YANKEES 3, PHILLIES 2
Chase Headley hit his first home run of the spring to lead off the seventh inning and broke a 1-1 tie as New York edged Philadelphia on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Headley’s blast came off a 0-2 pitch from right-hander Kevin Slowey and it landed in the right-field bleachers to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.
Despite giving up the tying run in the top of the seventh inning, David Carpenter (1-0) got credit for the victory. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his second spring save.
Slowey (2-1) took the loss.
The Yankees improved their spring record to 9-5.
When the Yankees faced the Miami Marlins in an exhibition game in Panama last spring, Nathan Eovaldi made a definite impression on manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees hitters he faced. There was the 95 mile-per-hour fastball, a slider, a curve and a change-up.
The secondary pitches were passable and ordinary but the right-hander had a fastball that could not be taught. It just sizzled. It was electric.
The fact that Eovaldi was only 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA last season was surprising enough. Even more shocking was that he led National League pitchers in hits allowed with 223 and he registered only 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.
So the Yankees asked pitching coach Larry Rothschild of he could “fix” Eovaldi enough to make him a better pitcher. Rothschild said he could by working to improve his secondary pitches and getting him to “elevate” his fastball to make it more of a weapon.
So on Dec. 19 the Yankees dealt infielder Martin Prado and right-hander David Phelps to the Marlins in exchange for Eovaldi, first-baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones and right-handed pitching prospect Domingo German.
This spring Rothschild went to work tinkering with Eovaldi’s pitch assortment. Then he pushed him to use the upper part of the strike zone more with his fastball. So when the exhibition season started, Eovaldi, 25, began testing his new plan of attack on live batters.
The results have been astonishing. On Sunday, Eovaldi pitched four innings and faced the minimum 12 batters. He gave up no runs on two hits and struck out three. But the clearest sign that Eovaldi is developing into a pitcher was that he threw 38 out his 45 pitches for strikes.
“Today, overall everything felt pretty good,” Eovaldi told reporters. “For the most part today, I was able to throw all four of my pitches, so that’s a good sign.”
Eovaldi is being counted upon to be the No. 4 starter in the rotation that includes Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The pressure of pitching in New York is always difficult but Eovaldi looks to be ready to embrace it.
All he has to do is do exactly what he did on Sunday against the Phillies.
Overall this spring Eovaldi is 0-1 with a 1.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in seven innings. Even better he has not walked a batter. The pupil is listening and learning.
“We’re really excited to have him in camp with us as one of our starters. We think he can do a really good job for us,” Girardi told reporters.
- Headley entered the game hot and he now has seven hits in his past 12 at-bats (.583). His home run ended up being the game-winning hit and he is making it very hard for Alex Rodriguez to find a defined role with the team. Because he is hitting .384 and he has four-year, $50-million contract in his pocket it is obvious that Headley will be the Yankees’ starting third baseman on Opening Day.
- Slade Heathcott drove in another run on Sunday with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh that scored Greg Bird. Heathcott, a 24-year-old former first-round outfield pick, was actually released by the Yankees and re-signed to a contract as a non-roster invitee this spring. Heathcott’s all-out style of play has led to a series of injuries that have sidetracked him. Now healthy, he is showing the Yankees he can play. He is 6-for-12 (.500) with a home run and four RBIs in nine games. There is a chance Heathcott may be resurrecting a once-promising career.
- Chase Whitley pitched two scoreless innings after Eovaldi and looked pretty impressive. He did not give up a hit or a walk and he fanned two batters. Whitley has not been scored upon this spring. He has a good shot to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever.
- Although Carpenter, 29, got the victory he did not pitch all that effectively for a second consecutive game. In his past two outings, Carpenter has been tagged for three runs on four hits and a walk over two innings. Carpenter was 6-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 65 relief appearances with the Atlanta Braves last season. He is being counted upon to be the primary setup man for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances and needs to start pitching better.
- Stephen Drew reverted back to previous form by going 0-for-3 on Sunday. He is 2-for-19 (.105) this spring after he hit an anemic .162 last season.
No. 1 pitching prospect Luis Severino and former first-round draft pick Aaron Judge were among 10 players the Yankees cut on Sunday and reassigned to minor-league camp. Severino, 21, gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out five over 2 2/3 innings in two appearances. The 6-foot-7 Judge was 3-for-11 (.273) with four walks, a double and a homer in four games. In addition the Yankees cut catchers Trent Garrison and Juan Graterol, right-handers Nick Goody and Diego Moreno, left-handers James Pazos and Tyler Webb, infielder Cito Culver and outfielder Jake Cave.
The Yankees will take Monday off and resume their exhibition schedule on Tuesday by hosting the Toronto Blue Jays.
It will signal the spring debut of left-hander Sabathia, who was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA in eight starts before undergoing surgery to repair a degenerative condition in his right knee. Sabathia has added weight and said he feels stronger. This will be a good test if he is healthy and ready.
Sabathia will face right-hander Drew Hutchison, who is 1-0 with a 0.0 ERA in two spring appearances. Hutchison was 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA for the Blue Jays last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 2, PIRATES 1
Tyler Austin preserved a 1-1 tie with his arm in the sixth inning and then handed New York its first Grapefruit League victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday with a solo home run to lead off the eighth at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.
Austin fielded a single in right-field off the bat of Deibinson Romero in the bottom of the sixth inning and threw out Jeff Decker at home plate right after Decker had tied up the game with an RBI single that scored Willy Garcia from second base.
Two innings later, Austin blasted a tape-measure home run into the left-field stands off right-hander Deolis Guerra (0-1) that broke the 1-1 tie and eventually stood up as the game-winning run.
Left-hander Fred Lewis (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Taylor Garrison pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
With all the early buzz in camp about 22-year-old right-fielder Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 size and his tremendous power potential, you could not blame Austin for feeling like a forgotten man.
Austin, 23, was once among what looked to be a golden group of young outfielders the Yankees had in the minor leagues. They included Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Austin. In many circles, Austin was considered the cream of the crop.
While myriad injuries, off-field problems and poor performance have plagued Heathcott, Flores and Williams, Austin has had his share of misfortune also.
Austin was not a heralded 13th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but he had thrust himself into hot prospect status by batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in 110 games in four minor-league stops in 2012. He was named the organization’s best minor league player that season.
In 2013, he sustained both a thumb and a wrist injury that limited the right-handed hitter to a .265 average with six homers and 40 RBIs in 85 games in two minor-league assignments. Though he was injured, he remained the team’s third-rated prospect entering 2014.
Instead of getting untracked at Double-A Trenton, Austin slumped to a .275 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games. The thumb injury he suffered in 2013 was still an issue, robbing him of his ability to hit the ball with authority.
As a result, he entered camp in 2015 as the team’s No. 15 prospect and Judge has shot past him to No. 5. So it has been Judge who has been getting all the attention early while Austin has quietly tried to put the injuries behind him and recover his patented line-drive stroke.
At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds Austin may not have the imposing stature of Judge. But if he can put up some good numbers this spring and have a rebound 2015 season, Austin might just get re-establish himself as a up-and-coming prospect again.
After Thursday’s throw from right-field and his game-winning home run it appears that Austin is well on his way to reopening some eyes in the organization. He obviously is hoping more of those days will come.
- Both right-handed starter Emil Rogers and fellow right-hander Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, only yielded a two-out double to South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang in the second inning. He fanned one and did not issue a walk in a 28-pitch outing. Whitley, 25, surrendered two hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter as he also threw 28 pitches. Both pitchers are eventually slated for the bullpen, but manager Joe Girardi wants Rogers, Whitley, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to be stretched out as starters in case the Yankees opt for a sixth starter early in the season or if they are needed to start in case of an injury.
- Former Pirate Garrett Jones started at first base and was 2-for-2 with a double and he drove in the team’s first run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the fifth inning. Jones, 33, followed Chris Young’s two-out double with a hit that was scored as a double. Jones actually hit a routine fly ball that dropped between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.
- Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, 23, has a horrible debut in Tuesday’s opener against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. But he atoned for that on Thursday by going 2-for-3 against the Pirates. Refsnyder doubled to right in the second off starter Francisco Liriano but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a triple on a perfect relay from Rodriguez to third baseman Justin Sellers. He then added an infield single in the fourth off right-hander Charlie Morton that loaded the bases with two outs. However, Cito Culver ended the threat with a weak popout.
I am going to give the Yankees a pass in this one because they managed to put together nine hits after collecting just five in their home opener on Wednesday. The pitching, led by Rogers and Whitley, also held the Pirates to just one run. On defense, the Yankees threw out two runners on the basepaths. All things considered it was a good effort.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention of issuing the title of captain to any Yankee in the near term. In fact, he even added that he thought retired shortstop Derek Jeter, who held the honor for 12 seasons, should be the last Yankee captain. “From my chair, it’s not something I think we have to fill,” Cashman said to reporters. . . . Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, is scheduled to play in right-field for the team’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates on Friday. It will the first game action for Beltran, who played in only 109 games last season due to a bone spur and three bone chips in his right elbow. As a result, Beltran batted a career low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. So Beltran underwent surgery to repair the elbow last September. “I feel pretty good, making improvement every day,” Beltran told reporters. “I’m taking a lot of swings like I used to in the past in spring training. The elbow feels good.”
The Yankees will play on Friday in the first of what will be three scheduled split-squad games.
In the afternoon, the Yankees will play the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. It will be their third meeting with the Phillies in the past four days.
The Yankees will start Mitchell, a 23-year-old right-hander who was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 of them starts) at two minor-league stops before making his major-league debut with the Yankees. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one of them as a spot starter).
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley will be among the group of players who will play in the game.
The Phillies will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, 31, who was 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. Rumors claim that the Phillies are shopping Hamels for a trade before the end of spring training.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
The Yankees also on Friday will host the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, for what will the team’s first night tilt this spring.
Left-hander Chris Capuano, 36, will get his first start of the spring. Capuano was 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees after he was acquired last July from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. He also is the favorite to become the team’s No. 5 starter this spring.
Alex Rodriguez, coming off his excellent debut on Wednesday, will serve as the team’s designated hitter in the game.
The Pirates have scheduled 27-year-old left-hander Jeff Locke to start. Locke is competing to be the team’s No. 5 starter after going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live via MLB Radio through station KDKA in Pittsburgh.
PHILLIES 3, YANKEES 1
Odubel Herrera went 3-for-4, stole three bases and scored two runs to spark Philadelphia to a victory over New York and spoil their 2015 Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday.
Non-roster right-hander Kevin Slowey (1-0) started for the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory. Justin De Fratus weathered a late Yankee rally that fell short to earn a save. Newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1), making his first start for the Yankees, was tagged with the loss.
The buzz around Alex Rodriguez started early with ESPN actually cutting away from their regular programming to show the former three-time American League Most Valuable Player taking batting practice even though they were not televising the game.
Rodriguez, 39, also drew a rousing chorus of cheers and a small smattering of boos during pregame introductions and before his three at-bats. He did end up providing the fans with a bit of a show in going 1-for-2 with a walk in his three plate appearances.
After a 17-month absence due to a 162-game suspension from Major League Baseball for being involved in a performance enhancing drugs scandal, Rodriguez was just grateful just to be back on the field.
“This is as much fun as I’ve had in a long time in spring training,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I’m just feeling really good that I get to play the game that I love.”
A-Rod batted second and was the team’s designated hitter.
In his first plate appearance against Slowey. Rodriguez took two rusty looking swings before shooting a soft line drive into left for a single. In the third inning against right-hander Paul Clemens he ended the inning by hitting into a force play.
He completed his day in the sixth with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and two on and nobody out against right-hander Ethan Martin. Most of the announced crowd of 9,673 urged Rodriguez on as he worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.
Kyle Higashioka was sent out to pinch-run and Rodriguez’s first day back was done.
Rookie catching prospect Gary Sanchez followed with a sacrifice fly that scored the Yankees’ only run of the game.
Rodriguez told reporters after the game that he did hear the boos but was pleased by the cheers. “Once you hit rock bottom, anytime you hear a few cheers these days, it’s a pleasant surprise,” he said.
Girardi said he tentatively plans to start Rodriguez at DH again on Friday at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But there also is a chance he could play the field. Either way, Rodriguez is just glad to put the suspension behind him and just play baseball again.
- Though he was the losing pitcher, Eovaldi did look good in his debut. He gave up a run on two hits with no walks and one strikeout in 31 pitches over two frames. The 25-year-old former Miami Marlins right-hander did strike out Maikel Franco to start the second inning with a split-finger fastball, a pitch the Yankees would like Eovaldi to feature more this season.
- Left-hander Andrew Miller also made his Yankee debut by pitching in the third inning. Though he gave up a single and two stolen bases to Herrera in the inning, Miller was able to strike out Freddy Galvis and Domonic Brown before retiring Ryan Howard on a groundout to keep Herrera at third base. Miller, 29, was signed as a free agent this winter and he is expected to compete with right-hander Dellin Betances for the closer role.
- Since he was drafted in the first round in 2009, Cito Culver has always shown an ability to field but his bat has held him back. Culver, 22, made a spectacular play going deep into outfield grass in left and throwing in time to get Darin Ruf by a step.
- The Yankees did not get a very good day out of Stephen Drew, who is penciled in as the team’s starting second baseman – though he has played only 34 games there. All of those came with the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. Drew was retired on two weak infield grounders and on defense he committed a fielding error on the first play of the game. Later, he threw a routine chance into the dirt and only a agile scoop from first baseman Mark Teixeira saved him from another error.
- The Yankees seemed to sleepwalk offensively throughout the afternoon. They managed only five hits and drew two walks off some pretty ordinary Phillies pitchers. The Yankees recorded a total of five 1-2-3 innings.
- The Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth and, after Sanchez’s sac fly scored the first Yankee run, catcher/first baseman Francisco Arcia grounded into a double play to shut down the best chance the Yankees had to score multiple runs all day.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw a 30-pitch bullpen session in Tampa on Wednesday and told reporters that he is nearly ready to pitch in a Grapefruit League game. Tanaka, 26, is trying to recover from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Manager Joe Girardi said Tanaka will throw again in a simulated game and could make his first start in a game late next week. . . . For the first time in 20 seasons, Derek Jeter was not playing shortstop for the Yankees. Didi Gregarious, 24, made his debut with the Yankees and went 0-for-1 with a walk. Gregorious was obtained from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that included the Detroit Tigers. “It was an amazing feeling, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius told reporters. “It was amazing for me just wearing the pinstripes, to go out there with all my teammates.” . . . Before the game, the George M. Steinbrenner High School band performed. The Yankees then introduced former Yankee greats who are assisting the team as special instructors such as Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Hideki Matsui.
The Yankees will travel to Bradenton, FL, on Thursday to face the Pirates at McKechnie Field.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, was 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 18 games with the Yankees after being picked up as a free agent from the Toronto Blue Jays. Outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are scheduled to make the trip.
The Pirates will counter with veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will not be telecast. However, it is available live from station KDKA in Pittsburgh through MLB Radio.
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.
Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)
It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.
Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.
The shock may still have not worn off.
Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.
After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.
Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.
Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.
So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.
The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.
The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.
The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.
It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.
But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.
Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.
Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.
But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.
The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.
Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.
Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.
Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games
But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.
“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”
The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.
Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.
Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.
The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.
His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.
Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE
The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.
We will see if it is successful.
Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.
There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.
I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.
Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.
The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.
It is hard enough to win games with a full roster in the American League East. It is difficult when your team is riddled with crippling injuries. It becomes darn near impossible when the team loses its heart and soul.
That is pretty much what the New York Yankees lost last season without its future Hall of Fame shortstop and captain Derek Jeter.
The team has spiraled downward ever since Jeter broke his right ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 2012.
The Yankees were swept in that series and they stumbled to a tie for third place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles and missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1994, the season before Jeter made his major-league debut.
Jeter, 39, tried to get back on the field for the 2013 season. But each step forward led to two steps back.
During spring training, the Yankees brought Jeter along slowly, not allowing him to play in the field until the third week of exhibition games. However, it was obvious in watching Jeter run out the batter’s box that he was just not right.
He favored the left ankle and had none of the usual spring in his step.
When X-rays indicated an additional break in the ankle, Jeter was placed on the 60-day disabled list and the usual critics and naysayers came out of the woodwork claiming Jeter was too old to play shortstop and that he would never be the same.
Jeter took that as a challenge and tried to come back on July 11. However, that comeback was short-circuited when he suffered a mild strain in his left quad running out a grounder in his first game back. He went on the 15-day disabled list with quite a bit of frustration after being so sure he was ready.
Activated on July 28, Jeter showed the Yankees just a hint of what they were missing when he went 2-for-4 with a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays.
That comeback was ended just three games later when an examination on Aug. 3 indicated Jeter sustained a Grade 1 strain of his right calf. He was placed on the disabled list for a third time. This was pretty much par for the course when it came to many of the Yankees returning from injuries in 2014 only to wind up back on the disabled list.
Just ask Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter had a lot of company on the team’s sickbay.
Jeter returned to the lineup on Sept. 1 and that comeback lasted just a total of seven games. Jeter re-injured his surgically repaired left ankle and, after a few days to assess the injury, Jeter offiicially was shelved for the season on Sept. 11.
The 13-time All-Star ended up playing in just 17 games batting .190 with a home run and seven RBIs. One big wasted season filled with frustration for a player who has always prided himself on playing every day since he became the team’s starting shortstop in 1996.
He also had to abandon any hope of potentially being able to surpass baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, who amassed 4,256 hits. Jeter was ahead of Rose’s pace at the same age entering the 2013 season. If Jeter had any intention of playing long enough to break that mark it is went up in smoke last season.
Yankee fans received a bit of a jolt when the Yankees signed shortstop Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5 million contract on Dec. 2. It raised some eyebrows because some Yankee watchers thought it signaled that the team might be making the move to replace Jeter with the 31-year-old veteran.
But the Yankees quickly squelched any talk about that because Jeter. who was scheduled to play under a player-option contract in 2014 worth $9.5 million, was handed a one-year, $12 million deal by the Yankees. You do not replace a shortstop by offering him more money than his contract specified.
Jeter revealed to reporters on Nov. 14 that his ankle has healed and that he was “100 percent sure” that he would return to his role as the every day shortstop for the Yankees in 2014. Jeter said he was only working on strengthening his body for the coming season and was not worried about his ankle at all.
Of course, he did admit that although he wants to play every day, he is sure that he will get some at-bats as a designated hitter, which is fine with him.
The naysayers still do not believe that Jeter can come back at his age and play at the same level he did before the injury. That is fine if they think that, Jeter says.
Jeter will just have to prove them wrong as he did in 2012 when he led the majors with 216 hits after he hit a career low .270 in 2010 and spent the first half of the 2011 season hitting around .250. Many baseball experts thought Jeter was done then. But after adjusting his swing rehabbing a calf injury during the All-Star break, Jeter raised his average to .297 by season’s end.
The lesson: You may not want to give up on a guy who has five championship rings and career total of 3,316 hits.
The only real question about Jeter will be his ability to field such a demanding position at an advanced age. Players such as Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel have done it, but for some reason the ankle and leg injuries Jeter sustained last season give some people pause.
However, whatever range Jeter once had, he lost a long time before the ankle injury. Though Jeter has been awarded five Gold Gloves, including one in 2012, number-crunching gurus have been criticizing him since he won his third award in 2008.
Jeter’s defensive strength has never been totally about range. It is his sure-handed playmaking on the balls he does reach. In 2012, he handled 506 chances and committed only 10 errors. He also formed what has to be the franchise’s best double-play combination in history with second baseman Robinson Cano.
Yankee fans know the difference when Jeter is not in the lineup too. Eduardo Nunez has struggled most of his career playing the position and fans even dubbed him “Eduardo Scissorhands.”
With Jeter’s injury troubles, you would think that Nunez, 26, would have been able to take advantage of the opportunity and make his own mark at the position in 2014.
Unfortunately for Nunez, he could stay healthy and he regressed with his bat. Nunez batted .260 with three homers and 28 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 90 games. In 75 starts at shortstop, he committed 12 errors, which pretty much played himself out of a job when the Yankees signed Ryan on Sept. 10.
Ryan started all 17 of the Yankees’ remaining games in 2014 and batted .220 with a home run and one RBI. He committed only one error in those games and he is generally accorded to be one of the better fielding shortstops in baseball though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove.
According to FanGraphs Ryan recorded 22 defensive runs saved in 2010, 18 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.
The big knock on Ryan is that he is a career .237 hitter with 19 home runs and 187 RBIs in seven major-league seasons. He is no threat to take Jeter’s job at shortstop but he gives the club some excellent insurance at the position.
However, Nunez’s days with the Yankees appear to be numbered. The team seems to have given on him completely. So Nunez enters 2014 in a position where he should not be looking to buy a home in the tri-state area around New York City.
The Yankees already trimmed the roster of versatile infielder Jayson Nix on Dec. 2 when he was not tendered a contract offer for the 2014 season along with rookie infielder David Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Daley.
Nix, 31, spent two seasons with the Yankees as backup infielder. Like many of the Yankees, Nix suffered a broken left hand in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 21 in which he was struck by a pitch by knuckleball right-hander R.A. Dickey and missed the remainder of the season.
Nix batted .236 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 87 games before succumbing to the injury.
The Yankees signed free-agent infielder Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $3 million contract, which means the 32-year-old veteran could figure in the mix to play second base.
Johnson has also played first and third base and the outfield. He also, unlike Ryan, Nunez and Nix, bats left-handed.
The Yankees are not exactly rich at the shortstop position in the minors at this point.
Addison Maruszak, 26, batted .254 with four home runs and 32 RBIs in 94 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He is not considered as a prospect for the big leagues.
Former first-round pick Cito Culver, 21, is not making much progress in the minors. Though Culver can flash some leather with the glove the offensive part of the game has eluded him up to this point.
Culver hit a combined a combined .248 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs in 120 games in two stops at the Class-A level in 2013.
The Yankees, it is safe to say do not have another Jeter waiting in the wings to take his place.
So it is a good thing that Jeter is saying he is healed and will be ready to go when camp opens in February. He is the one player the Yankees can’t afford to be without in 2014. They need his bat, they need his glove and they need his leadership by example.
Expecting him to be the fresh-faced kid that 20-plus homers and drove in 90 runs in his heyday would be expecting way too much, But the Yankees will take the numbers he put up in 2012 when he hit .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Betting against Jeter has never been a safe bet before and may not be a wise one now.
BRAVES 2, YANKEES 0
TAMPA – Jordan Schaffer led off the game with a double and later scored on a Justin Upton groundout as Atlanta shut out New York on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Paul Maholm (1-1) and four Braves relievers held the Yankees to five hits. David Phelps (1-1) pitched four strong innings in his bid for a rotation spot despite taking the loss. J.R. Graham pitched two scoreless innings to earn his second spring save.
The Yankees helped the Braves immensely by going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine men on the bases.
The Yankees fell to 3-8 on the spring. The Braves improved to 6-6.
- If Brett Gardner were to get any hotter with the bat you could fry an egg on his forehead. Gardner went 2-for-3 against the Braves and is hitting .579 on the spring. For those Yankee fans who are angling for Gardner to lead off for the team this season you may as well keep dreaming. Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki will hit in the top two spots. Gardner likely will hit ninth.
- Despite giving up the double to Schaffer that led to a run in the first inning, Phelps pitched exceptionally well. He gave up just two hits and a walk and struck out two. In his nine innings this spring, Phelps has given up just one run on seven hits and two walks and struck out three. It is hard to see how the Yankees can keep him out of the rotation.
- Suzuki doubled off the base of the rightfield wall in the fifth inning and went 1-for-3 in the game. Suzuki is also having a pretty productive spring. He is hitting .400 and he shows no ill effects from his recent car accident last week.
- Shawn Kelley looked really sharp in the the ninth inning, putting the Braves away 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. Kelley, 28, was 2-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 47 games with the Seattle Mariners last season. He could figure to make the team because he has a power arm.
- Travis Hafner has only had 10 at-bats but he needs to start showing that he can drive the ball. Hafner was 0-for-1 with two walks and is 2-for-10 so far this spring. With the Yankees missing so much of their power from last season Hafner is important piece to providing consistent power as the left-hand designated hitter.
- The team’s errors seem to multiplying like rabbits. There were three more errors against the Braves and two by Corban Joseph, who was playing – you guessed it – third base. Third has been like a black hole for the Yankees all spring. In 11 games the Yankees have committed 19 errors this spring and 11 of them have been committed by third basemen.
- Mark Montgomery, 22, had a night he would like to forget. He gave up a single to Tyler Pastornicky and Pastornicky stole second and advanced to third when J.R. Murphy overthrew second. Then Montgomery was called for a balk to allow Pastornicky to score. Montgomery followed that up by walking two batters and hitting another to load the bases. He was replaced by Francisco Rondon, who wriggled out of the bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a groundout.
The M*A*S*H unit that is the Yankees received another patient who was not even in Tampa to get injured. Mark Teixeira, who was training in Arizona with Team USA, strained the inside of his right wrist taking swings in batting practice preparing for an exhibition game against the White Sox. X-rays were negative for a break but Teixeira will be unable to play in the World Baseball Classic and will be shelved for at least two weeks. At this rate, Francisco Cervelli may end up as the team’s Opening Day cleanup hitter. . . . Manager Joe Girardi told the YES Network on Tuesday that the team is shooting for Mariano Rivera to make his spring debut on Saturday in a game against the Braves. He also said that Jeter could play on Sunday. . . . General manager Brian Cashman showed up at camp sporting a cast on his right ankle and crutches he will be using for about eight weeks. Cashman broke his fractured his right fibula and dislocated his ankle skydiving on Monday as part of a charity event for the Wounded Warriors Project. If at any time I report that the Yankees’ batboy has been injured you know this team is truly cursed. . . . The team’s top prospect, catcher Gary Sanchez, was among eight players reassigned to minor-league camp. Along with Sanchez, 20, the Yankees sent out infielders David Adams, Greg Bird, Cito Culver and Rob Segedin; outfielder Tyler Austin and catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka. That leaves the Yankees with 68 players in camp.
It may be a bit strange but the Yankees will be looking at bench coach Tony Pena and second baseman Robinson Cano in the opposing dugout on Wednesday. The Yankees will be playing an exhibition against the Dominican Republic team from the WBC. Cano likely will start at second base and Pena is the team’s manager.
Hiroki Kuroda will get the start for the Yankees and he will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Jose Veras.
Game-time will be 1:05 p..m. EST and the game will be telecast live by the MLB Network.
With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.
Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.
Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.
Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.
In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.
Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.
Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.
Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.
Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.
Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.
Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.
Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.
He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.
With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.
The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.
The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.
The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.
Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.
However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.
Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.
Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:
CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.
INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.
OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.
PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (15 HRs, 58 RBIs, .316 BA, 99 Runs, 9 SB)
There are just some people who are fortunate enough to have everything go their way in life. They have a dream job, they make a good amount of money and they date all the beautiful women.
That is Derek Jeter and his 2012 season was something he can brag about.
In 2010, he suffered through a subpar campaign in which he hit .270 and he looked like he was nearing the end at age 36. In the first half of 2011, it got much worse.
Jeter was struggling with a no-stride batting approach that batting coach Kevin Long suggested. He abandoned it and his average tumbled even more. Then he suffered a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list.
He went to Tampa,FL, to rehab the injury and then took the time to work with his old batting coach Gary Dembo to rediscover his old swing. All Jeter did after rejoining the Yankees was hit .336 the rest of the way and it re-established his credentials as one of the best singles hitters of his generation.
But as the 2012 season began there were still those that doubted Jeter could maintain the stroke that got him 3,000 hits and had him at a lifetime batting average of .313.
In the first half, Jeter was able to keep that pace by hitting .303. It seemed every day he was passing players like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken on the all-time hits list. He also was driving the ball well enough to hit seven home runs and drive in 25 runs from the leadoff spot.
The only negatives is that he scored only 42 runs and stole six bases. The runs total had a lot to do with the fact the Yankees were the worst team in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position. The stolen base total had more to do with Jeter turning 38.
He stole 30 bases in 2009 but is pretty obvious that Jeter has to choose his spots more carefully now. The good thing is that Jeter realizes it and does not get thrown out on the bases trying to prove he can. He is much smarter than that.
Jeter made the All-Star team as the starting shortstop and he actually earned it rather than getting the nod simply because of his reputation.
You would think Jeter might have slowed down a bit in the second half. Instead, he just got better.
He raised his overall average 10 points, hit eight home runs, drove in 33 runs and scored 57 runs to come within a single run of scoring 100.
Jeter had scored at least 100 runs in 13 of his 17 full seasons in the majors. But the fact he missed had more to do with the flux in the batting order behind with injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and the inconsistency of the team’s hitting with runners in scoring position.
Jeter’s numbers this season are unprecedented for shortstops his age. There are few shortstops who are in baseball at that age. There are fewer who actually able to start. And Jeter is the only one who has actually led the major leagues in hits with 216.
That is Jeter’s second highest total of hits in his career. He had 219 hits in his magical 1999 season when he hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs when he was 25.
Jeter is not 25 any more and he will never approach those gaudy power numbers of 1999. But the Yankees can live with the 2012 numbers.
“The Captain” is not quite ready to take his commission and retire. Why should he?
The only area where Jeter does show his age, besides stealing bases, is in the field. But even there, Jeter can still make the plays with amazing precision.
Jeter only committed 10 errors this season, two less than he committed in 2011. He also did that with much more chances because he was on the disabled list for about a month last season.
I know the sabermetricians out there use Jeter as their favorite whipping post because of his reduced range in the field. That is true. Jeter is no longer able to range far to his right and he maybe lets a few balls get through he used to reach easily. But he still plays the position at a high degree of skill.
His five Gold Glove awards do not lie.
It goes back to that old argument of do you want a steady hand at shortstop who may not have much range or do you want a shortstop with the range of half the Earth who too often throws the ball into the seats? Given this choice I would take Jeter every time. That is the choice manager Joe Girardi has made when critics have suggested Eduardo Nunez should play shortstop.
Girardi knows better and the fans who sit along the first-base line at Yankee Stadium thank him for it.
The only comparison to Jeter I can make is Ozzie Smith, who played at a very high level with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 at age 38. He hit .295 and stole 43 bases.
“The Wizard” is in the Hall of Fame and Jeter is going to join him someday. Special players to do special things and Jeter and Smith are as special as it gets at the shortstop position.
Smith is the best fielder I have seen at the position and Jeter is, by far, the best pure hitter of them all.
MIDSEASON GRADE: A-
SECOND-HALF GRADE: A
OVERALL GRADE: A
BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (4 HRs, 18 RBIs, .243 BA)
Nix was discussed in detail in my post grading Robinson Cano.
He spent most of the season as Jeter’s backup at short after Nunez was demoted for treating the baseball like it was a hand grenade.
Nix started 15 games at shortstop and committed only one error. He was steady with the glove and he contributed well with the bat, too.
Nix, 30, will never come close to being the athlete Nunez, 25, is. Nunez is faster, a better hitter and he has much better range in the field. But you also know Nix will make the pays in the field and he will not hurt you when he plays.
Nix, however, will miss the early part of the playoffs with a left hip flexor injury. So Nunez will be Jeter’s backup at shortstop for now.
The Yankees have high hopes he can be the future of the Yankees at shortstop. But he is a work in progress.
He was making an alarming number of errors when the Yankees demoted him in May. Girardi said they were hurting Nunez’s development by making him a utility infielder and said the team will try to keep him at shortstop.
That should help Nunez, who is more comfortable there. Nunez is a very good line-drive hitter with excellent speed and he helps balance the Yankees’ lefty-laden lineup. If he can just harness the fielding aspects of the game he could become a very good player at short.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND-HALF GRADE: C
OVERALL GRADE: C
Nunez played in only 38 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre due to a nagging right thumb injury so Ramiro Pena ended up playing the most there. However, after Pena was recalled on Sept. 1 a calf injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to bring in Steve Pearce to back up at first and Pena was designated for assignment.
The Yankees also played veteran Doug Bernier at Scranton but he is career journeyman without any prospect of remaining with the Yankees except as a future coach.
The Yankees do have a potential star in 20-year-old Austin Aune, who hit .273 with one home run and 20 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. Aune is a lefty hitter with a potential power bat and has good range and a great arm at shortstop. But scouts believe Aune might have to move to center-field at some point to maximize his speed and arm.
Cito Culver, 19, appears to be a bust as the team’s No. 1 choice in 2010. He hit just .215 in 122 games at Class-A Charleston.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A
Jeter has always been an intangibles player. He is given credit for playing the game smart with his positioning and his knowledge of the game is second to none. But when he hits like he did this season, it is something special to watch.
When a career .313 hitter leads the majors in hits and bats .316 at age 38, you have to tip your cap to the abilities of a player like this.
Will he do it again in 2013? Who can say for sure?
All you have to do is watch Jeter in the playoffs because that has been his playground for 17 seasons. Jeter is a career .307 hitter in the playoffs.
So the big stage is not something he ever has dodged. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the Yankees will go as far as No. 2 takes them.