YANKEES 6, ATHLETICS 2
Masahiro Tanaka was well aware of the whispers after he went 0-2 with a 6.26 ERA in his past four starts. They were saying that he was not pitching well because of that slightly torn right elbow ligament.
On Thursday he got a chance to silence those naysayers and he did it in style.
Tanaka (5-3) pitched two-hit baseball over 7 2/3 innings and newly selected All-Star team replacement Brett Gardner homered while Jacoby Ellsbury added two RBIs as New York won the three-game series over Oakland in front of paid crowd of 40,084 at Yankee Stadium.
After Gardner hit his 10th home run with one out in the first inning to hand him an early 1-0 lead, Tanaka struggled in the second inning.
Josh Reddick reached on a rare catcher’s interference call on Brian McCann. Billy Butler followed with an RBI double to left that scored Reddick. Two outs later, Mark Canha plated Butler with an RBI double off the center-field wall.
Though the Athletics did not know it, Tanaka would then go on to retire the next 18 batters he faced without giving up a hit or a walk. Butler did reach first with one out in the fourth inning after striking out on a wild pitch.
So Tanaka ended his day being charged with two runs (one earned) on two hits and no walks and he struck out six in a masterful season-high 114-pitch performance.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were able to tie the game in the bottom of the third inning against right-hander Jesse Chavez.
Ellsbury drew a leadoff four-pitch walk and Gardner followed with a single to center as part of his three-hit day. Mark Teixeira then scored Ellsbury on a single up the middle for his 62nd RBI of the season, which leads the American League.
The Yankees took the lead for good in the fourth after Chavez issued Stephen Drew a one-out walk and Cole Figueroa, who was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, delivered one of his two doubles on the afternoon to advance Drew to third. Ellsbury then laced a two-run single to right to score Drew and Figueroa.
Chavez (4-2) surrendered four runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts in five innings.
The Yankees added a pair of unearned runs in the eighth inning off right-hander Fernando Rodriguez.
Chris Young drew a one-out walk and Figueroa followed one out later with a ground-rule double to right. Both Young and Figueroa scored when Marcus Semien fielded Ellsbury’s ground ball but committed his major-league-leading 28th error of the season when first baseman Ike Davis was unable to catch his errant throw.
Left-hander Chasen Shreve and right-hander Adam Warren combined to throw 1 1/3 scoreless innings to close out the victory for Tanaka.
With the victory the Yankees are now 46-39 and they have opened up a three-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The A’s dropped to 39-49.
- Tanaka’s final start before the All-Star break was just what he needed to build upon after he missed more than a month with an arm injury unrelated to his elbow ligament tear. He is 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 starts. In order for the Yankees to maintain their lead in the division it will be important for Tanaka to pitch closer to the 13-5 and 2.77 ERA he recorded last season in 20 starts. I would not want to bet against him doing it after seeing him on Thursday.
- Ellsbury’s return to the lineup on Wednesday after being activated from the disabled list paid big dividends in this game. He and Gardner combined to go 4-for-9 with a walk, a home run, three singles, two runs scored and three RBIs. They reached base in seven of their 10 at-bats. Gardner was 3-for-5 and is now hitting .303 on the season. This speedy tandem is going to create a lot of havoc on the bases in the second half as long as they stay healthy.
- Figueroa, 28, was called up to play third base in the absence of Chase Headley, who has some minor inflammation in his right calf. All Figueroa did was go 2-for-4 with two doubles and he scored two runs in his first major-league game. Figueroa was hitting .317 with three homers and 36 RBIs in 77 games at Scranton.
Nothing negative here. The Yankees got a great effort from their ace right-hander and with Gardner and Ellsbury getting on base often it is going to be difficult for teams to keep the Yankees from scoring runs in bunches. The rest of the division better watch out.
In order for the team to call up Figueroa the Yankees sent Jose Pirela, 23, to Scranton. Pirela was hitting a disappointing .212 with one home run and four RBIs in 29 games. Pirela hit.305 at Scranton last season and batted a robust .370 this spring. But he has not found his stroke with the Yankees this season. In addition, the Yankees had to designate for assignment outfielder Taylor Dugas, 25, to make room on the 40-man roster for Figueroa. . . . In the fifth inning the public address announced that Gardner, 31, had been selected by Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals – who is managing the American League All-Star team – to replace outfielder Alex Gordon of the Royals on the roster. Gordon suffered an injured groin in a game on Wednesday and will be sidelined for a minimum of six weeks. Gordon had been selected to start for the American League in the fan vote. For Gardner it was the first time he had been selected for the team. Gardner is batting .303 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs this season.
The Yankees will open their final pre-All-Star Game series with their hated rival Boston Red Sox on Friday at Fenway Park.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (8-5, 3.79 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Pineda pitched a brilliant seven innings of shutout baseball. yielding only five hits and one walk while striking out 10 against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. He did not get a decision but the Yankees eventually won the game in the ninth inning.
Right-hander Clay Buchholz (7-6, 3.27 ERA) will start for the Red Sox. Buchholz threw nine innings of one-run baseball, giving up six hits, no walks and striking five in a complete-game victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by WPIX.
YANKEES 4, ROYALS 2
In his major-league debut on May 15 against the New York Mets, Chase Whitley drew high praise from former Atlanta Braves right-hander John Smoltz, who was providing color commentary of the game for the MLB Network. After the way the rookie pitched against the Royals on Friday, now Yankee fans can see what Smoltz noticed.
Whitley pitched seven solid innings in his longest start of his career and he went on to earn his first major-league victory behind the hitting of Brian McCann as New York edged Kansas City in front of a paid crowd of 23,418 at Kauffman Stadium.
Whitley (1-0) yielded two runs on five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out three in his first outing to last more than five innings. Whitley threw 51 strikes out of 87 pitches for a 59 percent strike ratio, keeping the Royals off balance with his fastball, slider and change-up.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to break a 1-1 tie in the third inning, keyed by a one-out, bases-loaded, three-run double off the bat of McCann.
Jacoby Ellsbury opened the inning with a single up the middle off veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (2-6). Brett Gardner then looped an opposite-field single into left and – one out later – Guthrie brushed the right shoulder of Mark Teixeira with a pitch to load the bases.
McCann then stroked an outside fastball into the left-field corner to clear the bases and hand Whitley and the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
Guthrie was charged with four runs on six hits and one walk while he fanned two in seven innings of work. He has now winless in his past 11 starts dating back to April 9.
Dellin Betances tossed a scoreless eighth and David Robertson threw a scoreless ninth to earn his 14th save in 16 chances this season.
The Yankees took an 1-0 lead in the second inning when Teixeira led off by lining a single to right off Guthrie. Yangervis Solarte drew a one-out walk and Brian Roberts provided a two-out RBI single to center to score Teixeira.
However, the Royals were able to tie it up in the bottom of the second when Alex Gordon laced a one-out double into the right-field corner and Salvador Perez followed with an RBI single to left.
The Royals did close to within two runs in the fifth when Gordon led off the frame with a single and stole second. One out later, Lorenzo Cain bounced a ball into left-center that he was able to hustle into a double.
However, Whitley ended the threat by retiring Mike Moustakas on a groundout and Alcides Escobar on a flyout.
The 24-year-old was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15 as the Yankees lost starters CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda to injury in quick succession. The converted reliever did not get a decision in his previous four starts despite the fact he is sporting an excellent 2.42 ERA.
With the victory the Yankees have won two in a row and they improved their season record to 31-29. They also were able to pass the Baltimore Orioles to claim second place in the American League East six games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Royals, who have now lost 21 of the past 31 games to the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium, fell to 29-32.
- Whitley may end up being more than just a fill-in starter until Sabathia and Pineda are expected to return in July. His first five starts – and particularly this one – prove that Whitley deserves to stay in the rotation as long he continues to pitch this well. David Phelps is 1-3 with a 4.19 ERA in six starts and Vidal Nuno is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in nine starts as replacements. Whitley has simply been more impressive as a starter than they have, period.
- McCann has been a major disappointment at the plate this season after entering the season as a career .275 hitter with 20 or more homers in the past six seasons. But his big three-run double showed he is willing to hit the ball where it is pitched to beat the extreme shifts teams play on him. Since May 27, McCann is quietly resurrecting his hitting. He is 14-for-33 (.424) in that span to raise his season average to .231.
- Roberts entered the game in a 1-for-14 (.071) funk that dates back to May 31. But his two-out RBI single gave the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. The Yankees have been really disappointed with the production they have gotten from the free agents (Ellsbury, McCann, Roberts, Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson) they signed this past winter. They all need to really start picking it up soon.
After the team went through a horrendous four-game losing streak while the Blue Jays were red hot, they finally seem to have some life back in them. So after getting a huge victory out a pitcher they had not planned to use at all this season things may be finally falling into place. It’s about time, too.
The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Royals on Saturday.
Phelps (1-3, 4.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. The right-hander is coming off his worst start of the season on Monday against the Seattle Mariners. He was tagged for six runs on six hits and three walks in six-plus innings.
The Royals will start left-hander Danny Duffy (3-5, 3.05 ERA). The converted reliever will be making his seventh start and he is 2-4 with a 3.27 ERA in those starts. He shut out the St. Louis Cardinals on one hit and one walk while striking out five in six innings on Monday.
Game-time will be 7:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports.
YANKEES 4, ROYALS 2
If winning games is fun then the New York Yankees’ charter plane to Cleveland must be a barrel of laughs.
Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells each homered and drove in two runs and Hiroki Kuroda pitched into the eighth inning as the New York swept the three-game series against Kansas City and extended their winning steak to five games in front of 29,515 fans at Kauffman Stadium.
Kuroda (5-2) collected his third victory in his past four outings, limiting the Royals to two runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out one batter in 7 2/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Cano gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day in the third inning.
With the Yankees trailing 1-0, Chris Stewart stroked a one-out single to left and, one batter later, Cano connected with the first offering from Royals right-hander Ervin Santana (3-2) on a two-run blast into the bleachers in right-field for his 10th home run of the season.
Cano was using a pink bat as part of Major League Baseball effort to bring awareness on Mother’s Day for breast cancer research and an eventual cure.
Right after Cano gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, Wells laced a 1-0 fastball from Santana down the line into the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season.
Wells added another run for the Yankees in the fifth. Brett Gardner slapped a one-out opposite-field double to left. One out later, Wells singled to left to plate Gardner.
Santana gave up four runs on eight hits and he fanned four in 6 1/3 innings.
The Royals scored both their runs off Kuroda on the strength of leadoff doubles.
Jarrod Dyson led off the first inning with a double down the right-field line and he advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Alcides Escobar. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Alex Gordon.
Elliot Johnson led off the eighth with a double off the wall in right-center. He advanced to third on a flyout to deep center by Dyson and he scored on an infield groundout off the bat of Escobar.
After the Royals drew to within two runs, Gordon doubled off Kuroda. Manager Joe Girardi replaced Kuroda with right-hander David Robertson, who retired Billy Butler on a routine flyout to end the Royals’ threat.
Mariano Rivera came in to pitch a scoreless ninth to save his 14th game in 14 tries this season and it was his 28th consecutive save against the Royals, which dates back to the 1998 season.
With the victory the Yankees are now 22-9 since April 7 and they remain in first place in the American League East one game in front of the Baltimore Orioles with a 22-13 season mark. The Royals, who have now lost six of their past seven games, are now 18-16.
- Cano is way ahead of his home-run pace of 2012, a year in which he set a career high with 33 home runs. Cano leads the team in batting (.311), runs scored (22), doubles (10), home runs (10) and RBIs (23).
- Wells hit only nine home runs in 77 games with the Los Angels Angels last season. Wells is second on the club in batting (.295), runs scored (19), home runs (9) and RBIs (20).
- Kuroda pitched another gem to become the first Yankee starter to win five games. Kuroda also leads all Yankee starters in ERA (2.31) and Walks To Innings Pitched (WHIP) (1.05).
- Though the Yankees’ No. 9 through No. 4 hitters were a combined 9 for 19 (.474), the No. 5 through No. 8 hitters were a combined 0-for-16 against Santana and relievers Tim Collins and Greg Holland.
- Third baseman Chris Nelson was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and since he has joined the Yankees on May 4 he is 5-for-29 (.172) with no home runs and two RBIs in eight games.
- Jayson Nix was 4-for 6 with two walks in the first two games of the series but on Sunday he was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. When he did reach base on a two-base throwing error by Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning he was doubled up off second after Nelson lined out on a diving catch by Dyson in center-field.
The Yankees on Sunday elected to place shortstop Eduardo Nunez (left ribcage tightness) on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 6 and he will be eligible to activated on May 20. To replace Nunez on the roster the Yankees bought the contract of infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Gonzalez, 30, previously played for the Yankees from 2006 through 2007 after being acquired as part of the Randy Johnson trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was acquired from the Chicago Cubs last week in a trade for a player to be named later. He is career .241 hitter and also has played with with the Nationals, Padres and Rangers. . . . Right-hander Ivan Nova experienced discomfort in his right side while throwing at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, and he will not be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Monday. Nova, who has been on the disabled list with inflammation in his right triceps, was being considered for a start in the team’s doubleheader on Monday. It is unclear how long Nova will remain on the DL. . . . Reliever Joba Chamberlain three 30 pitches in a bullpen session at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday and he is scheduled to pitch in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton on Tuesday. Chamberlain has been on the disabled list since April 28 with a right oblique strain. . . . Chamberlain and Rivera apologized to each other on Sunday after a intense shouting match erupted between the two on Saturday. Rivera was conducting an interview with reporters in the dugout during batting practice while Chamberlain apparently was shouting up to family members in the stands. Rivera asked Chamberlain to be quiet and Chamberlain took exception to it. Both players said it was an exchange in the heat of the moment and all has been forgiven.
The red-hot but limping Yankees will be in Cleveland on Monday for day-night doubleheader as part of a makeup of two rained out games against the Indians on May 10 and May 11.
The Yankees will open the doubleheader with right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA). Phelps, 26, is coming off a six-inning no-decisoon against the Colorado Rockies in which he yielded two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out four. Phelps is making his third start of the season but he has never faced the Indians.
The Indians will counter with ace right-hander Justin Masterson (5-2. 3.67 ERA). Masterson is 2-2 with a 5.91 in his past five starts after starting the season 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA. Masterson is 3-3 with a 3,00 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 12:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
Rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his first major-league start in the second game. Nuno, 25, has pitched only once for the Yankees, tossing three shutout innings against the Houston Astros on April 29. Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts at Scranton before he was recalled on April 28.
Nuno will be opposed by right-hander Trevor Bauer (1-1, 2.78 ERA). Bauer is being called up from Triple-A Columbus to make this start. He is 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA in four outings at Columbus.
Game-time will be determined and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, ROYALS 2
A pitcher losing command of one of his best pitches is like a skilled surgeon trying to work without a scalpel. But that is what happened to Andy Pettitte in his two previous starts. He did not have a feel for his signature cutter.
But he certainly rediscovered it on Saturday as he pitched seven strong innings and struck out seven batters while Vernon Wells backed him up with a two-run home run in the fifth inning that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead as New York edged Kansas City in front of 30,910 fans at Kauffman Stadium.
Pettitte (4-2) settled into a groove after allowing Billy Butler to break a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning with a leadoff home run to center-field. After that Pettitte gave up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar and walked Lorenzo Cain in the fifth. But he ended that threat by retiring Alex Gordon on a groundout.
The 40-year-old left-hander gave up two runs on five hits and walk and retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced to pick up his first victory since April 19.
Meanwhile, the Yankees took advantage of a big mistake by James Shields (2-3) to take control of the game.
Shields hit Chris Stewart on the left triceps on a 1-2 pitch as Stewart led off the fifth. Two batters later, Wells ripped a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his eighth home run of the season that gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender the rest of the way.
Shields gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks and he fanned five in eight innings of work.
David Robertson pitched in the eighth and struck out the side for the Yankees.
Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and gave up a two-out double to Salvador Perez. But he retired Mike Moustakas on a flyout to Wells in left to earn his 14th save in as many chances this season.
The save for Rivera was also the 70th time in his career he has saved a game started by Pettitte, which is the most for any starter and closer tandem in major-league history.
The Yankees actually took advantage of an error on a throwing error by Moustakas in the third inning to take an early 1-0 lead.
Chris Nelson opened the inning by lacing a double down the left-field line. Two outs later, Robinson Cano slapped a bouncing ball to the left of Moustakas. The Royals’ third baseman dove, got up and threw high and wide of first base to allow Nelson to score from second.
The Royals manufactured a run of off Pettitte in bottom of the third to tie it.
Elliot Johnson reached on a swinging bunt down the third-base line and he later stole second. He advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a groundout off the bat of Cain.
The Yankees extended their current winning streak to four games and they are now 14-4 this season in games decided by two runs or less.
The victory also allowed the Yankees to claim full possession of first place in the American League East with a record of 22-13. The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles are a full game out in second place. The Royals, who have now lost five of their past six games, are 18-15.
- In his last two starts, Pettitte was hammered for 11 runs (10 earned) on 14 hits and five walks in 9 1/3 innings. On Saturday, he looked more like the pitcher who was 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA before those two dreadful outings. Pettitte had command of the cutter and he mixed his curve and slider to keep the Royals’ batters off balance all evening. The Yankees’ top four starters, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes, are a combined 14-9 this season.
- Wells was 0-for-5 in Friday’s 11-run, 16-hit explosion against the Royals but he bounced back nicely in this game. Wells is currently second on the team with a .281 batting average and has eight home runs and 18 RBIs on the season. It is going to be difficult for manager Joe Girardi to bench him when Curtis Granderson is activated form the disabled list this month.
- Robertson came out the bullpen firing seeds in the eighth inning. Robertson needed only 12 pitches to strike out Escobar and Cain looking and Gordon swinging. In his past four outings, Robertson has not give up a run or a hit and he has walked one while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings.
How can you complain when the team got a great effort out of Pettitte and the bullpen? Wells hit a timely home run and the Yankees took sole possession of first place. Who said this team would be awful because of all of the injuries they suffered? Not me.
Shortstop Eduardo Nunez missed his sixth straight game because he was unable to shake nagging discomfort in his left ribcage and the Yankees may have to place him on the 15-day disabled list if he is unable to play by Monday’s doubleheader in Cleveland against the Indians. Nunez told trainer Steve Donohue on Saturday that he still is feeling pain when he is doing fielding drills.
The Yankees can use their big broom and sweep the Royals in the three-game series finale on Sunday.
Kuroda (4-2, 3.20 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Kuroda, 38, limited the Colorado Rockies to two runs on seven hits in seven innings but took the loss on Tuesday because the Yankees were blanked. The veteran right-hander is 0-2 with a 4.66 ERA in his career against Kansas City.
The Royals will start former Angels right-hander Ervin Santana (3-1, 2.36 ERA). Santana surrendered three runs on seven hits and one walk in six innings of a no-decision against the Orioles on Tuesday. He is 5-6 with a 5.90 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 11, ROYALS 6
It is getting to the point that Yankee fans may forget their injured first baseman Mark Teixeira because his replacement Lyle Overbay is doing so well in his absence.
Overbay was 4-for-5 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs on Friday to lead 16-hit attack as New York outslugged Kansas City in front of a paid crowd of 24,521 at Kauffman Stadium.
Though starter Phil Hughes (2-2) was staked to 4-0 and 5-3 leads, he was unable to hold onto it in the fifth inning when Alex Gordon followed back-to-back bloop one-out singles by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain with a two-run double just over the outstretched glove of left-fielder Vernon Wells on the warning track to tie the game at 5-5.
However, the Yankees had already scored five runs off former Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Wade Davis (2-3) on a pair of two-run home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Overbay in the second inning and an RBI double off the bat of Overbay in the fourth.
So the Yankees opened the sixth with a double off the right-field wall by Suzuki and a soft lined single to center by Jayson Nix that advanced Suzuki to third and chased Davis from the game.
Royals manager Ned Yost replaced Davis with left-hander Bruce Chen and Overbay greeted him with a double off the top of the wall in center-field that scored Suzuki that broke the 5-5 tie and gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the night.
Chris Nelson followed with a two-run single to right, his first RBIs as a member of the Yankees.
The Yankees went on to bat around against Chen and add two more runs in the inning to extend the lead to 10-5 and dash any hopes the Royals might have had about another rally.
Hughes was the winner despite giving up a three-run home run to Jarrod Dyson in the second inning – which broke Hughes’ 22-inning homerless streak entering the contest – and a solo shot to Mike Moustakas in the sixth.
Hughes gave up six runs on seven hits, two walks and one hit batter while he struck three in 5 2/3 innings.
But the Yankees pounded Davis for seven runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned three in five-plus innings of work.
The No. 5, 6 and 7 hitters for the Yankees – Suzuki, Nix and Overbay – combined to go 9-for-13 (.692) with two home runs, four doubles, eight runs scored and seven RBIs.
With the Yankees’ bullpen short because Preston Claiborne, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were unavailable to pitch, the team got a strong effort out of right-hander Shawn Kelley.
Kelley pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out six of the seven batters he faced. Boone Logan pitched a perfect ninth to close out the game.
The Yankees’ victory was their third in a row and gave Joe Girardi his 500th triumph as manager of the Yankees.
The Yankees also improved to 21-13, which keeps them percentage points ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles in first place in the American League East. The Royals dropped to 18-14.
- Considering that when he signed a huge contract with the Toronto Blue Jays and was later sarcastically nicknamed “Lyle Overpaid” when he did not deliver big numbers there and he was released this season in the last week of spring training by the Red Sox, Overbay should have the moniker “Lyle Underpaid” with the Yankees. All Overbay has done in 32 games (29 starts) is hit .264 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Oh, he has committed only one error at first base while flashing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the position. Geesh! What a pickup for general manager Brian Cashman.
- Suzuki entered the contest hitting .372 at Kauffman Stadium, which is the highest average for any opposing hitter in history. Well, he raised that average by going 3-for-5 with his second home run of the season, a double, a single, a stolen base, three runs scored and two RBIs. In his past nine games, Suzuki is 12-for-33 (.364) which has raised his season average from .247 to .282.
- Kelley was absolutely sensational when he came out the bullpen in the sixth inning. Of his six strikeouts, four were swinging and he struck out the first five batters he faced. After being hammered for 10 earned runs on 13 hits and four walks in 10 1/3 innings of work over nine appearances through May 4, Kelley has not been scored upon his last three outings covering 4 1/3 innings. In that span he has fanned nine batters, mostly on his devastating slider.
- Hughes pitched aggressively against the Royals, throwing first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. However, the Royals were able to catch up with his fastball and hit him hard. After pitching brilliantly in his last four starts in which his ERA was 1.93 and he won only one of those starts, Hughes was hammered for six runs and yet he won because the Yankees backed him with a lot of run support. Go figure!
- The Royals’ pitchers must have really wanted to bear down on Wells and designated hitter Travis Hafner. The two combined to go 0-for-9 on a night the team scored 11 runs and knocked out 16 hits. Fortunately for the Yankees, the rest of the lineup was 16-for-34 (.471), which more than made up for Wells and Hafner.
The Yankees held shortstop Eduardo Nunez out of a fourth straight game but he was available to the team in an emergency. Nunez, who has been slowed by tightness in his left ribcage, could be available to start on Saturday if he suffers no setbacks throwing and taking batting practice on Saturday. . . . Curtis Granderson homered on Friday in his second rehab game with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Granderson, who was 1-for-5 in the game, hit his home run in the eighth inning. Granderson started the game in left-field and batted second. The 32-year-old outfielder has been on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured left forearm and he could be activated within the next 10 days. . . . Because Kauffman Stadium was the scene where Rivera suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on May 5 last season, some of the Yankees decided to have a little fun with the 43-year-old future Hall-of-Famer. Some teammates drew a chalk outline of Rivera on the warning track and placed a sign on the outfield wall lined with stop signs and yellow tape that read “No Mo Zone.” When Rivera strolled out to look at it he laughed and he intends to keep the sign.
The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Royals on Saturday.
The Yankees will start veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-2, 4.06 ERA), who yielded four runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks in five innings on Sunday against the Oakland Athletics. But he loves Kansas City because he is 9-2 with a 3.72 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Royals.
The Royals will counter with the second former Rays right-hander in a row in James Shields (2-2, 2.52 ERA). Shields threw eight shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox on Monday but he lost a victory when the bullpen allowed the Chisox to rally for a 2-1 victory in 11 innings. Shields in 7-14 with a 4.56 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
LEFTFIELD – BRETT GARDNER (7 Rs, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs, .323 BA, 2 SB)
Luck has always seemed to turn its back on Brett Gardner.
When he won a job in the Yankees’ outfield in 2009, he seemed to add a new dimension to the offense with his speed. But that season was cut short (108 games) due to a severe thumb injury he suffered sliding into base on a steal attempt.
He has always shown great promise to produce a season in which he would could hit close to .300, steal 60 bases and score tons of runs hitting in front of the Yankees’ powerful home run hitters.
He hit .277 in 2010 and stole 47 bases but he regressed a bit in 2011, when he hit .259 and stole 49 bases. A wrist injury contributed a lot to his hitting woes but surgery on the wrist appeared to have him primed for a big season in 2012.
He was hitting .321 in the 11th game of the season when he hustled in for a sinking line drive in a game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on April 17. Gardner dove for the ball and caught it but paid dearly by suffering a right elbow injury that landed him on the disabled list. In that game, Gardner hit two doubles, drew two walks, scored three runs, stole a base and drove in a run.
Unfortunately, Gardner would have only three more at-bats the rest of the season and they would come in the Yankees’ final series of the season against the Boston Red Sox.
In between, Gardner would have to suffer a series of stops and starts in his rehab that would baffle the Yankees’ medical staff and elbow specialists alike.
Gardner would rehab the elbow and then show enough progress for a minor-league rehab assignment. However, on two occasions last season Gardner had to shelve his rehab because of recurring pain in the elbow. Finally, Gardner underwent surgery, which ostensibly ended his season.
But the Yankees did see an opportunity to get Gardner ready to play in the playoffs as a potential pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield. Gardner entered two games in the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles as a defensive replacement and he was 0-for-8 with two stolen bases in three games in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.
But, when you add it all up, basically Gardner 2012 season was just wasted.
Gardner, 29, enters 2013 with a clean bill of health on his surgically repaired elbow. That was pretty much confirmed when Gardner was allowed to hit late in the season and in the playoffs. Hopefully he will be able to return to the same durable player who played in 159 games in 2011.
The Yankees hope so because with Gardner hurt and Eduardo Nunez sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees running game in 2012 was virtually non-existent until the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in June.
Gardner and Nunez had combined to steal 71 bases in 2011. Last season, in limited play, they stole only 13. The team leader was Suzuki with 14 despite the fact he played in just 67 games with the Yankees.
There is no doubt Gardner and 137 career steals were really missed by a Yankees’ team that had trouble scoring runs in every way except by hitting homers. Gardner provided the speed the Yankees needed and the base-running ability to make other teams make mistakes on pickoff attempts and throws.
The Yankees will have an opportunity to field a roster in 2013 that includes, Gardner, Nunez and Suzuki. They also could possibly get double-digit steals from Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson.
So the Yankees, minus power threats such as Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Andruw, Jones, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez and with Alex Rodriguez out until at least June with a hip injury may have to remake their attack next season around stealing and taking extra bases to make up for the what they lack in power.
That may not be a bad thing considering the “waiting for the home run” approach did not work out so well once the playoffs began. Manager Joe Girardi has always favored a National League-style attack of getting runners on base and moving them aggressively around the bases.
But last season Gardner’s injury and Nunez’s demotion altered the attack to a power-only approach with a veteran-laden roster of players who were not fleet afoot.
Ibanez and Jones pretty much took over for Gardner in left field. Ibanez, 40, and Jones, 34, combined to hit 33 home runs and drive in 96 runs but they only combined to steal three bases and all of those were from the older Ibanez.
Neither Ibanez or Jones could match Gardner’s range and fielding prowess, despite the fact Jones won 10 Gold Gloves when he was a young star with the Atlanta Braves. This is where Gardner was truly missed.
There are scouts who believe that Gardner should have won a Gold Glove in 2011. It instead was awarded to Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals. Gardner has superior range, better instincts and a better arm than Gordon.
He had seven assists and he deterred a lot of base-runners rounding third for heading for home because he threw out 12 runners in his first season in 2009.
In fact, Gardner is so well thought of as a defensive outfielder that the Yankees are toying with the idea of moving him to centerfield this season and moving Granderson to left. Though Granderson does have excellent speed and he plays hard, the Yankees are not happy about how he tends to get late jumps and misreads fly balls.
Girardi is low-keying this idea but do not be surprised to see Gardner playing center this spring on the days Granderson is not. It also would not surprise me if Granderson plays some in left under the guise that the team “wants to see” rookie Melky Mesa in center.
Then Girardi likely will make an announcement late in the spring that Gardner and Granderson will switch. He would do this in order to make sure Granderson’s feelings aren’t damaged and he can probably justify it by saying leftfield is just as important to cover than center in Yankee Stadium, which is true.
Though speed and defense are constants in Gardner’s game, he still has some warts, too.
His bat can be erratic. Pitchers love to overpower him with hard stuff up and try to tie him up inside because of his past wrist issues. So instead of hitting line drives, Gardner hits weak pops and grounders.
Gardner also, for all his blinding speed, has never really developed into a very good bunter.
Gardner’s bunting is still a work in progress, which is hard to believe for a player who has played a combined seven major- and minor-league seasons. Juan Pierre practices bunting every day and he is the most accomplished bunter in the major leagues. If Gardner is not doing it than why not? And if he is practicing every day why is he not getting better?
Those are fair questions.
The other maddening part of Gardner’s game is that he does not have an aggressive nature on the bases. Gardner loves to wait for the right pitch and the right jump before taking a base. It sometimes rankles the hitters who are up when he is on because he just waits and wait and waits.
It is admirable that Gardner does not want to get thrown out but base-stealers have to have a riverboat gambler approach to it or they lose the intimidation factor on the bases. Rickey Henderson had the attitude that no one could throw him out. If you did manage to get him, he would dare you to do it again.
Gardner is much more passive and it shows. The Yankees will need him to develop that attitude and perhaps Suzuki could be of some help to him with it.
Even with these weaknesses in his game, Gardner is still going to be very important to the Yankees in 2013. Having him healthy will give the Yankees a genuine 50-plus base-stealing threat and a superb defensive outfielder roaming the vast expanses of Yankee Stadium.
After suffering through a frustrating year with that nagging elbow injury, Gardner seems primed for a big season. For Yankee fans often it is when you are sorely missed that fans take a better appreciation for what you do. My guess is they are going to really appreciate what Gardner gives them this season – if he can just stay healthy.
ROYALS 5, YANKEES 1
The Yankees made Felipe Paulino look like Roy Halladay in throwing six shutout innings just coming off the disabled list and Billy Butler drove in three runs as Kansas City defeated a punchless, lifeless New York team on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO.
Paulino (1-0) gave up four hits, walked two and struck out six.
Meanwhile, Hiroki Kuroda (2-4) surrendered three runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks and he fanned two in 4 1/3 innings.
Alex Gordon tied a career high with four hits for the Royals.
The Yankees fell to 14-13 and the Royals are 9-17.
- The Yankees managed only eight hits in the game and Russell Martin collected three of them. He also provided the Yankees’ lone run of the game with a solo home run in the seventh inning off Royals reliever Jose Mijares for his third home run of the season. Coming into the game, Martin had the lowest batting average among the regulars but he appears to be coming out of his long slump.
- Curtis Granderson had a pair of doubles in the game and was 2-for-4. It is feast of famine with Granderson as he struck out swinging in his other two at-bats. But Granderson has raised his batting average to .279.
- Freddy Garcia pitched two scoreless innings of relief and he has now thrown four consecutive innings of shutout baseball and lowered his season ERA to 9.68. Garcia is likely to remain the bullpen for the time being but he could get another shot to start again if he can continue to throw up some zeroes.
- Kuroda has been maddeningly inconsistent in his first six starts, In his three good starts, he is 2-1 with a 1.25 ERA.In his three bad starts, he is 0-3 and has given up 15 runs (12 earned) on 24 hits and seven walks in 14 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 7.54 and a WHIP of 2.16. As the No. 2 starter, Kuroda has to show more consistency.
- Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira combined to go 1-for-11 in the game and 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. With no punch in the middle of the order the Yankees’ offense is not producing runs and these three guys have a lot to do with the drought.
- The bullpen kind of sprung a leak at a bad time. Cody Eppley and Boone Logan combined to give up two key runs in the sixth inning. The runs were charged to Eppley but Logan allowed a sacrifice fly to Jarrod Dyson and an RBI double to Gordon that made the score 5-0.
The Yankees will look to earn a split of the series with the Royals on Sunday.
Phil Hughes (1-4, 7.48 ERA) is coming off his best start of the season, but it was a loss to the Orioles because the he did not get any run support. He is 2-1 with a 6.78 ERA against the Royals in his career.
Hughes will be opposed by struggling right-hander Luke Hochevar (2-2, 7.36 ERA). Hochevar has given up a total of 12 runs in the first inning alone in his two losses. He is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.