed base-runners at rate of 38 percent. I think that pretty much explains it.

Q: Are the Yankees paying a big price for not going after C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish? (Tex25Fan25)

A: I don’t think so. Their recent surge (16 out of their last 20 games) has been accomplished largely with the addition of Andy Pettitte and pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova pitching much better than they did in April. If you look at what has happened to the Rays’ staff the last few days against the Mets, I think you can see that even good pitchers can go through some struggles. It is much better to get them out of the way early and the Yankees starters seemed to have done that. Besides the Yankees, if you can believe it, are not looking to add payroll because of the more stringent salary cap rules that go into effect in 2014. As a result, the Yankees won’t be looking at big-ticket free agents unless they shed a lot of salaries to ckear room. So they only made a token bid on Darvish and they basically ignored Wilson. That will continue for the next three years.

Thank you for your interest in my blog and keep your questions coming.

 

Pettitte’s Return A Special Day In Yankees’ History

Retirement is a one-way trip to insignificance.
George Burns


When I first heard the news Andy Pettitte had decided to come out of retirement to pitch for the Yankees this season I thought it was a hoax. When Andy walked away from a $12 million contract offer after the 2010 season I thought the next time we would see him pitch was in an Old-Timer’s game at Yankee Stadium. But now that I know he did, indeed, sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract on Friday, I could not wipe the smile off my face.

The immediate thought is what manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are going to do to sort out a sudden glut of seven starting pitchers with only five spots available. As it is without Pettitte in the mix, you have Ivan Nova (16 wins), Michael Pineda (promising sophomore right-hander), Freddy Garcia (crafty veteran) and Phil Hughes (18 wins in 2010) vying for the three spots behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

It is a good thing the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and Mike Mussina has not planned a comeback or it could be a real mess.

But Pettitte obviously will need time to get into “game shape” and build his arm strength for the 2012 season and he will not be able to start with the Yankees by Opening Day. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman estimated it might take about seven weeks.

So at age 39, Pettitte will embark on an extended spring training and then he will likely venture to Triple-A Empire State (formerly Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) for a series of starts until the Yankees decide he is ready to join the Yankees. That could be mid-May or later.

So Girardi’s immediate plan is to just sort out the six starters he has now and wait to see what happens with Pettitte later.

If the decision were mine to make now I would give Nova a spot because he earned it with the 16 games he won as a rookie last season. He also has a very high upside in potential and the Yankees could use a young pitcher in their rotation.

Pineda deserves a spot based on his great showing last season but there is a big problem: His velocity on the fastball is down and the Yankees are concerned though they are not voicing it publicly. Perhaps the Yankees open the season allowing Pineda to try to recapture it in the major leagues, as they did with Hughes last season.

But they would be able to place him on the disabled list or just send him to Empire State to build arm strength at some point. It is a possibility.

Hughes looks like he is back from his arm woes. He threw four shutout innings on Friday and in his previous start at Ft. Myers, FL., against the Twins he was registering 92 miles per hour on the radar gun.

If Hughes wins the No. 5 spot, then Garcia would be in the bullpen ready to fill in if Pineda struggles or there is an injury.

Garcia’s stuff translates well to the bullpen because he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well. A team could do worse that to have a pitcher who was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in the bullpen.

As for when Pettitte is ready to join the 25-man roster, that is one of those “cross the bridge when we get it to it” deals for Girardi. A lot can happen in a 162-game schedule with injuries and ineffectiveness. As to who do you bump from the rotation for Pettitte, i have no idea how to answer that question now.

But what I do know is that this turn of events is very bad news for the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Red Sox have three very good starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), a big question mark (Daniel Bard) and a fifth starter to be selected out of a grab bags of misfits and free-agent sludge.

The Rays thought the y had the best rotation in the division with the likes of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie lefty Matt Moore. To tell you the truth they still could. However, the addition of Pettitte makes the difference between the two staffs somewhat insignificant.

Think of what Pettitte was able to do in 2010.

He was 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA and he was headed for a great season when a groin injury shelved him during the home stretch of the pennant race. In his two starts in the postseason Pettitte was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Then he walked away thinking his calling was at home with his family.

But coming to training camp this spring as a guest instructor apparently got Andy to thinking there was still something left in the tank. Of course, we all saw that. It wasn’t like Andy’s record was 4-14 with a 5.42 ERA and we all knew we could stick a fork in him because he was done.

No, Andy walked away when he was still one of the better left-handers in the American League and he is still the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), starts (42) and innings pitched (263). Pettitte is also third on the Yankees all-time win list (203) behind Hall-of-Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

What better way to spend a summer for Andy than joining Derek Jeter to get an up close and personal view of what could be fellow “Core Four” veteran Mariano Rivera in what could be his last season?

This is an historic and monumental day in Yankee history. One of the most successful pitchers from their golden era (1996 through 2000) is coming back to don No. 46 and reprrise that famous steel-eyed glare over the glove Pettitte made famous.

Yep, the Pettitte family’s temporary loss of their beloved father is certainly Yankee Universe’s gain. Welcome back, Andy!

 

Yankees To Open Spring Playing South Florida

The New York Yankees will open the spring with an exhibition game against the University of South Florida on Friday.

Manager Joe Girardi is planning to have his starters get one at-bat or two and right-hander Adam Warren will be the starting pitcher for the Yankees.

Warren, 24, is a non-roster player who was 6-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With the Yankees’ rotation loaded with six pitchers vying for five spots, Warren is obviously headed back to Triple A.

But Warren hopes to leave a good impression this spring with hopes of in-season call to the major leagues as a starter or reliever.

Girardi also announced the pitchers who will follow Warren to the mound. They are: Brett Marshall, Dan Burawa, Juan Cedeno, Graham Stoneburner, Ryan Pope and Kevin Whelan. All of them are non-roster pitchers who were invited to spring training.

The game, which begins at 1:05 p.m. EST at George M. Steinbrenner Field, will benefit the University of South Florida baseball program.

WALKING WOUNDED

The club has five players who have come up with injuries this spring.

Right-handed reliever Manny Delcarmen, another non-roster invitee, will miss four to five days with a slight strain of his right lat muscle.

Rookie catcher Austin Romine has been hobbled by inflammation in his back and the Yankees are being very cautious before letting him return to action.

First baseman and designated hitter Russell Branyan has been shelved with tightness in his back. Catcher Kyle Higashioka has been bothered with right shoulder soreness and right-handed reliever George Kontos has a slight oblique strain.

ALL EYES ON A.J.

Speaking of wounded, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Thursday that A.J. Burnett will undergo surgery in Pittsburgh on Friday after he suffered a fractured right orbital bone in his right eye in a bunting drill on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fl..

The Pirates do not have a timetable for his recovery at this time.

Burnett, 35, was acquired by the Pirates on Feb. 18 from the Yankees in return for two minor-league pitchers.

The Pirates scrapped Burnett’s scheduled start on Sunday and now face the likelihood with the setback in his spring preparation that he likely will not open the season on the team’s roster.

Burnett was injured while participating in the team’s bunting tournament. He fouled a ball from a pitching machine into his right-eye area and had to be immediately tended to by trainers.

On behalf of the Bottom of the Ninth blog and all the Yankee fans who still love and support A.J., we wish to express to A.J. and his family that we are are hoping the surgery goes well and he bounces back to pitch well for the Pirates this season.

BOMBER BANTER

Robinson Cano returned to camp in Tampa, FL, on Thursday after spending a few days in the Dominican Republic attending his grandmother’s funeral. She died of cancer at age 91. Cano will not play in a exhibition game until Sunday.  . . .  The Yankees’ annual team-building outing was held on Thursday at the Tampa Improv in Ybor City, FL. The team participated in improvisational skits and activities designed to loosen up the players and allow them to have some laughs together. Girardi said the trip was especially important for the young players in camp in helping them feel a part of the team.  . . .  Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said Thursday that the team has a goal to lower payroll to $189 million over the next two years and the development of the team’s young pitchers would help toward that goal.  He said the team’s current payroll is around $210 million.

 

2012 Looks Like More Trouble For ‘Red Flops’

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 4 – BOSTON RED SOX

A fellow Yankee fan once called the Red Sox the Red Flops because of their penchant for running out to big leads in the American League East and fading badly in the second half. After the famous “Collapse of 2011” the term seems apropos.

On Sept. 3, they were 84-54, a half game behind the Yankees and nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the season with a dreadful 6-18 record and missed the playoffs by a game. In Boston that is not an oops, it is an eruption and it cost manager Terry Francona his job and general manager Theo Epstein fled to the Chicago Cubs.

Looking to 2012 the Red Flops hired ego-driven Bobby Valentine as manager. Ben Cherington, an Epstein assistant, took over as GM. They even dismissed first-year pitching coach Curt Young in favor of Bob McClure to keep their starting pitchers from getting bagged in the clubhouse on Samuel Adams.

Of course, that is odd because McClure pitched most of his career with the beer capital of the world in Milwaukee.

There is no doubt the starting pitching let the Red Sox down in 2011. They scored runs and the bullpen was good until it got overtaxed. But has this team addressed the areas of weakness enough to win the division in 2012?

Well, it does not look good.

STARTERS

The Red Sox were unable to acquire any starter of significance this winter because they had to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and the team was already perilously close to the salary mark that would incur the luxury tax.

So they return to the field with two of the pitchers who aided in the collapse (Josh Beckett and Jon Lester), one pitcher who was hurt most of the 2011 season (Clay Buchholz) and two big question marks behind them. That seems hardly like a recipe for success.

Beckett, 31, returns as the team ace after a season in which he was 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. But an ankle injury late in the season forced him to fade like a typical Red Flop in September. He posted a 5.48 ERA in September. He also was in the center of the beer issue that drew the ire of teammates and the front office.

If Beckett wants to remain the ace he better start showing some leadership by example.

Lester, 28, is starting to look like the Red Sox version of Mike Mussina. He has all the talent and the pitches to be successful but he never takes that big step forward to be an elite pitcher. He was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA but he also slid in September. He had only two quality starts from Aug. 27 to the season finale and was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in the final month.

Buchholz, 27, made only 14 starts last season before ending up on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his back. He finished with a record of 6-3 and a 3.48 ERA. There is no doubt he was sorely missed last season because Epstein failed to stock the Red Sox with any depth and the team floundered after he was shelved on June 16.

The Red Sox other two starters were veteran right-handers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If Lester is like Mussina then Lackey is looking like the Red Sox version of A.J. Burnett. Signed as free agent before the 2010 season, Lackey has done nothing but disappoint Red Sox Nation with bad pitching. He was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 2010 but he got much worse in 2011 with a 12-12 mark and 6.41 ERA.

Red Sox fans have taken to calling him “Lacking.”

But there is good news for RSN, Lackey, 33, will not pitch at all in 2012 because he had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. There is no real guarantee Lackey will be any better in 2013, which will be the final year of his four-year contract. His days in Beantown look to be limited at this point.

Speaking of that, Red Sox fans also would like to see Matsuzaka, 31, gone after three injury-filled seasons in which he was a combined 16-15 with a plus 5.00 ERA in only 44 starts. Last season, he was shelved in June with a 3-3 record and a 5.30 ERA. Like Lackey he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

He possibly could return late in the season but there is no one banking on him coming back pitching like in he did in 2008 when he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is in the final year of lucrative six-year contract and the Red Sox seem to be counting the days they can part with him.

With Lackey and Dice-K on the shelf, the Red Sox have to come up with two starters and one of them is Daniel Bard, the team’s setup man the past two seasons. Bard, 26, does throw hard and he has two breaking pitches to mix in his arsenal.

But Bard also was the poster boy for the Red Sox collapse. Forced to pitch a lot to cover for weak starting pitching, Bard got hit hard and often in September, finishing the season 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and five blown saves. Only July 31, Bard had a 1.76 ERA.

Now the question is can he be an effective starter? It has not worked for relievers lately. It did not work for Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays has struggled to get past the fifth inning with the Blue Jays. Usually it works better when a starter becomes a reliever as it did with former Red Sox right-hander Dennis Eckersley.

Until Bard proves he can pitch deep into games consistently and does not fade late in the season as the innings pile up, he is big question mark in 2012.

For the fifth spot, the Red Sox issued an open casting call much like the Yankees did in 2011 with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

They are looking at holdovers Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller as possible candidates. Aceves, 29, was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA but made only four starts. He is better suited as a reliever, as he proved with the Yankees. Miller, a 26-year-old left-hander, was 6-3 but he had a horrible 5.54 ERA in 12 starts.

The Red Sox also signed former Yankee right-hander Ross Ohlendorf and three other right-handers including Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva to compete for the job this spring.

None of these candidates are going to impress the Red Sox faithful. They all have a lot of mileage on them and they all have not had much success in recent years.

This might be one of the weakest Red Sox rotations in many years and the lack of depth in it is the major problem. If Beckett, Lester or Buchholz are hurt, who steps up to replace them?

BULLPEN

The Red Sox allowed Jonathan Papelbon leave for the Philadelphia Phillies rather than pay him what he was worth as a closer for them over the past six seasons. The conventional wisdom was Bard would take over as the closer.

But the Red Sox made him a starter instead and opened up the job. They decided to fill it with 27-year-old right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

Bailey is coming off two injury-plagued seasons but is pretty darn good when he is healthy. Bailey is 7-10 with a career ERA of 2.07 and 75 saves in 84 chances.

There is no doubt Bailey is an excellent closer. The only question is of the Red Sox can keep him healthy and can Bailey adjust to the very small dimensions of Fenway as opposed to the expansive Coliseum.

The Red Sox also traded with the Houston Astros for yet another former Yankee reliever in Mark Melancon. (Can the signing of Tanyon Sturtze be far behind?). Melancon, 26, was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 out of 25 games for the lowly Astros last season. Melancon, who was touted years ago as the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera when he was in the Yankees’ minor-league system, will set up Bailey and can close if Bailey should revert to past form and pull up lame.

Speaking of lame, the Red Sox suffered a huge blow to their bullpen before pitchers reported to camp on Sunday because 30-year-old right-hander Bobby Jenks will miss more time when a pulmonary embolism was discovered in his lung. This was discovered after he had two back surgeries after pitching only 19 games last season. He is on the 60-day DL and he will be on a long road back to health.

Aceves also figures in the late innings because he is much more valuable in that spot.

The Red Sox got some use out of 29-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who was 4-4 with 4.73 ERA in 56 games last season. The lefty specialist was 26-year-old Franklin Morales, who was 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 50 appearances. The Red Sox are hoping Rich Hill will come back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow sometime this season.

The Red Sox think 24-year-old lefty Felix Doubront can take the second left-hander spot in the bullpen. He had no record and 6.10 ERA in 11 appearances last season. Doubront could also get a chance to start and he has some upside.

This bullpen is definitely in a state of flux. New personnel, new roles and there are some pitchers coming off injuries or currently rehabbing injuries. It is not a recipe for success.

Valentine and McClure have a lot of decisions to make in the spring. For the Red Sox to succeed they need an excellent bullpen. For now, it looks just mediocre.

STARTING LINEUP

The Red Sox were largely a four-man offense – a very good four-man offense but a four-man offense nonetheless – in 2011.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was as advertised. He hit .338 with 27 home runs and 117 RBIs and played Gold Glove defense. The Red Sox hope Gonzalez, 29, is the fulcrum of the Bosox attack for many years to come.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 season to re-establish himself in 2011. He hit .307 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs and also won a Gold Glove. Pedroia, 28, remains the spark-plug in the Red Sox engine. His grit and determination makes him the heart and soul of the team.

Designated hitter David Ortiz followed up a bounce-back 2010 season with another solid campaign in 2011. Ortiz, 36, hit .309 with 29 home runs and 96 RBIs. He is not the same feared hitter he was in his steroid days hitting behind Manny Ramirez but he is still good enough to help the offense.

The big surprise was center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played only 18 games in 2010 and was accused of milking his rib injury by some teammates. Ellsbury, 28, must have been angry because he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He hit .321 with easily a career-high 32 home runs and 105 RBIs from the leadoff spot. He also stole 39 bases.

To most Red Sox observers, Ellsbury was the team’s MVP and would have won the American League MVP if Justin Verlander of the Tigers had not.

The big disappointments in this lineup were Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis, who will be 33 when the season starts, still has not played any more than 147 games in a season. Last season, the combination of bursitis in his left hip and a sports hernia limited him to 120 games. He hit a disappointing .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and he did not play third base as well he played first base. Youkilis must stay healthy and return to form if the Red Sox are to make a move in 2012.

Left-fielder Crawford, 30, arrived in Beantown with 409 career steals and .293 career batting average. His seven-year, $142 million contract was the signing that limited the Red Sox from adding pitching this winter. He also proved he did not fit in well at Fenway. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs and only 18 stolen bases. He also proved weak in the field despite having won a Gold Glove with the Rays in 2010.

More bad news about Crawford: Late in the winter Crawford realized his left wrist required surgery and he is not likely to be able to play on Opening Day. Crawford will either turn his game around or become one of the biggest albatross signings in baseball history.

The Red Sox have shuffled the deck in right-field and shortstop this season.

The Red Sox released aging outfielder J.D. Drew and they used promising youngster Josh Reddick in the Bailey trade.

The Red Sox did obtain outfielder Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey deal and he is a left-handed hitter like Reddick. However, the 27-year-old has been a huge disappointment in Oakland. He is career .283 hitter but he lacks both power and speed.

Holdover Darnell McDonald, 33, was brought up last season and he hit .236 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 79 games. He could figure in an early platoon with Sweeney or win the job outright. Ryan Kalish, 23, hit .252 in 53 games and he will get a look also.

The Red Sox also picked up Cody Ross from the Giants. Ross, 31, bats right-handed and he figures to start n left-field until Crawford returns to health. Then he will shift to right in a platoon with either Sweeney or Kalish. Ross hit .240 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 2011.

Shortstop also was shuffled for 2012. Starter Marco Scutaro was shipped to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. Backup infielder Jed Lowrie was used in the Melancon trade with the Astros.

That leaves former Royals infielder Mike Aviles to start at the position. Aviles, 31, is a career .288 hitter but he hit only .255 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in 91 games with the Royals and Red Sox.

The Jason Varitek era in Boston is officially over. Varitek was not re-signed and Jarrod Saltalamacchia enters his second season as the unquestioned starter for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, 26, is coming off a so-so 2011 season. He hit .235 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs. He also struck out 119 times in 358 at-bats so he is not exactly a selective hitter. The Red Sox also wish he would continue to improve his defense and throwing.

BENCH

The Red Sox will likely keep Ross, McDonald and either Sweeney or Kalish as backup outfielders. McDonald is valuable because he play all three spots and he is better in center.

The Red Sox picked up former Twins infielder Nick Punto as a reserve at second, short and third. Punto, 34, hit .278 with one home run and 20 RBIs with the Cardinals last season. Having Punto means the Red Sox can allow 22-year-old shortstop Jose Inglesias another season to develop at Triple-A. Inglesias can field but has not developed much as a hitter.

The team also picked up former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Rays. Shoppach, 31, hit .176 with 11 homers and 22 RBIs with the Rays and he replaces Varitek as the backup catcher. He is solid defensively.

This is a serviceable bench but I would hardly call it talent-laden or special.

ANALYSIS

The Epstein-Francona era is over. The main architects of the only two World Series championships in the last 96 years have fled. They left a financial constraint on the team that prevented them from addressing their crisis in starting pitching, the bullpen and in right-field.

The Crawford and Lackey signings along with the trades for since-departed Victor Matinez and Gonzalez left this very dollar-rich team weak in minor-league prospects and unable to find enough wiggle room to sign what they needed without breaking way past the level where the luxury tax kicks in.

This limits what the Red Sox will actually do this season. This is team that already is beset by injuries (Lackey, Dice-K, Crawford, Jenks) and they are severely lacking in depth before spring training has even started. It is hard to see how they find the money to fix what needs fixing if the ship should begin to flounder.

The Red Sox will only go as far their offense and their top three starters take them this season.

With the Rays a bit flawed it is easy to see both the Red Sox and Rays battling for second place behind the Yankees in 2012. Because of what happened to the Red Sox last season it hard to see how it could happen again. But that is what I am predicting.

I just have a sneaking suspicion that the Rays pitching will be the reason the Red Sox will finish third. The only question is can Valentine get out of town before RSN tries to lynch him. Good luck, with this bunch, Bobby. You are going to need it – along with a lot of Maalox.

Just call them the Red Flops.

 

Yankees Open Camp With Few Jobs Up For Grabs

2012 ROSTER ADDITIONS: Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Corey Wade, Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada, Raul Ibanez.

2012 ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS: A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Joba Chamberlain (starting season in disabled list) , Jorge Posada (retired).

Sunday is the day pitchers and catchers are required to report to the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL. To most teams the spring is a time where young players and veteran free agents can dream about making the roster with a good spring.

But not this year and not in the Yankees’ camp.

If the A.J. Burnett trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates is approved and the Yankees do sign free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez and corner infielder Eric Chavez, the Yankees would have a roster with very few jobs “up for grabs” and the 25-man roster – barring injury – is a foregone conclusion at this point.

The starting rotation has been bolstered by the trade for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and the free-agent signing of 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. That gives the Yankees a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda and Kuroda. The No. 5 spot will be a competition between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. But it is pretty clear that if Hughes can prove his shoulder issues that plagued him in 2011 are in the past he will be the favorite to win the job.

That would leave Garcia in the bullpen and the Yankees also have bought themselves a season in order to develop promising young starters Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level.

Garcia will join a strong bullpen that includes the greatest closer in the history of baseball (Mariano Rivera), the American League’s best set-up man in 2011 (David Robertson) and the American League saves leader in 2010 (Rafael Soriano).

Add to that core left-hander Boone Logan, right-hander Corey Wade and a likely a second left-hander in a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral and 30-year-old journeyman Clay Rapada, and you pretty much have the bullpen complete even without rehabbing right-hander Joba Chamberlain.

Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery in July and has made remarkable progress since then. However, the Yankees will not push Chamberlain to return early. They do not expect him to be able to pitch for the Yankees until June or July.

The bullpen, even without Chamberlain, was a strength of the team last season and promises to be just as strong or better in 2012.

The Yankees also did not make any changes in their starting position players for 2012. It is the same crew that led the Yankees to the best record in the American League (97-65).

The Yankees picked up the option on Russell Martin and he returns at catcher. The rest of the infield has Mark Teixeira at first, Robinson Cano at second, Derek Jeter at shortstop and Alex Rodriguez at third. The outfield maintains Nick Swisher in right, Curtis Granderson in center and Brett Gardner in left.

The only major change looks to be at designated hitter. Last season the Yankees used Jorge Posada in that role. With Posada retired the job looked to be Jesus Montero’s. However, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman opted to trade Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

The Yankees are now looking to fill that DH spot with former Phillies outfielder Ibanez. Ibanez, 39, likely will platoon with right-handed-hitting outfielder  Andruw Jones, who was retained after he had an excellent second half in 20111.

The rest of the bench could also be same as it was last season.

Francisco Cervelli figures to be the backup catcher again if he can prove that he has recovered from another concussion he suffered last September. Rookie Austin Romine, 22, is ready for the major leagues from a defensive standpoint but he needs to work on becoming a better hitter in order to vault past Cervelli.

He will get a look this spring, but he figures to be heading to Triple-A for a year of seasoning.

The Yankees also will have middle infielder Eduardo Nunez back this season. Nunez, 24, impressed the Yankees with his hitting and his base-stealing ability last season. But Nunez is a nightmare in the field. Despite playing only half the time, Nunez led the team in errors and he has to show some improvement there to stick.

The Yankees still have Ramiro Pena and they have invited veteran utility man Bill Hall to compete with Nunez but it is Nunez’s job to lose.

The Yankees also are likely to re-sign Chavez to back up at first and third base. Chavez, 34, had an impressive spring in 2011 but his season – just like the previous four – was cut short by injury. He fractured a bone in his left foot and missed 2 1/2 months. But the Yankees like having a former Gold Glove winner and lefty swinger at first and third base.

The Yankees still have veteran outfielders Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell and they have invited defensive wizard Dewayne Wise as a non-roster invitee this spring. But none of them figure to make a dent on the roster.