Tagged: Danny Espinosa

Tanaka Bests Scherzer As Yanks Push Streak To 7

GAME 58

YANKEES 6, NATIONALS 1

With Masahiro Tanaka and Max Scherzer locked into an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel on Tuesday the question among the paid crowd of 36,613 at Yankee Stadium was “Which one of them would blink first?” In the bottom of the seventh inning it was Scherzer.

Stephen Drew hit a pair of solo home runs, the Yankees scored four runs in the seventh and Tanaka outpitched his counterpart as New York downed Washington to stretch their winning streak to seven games.

Tanaka (4-1) cruised through seven innings having held the Nationals to a solo home run by Bryce Harper, who launched his 20th of the season with two out in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1-1.

Tanaka yielded just the one run on five hits and no walks with six strikeouts throwing just 87 pitches to earn his second straight victory since being activated from the disabled list on June 3.

Scherzer (6-5), meanwhile, entered the seventh inning having held the Yankees to a solo home run by Drew that opened the bottom of the third inning. It was Drew’s eighth home run of the season and it was his 1,000th career hit.

Scherzer had a very close call with one out in the sixth inning when the Yankees had Mark Teixeira on third after a double and Brian McCann at first on a single. Carlos Beltran then hit a sinking line drive to Michael Taylor in center-field.

Taylor dove and appeared to have caught the ball rolling forward. However, second-base umpire Lance Barksdale ruled that Taylor trapped the ball. So Taylor threw the ball in to second baseman Danny Espinosa and Espinosa flipped the ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, who touched second base to retire McCann on what was scored a fielder’s choice.

However, Teixeira failed to make any attempt to score from third despite the fact that Taylor was on the ground in center-field. Didi Gregorius struck out to end the threat and the game remained tied.

Teixeira and the Yankees earned some redemption in the seventh inning when rookie Ramon Flores stroked a one-out single to right, one of three hits Flores’ had on the night. Brett Gardner followed with an bloop opposite-field single to left to advance Flores to second.

One out later, Alex Rodriguez hit a ground ball to the right of Desmond between second and third. Desmond dove to stop the ball and he elected to try to force out Flores at third. But the ball struck Flores and rolled away in foul territory to allow him to score what proved to be the game-winning run.

Scherzer was removed from the game and replaced by former Yankee left-hander Matt Thornton.

The Nationals elected to walk Teixeira intentionally to load the bases and pitch to McCann. However, McCann ruined the strategy by lacing a lined single down the right-field line that scored Gardner and Rodriguez while Teixeira advanced to third.

Beltran capped the uprising by lining a single to left. Fortunately, this time Teixeira did not stay at third and he was able to score on the hit.

Scherzer, who entered the game with a 1.85 ERA, was charged with four runs on eight hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. Teixeira’s run was charged to Thornton.

Drew added his second home run of the game and his fourth in his past three games while leading off the eighth inning off right-hander Taylor Hill.

Right-hander Dellin Betances, left-hander Chasen Shreve and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to pitch two scoreless frames to preserve the victory for Tanaka.

The Yankees are now 33-25 on the season and  –  combined with the Tampa Bay’s 8-2 defeat by the Los Angeles Angels  –  they have now moved to a 2 1/2 games up on the second-place Rays in the American League East. The Nationals have now lost 8 of their past 10 games and are 30-28.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In his two starts since coming off the disabled list, Tanaka has yielded two runs on eight hits with no walks and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings for a sparkling 1.29 ERA. Those two outings lowered his season ERA to 2.48. For those of you who are thinking that Tanaka’s right elbow is being held together with balsa wood and duct tape, you may want to rethink that belief. Tanaka has re-established himself as an ace for the hottest team in baseball.
  • Drew is having a very confounding season. Even with his two-homer night he is still only hitting .175. But the 32-year-old second baseman now has nine home runs and 21 RBIs. In addition, he has been the team’s best fielder in terms of sabermetrics. The question is when backup infielder Brendan Ryan comes off the disabled list will the Yankees send hot-hitting Jose Pirela back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre? Drew appears to be saving his job.
  • Flores, 23, came up when fellow rookie Slade Heathcott suffered a knee injury on May 27. One thing he has proven since he arrived is that he can play the outfield. He already has thrown two runners out at the home plate and he also made some excellent catches. On Tuesday, he was 3-for-4, scored the game-winning run and he added another sensational catch. In the eighth inning he made a diving catch of a sinking fly ball off the bat of Espinosa for the first out in the eighth inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The way the Yankees have been playing I may have to retire this blog category. When you combine good pitching, good defense and some timely hitting off a very tough pitcher in Scherzer you having the makings of great victory. The Yankees are playing with such confidence now that they are showing that they very well may be the class of the A.L. East.

BOMBER BANTER

Sorely in need of some right-handed bullpen help the Yankees have signed veteran Sergio Santos to a minor-league contract. Santos, 31, recorded a 4.73 ERA in 12 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. He elected to become a free agent rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Santos saved 30 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2011. He has been limited to just 65 innings since then due to a rash of injuries.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep their third consecutive series with a victory over the Nationals on Wednesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (5-1, 4.16 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, was sailing along against the Angels on Friday, allowing one run on four hits and one walk through five innings. But he walked the bases loaded in the sixth and had to be removed even though he ended up getting credit for the victory.

The Nationals will send left-hander Gio Gonzales (4-3, 4.57 ERA) to the mound. Gonzales, 29, lost to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, yielding two runs on four hits and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings.

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

 

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Zimmermann Perfect As Nats Derail Yankees

GAME 13

NATIONALS 3, YANKEES 2

Jordan Zimmermann struck out four en route to throwing four perfect innings and Anthony Rendon stroked a two-run double with two outs in the second inning as Washington edged New York in an exhibition game on Tuesday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.

Zimmermann (1-0) threw 37 of his 57 pitches for strikes and reached a three-ball count to just two batters to get credit for the victory. Manny Delcarmen pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn a save.

The Nationals opened the scoring in the first off Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) when Rendon drew a walk to lead off the inning. One out later, Jayson Werth advanced Rendon to third with an opposite-field single and Wilson Ramos drove in the first run on an infield groundout.

Danny Espinosa opened the second inning by drawing a walk and he advanced to third on an bloop single to left by Tyler Moore. Two outs later, Rendon lined a double down the left-field line that scored Espinosa and Moore.

The Yankees scored a single run in the fifth off Drew Storen on a two-out triple by Eduardo Nunez and an RBI single by Dean Anna.

They added a run in the sixth on a leadoff double by Zoilo Almonte off left-hander Felipe Rivero. He advanced to third on a flyout by Jacoby Ellsbury and scored on Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record drops to 7-5-1. The Nationals improve to 8-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Anna continues to show a good bat this spring. He is 6-for-16 (.375) with two RBIs. Though Anna, 27, is still considered as a longshot to make the 25-man roster, he is showing that he might be of help should the Yankees need a backup infielder this season.
  • Today was one of the rare days in Viera this spring that the wind was NOT blowing out and it cost the Yankees a pair of potential home runs. Gardner’s sac fly in the sixth actually was held up on the warning track by the wind. Outfielder Ramon Flores also just missed hit one out to right in the eighth inning.
  • Give credit to the Yankees’ bullpen comprised of Matt Daley, Jim Miller, David Herndon, Cesar Cabral and Brian Gordon. They combined to give up only one hit (a single off Gordon in the eighth) and two walks in the final six innings. After Werth’s single in the third inning off Sabathia, the Nationals were 1-for-18 the rest of the game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sabathia summed it up to reporters after the game: “I [stunk] today.” Sabathia, making his second spring start, had trouble with his mechanics and he was tagged for three runs on four hits and two walks in three innings. Two leadoff walks really hurt because they both later scored.
  • Manager Joe Girardi brought Ellsbury, Gardner, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira on the trip and they combined to go 0-for-11 in the game. I do realize it is spring training and Teixeira is still working his way back after wrist surgery. But it is about time some of the veteran starters start stinging the ball. In their seven at-bats against Zimmermann they looked overmatched.

BOMBER BANTER

McCann made the highlight reel for his catch of a popup off the bat of Scott Hairston in the fourth inning. McCann threw his mask down the third-base line and, when Anna rushed in to help on the play, he tripped over the mask, fell into the back of McCann’s legs and McCann fell and landed on top of Anna. But he held onto the ball. Both players took some playful teasing from their teammates in the dugout later.  . . .  The Yankees made their first cuts of camp on Sunday. Right-hander Jose Ramirez, 24, was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 25, was reassigned to minor-league camp. Both players were injured early and have been unable to pitch. Ramirez had lower-back pain and Rondon had a sore shoulder.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to George  M. Steinbrenner Field to play host to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, coming off a very good outing against the Tigers on Friday, will make his second spring start. He has yielded no runs on two hits and a walk while fanning seven batters in 4 2/3 innings.

He will be opposed by Anibal Sanchez, who will be making his second start against Kuroda and the Yankees in five days. The Yankees won the game 3-2 on a balk in the ninth.

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

 

 

Super Nova Dominates Nats As Yankees Roll On

GAME 6

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

From July 5 to the end of the 2013 season, Ivan Nova was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his last 15 starts. That same dominant right-handed pitcher showed up on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Nova (1-0) pitched three hitless shutout innings to set the tone for New York’s Grapefruit League victory over Washington.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander threw 30 of his 35 pitches for strikes and struck out four in just his second outing of the spring.

The Yankees backed Nova with a four-run second-inning uprising off Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler (0-1), keyed by RBI hits by Kelly Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki and Corban Joseph as the Yankees claimed their fourth straight exhibition victory.

Brian Roberts and Francisco Cervelli opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Johnson then followed with a bloop double to left that scored Roberts.

Suzuki extended the rally when Nationals shortstop Zach Walters fielded his slow roller and threw wildly to first, allowing both Cervelli and Johnson to score.

After Zoilo Almonte laced a double to right, Joseph plated Suzuki with the final run of the inning with a solid single to right.

New closer David Robertson made his first appearance of the spring in relief of Nova in the fourth and pitched around hitting Danny Espinosa with his second pitch by retiring Tyler Moore on a double-play grounder and getting Scott Hairston on a flyout to left.

The Nationals scored their two runs on a solo home run by Walters off right-hander Shawn Kelley in the fifth and on a fielding error in the sixth by Derek Jeter on a ground ball off the bat of Espinosa that allowed Eury Perez to score with right-hander Danny Burawa on the mound.

Right-hander Jim Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to get credit for a save.

The Yankees are 4-2 in early spring play while the Nationals fell to 3-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • I have said for a very long time and it does bear repeating that Nova IS the Yankee starter with the best overall stuff. His mid-90s fastball and crackling curveball were on full display on Monday. When Nova commands his pitches he is as nasty and dominant as any pitcher the Yankees have. After suffering through a horrible 2012 season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA and sustaining an early bout of forearm tendinitis last season, Nova has been everything the Yankees had hoped he would be when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season. If he pitches this season as he did on Monday he could have a very good record in 2014.
  • Johnson, 32, is settling in nicely with the Yankees as the team’s primary third baseman this season. Johnson averaged 24 home runs and 61 RBIs from 2010 through 2012. Last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Johnson hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 runs in only 118 games. The Yankees think the lefty swinging Johnson can produce as much for the Yankees while Alex Rodriguez sits out his season-long suspension.
  • Cervelli, 28, went 2-for-3 with a single, a double and run scored. Cervelli is 4-for-7 (.571) in early spring action and it seems he is determined not to lose the backup catching spot to Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy this spring. One thing in Cervelli’s favor is that he is out of options and the team would lose him if he did not win the job.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The infield defense this spring has not been as crisp as it could be. Of course, with Gold Glove first baseman Mark Teixeira yet to play in a game and with the free-agent loss of Robinson Cano at second that is to be expected. The main offenders have been Joseph and Addison Maruszak. Maruszak has committed three errors and Joseph has committed two, including one at first base on Monday. The Yankees committed a franchise-record low of errors last season. It would be nice of they get close to that again in 2014.
  • There is nothing to be alarmed about yet, but Jeter is 0-for-7 in the three games he has played this spring. I would be alarmed if it stretched into another week or so. But the good news is the Yankee captain is moving without discomfort or a limp due to his surgically repaired left ankle.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees had football legend Joe Namath throw out the first pitch for Monday’s game. Namath, the 70-year-old former great of the New York Jets and a Hall of Fame quarterback, wore a Yankee jersey with his iconic No. 12 as he escorted manager Joe Girardi to exchange the lineup card at home plate and he spent the rest of the day next to Girardi in the Yankees’ dugout as a “co-manager.”  . . .  Teixeira took some swings on Monday against left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Jose Campos. Teixeira reported no issues with his surgically repaired right wrist. He hopes to take some more swings on Tuesday leading up to his first game action either Thursday or Friday.  . . .  Andy Pettitte was in camp on Monday as a special guest instructor but he made a point to insist that he not going to come out of retirement this time.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play there first night game of the spring at home playing host to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander David Phelps will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran will start in the outfield and Jeter will also be in the lineup as the designated hitter.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who was 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 23 starts with the O’s last season.

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

 

Beating Nationals Boosts Yankees’ Hopes For 2013

GAME 33

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

For nearly three hours on Friday Yankee fans saw their injury-riddled heroes play an exhibition game against a team that some believe might win the world championship in 2013 and what they learned is that this Yankee team just might measure up.

Andy Pettitte threw six strong innings, Kevin Youkilis homered and Mariano Rivera recorded the last three outs as New York defeated a powerful Washington team in front of a paid crowd of 38,161 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Pettitte (2-0) was touched for two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks while he struck out six batters.

Meanwhile the Yankees scored all of their four runs in the fourth inning off Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-2).

Youkilis opened the frame with his sixth home run of the exhibition season. Travis Hafner followed with single and Vernon Wells doubled to left-center to move Hafner to third. One out later, Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run single.

The Yankees then added a run on a base-running mistake by Chris Stewart. The veteran catcher singled sharply to right, rounded first base too far and was caught in a rundown as Nunez reached third. When Nunez broke for home, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa threw home to catcher Wilson Ramos. But the throw was too late and bounced off Ramos’ glove as Nunez scored.

The Nationals scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth when Youkilis committed a two-base throwing error on a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman. One out later, Ian Desmond drove in Zimmerman on a single to center-field.

They added a run in the sixth when Zimmerman slapped a two-out double down the left-field line and Adam LaRoche slapped an RBI single to center.

Rivera, 43, followed Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson to the mound in the ninth and he needed only 10 pitches to dispatch the Nationals for his first spring save.

The Yankees exhibition season record improved to 14-18. The Nationals ended the season with the same mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pettitte, 40, was masterful and totally in command throughout his six innings of work. What is more impressive was it came against what largely was the Nationals 2013 starting lineup and they led the majors last season with 98 victories. Anyone still want to make a case that Pettitte and the rest of  the Yankee starting rotation is too old and battered to be effective?
  • Nunez, 25, shone like a bright diamond in this game. Batting eighth, Nunez was 2-for-3 with a stolen base and two RBIs. His two-run single in the fourth proved to be game-winning hit. Though the Yankees seem to be at a disadvantage without their starting shortstop and captain, Derek Jeter, Nunez is proving to be capable replacement. He hit .293 on the spring and he looked much better in the field.
  • Teams can’t win division championships or go far in the playoffs without an excellent bullpen. The Yankees’ bullpen on Friday looked to be formidable with Chamberlain, Robertson and Rivera not surrendering a hit or walk in the final three innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sloppy defense has been a problem for the Yankees all spring. Youkilis’ throwing error in the fourth cost the Yankees a run and was his fourth error of the spring, all of them coming at third base. I have said this before and it bears repeating: Youkilis is more skilled at first base than he is at third. 
  • Lyle Overbay made the team after a short three-day audition but he was not so helpful at the plate in this game. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Overbay did, however, have a pretty good game in the field. Though Overbay is not in Mark Teixeira’s class as a fielder, he is above average.
  • Ichiro Suzuki’s slump at the tail-end of the spring continues. He was 0-for-4 and grounded out weakly all four times. Suzuki’s spring batting average has fallen from a high of .462 on March 13 to .286. Over that span, Suzuki was 6-for-30 (.200). I don’t think fans have to worry about him too much. He is a career .322 hitter after all.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira, who is rehabbing a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, told reporters on Friday that he is determined to return to the Yankees by early May. Teixeira was expected to miss eight to 10 weeks after he sustained the injury preparing for the World Baseball Classic in March. But Teixeira said he hopes to be back closer to eight weeks.  . . .  The Yankees officially confirmed on Friday that Overbay made the 25-man roster. In addition, veteran reliever David Aardsma was designated for assignment and right-hander Shawn Kelley was chosen to round out the bullpen.

PROJECTED 2013 YANKEE LINEUP (Not including players currently on the disabled list)

AGAINST RIGHT-HANDERS

  1. Brett Gardner CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Kevin Youkilis 3B
  5. Travis Hafner DH
  6. Vernon Wells LF
  7. Lyle Overbay 1B
  8. Eduardo Nunez SS
  9. Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

AGAINST LEFT-HANDERS

  1. Brett Gardner CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Kevin Youkilis 1B
  5. Vernon Wells LF
  6. Ben Francisco DH
  7. Eduardo Nunez SS
  8. Jayson Nix 3B
  9. Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to West Point, NY, on Saturday as the team will end its exhibition schedule with a game against the Black Knights of Army.

Right-hander Adam Warren will start for the Yankees. Warren will open the 2013 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Game-time will be at 2 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Despite Criticism, Cano Remains Second To None

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (,292 BA, 14 HRS, 54 RBIs)

After Robinson Cano’s breakout season of 2010, it was hard to imagine how the 28-year-old second baseman could top it. He hit a team-best .319 with 29 home runs and 109 RBIs. He won both the Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove at his position.

How do you top that?

As Cano has witnessed in the team’s first 81 games. You don’t really.

Cano, however, remains the best hitter on the Yankees and the best second baseman in baseball. His first half pretty much proved it and he was voted to start his second straight All-Star Game. All this despite the fact his season was not quite as good as his season in 2010.

The funny thing about Cano is that he is still a superstar that is defining himself even though he is in his seventh season. Those batting titles he was predicted to win have not materialized. His fielding is still wonderful and effortless but fans and critics say he can do more. It is not easy to have all that talent and be able to shape it into what other people think it should be. Cano just seems to be content letting his bat and glove do the shaping and not worry about what people are thinking.

If you double his first half home run and RBI numbers, Cano is right in line with his 2010 numbers. His batting average is 16 points lower than 2010 but only 11 below his career .303 average. It is not hard to imagine that as the warm summer months unfold, Cano’s bat will catch fire as well. He has always been a better second-half hitter. There is nothing to suggest it won’t be the case this season.

There are those who believe, and I am among them, that Cano would actually be the ideal No. 3 hitter for this team. The reason is the No. 3 spot is always reserved for the team’s most feared hitter. Opposing managers will tell you they fear Cano more than any other hitter in the Yankees’ lineup.

It is because his swing is so effortless and the ball jumps so hard off his bat that he can turn a game with a key hit. Managers bring in lefties to neutralize him. But Cano merely hits them better than he does right-handers. Cano is hitting a ridiculous .347 against left-handers and a very pedestrian .270 against right-handers this season. So when you see a manager coming out to the mound to bring in a left-hander they are actually playing into Cano’s strength. Like a cobra, Cano can bite the best-laid of plans to get him out.

There have been clamors about his defense this season. The range is still there. He is also making the most difficult plays look easy. But Cano set a high standard last season by committing only three errors.

Much like his lofty hitting, the standard is hard to maintain. So Cano has made six errors and most of those came on routine plays.

That is the curse of being Cano. When the game is so easy to play it is sometimes easy to get bored with the perfection you play it. Cano sometimes does fall into that trap of looking lazy and disinterested. But it is not really true. Can’s defense is still as sterling as it ever was and it would be a crime of he did not collect another Gold Glove in 2011.

See the big question is that if Cano is not the best second baseman in baseball, who is? Dustin Pedroia? He’s hitting .278 with less power and production. Danny Espinosa of Washington has 15 home runs and Kelly Johnson of Arizona has 14. But they are both hitting south of ,244. Ian Kinsler of Texas and Chase Utley of Philadelphia have had off-seasons and have dealt with injuries. Dan Uggla of Atlanta has more power, but he is not a hitter for average and he is a butcher in the field with limited range.

Rickie Weeks of Milwaukee comes the closest to Cano’s physical gifts. He can run better than Cano. But he is not the fielder Cano is.

So the best thing Yankee fans can do is appreciate what Cano is and what he is providing. They are not likely to see a better second baseman in the history of the franchise. Think of him as an Alfonso Soriano who can field like Roberto Alomar and you get a measure of what Cano means to this team. If this team is to win it all in 2011, Cano will have be right in the middle of it — hitting and fielding.

He may not win that batting title this season. But I think Cano would gladly forego it for a championship ring.

Cano deserves an A- for his first half. The only knock is the .292 average, which I believe will be in the .300 range by season’s end, barring injury. They just do not come any better than Cano.

OTHERS

Here is another Cano trait: He is durable. He has started 79 of the team’s 81 games. Eduardo Nunez started the other two and you are less likely to see Nunez here than you will at short and third for two reasons. One is that it is not a position he is as suited to play. The other is he is needed more often to replace the older Jeter (37) at short and Rodriguez (35) at third. The Yankees also have Ramiro Pena on the roster to play second base.

Nunez starred as a hitter replacing Jeter at shortstop but still needs work in the field at age 24. But the fact he hit .339 in place of Jeter is not lost among manager Joe Girardi. It will be Girardi’s task to find places for Nunez to play so he can get his bat in the lineup more. The fact the team sent outfielder Chris Dickerson back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster for Jeter is one clue. Nunez might be seeing more time in the outfield in the second half.

Pena, 25, who is hitting .111, is the opposite of Nunez. He can play infield with the best of them but he won’t hit much. His real value is that he is the team’s best bunter and he can steal a base or two even though he is not as fast as Nunez.

At the minor-league level, the Yankees’ best second base prospect is Reegie Corona, a 25-year-old switch-hitter. However, Corona is on the 60-day disabled list with a broken arm suffered during the winter. He has a long way to go in his rehab and it just looks like a lost season for him.

Kevin Russo, 27, is playing second base in Scranton and he is hitting .278 with a home run and 28 RBIs. He is solid in the field but he is not the athlete Corona is and he is a long dropoff from Cano at the position. We likely will not see Russo unless something happens to Pena or Nunez.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Cano A-

Nunez B

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-

Cano is right where he should be in production and he should be better with his hitting and fielding in the second half. The Yankees rely on Cano for so much that he gets taken for granted at times. But managers, coaches and scouts from opposing teams think he is the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. That is a scary thought considering Rodriguez was “that guy” for so long and he still is pretty scary. Just enjoy the second half of watching Cano making everything look easy and helping lead this team to a division title and beyond.

It is almost assured Cano will do just that.

NEXT: THIRD BASE