Tagged: Brandon Gomes

McCann’s Blast Beats Rays As Yankees Claim First

GAME 20

YANKEES 4, RAYS 1

Brian McCann signed with the New York Yankees because Yankee Stadium was perfectly suited to his swing. He entered play on Monday having hit 20 of his 24 home runs with the Yankees at home.

Make it 21 out of 25.

McCann connected for a one-out solo shot into the second deck in right-field to break a 1-1 tie and New York went on to end Tampa Bay’s five-game winning streak to take sole possession of first place in the American League East.

McCann’s second home run of the season came off right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) and was immediately followed by a double by Carlos Beltran. One out later, Stephen Drew doubled off left-hander Everett Teaford for an RBI double that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.

Justin Wilson (1-0) relieved starter Adam Warren in the sixth inning and pitched an inning to get credit for the victory.

As it did the previous night against the Mets, the Yankees bullpen consisting of Wilson, David Carpenter, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller shut down the Rays on one hit and one walk and four strikeouts over the final 3 1/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen came into the game in second place in the America League in ERA and first in strikeouts.

Miller pitched the final inning to earn his eighth save in as many opportunities. He is the first Yankees pitcher to have recorded eight saves in the team’s first 20 games.

The Yankees’ two-run sixth broke up a pitcher’s duel between Warren and Rays right-hander Nathan Karns.

Karns shut out the Yankees on just two hits in the first four innings and recorded the first two outs in the fifth before walking Drew. Didi Gregorius followed with an infield single and Jacoby Ellsbury chased Karns by fighting through a eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk that loaded the bases.

Rays manager Kevin Cash then brought in Gomes and the veteran reliever walked Brett Gardner on a 3-2 pitch to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

However, the Rays fought back in the sixth inning when David DeJesus led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and took third on a flyout by Steven Souza Jr.

With the infield drawn in, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ground ball to Drew at second base. Drew fired a one-hop throw to McCann at home but DeJesus touched the plate before McCann could apply the tag to tie the game at 1-1.

Some curious strategy by Cash allowed the Yankees to add a run in the eighth inning off a noticeably struggling Teaford.

McCann led off with a single and, two outs later, Drew singled to right. Then Gregorius drew a walk to load the bases. As the inning unfolded, Cash did not have anyone warming up in the Rays bullpen.

It proved costly because Teaford then hit Ellsbury with a 1-1 pitch to force in another run.

The Yankees came into the game tied with the Rays at 11-8. Now they are 12-8 and the Rays fell to 11-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann entered the contest hitting .232 and ended up going 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and an RBI. McCann also showed that he is willing to hit against the overshift that opponents have been using against him. Leading off the eighth, he first attempted to bunt the ball towards third base and ended up hitting a single that way on the next pitch for a single.
  • Warren actually pitched his best game of the season and it is unfortunate he could not stay in long enough to have earned the victory. Warren yielded just one run on five hits and no walks and he struck out six in 5 2/3 innings. He is now 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA after four starts. Warren had absolutely no command issues and pitched out of a tough jam in the first when Souza hit a one-out single and Cabrera followed with a bloop ground-rule double. Warren fanned Evan Longoria, who entered the game on a 7-for-7 hitting streak, and then retired James Loney on a groundout to end the threat.
  • The Yankees bullpen is simply one of the best collections of power arms the Yankees have had. Wilson, Carpenter, Betances and Miller all throw in the mid-90s or better and opposing teams are quickly learning they will lose if they do not have the lead by the sixth inning. Betances and Miller are quickly making Yankee fans see there has been no dropoff after the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent departure of David Robertson.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I can’t complain about anything when the team gets good pitching and some timely hitting. They also scored two runs without having to swing the bat which proves they are finding all kinds of ways to win games. It looks as if all those so-called experts who were predicting gloom for the Yankees this season were dreadfully wrong.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira was named the American League Player of the Week on Monday. Teixeira, 34, was 8-for-24 (.333) with five homers and 10 RBIs in his past seven games. His hot hitting fueled the Yankees to a 5-2 record for the week. It was the fifth time Teixeira has won the award.  . . .  Ellsbury returned the lineup on Monday after missing Sunday’s game against the Mets with a tightness in his right hip. Ellsbury was 1-for-3 with a walk and was hit by a pitch. He also stole a base and drove in a run.

ON DECK

The Yankees, who are 4-0 against the Rays this season, will look to continue their matter over them on Tuesday.

The Yankees will call up right-hander Chase Whitley from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to allow right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to have an extra day of rest while the Yankees are in the middle of playing 30 games in 31 days. Whitley, 25, is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts with the RailRiders.

The Rays will throw right-hander Jake Odorizzi (2-1, 1.65 ERA). Odorizzi’s lone loss came at the hands of the Yankees on April 18 at Tropicana Field. In his last start he gave up one run on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of a no decision against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.

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.

 

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Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Yankees Do ‘Little’ Things To Cloud Rays’ Horizon

GAME 146

YANKEES 6, RAYS 4

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon out of necessity to cover for his team’s weak offense employs a combination of aggressive base-running, bunts and forces the opposition into making mistakes. There also is an old axiom of sports if that a team loves to employ a certain strategy they really hate it when you turn the tables on them.

The Yankees did just that on Sunday by frustrating the Rays with four stolen bases, two sacrifice bunts and they forced two errors as New York played a little “small ball” to send Tampa Bay out of Yankee Stadium with a series loss and pushed them a game further back in the pennant chase.

The Yankees batted around and scored five runs in the bottom of the third inning to send left-hander Matt Moore (10-11) to the showers early using two walks, two stolen bases, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and finally a good old-fashioned home run to put the Rays in a deep hole early.

Eduardo Nunez sparked the uprising by drawing a leadoff walk and stealing second base after Moore had made four attempted pickoffs. Derek Jeter followed with a single into center in which center-fielder B.j. Upton’s throw was off-line, allowing Nunez to score and Jeter to take second.

Nick Swisher, on his own, laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Jeter to third and Alex Rodriguez singled up the middle through a drawn-in infield to score Jeter.

Moore compounded his misery by throwing a pitch in the dirt to Robinson Cano that got past catcher Jose Lobaton and allowed Rodriguez to take second. Rodriguez amped up the pressure by stealing third base and a frustrated Moore walked Cano on four pitches.

Moore then had Russell Martin down 0-2 in the count but Martin battled back to a 3-2 count before he slapped a four-seam fastball to the opposite field and it landed out of the reach of right-fielder Sam Fuld and into the first row of the bleachers in the short porch in right-field for Martin’s 17th home run of the season.

The damage left Moore pitched out, having thrown 45 pitches in the inning. It also gave Hiroki Kuroda (14-10) a nice cushion to work with.

Kuroda came out blazing against the Rays, striking out the side in the first two innings.

But Ben Zobrist nicked him for a solo home run to lead off the fourth inning. From there Kuroda sailed through the Rays’ lineup until the sixth inning.

The Yankees then used an error, two stolen bases, a walk and sacrifice fly to score an unearned run in their half of the fourth.

Nunez reached first after reliever Brandon Gomes misplayed his comebacker to the mound. Nunez then stole second and third base. Jeter walked and, one out later Rodriguez launched a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right-field to score Nunez.

Kuroda, meanwhile, was pitching a gem through five innings, having given up just the one run on two hits and he had walked no one and struck out nine. But he stumbled in the sixth.

The 37-year-old right-hander walked Lobaton to open the frame and Desmond Jennings followed with an infield single. Kuroda then walked Zobrist to load the bases.

Evan Longoria then hit a potential double-play grounder to Rodriguez at third but the ball took a big hop over his glove and two runs scored on the single as Zobrist raced to third.

Matt Joyce followed with an actual double-play grounder to score Zobrist, which drew the Rays to within two runs.

However, the Yankees bullpen shut the Rays down over the next three innings with rookie David Phelps striking out Jennings looking with runners at first and second and two out in the seventh to preserve the lead.

David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and Rafael Soriano came in to toss a scoreless ninth to pick up his 40th save in 43 chances this season.

How frustrating was the loss for the Rays? They drew two ejections.

Maddon was ejected from the game in the third inning after home-plate umpire Paul Emmel chose to warn both teams after Moore had thrown a pitch that buzzed over the head of Curtis Granderson two batters after Martin’s home run. When Maddon questioned Emmel’s warning he got the heave-ho.

Joyce was tossed from the game by Emmel after he struck out looking on a Robertson curveball to end the eighth inning.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 83-62 and they also maintained their one-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Rays are now 78-68. They are five games in back of the Yankees in the division and trail in the wild-card standings by four games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nunez has brought back the one element the Yankees have been lacking all season: Speed on the bases. Nunez stole three bases in the game, which gives him 10 on the season. He is second on the team and he trails Rodriguez by three despite the fact he has been at Triple-A most of the season. Nunez is also hitting .294, which means he might be a more viable option as a right-handed DH then a slumping Andruw Jones.
  • Martin’s home run is part of a huge resurgence for him since Aug. 21. Martin is 19-for-67 (.283) in that span with four home runs and 14 RBIs. That has finally raised Martin’s season average over the “Mendoza line’ and he is now hitting .209. All Yankee fans can say to him is “It is about time, Russell.”
  • Kuroda’s line did not indicate just how well he pitched despite the sixth inning. He did give up four runs in six innings but Kuroda ended up giving up just four hits and two walks while he struck out 10. Unfortunately for him, both of those two walks ended up scoring. The bottom line is Kuroda is the true ace of the staff at this point of the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I have been hoping for a game like this where there was some “small ball” mixed in with some long-ball. It was, for the most part, a well-pitched game and the Yankees were able to keep their lead in the division with the toughest part of their schedule now behind him. Nothing to criticize about that.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a day to rest their bumps and bruises before resuming their homestand on Tuesday starting a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The atmosphere will be electric as left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.22 ERA) will make his first start since he went on the disabled list on June 27 with a fractured left ankle. Pettitte will be limited to about 70 pitches. Over the past 10 years, Pettitte is 12-9 with a 4.84 ERA against the Blue Jays.

Left-hander Ricky Romero (8-14, 8.57 ERA) will start for the Jays. Romero is in the midst of a 13-game losing streak, which ties him with the franchise record for futility. He is 3-7 with a 5.00 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees Exterminate Rays Behind Maxwell, Molina

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

2012 Rays Will Go As Far As Starters Take Them

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 3 – TAMPA BAY RAYS

Last season was supposed to be the time that the Tampa Bay Rays dropped from contention in the American League East. After all, they lost their star outfielder in Carl Crawford, their slugging first baseman Carlos Pena, their league-leading closer in Rafael Soriano and almost all the elements of what was a very good bullpen in 2010.

Yet, the Rays made the playoffs with a miracle finish that overtook a Boston Red Sox team that choked its way to the finish line. The Rays qualified with a 91-71 record but they lost in the first round of the A.L. Division Series against the Texas Rangers.

What is in store for the Rays in 2012? Do they have another miracle or two left in them?

STARTERS

It is real easy to see what the Rays strategy is for 2012. Run out the best five starters you have and keep them in the game as long as you can to cover up a weak middle of the bullpen and hope the offense can muster enough stolen bases and home runs to eke out a victory.

Right-hander James Shields was the poster boy for this team. In 2010, he was 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA. Last season, he was 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 11 complete games. The question is will Shields pitch like he did in 2010 or 2011? As the dean of the staff at age 30, his fortunes will set the tone for the rest of the staff.

The ace of this staff was supposed to have been David Price, who was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010. Price, 26, fell from his perch with a 12-13 mark and a 3.49 ERA. The problem is that Price is basically a one-pitch pitcher: his fastball. His breaking stuff was inconsistent and as a result he was a .500 pitcher. Price needs to harness control of his slider and develop even a decent change-up in order to be successful.

Many people were stunned the Rays dealt Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. But the Rays knew they had rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson ready to jump into the rotation. Heliickson, 24, pitched as the Rays hoped with a 13-10 record and a 2.95 ERA. While Price is still searching for a change-up, Hellickson uses his as a weapon and the Rays hope he gets even better.

The Rays used right-handers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots last season. But both pitchers struggled with command and injuries in 2011.

Davis, 26, was 11-10 with a 4.45 ERA in 29 starts and Niemann was 11-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 23 starts.

One of these two pitchers is likely to lose their starting spot this spring. The Rays believe 22-year-old left-hander Matt Moore may be ready for prime time in 2012. Moore made one start during the regular season, a five-inning shutout of the Yankees. Then he threw a gem to defeat the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. Moore is a consensus pick to follow Hellickson as A.L. Rookie of the Year.

Though this is the best rotation in the division, there are still concerns. If Shields and Price do not pitch well and Hellickson and Moore do not follow up on their success, the Rays are in big trouble. This is a team that does not have much of Plan B behind its five starters.

BULLPEN

The Rays luck in 2011 even extended to their bullpen in 2011.

They replaced Soriano with former Yankee scapegoat Kyle Farnsworth as their closer and Farnsworth ended up pitching well. (Yankee fans may let out a primal scream now). Yep, Farnsworth, was 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA and he saved 25 games out of 31 chances.

Journeyman right-hander Joel Peralta also did a nice job replacing Joaquin Benoit, who left to sign with Detroit. Peralta, 35, was 3-4 with a 2.93 ERA and he added six saves. Veteran right-hander Juan Cruz also helped tighten up the bullpen in the late innings but he was allowed to leave as a free agent.

So the Rays will be building their bullpen around Farnsworth and Peralta in 2012.

The Rays did pick up former closer Fernando Rodney from the Los Angeles Angels. Rodney, 34, has good stuff but has been bothered with back problems. He was 3-4 with 4.50 ERA with the Angels in 2011.

The Rays are hoping left-hander J.P. Howell will get over his arm problems and pitch like he did in 2009 when he was 7-5 with a 2.84 ERA. In 2011, Howell struggled and was 2-3 with 6.16 ERA in 46 games.

The Rays bullpen likely will be rounded out by disappointing left-hander Jake McGee, right-hander Brandon Gomes and the loser of the battle between Davis and Niemann for the final spot in the rotation.

There is no guarantee Farnsworth and Peralta will pitch like they did in 2011. There also is some real soft spots in middle relief and the lack of an effective left-hander may really hurt in a division filled with lefty hitters like Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.

That means manager Joe Maddon might be forced to leave his starters in the game longer than he might like to cover up the deficiencies and that takes its toll on those starters late in the season. The bullpen is an area of some concern.

STARTING LINEUP

The Rays have always been a running team who like to bunt, take extra bases and force opponents into making errors. The loss of Crawford did not change that in 2011. However, the Rays newest emphasis is on the home run.

The Rays had five players hit 16 or more home runs in 2011 and they re-signed first baseman Carlos Pena as a free agent and he hit 28 for the Cubs last season.

The team still revolves around third baseman Evan Longoria, who shook off another season of injuries to hit .244 with 31 home runs and 99 RBIs. The batting average has to be worrisome but Longoria is the team’s only real all-around threat as a hitter and power source.

The Rays also was boosted by a comeback season from Ben Zobrist, who hit .269 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs. He will likely play a lot at second base and some in right-field as he did last season.

The Rays also rely on the power and speed of centerfielder B.J. Upton, who hit .243 with 23 home runs, 81 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.

Rookie Desmond Jennings arrived and he played well in 63 games. He hit .259 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs as the team’s leadoff hitter. The Rays have high hopes he will surpass Crawford as an athlete and player.

The Rays also caught a bit of luck when Matt Joyce finally began to live up to the promise he showed with the Detroit Tigers. Joyce started off hot but collapsed badly after the All-Star break. He finished with a .277 batting average with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs as a platoon right-fielder and DH.

Sean Rodriguez figures to be the primary shortstop in 2012 though he hit just .223 with eight homers and 36 RBIs. That is because incumbent shortstop Reid Brignac was worse, hitting .193 with one home run and 15 RBIs.

The Rays also reshuffled their catchers for 2012 and they are looking to start former Yankee backup Jose Molina as a starter after he hit .281 with the Blue Jays. Molina, 36, was signed because the Rays were getting beat at their own game. Teams like the Yankees and Rangers were stealing on them at will.

Molina figures to end that with his defensive abilities and arm. However, an offense that relies on the stolen base will be slowed considerably with Molina on base. That is the big tradeoff.

To show how much more the Rays are valuing power, look no further than the signing of left-hander Luke Scott as the team’s primary DH. Scott averaged 28 home runs from 2008 through 2010 with the Orioles before injuries short-circuited his 2011 season. Scott and Joyce will certainly slow down any running game. But the Rays will hit their share of home runs in 2012.

BENCH

Maddon uses his bench a lot and he will again in 2012.

Brignac will battle career backup Eliot Johnson for the backup middle infield job. Johnson is the better hitter but Brignac is a bit better on defense.

For a while it looked Sam Fuld was going to be the next Pete Rose. Instead, reality set in and he ended up being the next Reggie Willits. But Fuld does provide speed and effort off the bench as an occasional outfield starter and pinch-runner.

Rookie Jose Lobaton will likely back up Molina. Lobaton hit .118 in 34 at-bats last season. The Rays do have a hitting catcher in Robinson Chirinos, however, his inability to throw base-stealers make him a project behind the plate for right now.

This bench is merely adequate. Maddon will use it a lot but there is not much of substance to it.

ANALYSIS

The 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers may be most interesting world championship team in history. They beat the Yankees in four straight games to win the World Series despite having one power hitter in Frank Howard, who led the team with 28 home runs. Outfielder Tommy Davis led the team with 88 RBIs.

How did they win? Well, they had Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres combine to win 58 games and they had Maury Wills and Davis’ brother, Willie, combine to steal 65 bases.

So they relied on pitching, defense, line-drive hitters and speed and athleticism to win. This is similar to what the Rays would like to build in 2012.

They will go as far as their rotation will allow them to go. Maddon will have to rely on them a lot.

As far as offense goes, Maddon is actually counting more on the home run than the stolen base because only Jennings, Upton and Zobrist are consistent base stealers. Maddon will use his other players like Longoria and Rodriguez to steal in certain situations.

But this team did need the Red Sox to go through a monumental collapse to make it 2011. I do not think their luck extends to 2012. They will not fall precipitously as they should have last season. But I do not see them winning the division. They look to be a contender for second place with the Red Sox. Nothing more and nothing less.

ON THURSDAY – PART 4  BOSTON RED SOX


Yankees Claim A.L. East On Posada’s Pinch Hit

GAME 155

YANKEES 4, RAYS 2

Teams are often measured by their starting lineups, their starting rotation and their bullpens. Rarely are teams judged by their bench.

But the New York Yankees broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth and beat the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday to clinch their 12th American League East title in the last 16 years largely because Jorge Posada came up with a big hit off the bench.

Posada, 40, who entered the 2011 season having lost his job as the team’s starting catcher and during the season lost his job as the team’s designated hitter, came off the bench in the eighth to deliver a one-out, bases-loaded single that scored two runs and won a division crown for a team that was not the media’s choice to do so.

Before the season began, during spring training and as the season unfolded all the Yankees heard was how deficient their starting pitching was and how old their regulars had become. Their rivals in Boston were hailed as the team to beat because they had better hitting, better starters and a tough bullpen.

But the Yankees proved to the media, to the fans and to the Red Sox that they were the superior team.

The only down note for the jubilant Yankees, who celebrated in their clubhouse by showering each other in streams of celebratory champagne, was that CC Sabathia was unable to secure his 20th victory.

The Yankees staked him to an early lead on Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays on the strength of a solo home run by Robinson Cano to open the second inning. The home run, Cano’s 27th of the season, came on a 2-1 pitch that Cano tagged and sent into the bleachers in right-center to the delight of the crowd of 45,586 at Yankee Stadium.

Two innings later, Yankee MVP candidate Curtis Granderson opened the frame with a double to right-center. Hellickson then fell behind and walked Mark Teixeira.

Rays manager Joe Maddon then elected to use some odd strategy that, at the time, seemed to have worked. He ordered Hellickson to walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with no outs so the Rays could challenge rookie DH Jesus Montero.

Montero did what the Rays might have hoped he would. He bounced into a double play. However, Granderson did score from third on the play and the Yankees had built a 2-0 lead.

Unfortunately, even though the Rays are not a power hitting team, they have a habit of breaking out the longball when Sabathia is pitching.

Kelly Shoppach connected for a solo home run deep to left with two in the fifth to halve the lead. With one out in the seventh, Sean Rodriguez clanked his drive down the left-field line off the foul pole to tie the game.

Of the 17 home runs Sabathia has given up this season, eight of them have been surrendered to the Rays.

Girardi, hoping to get Sabathia 20 victories for the second straight season, left Sabathia in for the eighth. But the left-hander ran into trouble with one out.

Desmond Jennings lined a single to center and B.J. Upton followed with a rocket that popped out of Sabathia’s glove and rolled in back of the mound for an infield single. Evan Longoria then drew a walk to load the bases and Girardi could not wait any longer. He removed Sabathia leaving him only one last start to collect No. 20.

Girardi then summoned the pitcher the Yankees call “Houdini” to get out of the mess, David Robertson.

Robertson (4-0), who entered the game with the lowest ERA among all major-league relievers at 1.12, needed only one pitch to force Ben Zobrist into hitting into an inning-ending double play.

The Yankees then mounted their division-clinching rally off reliever Jake McGee (3-2).

With one out, Girardi went to his bench and sent Nick Swisher up to bat for Brett Gardner. Swisher delivered a double into left-center.

One out later, Maddon called on right-hander Juan Cruz to face Teixeira but Cruz walked him on four straight pitches. Exit Cruz.

Left-hander Cesar Ramos came in to face Cano. But Ramos fell behind Cano 3-1 and Cano was walked intentionally to load the bases again with Montero in the on-deck circle. Exit Ramos.

The Rays then called on right-hander Brandon Gomes to pitch to Montero. But Girardi used his bench again by calling the beleaguered veteran Posada, who is in the last year of a four-year contract and likely will not return to the Yankees next season.

Posada laced a 0-1 pitch into right-field that fell in front of right-fielder Brandon Guyer. Greg Golson, who was pinch-running for Swisher scored easily and Teixeira followed him when the Rays were unable to get a relay throw back to the infield in time.

Posada pumped his fist and the Yankee faithful rose to cheer the man they always serenade with “Hip, Hip, Jorge!” every time he steps to the plate.

Because Mariano Rivera was used to save the first game of the day-night doubleheader, Girardi called upon former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to propel the Yankees to another division crown.

Despite giving up a two-out single to Casey Kotchman, Soriano struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce swinging to end a scoreless frame for his second save of the season.

The combination of the Yankees two victories over the Rays and the 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles by the severely slumping Red Sox handed the Yankees the flag. The Yankees remain five games ahead of Detroit and Texas for the best record in the American League, which assures the Yankees home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Rays were dealt a serious blow. They could not take advantage of the Red Sox careening off a cliff at home to inferior clubs like the Orioles. They have fallen into a tie with the Los Angeles Angels 3 games behind the Red Sox in the wild-card race.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Girardi made three key moves in this game: Replacing Sabathia with Robertson, pinch-hitting Swisher for Gardner and pinch-hitting Posada for Montero. The fact that all three moves worked and led to the Yankees winning the game, Girardi deserves a lot for the credit for this game and leading this team to its second division title in his four years at the helm.
  • There have been rumblings that the Yankees were considering keeping Montero on the postseason roster and leaving Posada off of it. But Posada may have redeemed himself with the division-clinching hit. With Francisco Cervelli out due to a concussion, Austin Romine will likely back up Russell Martin in the playoffs and Posada likely will remain on the roster because the Yankees need another lefty hitter off the bench besides Eric Chavez.
  • Cano just keeps rolling at the plate. He now has 27 home runs and a career-best 116 RBIs. The 116 RBIs tie him with Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez and Los Angeles’ Steve Kemp for the second in the majors behind Granderson, who has 119.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

An aging club of veterans added a 38-year-old and 34-year-old pitcher to their starting rotation because they could not sign Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retired. They were without 18-game winner Phil Hughes for much of the year and A.J. Burnett and his 10-11 record and 5.28 ERA were a major headache. They lost relievers Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano and Soriano to injury. They lost Alex Rodriguez to a litany of injuries for half the season. But somehow, some way this team managed to win another division title to defy the so-called experts that said they would not. There is nothing negative about that.

BOMBER BANTER

An MRI taken on Phil Hughes’ aching back was negative and the Yankees believe he will be able to make one more start before the playoffs begin. Hughes was given an epidural shot to relieve pain thought to be associated with a herniated disc the pitcher suffered in 2004. Hughes felt back spasms after a bullpen session on Friday and had his start on Monday pushed back to Wednesday. But Hughes still was unable to pitch and Hector Noesi started in his place.

ON DECK

The Yankees have clinched a playoff spot and a division title in one day. But they still are playing to keep home field.

They can sweep the Rays on Thursday with Bartolo Colon (8-9, 3.81 ERA) on the mound. Colon gave up six runs in only four innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday. The Yankees later rallied to win the game. Colon is 7-4 with a 3.47 ERA against the Rays in his career.

The Rays are countering with prize prospect lefty Matt Moore (0-0, 6.23 ERA), who will be making his first major-league start. Moore was 12-3 with a 1.93 ERA combined between Double-A and Triple-A this season.

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

 

Posada Unleashes Torrent Of Anger On Poor Rays


“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

                                                                 – Dylan Thomas

GAME 118

YANKEES 9, RAYS 2

For Jorge Posada, the 2011 season has been a season-long battle with Father Time and trying to staunch the obvious erosion of his once considerable skills.

But on Saturday, after five games of watching his teammates from the bench without a defined role anymore, Posada got a chance to start at designated hitter and he ended up with three hits including a grand slam home run and six RBIs as New York crushed Tampa Bay in front of a national TV audience.

Posada, who will turn 40 on Wednesday and who is in the final year of what likely will be his last contract with the Yankees, was removed from his left-hand-hitting DH role last Sunday in favor of Eric Chavez. Posada, a switch-hitter, had been removed as the right-hand-hitting DH in May for Andruw Jones because he is hitting .102 against left-handers this season.

But a highly motivated Posada showed manager Joe Girardi and a crowd of 47,804 at Yankee Stadium that he may not quite be done yet.

In the second inning of a scoreless game, Posada came to the plate to a standing ovation with the bases loaded and one out against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. He stepped in with only one hit in his last 13 at-bats. He smashed a 1-0 fastball into right-field for a single to drive in Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. That hit gave the Yankees a lead they never relinquished throughout the contest.

The Yankees erupted for five runs in the fifth and chased Hellickson from the game.

Curtis Granderson started it off with a leadoff home run, his 33rd of the season, which ties him with Jose Bautista of Toronto for the major-league lead. After one out, Cano doubled to the wall in right to end the day for Hellickson (10-8).

Nick Swisher and Chavez drew walks from right-hand reliever Brandon Gomes. That brought Posada up with the bases loaded and one out for the second time in the game.

The veteran looked for and got a 2-0 fastball from Gomes and he launched it into bleachers in right-center for his 10th career grand slam, which passed Yankee legends Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle for fifth on the all-time Yankee list. The fans in the stadium stood on their feet and erupted with thunderous applause until Posada came out of the Yankee dugout for a curtain call.

Meanwhile, on the mound, a teammate who also did not have a clear long-term role with the team, was pitching to become a part of the Yankees’ five-man rotation. Phil Hughes entered the game 2-4 with a 7.11 ERA but was 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in his last two starts. He needed to pitch well or he would lose the spot to A.J. Burnett, who is winless in his last seven starts and has an ERA of 6.00 over that stretch.

Hughes (3-4) pitched brilliantly over the first five innings and he ended up giving up two runs on four hits and one walk and he struck six batters in six innings. He gave up a solo home run to Desmond Jennings and Johnny Damon followed with a triple. Damon scored an out later on a infield ground ball to Teixeira off the bat of Ben Zobrist.

It would be pretty hard to banish Hughes to the bullpen with a 2.00 ERA over his last three starts and 13 strikeouts over 18 innings. But Burnett has only made one relief appearance since 2008 while Hughes was the setup man for Mariano Rivera in the second half of 2009 when the Yankees went on to win their 27th world championship.

However, Freddy Garcia may have accidently solved the problem for now. The Yankees announced that Garcia will not make his scheduled start on Sunday against the Rays because of a cut he has on a finger on his right hand that he sustained earlier in the week in a kitchen mishap. The cut is deep, Girardi said, it affects Garcia’s grip on his split-finger fastball. He will miss at least one start.

With the Yankees’ victory they improved their season ledger to 72-45 and they are a game behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. More importantly, the Rays’ loss drops them 8 1/2 games in back of the Yankees in the wild-card chase. The Rays are 64-55.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Posada was 3-for-5 with two singles, a home run, a run scored and six RBIs. Posada is a career .326 hitter with the bases loaded and he improved that with his two big hits today. Posada refused to criticize Girardi for his decision to replace him as the team’s DH against right-handers last Sunday. Posada said it was his poor hitting that placed him into the situation that he was in. After hitting .382 in June, Posada slumped to hit .217 in July and he was hitting .167 in August until Saturday’s game. Posada likely will get another start at DH on Sunday against Rays right-hander James Shields.
  • Granderson’s magical season continues. Granderson has now hit five homers in his last five games. With his home run in his third at-bat on Saturday, he had homered five times in his last 19 at-bats. He is tied for first in the majors in home runs with 33, he is first in the majors in RBIs with 94 and he is first in the majors by a margin of 23 runs in runs scored with 106. He has scored seven runs and driven in eight in his last fives games.
  • Hughes pitched probably his best game since coming off the disabled list in July. He gave up a two-out double to B.J. Upton in the second inning and a leadoff single to Evan Longoria in the fourth over his first five innings and walked just one batter. The most important thing is that his six strikeouts showed he had good velocity on his fastball and he was able to locate it for strikes. Hughes actually has enough time, should he stay in the rotation, to establish himself as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Posada and Hughes did well even though their roles going forward are really up in the air. Jeter made a sloppy error in the first inning but he erased it with a double play on the next batter. So there were no real major negatives today.

BOMBER BANTER

To celebrate Jeter’s reaching the 3,000-hit plateau, the Yankees honored him before the game with a 225-pound crystal and stainless steel sculpture of Jeter doffing his cap with the number 3,000 below. It was commissioned by Sabathia and Posada and it was inscribed “To our captain, leader and friend, congratulations on your achievement, from your teammates.”  Jeter also received gifts from Yankee management as his parents and his sister looked on.  . . .  Alex Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in his second rehab game in Tampa, FL. Rodriguez started at DH for the second straight night. He homered on the first pitch in his first at-bat on Friday. Rodriguez hopes to play a few games in the field with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to the Yankees next week for their series against the Twins in Minneapolis. Rodriguez has been on the 15-day disabled list since mid-July after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.  . . .  The Yankees signed former Yankee reliever Scott Proctor to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Scranton. Proctor, 34, had a 6.44 ERa in 31 appearances with the Braves when he was released on Wednesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees can win the rubber game of the three-game home weekend series with the Rays with a victory on Sunday.

But if you are planning to attend this game, bring your rabbits feet, St. Christopher medals and four-leaf clovers.

To replace Freddy Garcia as the starter, the Yankees have named Burnett (8-9, 4.60 ERA) as the starter. Burnett was pitching one-run baseball into the seventh inning against the Angels on Tuesday but he unraveled and ended up losing yet another start in August. He ended up giving up four runs on seven hits in six innings. Burnett has not won a game in August since he became a Yankee in 2009. He is 12-8 with a 3.45 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

The Rays will start right-hander James Shields (11-9, 2.90 ERA). Shields is coming off his major-league-leading eighth complete game of the season in his victory over Kansas City on Tuesday. Shields is 1-2 with a 1.59 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season. He is 4-10 with a 4.25 ERA in his career against the Bombers.

Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.