Tagged: David Aardsma

6-Run Third Allows CC, Yanks To Cruise By Twins

GAME 155

YANKEES 8, TWINS 2

It is bad enough that the Minnesota Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees during Ron Gardenhire’s reign as manager. But when you add in the fact they have been unable to beat CC Sabathia while he has sported a Yankee uniform then you can just imagine how things went for the Twins on Wednesday.

The Yankees sent 11 men to the plate as they erupted for six runs in the third inning and Sabathia tossed eight dominant innings to collect his 14th victory as New York clinched both the season series and three-game road series against Minnesota in front of 33,251 at Target Field.

Sabathia (14-6) gave up two runs on six hits and a walk while he struck 10 to run his record against the Twins since he joined the Yankees in 2009, including playoff games, to 10-0 with a 1.96 ERA . The victory also was Sabathia’s first victory since Aug. 24 and broke a personal three-game losing streak.

The Yankees also maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East with only seven games left to play.

The Twins led the Yankees 1-0 on a one-out single by Matt Carson that scored Ryan Doumit from second in the second inning.

That lead was short-lived, however, when Chris Dickerson slapped a one-out single up the middle off Twins reliever Brian Duensing in the third inning. Ichiro Suzuki added a single to center of his own and Derek Jeter drew a walk to load the bases.

Robinson Cano then smacked a scorching line-drive double over the head of right-fielder Ben Revere in right-field to score Dickerson and Suzuki as Jeter advanced to third.

Nick Swisher blooped a single into right-field to score Jeter and Curtis Granderson followed with a two-run triple off the right-field wall.

Duensing then threw a pitch to Eric Chavez in the dirt that eluded Doumit and Granderson scored easily to give Sabathia and the Yankees a comfortable 6-1 cushion.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the sixth inning on a leadoff double by Raul Ibanez off reliever Anthony Swarzak and a one-out, two-run home run off the bat of Dickerson for his second home run of the season.

Duensing (4-11) was pressed into service with two out in the second inning because starting pitcher Samuel Deduno was forced to leave the game with severe irritation in his left eye that impaired his vision.

Duensing gave up six runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out one in one inning of work.

The Twins scored a run in the seventh when Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla strung together a pair of two-out singles and rookie Pedro Florimon scored Carroll when he hit a ball that caromed off Sabathia’s left shin and rolled into right-field.

But, Sabathia was firmly in control of the game. Among his 10 strikeouts, the last five were called and he also struck out Joe Mauer, who entered the contest the second-leading hitter in the American League at .326, the first three times he faced him on just nine pitches. Mauer finished the game 0-for-4.

The Yankees won their 90th game of the season – versus 65 losses – and its the 11th season in the past 12 years the Yankees have won at least 90 games. They also have won the last six season series against the Twins, whose season record fell to 65-91.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Don’t take my word for how good Sabathia was, let Mauer tell it: “That’s the best I’ve seen him, and I’ve been watching him for a long time.” Sabathia threw 108 pitches – his third highest pitch count of the season – and 89 of them were strikes. That is a 75% strike percentage. Sabathia not only registered 94 mph on his fastball but he had superior command of it through out the contest.
  • Despite the fact that Gardenhire brought in a left-hander to replace the right-handed Deduno, lefty sluggers Cano and Granderson came through with a pair of two-run extra-base hits to give Sabathia all the run support he really needed. Though neither Cano or Granderson are having career years, Granderson has 97 RBIs and Cano has 82.
  • Dickerson got a rare start in left-field and took advantage of it by going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. Because of the Yankees overload at the outfield position, Dickerson does not figure in the team’s plans with its postseason roster. But it is good to see someone from the September call-ups contribute at a crucial point of the season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

In a game where Sabathia was in total command and the offense scored eight runs despite the fact Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were not in the lineup you really can’t find fault with anything in this one. The Yankees’ best defense against losing the A.l. East title is just to keep winning and they have won 12 of their last 16 games.

BOMBER BANTER

Rodriguez was held out of the lineup and did not play on Wednesday due to a sore left foot after he fouled a ball of the foot in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game. Rodriguez stayed in the game but he said the foot stiffened up overnight. Though no X-rays were ordered, manager Joe Girardi believes Rodriguez will be available to play on Thursday.  . . .  Brett Gardner was used as a ninth inning defensive replacement in left-field, marking his first game action since he suffered a strained right elbow making a diving catch in a game ironically against the Twins on April 17. Both Gardner and veteran reliever David Aardsma were activated off the disabled on Tuesday and the team designated for assignment infielder Steve Pearce and left-handed reliever Justin Thomas to make room for them on the roster.

ON DECK

The Yankees make their final road stop of the season in Toronto to begin a four-game series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.94 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Nova could not make it out of the third inning in his last start against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. But the Yankees won the game 10-9 in the 14th inning. Nova is 3-1 with a 3.45 ERA in his career against the Jays.

Right-hander Brandon Morrow (8-7, 3.28 ERA) will get the start for the Blue Jays. Morrow was tagged for four runs in five innings and he walked a season-high four in his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays. He is 4-2 with a 4.08 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

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Pettitte Wins Again As Yanks Take Target Practice

GAME 153

YANKEES 6, TWINS 3

Whenever manager Ron Gardenhire sees Andy Pettitte scheduled to pitch against his Twins he must cringe. After all, Pettitte last lost to the Twins in 2001 in a complete game he lost to Brad Radke 2-1.

Monday was no different for Pettitte and the Yankees took a little target practice at the outfield seats at Target Field.

In his second game back after coming off the disabled list, Pettitte threw six shutout innings and four Yankees hit home runs as New York extended its lead in the American League East by defeating Minnesota in front of paid crowd of 33,720.

Pettitte (5-3) scattered seven hits, walked one and struck out three batters to extend his record his against the Twins to 10-0 with a 2.53 ERA in his last 12 starts against them dating back to the 2009 season.

Meanwhile, the Yankee offense staked him to a first-inning lead against rookie right-hander Liam Hendriks (1-8) when Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and Ichiro Suzuki doubled to to right field.

One out later, Robinson Cano scored Jeter with an infield grounder and Nick Swisher followed with a two-run blast into the second deck in right-center, his 23rd home run of the season and the first of the four-homer deluge the Yankees put on the Twins. It was the most home runs the Twins have given up in a game all season.

With one out in the fourth inning, Curtis Granderson took Hendriks deep for his 40th home run of the season, becoming the only player in the major leagues who has has hit 40 or more home runs the past two seasons. He also is the fifth Yankee player to hit 40 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.

Raul Ibanez led off the seventh inning with a tape=measure blast down the right-field line and into the third deck of the stadium for his 18th home run of the season and his third in his past three games.

One-out later, Eric Chavez lined an opposite-field shot just out of the reach of left-fielder Josh Willingham for his 14th home run of the season and Hendriks’ evening was mercifully ended with him trailing 6-0.

Hendriks was tagged for eight hits, he walked one batter and he fanned four in 6 1/3 innings.

Though Petitte was far from perfect – he had only two 1-2-3 innings – he managed to get out of trouble on ground balls, a strikeout and with a great defensive play by Granderson.

Pettitte gave up a pair of singles to Denard Span and Ben Revere to start the first inning and he walked Willingham with one out o load the bases. But he escaped any damage by striking out Justin Morneau looking and getting Ryan Doumit to bounce into a forceout.

Span and Mauer singled and were on first and third with one out in the third but Pettitte induced Willingham to hit into an inning-ending double play.

In the fourth, Doumit hit a one-out double to center and with two out Jamey Carroll singled up the middle. Granderson charged the ball in shallow center and fired it on one-hop home to catcher Russell Martin, who tagged Doumit on the left shoulder before he could reach home plate.

The Twins ruined the shutout in the eighth when rookie Pedro Florimon hit his first major-league home run off reliever Cory Wade.

They added two runs in the ninth after left-hander Justin Thomas gave up a one-out single to Morneau and walked Doumit. David Robertson came in to strike out Trevor Plouffe but pinch-hitter Chris Parmalee cracked a triple off the wall in center to score both runners.

Robertson then ended the contest by getting Florimon to ground out to Cano at second.

The Yankees have now won 26 of their last 33 games against the Twins and, combined with the Baltimore Orioles’ split of a doubleheader with the Toronto Blue Jays, they now have a 1 1/2-game lead in the division with eight games left to play.

The Yankees season record is now 89-64. The Twins fell to 64-90.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In his two starts since coming off the disabled list with a fractured fibula, Pettitte is 2-0 and he has held the opposition scoreless over 11 innings, giving up 11 hits and three walks while striking out six. Pettitte will have one more start before the playoffs and he would be in line to start either a tie-breaker game or the wild-card playoff game, if necessary.
  • Jeter’s singled in the ninth inning to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. He is 30-for-81 (.370) with a home run and 11 RBIs in those 16 contests. Suzuki’s double in the first extended his hitting streak to seven games. Over than span, Suzuki is 16-for-30 (.533) with two home runs, four doubles and five RBIs. With Jeter and Suzuki at the top of the order the Yankees have been rolling.
  • After looking absolutely lost at the plate for most of the past month, Ibanez looks to be coming out of his long slump with a flourish. In the past three games, Ibanez is 7-for-12 (.583) with three home runs and five RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I could quibble about the Yankees giving up three runs late but Wade and Thomas are two pitchers who will not be on the team’s playoff roster. Manager Joe Girardi was hoping to rest Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan and Robertson, but he was forced to bring in Robertson in the ninth. That was the only real negative.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixiera took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran the bases at half-speed at the Yankees’ minor-league complex in Tampa, FL, on Monday as he tries to recover from a Grade 1 strain of his left calf. Though general manager Brian Cashman targeted Thursday for Teixeira’s return, Girardi expressed concern about playing Teixeira on the artificial surface at Rogers Centre in Toronto.  . . .  Veteran right-handed reliever David Aardsma was with the team on Monday and he could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. Aardsma, 30, has not pitched not pitched in the major leagues since he was with the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2011 and he was signed by the Yankees as a free agent in February. Aardsma recorded 31 saves for the Mariners in 2010 after saving 38 games with a 2.53 ERA in 2009.  . . .  Chavez was highly critical of the current members of his former Oakland Athletics club and their antics over the weekend. Chavez was not happy with the way the team was celebrating in the visitor’s dugout after they hit three home runs to take a 9-5 lead in the 13th inning of Saturday’s game. Chavez called the display immature and unprofessional. The Yankees, however, had the last laugh by scoring four runs in the bottom of the 13th before scoring the winning run in the 14th on a bases-loaded error.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series in Minneapolis with the Twins on Tuesday.

Right-hander Phil Hughes (16-12) will start for the Yankees. Hughes earned his third straight victory, despite giving up four runs in five innings against the Blue Jays in his last start. Hughes is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA lifetime against the Twins, including a victory against them on April 19 in which he gave up two runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Twins will counter with right-hander Esmerling Vasquez (0-2, 6.75 ERA). Vasquez, 28, has failed to turn in quality start in any of his four outings this season, including his last start against the Cleveland Indians. He has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:10 EDT and the game will be telecast locally by MY9.

 

Yankees Give Big Sigh Of Relief As Soriano Shines

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.  

RELIEF PITCHERS

RAFAEL SORIANO (2-0, 1.72 ERA, 19 SAVES)

DAVID ROBERTSON (0-3, 2.42 ERA)

BOONE LOGAN (3-0, 3.54 ERA)

CORY WADE (0-1, 5.79 ERA)

CLAY RAPADA (2-0, 3.00 ERA)

CODY EPPLEY (0-0, 2.53 ERA)

D.J. MITCHELL (0-0, 3.38 ERA)

The New York Yankees season could have very easily ended on May 3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was shagging balls during batting practice, as has been his custom his entire career, when his right knee buckled as he reached the warning track. Rivera went down in a heap and the Yankees lost the best closer in the history of the game for the rest of the season.

However, on May 22 the Yankees ran off a record of 28-11 and they moved from tied for last place in the American League East 5 1/2 games behind to first place in the division and five games ahead.

The starting pitching was a big reason why. The starters who struggled in April pitched better. But there was something else that kept the Yankees going without Mariano Rivera.

That something was Rafael Soriano.

Soriano, 32, was signed by the Yankees for $12 million a season over three seasons in the winter of 2011. Soriano had just come off a season in which he saved a league-leading 45 games in 48 chances with the Tampa Bay Rays and compiled a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA.

But why pay so much for someone who would not close games?

General manager Brian Cashman quickly pointed out publicly the signing was not his idea and he disavowed it. But after the Yankees lost out in trying to sign left-hander Cliff Lee the front office figured that with Rivera, Soriano and David Robertson that the Yankees could shorten the game to overcome their starting pitching deficiencies.

On paper, it made sense. In practice, it did not work out entirely as planned.

Soriano was hit hard early and often at the start of the 2011 season. The fans quickly turned on him for his seeming uncaring attitude as he pitched worse and worse. Then he ended up on the disabled list for two months with soreness in his right elbow. The fans also do not like players drawing rich contracts while rehabbing injuries.

Soriano did come back and ultimately was given the seventh inning as Robertson owned the ninth and Rivera was king of the ninth. Soriano finished the 2011 season with a 2-3 mark and a gaudy 4.12 ERA. He saved two games and blew three others.

Soriano then surprised a lot of people by deciding not exercise his opt-out clause in his three-year deal. He was getting paid good money to pitch the seventh inning and he figured it was more advantageous for him to stay. As far as Yankee fans go, they may have enjoyed booing him, but Soriano saved the Yankees’ season by deciding to stay.

When Robertson failed in his first attempt to close for Rivera on May 9 against the Rays and then ended up on the disabled list for a month with a left oblique injury, Soriano was reborn as a closer. He is also proving to be very good at it.

Since he has taken over, Soriano has saved 19 games out of his 20 opportunities and erased the team’s fears they could not win without Mo.

The fans? They booed him unmercifully at Yankee Stadium when he blew his only save on June 10 against the Mets. Tough crowd.

Yankee fans should be hoisting this man up and celebrating him because Soriano will be a big component of the Yankees’ run in the playoffs. They certainly do miss Mo but they have to be thankful they have a replacement in Soriano who has saved 91 games out of 99 chances since the 2009 season. That is a 92 percent success rate.

The Yankees actually have other more pressing bullpen issues. They revolve around Robertson, who came off the 15-day disabled list on June 15.

In the 11 appearances Robertson, 27, has made beginning on June 15, he is 0-2 with a 4.35 ERA. That is a far cry from the Robertson who made 13 appearances before May 9 and was unscored upon in his first 13 innings of the season with 23 strikeouts.

The Yankees need Robertson to settle back into his groove and just, well, be Robertson again. We will see how it unfolds after the All-Star break.

The injuries to Rivera and Robertson have meant that Boone Logan has pitched in more games and for more innings than he has been used since he was acquired by the Yankees in 2009. The most innings he ever pitched in pinstripes was the 41 2/3 innings he pitched last season in 64 appearances.

But because Logan is no longer the lefty specialist in the bullpen he is being used more often and for longer stretches. Logan, 27, has already thrown 29 2/3 innings and made 41 appearances.

The strain is beginning to show. Logan’s ERA for the first three months was excellent: He was 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA on June 30. But in July, Logan has been scored upon in all four of his appearances and, if anybody deserved an All-Star break it was Logan.

The hope is that Logan will bounce back in the second half and pitch like he did before June 30. The Yankees need Logan to be good in the seventh inning so the Yankees can use Robertson in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth. Logan will be a big key to the Yankees in the second half, no doubt.

Manager Joe Girardi has been praised, and rightfully so, for his ability to maximize a bullpen. This season he has proven what a skill it is.

The Yankees found a lefty specialist in side-armer Clay Rapada during spring training and Rapada has been excellent as getting left-handers out since the 2012 season began.

Rapada, 31, is holding left-handed hitters to a .150 average this season. Amazingly, Rapada is retiring right-handers also. They are hitting .227 off him. But Girardi has wisely tried to keep Rapada as a specialist as much as he can this season.

The Yankees also got lucky when the Texas Rangers waived 26-year-old side-arming right-hander Cody Eppley early in the season. The Yankees claimed him and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Recalled on April 20, Eppley has provided Girardi with a righty specialist to twin with Rapada.

The results have been very good. Eppley is holding right-handers to a .231 average. Much like Rapada with right-handers, Girardi must keep Eppley away from dangerous left-handed hitters. Overall, Eppley has done an excellent job and he and Rapada have strengthened what already was an excellent bullpen.

That can’t be said of Cory Wade, however.

Wade, 29, was picked up off waivers from the Rays in 2011 – much like Eppley was this season – and he put together a great season. Wade was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA last season and drew a lot of praise from Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

But 2012 has a been nightmare for Wade.

He compiled an ERA of 1.69 in April and an ERA of 2.92 in May. But in June, Wade hit the skids and he has not recovered.

Beginning on June 16, Wade gave up a home run to Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals in a game the Yankees won 5-3. Since then, Wade has given up 16 runs in his last 8 innings covering his last seven appearances. Wade’s ERA has ballooned to 6.48 and he has been sent back to Scranton to try and get his groove back.

The Yankees filled out their bullpen just before the break by calling up Triple-A starter D.J. Mitchell to be the long man in the bullpen now that Freddy Garcia is being used as a starter to replace the injured Andy Pettitte.

Mitchell, 25, has a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA at Scranton in 14 starts but Mitchell may have more value as a reliever in the majors because he has the best sinking fastball in the organization.

The Yankees would like to use him in situations they might need a double play. But Mitchell is strictly a long man for now.

To replace Wade, the Yankees picked up veteran right-hander Chad Qualls off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Qualls, 33, is 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 3 1/3 innings over three games. That is certainly a step up from what the Yankees have been getting from Wade. We will see if he continue to pitch well in the second half.

Overall, this has been one of the best, if not the best, bullpens in baseball this season despite the loss of Rivera.

Girardi was able to slide Soriano into the closer’s role and he has Robertson and Logan to pitch in setup roles. Plus he can mix and match with the righty-lefty combo of Eppley and Rapada. Wade is the only reliever who has been a major disappointment but Qualls was picked up to fill his role until Wade finds it again or not.

MIDESEASON GRADES:

RIVERA: I (for Incomplete)

SORIANO: A

ROBERTSON: B+

LOGAN: B+

WADE: C-

RAPADA: B+

EPPLEY: B

QUALLS: I (for Incomplete)

MITCHELL: I (for Incomplete)

OTHERS

DAVID PHELPS (1-1, 6.46 as a reliever)

RYOTA IGARASHI (0-0, 22.50 ERA)

David Phelps began the season in the bullpen as the long reliever and he actually pitched much better than his ERA indicates. He was shelled for three runs in back-to-back appearances against the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox in late April.

But Phelps, 25, is more suited as a starter and is thought of that way by the organization. After two starts in place of Freddy Garcia in early May, Phelps was sent back to the bullpen when Pettitte was activated on May 13. He stayed until June 2, when he was shipped to Double-A Trenton to get his arm in shape to become a starter.

However, before the process could be completed Pettitte was placed on the disabled list with a broken tibia in his right leg and CC Sabathia had to be shelved because of a groin injury.

Phelps was recalled and pitched out of the bullpen until he was pressed into a start against the Rays on the Fourth of July. Phelps struck out eight batters and gave up only one run in 4 1/3 innings in his best performance of the season.

Now Phelps has been sent back to Trenton to complete the process of building up his pitch count so he can start. It is unclear when Phelps might return to the Yankees or what role he will assume. My guess is we have seen the last of Phelps as a reliever, barring an injury.

Igarashi was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen on May 25 and pitched poorly in the two games in which he pitched. He was sent back to Scranton and was recalled again on June 8 and he gave one run in his one inning of work against his former Met teammates.

Igarashi, 33, is 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and three saves at Scranton this season. He is there for depth purposes but the Yankees could do better. Igarashi does not appear to be the answer for the Yankees based on what he has done in three games.

MIDSEASON GRADES

PHELPS : I (for Incomplete)

IGARASHI: I (for Incomplete)

The Yankees have some veteran relievers at Scranton, including Igarashi.

Kevin Whelan 28, is the main closer and is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA and 12 saves.

Meanwhile, left-hander Juan Cedeno, 28, is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA and former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen is 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.

The most impressive young relievers the Yankees are developing are Preston Claiborne, 24, and Chase Whitley, 23.

Claiborme was just promoted to Scranton after going 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and saving five games at Trenton.

Whitley is 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 games in Scranton.

Both are right-handers.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+

There are whispers that Rivera is progressing well in his rehab after surgery on his right knee and that he might be able to pitch this season. That would be bad news to the teams in the A.L. East staring up out of a huge hole in which the Yankees have placed them.

Whether Rivera returns or not the Yankees have an exceptional bullpen that rarely coughs up leads late in the game.

Soriano has 19 saves after 81 games and he has been sensational as Rivera’s stand-in.

There are some concerns before the second half begins.

Both Robertson and Logan need recapture their early-season form. They both have a long enough track records in the majors that they should be able to rebound. Robertson just needs to regain command of the strike zone and Logan just needs rest after absorbing a huge workload in the first half.

Logan leads the American League in appearances and that is an aberration from what Girardi and Rothschild would like from him. But Rivera’s loss impacted Logan the most and he has been forced to pitch a lot of innings and it is catching up to him. Hopefully, the rest over the break rejuvenates his valuable left arm.

The Yankees also have to hope that Wade rediscovers his karma in the minors. Most of the karma he has been exhibiting on the mound these days is bad.

Rapada and Eppley have proved to very valuable specialists and they have been impressive in the first half. They just have to continue to do what they have been doing.

Qualls is a place-holder for Wade and Girardi seems to trust him.

Mitchell can be valuable as a long man but Girardi rarely calls on him. His sinker could have some value in the second half and he is the one reliever that can give Girardi a lot of innings out of the bullpen.

The biggest hope for the second half has nothing to do with any of the pitchers I mentioned.

The Yankees just sent Joba Chamberlain out on a minor-league rehab stint. Because Chamberlain, 26, is coming off Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severely displaced fractured right ankle, the Yankees were not really expecting much out of the big right-hander.

But if all goes well in his extended rehab stint, Chamberlain could return to the Yankees within a month. That would be a big boost to the Yankees and it should make Logan really smile.

Yankee fans may have forgotten that Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 games before injuring his elbow last season. If he can get back to that level, Chamberlain could a valuable piece to the bullpen in the sceond half and heading into the playoffs.

The Yankees also had high hopes for former Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma in the second half. Aardsma, 30, was coming off Tommy John surgery himself last July and was making his final rehab appearances when he suffered a setback and had to be shut down.

Aardsma underwent some tests and is consulting Dr. James Andrews, who performed his surgery, about what his next step will be. But it looks doubtful Aardsma will be able to help the Yankees this season. That is a shame.

But the way the Yankees’ bullpen has been gong this season, they may not need him. The return of Chamberlain, however, could be a real big boost.

 

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

GAME 73

YANKEES 6, INDIANS 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

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

NAGGING NEGATIVES

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

BOMBER BANTER

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

COMMENTARY

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, Manning never apologized. He said squat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON DECK

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

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

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

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

 

 

Yankees Look Poised To Take Control Of A.L. East

The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.

OFFENSE

Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.

Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.

It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.

The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.

The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.

What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?

The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.

The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.

Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.

The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.

There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.

Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.

Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.

The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.

Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.

Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.

It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.

Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.

Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.

Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.

The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.

Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.

But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.

Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.

STARTING PITCHING

The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.

In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.

This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.

They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.

A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.

He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.

The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.

After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.

The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.

In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.

The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.

Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.

The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.

Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.

The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.

The enigma of the group has been Nova.

When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.

So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.

The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.

The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.

So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.

But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.

That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.

Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.

At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.

He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.

BULLPEN

For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.

No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.

But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.

However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.

However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.

Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.

In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86).  Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).

So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.

The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.

One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.

The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.

FORECAST

The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.

They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.

That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.

The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.

The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.

The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.

If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.

The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.

The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.

The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.

So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.

 

Perhaps Hughes The Key To Yankees Minus Rivera

As weeks go you would have to say this week for the New York Yankees was not a good one and that is putting it mildly. It was disastrous.

The loss of the greatest closer to ever walk the planet is a pretty steep price to pay for any team. But it was just the tip of the iceberg.

It all started on April 29 when Nick Swisher left a game against the Tigers in the bottom of the third inning with a strained hamstring. At the time Brett Gardner was on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow he sustained making a diving catch on a ball on April 17.

Swisher has been unable to play since and Gardner, who was expected to return on Thursday, had his return delayed for four days.

That means the Yankees have been playing Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eduardo Nunez and now Jayson Nix in the outfield in place of their two injured starters.

That has led some pretty bad outfield play in the past week, especially by “Eduardo Scissorhands” in left-field against the Orioles.

Though the Yankees may have had some laughs when Nunez slipped and slid his way through his first start in left on Monday, it was no laughing matter the next night when he allowed a fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson fall and two runs to score.

It was initially scored as a two-base error. But MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Friday reversed the call into a double. However, whether it was scored an error or a double, it still cost the Yankees two runs in three-run inning that ended up in a 7-1 defeat. The point is that the ball should have been caught and it wasn’t.

This outfield roulette the Yankees are playing does not even take into account how the offense has been hurt by losing Gardner and Swisher for this long a period of time.

At the time of his injury, Gardner was hitting .321. Swisher was even better. He was hitting .284 with six home runs and he was leading the American League in RBIs with 23. You can’t expect to replace 67 percent of your starting outfield with older veterans and young neophytes and expect the offense and defense to be there. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.

The loss of Gardner has allowed manager Joe Girardi to use his platoon designated hitters, Jones and Ibanez, in the field and give Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez half-days off as the DH. That means Scissorhands plays shortstop and Eric Chavez plays third base.

Nunez promptly goes into a 0-for-19 slide this week and the preciously delicate exoskeleton and inner body linings and muscles of Chavez again reared its ugly head – literally – on Wednesday night.

Chavez dove for a ball off the bat of J.J. Hardy and his head slammed the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium pretty hard. The next thing you know Chavez is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. If this anything like the fractured bone in his foot he injured at about the same time last season, we should see Chavez back in a Yankee uniform during the 2016 Yankee Old-Timers’ Day celebration and I hope Eric brings a football helmet and pads to play in the game.

This does not even address the starting pitching problems Girardi is already faced and with which he is still dealing.

While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be settling into their roles as the ace and No.2  starter of the staff, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia seem to be playing a contest amongst themselves of who could give up the most hits and runs in the shortest stretch of innings.

Well, Garcia won that contest hands down and he was banished to the bullpen and rookie David Phelps made his first major-league start on Thursday.

This was not the way it was supposed to be with Andy Pettitte on the verge of coming back and when the Yankees were counting on getting Michael Pineda back from his sore right shoulder problems in May. Now Pineda is lost for the season with shoulder surgery and Pettitte can’t get back to the Yankees soon enough to suit Yankee fans.

The loss of Mariano Rivera makes it even harder to decipher.

For now, it looks as if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will share the closer’s role. But with Joba Chamberlain still recovering from both Tommy John and Chuckie Cheez ankle surgeries the bullpen suddenly looks a whole lot thinner than it did before Mo collapsed in pain on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on Thursday.

Perhaps there could be a silver lining if Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are open to see their way clear of this mess. Some good could come of it if they play it correctly.

First, they have to allow Phelps to continue to pitch in the rotation and give him a chance to show what he can do. It is only fair they do that to what looks to be a promising 25-year-old right-hander. Nova’s 15-game winning streak is over but he certainly is capable of pitching better than he did this week. So you have to continue to roll with him.

But when Pettitte returns you have to make a move to take one person out of the rotation and there is no better candidate than Hughes.

If you look at the period of time Hughes was most successful it was when he was the setup man for Rivera during the Yankees second-half push to the playoffs and the world championship in 2009. His bullpen numbers were even better than Rivera’s numbers that season.

In 2010, he was needed as a starter and he won 18 games. However, after the second half of 2010 it was obvious he was not the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break that season. His year-long struggles with weakness in his right shoulder in 2011 bore that out.

So far in 2012, Hughes has not struggled with velocity. He is back to throwing an average of 92 mph and getting up to 94 and 95 with ease. But he also has been victimized by the longball and he is carrying a 1-4 record with a 7.48 ERA after five starts.

In the past the presence of Robertson, Soriano and Chamberlain made it impossible for Hughes to shift back to the bullpen. But with Soriano and Robertson sharing the eighth and ninth innings and Chamberlain likely out for the season it would seem to make sense to try Hughes in the seventh inning role that Chamberlain, Robertson and lately Soriano have made so vital.

I do understand that once you shift Hughes to that role there is no shifting him back to a starting role. But if Phelps eventually falters you can always give Garcia another try and there also is a number options that can made through trades and signing of free agents.

I have heard Roy Oswalt’s name and I hope that is all I hear about him because he has a chronic back condition that makes him risky. However, the Yankees have a farm system rich enough to be able to make trades to acquire 2013 free-agents-to-be like Matt Cain of the Giants and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has this option in his back pocket through the end of July and he will have plenty of time to evaluate the need for that trade by that time.

The Yankees also are looking at having former Mariners closer David Aardsma to add to the bullpen. He could perhaps also take the seventh inning role if he is healthy. But I think they need to keep Hughes in mind as a potential player in the bullpen because I still believe he can shine there.

For one thing he can shelve his awful secondary pitches like his change-up and concentrate on his fastball, curve and cutter. His velocity should also move up to the 97 mph mark he used to throw and that wll cover for a lot of mistakes in his location he makes as a starter.

We will see how it plays out but the Yankees just need to get Swisher and Gardner back on the field and hopefully Robinson Cano will stop hitting like Luis Sojo in time for the Yankees make a run at the 2012 playoffs.

They may as well try because they are now finding there are much lower expectations on this team now.

 

Pineda, Banuelos Drawing Raves From Yankees

Most of the early buzz around the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, has revolved around two young starting pitchers, Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos.

That is just fine with Yankee genetral manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi because a lot of the team’s future is riding on those two young arms.

Pineda, 23, came to camp 10 pounds overweight and burdened by the pressure that Yankee fans expect him to be great because he was traded from the Seattle Mariners for one of the best young power-hitting prospects the Yankees have ever developed in Jesus Montero.

However, once the Yankees saw what Pineda had in his bullpen sessions they have been gushing with praise. With good reason, too.

The first thing you notice about Pineda is that he has the same intimidating height as staff ace CC Sabathia. But he also backs it up with an electric fastball and a biting slider.

On Monday, minor-league outfielders Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa stood in the batter’s box to face Pineda and Sabathia at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Each pitcher threw about 25 pitches and there was not much in the way of solid contact by either Curtis or Mesa.

“He’s a monster,” Curtis said about Pineda. “He’s big up [on the mound.]”

Veteran catcher Gustavo Molina also praised Pineda’s stuff. “Really good stuff. That’s the first time I have caught [Pineda]. It looks like he has power in everything he throws. It looked good for me. They know what they are doing. That is why they made the move.”

During his session on Monday, Pineda mixed in a handful of change-ups. Pitching coach Larry Rothshild and Girardi want Pineda to use spring training to work on throwing the change-up so he can add it to his arsenal during the season. Pineda threw only his fastball and slider in his rookie season in which he was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA wit the Mariners.

“It is important to him, and it is important that he works on it in spring training,” Girardi said.

Meanwhile, Banuelos caught the eye of guest pitching instructor and fellow left-hander Andy Pettitte on Monday.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen him throw. He looks great, man,” Pettitte said. “The ball just explodes coming out of his hand.”

Banuelos, 20, was a combined 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. However, Banuelos walked 71 batters in 129 2/3 innings and he realizes that it was way too many.

So Banuelos is trying to command his fastball in the strike zone and keep the pitch more consistent.

For his part, Petitte was thoroughly impressed by what he saw.

“You never know what anybody’s going to do until they get to the big-league level and they go out there and they are kind of battle-tested,” Pettitte said. “You can talk about people all you want, but he looks great. His stuff looks great.”

Because the Yankees have six starters competing for the five-man rotation, Banuelos will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton along with fellow starters Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell to work on his craft without the pressure of the big lights in the Bronx.

But Pettitte does a future for Banuelos and the Yankees could call him up at some point if he is needed this season. But a more realistic ETA is probably 2013.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi announced how his rotation will line up for the beginning of the Grapefruit League season and Warren will get the starting nod for Friday’s exhibition game against the University of South Florida at Steinbrenner Field. First pitch will be at 1:05 p.m. Ivan Nova will open the official Grapefruit League season on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. That game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network. Veteran Freddy Garcia will have the honor of opening the home schedule on Sunday against the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. Pineda will make his spring debut on Monday against the Phillies in Clearwater, also at 1:05 p.m. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes will each pitch in a March 6 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Bradenton, FL. Hiroki Kuroda will make his Yankee debut on March 7 at home against the Tampa Bay Ray at 1:05 p.m.  . . .  Robinson Cano has been excused from camp in order to attend the funeral in the Dominican Republic for his grandmother, who passed away on Sunday.  . . .  The Yankees announced that outfielder Chris Dickerson has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to the Triple-A Scranton roster. Dickerson, 29, will remain in camp because he is out of minor-league options. The move clears roster space for Eric Chavez, who signed a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Yankees to return as corner infield reserve in 2012. In another move, the Yankees placed former Mariners closer David Aardsma on the 60-day disabled list. Aardsma, 30, saved 69 games for the Mariners in 2009 and 2010 but did not pitch last season after undergoing Tommy Jone surgery on his right elbow on July 22.