Tagged: Denard Span

Ichiro’s ‘Act’ In Bronx Held Over For Two Seasons

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

RIGHTFIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (28 Rs, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, .322 BA, 14 SB)

When the Yankees made the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to The Bronx it was looked at initially as a temporary fix to the Yankees’ injury to top base-stealing threat Brett Gardner. After all, Suzuki’s contract with the Seattle Mariners expired after the 2012 season and the Yankees were unsure if the 39-year-old All-Star had very much left in the tank.

Suzuki seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff after he hit .315 with six home runs and 43 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 2010. In 2011, the career .322 hitter batted only .272 with five home runs and 47 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.

In addition, Suzuki was hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Mariners at the time of the trade.

But Suzuki took to New York quicker than anyone would have expected and he seemed to be rejuvenated being part of a pennant chase for the first time since his early seasons with the Mariners.

As a result of Suzuki’s renewed bounce in his step and the fact the Yankees allowed rightfielder Nick Swisher to sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians this winter, Suzuki was granted a two-year, $12 million deal to take over for him. General manager Brian Cashman was pleased Suzuki settled for much less than perhaps he was worth to stay with the Yankees.

Suzuki had made it clear that he did want to remain in New York. So it seems both sides are very happy with the deal.

Suzuki will never be able to replace Swisher’s power and production but he is an upgrade in terms of hitting, speed and defense. That is all part of the tradeoff the Yankees had to accept in order to rebuild a team that lost 94 home runs when Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14) signed elsewhere this offseason.

Suzuki will join with Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson as part of the group that is expected to be stealing a lot of bases in 2013 because of what the Yankees lost in terms of power. The Yankees will not be able to play station-to-station baseball while waiting for home runs.

Suzuki’s two-year deal signals the Yankees are committed to him and what he can provide at the top of the lineup by getting on base and running the bases.

Last season, Suzuki approved the trade with some conditions laid down by the Yankees. He agreed to hit lower in the batting order, to a platoon that would sit him against left-handers and agree to switch to leftfield. Suzuki accepted the stipulations and never complained about where he hit, where he played and when he was benched.

However, when Suzuki got red hot in September manager Joe Girardi stopped platooning him against lefties, moved him up in the batting order and shifted him to rightfield so Swisher could replace an injured Mark Teixeira at first base.

So expect Suzuki to be playing every day, hitting second and playing rightfield in 2013. Suzuki basically changed the manager’s mind the old-fashioned way: He played so well that Girardi had no choice but to play him and those conditions Suzuki was signed under have been tossed out the window – for good.

Suzuki’s calling card has always been his magical bat. Despite an unusual batting style, Suzuki seems to be able to know when it is best to pull the ball and when to go with a pitch. He confounds pitchers with his ability to spray the ball all over the field.

He may no longer have blazing speed as he did when he won his Most Valuable Player and Rookie of Year awards in 2001, but Suzuki can still leg out infield grounders for hits, take an extra base on napping outfielders and he can even steal a base or two when necessary.

Suzuki stole 29 bases last season between the Mariners and Yankees and he led the Yankees with 14 steals despite playing in only 67 games.

With the short porch in right-field, Suzuki can also surprise a pitcher or two by turning on an inside pitch and putting it into the seats. Suzuki’s career high in home runs is 15 that he hit in 2005 and he only has reached double digits in three seasons. But it is good bet they he could reach double digits in 2013.

He hit five dingers in only 227 at-bats with the Yankees last season.

Where Suzuki really shines is as a defender. From 2001 through 2010 he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mariners. Granted, he has lost a step, but Suzuki can still flash some leather in the outfield. He also possesses an excellent arm in rightfield. With Granderson and Gardner, Suzuki forms a rare outfield that boasts three centerfielders.

This is an outfield that is also loaded with speed and skilled fielders. It might be the best defensive outfield the Yankees have fielded in some time.

The only potential negative with Suzuki might be if he regresses as a hitter as he did with in the Mariners in 2011. The Yankees are on the hook for two seasons with Suzuki and they would rather he continue he hit the .322 he did with the Yankees last season.

The Yankees were dealt a serious blow to the 2013 plans when Ibanez opted to sign as a free agent with his old Mariners team. The Yankees made it clear that they wanted to keep Ibanez as their left-hand designated hitter and part-time outfielder.

At the moment the plans behind Gardner, Granderson and Suzuki look a little murky.

The Yankees did claim right-hand hitter Russ Canzler off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Canzler, 26, can play first base, leftfield and DH.

Canzler hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 as a September call-up with the Indians after leading the International League with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Columbus.

Canzler provides the Yankees primarily with a right-hand bat who can back up Mark Teixeira at first base. But he did play 47 games with Columbus and 11 games with the Indians in the outfield. His range in the outfield is limited and he would be a significant dropoff from Gardner as a defensive outfielder.

Jayson Nix has been invited to spring training again primarily to compete with Nunez as a backup middle infielder but Nix also can play some outfield.

Nix made nine starts in the outfield last season and acquitted himself well. He committed only one error. Though he is much better as infielder, Nix provides Girardi with a lot of options on where to play him.

Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.

Cashman is looking to bolster the outfield before spring training camp opens next month and he has a few targets that could be on his radar.

His first option is former Met outfielder Scott Hairston, who is currently seeking a lucrative two-year deal on the free-agent market.

Hairston, 32, hit 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs and batted .263 with the Mets last season. His main calling card is his power and his ability to crush left-handed pitching.

Hairston hit .286 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs against lefties last season. Though he has played some second base in the past, Hairston is primarily an outfielder and he only committed one error in 108 games there last season.

The Yankees covet him because he has power, which the Yankees need, and he balances out the starting outfield, which is comprised of all left-hand hitters. The Yankees see Hairston as part-time outfielder, a platoon DH and valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.

The only sticking point is the amount of money he is seeking and the Yankees are not real keen on offering him a two-year deal. They are hoping Hairston will lower his demands.

Another potential target could be 6-foot-5 first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse of the Washington Nationals.

Morse, 30, had a breakout season in 2011 in which he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs for the Nationals. But injuries limited him to just 102 games in 2012 in which he batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.

The Nationals had him scheduled to move from left-field to first base this off-season when they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins and shifted rookie centerfielder Bryce Harper to leftfield. However, the team decided to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche so Morse is currently relegated to the bench.

The Nationals reportedly are looking at trading Morse for a left-handed relief pitcher and some prospects. The Yankees do have a pair of lefties in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada to offer but there is not much depth behind them in the minors. The Yankees could use Morse in the same way they planned to utilize Canzler – at first base, leftfield and DH.

Morse is a right-hand hitter but his power is intriguing.

This is hard to believe but – in the absence of the Yankees making a deal or signing an outfielder – the Yankees will actually be giving long looks to two of their own minor-league outfielders this spring.

Melky Mesa, 25, hit a combined .264 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs and 22 stolen bases between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Mesa hit only .230 at Scranton after hitting .277 at Trenton so he may require an additional season before he is ready.

Mesa’s combination of power and speed would be a big boost to the Yankees and he does fill a need for right-hand hitting outfielder. Mesa is also a natural centerfielder and he can easily play all three outfield spots if needed.

The downside is the Yankees are unsure of he can hit major-league pitching. They hope to get some more definitive answers this spring. Mesa figures to play a lot after only getting 13 at-bats and hitting .231 last spring.

The Yankees also have a very intriguing young outfield prospect in Zoilo Almonte, who is a power-hitting switch-hitter.

Almonte, 23, impressed Girardi last spring when he hit .286 in only 14 at-bats. Almonte then followed that up by hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 106 games with Trenton.

Unlike Mesa, Almonte is primarily a corner outfielder and he has just average speed (15 steals in 19 attempts last season). Defensively, he is still a work in progress. His range and fielding are just average but he does have a pretty good arm (10 outfield assists last season).

Almonte does have a slim chance of making the jump from Double A but he will need to have a monster spring training that forces Girardi to keep him on the roster. It is all up to Almonte  to see if can handle the rigors of the major leagues. But it will be tough to ask him make the jump because it rarely happens in the major leagues and it even more rarely happens with the Yankees.

The Yankees seem to not even care about a player unless he is 34 with years of major-league experience. Almonte would be in a locker room of players he watched while he was in grade school. That would be a lot of pressure on him but his power potential makes him a very viable prospect to watch this spring.

The Yankees are actually loaded with some very special outfield prospects further down in their minor-league system.

Mason Williams, 21, is the team’s second-ranked prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. He hit .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 91 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa before a torn labrum ended his season early.

Williams is an excellent left-handed hitter who should develop more power as he gains experience. He also looks as if he will be a very good base-runner and he is above average defensively as a centerfielder. Williams is 6-feet tall and weighs just 150 pounds but he should gain weight and strength and may even draw comparisons to another centerfielder Williams by the name of Bernie.

The Yankees are also excited about No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin, 21.

Austin hit a organization-best .354 combined in 2011 and he followed that up by hitting .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in four minor-league stops last season.

After playing first and third base his first two seasons, the Yankees moved him to right field last season and he played very well there. While Sanchez and Williams get most of the attention, Austin is considered a very good prospect and 2013 could propel him into the Yankees’ plans in 2014 and beyond.

The Yankees also have a pair of young slash-and-dash hitters who have a chance to make the parent team down the road in Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores.

Heathcott, 22, was the team’s first draft pick in 2009 but has been hampered by on- and off-the-field problems. But the left-handed hitter got back on track by hitting a combined .302 with five home runs and 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in the Yankees team in the Gulf Coast League and with Tampa in the Florida State League.

Heathcott is an aggressive player with excellent speed. If he can be more selective at the plate and on the bases he could turn out to something very special.

Flores, 20, is a left-handed hitting machine who batted a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs and 24 stolen bases between Tampa and Trenton. He lacks Heathcott’s speed but still stole more bases. He is primarily a leftfielder but can play all three outfield spots and first base.

Fielding will never be his strong suit because his bat is so good. It will carry him the rest of the way to the majors.

The Yankees seem to be deeper in outfield prospects than any other position and that seems to be a good thing considering the team has already lost Swisher and Granderson seems to be headed out the door soon. That would leave Gardner and an aging Suzuki.

So to say the Yankees could stand to have a few of these prospects make an impact in the next few years would be putting it mildly.

There have been rumors the Yankees have talked about possibly trading Williams and Sanchez. But that would seem to be something Cashman would be leery about since he really did get fleeced badly in the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda deal last winter.

My guess is the Yankees will be very careful which young players they deal but it would seem to make sense that they could trim some of their outfield depth if they need help with their 25-man roster.

Though the Yankees are lucky to be starting three center-fielders with excellent speed in the outfield in 2013, they all hit left-handed and the Yankees will miss Ibanez.

Cashman likely will make some sort of deal to add depth to the outfield and they need someone who can hit right-handed. Canzler and Nix provide some depth but they are not long-term solutions.

Mesa and Almonte provide Girardi with a pair of young options but both are going to have to produce a lot this spring in order to make the leap to the major leagues.

Hopefully, the puzzle pieces can be put together before the start of the 2013 season.

NEXT: CATCHER

 

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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.

 

Stewart’s 3 RBIs Boost CC To Win Over Twins

GAME 11

YANKEES 8, TWINS 3

It is not easy replacing a popular player, particularly when he is really loved by Yankee fans. But Chris Stewart may have taken his first big step on Tuesday in helping those fans get over the absence of backup catcher Francisco Cervelli.

Stewart stroked a bases-loaded single to drive in two runs that gave the Yankees the lead as part of a four-run third inning as New York’s sputtering offense came alive to support the solid pitching of CC Sabathia and New York defeated Minnesota at Yankee Stadium.

Stewart was claimed off waivers from the Giants on the final day of spring training by the Yankees and, because Stewart was out of options, the team opted to send Cervelli to Triple-A.

Trailing 3-1 entering the third inning, Andruw Jones started what proved to be the winning rally with a one-out single off Francisco Liriano (0-2). Curtis Granderson followed with a single down the right-field line that was bobbled by outfielder Trevor Plouffe and both runners moved up a base. Eduardo Nunez then slapped a ball in the hole at shortstop that Jamey Carroll could only knock down and Jones scored.

Liriano then issued his fourth walk in 2 1/3 innings to Brett Gardner to load the bases and Stewart chased the left-hander from the game with a lined single down the left-field line that scored Granderson and Nunez.

Derek Jeter capped the four-run eruption with a sacrifice fly reliever Mark Maloney to score Gardner.

Much like he had in his first two starts, Sabathia (1-0) struggled early in the game, giving up a solo home run to Josh Willingham in the second inning. With one out in the third, he gave up a single to Alexi Casilla, committed a balk to put him at second, pinch-hitter Clete Thomas then doubled to drive in Casilla and Carroll followed with a RBI single to score Thomas.

But after that point, Sabathia turned into the CC that Yankee fans are used to seeing. He retired the next 13 batters in a row until he walked Plouffe with two outs in the seventh. He did not allow another hit and left after giving up just the three runs on four hits and one walk and he struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings.

It was only the Yankees’ third quality start for their pitchers in the first 11 games.

Liriano, meanwhile, has now turned in three horrible starts in a row. He was hammered for five runs on seven hits and four walks and struck out two batters in only 2 1/3 innings. Liriano has now surrendered 17 runs (15 earned) in 11 1/3 innings over three starts. His ERA is now a stratospheric 11.91.

With the victory the Yankees are 6-5 on the season. The Twins are 3-8.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Mark it down that the first official Sabathia sighting was in the fourth inning of tonight’s game with the Twins. Sabathia settled in once he got the lead and shut down the Twins through the eighth inning. After throwing 59 pitches in the first three innings, Sabathia made it to one out in the eighth needing only 52 more (33 of them were strikes). Sabathia is habitually a slow starter who hits his stride in the summer months.
  • Last night the top part of the order carried the offense, going 8-for-16 but the team scored only three runs – all in the first inning. Tonight it was the bottom of the order that carried the team. Jones (batting fifth),  Granderson (batting sixth), Nunez (batting seventh), Gardner (batting eighth) and Stewart (batting ninth) were a combined 9-for-19 (.474) with three walks, they scored all eight of the Yankees’ runs and drove in six.
  • Gardner is very quietly have a very good season at the plate. He was 2-for-2 with an RBI double and two walks, a stolen base and he scored three runs. Gardner is hitting .321 early in the season and he is looking like he does not want to be taken out of the lineup against left-handers. Gardner also made a great diving catch off the bat Willingham to end the Twins’ two-run rally in the third inning.
  • Stewart is a career .203 major-league hitter with only 13 RBIs. On Tuesday, he was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Stewart added an RBI single in the seventh off reliever Jeff Gray to his two-run single in the third that proved to be the game-winner. Realistically the Yankees only want Stewart to shine as a defensive catcher and they do not care what he hits. But I am sure they appreciated his effort at the plate.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It is pretty safe to say that the Yankees are looking from big things from Alex Rodriguez after he missed 63 games last season and he is coming off a very good spring. Well, the Yankees are still waiting because he was 0-for-4 on Tuesday and it dropped his average to .227. with one home run and two RBIs.
  • A-Rod was batting fourth and the Yankees are still the only team in baseball who have not gotten an RBI from their cleanup hitter this season. Rodriguez and Robinson Cano have shared that spot this season. Cano was 1-for-5 in the game and is hitting .239 with no home runs and one RBI.
  • Hopefully the Yankees will only see the Sabathia who pitched so well after the third inning. Early in the game, Sabathia was having problems with fastball command, as he had in first two starts. With the effort Sabathia won his first game and lowered his ERA to 5.59. Needless to say, there is a lot of room for improvement in that ERA.

BOMBER BANTER

Home-plate umpire Greg Gibson was a busy man on Tuesday. He not only ejected Twins center-fielder Denard Span for arguing a strike call in the third inning, Gibson also gave the heave-ho to manager Ron Gardnehire right after Span. From the replays, it appeared that Span had a legitimate complaint. Sabathia’s first pitch looked well of the plate inside. But the Twins should not be too upset because they benefitted from the very odd strike zone of Gerry Davis on Monday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play the third game of the four-game home series with the Twins on Wednesday.

The Yankees will send 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 2.63 ERA) to the mound. Kuroda is coming off eight scoreless innings in his Yankee Stadium debut against the Angels last Friday. Kuroda only gave up five hits, walking two and striking out six. He has never faced the Twins.

The Angels will counter with right-hander Jason Marquis, who will be making his 2012 debut after making two rehab starts at Double-A New Britain. Marquis missed two weeks of spring training after his 7-year-old daughter was seriously injured in a bicycle accident. Marquis is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankee Bullpen Implodes Spoiling Sabathia’s Shutout

GAME 5
TWINS 5, YANKEES 4 (10 Innings)
Joe Mauer singled in Denard Span with the tie-breaking run in the 10th inning as Minnesota rallied to defeat New York on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Matt Capps (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his second save. Left-hander Boone Logan (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees are 3-2 on the young season. The Twins are 2-3.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • CC Sabathia deserved a better fate than what the bullpen handed him. He pitched seven scoreless innings. he gave up only two hits and a walk and fanned six. Sabathia retired the last 17 batters he faced and left the game with a 4-0 lead.
  • If there was any doubt that Mark Teixeira’s off-season plan to lift less weights and hit more baseballs is working there is none now. Teixeira connected for a three-run home run in the first inning off starter Brian Duensing to give the Yankees an early lead. It was Teixeira’s fourth home run and he now has 10 RBIs in five games.
  • Left-fielder Andruw Jones became the 13th player in Yankee history to hit a home run in his first at-bat with the team. He connected for a solo home run off Duensing in the second inning. Jones started in left-field in place of Brett Gardner because manager Joe Girardi wanted to get Jones some at-bats against a left-hander.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • In retrospect, Girardi’s decision to bring in Rafael Soriano for a second appearance in two games in the eighth inning was a tragic mistake. Soriano lacked command, walking two batters and giving up a single before he issued a two-out bases-loaded walk to Mauer for the Twins first run. Soriano was pulled after throwing 32 pitches and he will be not be able to pitch on Wednesday.
  • Soriano’s poor performance set up David Roberston’s blown save. Robertson made an excellent pitch on Delmon Young but Young was able to dump a looping double in shallow right that scored all three runners and tie the score in the eighth.
  • Logan had no excuse for his poor outing. He faced three batters in the 10th and they all reached. He walked Span to open the inning. Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed with a single that moved Span to third. Mauer then singled past a Robinson Cano into right to score Span with what would eventually be the winning run.
  • The Yankees decided that four runs they had scored after two innings were enough. They did the same thing on Monday and won. But on Tuesday, it was not enough. The Yankees only managed two hits after the second inning. 
BOMBER BANTER
Teixeira, Cano and Derek Jeter received their Gold Glove awards in a pregame ceremony. They are the first three infielders on the same team to win Gold Glove awards since the 2000 Indians of second baseman Roberto Alomar, shortstop Omar Vizquel and third baseman Travis Fryman. 
ON DECK
The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Twins on Wednesday with the series tied at 1-1. 
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will make his debut with the Yankees. He was 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA with the White Sox last season. He is 10-7 with a 4.07 ERA against the Twins in the last 10 seasons.
The Twins will start former New York Yankee disabled list legend Carl Pavano (0-1, 15.75 ERA), who is coming off a shelling on Opening Day courtesy of the Blue Jays. He is 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA against the Yankees in his career. 
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

Hughes Answers Doubters As Yanks Sweep Twins Again

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 3
YANKEES 6, TWINS 1

The baseball pundits’ mantra entering this postseason was: The Yankees have CC Sabathia and a lot of question marks in their starting rotation.
Phil Hughes’ reply on Saturday evening was to pitch seven dominant innings of shutout baseball to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and put an exclamation point after the sentence: The Yankees rotation in this ALDS was 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA!
With the victory the Yankees qualified for the American League Championship Series for the second time in two seasons and it was the first time they have advanced in the AL playoffs as a wild card.
The Yankees also eliminated the Twins from the playoffs for the fourth time in four meetings since 2003 and they have defeated the Twins in nine consecutive postseason games, the longest such stretch of domination in major-league history between two teams.
Hughes (1-0) is participating in his third postseason with the Yankees but had never started a postseason game until Saturday. If he had any nerves he never showed it as he mowed the Twins down in order for the first three innings.
He gave up a leadoff single to Denard Span to start the fourth but Span was erased on a double play off the bat of Orlando Hudson on the next pitch. 
The Twins put two runners on in the fifth on a one-out single by Delmon Young and veteran DH Jim Thome drew a walk. But Hughes struck out Michael Cuddyer and induced rookie third baseman Danny Valencia to pop out to Mark Teixeira to end the threat.
The Twins also mounted a two-out threat in the sixth when Hudson and Joe Mauer stroked singles that both just eluded Cano’s leaps. However, Hughes fanned Jason Kubel to end that frame.
Hughes threw 99 pitches and 67 of them were strikes. He gave up four hits and one walk and struck out six batters with an electric fastball that the Twins’ hitters could not center. 
While Hughes was throwing up zeros, the Yankees were having their way with left-hander Brian Duensing (0-1). 
The Yankees scored single runs in the second and third innings on RBI singles by Jorge Posada and Teixeira to stake Hughes to an early 2-0 lead. Posada’s RBI was the 41st of his career and moved him past Mickey Mantle to ninth on the all-time list.
The Yankees expanded that lead and chased Duensing in the fourth inning when Cano opened the inning with an infield hit and DH Marcus Thames followed with a two-run blast into bleachers in right-center to put the Yankees up 4-0.
But the Yankees tacked on another run that inning when Curtis Granderson drew a one-out walk, which ended Duensing’s night early. Granderson stole second on Twins reliever Mark Guerrier and took third when Mauer’s throw to second trickled into center-field.
It was the first and only error of the series between these two teams, which were also the top two teams in the AL in committing the fewest errors. (The Yankees were first and the Twins were second).
The error came back to take a big bite out of the snakebit Twins, too. Gardner then lofted a fly ball to left-field that scored Granderson with the Yankees’ fifth run.
Duensing was charged for all five runs on seven hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings. Duensing is 0-2 in two postseason starts. Both losses have come to the Yankees. Duensing lost Game 1 of the 2009 AL Division Series to the Yankees in what also would eventually become a 3-0 sweep.
Nick Swisher made it a half-dozen-run lead in the seventh inning with a leadoff home run off Twins right-hander Scott Baker. 
The Yankees then turned to their bullpen in the eighth inning to close out the game. However, the usually reliable Kerry Wood instead decided to pay homage to much-maligned former Yankees’ setup man Kyle Farnsworth.
Wood gave up a leadoff double off the left-field wall to Valencia. Then, with one out, he gave up a single to Span and Hudson followed with an RBI single to score Valencia and spoil the shutout bid. Wood dug a further hole by walking Mauer to load the bases.
However, the Yankee bullpen, which has been so reliable since the All-Star break, came to Wood’s rescue.
Left-hander Boone Logan threw one pitch to Jason Kubel and retired the lefty slugger on a weak popup to Alex Rodriguez at third. Manager Joe Girardi then summoned right-hander David Robertson to face the right-handed-hitting Young.
On Robertson’s third pitch Young flied out harmlessly to Granderson in center and the Twins lost their last good chance to climb their way back into the game and the series.
Girardi, taking no chances, used All-Star closer Mariano Rivera to polish off the game and the series. Rivera needed only 12 pitches to put away the Twins quietly in order in the ninth.
As Valencia lofted a two-out fly to Gardner in left, a majority of the 50,840 fans at Yankee Stadium — who were on their feet throughout the inning — cheered their defending champions, who are now four victories away from their 41st World Series appearance.
For the Twins, it was the fifth time they have been eliminated in the first round and the fourth time the Yankees were the culprit. The hits by Span and Hudson off Wood in the eighth were their only two hits in the series the Twins had with runners in scoring position. In the series they were 2-for-16 (.125). The Yankees, by contrast, were 9-for-25 (.360).
The Yankees, who refused to celebrate the clinching of a playoff spot or their entry into the ALDS as a wild card in the playoffs, popped the corks of champagne in their clubhouse in their first celebration of the first step on their quest for the 28th world championship.
The Yankees must now await the winner of the Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers series to find out where they will be open the AL Championship Series. The Rangers currently lead the best-of-five series 2-1.
Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday.
The Yankees, in the meantime, will have time to get some rest for their veterans and those players who have been hobbled by nagging injuries. In addition, they can reset their rotation for the best-of-seven ALCS with Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes scheduled to pitch in that order.
I just have one question for the baseball pundits: Are these question marks after Sabathia (Pettitte and Hughes) pitching well enough for you to stop questioning them, please? 

Rivera’s Cutter Shattered Span’s Bat And Twins’ Hopes

GAME 1 KEY MOMENT
The Minnesota Twins entered the eighth inning of Wednesday’s Game 1 trailing the New York Yankees 6-4 and knowing that time was running out if they wanted to make a comeback. The Yankees turned to reliever Kerry Wood to pitch the inning and to be the bridge to Mariano Rivera.

Wood started the inning by striking out Michael Cuddyer swinging. But he ran into trouble by walking Jason Kubel and allowing an infield single to rookie Danny Valencia. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire inserted pinch-runners Jason Repko and Matt Tolbert to relace Kubel and Valencia and No. 9 hitter J.J. Hardy advanced them by grounding out to second baseman Robinson Cano for the second out.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi summoned Rivera from the bullpen to face lefty swinging leadoff hitter Denard Span and this proved to be the key moment of Game 1.
To say Rivera is the dominant reliever of the modern baseball era is putting it mildly. Rivera entered Wednesday’s game with 39 postseason saves. The next closest reliever to him is the Phillies’ closer Brad Lidge with – get this – 16!
But the Twins knew this two-out opportunity with runners at second and third was their best chance to, not only tie the game, but to make a statement they were in this series to end the domination of the Yankees.
Rivera started Span off with his patented cutter inside on the hands of Span, however, Span laid off and the pitch was way inside.
Down 1-0, Rivera tried another cutter inside but lower in the strike zone. Span chose to let it go and it too was called a ball by home-plate umpire Jerry Crawford.
Span geared up for something to hit, knowing he was up in the count 2-0. Catcher Jorge Posada, sticking to the scouting report on Span, signaled for another cutter inside. But the great Rivera, known for his impeccable control, missed inside once again.
Could this be the moment the Twins had finally seized control? Another ball would load the bases for Orlando Hudson. A base hit to the outfield would tie the game.
Posada and Rivera stuck to the game plan and tried yet another cutter inside. Though the pitch actually missed the strike zone, Crawford gave Rivera the strike call. 
Rivera kept the pressure on by aiming yet another cutter inside. Span was tied up and the ball darted down and in as he swung. He fouled it off harmlessly off to the right.
Full count.
Though Rivera has been known to try to back-door two-seam fastballs to the outside corner, Posada called for a sixth consecutive cutter inside and Rivera nodded in agreement. With 42,302 fans watching and most of them on their feet at Target Field, Rivera went into his stretch and bent at the waist to his set.
With the game and the lead on the line Rivera again threw his bread-and-butter cutter. Span, protecting the plate on the full count, swung his bat. But the darting cutter jammed him and the bat practically shattered on contact.
As Span sped from the batter’s box down the line, the ball rolled slowly to shortstop Derek Jeter. Jeter, knowing Span had great speed, charged the ball hard, picked it out of his glove and threw in one motion to first.
Though it looked at first that Span might beat it, Jeter’s laser-like throw to first baseman Mark Teixeira reached Teixeira’s glove a step before Span hit the first base bag. First-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt raised his right arm and called Span out.
Gardenhire, his team and the Twins fans collectively groaned as Rivera headed to the Yankees’ dugout. The future Hall of Fame closer would later pitch a “four-out” ninth inning to record his 40th postseason save and the Yankees would take Game 1 and wrest home-field advantage away from the Twins in the best-of-five series.

Twins Get Nicked In Ninth By Swisher’s Home Run

GAME 46
YANKEES 3, TWINS 2

Some have a flair the dramatic and some don’t.
But to Andy Pettitte there is no one better at it than Nick Swisher.
Swisher came up with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game, guessed change-up and planted the ball far into the right-field bleachers of Target Field to give Pettitte and the Yankees a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Twins — the Yankees second victory over the Twins in about three hours.
Pettitte (6-1) earned the victory by pitching a gritty eight innings, giving up two runs on eight hits and no walks. He struck out four batters to give himself a career record of 11-5 against the Twins. 
Though Pettitte was touched for a tying run in the seventh inning on an RBI double by Delmon Young, Pettitte pulled a “Houdini-like” escape act with runners on first and third and two outs in the eighth inning. Pettitte snared a hot smash off the bat of Orlando Hudson and then induced three-time batting champion Joe Mauer to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Swisher did the rest off Twins’ closer Jon Rauch (1-1). Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 10th save of the season and his second of the evening.
With the pair of victories, the Yankees ran their record to 28-18. That combined with Red Sox completing a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays brought the Yankees to within 3 1/2 games of the Rays in the A.L. East. The Twins fell to 26-20 but remain one game ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers in the A.L. Central.
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees have beaten the Twins in 11 of their last 12 meetings. Most of those wins have been one-run victories like the two on Wednesday.
  • Pettitte was in command throughout the game. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 30 batters he faced. His only three-ball count was the 3-2 count he had on Mauer in the eighth in which Mauer rolled into the key double play.
  • Kevin Russo is proving to be a pretty valuable player and not just as a fill-in while Curtis Granderson rehabs his groin injury. Russo doubled in Francisco Cervelli to tie the game in the fourth inning. He singled and scored the tie-breaking run in the sixth inning. Both hits came off tough left-hander Francisco Liriano. Russo is hitting .294 with four RBIs in only 17 at-bats. He also made a nice catch at the wall in left to rob Mauer of an extra-base hit in the fourth inning.
  • Brett Gardner has been struggling at the plate lately but he did contribute a two-out triple in the sixth inning that scored Russo.
  • Mark Teixeira certainly showed signs of coming around at the plate with two singles and he was robbed of another hit on a diving stab by Justin Morneau in the seventh inning.
  • Robinson Cano was 2-for-4 and he raised his average to .339.
THE NEGATIVES

  • Yankees pitchers are having a hard time keeping Denard Span from getting on base and then keeping him there. In the two games, Span is 5-for-8 with three stolen bases. 
  • Alex Rodriguez nearly cost Pettitte and the Yankees the game in the eighth inning. With Drew Butera at second on a leadoff double, Rodriguez charged Span’s bunt attempt hard in order to cut down Butera advancing to third. However, Rodriguez kicked the ball into foul territory and Span reached safely on the error.
  • Marcus Thames was inserted into the lineup at DH by virtue of his past success against Liriano but he wound up 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
  • Rodriguez was also 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the game.
DIAMOND NOTES

Chad Gaudin has rejoined the Yankees. The Yankees signed Gaudin on Wednesday and put him on the 25-man roster. Left-hander Boone Logan, who had a 5.06 ERA in 13 appearances, was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Gaudin was originally released by the Yankees in spring training after he had 8.68 ERA in four appearances as one of five candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Gaudin later signed with the Oakland Athletics and was released last week with an 0-2 record with a 8.83 in 12 games with the A’s. Gaudin was acquired by Yankees from the Padres in August last season and he was 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in 11 games down the stretch, including six starts.  . . .  Alfredo Aceves, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain, visited Yankees team physician Christopher Ahmad in New York on Wednesday but there is no timetable for his return. Aceves had to cut a bullpen session short after just a few tosses in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday because of pain in his back. Manager Joe Girardi confirmed on Wednesday that Aceves has a bulging disc in his lower back.  . . .   During the Twins telecast of Wednesday’s game, play-by-play man Dick Bremer urged Twins fans to vote for Justin Morneau as the All-Star starter at first base for the American League. I have no issue with that but he went on to say that Mark Teixeira, who is currently leading the balloting at the position, was “undeserving.” It may come as news to Bremer but the fans are allowed to vote on whatever criterion they choose. It is a popularity contest and has nothing to do with who deserves the honor. So if Teixeira wins the balloting he is “deserving” because he is who the fans chose. By this criteria you are telling me Albert Pujols does not deserve to be the starting first baseman for National League because Ryan Howard has more homers? I do not think Bremer would say Pujols was not deserving unless Morneau was left out. 
THE NEXT GAME

The Yankees will have their broom out at Target Field on Thursday in looking for yet another sweep of the Twins. The Yankees will start Javier Vazquez (3-4, 6.69 ERA), who has been the Yankees best pitcher of late. He has a 2-1 record with
a 1.35 ERA in his past three appearances. He is also coming off a six-inning, one-hit gem against the New York Mets on Friday. 
Vazquez left the game after getting hit on the right index finger on a bunt attempt in the top of the seventh inning. But the Yankees have cleared Vazquez to make the start on Thursday.
He will be opposed by right-hander Nick Blackburn (5-1, 4.50 ERA). Blackburn has won four games in a row, including a game against the Yankees on May 16. In his last start, Blackburn gave up three runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.