Tagged: Aaron Hill

Blue Jays Pack Punch But Rotation Still Looks Thin

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 2 – TORONTO BLUE JAYS

When you think of the Blue Jays these days, just one name comes to mind: Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays basically rode Bautista to an 81-81 record last season, the first season for manager John Farrell.

Though Bautista was able to slug his way to 43 home runs and 103 RBIs and a .302 average despite being pitched around and walked 132 times, the Blue Jays offense could not cover up problems in the Jays’ starting rotation and bullpen.

This season Bautista figures to have a lot more help with the offense but the Jays were unable to bid successfully for Japanese League star right-hander Yu Darvish. As a result, their pitching remains a big question mark heading into 2012. If they get some good pitching from their starters they could actually be much better than they were in 2011.

STARTERS

Left-hander Ricky Romero begins the 2012 season as the unquestioned ace of this team after compiling a 15-11 record and a 2.92 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 225 innings. Romero’s deadly change-up is his best pitch and he keeps hitters off-balance working off his low 90s fastball. At age 27, he has made great strides in just two major-league seasons.

Once again, right-hander Brandon Morrow will be the No. 2 starter, though he actually would be more valuable as a closer. Morrow, 27, throws high-octane gas but has a habit of missing the strike zone and getting bogged down in deep counts. That raises his pitch count and Morrow tends to tire quickly. Hence, he was 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA despite striking out 203 batters in 179 1/3 innings.

The big disappointment was left-hander Brett Cecil, who was 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 2010 but was 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 20 starts last season. Cecil, 25, regressed so badly he was sent back to the minors for a part of the season. Because the Jays have few options for their rotation, Cecil likely will be given another shot to stick in 2012. If he succeeds, as he did in 2010, the Jays will have a solid top three pitchers.

Right-hander Henderson Alvarez came up in the middle of the season and finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.53 ERA in only 10 starts. Alvarez, only 21, is an excellent control pitcher and he could end up making a huge leap forward if he can secure the No. 4 spot this season.

The Blue Jays are also counting on old friend to be their No. 5 starter in Dustin McGowan, who pitched briefly last season for the first time since the 2008 season. Shoulder problems derailed what looked to be a promising pitcher in 2007 when he was 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA for the Jays. The Jays are counting on him bouncing back this season.

The pressure is on McGowan, too. There is little depth behind him.

In short, this Blue Jays rotation looks to be a bit suspect but it has the potential to exceed expectations.

BULLPEN

The most signifcant moves the Jays made was the signing 36-year-old right-hander Francisco Cordero as a free agent and acquiring 28-year-old right-hander Sergio Santos from the White Sox.

Leaky middle relief and the lack of a consistent closer cost the Jays dearly last season.

Cordero likely was signed to be a setup man for Santos despite the fact Cordero nailed down 36 saves in 43 chances with the Reds last season. Cordero was 5-3 with  2.45 ERA with the Reds but he still will to defer to Santos.

Santos came out of nowhere last season to become the White Sox closer with 30 saves in 36 tries and a 4-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. Should Santos falter for any reason, Cordero could easily slide into that role by virtue of his 327 career saves.

The Blue Jays also bolstered their bullpen by adding seemingly ageless left-hander Darren Oliver (who is 41) to a bullpen that already includes steady right-handers Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen. Former starter Jesse Litsch and long man Carlos Villanueva add depth to what now looks to be a strong group in 2012.

STARTING LINEUP

Bautista will not be shuttling from right-field to third base as he has in the past. The reason is the Jays think they have their third baseman for the forseeable future in Brett Lawrie.

Lawrie came up late in 2011 and showed he was ready for prime time by hitting nine home runs and driving in 25 runs with a .293 batting average in only 150 at bats. Projected over a full season, Lawrie’s numbers would approach Bautista’s. So Lawrie bears watching as a star of the future if he isn’t already.

Adam Lind also helped the Jays by slugging 26 home runs and driving in 87 runs hitting behind Bautiista. Though Lind could stand to hit better than the .251 mark he posted, the Jays have to be encouraged that he hit .243 against left-handers last season.

The Jays gave up on second baseman Aaron Hill and acquired Kelly Johnson from the Diamondbacks in a trade of Hill. However, Johnson and Hill are virtually alike in they are both mid-average power hitters. Johnson hit 21 home runs in 2011 after hitting 26 in 2010. Johnson also can steal bases. He swiped 16 last season.

The Jays also traded for troubled Cardinals outfielder Colby Ramus, who rejected hitting advice from coaches in St. Louis while posting a .225 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. Because the Jays have failed in developing prospect Travis Snider into a major-league hitter the team has moved on hoping Ramus fulfills his early promise.

Rounding out the outfield is left-fielder Eric Thames, who hit .282 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in just over half a season.

The Jays did seem to strike gold by prying shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves. Escobar, 29, hit .290 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs as a leadoff hitter for most of the 2011 season.

The DH spot likely will go mostly to Edwin Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 134 games last season.

This Blue Jay offense is laden with power but Farrell introduced the concept of the stolen base to the formerly station-to-station Jays. However, the team leader, Rajai Davis, stole 34 bases but is now cast in a bench role so I am not sure how much stealing this team will do in 2012.

The Jays also developed a young catcher in J.P. Arencibia, who had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs in a his rookie season. But even with all that production, Arencibia hit  just .219. He needs some work on defense too but the Jays are hopeful because he is only 26.

BENCH

Davis, a speedster who had hit .284 with 50 steals for the A’s in 2010 fell off to hit .238 for the Jays in 2011. So he is locked in a battle with former Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco for a backup spot.

Though Snider has been a disappointment for the third straight season, the left-handed slugger just turned 24 and the Jays remain hopeful he someday will put it together. He may land back in Triple-A for the 2012 season, however.

Mike McCoy will be the primary infield reserve. He lacks range but is solid at second, short and third.

Jays backup catcher and defensive wizard Jose Molina left as a free agent for the rival Rays so the Jays acquired former Angels catcher Jeff Mathis to back up Arencibia.

ANALYSIS

The Jays figure to hit more home runs and still fewer bases in 2012. It is team that you can shut down if you have good stuff. But it also is a team that can destroy a pitcher who continually falls behind in the count and does not have good stuff.

The biggest weakness on the team looks to be in the thin starting rotation. Romero is the only real quality pitcher because Morrow has yet to take the next step in his development into a starter, Cecil is a biq question mark, Alvarez needs to prove he belongs and McGowan is pitching after three mostly inactive seasons rehabbing after major shoulder surgery.

The bullpen should be improved and both Santos and Cordero have experience closing. The Blue Jays have some good relievers besides them in Oliver, Frasor and Janssen.

With some real improvement the Jays could contend for the division this season. But in this division, their starting pitching could prevent them from staying competitive as the season unfolds.

I see the Jays perhaps creeping over the .500 mark but still finishing fourth.

ON WEDNESDAY – PART 3  TAMPA BAY RAYS

 

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Hughes Gives Yanks Boost By Grounding Jays

GAME 92

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 2

When the Yankees activated Phil Hughes from the disabled list on July 6 they hoped he could re-establish the same sensational form that made him 10-1 and an All-Star pitcher through July 2010.

After six innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday, Hughes may not be there yet but he is pretty darn close.

Hughes (1-2) gave up only two runs on four hits and two walks and fanned five batters in a powerful 80-pitch performance while Brett Gardner continued his hot streak with another three hits and Curtis Granderson drove in three runs as New York routed Toronto at Rogers Centre to earn a split in their four-game series.

Gardner, subbing for a resting Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, was on base in four of five plate appearances, including three singles and a walk, he stole two bases and scored three runs. Granderson gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning with a two-out, two run double off Jays starter Carlos Villanueva (5-2). Granderson later added a one-out RBi single in the ninth off reliever Jason Frasor to close out the Yankee scoring for the afternoon.

Villanueva, a converted reliever, gave up five runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings.

However, Hughes was the big story.

Hughes faltered in the second half of last season, going 8-7 after the All-Star break. Then he showed up at spring training unable to reach 90 mph on his fastball throughout the 2011 exhibition season. After Hughes began the season 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in his first three starts, the Yankees placed Hughes on the disabled list with what was referred to as a dead arm. It later was termed right shoulder inflammation.

In his second start after being activated Hughes threw 51 of 80 pitches for strikes (64 perecnt) and he reached 93 mph on the radar gun on his fastball. It was not a dominant start, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for Hughes and a Yankee starting rotation that desperately needs a healthy and productive Hughes to compete in the American League East.

With the victory, the Yankees are now 55-37 and they are one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the division race. The Blue Jays fell to 47-49 and they are in fourth place in the East, 11 games out of first.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes looked much better than his his first start off the DL on July 6 against the Indians. In that game he gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over five innings and he took the loss. Today, Hughes made use of a new tighter grip on his curveball and a quicker delivery to the plate. Hughes gave up a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion in the second and Travis Snider followed with an RBI single for the Jays first run. In the fourth, with one out Hughes walked Encarnacion and Snider followed with a ground-rule double that advanced Encarnacion to third. Aaron Hill followed with a sac fly and that was all the Jays offense on the day. Hughes lowered his season ERA to 8.64.
  • The Blue Jays probably offered to pay for Gardner’s airfare out of town after he ripped them for 10 hits in 16 at-bats (.625) over the four games with three doubles, a walk, five runs scored and three stolen bases. Gardner also collected three hits in three of the four games and he raised his season average from .265 to .286. and he is hitting a robust .348 in July with an incredible .457 on-base percentage. Gardner also stole two bases on Sunday and he has succeeded in stealing his last 12 bases without being caught to raise his overall stolen-base percentage to 72 percent.
  • Granderson struck out his first two times up against Villanueva on change-ups but his RBI double off Villanueva in the fourth and his RBI single in the ninth off Frasor both came off change-ups that Granderson waited on and then pulled both to right-field. Though Granderson leads the team by a margin of 26 in strikeouts with 95, Granderson is now tied for third in the league and the team leader in RBIs with 68.
  • The bullpen — Cory Wade, David Robertson and Boone Logan — combined to no-hit the Blue Jays over the final three innings, combining for no walks and five strikeouts. The Yankees bullpen has held up despite the injuries to Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to really complain about here. The issue now that Hughes is improving can’t be good for the Red Flops (Sox). They currently have three starters on the disabled list and one of those is out for the season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Sunday optioned outfielder Greg Golson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled outfielder Chris Dickerson to take his place on the roster. The Yankees brought up Golson as a reserve outfielder because he hits right-handed and the Yankees faced left-handers in two of the first three games of the series. Dickerson was up with the Yankees previously this season and he is hitting .300 over 31 games. Golson was used a defensive replacement on Saturday but he did not get an at-bat. Dickerson was used as defensive replacement in right-field in the eighth inning on Sunday and did not bat.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi shuffled his lineup on Sunday because the Yankees are playing eight straight games on artificial surface fields this week. Jeter was rested in favor of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena played third base. The Yankees also made Mark Teixeira the designated hitter and moved Jorge Posada to first base.  . . .  Soriano will make a rehab start with Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League on Tuesday.  . . .  A couple of notes for any Blue Jays fans who may be reading this blog: No. 1, If you are attending a Blue Jays’ home game it is much better to save the “Let’s Go Blue Jays” cheer when your team is batting and not when they are in the field. It is hard to score runs when you are on defense. No. 2, Loudly cheering “Yankees Suck” is OK when you are winning the game by a nice margin but is stupid when the team is trailing. What does it say about the Jays when it is is getting toasted by a team that supposedly sucks?

ON DECK

The Yankees are on their way to St. Petersburg, FL, to open a four game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.15 ERA) will open the series on the mound for the Yankees. He has alternated wins and losses over his last five decisions and he gave up three runs on three hits in a no-decision victory over the Rays on July 9. He is 12-8 with a 3.41 ERA against the Rays in his career.

The Rays will be starting rookie right-hander Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41 ERA), who will be making his sixth start of the season in place of the injured Wade Davis. Cobb has not faced the Yankees before.

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

Mitre Holds Blue Jays At Bay As Yankees Win 5-3

Transmission of this report was delayed by technical difficulties.


GAME 26
YANKEES (SS) 5, BLUE JAYS (SS) 3

TAMPA – Sergio Mitre pitched a solid six innings as a New York Yankees split squad defeated a Toronto Blue Jays split squad 5-3 Tuesday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Mitre (1-0) gave up only three hits, walked none none and struck five in gaining his first victory the spring. Boone Logan pitched a scoreless ninth inning and was credited with a save. Left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (0-2) took the loss.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-14 while the Blue Jays fell to 12-14-1.
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • It is a shame for Mitre that Phil Hughes was named the No. 5 starter last Friday because he looked exceptionally sharp in his six innings of work. Other than giving up a single to Joes Bautista, a two-run home run to Aaron Hill and a double to Adam Lind to begin the fourth inning, Mitre was perfect the rest of the evening. 
  • Derek Jeter reached base in each of his four at-bats, including a walk, a stolen base, a single, a triple and two runs scored.
  • Nick Johnson drove in Jeter with the game’s first run with a single in the first inning.
  • With the Yankees trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, Ramiro Pena doubled in Alex Rodriguez and DH Jon Weber scored Randy Winn in a ground out. The runs gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.
  • The Yankees took advantage of infield errors on Hill and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion to score two more runs in the fifth inning to extend their lead to 5-1.
  • Pena helped Mitre’s cause in his shaky fourth inning. With one out and Lind at second, Pena speared a line drive off the bat of Lyle Overbay and flipped to Jeter at second to double off Lind and end the Jays’ threat.
  • Mariano Rivera needed only 14 pitches to complete a perfect eighth inning. Rivera has a perfect 0.00 ERA in seven innings of work this spring and looks ready to start the season.
  • Logan, who looks to be the odd man out of the bullpen battle with Mitre and Alfredo Aceves, looked sharp in his scoreless inning of work.
  • Alex Rodriguez had two hits and a walk in his four at-bats. His spring average is now .325.
THE NEGATIVES

  • Though the run Damaso Marte surrendered in the seventh inning was unearned because of an error by Rodriguez with one out in the seventh, Marte did not help the situation by giving up a single to Overbay and walking Encarnacion. Travis Snider followed with a sacrifice fly that scored the Jays’ third run.
  • Weber has been the hitting sensation of the spring, but he went 0-for-4 in a rare start at DH. He struck out and hit three weak infield grounders but his average only fell to .483 after the bad night.
  • Nick Johnson has a .250 average and .429 on-base percentage for the spring. But he would like to avoid the two double plays he hit into Tuesday night. He also tried to stretch a single into a double in the fifth and was thrown out easily by Vernon Wells at second base.
  • Marcus Thames has resurrected his hitting and he hit a double in the fifth inning, but he also struck out twice in the game. he leads the team in strikeouts this spring with 20. A-Rod is second with 11.
DIAMOND NOTES

Mark Teixeira did not play in either game due to the bruised right elbow he suffered on Monday after being hit by a pitch by Jeremy Guthrie. Though the arm remains heavily wrapped, Teixeira hopes to return to action on Thursday.  . . . Alfredo Aceves was scratched from a pitching appearance scheduled for Tuesday due to stiffness in his back. Aceves will throw on Wednesday and he hopes to be able to pitch by Friday.  . . . Francisco Cervelli felt a little pinch in his hamstring and he will have an MRI on Wednesday to determine the extent of the injury.

Cano Looks To Continue To Grow As Pro In 2010


It is almost time for pitchers and catchers to report to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa and it is the perfect time to start evaluating the New York Yankees talent. We will start with the catching position and move around the various positions. Needless to say, the Yankees do not have any “Help Wanted” signs out. They are coming to spring training with just about every job filled. But let’s take a look at what they have and see how they stack up to the 2009 World Champions.

SECOND BASE

Promise is just promise when it never is realized. 
That pretty much summed up Robinson Cano heading into the 2009 season. Cano was coming off a miserable 2008 season in which he hit just .271 with 14 home runs and 72 RBIs and he was still inconsistent in the field.
After seasons in which Cano had hit .297, .342 and .308 there were questions about him. The slow starts, the lack of patience at the plate and even his commitment to improving as a player. Cano must have felt the sting because he showed up in Tampa, FL in spring training with a renewed sense of urgency.
The Yankees saw that rededication pay immediate dividends because Cano hit .368 for the Yankees in April. He also seemed to have more focus in the field. He was still making the spectacular plays that tested his range and arm, but he also was making the routine plays look — well — routine.
By the end of the 2009 season season, Cano can say it was his best overall season in baseball. He hit .320 with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs. Only a late-season fielding slump cost him a chance to possibly win his first Gold Glove. He made just 12 errors.
The Yankees now feel the 27-year-old star from the Dominican Republic is fulfilling the promise that had former manager Joe Torre comparing him to Rod Carew. Of course, Cano is just one part of what is the most talented group of second baseman in baseball within the American League East.
Dustin Pedroia has a Rookie of the Year Award and a MVP with the Red Sox, Aaron Hill of Toronto is coming off a 36 home run, 108 RBI season, Ben Zobrist had a 27 home run, 91 RBI season for the Rays that forced them to trade Akinori Iwamura and Brian Roberts had another solid season with a .284 average and 30 stolen bases for the Orioles.
It is hard to stand out in that group, but Cano may still be the best combination of hitting and defense. It is just a matter of putting it all together.
The rap on Cano is that he is not a clutch hitter and his nonchalant style in the field has labeled him as lazy. That has been borne out by his awful hitting statistics with men on base, with men in scoring position and the bases loaded. For whatever reason, Cano has not been successful as a clutch hitter despite driving in 85 runs last season. His career high is the 97 he drove in 2007.
Cano will have to improve on that if the team is looking to repeat as world champions without outfielder Johnny Damon (82 RBIs) and designated hitter Hideki Matsui (90 RBIs). 
Cano was used early last season as the No. 5 hitter in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. But he was quickly moved down to the No. 7 spot, where he seemed more comfortable. It is likely he will remain there until he can get his average up with men on base.
With runners in scoring position, Cano hit an abysmal .207 in 2009. With the bases loaded he hit .259. In comparison, Cano hit a sizzling .433 leading off and .376 with the bases empty. For Cano to make the next leap forward as a professional he is going to have to be more productive in clutch situations in 2010.
But don’t put it past Cano. He is still young and he is still learning.
Of course, another big hurdle Cano will have to overcome is playing this season without his best friend, Melky Cabrera. Cabrera was packaged in a five-player deal this winter that brought the Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez and lefty reliever Boone Logan.
With the trade Cano is now the last homegrown player to have won a position in the everyday lineup unless Brett Gardner can win a starting outfield spot this spring. Considering that top outfield prospect Austin Jackson was traded and catcher Jesus Montero is a few years away from making the team, Cano is one of the lone symbols of the Yankees minor-league system in developing position players.
Give Cano credit for being a durable player. In the the past three seasons, Cano has played in 160, 159 and 161 games for the Yankees. He started 158 games at second base last season. The Yankees will look for similar numbers from Cano this season.
Backing up Cano at second will likely be 24-year-old Ramiro Pena, who started three of the four games Cano did not start at second base. Pena hit a solid .287 in 115 at-bats with the Yankees last season and he impressed coaches and management with his fielding skills at second, shortstop and third base.
Pena will come into camp as the odds-on favorite to be the infield reserve this season, but he will get some competition from 25-year-old Kevin Russo and 22-year-old Eduardo Nunez. Russo hit .326 with 13 stolen bases at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre while Nunez hit .322 with 19 stolen bases at Double-A Trenton.
Pena was sent back to Scranton last season with the idea of making him a super sub much like Jerry Hairston Jr. Pena was used as a center-fielder in August. However, with the acquisition of Rule 5 draftee Jamie Hoffmann and the signing of 35-year-old free agent Randy Winn, Pena likely will not be needed as an outfielder this season.
Considering the rebound and strides Cano made at second base last season, it looks as if the Yankees again will be strong at the position this season. There is no doubt that Cano’s range and arm make him one of the best fielding second basemen in the American League.
Now that Cano has also established himself as career .306 hitter with good power all that is lacking is the steady run production Cano can provide in the lower echelons of the batting order. Perhaps with a bit more patience at the plate (Cano walked only 30 times last season), a little more focus and little bit luck, Cano can become the complete player the team believes he can become.
2010 looks very bright for Cano.

Cano Shows Great Growth In Maturity In 2009

SECOND BASE


ROBINSON CANO – Age 26
I said at the midpoint that Robinson Cano’s 2009 season was more in keeping with his promising 2007 season (19 homers, 97 RBIs and .306 average).
At the All-Star break, Cano had 13 home runs, 46 RBIs and .306 average and I gave him a B+ only because Cano hit so poorly with runners on base and runners in scoring position. In fact, Joe Girardi dropped him from the fifth spot in the batting order to seventh because he was not  getting hits with runners on base.
Cano’s second half, however, was sensational. In 16 fewer games, Cano hit 12 home runs, drove in 39 runs and hit a sizzling .339. His overall numbers of 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .322 average show that a young and promising second baseman is maturing.
Cano even has scored 103 runs, which shows he is also improving as a base-runner. Cano has struck only 62 times in 628 at-bats and that is a testament to his talent at being able to make contact and put the ball in play.
There are still weaknesses. He has only walked 30 times and there are those terrible numbers with runners in scoring position: He hit .208 in those situations. He also hit .259 with the bases loaded.
But Cano shined leading off an inning. He hit .436 leading off an inning. Cano as a leadoff hitter? It could be in his future. He hit .379 with the bases empty. It is not a stretch to see Cano in that role at some point but he really lacks the requisite speed to bat first.
Where Cano really has improved is in the field. In the past, Cano displayed great range, a marvelous arm and an ability to make the spectacular play look effortless. The only thing standing between him and a Gold Glove was concentration on the easy plays.
Cano tended to go into fielding lapses that were vexing. Easy grounders would clank off his glove and his error totals were way too high for such a talented second baseman. This season there has been no real noticeable lapses in field.
Cano did commit a team-leading 12 errors at second. But he also made some unbelievable plays in the field. He simply has the most range of any second baseman in baseball and he is a master of roaming well into short rightfield to catch popups.
Cano is part of a double play combination with Derek Jeter that turned 96 double plays and both players posted 200-hit seasons. They are the first second baseman-shortstop combination to do that in the modern era of baseball.
With his hitting and fielding, Cano certainly put together a strong enough second half to earn an A for the second half. I also think he deserves an A- for the season. The only negative was that lack of production with runners on base.
If Cano strengthens his game with runners on base he will simply be the best second baseman in baseball. Aaron Hill may have an argument with that but Cano looks to be a player headed for a batting title and a Gold Glove.
Because Cano started 155 games at second base, there is no point in rating a backup at this position.
MID-SEASON POSITION GRADE: A
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-

Robby looks to have conquered his problem with slow starts. He started strong and built on that and hit even better as the season went on. He will finish in the Top Ten in the American League in batting average.
Throw in his amazing range, cannon arm and effortless fielding style and you are looking at one very valuable player. Not many players who hit .322 with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs bat seventh. Such is the depth of the Yankees’ offense.
There is no doubt that Cano turned a critical corner after a disastrous 2008 season (14 home runs, 72 RBIs, .271 average). Realizing that he had to take the game more seriously, Cano came out with a vengeance this season and proved the early promise he showed was not a fluke.
He is only going to get better, too. That is the scary part.

Yankees Use Surgical Strikes To Carve Up ‘Doc’

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

Roy “Doc” Halladay may have been the most desired prize at last week’s major-league trade deadline but the Yankees surgically cut up the right-hander on Tuesday night.
Using three late-inning laser-like home runs, the New York Yankees defeated Halladay and the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
The Yankees have now won 11 of 15 games since the All-Star Break and — coupled with the Boston Red Sox losing to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 in 13 innings — the Yankees now lead the Red Sox by 1 1/2 games in the American League East standings.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte, who had not won a game since July 1, out-pitched the 2003 Cy Young Award winner. Given a 2-0 lead before he even took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, Pettitte gave up just one run on four hits and four walks over 6 2/3 innings.
Pettitte (8-6) used his newly rediscovered cutter to fan six batters. 
“That’s what pitching is,” Pettitte told MLB.com. “And if I don’t use [the cutter] as one of my weapons, that makes it a lot more difficult.”
Though Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera faltered a bit in the final two innings, Rivera held on to pick up save No. 31 and his 27th save in a row, the longest current save streak in the majors.
The Yankees backed Pettitte with some offense in the first inning. Johnny Damon, who entered the game with a .349 average and major-league best 30 hits off Halladay, singled sharply to left. With two out, Alex Rodriguez laced a double to deep center to score Damon.
The Yankees “stole” another run off of Halladay and the Blue Jays when Hideki Matsui bounced what looked like an easy third out to Jays first baseman Kevin Millar. But Millar’s toss to Halladay was high and the error prevented the Jays from getting Matsui. Rodriguez, who was running all out with two outs, never stopped and scored when he dislodged the ball from catcher Rod Barajas on his slide into home plate.

“I just got very lucky,” Rodriguez said to MLB.com. “It was actually a very soft slide. I think the ball was so exposed that I nipped it a little bit, and it just popped out.”

Pettitte rode those two runs until the fourth inning when his control escaped him with one out and Aaron Hill on first with a single. Pettitte walked Millar and Vernon Wells to load the bases and Alex Rios lined a shot to right field that scored Hill on the sacrifice.
Pettitte escaped further damage until the seventh when after two outs newly acquired Jays third baseman Edwin Encarnacion blooped a double down the right-field line and Barajas drew a walk. Manager Joe Girardi called on Hughes and the 23-year-old right-hander blew away Jose Bautista with a curveball that caught him looking.
The Yankees, meanwhile, had been struggling since the first inning with Halladay. The right-hander scattered three hits over the next six innings and he had retired 10 Yankee batters in a row over one stretch.
But with two out in the eighth inning, the Yankees brought out the big guns. Damon, again playing the part of nemesis, blasted a hanging 2-2 curveball deep in right-centerfield for his 18th home run of the season. Two pitches later, Mark Teixeira ripped into a cutter for his 27th home run of the season. The home run left him one behind the Twins’ Justin Morneau for the American League lead.
“A poor curveball and not a very good cutter” was how Halladay told MLB.com about the pitches to Damon and Teixeira. “It’s happened. It’s not the first time. It’s bad pitches. I don’t know what to tell you. I just didn’t execute, especially late, and it cost me.”

“He can throw 94, 95 miles per hour at any time,” Damon said. “You just really don’t know if it’s going to cut or sink. Today, on that home run, he happened to hang a curveball. I was off balance and not where I wanted to be, but sometimes things work out.”
The Yankees owned a 4-1 cushion heading into the bottom of the inning. It was a good thing, too.
Hughes immediately got into trouble on leadoff singles by Marco Scutaro and Hill. Hughes did, however, manage to fan both Adam Lind (his third strikeout of the night) and Millar. Girardi then summoned Rivera to get the final out of the eighth.
But the veteran Wells lined a 3-1 cutter into left-center to score Scutaro and Hill. Rivera escaped further damage when he got Alex Rios to bounce out to short.
Hideki Matsui then provided an insurance run with a first-pitch rocket off Halladay that landed just to the left of dead center-field. Stunned Blue Jays fans watched in horror as their Doc seemed to performing malpractice in his first start at home since the trade deadline.
In 33 career outings prior to July 4, Halladay had posted a 16-4 record and a 2.79 ERA against the Yankees. However, in his last two outings against the Yankees, Halladay has given up 10 runs (nine earned) on 19 hits  — six of them home runs.

“He pitched well against us today, too,” Derek Jeter said. “He’s no fun to face.”
Rivera did give up a pair of singles in the ninth and almost blew the save when Bautista flied out to deep center. The All-Star closer later retired Hill on easy fly to center to nail down the victory for the Yankees.
“We knew we were going to be in for a tough game, and we knew Andy was going to have to have a big game for us,” Girardi said. “And Andy went out and did it.”
The Yankees will close out the short two-game set in Toronto on Wednesday night and they will send controversial fifth starter Sergio Mitre to the hill. Mitre (1-0, 7.90 ERA) is coming off a dreadful 75-pitch, three-inning debacle against the White Sox on July 31 at U.S. Cellular Field. 
Mite did not get a decision but he has given up 24 hits over 13 2/3 innings in his three starts. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has taken a lot of critic
ism in New York for not picking up a fifth starter by the trade deadline. But with Kei Igawa the only real option at Triple-A, Mitre will get another chance to prove he still belongs in the majors.
He will be opposed by rookie left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (1-2, 3.25 ERA), who has not started for the Blue Jays since July 28 in Seattle. In that outing he allowed three runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked two in a no-decision. In his last two starts, Rzepczynski has allowed seven runs (five earned) on eight hits over 9 2/3 innings.

Cano Reverts Back To Promising Form

SECOND BASE


ROBINSON CANO – Age 26


The is no player on the Yankees roster who is harder to rate than Robinson Cano. 
The reason: The are so many things that you can say positively about him. It is obvious that he is a very talented player. However, there are some negatives to his game that still leave me scratching my head.
But over the past two seasons, Cano has averaged 17 home runs, 85 RBIs and batted .289. There was his breakout season of 2007 (19 homers, 97 RBIs, .306 average) and then his stunningly fall to mediocrity last season (13 home runs, 46 RBIs, .271 average).
So which Robinson Cano would show up in 2009? The 2007 version or the ugly 2008 version? Thankfully, for Yankees fans it is obvious that Cano’s 2009 season is tracking much closer to his 2007 season.
He has 13 home runs, 46 RBIs and a .308 average. It would seem Cano’s power hit an all-time high this season. Perhaps the new Yankee Stadium has been of some help. But Cano’s power was predicted to increase anyway. So that may not be the whole story.His RBI numbers and batting average are certainly keeping with his 2007 established norm. But there are still some big holes in Cano’s offensive game and it vexes Yankee fans and the Yankee brass to no end.
One is the astonishing disparity between Cano with the bases empty and Cano with runners on base. Cano with the bases empty is hitting over .300. With runners on base he is hitting considerably less. Cano batting with runners in scoring position is under .200.
In fact, Cano went an astonishing 22 straight at-bats with runners in scoring position without a single hit, the worst such stretch of all hitters in Major League Baseball this season. 
And don’t get me started about Cano’s woeful production with the bases loaded. Yankee fans are well aware that they have been unable to count on Cano to do much of anything with the bases loaded and are beginning to accept it — though we should not.
Another Cano problem is what likely leads to his problems with runners on base. Cano is immensely gifted as a hitter. He is able to cover the plate to the outside as well as hit pitches inside. He also can hit a baseball just off the dirt and above his shoulders.
If hitting talent were judged on this alone, Cano would have few peers. But this talent is also his curse. Just because he is able to put the bat on the ball high and low and out and in does not mean he is making solid driving contact with the ball.
This leads opposing pitchers to entice Cano to swing at pitches out of the strike zone that, in effect, lead Cano to get himself out by hitting the ball weakly somewhere. Pitch Cano inside and he be jammed and hit weak infield popups. 
Throw a pitch low and outside and Cano will reach for it and ground out weakly in the infield. Every once in a while you throw a high one and Cano will swing and miss. But Cano does deserve credit for cutting his strikeouts to just 27 in 357 at-bats. He is among the AL leaders in the lowest rate of strikeouts in 2009.
So manager Joe Girardi may have a clearer picture of Cano now. He has come to same conclusion that Joe Torre came to two seasons ago. Despite Cano’s immense gifts as a hitter he is not a good RBI man — yet. 
So Girardi has dropped Cano in the batting order from fifth to seventh in recent weeks. The move should strengthen the Yankees offense overall because Cano can kill fewer rallies there and perhaps it will make him a better hitter in the second half.
Cano has always had that pattern in the past. Cold as ice in April and May, Cano usually hits better in June July, August and September. If that happens this season Cano may raise his average to the .342 he hit in 2006. All with more power, good production and fewer strikeouts.
But Yankee fans must also realize that Cano is still a work in progress at the plate. Until he learns to be more selective we are going to see him hitting weak popups to the infield with the bases loaded. It just comes with the package.
Where Cano is really better is in the field. Cano is by far the second baseman with the best range and his exceptional arm rates with former Gold Glover Roberto Alomar. His smooth almost effortless style makes the most difficult plays look easy.
But the “old” Cano had a habit of clanking on the routine plays. He would let the ball play him and miss the errant hops. But in 2009, Cano is showing none of those lapses in the concentration that plagued him in the past. He has committed just three errors this season and not all of it can be attributed to Teixeira.
Cano is simply playing second base better than he ever has and he should receive proper consideration for a Gold Glove this season. His offense can only help him in this cause since many Gold Glove voters do peek at offensive stats to break ties.
It is unfortunate that the fans got the AL second base position all wrong this season. Dustin Pedroia had no business be elected to the position based on his meager four home runs. Aaron Hill is hitting .292 with 20 home runs and 60 RBIs and should have started. Cano deserved to be the reserve with his average, his power and his RBIs all better than Pedroia.
But Cano is coming off a poor 2008 and Pedroia has been the 2007 Rookie of the Year and 2008 MVP. So it is easy to see how voters missed both Hill and Cano.
I give Cano’s first half a B+. His inability to hit with runners on base and runners in scoring position is his only glaring negative.
Because Cano has started 86 of the 88 games the Yankees have played this season Girardi may want to make sure Cano gets some time off in the second half. But it also is the reason I will not rate any backup players at the position. They did not play enough.
With Ramiro Pena in the minors and Angel Berroa having been released by the Yankees, the only creditable backup on the roster is Cody Ransom.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+