Tagged: Aaron Judge

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Jennings’ Homer Allows Rays To Shade Yankees

GAME 25

RAYS 6, YANKEES 5

Desmond Jennings led off the sixth inning with a home run and the Rays later added a run that frame on a wild pitch uncorked by right-hander Chris Martin as Tampa rolled to victory over New York on Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

Right-hander Brad Boxberger (1-1) yielded a run in seventh inning on an RBI double off the bat of Didi Gregorius but still got credit for the victory. Khan Martinez also yielded a run in his two-thirds of an inning in the ninth but was credited with the save.

Martin (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record dropped to 13-11.

FIELD FOCUS

Going into Thursday’s contest Yankees starter Adam Warren had the No. 5 starting job pretty much locked up.

It is always a good think to have the team’s general manager say as much.

“I think there’s a predictable favorite. I guess that’s as far as I can go on that one,” Brian Cashman told reporters on Wednesday. “Right now, if we had to make a decision today, I think we all know what that decision would be. There’s a Secretariat right now in this race for me that’s got a number of lengths ahead of the field.”

Cashman, without saying it, was actually saying that Warren was the clear favorite. After Thursday’s start that has not changed.

Warren surrendered a run on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings against the Rays. The lone blemish was a solo home run off the bat of Evan Longoria.

The 27-year-old right-hander entered the spring having started only three major-league games and none of them were last season as he was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 relief appearances.

But the former University of North Carolina star pitched as a starter in all 90 of his minor-league games and was 28-25 with a 3.71 ERA. The Yankees merely shifted one of the better minor-league starters to the bullpen out of necessity in 2013 and Warren helped solidify the bullpen last season.

Circumstances changed on March 11 when No. 5 starter Chris Capuano, 36, strained his right quad covering first base on the second batter he faced in an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Yankees had been auditioning Warren and several others as candidates to be a potential sixth starter because the Yankees play 30 games in 31 days in late April and early May. With Capuano out at least a month and likely more, the audition purpose was altered to become the fifth starter.

Warren clearly has been the best among Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley, Scott Baker and Bryan Mitchell. He is now 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts and he has recorded 11 strikeouts while issuing just one walk in 16 2/3 innings.

The Yankees are expected to make a final decision this weekend after manager Joe Girardi discusses it with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the rest of his staff. But if Warren does not get the nod it would be real shocker.

Now Warren just has endure constant ribbing is he has been getting from his teammates who now insist on calling him Secretariat. For Warren it is minor cross to bear.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ramon Flores was a hero earlier this week with his walk-off three-run homer in the ninth that defeated the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. On Thursday, Flores was building on that success. He started in right-field and was 2-for-4 with a single and a double, scored a run and drove in two runs. Flores is only 7-for-33 (.212) but he has made his hits count because he has two home runs and seven RBIs, which leads the team this spring.
  • Gregorius also was 2-for-4 with a single, a double and an RBI. Since March 18, Gregorius has been a real tear, going 9-for-20 (.450) with three doubles, two triples and three RBIs. That has raised his spring average to .308 and that does not even take into account his magnificent defense throughout March. The 25-year-old shortstop is following in the footsteps of a legend but he is handling the pressure very well.
  • Jake Cave, 22, got into the game late and added another RBI single to his spring resume. The young outfielder is leading the Yankee regulars with 10 or more at-bats with a .462 average (6-for-13) with a homer and six RBIs. Cave is ticketed for Double-A Trenton along with fellow prospect Aaron Judge. But you may be hearing more about him very, very soon. He can flat-out hit.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The biggest issue besides the lack of offense out most of the regulars this spring has been some disappointing pitching out of the bullpen. On Thursday, Jose Ramirez was one of the culprits. He was touched for two runs on three hits and a walk in just 1 1/3 innings of work. The 25-year-old former starter now has a 5.40 ERA on the spring. Though the Dominican right-hander has a gifted arm he has dropped from top prospect status because of recurring injuries and inconsistency.
  • Martin, 28, was also tagged pretty good by the Rays, giving up two runs on two hits despite ending up striking out the side in his inning of work. The former Colorado Rockies right-hander has wonderful backstory, having been out of baseball after suffering a severe shoulder injury in college and discovering he could pitch again some years later in a hardware store parking lot. However, he has a 6.14 ERA and he is going to have to improve if he wants a minor-league assignment with the team.
  • Garrett Jones was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Thursday and now is in a huge hitting funk. He is 1-for-13 with five strikeouts in his past four games. He is now 7-for-40 (.175) on the spring and likely has lost a chance to claim the primary designated hitter role from Alex Rodriguez, who is batting .290 this spring.

BOMBER BANTER

Jacoby Ellsbury participated in hitting off a tee and took some swings from soft tosses on Thursday at the Yankees spring complex in Tampa, FL. Ellsbury, who has been sidelined since March 15 with a mild right oblique strain, says he believes he will be ready to play on Opening Day. Girardi said that if Ellsbury can play in an exhibition game by March 31 he will start the season in center-field.  . . .  The Yankees on Thursday decided to unconditionally release right-hander Jared Burton. The 33-year-old right-hander had not pitched since March 17 with a strained lat. He allowed no runs on two hits with no walks and two strikeouts in four innings over four appearances.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take the short trip to Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL, for their fifth and final contest this spring against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will start for the Yankees. Pineda is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three spring starts. He is slotted to be the Yankees’ No. 2 starter to start the season.

The Phillies will counter with top pitching prospect Aaron Nola. The right-hander was the team’s No. 1 selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and he could possibly end up on the Phillies’ 25-man roster this season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis on Saturday at 6 a.m. by the MLB Network.

NOTE: A word of warning if you do plan to attend this game. There is a 50 percent chance of rain in Clearwater during the early-afternoon hours on Friday. 

 

Flores’ Walk-Off Blast Propels Yanks Over Tigers

GAME 23

YANKEES 9, TIGERS 8

In a pattern that is all to familiar the “Baby Bombers” once again snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Tuesday.

Ramon Flores laced a three-run homer just barely over the right-field wall in the bottom of the ninth inning to bring New York all the way back from an 8-2 deficit to a walk-off victory over Detroit at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Flores, with the Tigers one pitch away from victory, connected on an inside fastball off right-hander Rafael Dolis (0-2) for his second home run of the spring to cap a four-run rally in the final frame.

Trailing 8-5, Aaron Judge started the rally by drawing a walk and stealing second base. John Ryan Murphy followed with a one-out RBI single.

Ali Castillo drew a two-out walk and Flores sent what was left of the crowd of 10,921 happy with his game-winning shot.

Diego Moreno (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to get credit for the victory.

The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 13-9.

FIELD FOCUS

When discussing the Yankees talented young players it is as if Flores is an afterthought.

That is probably because the 5-foot-10, 190-pound outfielder is not blessed with tremendous power (36 career home runs in the minors) or blazing speed (59 stolen bases). His career minor-league average is a rather ordinary .271.

But somehow when you put it all together Flores remains a viable young prospect at 22. (He will turn 23 on Thursday.)

His dramatic home run against the Tigers on Tuesday is not real surprising in that Flores has two home runs and five RBIs this spring despite the fact he is hitting just .172 (5-for-29).

Flores was considered one of the hottest prospects in the Yankees’ organization after his 2012 season as he hit a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 132 between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

But he has been kind of running in place since then. He batted just .260 at Trenton in 2013 and had an injury-plagued season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014.

Though he will not make the 25-man roster this spring, Flores remains a pretty important player for the Yankees heading in the 2015 season. The reason is that should any of the Yankees’ outfielders sustain an injury, Flores likely would one of the first players the Yankees would look to call up.

That suits Flores just fine. He would love to get a chance to prove what he can do in the majors. He really opened some eyes on Tuesday.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Give the young Yankees credit for bringing the Yankees back from a 8-2 deficit as the game entered the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees managed to bat around against left-hander Kyle Ryan and the Tigers. Chris Young doubled, Didi Gregorius slashed an RBI double and Slade Heathcott was hit by a pitch. Jonathan Galvez drew a walk to load the bases. Francisco Arcia drove in a run with a RBI groundout and after, another walk loaded the bases, Kyle Higashioka drew a bases-loaded walk off right-hander Buck Farmer, who had replaced Ryan. This three-run rally set up the game-winning rally in the ninth.
  • Gregorius’ RBI double in the seventh came off a left-hander. The knock on Gregorius is that he was incapable of hitting lefties. But manager Joe Girardi is giving Gregorius the chance to prove he can hit them. Thus far, the 25-year-old shortstop is 4-for-13 (.308) against left-handers this spring and he is (5-for-20) .250 against right-handers. It is now appearing that Girardi will not use a platoon of Gregorius and Brendan Ryan at shortstop.
  • Brett Gardner took a more aggressive approach on the bases on Tuesday and he ended up with his first two stolen bases of the spring. However, Gardner was also cut down in the first inning trying to take third on a fly ball off the bat of Chase Headley. Center-fielder Anthony Gose stunned Gardner on a perfect throw to Nick Castellanos at third for a double play.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Esmil Rogers was making his last start as a contender for the No. 5 starter position and things did not go well for the 29-year-old right-hander. He was tagged for six runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in three innings. The reason only one run was earned was due to his own error in the second inning on high chopper off the bat of Jose Iglesias. That opened the floodgates to a two-run single by Ian Kinsler and a two-run double by J.D. Martinez.
  • Stephen Drew actually did get a single in the fourth inning off starter Anibal Sanchez, which is wonderful because Drew entered the contest batting .161. But Drew either is crazy or he was not paying attention when Gose cut down Gardner. Trying to stretch the single into a double, Drew ended up a dead duck at second on a perfect throw from Gose. It was not a very bright play, Drew.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host on Wednesday to the New York Mets.

Masahiro Tanaka will start his third contest of the spring. He is 1-0 with 0.00 ERA. His positioning also has him lined up to open the season for the Yankees on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Mets will counter by starting right-hander Rafael Montero, who is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in two appearances this spring. This will be his first start.

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

 

‘Baby Bombers’ Rally In Ninth To Down Astros

GAME 20

YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2

The hallmark of the spring has been the play of what manager Joe Girardi calls the “Baby Bombers.” On Saturday, they struck again and this time the Astros paid the price.

Jake Cave lofted a sacrifice fly to deep right-field to score pinch-runner Slade Heathcott as New York rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to down Houston at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Nick Noonan opened the ninth inning with a ground single to right off right-hander Will Harris (0-1) and Aaron Judge followed with a lined single to left.

One out later, Eddy Rodriguez doubled in Noonan and Judge and advanced to third on a throwing error by left-fielder Andrew Aplin. Heathcott came off the bench to run for Rodriguez and later scored on Cave’s game-winning sac fly.

Left-hander Jacob Lindgren (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory.

The Yankees trailed from the first inning when George Springer launched a one-out triple and Chris Carter followed with a two-run home run off right-hander Michael Pineda. It was the first runs Pineda had allowed this spring.

Pineda later settled in and finished up by yielding just the two runs on four hits and no walks with six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings of work.

With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is no accident that the young Yankees like Cave, Judge and Heathcott are leading late rallies. Cave, 23, is 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and five RBIs. Cave’s spring average is the highest of any Yankee player with 10 or more at-bats. Heathcott, 24, is next on that list. He is 7-for-17 (.412) with a homer an four RBIs. Judge, 23, is 4-for-14 (.286) with a homer and three RBIs. Remember these names because they all could be playing in Yankee Stadium in a few years.
  • Even though Pineda, 26, was rocked by a double, a triple and a home run in his outing on Saturday, he did throw well. He struck out five of the last 10 batters he faced. He also ended up throwing 42 of his 56 pitches for strikes. “I’m happy because today is a good outing. I’m feeling good,” Pineda told reporters. “This is very important for me. I’m feeling great.”
  • Give a lot of credit also to the bullpen for holding the Astros scoreless. Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Lindgren combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings, yielding only one hit and one walk with eight strikeouts. Yankee pitchers combined to strike out 14 Astros. That is awesome.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The regulars continue to struggle at home. Mark Teixeira was 2-for-3 and Carlos Beltran, Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann picked up a hit apiece. But Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Stephen Drew combined to go 0-for-10.
  • Gardner, 31, is having a particularly bad spring so far. He is 5-for-34 (.147) with no homers and two RBIs. He also leads the team in strikeouts with 10. With just 13 exhibition games remaining it would be nice to see the speedy outfielder pick it up a little.
  • Austin Romine, 26, started as the designated hitter and was 0-for-2. He is now 4-for-20 (.200) on the spring. Romine is battling John Ryan Murphy to be McCann’s backup behind the plate. But Murphy, 23, is doing even worse at the plate. He is 2-for-22 (.091), the lowest Yankee average among players with 10 or more at-bats. Romine is out of options so he could end up making the 25-man roster so that Murphy could catch full-time and get regular at-bats at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

BOMBER BANTER

Gardner gave the crowd something to cheer and laugh about in the first inning. But it was no laughing matter to Girardi. When Young reached the wall on Carter’s blast he leaped to get it and lost his glove over the fence in the process. Gardner took it upon himself to scale the 8-foot fence to retrieve both Young’s glove and Carter’s home run ball. He then climbed back over the fence. Most of the crowd of 9.914 gave Gardner a standing ovation. Girardi, however, was not pleased. “We’ve seen guys hit a home run, jump up and land on the plate and break an ankle,” Girardi told reporters. “I told him, ‘This isn’t Little League.’ Gardy thought he was in the movie The Sandlot or something.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will make a 2 1/2-hour trip south to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL, on Sunday to face the New York Mets.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) will make the start for the Yankees. Sabathia’s first start on Tuesday against the Blue Jays was a bit shaky. Toronto scored two runs on four hits in two innings. He is scheduled to throw 45 to 50 pitches on Sunday.

Right-hander Matt Harvey, who is on the comeback trail after undergoing Tommy John surgery, will start for the Mets. Harvey is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three starts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Headley’s Homer Propels Yankees Past Phillies

GAME 15

YANKEES 3, PHILLIES 2

Chase Headley hit his first home run of the spring to lead off the seventh inning and broke a 1-1 tie as New York edged Philadelphia on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Headley’s blast came off a 0-2 pitch from right-hander Kevin Slowey and it landed in the right-field bleachers to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.

Despite giving up the tying run in the top of the seventh inning, David Carpenter (1-0) got credit for the victory. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his second spring save.

Slowey (2-1) took the loss.

The Yankees improved their spring record to 9-5.

FIELD FOCUS

When the Yankees faced the Miami Marlins in an exhibition game in Panama last spring, Nathan Eovaldi made a definite impression on manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees hitters he faced. There was the 95 mile-per-hour fastball, a slider, a curve and a change-up.

The secondary pitches were passable and ordinary but the right-hander had a fastball that could not be taught. It just sizzled. It was electric.

The fact that Eovaldi was only 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA last season was surprising enough. Even more shocking was that he led National League pitchers in hits allowed with 223 and he registered only 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.

So the Yankees asked pitching coach Larry Rothschild of he could “fix” Eovaldi enough to make him a better pitcher. Rothschild said he could by working to improve his secondary pitches and getting him to “elevate” his fastball to make it more of a weapon.

So on Dec. 19 the Yankees dealt infielder Martin Prado and right-hander David Phelps to the Marlins in exchange for Eovaldi, first-baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones and right-handed pitching prospect Domingo German.

This spring Rothschild went to work tinkering with Eovaldi’s pitch assortment. Then he pushed him to use the upper part of the strike zone more with his fastball. So when the exhibition season started, Eovaldi, 25, began testing his new plan of attack on live batters.

The results have been astonishing. On Sunday, Eovaldi pitched four innings and faced the minimum 12 batters. He gave up no runs on two hits and struck out three. But the clearest sign that Eovaldi is developing into a pitcher was that he threw 38 out his 45 pitches for strikes.

“Today, overall everything felt pretty good,” Eovaldi told reporters. “For the most part today, I was able to throw all four of my pitches, so that’s a good sign.”

Eovaldi is being counted upon to be the No. 4 starter in the rotation that includes Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The pressure of pitching in New York is always difficult but Eovaldi looks to be ready to embrace it.

All he has to do is do exactly what he did on Sunday against the Phillies.

Overall this spring Eovaldi is 0-1 with a 1.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in seven innings. Even better he has not walked a batter. The pupil is listening and learning.

“We’re really excited to have him in camp with us as one of our starters. We think he can do a really good job for us,” Girardi told reporters.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Headley entered the game hot and he now has seven hits in his past 12 at-bats (.583). His home run ended up being the game-winning hit and he is making it very hard for Alex Rodriguez to find a defined role with the team. Because he is hitting .384 and he has four-year, $50-million contract in his pocket it is obvious that Headley will be the Yankees’ starting third baseman on Opening Day.
  • Slade Heathcott drove in another run on Sunday with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh that scored Greg Bird. Heathcott, a 24-year-old former first-round outfield pick, was actually released by the Yankees and re-signed to a contract as a non-roster invitee this spring. Heathcott’s all-out style of play has led to a series of injuries that have sidetracked him. Now healthy, he is showing the Yankees he can play. He is 6-for-12 (.500) with a home run and four RBIs in nine games. There is a chance Heathcott may be resurrecting a once-promising career.
  • Chase Whitley pitched two scoreless innings after Eovaldi and looked pretty impressive. He did not give up a hit or a walk and he fanned two batters. Whitley has not been scored upon this  spring. He has a good shot to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Although Carpenter, 29, got the victory he did not pitch all that effectively for a second consecutive game. In his past two outings, Carpenter has been tagged for three runs on four hits and a walk over two innings. Carpenter was 6-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 65 relief appearances with the Atlanta Braves last season. He is being counted upon to be the primary setup man for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances and needs to start pitching better.
  • Stephen Drew reverted back to previous form by going 0-for-3 on Sunday. He is 2-for-19 (.105) this spring after he hit an anemic .162 last season.

BOMBER BANTER

No. 1 pitching prospect Luis Severino and former first-round draft pick Aaron Judge were among 10 players the Yankees cut on Sunday and reassigned to minor-league camp. Severino, 21, gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out five over 2 2/3 innings in two appearances. The 6-foot-7 Judge was 3-for-11 (.273) with four walks, a double and a homer in four games. In addition the Yankees cut catchers Trent Garrison and Juan Graterol, right-handers Nick Goody and Diego Moreno, left-handers James Pazos and Tyler Webb, infielder Cito Culver and outfielder Jake Cave.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take Monday off and resume their exhibition schedule on Tuesday by hosting the Toronto Blue Jays.

It will signal the spring debut of left-hander Sabathia, who was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA in eight starts before undergoing surgery to repair a degenerative condition in his right knee. Sabathia has added weight and said he feels stronger. This will be a good test if he is healthy and ready.

Sabathia will face right-hander Drew Hutchison, who is 1-0 with a 0.0 ERA in two spring appearances. Hutchison was 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA for the Blue Jays last season.

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

Yankees Dump Bosox On Galvez’s 3-Run Triple

GAME 12

YANKEES 5, RED SOX 3

Non-roster invitee Jonathan Galvez laced a two-out, bases-loaded double in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish as New York downed Boston on Friday at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

With the Yankees trailing 2-0, Garrett Jones and Brian McCann opened the frame with back-to-back singles to chase right-hander Rick Porcello. One out later, Rob Refsynder loaded the bases on a slow-roller single between home plate and third base off reliever Dalier Hinojosa.

With two out, Galvez, 24, lofted an opposite-field fly ball that dropped out of right-fielder Daniel Nava’s glove as he hit the side wall for a triple.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Edward Mujica on a two-run double by Mason Williams.

Yankees starter Adam Warren (1-0) yielded two runs on four hits while striking out two in three innings to get credit for the victory. Left-hander Jacob Lindgren pitched a scoreless ninth to get a save.

Hinojosa (0-1) was saddled with the loss.

The Yankees earned a split in their two Grapefruit League games with the Red Sox. They lost to the Bosox 10-6 at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday. Their spring record improves to 7-4.

FIELD FOCUS

The majority of players enter spring training camp with very long odds of making a team and Galvez is looking at some of the longest of odds.

He was signed by the Yankees as minor-league free agent and given an invitation to spring training after he batted .280 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs in 103 games for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A El Paso team in the Pacific Coast League.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Dominican entered camp knowing that starter Chase Headley is just beginning a four-year contract and that three-time American League Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez is next in line to play third base.

But Galvez is hoping that he might open enough eyes in the Yankees front office to stay in the organization to provide infield depth at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If not, there is a chance he might catch some interest from another team needing a third baseman with some power.

Galvez actually began his minor-league career as middle infielder with the Padres. But he has not played shortstop since 2011 and he has played only one game as second baseman since 2012. He now mostly plays first base, third base and left-field.

The Yankees have used him primarily at third and in one game as a left-fielder. After Friday’s game, Galvez is 4-for-15 (.267) with no home runs and the three important RBIs he picked up against the Red Sox.

Even if Galvez fails to stick with the Yankees this season he can take comfort in knowing he helped the team beat its bitter rival in their own ballpark. That is pretty good feather to have in your cap.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Galvez finished the evening 2-for-3 in what was, by far, he best game of the spring. The Yankees only sent veterans McCann, Jones and Chris Young on the long bus ride to Fort Myers but it was Galvez who ended up being the hero.
  • Williams entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning and began the day just 2-for-10. But his opposite-field, ground-rule double in the seventh scored Galvez (who singled earlier) and Aaron Judge (who had doubled). Williams, 23, is coming off a disappointing season in which he hit .228 at Double-Trenton.
  • If you throw out the innings that Warren and right-hander Branden Pinder (who gave a run in the seventh) pitched the other four Yankee relievers combined to give up one hit and three walks with eight strikeouts in five innings. Those pitchers included Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Nick Goody and Lindgren.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Warren was nicked for two hits and a run in the first inning as Mookie Betts scored on a Hanley Ramirez groundout. Then in the third Betts doubled and scored on an infield single by David Ortiz. Warren was supposed to pitch four innings but he left after three because his pitch count was up to 58. He threw 29 pitches in the third inning alone. Warren has to be sharper in order to limit his pitch count.
  • Young was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Young, 31, is now 3-for-18 (.167) with four strikeouts in what has been a slow spring with the bat. The Yankees are looking to the former National League All-Star to provide power from the right side, some speed on the bases and solid defense in the outfield.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Friday that left-hander CC Sabathia will make his spring debut at home on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sabathia is coming off surgery on his right knee after he was limited to just eight starts last season. In addition, Girardi announced that Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start on Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play the second of three split-squad games scheduled for this spring on Saturday.

At their complex in Tampa, FL, the Yankees will host the Detroit Tigers, who also are fielding a split squad.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. The Tigers will counter with left-hander Kyle Lobstein.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

Meanwhile, the Yankees will send a team to play the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Nation Stadium in Dunedin, FL.

Right-hander Esmil Rogers will start that game for the Yankees. He will be opposed left-hander Daniel Norris, who is competing for the No. 5 starter’s job.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Network on a delayed basis at 11 p.m.

 

Machado Helps O’s To Defeat Listless Yankees

GAME 9

ORIOLES 3, YANKEES 1

Manny Machado went 3-for-3, drove in a run and stole a base while left-hander Wei-Yin Chen held the Yankees to one hit in three innings as Baltimore edged New York on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.

Jonathan Schoop and Machado broke up a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with back-to-back RBI hits off right-hander Branden Pinder. The Orioles added a run in the seventh when Rey Navarro blasted a home run over the left-field fence off left-hander Chasen Shreve.

The Yankees scored their lone run of the game when catching prospect Gary Sanchez notched his first home run of the spring in the eighth inning off right-hander Logan Verrett.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman followed Chen with two shutout innings to get credit for the victory. Pinder (0-1) took the loss. Despite giving up the home run Verrett earned a save.

The Yankees’ spring record dropped to 5-3.

FIELD FOCUS

Though he was handed the third-base job the second he signed a four-year, $52-million contract to remain with the team, Chase Headley is almost an invisible man in spring camp.

All the attention seems to be going to Alex Rodriguez, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Judge and Masahiro Tanaka. But, hey, that is just the way the 30-year-old Colorado native likes it. He just focuses on his work.

Headley entered the day 1-for-10 in early Grapefruit League action. But he fixed that by going 3-for-3 with two singles and ringing double off the wall in left-center in his last at-bat in the sixth inning. He exited the game for a pinch-runner and is now 4-for-14 (.286).

So much was made of A-Rod’s return to baseball it seemed that few people noticed that Headley was the third baseman, period. If Rodriguez wanted a job with the Yankees he would have to look elsewhere.

The Yankees became enamored with Headley after they acquired him from the San Diego Padres in July trade for Yangervis Solarte and right-hander Rafael De Paula. Headley batted .262 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees.

More important than his hitting was the fact that the former Gold Glove third baseman brought stability to a position that was pretty much a mess all season because Rodriguez was under a full season suspension by Major League Baseball for using performance enhancing drugs.

The Yankees want Headley to stabilize the position for the immediate future and Headley is just fine with that.

Tuesday was just another day at the office for him. It showed in his humility after the game.

“Personally, it’s early and you don’t take a whole lot out of it, good or bad,” Headley told reporters. “But it’s definitely nice to hit the ball on the barrel a few times and feel good about yourself. You know that the work you’re doing in the cage is starting to carry over a little bit.”

Keep working, Chase.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is a good thing that Headley was on the bus for Sarasota because if you erase his three hits the rest of the Yankees only managed three other hits. The Yankees are hoping that the back issues that Headley suffered through in 2013 and 2014 are behind him because Headley is capable of more than the 13 homers he has produced in the past two seasons.
  • Sanchez, 22, may not getting much buzz either because of flashier prospects like Judge, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and Rob Refsynder. But make no mistake that he is a prized prospect still. Sanchez’s long blast to left-center showed how much he can contribute offensively as a catcher. He hit 13 homers at Double-A Trenton last season. He is still young and the Yankees love his potential.
  • Chase Whitley, 25, started for the Yankees and did a bit of a Houdini act by escaping unscored upon despite giving up three hits and two walks in three innings. With two men on in the first Whitley managed to escape by getting Adam Jones on a popup and Matt Wieters on a groundout. Though he was not as sharp as he would have liked, Whitley at least battled to keep the Orioles off the board.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Gregorius went 0-for-3 and is now 1-for-12 (.083) with four strikeouts this spring. The Yankees are letting the 25-year-old shortstop hit off lefties this spring and it is obvious it is a work in progress. Gregorius did not look comfortable against Chen at all.
  • It was obvious that Pinder, 26, did not have it all. When he entered the game in the fifth he immediately yielded a single to Ryan Lavarnway, threw a wild pitch and then gave up the RBI double to Schoop and the RBI single to Machado. Pinder is coming off an injury-plagued season even though he was 3-0 with a 2.04 with three teams last season.
  • I will keep saying it until I am blue in the face but second base is the weakest position in the Yankees 2015 lineup. Stephen Drew was 0-for-3 in the game is now 1-for-11 (.091). With Jose Pirela and Refsnyder breathing down his neck you think he would push himself to do better after hitting .162 last season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to their hated rival Boston Red Sox on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Yankees will call upon left-hander Chris Capuano (0-1) to start. Capuano, 36, was tagged for a two-run homer by Tony Sanchez in the second inning and took a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in his first outing on Friday.

The Bosox will counter with 26-year-old right-hander Joe Kelly, who was hammered for seven hits and four runs in 1 2/3 innings in his first start.

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

 

Pineda, Eovaldi Sharp As Yankees Outshine Rays

GAME 8

YANKEES 4, RAYS 3

Right-handed starters Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi held Tampa Bay scoreless through five innings  –  combining to strike out seven batters  –  while Alex Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with his first RBI of spring as New York rolled to victory on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Pineda, 26, made his first start of the spring and held the Rays to a first-inning single by Desmond Jennings and he fanned two in 25-pitch outing in which he threw 17 strikes.

Eovaldi, 25, entered in the third inning and yielded three hits with no walks and five strikeouts in his second outing in Grapefruit League play.

Pineda (1-0) got credit for the victory and reliever Chris Martin hurled a scoreless eighth inning while fanning two batters to earn a save. Rays starter Nathan Karns (0-1) was tagged for two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk in three innings to take the loss.

With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 5-2.

FIELD FOCUS

Pineda’s major-league career has been a series of giant strides forward with periods of two steps back. He hopes 2015 just moves him forward after having his 2012 and 2013 seasons wiped away after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Last season Pineda was supposed to be healthy and ready to show the Yankees for whom they had traded after Pineda’s rookie season in 2011, when he was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA with the Seattle Mariners.

After a promising 2-2 record with a 1.83 ERA in his first four starts last season, Pineda found himself suspended by Major League Baseball for 10 days after being ejected from a late April game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park with pine tar on his neck.

While Pineda was preparing to return from the suspension he severely tore the teres major muscle in his surgically repaired shoulder. He was shelved until the middle of August. Once again, Pineda showed the Yankees what they missed most of the year.

Pineda ended up 3-3 with a 1.91 ERA in those final nine starts. What sets Pineda apart from a lot of pitchers is that he can strike out a lot of batters (8.43 per nine innings) and at the same time his control is so precise (0.83 walks per nine innings). Both marks are Yankee records.

So 2015 begins with Pineda again primed for a big season and the Yankees are holding their breath that he can stay healthy enough to make 33 starts.

His first step on that road was Monday and Pineda looked very sharp in his first game action of the spring.

“This is what I want. I’m working hard everyday to be healthy and make it a good year, and help my team,” Pineda told reporters.

“I thought he looked great,” catcher Brian McCann told reporters. “The ball’s coming out with the same velocity, with some cut. He threw a couple of change-ups that were really nice that had some good action. His slider was there as well.”

So with his first test out of the way, Pineda can now look to take more small incremental steps throughout the rest of the spring. He hopes all is pointing forward because he refuses to takes any more steps back.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Seeing Pineda pitch well and watching Eovaldi record five strikeouts in his outing had to be encouraging for manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The pair are two important pieces in the Yankees’ rotation plans for the 2015 season. Pineda could pair with staff ace Masahiro Tanaka to form the best tandem in the American League East. Eovaldi somehow only struck out 142 batters in 199 2/3 innings despite having electric stuff. Seeing Eovaldi strike out five means that he is elevating pitches as Rothschild has urged him to do.
  • Rodriguez began his day getting rousing cheers from Yankee fans and derisive jeers from Rays fans as he stepped in for his first at-bat. By the end of the day, Rodriguez was 2-for-3 with an RBI. It was his RBI single in the second inning off Karns that opened the scoring for the Yankees. In the early going, A-Rod is 4-for-9 (.444) with two walks in four games. Though it remains unlikely that Rodriguez will win any job other than as the right-handed part of a platoon designated hitter situation, the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player is playing as if he wants to push Girardi into giving him a larger role.
  • Hot-hitting first-base prospect Greg Bird, 22, and outfielder Slade Heathcott added RBI singles off right-hander Kirby Yates in the seventh inning to extend the Yankees lead to 4-1. Bird is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs. Both Bird and 22-year-old outfield Aaron Judge are serving notice to Girardi that they want to play in the majors and soon. Neither will make the team but both are making great impressions with the coaches and their teammates.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Right-hander Diego Moreno, 27, blew the shutout and yielded three runs on two hits and a walk in the eighth inning. Eugenio Velez and Jake Elmore each collected RBI singles in the inning.
  • Carlos Beltran, 37, extended his hitless string this spring after going 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Beltran is 0-for-7 overall and his swing looks slow and mechanical. The Yankees are counting on Beltran to produce power and production from the No. 3 spot in the order.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees trotted out a lineup that could be a preview of their starting lineup when the season opens. The lineup featured outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Brett Gardner (LF) and Beltran (RF) in the top three spots with first baseman Mark Teixeira, McCann (C), Rodriguez (DH) and Chase Headley (3B). It also had Stephen Drew (2B) and Didi Gregorius (SS) in the bottom two spots.  . . .  Right-handed pitcher Luis Severino was diagnosed with strep throat on Monday. The 21-year-old No. 1 prospect in the organization struck out three batters in 1 1/3 innings of work on Saturday. On Sunday he complained of flu-like symptoms and was sent to a local hospital for tests. It is unclear if Severino will miss his next assignment.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Sarasota, FL, for their first meeting of the season with the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, will make his first start and his second appearance for the Yankees. Right-hander Esmil Rogers is also scheduled to pitch. The Yankees plan to send their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Headley.

The Orioles plan to counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by MLB Network at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

 

Yankees Break Tie In Eighth To Overtake Nationals

GAME 7

YANKEES 3, NATIONALS 2

Kyle Roller, Aaron Judge and Cole Figueroa stroked consecutive two-out singles in the eighth inning with Figueroa scoring Roller with the tie-breaking run as New York defeated Washington on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to earn the victory. Mitch Lively (0-1) took the loss. Jared Burton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up a save.

With the victory the Yankees are now 4-2 in Grapefruit League play.

FIELD FOCUS

If you walk up to Yankee special instructor Reggie Jackson and ask him who he believes is the team’s best young hitting prospect he does not hesitate to tell you that it is infielder Jose Pirela.

Pirela, 25, put those hitting talents on display on Sunday

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound native Venezuela opened the third inning with a double in the right-field corner and he scored on Brett Gardner’s two-out infield single to tie the game a 1-1.

He came up again in the fourth with two out and Brian McCann on third and Chris Young on first and chopped a infield single to give the Yankees a temporary 2-1 lead.

In his first week of spring games, Pirela is batting .455 (5-for-11) including a double, a triple and three RBIs. If you think that possibly could be just an aberration think about this: Pirela batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs in 130 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

He earned a September call-up to the Yankees last season and all he did was bat .333 in 24 at-bats and three RBIs.

Pirela is not rated among the Yankees’ top prospects and yet there is a scenario where he might leave spring training as part of the 25-man roster.

With backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan shelved so far this spring with a mid-back strain he suffered working out with weights, Pirela would stand to make the team as its middle infield reserve.

The knock on Pirela has always been his defense. Scouts do not see him as a potential starter because of that reason. That reputation largely was sewn because Pirela committed 37 errors in 111 games at shortstop in 2011 wit Double-A Trenton.

But Pirela has cut down on his errors in the past three seasons. He was charged with 11 in 2012, 16 in 2013 and 11 last season though he played first base, second base, shortstop and 45 games in the outfield.

The Yankees see Pirela as a “super sub” player along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr. But the Yankees mostly need him as infielder for now. His bat, though, will always be his main calling card.

“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela told reporters. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees trotted out their late-inning relievers in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. Both looked relatively sharp. Miller, a 29-year-old left-hander, was making his second appearance of the spring and he threw a perfect inning with one strikeout. Betances, 26, made his spring debut and gave up a leadoff double to Clint Robinson but retired the next three hitters, the last two by strikeout. Manager Joe Girardi said no decision has been made on who the team’s closer will be or if the team will employ Miller and Betances as co-closers.
  • Although he was charged with an unearned run in the seventh inning on a RBI groundout by Derrick Robinson, right-hander Luis Severino showed off his 97-mile-per-hour fastball to fan three of the seven batters he faced. Severino, 21, is ranked as the team’s top prospect. Despite being a power pitcher who has fanned 225 batters in 221 2/3 innings, Severino also has only walked 54 batters over that time, which just a bit over two every nine innings. There is a chance Severino could make his major-league debut at some point this season.
  • Adam Warren, 27, made his second start of the spring and he looked pretty good despite surrendering a leadoff homer to Michael Taylor on his first offering of the game. Warren yielded just the one run on four hits and no walks with one strikeout in three innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is early but starting center-fielder and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury is just 1-for-12 (.083) after going 0-for-3 on Sunday  –  all three were weak groundouts, including one in the third inning with Pirela on third and one out. Gardner followed with his RBI single to get Ellsbury off the hook. It would be nice to see Ellsbury get untracked before spring training ends.
  • Carlos Beltran is 0-for-5 in his first two games of spring. Beltran, 37, is recovering from right elbow surgery last September and it is obvious his timing is off in the early going. The Yankees are counting on the perennial All-Star outfielder to produce big numbers batting third for the team this season.

BOMBER BANTER

It’s official: Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start in a spring exhibition game on Thursday night as the Yankees play host to the Atlanta Braves. Girardi made the announcement on Sunday. Tanaka, 26, has been monitored closely this spring after he suffered a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last July. Though Tanaka opted to rehab the elbow rather than undergo Tommy John surgery he has reported no issues with his elbow this spring.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session on Sunday and it appears he is just a week away from his first Grapefruit League start. Sabathia had surgery on his right knee last season and the Yankees are being cautious with the 34-year-old left-hander. Sabathia told reporters there is no doubt he will be ready for the start of the season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his first start of the spring for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, was 5-5 with a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts in a season cut short by a pulled muscle in Pineda’s right shoulder.

The Yankees are also scheduled to play their starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns, who was 9-9 with a 5.08 ERA at Triple-A Durham last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a taped basis by the MLB Network at midnight.

 

Yankees’ Rookies Rally Late To Overtake Astros

GAME 6

YANKEES 9, ASTROS 4

 

“It’s never over until it’s over.”

                                                                                       – Yogi Berra

 

KISSIMMEE, FL  –  This wise old saying should be on the lips of every young prospect in Major League Baseball. It certainly rang true for the young Yankee prospects on Saturday

Fueled by home runs Jake Cave and Greg Bird, New York scored two runs in the eighth inning and six runs in the ninth as New York rallied from a 4-1 deficit to stun Houston at Osceola County Stadium.

Through the first seven innings, Astros pitchers held the Yankees to one run (a Ramon Flores home run to lead of the sixth) and three hits but Cave started the rally with his solo home run to lead off the eighth off left-hander Darin Downs.

Nick Noonan then chased Downs by following Cave’s homer with a double. Then Jose Pirela greeted reliever Jordan Jankowski with an RBI triple to bring the Yankees to within 4-3. However, Pirela later in the inning was thrown out at home plate by first baseman Matt Duffy on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Bird to preserve the Astros’ 4-3 lead.

The Yankees then loaded the bases with one out in the ninth off Jankowski when Cave hit an infield roller for a single. Noonan drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game and Pirela, one out later, gave the Yankees their first lead with a two-run single to left.

Jankowski was replaced on the mound by left-hander Kent Emanuel, who then balked to allow Noonan to score and Bird – later in the same at-bat – cracked a 410-foot home run to right-center that closed the scoring.

Chris Cotham (1-0) escaped a one-out jam with runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth to get credit for the victory. Jankowski (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees are 3-2 in the first week of Grapefruit League action.

FIELD FOCUS

Much has been said about how dysfunctional the Yankee’s minor-league system has been over the years. This spring maybe marks a stark change to the idea that the Yankees do not have much talent in their system.

Cave, Bird, Flores, Refsnyder and Pirela are prime examples the Yankees do have young position players who soon will be knocking on the door to get opportunities to play at Yankee Stadium.

As this blog pointed out in earlier posts, the Yankees have legitimately talented young players at every position:

CATCHER – Gary Sanchez, FIRST BASE – Bird, SECOND BASE – Pirela and Refsnyder, THIRD BASE – Eric Jagielo, OUTFIELDERS – Cave, Flores, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin among others. The shortstop position has 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

If you add in young starting pitchers like Luis Severino (the team’s No. 1 prospect), Ian Clarkin and Domingo German and up-and-coming relievers such as Branden Pinder, Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb it becomes clear the Yankees might have a strong corps of young players who can contribute.

So while the 2015 season might hold a lot of dark clouds on how the Yankees will do with so many questions surrounding veterans like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. There is just a bit of hope for the near future.

Seeing it all play out with an eight-run rally in the final two innings in Kissimmee on Saturday was pretty fun to watch.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Bird, 22, is batting a red-hot .444 in the early going and it is no accident. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman was named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League for Scottsdale this winter and he has just picked up where he left off there. Bird likely will open the season at Double-A Trenton but he could possibly move up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • Refsnyder, 23, may have to work on his fielding at second since he is a converted outfielder but he can flat-out hit. After going 1-for-2 on Saturday he is batting an even .500 on the spring. He is a career .297 hitter in the minors and hit .318 in 137 games in two minor-league stops in 2014. He is ticketed for Scranton but he could advance to the major leagues should Stephen Drew get injured or fail to succeed in his switch to second base.
  • Cave, 23, was 2-for-2 including his home run and now is hitting a scorching .571 early. Cave only has nine career minor-league home runs so power is not really his thing. Cave is more of line-drive gap hitter with some speed. The 6-foot, 180-pound Cave hit a combined .294 in two minor-league stops in 2014. He likely will start off in Trenton.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Scott Baker, a 33-year-old former Minnesota Twins ace, started for the Yankees and was tagged for three runs on six hits as the Astros batted around in the first inning. Chris Carter smacked a two-run double and Luis Valbuena followed with an RBI single. Baker is a non-roster invitee trying to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever. Unfortunately, the Astros jumped on Baker’s fastball early in the count and did some damage because Baker’s fastball had very little movement. Baker was 3-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 25 games with the Texas Rangers last season and was rewarded with his release.
  • The Yankees started their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Chase Headley. After leaving in the sixth inning they were a combined 2-for-11 with a walk. The exception was Teixeira, who smacked an opposite-field single in the second and lined out in the fourth. Teixeira is showing signs of recovering fully from his wrist surgery in 2013 and he also is sporting a trimmer look due to a new diet.

BOMBER BANTER

Masahiro Tanaka threw 29 pitches in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Saturday and told reporters later that he feels he is ready to pitch in exhibition games. “He’s exactly where you want him to be at this point in spring training,” Rothschild told reporters.  . . .  Rodriguez, 39, will play third base in one of the next two home games on Sunday or Monday, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday. In two previous spring games Rodriguez has been the designated hitter. Rodriguez is 1-for-4 with two walks and single in the early going.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host to the Washington Nationals today at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Right-hander Adam Warren will make his second start of the spring. Warren looked sharp in his first outing on Tuesday against the Phillies at Bright House Field In Clearwater, FL, giving up just one hit in two innings of work.

The Nationals will counter with veteran right-hander Doug Fister, who led the Nationals in 2014 with 16 victories and a 2.41 ERA.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis at 8 p.m. by the MLB Network and live by the YES Network. It also will be available on a live broadcast by WFAN in New York via MLB Radio.