Tagged: Cole Garner

Ichiro Final Piece To Yankees’ Explosive Outfield

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.

RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER  (24 HRs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA)

CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (43 HRs, 106 RBIs, .232 BA)

LEFT-FIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (9 HRs, 55 RBIs, .283 BA, 77 Runs, 29 SB)

Sometimes the outfield you leave spring training with is not the one you end up with. That us true for the Yankees this season.

Left-fielder Brett Gardner,29, played in only nine games before a diving catch in left resulted in a right elbow injury that eventually required surgery and wiped out pretty much his entire season. With his loss the Yankees also lost his 40-plus stolen bases and his Gold Glove-quality defense.

So the Yankees improvised and used 40-year-old Raul Ibanez and 35-year-old Andruw Jones to fill the hole Gardner left. Since Ibanez and Jones were expected to be the team’s platoon designated hitters, it allowed manager Joe Girardi to use veterans like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on more occasions at DH.

It worked pretty well.

Though the Yankees lacked speed on the bases and lost some defense in left, Ibanez and Jones combined to hit 18 home runs and drive in 51 runs in the team’s first 81 games. But because of their advanced age and because the Yankees kept hoping Gardner would return, the Ibanez-Jones platoon in left was expected to be only temporary.

When Gardner was unable to return after a second rehab stint, the Yankees decided they had to make a move and they obtained All-Star and multiple Gold Glove-winning outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners in a trade completed on July 23.

Suzuki, 38, immediately brought all the elements to the Yankees that Gardner was expected to provide. Suzuki agreed to come to the Yankees to play left-field, hit eighth in the lineup and to sit against some left-handed pitching.

Suzuki had been a shell of his former self in Seattle. He hit a career low .272 in 2011 and he was hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with the Mariners when he was obtained. General manager Brian Cashman hoped a change in scenery and an opportunity to play for a contender would re-energize Suzuki.

It did, too.

Suzuki immediately meshed in the clubhouse and, as he got more comfortable in pinstripes, his bat heated up and he took off.

Suzuki hit .297 in August and an amazing .385 in September. He also was so instrumental in the Yankees’ late-season push to the American League East title that Girardi moved him to the No. 2 spot in the order and kept him in the lineup against left-handers.

With Derek Jeter batting leadoff, the Yankees have the two best singles hitters of their generation in one lineup. Between the two of them, they have 5,910 major-league hits and a career batting average of .317.

They may have seen their better days on the bases but both are capable to stealing a bag when it is necessary.

Since becoming a Yankee, Suzuki has hit five home runs, drove in 27 runs and batted .317 with 14 stolen bases. With a chance to win his first championship since coming from Japan in 2001, Suzuki is playing as if he wants it real bad.

This deal by Cashman was a real gem and it could pay off big this postseason.

Meanwhile, in right, just call Nick Swisher “Mr. Consistency.”

In his four seasons with the Yankees, Swisher, 31, has hit between 23 and 29 homers and driven in between 82 and 93 runs each season. In the first half of this season, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 46 runs. In the final 81 games, Swisher hit 12 home runs and drove in 47 runs.

How about that for numbers you can count upon?

That has been a Swisher hallmark throughout his career and the Yankees needed him to deliver this season in the absence of Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for big stretches of the second half. Swisher even hit .273, which is his second highest average in the majors since he hit .288 for the Yankees in 2010.

Swisher also was forced to move from right-field to play first base when Teixeira was injured and he played above-average defense there.

This was an important time for Swisher because he is in the final year of his contract and he can become a free agent at the end of the season.

With the Yankees committed to reducing payroll by the start of the 2014 season and with Robinson Cano looking for lucrative multi-year deal to stay in pinstripes, there is a good possibility Swisher may be playing his last season for the Yankees.

That would be a shame because Swisher’s ability to provide power, production, work pitch counts, play solid defense and his enthusiasm for the game are valuable assets to the team. He would be very hard to replace.

The same goes for Curtis Granderson in center-field.

Granderson followed up a career year in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and a league-leading 136 runs scored with another powerful season in 2012. He hit 43 home runs, drove in 106 runs and scored 102 runs.

Of course, with Granderson you have to take the bad with the good. Granderson hit a respectable .262 in 2011, which is exactly what his career average is. But this season, Granderson hit a career-low .232 and he struck out a career-high 195 times.

Pitchers gave him a steady diet of breaking balls in the dirt and fastballs away and Granderson seemed reluctant to go to the opposite field, particularly with the short porch in right-field of Yankee Stadium a tempting target.

So when Granderson slumps, he can go into long periods where he can’t buy a hit. After a first half in which hit 23 home runs, drove in 48 runs and hit .241, his average dropped nine points while he hit 20 home runs and drove in a much better 58 runs.

Again, with Granderson you take the bad with the good and give Granderson credit because he did lead the team in home runs and RBIs. His contract expires after the 2013 season so the Yankees have to do some head-scratching to figure out how to please Cano, Swisher and Granderson without breaking the bank.

Though the plan when Suzuki was acquired to play Ibanez and Jones less in the outfield, injuries forced Girardi to use both a lot more in the second half than he would have liked.

When Swisher moved to first base to replace Teixeira, Ibanez and Jones were platooned in left-field while Suzuki played right.

Ibanez finished with some pretty good numbers.

He hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and hit .240. He fell off a bit from his first-half numbers (11 homers, 35 RBIs and .237) but that was mostly because he played a bit less and also because he went into a terrible slump at the end of August that extended until he finally caught fire again in the final 11 games he played.

Jones, on the other hand, was a much different story in the second half.

After hitting seven home runs, driving in 16 runs and hitting .230 in the first half, Jones went AWOL pretty much for the entire second half.

He hit another seven home runs, drove in 18 runs but his average dipped an alarming 33 points and he finished at .197. Late in the season Girardi opted to use Eduardo Nunez at DH rather than start Jones against a left-hander.

As a result, Jones was given the word that he will not be on the postseason roster and his days in pinstripes are likely over.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

GARDNER – I

GRANDERSON – A-

SWISHER – B-

IBANEZ – B

JONES – C

SECOND-HALF GRADES:

GRANDERSON – B+

SWISHER – B+

SUZUKI – B+

IBANEZ – C

JONES – D

OVERALL GRADES:

GRANDERSON – B+

SWISHER – B+

SUZUKI – B+

IBANEZ – C+

JONES – D+

The Yankees also played Nunez, Jayson Nix, Dewayne Wise, Chris Dickerson and Melky Mesa in the outfield this season.

Nix and Nunez are primarily infielders, but Nix has played some outfield in the past and acquits himself well in left. The Nunez experiment in the outfield was declared over after some awful misplays early in the season proved he was not suited to play the outfield.

Wise, 34,was released at midseason when Suzuki arrived and he was later picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He got more playing time there and ended up hitting .259 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Yankees and Chisox combined.

Dickerson, 30, has spent the past two seasons with the Yankees, mostly at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dickerson was recalled on Sept. 1 and hit .286 with two home runs and five RBis in 14 at-bats.

Mesa, 25, was also recalled on Sept. 1 when the rosters expanded and hit .500 in two at-bats in three games.

Dickerson hit .316 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs and he stole 17 bases in 69 games. Mesa hit .230 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs in just 33 games after being promoted from Double-A Trenton.

Colin Curtis, 27, struggled in his comeback season at Scranton after suffering a separated shoulder in spring training in 2011. He hit only .220 with one home run and 23 RBIs in 71 games.

Cole Garner, 27, hit .258 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 64 games.

Neither Curtis or Garner figure much in the Yankees’ future plans.

However, the Yankees do have a boatload of good young outfield prospects below Triple A.

Mason Wiiliams, 21, is a five-tool center-fielder who hit a combined .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 91 games with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa of the Florida State League. Williams is the Yankees No. 2 prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. A torn labrum in his right shoulder ended his season in August but the Yankees are high on his future.

Tyler Austin, 21, followed up a season in which he hit .345 in 2011 by hitting a combined .322 in 110 games as he advanced from Class-A Charleston to Double-A Trenton. He also hit a combined 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs this season. Austin was used at first and third base in previous seasons but played exclusively in right-field this season. Austin is ranked third right behind Williams.

Former 2009 No. 1 pick Slade Heathcott, 22, caught fire this season at High-A Tampa and hit .302 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 60 games. Heathcott is a lefty hitter who slashes at the plate and has very good speed. Heathcott is ranked fifth as a prospect for the Yankees.

In spring training this past March, Zoilo Almonte, 23, caught Girardi’s eye with his bat. Almonte hit .277 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 106 games at Trenton. Originally thought of as a potential fourth outfielder in the majors, if Almonte’s power continues to improve he could change that opinion. Almonte is ranked seventh.

When you think Ramon Flores, 20, think of a very raw Ichiro Suzuki. Flores hit a robust .302 with six homers, 39 RBis and 24 stolen bases in 131 games with High-A Tampa. Flores is the 10th-rated Yankee prospect but he is rising like a bullet.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+

With a postseason outfield of Granderson, Suzuki and Swisher you have an excellent mix of power (76 homers), production (254 RBIs), some speed (41 stolen bases) and some range and ability on defense, particularly with Suzuki in left.

You add outfield backups in Ibanez, Gardner and Nix and you have a pretty solid veteran bench, too.

Swisher and Granderson provide premium power and Suzuki is a perfect table setter with Jeter in the first two spots of the batting order.

Give Cashman credit for striking the perfect deal to replace Gardner in left with Suzuki and the Yankees enter the postseason with the most productive outfield of all the teams who made it to the playoffs. Offensively and defensively it is hard to match this trio.

It has been a strength of the Yankees for most of the season, particularly since Suzuki was added to the mix on July 24 to replace the defensively inferior tandem of Ibanez and Jones.

This may be an older group but in the playoffs experience counts for a lot.

 

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Yankees Field Power-laden, Productive Outfield

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

RIGHT-FIELD – NICK SWISHER (12 HR, 46 RBIs, .258 BA)

CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (23 HR, 48 RBI, .241 BA)

LEFT-FIELD – RAUL IBANEZ (11 HR, 35 RBIs, .237), ANDRUW JONES (7 HR, 16 RBIs, .230)

The team Joe Girardi is managing now is much different from the team he left spring training with in April. The loss of left-fielder Brett Gardner took with it the element of speed of out the lineup and reinforced it with more devastating power.

As a result, these players are pretty much cut from the same cloth. They hit a lot of home runs (53 combined), drive in a lot of runs (145 combined) and they hit for a relatively low batting average (.249 combined). They also won’t blaze many trails on the basepaths. They have 10 steals in 14 attempts and Gardner usually matches that total in about a month.

Gardner, 28, injured his right elbow making a diving catch and has played in only nine games this season. He has just about completed two rehab assignments before experiencing recurring pain in his elbow.

But after seeing three different physicians, Gardner is hopeful of returning for good (please rub your rabbit’s foot now) by the end of July. The Yankees have missed not only his speed on the bases but his Gold-Glove quality defense in left-field.

Girardi has had little choice but to use Ibanez, 40, and Jones, 35, a lot more in the field than he expected. While Ibanez and Jones have not embarrassed themselves out in the field (they each have not committed an error), they do not cover much ground either.

Jones is a long way removed from his days of 10 Gold Gloves when he was in his prime with the Atlanta Braves and Ibanez never was considered a great fielder, even in his heyday.

But you have to give the pair credit for providing power and production to the lower part of the lineup and that is what both of them were signed this winter to do.

Speaking of signing, Swisher, 31, is in the final year of his contract and he clearly wants to remain with the Yankees. There is no doubt his bleacher buddies in right want him back also.

But Swisher’s contract drive is not really predicated on performance, though that is one small factor. The Yankees are looking to trim payroll before the start of the 2014 season and handing out long-term deals (except to Robinson Cano) does not look like it will be in the Yankees’ plans.

Nonetheless, Swisher does provide power and he is a switch-hitter with a good eye at the plate. This season, however, Swisher has changed his style a bit. He is walking less (He is on pace to draw a career-low 52 walks this season) and he is striking out at a high rate (He has fanned 66 times in the first half which translates to 132 for the season).

Perhaps he is walking less in order to try to produce more and get the contract he wants to stay with the Yankees.

But give Swisher credit for being one of the more consistent players the Yankees have. He has not produced less that 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in his three previous seasons with the Yankees. This season he is on apace to hit 24 home runs and drive in 92 runs.

In fact, for most of the first half of the season, Swisher led the Yankees in RBIs. That was largely because the heart of the batting order – Alex Rodriguez, Cano and Mark Teixeira were failing so miserably with runners in scoring position. Swisher is hitting a respectable .263 with RISP and .400 with the bases loaded.

As a fielder, Swisher will never won a Gold Glove but he gives maximum effort on every play. He has made two errors but he is not considered awful either. He has an above average arm in right but he only has three outfield assists this season, which is down from his career-high of 10 in 2010.

Granderson, 31, was the team MVp in 2011, hitting 41 home runs, driving in 119 runs and scoring a major-league-best 136 runs. Many people figured that Granderson could never duplicate those numbers.

But Granderson is on a pace to hit 46 home runs and drive in 92 runs and score 112. That is not a bad follow-up to his remarkable 2011 season.

There  are some oddities in Granderson’s numbers, however.

For instance he has only two triples and Granderson led the American League in triples in 2007 with 23 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Granderson also has stolen only six bases in nine attempts. He stole 25 in 35 attempts last season.

You would have thought with Gardner out, Granderson would be more aggressive on the bases. But it has been the opposite.

Granderson has made great strides as an outfielder with the Yankees. The Tigers criticized his jumps on balls and the routes he would take to them. But with the Yankees, Granderson is playing more shallow to take advantage of his ability go back on balls. It seems to be working well also.

Granderson has not committed an error and he has two outfield assists. Granderson’s arm is not a strength. It is just average and his throws can be erratic at times.

As major-league outfields go, it is hard to find any that is close to producing the 53 the Yankees have at the halfway point. But when Gardner returns this outfield will change into a more balanced group with a combination of speed and power. As a whole it will be excellent group defensively with Gardner leading the way.

MIDSEASON GRADES

SWISHER: B-

GRANDERSON A-

IBANEZ/JONES: B-

BACKUPS – DEWAYNE WISE (3 HR, 6 RBIs, .271 BA), JAYSON NIX (2 HR, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)

Wise, 34, is forever linked to his amazing ninth inning catch that preserved Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the Chicago White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays. But he can hit a little also.

Wise hit .359 this spring to make the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster and he hit .333 for the first 20 games he played there until he was recalled to replace Gardner on the roster.

Wise provides versatility in that he can play all three outfield spots. He also has excellent defensive skills and a very good arm.

At the plate, Wise is a career .222 hitter. But when he gets hot he can really go on tears, as he did most recently when he was given four starts in a week.

Girardi’s major failing was not starting Wise some in center to rest Granderson. Granderson’s batting average suffered from the fact he played in all but one game this season and he was in the field for nearly every inning in the ones he did play.

When Gardner returns look for him to be used some in center to spell Granderson.

Nix can only play the corner spots and is passable out in left. He has good instincts and he won’t make major mistakes. But if you are looking for spectacular diving catches and highlight-reel leaps at the wall to bring back potrential home runs, you are looking at the wrong guy in Nix.

He gets to what he can and he catches them. That is pretty much what Nix does as an outfielder. Nothing special.

MIDSEASON GRADE:

WISE: C+

NIX: C

The Yankees have a pair of promising 20-year-old outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin.

Williams hit .304 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs at Class-A Charleston before being promoted to High Class-A Tampa. Williams can also run and plays good defense so if you want a comparison think of a smaller-framed version of Bernie Williams.

Austin hit .320 with 14 home runs and 54 RBIs and 17 steals in 70 games for Class-A Charleston. He was slated to play in the Futures Game but he was hit in the head with a pitch in his first game at High Class-A Tampa and is was placed on the disabled list. Austin is primarily an outfielder by he is being tried at the corner infield spots.

The Yankees have no real prospects at Triple-A Scranton. There are just former major leaguers like Jack Cust, 33, who is hitting .260 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs in 83 games.

There also is Chris Dickerson, Cole Garner and Colin Curtis. Each of the three are 27 or or older and they have long passed the prospect status. Their chances for making the Yankees 25-man roster are virtually nil.

Second-tier outfield prospects Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa are Double-A Trenton. Mesa, 25, is hitting .276 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs in 58 games while Almonte, 23, is hitting .286 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs in 58 games.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B-

In Granderson, the Yankees have an All-Star center-fielder with power, some speed and someone who is solid defensively. Granderson is showing his 2011 season was not a fluke and, despite what he says about not being a power hitter, he is on pace to hit 46 home runs.

Swisher is the Swiss Army knife of the outfielders. You can put him in any spot in the batting order and he will produce home runs and RBIs. Though he is drawing fewer walks, he still is valuable in the No. 6 spot in the order because he is one of the few Yankees who is producing with runners on base this season. Though it looks like he will not signed to a new contract, Swisher is motivated to produce good numbers so he can maximize his value on the free-agent market.

Very soon (we promise) Gardner will return to his left-field spot and the Yankees will have a base-runner who can actually steal bases at the bottom of the order. Gardner was hitting .321 at the time of his injury. But the Yankees will take anything they can get from him in the second half because they really missed a guy who stole 49 bases in 2011.

In the meantime, Ibanez and Jones are available to play the outfield. The veterans are not even close to as good as Gardner on defense but they provide a lot of power and production to the Yankees at the lower portion of the batting order. When Gardner returns, Ibanez and Jones will resume their designated hitter roles. Of course, with Derek Jeter and Rodriguez requiring half-days off at DH, both Ibanez and Jones will have to settle for a more limited role at DH.

As a group this outfield is pretty good. They won’t hit for average but they can hit for power and drive in runs. This is very much a strength for the Yankees. They have a lot of depth and they have an experienced group of very professional hitters.

 

 

Yankees Strand 10 To Settle For Tie With Tigers

GAME 24

YANKEES 1, TIGERS 1 (10 INNINGS)

TAMPA – Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first inning with his first home run of the spring. Little did the Yankees know but that would be the only run they would score all day against the Tigers.

New York stranded 10 runners over 10 innings and had to settle for a tie with a Detroit split squad on Sunday in a Grapefruit League contest played at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda recorded one of his best outings of the spring, giving up one run on five hits and two walks in five innings of work. But the Yankees did not give him much in the way of support.

The Yankees collected only five hits but they got some help from six walks and two hit batters to put plenty of runners on base to take the lead in the game. But much like the Game 5 loss of the American League Division Series against the Tigers, the Yankees could not collect a big hit with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-10 with RISP in the game.

Meanwhile, relievers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Roberston, Clay Rapada and Manny Delcarmen each turned in a scoreless inning of relief against the Tigers to keep the game knotted.

Jeter’s home run in the first came off Tigers left-hander and starter Duane Below.

The Tigers tied it in the third inning when Danny Worth drew a leadoff walk and Ramon Santiago delivered a one-out RBI triple.

The Yankees remain 13-9 with two ties this spring. They have not lost a game in their last 11 spring contests. The Tigers are 14-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In Jeter’s second game back after being shelved by a tight left calf, he delivered a home run to right and double to left-center. Jeter is quietly hitting .348 this spring and the best news is he is driving the ball with authority and not squeezing weak grounders through the infield. Those who might have written Jeter’s baseball obituary at age 37 might have been a bit premature.
  • Pineda struggled at times in keeping the Tigers off base but he only gave up the one run. After Santiago’s triple, he struck out the next two batters as part of stretch where Pineda fanned four of the last eight batters he retired. Pineda’s velocity also was consistently at 93 miles per hour during his outing.
  • Brett Gardner led an outfield that recorded three assists on Sunday that helped keep the Tigers from scoring more runs. With speedy Austin Jackson on second in the first inning, Alex Avila stroked a lined single to Gardner in left. Gardner charged the ball on the hop and gunned Jackson out at the plate with a perfect throw. In the eighth inning, new left-fielder Jayson Nix caught Brent Wyatt’s line drive and gunned down Dixon Machado after he failed to retouch second base on his way back to first. In the ninth, center-fielder Dewayne Wise caught a Ryan Strieby liner and doubled off Tony Plagman at second base.
  • Robertson returned to action for the first time since he bruised his right foot in an accident at his home on March 7 and he showed no ill effects from the injury. Robertson struck out a batter and he benefited from Machado’s poor base-running on Wyatt’s line drive to pitch a scoreless eighth inning. Robertson said he felt good and he hopes to build upon it with his next outing.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite Jeter’s good day there was one striking negative: In the fourth inning, Jeter rolled out to short with the bases loaded. He was a part of an offense that sputtered all day when they had chances to take the lead. In the fifth inning, right-hander Collin Balester walked three batters. But Curtis Granderson was nailed by Avila attempting to steal second and Russell Martin hit into a fielder’s choice after Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira drew two-out walks.
  • In the seventh, it was no better for the Yankees against Brayan Villarreal. Doug Bernier was hit by a pitch and stole second. Granderson then drew a walk. However, Robinson Cano hit into a double play. After Rodriguez was hit in the ribs with a pitch and left the game as a precaution, Teixeira grounded out to short to end that threat.
  • In the second inning, the Yankees had Texeira on third and Martin at second with one out. However, Eduardo Nunez struck out looking and Gardner bounced out to the pitcher and spoiled that effort. So it was obvious that there was a lot of frustration with the offense on Sunday.

BOMBER BANTER

Joba Chamberlain was released from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, FL., on Sunday four days after he suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle in a trampoline accident. General manager Brian Cashman echoed manager Joe Girardi’s assessment that there was a possibility that Chamberlain could return to pitch this season. Chamberlain had Tommy John surgery last summer and was not expected back to the Yankees until June when the injury occurred last week. Chamberlain will wear a non-weight-bearing cast for six weeks and then will be fitted for a weight-bearing walking boot.  . . .  Although Rodriguez left the game Sunday after being struck in the left ribs on a pitch from Villarreal, Girardi said he expects Rodriguez being able to play on Tuesday.  . . .  Girardi also said he hopes to get Nick Swisher back into the lineup on Tuesday. Swisher has only had two at-bats since he injured his left groin on March 14.  . . .  After the game on Sunday, the Yankees optioned Ramiro Pena to Triple-A Empire State and reassigned outfielders Colin Curtis and Cole Garner, catcher Jose Gil and pitchers Kevin Whelan and Delcarmen to minor-league camp.

ON DECK

The Yankees are enjoying their second off-day of the spring on Monday. They will return to action at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ace lefty CC Sabathia will make his fourth Grapefruit League start. The Blue Jays will start right-hander Kyle Drabek.

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

This report was delayed by technical difficulties.

 

Yankees Exterminate Rays Behind Maxwell, Molina

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

A-Rod Starts Red Hot As Yankees Cool Off Phils

GAME 2

YANKEES 7, PHILLIES 4

TAMPA – When it comes to anything positive that Alex Rodriguez does this spring, it will always be couched in very cautious terms. Last spring, Rodriguez was in excellent shape and hit everything in sight but it did not carry over to the 2011 season.

So when Rodriguez hit a screaming line-drive home run to right-center on the first Grapefruit League pitch he saw from Roy Halladay and then followed it up with a single and an RBI double off Joel Pineiro, Rodriguez tried to keep it all in perspective after the game.

“Last year, I stood here and had a really good spring, felt really good and the results during the year weren’t what we all wanted,” Rodriguez said. “[I take it] definitely one day a time. A good start; hopefully the first of many more days to come.”

The same can be said for the Yankees as a whole.

They shook off a two-run home run in the first inning by Hunter Pence, his second two-run shot off the Yankees in two days, to come back to score four unanswered runs as they went on to defeat the Phiilies for the second straight day in the team’s home Grapefruit league opener on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Phiilies helped the Yankees by committing four errors in the field. The losing pitcher, Pineiro (0-1), was the victim of most of the misplays.

After Pineiro walked Francisco Cervelli on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the third inning to tie the score at 2-2, the Phillies treated the ball like a hand grenade in the fourth.

Justin Maxwell reached base with one out on a fielding error by third baseman Ty Wigginton. Second baseman Mike Martinez then botched a double-play ball off the bat of Derek Jeter that allowed Maxwell to advance to second while Martinez recovered to retire Jeter. Then Martinez made his second error in as many innings on a ball off the bat of Robinson Cano that allowed Maxwell to score the game’s eventual deciding run.

Rodriguez finished off the error-laden rally with an RBI double to the wall in left field to score Cano.

Rookie right-hander D.J. Mitchell (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings behind starter Freddy Garcia to pick up the victory. Young right-hander Chase Whitley got credit for a save despite the fact he gave up two hits in the ninth.

The Yankees have a 2-0 spring record. The Phillies are 0-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • A-Rod’s 3-for-3 day illustrated why it is so important to keep the 36-year-old slugger healthy for a full season. When he is locked in at the plate he remains one of the scariest hitters in baseball to face. Rodriguez was limited to only 99 games last season due to a knee injury and later a sprained left thumb.
  • Despite the fact Garcia was tagged for a two-run home run, he still pitched well in his two innings of work. Garcia gave up two runs on four hits. He did not walk a batter and he struck out two. He threw 25 of his 33 pitches for strikes.
  • The Yankees teed off on 6-foot-7, 255-pound right-hander Phillippe Aumont for three runs in the seventh inning to extend their lead to 7-3. Jose Gil blasted an RBI double after Domonic Brown dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Corbin Joseph for a two-base error. Catching prospect J.R. Murphy and Jayson Nix later added RBI singles to close out the Yankees’ scoring.
  • Clay Rapada, who is in a four-way battle to become the second left-hander in the bullpen, threw a perfect inning of relief and struck out two batters.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  •  Cano pulled a base-running blunder that cost the Yankees in the third inning. With one out and Cano on second and Rodriguez at first, Cano drifted towards second base on fly ball off the bat of Mark Teixeira that dropped out of the glove of shortstop Freddy Galvis. Brown picked up the ball in left-field and threw Cano out easily at third base in an odd fielder’s choice from the outfield.
  • Yankee pitching gave up a total of 12 hits, five of them for extra bases. The one positive is they only walked one and struck out nine batters. The Phillies hurt their own cause by hitting just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in the first inning en route to stranding eight runners overall.
  • Relievers Corey Wade and Kevin Whelan each gave up an earned run in their one inning of work. Wade gave up a two-out, two-run double to Galvis in the sixth and Whelan was touched for RBI out by Hector Luna scoring Lou Montanez in the eighth.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees celebrated their home opener by inviting the George M. Steinbrenner High School band to perform during the pregame show. Haley Swindal performed the national anthem during a flyover by two F18 Hornet jets from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA.  . . .  After a 82-degree day in Clearwater, FL, on Saturday, temperatures dipped to the mid-60s on Sunday in Tampa and a sellout crowd of 10,981 had to brave 20-mph winds blowing from the left-field line to the right-field line.. The wind also played havoc with fly balls for the second straight day, making pop-ups an adventure for both teams.  . . .  Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano are scheduled to pitch a live inning of batting practice on Monday at Steinbrenner Field. Manager Joe Girardi said Rivera will throw one more batting practice session and then will be ready for game action next week.  . . .   Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda pitched a simulated inning on Sunday in preparation for his spring debut Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays.  . . .  Outfielder Cole Garner was sidelined on Sunday with hamstring tightness after homering in the Yankees’ Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies in Clearwater on Saturday. He will be re-evaluated on Monday, Girardi said.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater on Monday to take on the Phillies for the third straight day.

Newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda, 23, will make his Yankee debut as the starting pitcher. David Robertson is among a group of relievers also expected to pitch on Monday. The Yankees also will bring their starting outfield of Brett Garner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher.

The Phillies will counter with with veteran right-hander Joe Blanton. Scott Elarton, Austin Hyatt, Brian Sanches and David Herndon also are scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.

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

 

Yankees Open Spring By Blowing Past Phillies

GAME 1

YANKEES 8, PHILLIES 5

Jorge Vazquez rolled a sharp single into right-field to score Cole Garner from second base to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning as New York opened its 2012 Grapefruit League season on a wind-swept Saturday with a victory over Philadelphia at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Twenty-year-old rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Veteran left-hander Dontrelle Willis took the loss for the Phillies.

Curtis Granderson was 2-for-2 with a double, a solo home run and two runs scored to pace the Yankees’ attack early. Garner added a two-run home run off reliever Chad Qualls in the seventh inning and outfielder Zoilo Almonte, who had four RBIs in Friday’s 11-0 exhibition victory against the University of South Florida, added a pinch-hit, two-run double in the ninth to cap the Yankees’ scoring for the afternoon.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson is off to fast start this spring. He singled in his only at-bat on Friday against USF and is 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Granderson had a career season in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and 136 runs scored.
  • Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and gave up one hit, no walks and struck out two batters in his two innings of work. Unfortunately, two errors (including his own error on a pickoff throw) did not help his cause and the only hit he surrendered was a two-run home run to right-center by Hunter Pence off a 3-0 fastball in the first inning. Nova was still pleased with the outing, particularly his second inning.
  • Former Phillie Raul Ibanez got back at his old team by hitting a bloop double on the left-field foul line off the Phillies’ left-handed starter Cole Hamels that scored Granderson with the game’s first run. Ibanez figures to be the Yankees’ designated hitter against right-handers this season.
  • Garner, Almonte, Vazquez and Dewayne Wise all came off the bench to drive in runs for the Yankees and all the team’s eight runs were scored with two outs. Vazquez stroked his single off Willis on a 1-2 count and that hit stood up as the game-winning RBI. Garner’s two-run home run was blasted straight down the left-field line and somehow stayed fair. Wise preceded Garner’s home run with an RBI double to right-center. Almonte’s two-run double to right-center came off reliever Mike Stutes.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The first ball of the spring hit to shortstop Eduardo Nunez off the bat of Shane Victorino skipped past him for an error and Victorino later scored an unearned run on Pence’s homer. Nunez led the team in 2011 with 21 errors in roughly half the playing time of the infield starters.
  • Though Banuelos was credited with the win, fellow rookie Dellin Betances and he did not show much in the way of command of their pitches. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Banuelos gave up a single to Tyson Gillis and then walked Laynce Nix and Hector Luna with two out before retiring John Mayberry Jr. to leave the bases loaded, Betances walked the first two batters he faced before retiring Kevin Frandsen on a double play and Freddy Galvis hit a fly-ball out to center to end the seventh.
  • Former Met Michael O’Connor got off to a bad start in his quest to make the team as a second lefty in the bullpen. He was tagged for three hits and he walked another batter as he gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The big blow was a two-run homer off the bat of Frandsen.

BOMBER BANTER

The game was played under sunny skies and 82-degree weather. However, a 20-mph wind with much higher wind gusts blowing out to left contributed to the two home runs each by both teams and led to some adventurous paths by fielders on high pop-ups.  . . .  A sellout crowd of 10,539 turned out for the Phillies’ home opener at Bright House Field.  . . .   When Ibanez stepped to the plate in the first inning, some fans cheered and others appeared to have been booing. However, Ibanez was unsure if the fans were chanting “Raul” and not booing at all. Ibanez, 39, was allowed to leave the Phiilies as a free agent and he was signed a few weeks ago by the Yankees to a one-year contract.  . . .  The game was broadcast nationally by MLB Network through Comcast Sports of Philadelphia and the Phillies’ television broadcasters described the game.

ON DECK

The Yankees continue their home-away-home three-game series with the Phillies on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will start the game for the Yankees. Garcia, 35, is vying for a spot in the rotation after a season in which he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts for the Yankees. As part of the opening ceremonies, the Yankees will wear their pinstripe uniforms and they are scheduled to open with their 2012 projected starting lineup.

The Phillies will counter with 34-year-old right-hander Roy Halladay, who is coming off a season in which he was 19-6 with a 2.34 ERA for the Phillies. Joel Pineiro, David Purcey, Antonio Bastardo and Phillippe Aumont are also scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.

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

 

Branyan Among 27 Players Yanks Invite To Tampa

The New York Yankees announced Wednesday the signing of 13 players to minor-league contracts and have issued invitations to 27 players to spring training.

Besides utility man Bill Hall, who was signed to a minor-league deal on Tuesday, the biggest name on the list was left-handed power hitter Russell Branyan, who was signed on Wednesday. Branyan could figure as a cheap solution to the designated hitter spot should the Yankees fail to reach agreement with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or Raul Ibanez.

Branyan, 36, played in 68 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels and hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. Branyan is capable of playing first base, third base and as a corner outfielder but has primarily been a DH or pinch-hitter. In his 14-year career, Branyan has 194 home runs, 467 RBIs and a .232 batting average.

Branyan also has the distinction of hitting two of the longest home runs in the short history of the new Yankee Stadium.

Among the other prominent veterans invited to spring training are former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen, former Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima and former Blue Jays outfielder Dewayne Wise.

Delcarmen, 29, was a combined 3-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 57 appearances with the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. He will compete for a spot in a stacked and talented Yankee bullpen.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Okajima will have to compete with fellow Red Sox left-hander Cesar Cabral, 23, to join Boone Logan in the bullpen as a second left-hander. Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in just seven appearances with the Red Sox last season before he was sent to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, where he spent the rest of the season before being released.

Wise, 33, is best known for his spectacular ninth-inning catch to preserve Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. Last season, Wise hit .202 with two home runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 69 games with the Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins. Wise is considered an excellent fielder with good speed and he has the ability to play all three outfield spots.

Among the group of players also invited to spring training is the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, left-handed starter Manny Banuelos. Banuelos, 20, will join the team’s No. 2 prospect, right-handed starter Dellin Betances, who already was on the 40-man roster. Naeither pitcher is expected to make the major-league club out of spring training but they could be factors later in the season.

In addition, the Yankees have also invited two star catcher prospects: Gary Sanchez, 19, and J.R. Murphy, 20. Sanchez, ranked as the team’s No. 3 prospect, and Murphy, is ranked No. 13, both require seasoning at the minor-league level but are considered excellent future catching prospects.

The other players who received invitations include:

Left-handed pitchers: Juan Cedeno, Mike O’Connor.

Right-handed pitchers: Daniel Burawa, Matt Daley, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, Kevin Whelan, Chase Whitley.

Catchers: Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Gustavo Molina.

Infielders: Doug Bernier, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez.

Outfielders: Colin Curtis, Cole Garner, Brett Marshall.