Tagged: Aaron Cook

Granderson Powers Yankees To Remain Atop East

GAME 142

YANKEES 5, RED SOX 4

Just when it looks like the Yankees’ grip on first place in the American League East appears to be slipping the team seems to right itself in time to claim a narrow victory. Such was the case on Wednesday at Fenway Park.

Curtis Granderson smacked a pair of home runs and the Yankees’ bullpen bent some but did not break as New York kept its share of first place with a huge victory over Boston.

The Yankees scored three runs in the fourth inning to take an early 3-0 lead and they never relinquished it. But getting from point A to point B proved to be a bit tougher than it should have against a Red Sox team that is playing out the string of a season in which they are in last place in the division and 16 1/2 games back.

Granderson opened the scoring with a titanic moon shot home run over the Red Sox bullpen in right-center off journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (3-10) to lead off the fourth.

After Alex Rodriguez blooped a single into center, Robinson Cano launched a high shot of his own into the Green Monster seats in left-center. It was the 30th home run of the season for the All-Star second baseman and it is a new career high for him.

The Red Sox drew first blood off rookie right-hander David Phelps (4-4) in the bottom of the fourth. Dustin Pedroia stroked a one-out double off the Green Monster in left-center and James Loney rolled a single through the hole between first and second base into right-field to score Pedroia.

But the Yankees tacked on a pair of runs against former teammate Alfredo Aceves in the seventh on a leadoff single by Derek Jeter and Granderson followed with his second home run into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. The two home runs give Granderson 37 home runs on the season, which leads the team.

Phelps left the game with two out and two on on the sixth inning. But he really earned his pitching stripes after he opened the fifth by surrendering a leadoff triple by Jarrod Salatalamacchia. Phelps stranded the Bosox catacher by striking out Daniel Nava, inducing Scott Podsednik to hit an infield popup and fanning Jose Iglesias looking.

The bullpen for the Yankees, however, was another story.

With one out in the seventh Cody Eppley gave up a ground-rule double to Saltalamacchia. Boone Logan came in to relieve Eppley and he gave up a double off the wall in center that Saltalamacchia misjudged and failed to score.

Joba Chamberlain came in for Logan and promptly gave up an infield groundout off the bat of pinch-hitter Mauro Gomez that plated Saltalamacchia (who must have breathed a sigh of relief heard all the way in the Bronx). Then pinch-hitter Mike Aviles doubled off the wall in left to score Gomez to make it 5-3.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, struggled to put additional runs across by doing what they do best: Choking with runners in scoring position. They left 10 men on base on the night and they were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Closer Rafael Soriano was summoned to relieve David Robertson with a Loney on second and two out in the eighth. He escaped further trouble by striking out Cody Ross looking on a 3-2 pitch that Ross thought was low. Ross actually waved the bat menacingly at home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez before he was tossed from the game.

Boston skipper Bobby Valentine had to restrain Ross to keep him from bumping Marquez. But Valentine must have an important date with his clubhouse office mirror because he also got ejected by Marquez just before the ninth inning started. It was Valentine’s sixth ejection of the season and a new Boston record for managers.

It is about all Bobby can really be stoked about this season.

Valentine could not view first-hand a bottom of the ninth inning in which Saltalamacchia launched a home run off Soriano into the bleachers in right to lead off the inning. He also had to watch on TV as Aviles reached first on an infield hit off the glove of Soriano with two out.

The Fenway faithful among the 37,230 in attendance were virtually in a frenzy. Bobby smiled into his trusty mirror.

That brought up the potential winning run in last night’s hero Jacoby Ellsbury. But Ellsbury’s string of good fortune eluded him when he bounced the first pitch right into Soriano’s glove and Soriano dispatched Ellsbury and the reeling “Dead Sox” with an easy underhand toss to Nick Swisher for the final out.

Though it might not have been pretty, Soriano earned his 37th save in 40 opportunities this season.

Coupled with Baltimore’s 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees remain in first place for the 85th consecutive day and they are tied with the Orioles with identical 80-62 records. The Rays fell three games back. The Red Sox are now 64-79 and headed for oblivion.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson seems to be showing signs of coming out of his long September slide. He is 5-for-11 (.455) with three home runs and eight RBIs in his last three games. Of course, Granderson did strike out two more times, which gives him 170 on the season, second in the American League to Adam Dunn.
  • Phelps pitched extremely well in a game the Yankees desperately wanted to win. He gave up one run on five hits and a walk and he struck out five in 5 2/3 innings. It is a shame but Phelps may not get another start this season because Andy Pettitte is expected to take his place in the rotation next week.
  • Cano’s home run gave him a personal high with 30 (he hit t 29 in 2010) but he remains some 43 RBIs shy of 2011 high of 118. Cano only has 77 RBIs this season mostly because he is hitting a career low .223 against left-handers and he is hitting just .235 with runners in scoring position.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Eppley, Logan, Chamberlain and Soriano looked shaky in a game the Yankees should have breezed through. In 3 1/3 innings, the bullpen gave up three runs on six hits (four of them doubles and one homer) and they actually allowed the Red Sox back into the game. They also faced the possibility of letting the Red Sox tie it or win it in the ninth. That is just plain bad.
  • Boston pitchers used Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart, who were batting eighth and ninth, respectively, as escape hatches out of even bigger innings. They were 0-for-6 and they combined to strand nine base-runners.
  • The 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position line speaks for itself. The Yankees were able to put the leadoff batter on in six consecutive innings from the third through the eighth innings. They only scored runs on the Cano and Granderson home runs in the fourth and seventh innings. So they squandered a lot of chances to pad the lead and let Boston have a chance to mount a comeback, which they did.

BOMBER BANTER

Jeter left the game in the eighth inning after he injured his left ankle trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended the inning. Jeter was removed from the game by manager Joe Girardi, but Jeter vowed he will be in the lineup in the Boston series finale on Thursday. Jeter also revealed he has been battling thorough a deep bone bruise on his left shin.  . . .  The Yankees announced that right-hander Ivan Nova will come off the 15-day disabled list on Saturday and will start in place of Freddy Garcia against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Nova has been sidelined since Aug. 21 with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Garcia will now pitch out of the bullpen after he was 0-1 with a 7.64 ERA over his last four starts.  . . .  Pettitte threw a 55-pitch simulated game on Wednesday at Fenway Park and he likely will make a start next week for the Yankees. Pettitte has not pitched since June 27 when he fractured his left ankle. Pettitte almost certainly will replace Phelps in the rotation in order to prepare the 40-year-old left-hander for some potential starts in the postseason.

ON DECK

The Yankees will hope to win the rubber game of their three-game series with the “Red Flops” on Thursday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (14-12, 4.13 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off a victory over the Orioles on Friday in which he gave up three runs (two earned) in six innings. Hughes is 4-6 with a 5.51 ERA in his career against the Bosox, but he won his last start against them at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 17.

Left-hander Felix Doubront (10-8, 5.21 ERA) will take the hill for Boston. Doubront is 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA since the All-Star break, which likely is because Doubront pitched 134 innings this season and he has not thrown more than 129 1/3 innings since 2008. He is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

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Yankees’ 3 Homers Cooks Bosox’s Goose In Bronx

GAME 99

YANKEES 10, RED SOX 3

The Boston Red Sox are like a cockroach who is on its back with its legs swinging like crazy to stay alive as a huge boot is poised to rub out its very existence. The New York Yankees are that boot and on Friday they came  a step closer to bringing it down on the helpless insect.

Curtis Granderson blasted a grand slam home run and Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin both stroked two-run shots as New York demolished Boston in front of an ebullient crowd of 49,571 at Yankee Stadium.

Phil Hughes pitched around the three solo home runs he allowed to complete a solid seven innings to earn his 10th victory of the season. Hughes (10-8) gave up three runs on five hits and one walk and fanned five batters en route to raising his record to 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his 10 starts since July 1.

Hughes was touched for a solo home run in the first inning by Dustin Pedroia that gave the Red Sox a short-lived 1-0 lead. Hughes later surrendered solo shots to Carl Crawford in the third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the fourth but recovered to retire 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to take advantage of a Red Sox starting rotation that entered the game with 12th-ranked staff ERA in the American League.

Journeyman 33-year-old right-hander Aaron Cook (2-4) was greeted rudely with three runs in the opening inning, two of them coming on a two-run home run by Ibanez on a pitch that was actually about neck high on the outside corner. However, Ibanez was able to tomahawk the pitch and line it into the right-field bleachers for his 13th homer of the season.

Ibanez’s at-bat would never have occurred if Mark Teixeira had not beat out a potential inning-ending double-play grounder that scored Granderson to tie the game.

Two innings later, Derek Jeter and Granderson started the inning with back-to-back singles. After a fielder’s choice moved the pair up a base, Teixeira drove in his second run of the game with a sacrifice fly to left.

The next inning, Ichiro Suzuki, who was making his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes, lined a one-out single and Martin followed by smacking a low line-drive shot into the left-field bleachers to give the Yankees a 6-3 lead.

Cook left after four innings, having given up six runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out one.

The Yankees removed all hope of a late rally by the Red Sox with four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off former Yankee right-hander Mark Melancon.

Andruw Jones led off the inning with a double to the gap in right-center. Melancon then hit Eric Chavez with his next offering. After a pair of fielder’s choice outs left Suzuki at second and Martin at first, Melancon walked Jeter on a 3-2 pitch.

Granderson then launched a 1-0 fastball deep into the bleachers in right-center to clear the bases and give the Yankees a seven-run margin the Red Sox knew they could not overcome.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their record to a major-league best 60-39 and they now lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by 8 1/2 games. The Red Sox, meanwhile have lost six of their past seven games and they are 11 1/2 games out in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes now has been tagged for 25 home runs at Yankee Stadium this season, which is tied for the most in the majors. However, all three were solo shots and Hughes only gave up two other hits in the game and both were in the first inning after Pedroia’s homer. Hughes ended that inning by fanning Saltalamacchia. Hughes has registered 58 strikeouts in his last 68 2/3 innings.
  • Granderson’s home run was the Yankees’ seventh grand slam of the season and it was Granderson’s 28th home run overall. Granderson was 3-for-5 in the game and in his last five games he is 8-for-22 (.364) with three home runs and six RBIs. Granderson also moved into second on the team in RBIs with 58.
  • Ibanex entered the game 3-for-20 (.150) in his last six games but was 1-for-2 with two walks and a strikeout. His home run was only his fourth since May 28.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing! Hughes was solid and the Yankees used three homers to score 10 runs and they beat their arch-rival in a very decisive fashion. So I can’t complain about a thing.

BOMBER BANTER

Nick Swisher took batting practice and ran the bases on Friday before the game. But he did not start and only was available as a pinch-hitter, manager Joe Girardi said. Swisher has missed the past six games with a strained left hip flexor. It is possible that Swisher could start in Saturday’s game depending on how he feels.  . . .  Right-handed reliever Joba Chamberlain threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium before Friday’s game and he is scheduled to make his next rehab appearance for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. Chamberlain is poised to return to the Yankees soon after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and suffering an open dislocation of his right ankle this spring.

ON DECK

The Yankees are now 6-1 this season against the Red Sox as they continue their weekend series with Boston on Saturday.

The Yankees could deal another knockout blow to the Red Sox with ace left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) on the mound. Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and could have won his 11th game if Rafael Soriano had not blown a save against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Sabathia is 7-9 with a 4.14 ERA lifetime against the Bosox.

The Red Sox will counter with struggling left-hander Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Lester is coming off the worst start of his major-league career. He was blasted for four home runs and 11 runs against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. Lester also has lost his only start against the Yankees this season at Fenway Park on July 8. He is 8-4 with a 4.33 in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Yankees Poised To Stick Fork In Red Sox Season

The New York Yankees welcome their old pals, the Boston Red Sox, to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season beginning on Friday. The Dead Sox, as they are being referred to many Boston circles, are limping in having lost five of their last six games and are 10 1/2 games back in last place in the American League East. This series is pretty much their season. If they get swept, it’s over. If they sweep, there is still a glimmer of hope. But in some ways the Red Sox have the look of Custer at Little Big Horn, the Texas Army at The Alamo and the Red Sox in September 2011. Here is why they will fail this weekend:

PITCHING IS KING

Looking at the pitching matchups this weekend does not instill much confidence in Boston.

Journeyman right-hander Aaron Cook (2.3, 3.50 ERA) will open the series for Red Sox. Cook, 33, is a symbol of the inability of the Red Sox to build a starting rotation this season. In past years the Red Sox would trade for a Josh Beckett and sign free agents like Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey while they developed young stars like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But with the team’s record 13-24 in games started by Beckett and Lester this season it really has not mattered much what three pitchers follow them in the rotation. Buchholz is 8-3 with an elevated 4.93 ERA and he has been hampered by injuries for a good part of the year.

Lackey is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Dice-K came back from the same surgery only to make five ill-fated starts with an 0-3 record and 6.65 ERA before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka has made only 49 starts since the 2008 season in which he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The Red Sox have their own version of Carl Pavano, collecting huge paychecks while he constantly rehabs.

That is why the Red Sox have been forced to use Cook and Felix Doubront in their rotation. Doubront is 12-7 with a 4.62 ERA but he has become less effective as the innings have piled up. His ERA has steadily risen all season and was 5.83 in June.

So Cook enters this game actually as the the team’s most effective starter lately. He has a 2.79 ERA in July. But he also is 0-2 in his three July starts, which means he has not got much in the way of run support.

The Red Sox also will be facing right-hander Phil Hughes, who has rediscovered his 2010 form this season. Hughes is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA, however, those numbers are misleading.

Hughes is 5-3 with a 2.77 ERA in his last nine starts and he has issued only 15 walks while striking out 53 in his last 61 2/3 innings. Add to that, the Red Sox have been outscored 43-17 in their last six games and you have the makings of a very ugly opening night for them in the Bronx.

The Red Sox will just have to hope they score enough runs early to keep Cook in the game and get Hughes out of it early. In other words, a typical Red Sox-Yankees four-hour marathon where the total of runs scored is about 24. But I do not think that is going to happen on Friday.

The Red Sox are without their Yankee kryptonite in designated hitter David Ortiz. Without his bat, the Red Sox become less potent against the Yankees. In a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday, the Red Sox collected 10 hits against fill-in starter Scott Feldman. But they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base.

The Yankees do come in having lost five of their last seven and they are without Alex Rodriguez and possibly may be without Nick Swisher.

But the Yankees also come back home for this series and home is where they shine.

The addition of Ichiro Suzuki could make a big impact in this series with is bat, his legs and his glove. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira come into the series hot and the Yankees are getting contributions from their bench in Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix.

Look for Game 1 to be close early but the Yankees will eventually burn Cook and serve him up as a special at NYY Steak over the weekend.

TOO MANY CCs

Even if the Red Sox do succeed on Friday, they will have to face CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30) on Saturday. That is bad news for the lefty-dominant Red Sox lineup of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who stinks as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees, meanwhile, face Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). In Lester’s last three starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 22 runs (21 earned) on 25 hits and 10 walks over 12 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 15.32. Ouch!

The word from scouts is that Lester decided to develop a cutter a few years ago. He used it to compliment his other pitches, which were nasty. He was able to control both sides of the plate and he was 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA last season despite a September slide that coincided with the epic collapse of the Red Sox.

But this season, Lester has become cutter crazy and it cost him in velocity and command of his fastball. Hughes found the same thing happened to him in 2011 and he junked his cutter this season. But Lester has tried to carry on with his same arsenal and he is getting pounded harder than a herd of cattle in a butcher shop.

In his last start against the Yankees on July 8 at Fenway Park, Lester lasted just 4 1/3 innings and he surrendered five runs (four earned) on nine hits and a walk.

The bottom line is Lester is just not the Lester that Red Sox Nation is used to seeing dominate lineups. He is headed for a big fall on Saturday.

COUP DE GRACE

The Red Sox will face on Sunday the Yankees’ best pitcher, of late, in Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.34 ERA).

Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA in last 11 starts. Though he did struggle against Boston at Fenway Park, Kuroda has proven to be a much more effective pitcher at Yankee Stadium this season. He is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA in the Bronx.

That is bad news for the Red Sox, who have not announced a mound opponent for Kuroda.

Doubront defeated the Yankees at Fenway on July 7 but he also was shelled for six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings against the Rangers on Monday. The Red Sox may, instead, call upon Buchholz to pitch the finale. He gave up just one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings against the Rangers on Tuesday.

If Buchholz pitches on Sunday it indicates that manager Bobby Valentine is desperate. He has to be if the Red Sox pick up the Sunday New York Times facing a 12 1/2-game deficit to the Yankees.

The game will be very close on Sunday but the Yankees have a decided edge on the mound. They should win in a very close game.

IN THE END

The truth is that the seeds of the 2012 season for the Red Sox were sown in the aftermath of their historic collapse in September 2011. The departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein have left Valentine and new general manager Ben Cherington with a mess.

He has some prima donnas like Beckett and Lackey and a huge albatross of a contract to Crawford tied around his neck. The team can’t rebuild only through free agency because they are right up against the edge of having to pay the luxury tax.

They could start shipping high-priced underachievers out and let their free agents like Ortiz walk. But there are so many holes on this roster it looks like Swiss cheese.

Young talent the Red Sox are hoping to develop is in short supply and that is really the biggest problem they have going forward. They likely would be better off with a roster purge and rebuild effort. But that also will mean they have to be candid with Red Sox Nation that they will not be competitive for some time.

That is hard sell. But after this weekend, it could be quite likely you will see Beckett go and others will follow.

The Curse may be over but it might be a long, long time before we see a Red Sox team capable of competing with the Yankees.

To us Yankee fans, that is just fine.

 

Yanks ‘Nix’ Mariners With Bases-Clearing Double

GAME 98

YANKEES 5, MARINERS 2

With the Yankees having lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez for at least four weeks with a fractured left hand, speculation is running rampant that the Yankees will trade for a replacement. However, Jayson Nix might have convinced the front office to delay those plans.

Nix was called upon to pinch-hit in the top of eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out with the Yankees trailing the Mariners 2-1. Nix promptly laced a 2-2 fastball from Shawn Kelley to clear the bases as New York rallied late to defeat Seattle on Wednesday at Safeco Field.

Nix was hitting .235 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 85 at-bats when manager Joe Girardi sent him to the plate in place of designated hitter Raul Ibanez to face left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge (1-1). But Mariners manager Eric Wedge elected to replace Luetge with the right-handed Kelley.

Nix battled Kelley to a 2-2 count before slapping his three-run double in the gap in left-center to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.

After Kelley walked Eric Chavez intentionally and Andruw Jones struck out, Russell Martin padded the Yankees’ lead to 5-2 with a lined single to left to score Nix.

David Phelps (2-3) pitched 1 1/3 innings of spotless relief, fanning two batters, to pick up the victory in relief. David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano tossed a scoreless ninth to pick his 26th save in 28 opportunities this season.

The victory allowed the Yankees to clinch the three-game series with the Mariners and salvage what has been a costly 2-5 West Coast road trip.

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead on the Mariners when Derek Jeter blasted a one-out solo home run in the first inning off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

But Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova walked John Jaso on four pitches to load the bases with one out in the first inning and then he missed low with a 3-2 pitch – the 10th of the at-bat – to Kyle Seager to allow the Mariners to tie it up.

Mike Carp then slapped a grounder to Mark Teixeira but Teixeira was unable to turn it into a double play because of an errant throw to Jeter at the second base bag and the Mariners were able to take a 2-1 lead.

The score stayed that way because the Yankees were unable to produce a hit with runners in scoring position off a less-than-overpowering Iwakuma.

Iwakuma gave up only one run but surrendered six hits and three walks while striking out three in five innings. The Yankees did not even manage to get one hit or one walk off relievers Oliver Perez and Josh Kinney over the next two innings.

But Kinney opened the eighth inning by plunking Jeter in the left thigh with the first pitch.

Luetge was summoned and Robinson Cano and Teixeira greeted him with back-to-back singles to load the bases. Curtis Granderson then fouled out for the first out and set in motion the managerial moves that brought Nix to the plate with the game on the line.

Nova only gave up two runs on two hits in his five-plus innings of work. However, he walked six batters while striking out five. He left the game in the sixth inning after opening the inning by walking Jaso on four pitches for the third time and then issuing a second walk to Seager.

But Clay Rapada bailed Nova out by inducing Carp to hit into a double play and Phelps stranded Jaso on third by fanning Casper Wells.

The Yankees managed to keep the Mariners hitless for 7 1/3 innings after Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero singled off Nova with one out in the first inning. They did not get a hit again until Wells singled on a 0-2 pitch with two out in then ninth off Soriano.

But Soriano fanned Carlos Peguero to end the game.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 59-39 and they increased their lead in the American League East on the second-place Baltimore Orioles to eight games. The Mariners fell to 47-53.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nix’s clutch pinch-hit three-run double was his biggest hit since he was called up from Triple-A in early May. The Yankees were stranding runners in scoring position all day long and Nix was the unlikeliest hero. Give Girardi credit for choosing to remove Ibanez in favor of the weaker hitting Nix, which forced Wedge to bring in Kelley. Nix could see a lot of playing time now, barring a trade, as part of platoon at third base with Chavez to replace Rodriguez.
  • Phelps, 25, has looked very impressive in his last four appearances with the Yankees (covering two separate stints). He is 1-0 with an 0.93 ER. Phelps has given up only one run on two hits and three walks and struck out an amazing 17 batters in 9 2/3 innings. The Yankees very much needed another power arm in the bullpen and Phelps is providing it.
  • Jeter, batting in the second spot behind Ichiro Suzuki, was 3-for-4 and with an RBI and two runs scored. In his last nine games, Jeter is 12-for-32 (.375) with a home run, two RBIs and six runs scored. He has raised his season average to .311.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova, despite the fact Jaso entered the game just 1-for-5 against him, decided to not throw a single strike to him in any of his three at-bats. The walk with two out in the third inning did not hurt. But walking Jaso in the first was followed by a walk to Seager to force in a run. Nova walked Jaso and Seagar to open the sixth and that ended his outing. The six walks in five-plus innings cost him a potential victory and it ended his day early because of his high pitch count.
  • Jones, pressed into service against a right-hander because of Nick Swisher’s injury, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and he left five runners on base. Since his three-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 17, Jones is two for his last 18 at-bats (.111) with 10 strikeouts. His season average has dipped to .224.
  • Ibanez was not much better than Jones. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and stranded two runners. In his last five games, Ibanez is 3-for- 19 (.158) with one RBI and five strikeouts. His season batting average has slipped to .235.

BOMBER BANTER

Rodriguez’s broken left hand was fitted for a splint on Wednesday and he is scheduled to undergo an exam on Thursday with team doctor Christopher Ahmad. There is no timetable established for his return. Rodriguez suffered the injury in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game when he was struck by a pitch from right-hander Felix Hernandez. Rodriguez was the third batter Hernandez had hit with a pitch in the game. The Yankees placed Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list and recalled utility infielder Ramiro Pena from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  Swisher said he hopes to be able to start in Friday”s game after missing the last five games with a strained left hip flexor. Swisher said he had no problems running in the outfield at Safeco Field before the game and he also was able to take some swings in the batting cage.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday to lick their wounds, physical and otherwise, before opening a weekend home series against a slumping Boston Red Sox team on Friday.

Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Hughes gave up just two runs on three hits and one walk and struck six batters over 7 2/3 innings in a game which the Yankees scored him just one run in a tough-luck loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. Hughes is 2-6 with a 6.49 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with slop-tossing right-hander Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50 ERA). Cook gave up five runs (three earned) on five hits over 6 1/3 innings in a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday. He is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in his only meeting with 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 the YES Network.

 

Bosox Rally In Final Two Frames To Tie Yankees

GAME 20

YANKEES 4, RED SOX 4 (9 INNINGS)

If the quote “a tie is like kissing your sister” applies than the Yankees probably feel like they lip-smacked the ugliest sister they have in the Red Sox.

Jason Repko laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Ryan Sweeney with one out in the ninth inning as Boston overcame a 4-0 lead in the final two innings to tie New York on Wednesday night at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

If Yankee fans want a culprit for blowing the big lead, look no further than right-handed reliever Cory Wade. Wade gave up three runs on four hits (three of them long doubles) in a less-than-stellar two-thirds of an inning.

Juan Cedeno struck out Josh Kroeger with a tying run on second to end the eighth, however, he ran into trouble in the ninth by allowing a leadoff single by Sweeney. George Kontos entered the game and after one out, Mike Aviles slapped a double off the left-field wall to setup Repko’s squeeze bunt that tied the game.

The Yankees built their four-run lead with two runs off Red Sox starter Aaron Cook in the fourth inning, keyed by a RBI double by a red-hot Curtis Granderson and RBI single by Andruw Jones.

They added two runs in the fifth off of former Yankees right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. Brandon Laird led off the frame with a double, Jose Gil singled to right to advance Laird to third. Then with one out, Doug Bernier rolled a single into right to score both runners.

Yankees right-hander Adam Warren started the game and pitched an excellent four innings. Warren, 24, blanked the Bosox on two hits and no walks and he fanned three.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Originally the Yankees had announced David Phelps would start. But Warren pitched instead and he looked sensational. Warren is 0-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings spanning four appearances this spring. The Yankees obviously have no room for Warren with seven pitchers vying for five starting spots but Warren will be part of the “Fab Five” starting for Triple-A Empire State with Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell and Phelps.
  • Granderson’s RBI double raised his spring average to .393. Granderson has six doubles, a triple and a home run among his 11 hits and he is slugging at a .786 clip this spring. For those of you who might have thought that 2012 was a fluke you had better think again.
  • Bernier is 31 and there s no way he will make the team with Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena ahead of him on the depth chart at shortstop. But he has had a sensational spring in the field and he is hitting .364. If Bernier ends up staying with the Yankees he will play at Triple-A Empire State.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Wade, 28, has given up four runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings over his last two appearances. That has forced his ERA to balloon to a very ugly 7.04 this spring. Wade was integral to the Yankees’ bullpen last season, recording a 6-1 record and a 2.04 ERA. But with potentially two starters being shifted to the bullpen when Andy Pettitte returns in May, Wade might be out of a job if he does not turn it around soon.
  • The Raul Ibanez spring hit meter is still stuck on two. Ibanez was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and his average has dipped (and we do mean dipped) to .054. That means the Yankees are paying Ibanez a whopping $2.25 million per hit. Where do I sign up for that gig?
  • The spring “Siesta Award” will have to shared by Jones and Eric Chavez. Chavez singled to lead off the second but was picked off first base by Cook. After Jones drove in Granderson with his single in the fourth inning he was promptly picked off first by Cook also. Getting caught napping is embarrassing enough but worse when it s the Red Sox. Wake up, guys!

BOMBER BANTER

Pettitte will throw a live batting practice session for the Yankees on Friday at their spring complex. The Yankees are also saying that it is possible the lefty could pitch in a spring training game. Pettitte, 39, said he is targeting May for his return to the big leagues.  . . .  Infielder Jorge Vazquez was struck in the right hand on a pitch from former Yankees right-hander Mark Melancon in the eighth inning and he left the game immediately. Vazquez, 29, will have precautionary X-rays done on the hand and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss.  . . .  Jeter participated in a full team workout on Thursday and he is expected to start on Friday. Jeter has missed the last seven games with a sore left calf.  . . .  Nick Swisher said his sore groin is improving and he could return to the lineup sometime this weekend. Swisher left Tuesday’s game against the Pirates when he felt his groin tighten up as he ran out a ground ball.  . . .  CC Sabathia gave up one run in six innings in a game against Double-A hitters on Wednesday. He is on track to pitch the opener for the Yankees on April 6 in St. Petersburg, FL., against the Tampa Bay Rays.

COMMENTARY

Once again, Red Sox manager “Booby” Valentine has shown his hindquarters. Manager Joe Girardi informed home-plate umpire Mark Lollo that he did not have any pitchers available to pitch a 10th inning against the Red Sox. Girardi did have Mitchell on the trip but he had thrown a side session earlier because Girardi did not expect him to get into the game. By the typical spring rules, managers are within their rights to end a tie game after nine innings if they do not feel it is in their interest to push a pitcher into throwing too much. Valentine took umbrage because he chose to warm up Clayton Mortensen in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth. “It was regretful that Mortensen warmed up, though, and then we were told they weren’t going to play extra innings,” Valentine said. “I don’t think that was very courteous.” Courtesy is extended to those who earn it, “Booby.” Your remarks about Jeter and Alex Rodriguez earlier this spring, which were designed to get back to the Yankees, were uncalled for and extremely discourteous. So as far as see it, “Booby,” you can just suck on it. It is so ironic that it is you that are fit to be tied. Welcome to the rivalry you stoked!

ON DECK

The Yankees will play a pair of games on Friday.

The home squad will face the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Ivan Nova, coming off a horrible performance against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday, is expected to pitch for the Yankees in that game. The Twins will start veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and live locally on the YES Network.

The road squad will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL., to face the Philadelphia Phillies. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is scheduled to start for the Yankees. The Phillies will start right-hander Vance Worley.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay.

 

Yankees Exterminate Rays Behind Maxwell, Molina

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 2

Upstart rivals like the Rays are like cockroaches. You can’t be satisfied with just watching them flail aimlessly in their backs. You have to step on them hard to remove all hope. The Yankees did that on Wednesday.

Justin Maxwell, who continues to impress this spring, hit a bloop double near the right-field line to score Cole Garner with the tie-breaking run in the ninth to put Tampa Bay on their backs and Gustavo Molina followed with a two-run home run to snuff them out as New York came from behind to win at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

The Rays took an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on infield single by Carlos Pena and a two-run home run to straightaway center by Matt Joyce off Yankee starter Phil Hughes.

The Yankee rallied to score single runs in the sixth and seventh innings off Rays left-hander Ceasr Ramos.

Rule 5 selection Cesar Cabral (1-0) pitched two innings to earn the victory. Michael O’Connor pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save. Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and pushed over the .500 mark on the spring at 10-9, The Rays are 5-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cabral earned this victory the hard way. In both innings he struck out the side with a potential lead run on third base. His work in the eighth was particularly impressive. Elliot Johnson opened the inning with a double down the left-field line. Cabral then committed a balk that advanced Johnson to third. Cabral escaped disaster by fanning Jeff Salazar, Luke Scott and Matt Mangini. Cabral, 23, is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and has given up two runs on 10 hits and one walk in seven appearances this spring. More impressive is his 11 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Cabral is competing to become a second left-hander in the bullpen and if he loses the battle he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. That would be a shame because Cabral looks like he is a very talented young pitcher.
  • Hughes pitched a sensational five innings despite the Joyce two-run home run. Hughes only gave up one hit after the second inning, walked one and struck out three. Hughes threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 19 batters he faced including the last 10 batters he faced. Hughes is 0-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his four spring outings and he may be on the verge of winning a spot in the rotation.
  • Maxwell’s spring heroics continued on Wednesday. Cole Garner opened the ninth with a ground-rule double off Gomes. Jorge Vazquez, who tied the game in the seventh with an RBI double, advanced him to third on a long flyball to center and Maxwell scored him with his bloop double. Maxwell, 28, is hitting a sizzling hot .435 with five doubles among his 10 hits this spring. Maxwell, as I said before, won’t make the 25-man roster but his impressive play may win a call-up this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees scored their first run in the sixth inning when Raul Ibanez grounded out to first with the bases loaded and one out. OK, why would an RBI by Ibanez be a negative? Well, Ibanez was 0-for-3 again and his average has now dipped to .059. Seriously, grounding out with the bases loaded? That is bad. Pretty soon they are going to replace the Mendoza Line with the Ibanez Line to measure hitters. Of course, hitting better than .059 could be a piece a cake for even most pitchers.

BOMBER BANTER

Nick Swisher said that his groin injury was much better on Wednesday. Swisher was removed from Tuesday’s game in the third inning after he struggled to run out an infield grounder. After resting a tight left groin, Swisher now has soreness in his right groin. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will not return to the lineup until he is fully recovered. He is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  On the heels of Andy Pettitte’s impressive bullpen session on Tuesday the Yankees have scheduled him to throw batting practice to live hitters on Friday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte is targeting May 1 for his return to the major leagues.  . . .  Freddy Garcia, who suffered a bruised right hand on a hard-hit grounder by Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL on March 14, will start on Saturday in Lakeland, FL., against the Detroit Tigers. The presence of Pettitte means Garcia will have to pitch well to win a spot in the rotation.

ON DECK

It is time for the 2012 version of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry Part 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees, who lost a 1-0 game on two errors on one play in the ninth on March 13, will make their first visit to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

CC Sabathia will skip the game in order to pitch in minor-league game. The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps, who ironically was the losing pitcher in that March 13 game against the Red Sox. Phelps is 0-1 with a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring. Overshadowed in the organization by mega-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Phelps has actually outpitched them both.

The Red Sox will start veteran right-hander Aaron Cook, one of the many pitchers they invited in an open casting call for a No. 5 starter for the 2012 season. Cook is 0-0 with a 0.00 in two outings (one start) covering 5 1/3 innings.

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

 

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.