Tagged: Chris Stewart

Yankees Hope McCann Catches Fire Earlier In 2015

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them all beginning with the catching position.

CATCHER

Brian McCann, 31 (.232, 23 HRs, 75 RBIs, 140 games)

When the Yankees signed McCann to a five-year, $85 million free-agent contract last winter they were hoping they had solved the team’s problem with offense from the catching position that had festered since Jorge Posada retired in 2011.

McCann, a native of Athens, GA, left the Atlanta Braves hoping to duplicate his eight full seasons of averaging 21 homers and 80 RBIs. He pretty much did that by producing 23 homers and 78 RBIs last season. The issue with McCann was a slow start and the fact he hit 50 points below his career average of .272.

The Yankees have said that they believe McCann’s slow start and his low batting average was a product of his unfamiliarity with pitchers in the American League. That seems like a plausible reason and the Yankees are sure hoping that was the case.

The fact is that McCann’s batting averages for the past three seasons since he hit .270 in 2011 have been .230, .256 and .232. The Yankees do not want to think of those marks as McCann’s new normal because they need his bat in the middle of the order this season.

For a team that is woefully lacking in power and RBI production McCann, when healthy, provides it. His left-hand power translates well to the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium and McCann seemed able to find the right stroke to get 19 long balls out at home. However, McCann was virtually absent on the road, where he hit just four homers and drove in a paltry 22 runs. The Yankees would like to see him do better away from the friendly confines.

“I think McCann came on strong for us in the second half, and I think next year we’ll have a full season of what we expected from him,” general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “It’s important. Bottom line, it’s important. We need to be a better offensive club than we were last year.”

McCann drew rave reviews from his pitchers for his game calling, blocking and pitch framing behind the plate. Although McCann has never won a Gold Glove he is considered above average behind the plate.  He committed just four errors and last season he managed to throw out 37 percent of potential base-stealers, the highest rate of his career.

With power at a premium and the speed game on the rise throughout Major League Baseball, McCann does provide a pretty good deterrent to the running game.

But perhaps McCann’s largest contribution to the Yankees this season will be his leadership in the clubhouse. With the retirement of team captain and future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, McCann is going to be expected to take care of business behind the scenes and be the team’s main face to the media.

One of the more unexpected developments from last season was McCann’s emergence from behind the plate to play first base. That was out of necessity due to the extended periods of time Mark Teixeira was unavailable last season. McCann had never played the position.

Manager Joe Girardi pressed McCann into service and he started 11 games at the position. The surprise was that McCann  –  though no threat of winning a Gold Glove there either  –  proved he was more than adequate. He made only one error.

Though he is not going to be expected to play the position much if at all this season, it does provide a potential landing spot for him later in his contract with the Yankees. It would allow the Yankees to keep his bat in the lineup and free the veteran from the wear and tear of catching.

The Yankees entered 2014 with an extremely strong group of catchers at the major and minor-league levels.

They broke spring camp with 28-year-old Francisco Cervelli as McCann’s backup. Throughout Cervelli’s six-year stint with the Yankees he has been prone to injury and 2014 was no different for him.

Cervelli pulled his right hamstring running the bases in Boston on April 14 and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list, short-circuiting yet another season for the Venezuelan native. When Cervelli did return it was in September and he ended up batting .301 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 49 games.

In the offseason the Yankees elected to trade Cervelli to the team where former Yankee catchers seem to find a home: the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Veteran catcher Russell Martin left the Yankees after two seasons in the winter of 2013 to sign a free-agent contract with the Bucs. He was joined in 2014 by veteran backup catcher Chris Stewart, who the Yankees let go last winter.

But now that Martin has left the Pirates to sign a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cervelli figures to start for the Pirates in 2014 with Stewart as his backup.

That leaves the Yankees with a pair of catchers vying to be McCann catching caddy in 2015.

One is 23-year-old John Ryan Murphy, who made his major-league debut when Cervelli landed on the disabled list last April. Murphy quickly drew rave reviews from the Yankees’ coaching staff for his defense.

Murphy also proved that he could be productive as a hitter, which was his history in the minors. Murphy batted .284 with one home run and nine RBIs in 32 games (21 starts) with the big club after hitting .246 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 51 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

It was Murphy’s emergence last season that allowed the Yankees to trade Cervelli to the Pirates on Nov. 13 in exchange for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson.

Last season catching instructor Gary Tuck compared Murphy’s catching style to that of Girardi and told the Wall Street Journal that he “as good as anybody I’ve ever had  –  and that’s 40 years of some of the greatest catchers who have ever been behind the plate.”

Murphy’s spring competition will be 26-year-old Austin Romine, who batted .242 with six homers and 33 RBIs at Scranton in 2014. He played in only seven games with the Yankees in 2014 and hit .231.

Romine is considered a major-league quality catcher defensively, however, his weak bat has been holding him back. Though he averaged .275 throughout his minor-league career, he has only batted .204 in span of 76 games with the Yankees.

So he enters spring training behind the younger Murphy on the depth chart. However, there is one thing in Romine’s favor for supplanting Murphy as McCann’s backup: He is out of options.

That mens the Yankees would not be able to option Romine back to Scranton at the end of camp. They would be forced to trade or release him. So there is a scenario where the Yankees could elect to install Romine as the backup and allow Murphy to catch on a regular basis at Triple-A to further his development.

The Yankees perhaps further weakened the catching position by electing to trade 24-year-old Pete O’Brien to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline on July 31 last season in exchange for infielder Martin Prado.

O’Brien had hit a combined 65 home runs over three minor-league seasons with the Yankees after being selected in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. O’Brien had hit a combined .267 with 23 doubles, 33 homers and 70 RBIs with Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton up to that point.

Though the Yankees were enamored with his prodigious power, O’Brien struggled defensively behind the plate. He ended up being shifted to first base and outfield for long stretches of last season.

The Yankees also ended up dealing Prado to the Miami Marlins on Dec. 19 as part of a five-player deal than allowed the Yankees to obtain right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who is expected to be a starter with the Yankees this season.

But even though the Yankees dealt O’Brien away, the Yankees still have their second-best prospect in 22-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez, who batted .270 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs in 110 games at Trenton last season.

The Dominican was signed in 2009 at age 16 and he has been impressive at every stop along the way. He has hit at least 13 home runs in each of his minor-league seasons and the scouts believe his stroke will make him a very good all-around hitter at the major-league level.

His defense is still a work in progress but he does feature a very good arm.

Sanchez has no chance of making the team’s roster but he will be ticketed to Triple-A. He will have a chance to play there regularly. There is a chance that if an injury develops at the position Sanchez could make his major-league debut in 2015.

If Sanchez develops as the Yankees hope he does they might have the flexibility to move McCann to first base eventually when the young catcher is ready. It is rapidly becoming sooner rather than later.

But time is still on the side of Sanchez.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT

McCann was a seven-time All-Star selection and he won five Silver Slugger awards with the Braves so there is no reason to believe that he could not regain that status with the Yankees in 2015. He is going to be asked to shoulder a big burden this season.

He is being asked to handle the pitchers, call games, hit for power, drive in runs and be a team leader in the clubhouse. Because McCann is more than capable of doing all those things well there is nothing standing in his way now.

Look for a huge comeback season for the veteran catcher.

It does not really matter who gets the backup job. However, Sanchez will develop much quicker at Triple-A if Murphy is around. Look for the Yankees to keep Murphy and allow Romine to walk as a free agent.

The catching prospects for the Yankees look bright for many years to come if Sanchez delivers as advertised when he is ready to assume the job in a few years. The Yankees, however, would be wise to find another young catcher to groom like Sanchez.

NEXT: FIRST BASE

Despite Split With Bucs, Yankees Claim First Place

GAME 42

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 3

The Yankees’ hitters must have gotten an early wakeup call on Sunday because they came out blazing against the Pirates.

The Yankees scored three runs in the first inning and added a run in the second and then they let Hiroki Kuroda and their bullpen hold it as New York extended its winning streak to four games with a victory over Pittsburgh in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.

Kuroda (3-3) was touched for a run in the first inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Neil Walker but he settled in after the Yankees came back to give him a 4-1 cushion.

The Yankees jumped on hard-luck right-hander Charlie Morton (0-6) when the first five batters he faced reached base.

Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Derek Jeter followed with a perfectly placed bunt single. Morton then loaded the bases when he hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a curveball.

Mark Teixeira stroked a two-run single and Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a RBI single.

The Yankees added a run in the second inning on a leadoff single by Kelly Johnson, who later stole second and reached third on an error by catcher Tony Sanchez. Gardner then scored him with an RBI double.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, their bats promptly went to sleep after Gardner’s double. Morton went on to retire 16 of the 17 batters he faced. The only batter who reached, Zoilo Almonte singled with two out in the fourth inning, was picked off first base by Morton.

Morton was charged with four runs on six hits and on walk while he struck out six in seven innings.

Kuroda was touched for two runs in the fifth when Sanchez led off with a home run into the left-field bleachers. Clint Barmes then doubled and he scored one batter later on an RBI single by Walker.

Kuroda left after giving up three runs on six hits and two walks while he fanned seven batters in six innings.

The Yankee bullpen combination of Matt Daley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Pirates scoreless on one hit over the final three innings to seal the victory for the Yankees.

Robertson pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief to earn his eighth save in eight chances this season.

GAME 43

PIRATES 5, YANKEES 3

Reserve utility player Josh Harrison broke  a 3-3 tie with two out in the seventh inning with a home run as Pittsburgh salvaged one game of the three-game series with New York in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Gerrit Cole (4-3) yielded three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out eight in six innings of work to earn the victory. Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.

Reliever Alfredo Aceves (0-2), who came in relief of left-hander Vidal Nuno in the seventh, was charged with his second loss in the past eight days.

Nuno yielded three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk and he struck out five batters in six innings.

Despite splitting the doubleheader, the Yankees  –  with a season record of 23-20  –  pulled into a half-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates are now 18-25.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda was hardly at his best. But he did pitch much better than he has previously this season. Kuroda had much better command of his slider, which made his fastball and split-finger fastball much more effective. After winning two of his first three starts, Kuroda was 0-2 with a 5.10 ERA in his past five starts.
  • Teixeira extended his hitting streak to eight games in the opener and managed to end the day one RBI in back of Yangervis Solarte for the team lead in RBIs with 22.
  • Gardner has been on a hitting tear that began on May 3 and he has not stopped. In his past 15 games he is 20-for-58 (.345) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He was 3-for-7 in the doubleheader and has raised his season average to .297.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi basically gutted the Yankees’ offense in the second game by holding out Jeter, Ellsbury, McCann and Alfonso Soriano. I understand that he needed to rest McCann (as the catcher) and Ellsbury (due to his recent illness). My only quibble is he could have balanced it so that two of them played in one game and two the other. In the second game, Johnson batted cleanup. Huh?
  • Aceves, 31, may be quickly paving his way to being designated for assignment of he does not get his act together real soon. In his past four appearances, he has yielded eight runs on nine hits and three walks in six innings. That is an ERA of 12.00 and a Walks-To-Innings-Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 2.00. Pitchers who get shelled in relief do not stay in a Girardi bullpen for long.
  • Solarte and Brian Roberts cost Nuno and the Yankees a valuable run in the second inning when Solarte made an errant throw after fielding a Starling Marte grounder and Roberts then dropped a potential double-play relay from Solarte one out later which would have ended the inning. Instead, Chris Stewart, of all people, drove in a run with a two-out single.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a well-deserved day off on Monday before flying to Chicago to open a two-game series with the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (6-0, 2.17 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off his his first major-league complete-game shutout, which he threw against the New York Mets on Wednesday. He gave up only four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out eight. He also beat the Cubs by shutting them out for eight innings ay Yankee Stadium on April 16.

Veteran right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 3.06 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Cubs. Hammel surrendered five runs on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in his last start on Thursday. He also took the loss to the Yankees on April 16 at Yankee Stadium.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.

 

CC Tosses 7 Scoreless As Yanks Win 6th Straight

GAME 25

YANKEES 4, PIRATES 0

TAMPA – After CC Sabathia ended the 2013 season with a disappointing 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his past two spring starts, he is well on his way to delivering on that promise.

Sabathia (2-1) threw seven shutout innings and fanned seven Pirates as New York went on to blank Pittsburgh 4-0 on Friday in front of a paid crowd of 10,890 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The slimmed-down left-hander gave up only four hits and a walk while stretching his current scoreless inning streak to 13. In his past two starts, Sabathia has yielded no runs on four hits and one walk while striking out 12 in 12 innings.

The Yankees handed Sabathia all the runs he really needed in the first two innings against right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-3).

Brian McCann started it with a two-out RBI double in the first and Carlos Beltran later scored on a wild pitch. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter each delivered RBI groundouts in the second as the Yankees touched Volquez for four runs on five hits and two walks in five innings.

The Yankees backed Sabathia’s strong outing with four double plays and two of them came from McCann.

The seven-time All-Star catcher nailed Josh Harrison attempting to steal as Andrew McCutchen struck out in the first. Then in the third inning he did it again as Harrison struck out and he threw out Robert Andino.

The Yankees have now won six consecutive Grapefruit League contests and they outscored their opponents 36-7, with three of the victories coming via shutout.

The Yankees’ spring record is now 14-9-2. The Pirates fell to 11-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia arrived in camp more than 30 pounds slimmer and determined to regain his ace status despite reduced velocity on his fastball. This spring he has sort of reinvented himself much like Andy Pettitte had to do when he lost velocity on his fastball. For those who were ready to shovel dirt on Sabathia’s career may be in for a huge surprise. Sabathia has always been more of a pitcher than a thrower so he can adapt at age 33.
  • When McCann signed a free-agent contract the Yankees knew they were getting one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Though he is solid defensively, the weakest part of his game has been his throwing. On Friday, he looked every bit as good as Russell Martin and Chris Stewart. McCann’s spring batting average is now .235, but that is misleading. Even McCann’s outs are hit hard and the ball jumps off his bat. The Yankees might have found the perfect successor to Jorge Posada.
  • Very quietly Brian Roberts has been getting better this spring. After a slow start, he is hitting .290 with his 1-for-3 night on Friday. Roberts has to prove he can remain healthy but his last season like that was 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles. That year all Roberts did was score 110 runs, blast 16 home runs, drive in 79 runs, hit 56 doubles, steal 30 bases and bat .283. The Yankees don’t expect that kind of production but don’t be surprised if he gets near those numbers.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees have had their best week of the spring. The pitching has been magnificent. The starting lineup is beginning to hit and even the defense and the bullpen have been good. No need to dwell on any negatives here.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury tested his sore right calf on Friday by running on grass and he possibly could return to action as early as Tuesday. That would give Ellsbury five games before the season begins on April 1 in Houston. Ellsbury was the only starter not in the lineup on Friday.  . . .  Jeter played seven innings on Friday despite the fact he fouled two balls off his surgically repaired left ankle. Jeter told reporters after the game that he was fine. He said the ankle was sore but he hopes to be ready to play on Sunday. Jeter was not scheduled to play on Saturday.  . . .  MRIs taken on backup infielder Brendan Ryan indicate a pinched nerve in his upper back and it is almost certain that he will begin the season on the disabled list. Ryan has not played in a game since March 4. He was scheduled to start on Thursday in Fort Myers against the Boston Red Sox. But during infield drills, Ryan’s upper back stiffened and he had to be scratched. To replace Ryan on the roster, manager Joe Girardi told reporters that he will pick two players from among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte.  . . .  Prior to the start of the game on Friday the Yankees infielder Greg Bird and right-handed pitcher Shane Greene were named winners of the 2013 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ minor-league “Player of the Year” and “Pitcher of the Year,” respectively. Bird, 21, batted .288 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 84 RBIs in 130 games with the Class-A Charleston RiverDogs. Greene, 25, played for both Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, posting a 12-10 record with a 3.38 ERA over 27 appearances (26 starts).  . . .  Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Friday’s game. Marino threw a strike to Posada, who is in camp as a special instructor.

ON DECK

The Yankees make the long trek to Fort Myers on Saturday to face the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium.

The Yankees have selected Masahiro Tanaka (0-0, 1.93 ERA) to make his third start of the spring. Gardner, Francisco Cervelli and Kelly Johnson are expected to make the trip.

The Twins will counter with right-hander Kevin Correia (1-1, 6.00 ERA).

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

 

McCann Deal Shows Yankees Are Rebuilding

It appears the first plank to rebuilding the New York Yankees into a playoff contender has been hammered in place.

It took an offer of five years and $85 million to lure Georgia native Brian McCann from the Atlanta Braves to the Big Apple and it will be money very well spent.

McCann, 29, hit .256 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 102 games with the Braves last season. In his nine-year career, McCann has hit 176 homers and driven in 661 runs while hitting .277. That is far better that what the Yankees had on hand last season.

As power-hitting switch-hitter Jorge Posada eased into retirement the Yankees turned to Russell Martin in 2011 to provide some power and defense behind the plate. For two seasons, Martin provided both those things but he chose to accept a more lucrative contract offer with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter.

Martin, 30, hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 127 games with the much-improved Bucs in 2013. He was sorely missed in the Bronx, however.

After auditioning holdover backups Francisco Cervelli, 27, and Chris Stewart, 31, in spring training the Yankees selected Cervelli as their starting catcher to begin the season. But much like almost every other player on the roster, Cervelli fell early in the season to a broken finger on his right hand.

The Yankees did not know at the time that Cervelli’s last game would be on April 26.

First there there was an extended process after surgery which delayed his rehab. Then Cervelli ended up suffering an injury to his right elbow.

Later, part of the Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis resulted in Cervelli accepting a 50-game suspension without pay for his admission into using performance enhancing drugs. So Cervelli’s season consisted of 17 games in which he hit .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

Cervelli’s injury forced the Yankees to use a career backup in Stewart as their starting catcher for the remainder of the season. Although Stewart was hitting a robust .284 as late as June 11, his season quickly nose-dived from there and ended up hitting an anemic .211 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 109 games.

Rookie Austin Romine, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 27 to back up Stewart and he did not fare much batter at the plate. Romine hit .207 with one home run and 10 RBIs in 60 games.

The Yankees had admitted that they were allowing Martin to go in order to usher in a new philosophy of “defense first” behind home plate. Though Cervelli, Stewart and Romine were not accomplished hitters each of them could be counted on to call a good game, block pitches in the dirt and control the other teams’ running game.

Stewart was exceptional. He threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers and committed only two errors.

However, on a team that started the season with some 190 home runs short on power and who lost most of the remaining power they had on their roster to injury, Stewart Cervelli and Romine stuck out like sore thumbs because of their lack of power and production.

On a franchise that fielded the likes of legends such as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Posada, it seems only fitting the Yankees would quickly switch gears from their “defense first” approach and find a catcher who can put the ball into the seats.

McCann certainly can do that.

The fact that he is a left-handed hitter makes him very attractive to the Yankees because of the short porch in right-field.

McCann is a seven-time All-Star, was the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in 2010 and was a five-time Silver Slugger award winner.

In 2006, McCann posted his best season as a pro. He hit .333 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. He has averaged 21 homers and 80 RBIs in his eight full major-league seasons.

Though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove, McCann is not exactly a liability on a defense either. He has thrown out 200 of 842 base-runners in his career, which works out to a respectable 23.8 percent. He only committed one error in 92 games behind the plate last season.

The Yankees see McCann as a starting catcher but he also could remain in the lineup as designated hitter against right-handed pitching. That is one of the reasons McCann was looking to move to the American League. With the Braves he had only could pinch-hit in games he did not start.

The Yankees have already indicated that they intend to offer Cervelli a contract for 2014 and Romine certainly factors into the equation as a backup. But McCann’s signing likely ended Stewart’s days in pinstripes. He probably will not be tendered a contract offer and thus will become a free agent.

The Yankees do have to be encouraged with the development of J.R. Murphy, 22.

Murphy received a late call-up and, despite the fact he hit .154 in 16 games, he made great strides in the minors, hitting .248 with nine homers and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Murphy provides the Yankees with some depth behind the injury-prone Cervelli and Romine, who has had a history of lower-back issues.

The big prize in the Yankees minor-league remains 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, who hit a combined .253 with 15 home runs and 71 RBIs at stops at High-A Tampa and Trenton.

Sanchez, much like his predecessor Jesus Montero, has a bat that looks like it will make him a potential star at the major-league level. The big concern with the Yankees, as it was with Montero, is Sanchez’s defense.

Though Sanchez has made great strides in his four minor-league seasons behind the plate, he has committed 43 errors, including 16 and 11 the past two seasons. His arm is exceptional, though. He has nailed 33.4 % of would-be base-stealers.

With McCann’s five-year deal with a vesting option for a sixth season that makes the deal potentially worth $100 million, Sanchez might have a tough time shoving aside the veteran down the road. But it does not look like Sanchez will get that chance until 2015 anyway.

The McCann signing does prove that the Yankees have reached a point where they realized getting by on “cheap” free agents and waiver-wire pickups were not going to cut it if the team expects to be competitive in 2014 and beyond.

While the Yankees have McCann on board they are also looking to keep second baseman Robinson Cano as a Yankee for the remainder of his career, if he and his agent Jay-Z realize that he is not going to get the 10 years and $310 million he is seeking.

The team is also interested in re-signing right-hander Hiroki Kuroda and making a huge posting bid for fellow Japanese right-hander Mashiro Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and is being compared to Texas Rangers star right-hander Yu Darvish.

The Yankees are also contacting outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo as well as hoping to convince Curtis Granderson to remain with the team.

The Yankees are showing signs that they are going to be aggressive in the free-agent market as they were the winter before the 2009 season when they signed left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to lucrative free-agent contracts.

Coincidentally, that was the last season the Yankees won a world championship.

General manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner seem to be on the same page this offseason and it is looking like that their statement that the $189 million payroll mark was more of a target that is not set in stone may mean Yankee fans might have a team they rally around in 2014 instead of the sad group they fielded in 2013.

There seems to be hope in the Bronx and it all starts with Brain McCann.

 

Soriano ‘Steals’ Show As Yankees Shade Rays in 11

GAME 130

YANKEES 3, RAYS 2 (11 INNINGS)

When the New York Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs on July 26 they desperately needed him for his power from the right side. As a bonus, they also got whatever was left in his 37-year-old legs.

On Sunday the Yankees found out there was still plenty left in those old legs to help win them an important game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Soriano delivered a one-out double in the top of the 11th inning, then stole third and scored on Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly as New York salvaged the final game of a crucial weekend series against Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 34,078.

With the game tied at 2-2, Soriano lined a 2-1 pitch from Jamey Wright (2-2) into left field for a double. With Granderson at the plate, Soriano then surprised the Rays by taking off for third and sliding in head first ahead of the throw from catcher Jose Lobaton.

Granderson then skied the next pitch into deep center-field to score Soriano easily with what proved to be the winning run.

Boone Logan (4-2), who came into the game in the bottom of the 10th with one on and one out to retire Lobaton on a inning-ending double play, was credited with the victory.

Mariano Rivera needed only six pitches to retire the Rays in order in the bottom of the 11th to earn his 38th save of the season and notch only the Yankees’ sixth victory in their past 22 games at Tropicana Field dating back to July 21, 2011.

The game featured a pitching duel between a pair of young right-handers in 26-year-old Ivan Nova for the Yankees and 25-year-old Alex Cobb for the Rays.

The Rays struck in the bottom of the first off Nova when newly acquired David DeJesus led off with a single, Ben Zobrist drew a walk and Evan Longoria plated DeJesus with a sharp single to left.

But the Yankees responded in the top of the fourth when Robinson Cano lifted a one-out line-drive opposite-field home run to left for his 24th home run of the season to knot the score at 1-1.

The Yankees then took the lead in the top of the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki reached first on an infield chopper to second. Cano then followed with a double to the wall in right-center for his 84th RBI of the season.

But the lead was short-lived because in the bottom of the inning, Longoria launched a blast into the left-field bleachers off Nova with out to even the game back up at 2-2.

Cobb gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings.

Nova also yielded two runs on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 6 2/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen of Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Logan and Rivera held the Rays hitless and scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings to give the Yankees the opportunity to win the game in extra innings.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 69-61 and they are seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. However, the Yankees drew to within 3 1/2 games in the wild card standings. The Rays fell to 74-54.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Soriano continues to pay dividends as a trade-deadline acquisition. He was 2-for-5 with a single, a double, a stolen base and a run scored.  Along with his 26 home runs this season (nine with the Yankees), Soriano has stolen 14 bases (four with the Yankees). That is most stolen bases Soriano has racked up since he stole 19 bases for the Cubs in 2008. Along with his 384 career homers Soriano has 284 career steals.
  • Cano entered Sunday’s game with just one single in his past 12 at-bats. But he heated back up Sunday, going 3-for-5 with a single, a double and a homer, a run scored and two RBIs, In his past eight games, Cano is 15-for-34 (.441) with two homers and eight RBIs. His season average is .307, one point below his career batting average of .308.
  • The Yankees won with their bullpen, some timely double plays and some great throwing from Chris Stewart behind the plate. The bullpen shut the Rays down without a hit over 4 1/3 innings. The Yankees turned four double plays on the Rays including one with the bases loaded in the first, one in the third, one in the fourth and one to end the bottom of the 10th. Stewart nailed Yunel Escobar attempting to steal in the fifth and then gunned down DeJesus in the seventh. Stewart has thrown out 15 out of 48 base-stealers this season (31 percent), which is just below his 33 percent career average.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova walked two batters in the first inning and ended up issuing six walks overall, a season high for him. Nova entered the game having walked 27 batters in 93 2/3 innings, which is less than three walks per nine innings. But he was bailed out by the four double plays and Stewart’s arm.
  • Mark Reynolds connected for a home run in his first at-bat as a Yankee on Aug. 16 at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Since then he is 4-for-25 (.160) with nine strikeouts. On Sunday, playing third base in place of resting Alex Rodriguez, Reynolds was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

BOMBER BANTER

Derek Jeter completed a three-game stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will be in uniform with the Yankees on Monday when they open a series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Jeter, who was a rehabbing a strained right calf, was 3-for-9 with one walk, a double, two runs scored and an RBI. The Yankees want Jeter to take it easy running the bases so they may keep him healthy as much as possible for the final 32 games. In order to get Jeter on the roster the Yankees are expected to trim one of their 13 pitchers.

ON DECK

After sweeping the Jays in four games at Yankee Stadium they will try to sweep them for three at Rogers Centre.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-12, 4.88 ERA). Hughes held the Blue Jays to two runs over six innings but did not get a decision. It was his 11th quality start of the season but he has not won a game in his past eight starts. He is 5-5 with a 4.80 ERA lifetime against the Jays.

Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (9-12, 4.49 ERA) will match up again with the Yankees. Dickey gave a two-run home run to Soriano in the eighth inning on Wednesday to end up with a loss in his last start. He is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Red-Hot Yankees Take Out Brooms On Blue Jays

GAME 127

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

If the Yankees could play the Blue jays every day they would never have to worry about making the playoffs. After sitting out a three-hour and thirty-two minute rain delay on Thursday the Yankees showed Canada’s team that trying to beat them these days is pretty much a futile exercise.

The Yankees got six strong innings out of Andy Pettitte and they used some timely hitting in the middle innings to sweep Toronto in the four-game series and end the 2013 season with a 10-0 record against them at home in front of a paid crowd of 40,116.

The Yankees not only have won five in a row and 11 of their past 14 games, but they also moved to within 3 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot with 35 games left to play in the season.

Pettitte (9-9) held the Jays to just one run on four hits and three walks while he fanned three to win his second straight start after not having won in his previous five starts. Pettitte also evened his record as he has never recorded a losing season in his 18 years in the majors.

The Blue Jays scored their only run off Pettitte when J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers.

But the Yankees quickly evened it up at the start of the bottom of the fifth when Curtis Granderson launched a rocket of his own into the second deck in right-field off left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3) for his fourth home run of the season.

In a sense it was a bit of retribution for Granderson because it was Happ who hit him in the right forearm on the first pitch he saw in his first spring training game on Feb. 24 and it forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

The Yankees ended up taking the lead later in the inning but how it unfolded and how they scored the run was just about as bizarre as it can get.

With one out, Happ walked Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart followed with a single to center. The Yankees then loaded the bases when Happ issued a walk to Ichiro Suzuki.

Vernon Wells then slapped a sinking line drive into center-field that replays showed was caught on a sliding attempt by Rajai Davis.

However, first-base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball was trapped and Davis threw the ball to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki as Nunez tagged up and headed home with the lead run.

Kawasaki first tagged Stewart off second base and then tagged Suzuki on second base. Stewart was ruled out and Suzuki was ruled safe. However, the Yankees got credit for the run because Nunez touched home plate just before Stewart was tagged.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued the call and was ejected by Barry. Moments later crew chief Ted Barrett also gave Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle the heave-ho.

Despite the missed catch call Nunez would have scored the tie-breaking run in either case.

The Yankees then broke the game open and chased Happ in the sixth inning when Happ walked both Alex Rodriguez and Granderson with one out.

Right-hander Brad Lincoln was summoned from the bullpen and he promptly loaded the bases by walking Mark Reynolds. Nunez followed with a two-run single to right-center.

Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup then relieved Lincoln and Stewart closed out the Yankees’ scoring for the evening by plating Reynolds on a sensational grab of a grounder and a jump throw from well into foul territory by third baseman Brett Lawrie.

Happ was charged with four runs on three hits and five walks while he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings. The other run was charged to Lincoln.

The Blue Jays did make it interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Shawn Kelley on an RBI single by Kawasaki and a RBI groundout off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.

But Boone Logan shut the door on the rally by striking out Adam Lind with two on and two out.

Rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne, who was just recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, pitched a scoreless eighth and David Robertson twirled a perfect ninth to earn his second save because Mariano Rivera was unavailable to pitch.

The Yankees’ season record now stands at 67-59 and they remain six games behind first-place Boston in fourth place in the American League East. The Blue Jays are now 57-71 and they remain deep in the division basement.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After struggling much of the summer, Pettitte is showing signs of coming around. In his past two starts he has yielded only four runs (one earned) on 10 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.71. If the Yankees are to make a legitimate run a playoff spot they will need their No. 4 starter to pitch well.
  • Nunez two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning proved to be the back-breaker for the Blue Jays. Nunez is having much more success at the plate. Since Aug. 7, Nunez is 17-for-50 (.340) with a home run and nine RBIs. It is shame he is likely to lose his starting spot to Derek Jeter this weekend.
  • Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. But he actually helped win the game with his glove in the fifth inning. After Arencibia’s homer, the Jays loaded the bases with one out when Reyes reached on an infield single. Davis then smashed a scorching ground ball that Rodriguez was able to glove before it scooted past him. He then stepped on third and threw to first to double up the speedy Davis to end the inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the Yankees win five in a row there is not much to complain about. The team is finding ways to win games and a large part of it is the batting order they now have is not the one of three weeks ago that looked like the team was playing a split-squad game in Clearwater, FL, in March. The pitching is beginning to shine again also.

BOMBER BANTER

The human yo-yo, Claiborne, was recalled on Thursday to replace infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-man roster. Nix likely will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured left hand he suffered when he was struck by a pitch from R.A. Dickey in second inning of Wednesday’s game.  Last Friday, Claiborne was optioned to the RailRiders to make room for Reynolds on the roster. On Tuesday, he was called up as the team’s 26th roster player for a doubleheader with the Blue Jays and he was sent back to Scranton the next day. But on Thursday he was back with the team.  . . .  Jeter batted second and played shortstop on Friday in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild calf strain, likely will play another rehab game for Scranton on Friday and he could rejoin the Yankees on Saturday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a critical weekend road series with the Rays on Friday.

Ace right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.41 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is looking to bounce back after giving up 11 hits on Saturday in a loss to the Red Sox. It was just his second loss in his past eight starts. Kuroda is 2-1 with 6.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.

Right-hander Chris Archer (6-5, 2.95 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Archer allowed one run on four hits in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday but he did not get a decision. He is 2-0 with 0.60 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.

 

Cano, Stewart Fuel Yankees’ Rally Past Blue Jays

GAME 124

YANKEES 8, BLUE JAYS 4

Two weeks ago, if the Yankees fell behind 4-0 it was a good bet they would end up losing the game. But on Tuesday, bolstered by a new lineup that features a lot more power, they were able to come from behind in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

Robinson Cano rapped out four hits, including a three-run home run  –  the 200th of his career  –  and drove in four runs and Chris Stewart hit a three-run shot of his own that put the Yankees ahead to stay as New York again frustrated Toronto at Yankee Stadium.

Despite not having his best stuff, right-hander Ivan Nova (7-4) pitched 6 1/3 innings to win his third straight decision in front of a paid crowd of 40,248 for a makeup game resulting from a May 19 rainout..

The Blue Jays batted around against Nova as part of four-run second inning to take early command of the game. Maicer Izturis and rookie Kevin Pillar drove in a run apiece and Rajai Davis closed out the scoring by ripping a two-out, two-run double in the gap in right-center.

But the Yankees, who entered the day having won seven of their past nine games, started their comeback in the third inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers.

Brett Gardner stroked a one-out single and Ichiro Suzuki followed by slapping a double down the left-field line to advance Gardner to third.

Cano then lined a 1-0 fastball into Monument Park in center-field for his 23rd home run of the season and became the 16th player in Yankee history to reach the 200-homer plateau.

The score remained 4-3 until the bottom of the sixth inning when Rogers opened the frame by yielding a lined single to left by Alex Rodriguez.

Rogers was removed in favor of left-hander Brett Cecil, who struck out Curtis Granderson, and right-hander Neil Wagner (2-4) came in to strike out pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds.

However, Wagner ended up hitting Jayson Nix with on a 3-1 pitch and Stewart followed by launching a high-arcing blast into the left-field bleachers for only his fourth home run of the season and his first home run since May 15, a span of 173 at-bats.

The Yankees added a pair of solo runs in the seventh and eighth innings on an RBI single in the seventh by Cano and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Gardner that scored Nix in the eighth to close out the scoring.

Nova gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks while he struck out two in 6 1/3 innings. Relievers Boone Logan, Shawn Kelley, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera held the Blue Jays hitless and scoreless over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Nova’s counterpart, Rogers, surrendered four runs on seven hits and two walks and fanned four batters in five-plus innings.

With the victory the Yankees have now won all seven home games they have played against the Blue Jays this season. They also have won 10 straight games against them at the stadium and they have won 19 of the past 21 games there dating back to May 2011.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is getting red hot at just the right time for the Yankees. Cano was 4-for-4 with a homer, a double, two singles, a run scored and four RBIs. After having his 11-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday at Fenway Park, Cano is 7-for-9 (.777) in his past two games. He has raised his season average to .307, the highest it has been since he was hitting .310 on May 10.
  • Suzuki was 2-for-5 with a double, a single and two runs scored. The two hits gave him 3,999 in his professional career, including his 1,278 hits he recorded in Japan. Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only players to have reached 4,000 hits in baseball history.
  • Stewart has pretty much been an automatic out for most of the season. He came into the game hitting .230 with three home runs and 20 RBIs as the team’s No. 9 hitter. Though Stewart contributes a lot with his work behind the plate and his ability to throw out base-runners, it is nice to see him get a big hit that won a game for the Yankees.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nova did not have good command of his pitches early in the ballgame.  He came into the game 4-2 with a 1.89 ERA in his past seven starts. But after giving up four runs in the second inning, Nova was able to hold the Blue Jays scoreless on five hits over the next 4 1/3 innings.
  • After going 15-for-22 (.6820 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in five games through Saturday, Alfonso Soriano was 0-for-4 in the first game and now is 0-for-10 in his past two games.

The features Bomber Banter and On Deck will appear in the post reporting on the second game of the doubleheader.