Tagged: Casey Kotchman

Pettitte Hopes Last Season Includes Another Ring

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 3

ANDY PETTITTE (5-4, 2.87 ERA)

When the announcement was made last March that Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees to pitch, the euphoria was palpable.

After a year in retirement, Pettitte was determined to pitch again. The story was supposed to go that Pettitte would pitch great, he would lead the team to the playoffs and help them win their 28th world championship. However, that script landed in the dustbin after Pettitte ended up getting injured along the way.

On June 27, Pettitte was struck in the right ankle with a ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians. It was only his ninth start of the season and the injury would shelve him until mid-September. The Yankees did make the playoffs and Pettitte helped them make it to the American League Championship Series.

However, the Yankees’ offense decided to sleep in and missed the series.

Immediately, Pettitte’s return in 2013 was in doubt. But, fortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte decided he still had some unfinished business and he was signed to a one-year, $12 million contract at age 40.

The numbers Pettitte produced when he was healthy last season certainly backed up his decision. His ERA was excellent at 2.87 and six of his 12 starts were quality starts. The biggest surprise was jump in Pettitte’s strikeout rate.

Last season, Pettitte struck out 69 batters in 75 1/3 innings. At that rate, Pettitte would have topped 200 Ks for the first time in his long and storied career. It is not that Pettitte had gained velocity or came up with a new pitch. It is just that he was pitching smarter and he was able to keep batters off balance.

Heading into the 2013 season, there are a lot of things that are breaking to Pettitte’s favor. For one, Pettitte will enter spring camp from the first day and be ready to pitch when the season begins instead of his May 13 debut last season.

In addition, Pettitte already knows he can get major-league hitters out, which is something he did not know last season after sitting out the 2011 season.

Pettitte is also a valuable commodity as a veteran left-handed starter in an American League with a lot of powerful left-handed hitters.

One thing about Pettitte that sets him apart from any other pitcher is his fierce competitiveness. It is – and has been throughout his career – a blessing. But it also can be a curse.

Last season, Pettitte was feeling frisky during his rehab and pushed his workouts past what the doctors had prescribed. He ended up paying for it by extending his rehab a few weeks. Sometimes Pettitte also can be own worst enemy.

The key to Pettitte’s 2013 season looks to be maintaining his health and stamina throughout the long grind of a season. Pettitte pitched into the sixth inning or better in each of his first eight starts before he was injured. But he finished six innings only once in his final three starts.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda ahead of him in the rotation, Pettitte will form what will be a pretty formidable top tier of starters. Those three combined to go 36-21 with a 3.27 ERA. With a much tougher American League and stiffer competition in the A.L. East, this is threesome manager Joe Girardi can count on to meet the challenge.

They will have to because the Yankees’ offense did take a major hit this winter with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on the roster the Yankees might be looking to reintroduce more of a running game in 2013 with a lot of bunting, hit and runs and taking chances on the bases instead of waiting on the home run.

It could mean that the Yankees will have to settle for fewer runs and that puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitchers to keep the other team from putting the game out of reach. But Pettitte seems to up to that challenge.

If he can limit his pitch counts and make it deep into games, the Yankees stand a good chance of winning more than their fair share of them.

Pettitte enters the 2013 season with a career record of 245 wins and 142 losses (.633 winning percentage) and career ERA of 3.86. He has 208 career wins as a Yankees, which is third behind Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

To Pettitte, those numbers are nice but they are not numbers he cares too much about. If the Hall of Fame should come calling he would be honored. But he does not expect it and need it to validate his career.

But his postseason numbers of 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA are something of which he is very proud. No pitcher in the modern postseason era has started (44) and won as many games as Pettitte. Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his two starts. Victory eluded him because the Yankees did not score very many runs in the postseason.

But Pettitte understands that if the Yankees do make the playoffs and he does his job the way he expects to do it the Yankees have an excellent shot of winning most of the time.

This likely will be his last season and the Yankees would love to make sure the three members of what was the “Core Four,” Petitte, Jeter and Mariano Rivera have a chance to play for a world championship.

Nothing would be sweeter for the Yankees and nothing would be sweeter for Pettitte than having that chance one last time.

NEXT: PHIL HUGHES

 

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Tex Eyes 2013 Rebound But Depth At First Lacking

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!

FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)

The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.

But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.

It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.

He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.

That never happened, however.

In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.

He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.

Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.

Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.

Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.

Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.

Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of  “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.

Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.

Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).

Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.

Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.

Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).

So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.

Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.

Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.

The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.

When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.

They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.

Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.

Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.

For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.

Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.

The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.

Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.

General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.

Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.

The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.

Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.

Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.

Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.

However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.

Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.

Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.

Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.

Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.

Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.

Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.

There is not much behind him on the depth chart.

NEXT: LEFT FIELD

 

Andy Just Dandy As Yankees Stay Atop A.L. East

GAME 147

YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 2

Since June 27, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been dreaming about the return of all five of his starters, including 40-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte. On Wednesday afternoon he got his wish and what he got had to exceed even his expectations.

Pettitte threw five scoreless frames, giving up four hits and two walks in a workmanlike 75-pitch outing, as New York put up three runs in the first inning and made them hold up to defeat Toronto in the opener of a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.

Pettitte (4-3) was making a comeback from a broken left fibula he suffered on a hard-hit comebacker by Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians on June 27. Held to a pitch count of about 70 pitches, Pettitte stranded six Blue Jays by inducing ground ball outs to escape any damage. He also struck out three batters.

His most impressive inning was his last in which he retired Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie in order using only seven pitches.

The Yankees’ offense got busy early off Blue Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez (9-13).

Ichiro Suzuki opened the frame with a solid single to right. Nick Swisher followed with a lined single up the middle and Robinson Cano scored Suzuki with line-drive double that Rasmus misjudged in center-field and allowed to bounce off the wall.

Alex Rodriguez scored Swisher and advanced Cano to third with an RBI grounder and Curtis Granderson drove in Cano with a sacrifice fly to center.

The 3-0 margin held up until the eighth inning when David Robertson again got smacked around by the Blue Jays.

Lawrie greeted him with a double off the wall in left-center and he advanced to third on a seeing-eye single by pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia that got past Jayson Nix at shortstop and rolled into left-field.

Pinch-hitter Kelly Johson then slapped a single into left to score Lawrie.

Robertson fanned Moises Sierra looking but veteran Omar Vizquel doubled into the corner in right to score Arencibia and advance Johnson to third.

Robertson fanned Adeiny Hechavarria looking and Girardi chose to bring in closer Rafael Soriano for what would be his sixth four-out save of the season.

Soriano walked rookie Anthony Gose to load the bases but Davis was retired on a sharp sinking line drive to left that Suzuki made a sliding grab on and barely held onto as the ball rolled up his right arm.

The Yankees added a crucial insurance run with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning off Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver.

Suzuki started it by slapping a bloop ground-rule double just inside the line in shallow left-field that was just out of the reach of a diving Gose.

Swisher followed with a hot smash that snuck under the glove of Lawrie at third base and rolled into left to plate Suzuki.

Soriano retired the Blue Jays in order in the ninth, striking out two batters, to record his 41st save in 44 opportunities this season. What was left probably one-third of the paid crowd of 39,859 from last night’s rainout stood and cheered the clutch victory.

The Yankees, for the moment, pulled back ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East by a half game. Their season record is 83-63. The Blue Jays fell to 66-80.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees got rolling in May when Pettitte joined CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova and that quartet was 30-5 over a stretch of a month and half before Pettitte was injured. Since then the Yankees have also lost Nova and Sabathia in certain stretches and their 10-game lead on June 18 shrunk to zero. But Pettitte showed he could still compete and he has two more starts to build up his stamina for the playoffs. I think the Yankees are breathing a lot easier than they were a few weeks ago.
  • Suzuki was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored to raise his season batting average to .272. His catch on Davis’ sinking liner in the eighth inning preserved the victory for Pettitte and Yankees. With Derek Jeter out of the lineup, Suzuki fulfilled his role as a the consummate table-setter at the top of the lineup and he threw in a game-saving catch to boot. The trade the Yankees made to obtain from the Mariners is starting to pay major dividends.
  • Swisher was 2-for-4 with a huge RBI single in the eighth that made the ninth inning more comfortable for Soriano and the Yankees. Swisher entered the contest in an 0-for-10 slide but he got a big hit when it counted.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The way Robertson is pitching lately has to concern the Yankees some. He was tagged for two runs on four hits two-thirds of inning and he is now 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his last 10 appearances. Although his overall ERA is still a respectable 2.98, Robertson has been far more hittable lately and the Yankees need him to shut down teams in the eighth to go anywhere in the postseason.
  • Swisher has played marvelous defense at first base for the most part but he actually made two errors on one play in the third inning. With Davis on first and one out, Lawrie hit a ball well off the bag at first. Swisher should have held the ball but attempted an awkward toss to Pettitte covering first and it rolled to the dugout screen to allow Davis to reach third. Pettitte bailed out Swisher by retiring Adam Lind on an inning-ending double-play ball.
  • The top three Yankee hitters in the lineup – Suzuki, Swisher and Cano – collected all seven of the Yankees’ hits in the game. The rest of the batting order was a combined 0-for-17. That is a big reason why Alvarez stayed in the game for seven innings despite giving up three runs in the first frame.

NOTE: The BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK features will appear in the post from the second game of the doubleheader.

 

Sabathia Scalps 9 Indians To Stop Yankees’ Slide

GAME 125

YANKEES 3, INDIANS 1

The Yankees had hoped to at least tread water in the standings while ace left-hander CC Sabathia was on the disabled list with a sore left elbow. Instead they lately have been sinking like they had an anchor tied around their necks.

But Sabathia came to the rescue on Friday to pitch 7 1/3 dominant innings, giving up just four hits and one walk while fanning nine batters and Nick Swisher homered and drove in all three of the team’s runs as New York ended a three-game losing streak while sending Cleveland to their ninth straight loss.

Sabathia (13-3) gave up a solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera with one out in the fourth inning. But he escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fifth and a two-on, one-out problem in the sixth to run his record at Progressive Field against his former team to 3-1.

Speaking of jams, Rafael Soriano made it interesting in the ninth by giving up leadoff singles to Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley and then wild pitched them to second and third to start the inning. After recording two outs on a strikeout and infield popup, Soriano walked pinch-hitter Casey Kotchman to load the bases. However, he induced pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan to bounce out to end the game.

So Soriano did indeed earn his 32nd save in 34 opportunities this season.

The Yankees opened the game against rookie right-hander Corey Kluber as if it was going to be a laugher.

Derek Jeter just missed a home run in lacing a leadoff double off the wall in right-center. Swisher followed with a carbon-copy double off the same area of the wall to score Jeter.

The Yankees then managed to load the bases on Kluber with one out after a walk to Robinson Cano and a lined single to right by Curtis Granderson. However, as would be the norm on Friday for the Yankees, they could not land the finishing blow on Kluber.

Eric Chavez struck out swinging and Russell Martin flied out to right to leave the bases loaded.

The Yankees loaded the bases again in the second inning with one out on an Ichiro Suzuki single, Jeter was struck in the helmet with a Kluber fastball, and Swisher drew a walk. But Cano ended that threat by bouncing into an inning-ending double play.

Kluber then settled in to hold the Yankees to that lone run despite six hits and two walks and six strikeouts over five innings.

The Yankees finally untied the contest in the seventh inning off rookie reliever Cody Allen (0-1) and it was the same combination of Jeter and Swisher that did the damage.

Jeter opened the inning with an infield single and he advanced to second on a throwing error on Cabrera. Swisher followed with the 100th career home run as a Yankee on a long blast into the bleachers in right-center that untied the game.

Jeter and Swisher combined for five of the team’s nine hits, two walks and they scored and drove in all of the team’s runs.

The Yankees’ victory improves their season record to 73-52 and, combined with the Tampa Bay Rays’ 5-4 loss the the Oakland Athletics, the Yankees now lead the second-place Rays by 3 1/2 games in the American League East. The Indians fell to 54-71.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After the team lost three in a row, Sabathia could not have come off the D.L. at a better time and he could not have pitched a better game. Sabathia used his slider to get most of his nine strikeouts and he really did not give up but three hard-hit balls all evening to the weak-hitting Tribe. Sabathia threw exactly 100 pitches and 63 of them were strikes.
  • Jeter, in honor of Skip Bayless of ESPN, must have stocked up on performing-enhancing drugs before the game to go 2-for-4 with a double and scored two runs. After having had his 13-game hitting streak stopped against Boston on Aug. 18, Jeter has now run off a five-game hitting streak and he is 11-for-22 with three home runs, four doubles, three RBIs and eight runs scored. Jeter is hitting a robust .385 in August and he has raised his season average to .325, which is third in the American League. Bayless can kiss Jeter’s hindquarters and stick his unfounded speculation up his own. Can ESPN please test Bayless for cocaine?
  • Swisher was 3-for-4 on the night and just a triple short of cycle with a run scored and three RBIs. In his final at-bat he narrowly missed hitting his second home run of the night. Swisher is also having a productive August. He is 27-for-85 (.317) with five home runs and 18 RBIs. He is now hitting .273 with 19 homers and 72 RBIs in his push for a lucrative new contract in 2013.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The team clicks when they get big hits with runners in scoring position. When the team struggles, they don’t get those hits. Tonight they had a chance to run Kluber out of the game early and failed. While Jeter and Swisher were a combined 5-for-8 (.625), the rest of the lineup was 4-for-27 (.149).
  • Chavez had been red hot for a long period of time, but he was 0-for-4 with there strikeouts on Friday. He is hitless in his last 12 at-bats with six strikeouts. The league seems to pitching him differently and Chavez has not adjusted.
  • Cano’s double-play grounder in the second inning marked the 17th time this season he has grounded into a twin-killing this season, one behind the team leader Jeter. Cano is hitting .158 in his last 10 games with no home runs and no RBIs. His season average has dipped to .304.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi said on Friday that he does not think right-hander Ivan Nova will not be sidelined for a long period of time. Nova was placed on the 15-day disabled list in Thursday with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. He will be examined in New York on Monday by Dr. Christopher Ahmad and David Phelps is expected to make a start in Nova’s place on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend series with the Indians on Saturday.

The team’s hottest pitcher in Hiroki Kuroda (12-8, 2.96 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda allowed just one run on four hits in eight innings in a victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. He has 1.39 ERA over his last eight starts. He is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA against the Indians in his career.

The Indians will counter with right-hander Justin Masterson (9-11, 4.73 ERA). Masterson allowed seven runs on nine hits in a road loss to the A’s on Sunday. He is 2-3 with a 3.31 ERA lifetime against the Bronx Bombers.

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

 

Yankee Rotation Started Team’s First-Half Surge

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

STARTING PITCHERS

CC SABATHIA (9-3, 3.45 ERA)

HIROKI KURODA (8-7, 3.17 ERA)

PHIL HUGHES (9-6, 4.29 ERA)

IVAN NOVA (9-3, 4.05 ERA)

ANDY PETTITTE (3-3, 3.22 ERA)

When the New York Yankees were assembling their starting pitchers for the 2012 season they decided to stay away from high-priced free agents like C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish and when they inquired about potential trades they stayed away from teams that were asking too much in return for pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza.

Their first order of business was make sure CC Sabathia was not going to opt out of his contract. He didn’t and the Yankees rewarded their ace with a very lucrative extension to the contract he signed in the winter of 2009.

With that accomplished they decided to offer a 2012 contract to Freddy Garcia, who impressed the Yankees by recording a 12-8 record and a 3.62 ERA in his first season in pinstripes.

They then bolstered their rotation even further by trading mega-prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in return from rookie sensation Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

They then signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to one-year, $10 million contract.

The Yankees knew that they needed some additional starters to buy time for five young minor-league starters to develop. Trading for Pineda and signing Kuroda would allow the Yankees to continue the development of 21-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, 24-year-old right-hander Dellin Betances, 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren, 25-year-old right-hander D.J. Mitchell and 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps.

The Yankees hoped that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova would continue to develop after a season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and they were hopeful 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes had put his issues with weakness in his right shoulder behind him and was healthy for the 2012 season.

But, spring training proved to be a little more topsy-turvy than manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda, 23, showed up in camp about 20 pounds overweight and as the spring unfolded he was not reaching the mid-90s velocity he exhibited in the first half of the 2011 season. Though publicly the Yankees were saying they were not concerned, privately they were wondering if they had made a terrible mistake in trading away a great prospect in Montero for sore-armed Pineda.

Late in spring training, Pineda came off the mound in a game in which he was shelled by the Phillies complaining of a sore right shoulder. An MRI indicated a partially torn labrum and Pineda would have surgery and miss the entire 2012 season. Oops!

That left the Yankees with five healthy pitchers for five slots. However, Andy Pettitte, who retired after the 2010 season, decided this spring that he wanted to make a comeback and the Yankees were more than willing to accommodate him. He stayed behind at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, to get in shape for a return sometime in early May.

Now the Yankees had six pitchers and five spots available. But Girardi was confident things would work out on their own. Little did he know that his rotation would end up in tatters in April.

In his four April starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA. Garcia’s fastball, which he used to be able to reach the low 90s with was topping out at about 86 miles per hour. That made him fodder for major-league hitters who were willing to wait for something in the strike zone to whack. And Garcia ended up taking some major whackings.

Hughes was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his four April starts and the Yankees possibly were thinking of either shifting him to the bullpen, sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or trading him altogether. It was as if the Yankees had finally reached a point with Hughes that they were willing to give up on him.

Nova was hit really hard in the spring and when the season started there was major concerns about his effectiveness. The funny thing was Nova was 3-0 in April but his ERA was 5.18. Ouch!

Kuroda was getting lit up also. American League East teams found his off-speed stuff worth teeing off on, but Kuroda mixed in a few impressive starts to record an inconsistent 2-3 mark with a 3.69 ERA.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was a lot like Nova. He was 3-0 but his ERA was elevated at 4.58. But, then again, Sabathia has been known to start slow and get hot as the weather warms. So there were no real concerns with him.

Pettitte, meanwhile, returned to the Yankees on May 13 for a start against the Mariners. Garcia was banished to the bullpen to make room for the 40-year-old left-hander.

The week after May 13 also seems to coincide with the resurgence of the pitching staff. Every starter seemed to pull things together and harness their stuff to begin a long winning streak. The starting pitching was strong enough to overcome what was an inconsistent offense that could only hit home runs and not hit with runners in scoring position.

Pettitte seemed to light a spark under Hughes and Nova. Kuroda seemed to make the adjustments he needed to make pitching in the American League for the first time and Sabathia got hot like the weather.

Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in his nine starts through June 27 when a hard-hit ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians struck Pettitte just above his left ankle and fractured his tibia. As a result, Pettitte will miss about two months. But the Yankees are hopeful he will be able to pitch down the stretch enough to be ready for the playoffs.

It is a shame but the staff that Pettitte inspired has really not missed a beat since he was placed on the disabled list.

Since May 25, Nova is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts. Since May 6, Hughes is 8-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Since May 27, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in eight starts.

Sabathia is 6-3 with a 2.89 since May 4. But Sabathia had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time since the 2007 season on June 25 due to a slight strain in his left groin. He missed two starts leading up the All-Star break but is expected to be activated on July 17 for a start at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In Pettitte’s place, the Yankees have discovered a starter with almost an equal ability to mix pitches and speeds to keep batters off balance. He is Garcia. Yep, that same Garcia that took  thrashing in April.

The man who was abruptly banished to the bullpen found his old fastball velocity and the difference in his results on the mound have been like night and day.

In his two starts in place of Pettitte, Garcia is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA. The Yankees can certainly live with that until Pettitte returns sometime in late August.

Though the Yankees were criticized for not signing any high-priced free-agent pitchers or trading for some, the Yankees have been patient with what they have and it has paid dividends.

On May 21, the Yankees took a 6-0 walloping from the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium and it dropped their season record to 21-21, which found them tied for last place in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox. They trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games.

The Yankees reached the 81-game mark with a 4-3 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL, to improve their season record to 49-32. Their 28-11 surge since May 21 gave them a .718 winning percentage over that 39-game stretch and put them in first place in the division by 5 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.

The biggest reason the Yankees were able to surge into first place was the strength of their starting rotation, which not only held opponents hitters down but they also pitched deep into games. That ended up helping the bullpen shine in closing out games in the late innings because they were not needed as much as they were in April.

The combined record of the starters at the 81-game mark is 40-24. Their team ERA of 3.73 is fourth in the American League.

With the second half to go, Girardi and Rothschild have to keep this momentum from the starters going while preparing them for the playoffs. At this moment it appears that the Yankees will have a good chance to have four pitchers (Sabathia, Hughes, Nova and Kuroda) win 16 games or more. That would make the staff formidable come the playoffs.

Add to that the most successful starter in modern playoff history in Pettitte, than you have the makings of a strong group heading into the postseason.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

SABATHIA: B

KURODA: B

HUGHES: B-

NOVA: B-

PETTITTE: I (Incomplete)

GARCIA: I (Incomplete)

BACKUPS

DAVID PHELPS (0-1, 2.08 ERA in 3 starts)

ADAM WARREN (0-0, 23.14 ERA in 1 start)

The Yankees dipped into their minor-league quintet of young starters at Triple-A to make some fill-in starts.

Phelps made two starts in early May in place of Garcia while the Yankees were still waiting for Pettitte to make his 2012 debut. Meanwhile, Warren and Phelps filled in one start apiece for Sabathia just before the All-Star break.

Phelps actually pitched quite well overall in his three starts and he shows some long-term promise as starter for the future. His only negative was that his pitch count got the better of him in all three starts and he was not able to complete five full innings in any one of them.

Earlier in the season, Phelps spent most of the season with the Yankees as a long man out the bullpen and he was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA overall in 41 1/3 innings over 15 appearances.

But after his start for the Yankees on the Fourth of July against the Rays, the Yankees sent him Double-A Trenton to stretch him out as a starter. So if anything should happen to any of the Yankees five current starters, Phelps would likely be first in line as a replacement.

Warren, however, had a disastrous major-league debut on June 29 at Yankee Stadium against the Chicago White Sox. As a result we are not likely to see Warren the rest of the season.

He is 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts at Scranton this season.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

PHELPS: B+

WARREN: I (Incomplete)

In addition to Phelps and Warren, the Yankees have also called up Mitchell and he is currently on the 25-man roster as a long reliever.

Mitchell is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell’s main calling card is his sinking fastball that allows him to induce a lot of groundball outs.

He was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA in 14 starts at Scranton this season. The Yankees still consider him a starter but he actually may have more value at the major-league level as a reliever. The Yankees liken him to former Yankee sinker specialist Ramiro Mendoza.

The two biggest jewels in the Yankees’ minor-league system are Banuelos and Betances. Banuelos entered 2012 as the No. 1 prospect and Betances was listed at No. 2. However, neither has distinguished himself at Scranton.

Banuelos was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts before being placed on the disabled list with a left elbow injury. Fortunately for the Yankees, an MRI showed no structural damage to the elbow, but the team is being extremely cautious with their top pitching prospect.

Betances, meanwhile, was 3-5 with an ugly 6.39 ERA at Triple-A in 16 starts before being demoted back to Double-A Trenton. He is 0-1 with an 0.75 ERA there in two starts.

Both pitchers have plus fastballs and they both project to top of the rotation starters in the major leagues. But they both share a problem with harnessing their stuff. Betances walked 69 batters in 74 2/3 innings at Scranton and Banuelos walked nearly five batters every nine innings last season.

The Yankees best pitcher at Triple-A is 39-year-old right-hander Ramon Ortiz. The Dominican is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 16 starts. Though at age 39 he would fit right in with the Yankees’ roster, Ortiz is with his 12th different organization and the Yankees likely would feel more comfortable using Phelps or Mitchell.

Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA last season and the Yankees were excited to get him as part of the deal that brought them Pineda.

Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings before also being shelved with an elbow injury. Like Banuelos, the Yankees are saying the injury is not serious, but Campos is in Tampa rehabbing at a slow pace.

The Yankees most successful minor-league pitcher this season is 22-year-old right-hander Brett Marshall, who is 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 starts with Double-A Trenton. Marshall is not a fireballer like Banuelos or Betances (he has just 61 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings).

After Tommy John surgery Marshall has found that the movement on his pitches is more important than velocity. He is on track to make it to the Yankees within the next two or three years.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

The much-maligned Yankee rotation has been the biggest factor in the Yankees re-awakening after May 21 and their current comfortable lead in their division.

Veterans Sabathia and Kuroda have mixed well with young guns Hughes and Nova to make this one of the best rotations in baseball.

The addition of Pettitte boosted the staff in May and Kuroda, Hughes and Nova immediately started erasing Yankee fans memories about how awful they were in April. When Pettitte returns the Yankees will have the best No. 1 through No. 5 rotation in baseball.

In the meantime, Garcia has fixed his velocity problem an he appears to be pitching to his 2011 form based on his most recent two starts.

With Phelps in the wings it is doubtful the Yankees will make a trade-deadline move to get an additional starter.

Though I continue to see fellow bloggers and Yankee fans insist the Yankees should make an effort to trade for Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has maintained the Yankees are determined to cut payroll by 2014.

If the Yankees passed on Wilson, Darvish, Buerhle, Gonzalez and Garza before there is no reason to think they will add to the team’s payroll by trading for a high-priced starter at the end of the month. The Yankees think they can win with what they have and it is doubtful they will add anyone significant at the deadline.

Those dyed-in-the-wool Yankee lovers can start crying now. It just is not going to happen.

 

Yankees Sweep Tribe But Lose Sabathia, Pettitte

GAME 74

YANKEES 5, INDIANS 4

On a day when fate seemed to be frowning upon the New York Yankees, the team scratched and clawed its way to a late lead and, despite being the verge of handing it back, they held on to win a tough one in the Bronx.

The Yankees began Wednesday’s game knowing they had lost ace left-hander CC Sabathia to the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin and they later found out that starter Andy Pettitte suffered a fractured left ankle after being struck by a hard shot off the bat of Casey Kotchman in the top of the fifth inning.

So a spirited Yankee Stadium crowd of 45,022 was hoping for some good news to brighten the gloom.

Robinson Cano provided some good news in the bottom of the sixth inning when he stroked a two-run, opposite-field home run to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead and Eric Chavez drove in three runs, including a huge insurance run in the eighth inning, as New York held on – barely – in the ninth to complete a three-game sweep of Cleveland.

The Yankees began the sixth inning down 3-2 after the Indians took advantage of Pettitte’s departure to put together back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Astrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis off reliever Clay Rapada.

However, Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez opened the sixth by falling behind Alex Rodriguez 2-0 and Rodriguez blooped a double into the right-field corner. Cano then stroked a 1-2 slider on the outside corner into the left-field bleachers for his 17th home run of the season his seventh homer in his last 10 games.

Freddy Garcia (2-2), who entered the game with two out in the fifth, pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings and struck out two to pick up the victory in relief. David Robertson followed him with a perfect eighth inning in which he fanned a pair also.

Chavez then stepped to the plate in the eighth inning against Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano with two out and Mark Teixeira on second and pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on first after Raul Ibanez singled.

On a 2-2 pitch, Chavez was able to roll a ball through the hole between first and second base into right-field to score Teixeira with what looked to an ordinary insurance run at the time.

However, the Indians refused to lose their season-worst fifth game in a row without a fight and closer Rafael Soriano did not have his best stuff as he sought his 17th save in the ninth.

Pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall slapped a single to right to open the frame and Soriano walked Shin-Soo Choo. After retiring Kotchman on a flyout, Lou Marson singled into left to load the bases.

After Soriano struck out pinch-hitter Johnny Damon. Soriano issued a walk to Michael Brantley to force in a run and the restless natives in the Bronx were fearing the worst.

However, Soriano got Cabrera to hit a routine fly ball to left and Wise let it settle into his glove for final out that gave the Yankees their fifth straight victory and their 15th victory in their last 18 games.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season mark to 46-28 and they extended their lead in the American League East to a full five games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Indians dropped to 37-37.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano’s June home run binge has been amazing. In his last 10 games, Cano is 14-for-36 (.389) with seven home runs and 11 RBIs. His 3-for-4 day also raised his season average to .308 with 18 home runs and 41 RBIs. After an extremely slow start and struggling with runners in scoring position, it appears Cano is back to the dangerous hitter he has always been.
  • Chavez was called upon to play first so Teixeira could rest as the designated hitter and Chavez made manager Joe Girardi look clairvoyant. Chavez was 2-for-3 with a two-run double, an RBI single and a walk. He also played flawlessly in the field. His two-run double in the fourth off Jimenez gave the Yankees their first lead of the game at 2-1.
  • With the injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte, Garcia becomes relevant again as a starter. Fortunately for the Yankees, the 35-year-old right-hander has 147 career major-league victories. In addition, Garcia is throwing with better velocity than he did in spring training and in April as a starter. If he can be as effective as he was last season when he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA the Yankees might not need to make a deal for a pitcher to fill in until Pettitte returns.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The righty-lefty sidewinding combo of Cody Eppley and Rapada did not fare well in the fifth inning in relief of Pettitte. Eppley gave up an infield single and a sac bunt and Rapada came on to get Brantley to hit into a fielder’s choice. But Cabrera and Kipnis struck for a pair of RBI singles to give the lead back to the Tribe. Fortunately, Garcia came in and retired the next seven batters in a row.
  • Jayson Nix was given a start at shortstop to allow Derek Jeter to rest a day after his 38th birthday. But Nix had a rough game. He struck out twice and rolled out weakly to short. Also, in the field, he actually lost Kipnis’ pop fly single in the sun, which gave the Indians the lead. Jeter would have caught it easily.
  • Soriano is not exactly your typical shutdown closer, but his high-wire act on Wednesday was pretty scary. Soriano is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 17 saves – all excellent numbers. However, in 28 2/3 innings he has given up 30 hits and walked 12 for a WHIP of 1.47. That is a very bad number for a closer.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed Sabathia on the disabled list with what is being listed as a Grade 1 groin strain. He is expected to miss two starts and be able to rejoin the Yankees after the All-Star break.  An MRI on Tuesday indicated a strained abductor muscle in his left leg that Sabathia injured in the fourth inning of his start on Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field. He has not missed a start as a Yankee and he has not missed any starts since 2006. The Yankees announced that right-hander Adam Warren will be recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he will start in Sabathia’s place on Friday against the Chicago White Sox.  . . .  Pettitte had his injured left ankle placed in a protective boot and he is expected to miss at least six weeks. Pettitte held a 2-1 lead and he had given up one unearned run on three hits and one walk and he struck out seven in four-plus innings when he had to leave the game. Garcia is expected to fill in for Pettitte as a starter until he returns.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open a four-game home weekend series with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (9-2, 4.25 ERA) will begin the series on the mound for the Yankees. Nova allowed three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday against the Mets. Nova got a no-decision, which snapped his streak of five straight victories, but the Yankees won the game. Nova is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his three starts against the White Sox.

The White Sox will counter with right-hander Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 4.85 ERA). Axelrod allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his first start replacing the injured Phillip Humber. Axelrod has never faced the Yankees.

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

 

Tribe Gets Their ‘Phil’ Of Red-Hot Hughes, Yankees

GAME 73

YANKEES 6, INDIANS 4

In his last outing, Phil Hughes gave up six runs on four home runs in 4 1/3 innings to become the first Yankee starter to fail to pitch at least innings in June. He made up for that poor showing in spades on Tuesday in the Bronx.

Hughes scattered six hits and blanked Cleveland over eight innings to win his fourth game in his last five starts as New York pummeled the Indians for the second straight night to maintain the best record in the major leagues.

Hughes (8-6) was in complete command throughout, walking one and striking out four, mixing an effective curveball with his 94-mile-per-hour fastball to keep the Indians off the board. In the last two nights, Hiroki Kuroda and Hughes have given up just one run on 11 hits and three walks and struck out 11 in 15 innings.

At the same time, the Yankees managed to strike early against Indians right-hander Justin Masterson, using two weapons the Yankees have been terrible at this season: two-out hits and hitting with runners in scoring position.

Masterson had Nick Swisher on first on a fielder’s choice with two out in the second inning when Dewayne Wise singled to right-field to advance Swisher to third. Chris Stewart, starting his third straight game behind the plate, followed with a soft liner that bounced off the glove of Jack Hannahan and rolled behind him into foul territory.

Swisher scored and Indians manager Manny Acta argued that the ball appeared to be foul when Hannahan touched it. However, replays on MY9 showed third-base umpire Mike DiMuro had made the correct call of a fair ball.

Derek Jeter, celebrating his 38th birthday, then hit a hard ground ball off the leg of Masterson for an infield single that loaded the bases.

Curtis Granderson capped the inning with an opposite-field two-run single to left and the Yankees had another early lead on the Tribe at 3-0.

The Yankees tacked on single runs in the fifth, the seventh and the eighth innings to extend their margin to 6-0.

Mark Teixiera’s sacrifice fly in the fifth scored Granderson, who had walked to leadoff the inning. Alex Rodriguez smacked a long line-drive home run – his 13th of the season – into the second deck in left-field in the seventh off reliever Tony Sipp. In the eighth, Stewart, who entered the game with only seven RBIs all season, knocked his second run of the night with a sacrifice fly of his own.

Masterson (4-7) was tagged with the loss, giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks and he struck out two in six innings of work.

The Indians, meanwhile, took out their two nights of frustration on Yankees right-hander Cory Wade in the bottom of the ninth. With two out and Jason Kipnis on third, Johnny Damon looped a dying quail single just in front of Granderson in center to end Hughes’ shutout. After a Casey Kotchman single, Jose Lopez, who was only in the game because Hannahan was ejected in the 8th inning by DiMuro, blasted a three-run home run.

Manager Joe Girardi then brought in closer Rafael Soriano to retire Lonnie Chisenhall on an infield grounder after just two pitches and earn his 16th save of the season.

The Yankees improved their season record to 45-28 and they have now won 14 of their last 17 games. They also increased their lead in the American League East to four games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Indians have lost four straight games and are 37-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes pretty much proved that his June 20 start against the Braves was an aberration from the positive work he has been doing since he was 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA on May 5. Since then Hughes is 7-2 with a 3.44 ERA. He finished June with a 4-1 mark and a 2.97 ERA.
  • Russell Martin’s pain was Stewart’s gain on Tuesday. Stewart’s two-out single scored the first run and he drove in the Yankees’ last tally of the night with a sac fly. Stewart was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and he is hitting a respectable .258 on the season as the backup catcher. That is not too bad.
  • Granderson’s two-run single set the tone for the rest of the night because Hughes was in such total command the Indians seem demoralized after the lead got to be 3-0. Granderson has been struggling at the plate over his last nine games. He was 5-for-35 (.143) with one home run and two RBIs entering play Tuesday. In 13 of those at-bats, Granderson had struck out.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The only downer on the night was the shoddy relief effort from Wade. He was tagged four four runs on four hits and his ERA shot up from 3.34 to 4.45. But Wade has been struggling a lot lately. In his last five appearances, Wade has given up seven runs on 10 hits and two walks over just three innings. His ERA on June 11 was 2.63. With former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma expected to be ready to come off the disabled list just after the All-Star break, Wade best clean up his act soon.

BOMBER BANTER

DiMuro had an interesting night as the third-base umpire. After correctly ruling Stewart’s soft liner a hit, Wise went leaping into the stands behind third base to catch a foul pop off the bat of Hannahan in the seventh inning. The ball hit into his glove but rolled out as he fell into the first row. A fan a few seats down held up the ball. However, Hannahan was ruled out by DiMuro. The umpire owned up the mistake after the game, but he was not pleased when Hannahan told him the replays showed he blew the call. DiMuro immediately ejected Hannahan before the start of the bottom of the eighth inning.  . . .  Martin took batting practice for the first time since suffering stiffness in his lower back. But Girardi chose to give him another day of rest so he can receive further treatment. Martin said he hopes to be able to play on Wednesday.

COMMENTARY

Because MY9 was broadcasting the game locally in New York, I was forced to listen to the Indians broadcast of Tuesday’s game and I was not happy with what I heard.

The play-by-play man Matt Underwood and color man Rick Manning are naturally looking at the game from the Indians’ perspective. But I do not understand why these broadcast teams have to openly root for their team on the air.

In the top of the third inning, the Indians were trailing 3-0 and they managed to start the inning with back-to-back hits from Hannahan and Chisenhall. As Shin-Soo Choo stepped to the plate, Manning says, “Come on, hit one out and tie it up.”

I know the team is in the midst of fight for the Central Division and they have been slumping at the plate and losing a lot. But do you have to go to the trouble of donning saddle shoes and shaking pom-poms to blatantly wish the Indians to win instead of just calling what happens like most professional broadcast teams do?

In the second inning, Manning and Underwood were throwing daggers at DiMuro for calling Stewart’s soft liner a fair ball. Manning looked at one inconclusive replay and said, “That ball was definitely a foul ball.” The next half-inning Underwood sheepishly admitted that after looking at the “down-the-line” shot the Yankee broadcasters showed him it appeared that DiMuro got the call right. Oops.

Of course, Manning never apologized. He said squat.

Then in the seventh inning when DiMuro did make a mistake on Wise’s play, Manning pounced. They showed the replay several times and complained about DiMuro. Heck, the fact the Indians were flailing at Hughes’ pitches and looking like a high school baseball team doing it had nothing to do with it. It was all DiMuro’s fault.

Manning got in one last dig in the ninth when Rodriguez caught a foul pop navigating the tarp near the stands. Manning said: “Well, we know that if it hits leather it is out tonight.”

In the second inning, after DiMuro’s call, Underwood said “Well, you know other teams who come here say it is impossible to get a call in this stadium.”

I am sick of broadcasters making these types of comments because they not only are stupid, baseless and unprofessional, they also foster the hostility the Yankees receive in visiting ballparks.

Just face it, the Yankees are just a good baseball team. They play the game right and they do respect their opponents. Jeter is the perfect ambassador for the way the Yankees approach the game and the team follows his lead.

So finding scapegoats for why their team loses is just what a Bush League broadcaster would do. The real culprit for the losses is in the mirror when the Indians look at themselves. It is not the umpire, the fans or some weird karma at the stadium. If the Indians stink it is because they stink.

ON DECK

The Yankees will go for their fifth straight victory and a sweep of the Indians on Wednesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.29 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte suffered through a five-run first inning and lost in his last start against the the New York Mets on Friday. He is 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA in the last 10 seasons against the Indians.

The Indians will counter with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5, 4.59). Jimenez gave up four hits and four walks and struck out eight in holding the Houston Astros scoreless over 6 2/3 innings in his last start. He is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the Yankees lifetime.

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