Tagged: Drew Hutchison

Tanaka Goes Route As Yankees Cool Jays Again

GAME 115

YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 1

Going into Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre the New York Yankees knew they would be without both right-hander Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller because they had both pitched in the previous two games the team won. So the question was: Who would close for the Yankees?

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka provided the answer. He would.

Tanaka threw his first complete game of the season and Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira both hit solo home runs as New York knocked off Toronto for the second straight day and extended their American League East lead over the Blue Jays to 1 1/2 games.

Tanaka (9-5) held the powerful Blue Jays to one run on just five hits and three walks while struck out eight batters in a sparkling 112-pitch outing. It was Tanaka’s first victory of the season over the Blue Jays in three starts.

“Up to this point, I think today was one of the most important games that I’ve pitched in,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “My mindset was, I wanted to go as deep into the game as possible. I was really satisfied that I was able to do that.”

Beltran, who was the big hero in Friday’s 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Blue Jays with a pinch-hit three-run home run in the eighth inning, got the Yankees’ offense rolling right away against right-hander Marco Estrada (10-7).

With two out in the first inning, Beltran lined a 3-2 fastball into the right-field bleachers for his 12th home run of the season.

Meanwhile, Tanaka looked every bit the $155-million ace the Yankees signed as free agent last season through the first four innings until he temporarily lost command of the strike zone in the fifth.

Ryan Goins drew a leadoff four-pitch walk and Ben Revere followed it with a hard-hit single to left. Tanaka then walked Troy Tulowitzki on four pitches to load the bases with no outs.

Josh Donaldson scored Goins with a sacrifice fly to left but Tanaka was able to wriggle out of further trouble by striking out Jose Bautista swinging and retiring Edwin Encarnacion on a infield popup.

He did not allow another hit except a two-out single by Encarnacion in the eighth inning.

Estrada, at the same time, recovered from the first-inning to hold the Yankees to just one hit  –  a one-out triple by Jacoby Ellsbury in the third  –  until there were two outs in the sixth inning.

Teixeira entered the day struggling in August, batting .182 during the month and 2-for-21 (.095) in his past five games. But he was able to connect on a 1-0 fastball and hit it into the second deck down the right-field line for his 31st home run of the season.

Teixeira’s tie-breaking home run was all Tanaka really would need but Teixeira also added a one-out RBI single in the eighth off right-hander LaTroy Hawkins after Beltran had doubled off the top of the wall in right-center.

Ellsbury closed out the scoring in the ninth with an one-out RBI single off left-hander Aaron Loup.

“Right now, the most important thing is winning,” Beltran told reporters. “It doesn’t matter how we win, we just have to go out there with the mentality of not being able to think of our personal numbers, what we’re doing. We have to think about how we can win this ballgame. Right now, we’re doing good.”

Another sellout crowd of 46,630 saw the Yankees win their third straight game after they had lost the previous five games. Their season record is now 64-51. The Blue Jays dropped to 64-54.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka, 26, has been somewhat disappointing this season between stretches of inconsistency and a stint on the disabled list. But on Saturday he looked every bit the ace pitcher the Yankees wanted him to be. Despite the three walks, Tanaka kept Toronto’s hitters off-balance by using his slider more than usual and not giving them fastballs in the strike zone. Tulowitzki, Donaldson and Bautista were a combined 1-for-8 with two strikeouts and only two balls reached the outfield.
  • Beltran’s hot month of August continued on Saturday as he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, a home run, two runs scored and one RBI. He now has a hitting streak of 10 games and he is 12-for-32 (.375) with four homers and seven RBIs in that stretch. He is now batting .271 on the season.
  • Teixeira’s home run and two RBIs were his first of each since he homered in the first game of the series against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 7. He ended his day 2-for-4 with a run scored and he drove in the tie-breaking run and added a key insurance run. Despite the slump Teixeira is batting .261 with 31 homers and 79 RBIs this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I would really have to nitpick to find a downside to this game. After losing in 10 innings 2-1 to the Blue Jays on Aug. 7 on a Bautista home run, Bautista said the Blue Jays did more than beat the Yankees. They made a “statement.” Well, after losing the first two games of this series I wonder what has become of Bautista’s “statement?” You may want to put a lot of ketchup on that serving of crow, Jose!

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees bolstered their bullpen on Saturday by recalling right-hander Caleb Catham from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designating left-hander Chris Capuano for assignment for a second time. Cotham, 27, will be beginning his third stint with the Yankees this season. In 31 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton, Cotham is 6-2 with a 1.89 ERA and two saves. Capuano, 36, had not appeared in a game since the Yankees selected his contract from Scranton on Aug. 12. He was 0-4 with a 6.97 ERA in 16 games (four starts) with the Yankees.  . . .  Rookie Greg Bird started at first base on Saturday to allow Teixeira to serve as the designated hitter and he singled with two out in the eighth inning off Hawkins for his first Major-League hit. In the sixth inning, Bird, 22, hit a mammoth drive into the right-field seats, which would have been a two-run home run. But it was ruled a foul ball and a review of the play confirmed the call.  . . .  Right-hander Ivan Nova will make his next start despite soreness in right ring finger. Nova, 28, thought he had fractured the finger after he attempted to grab a come-backer off the bat of Tulowitzki in the third inning of Friday’s 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays. Nova still was able to pitch seven innings and got credit for his fifth victory of the season.

ON DECK

After being swept by the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium last weekend the Yankees will have a chance to return the favor to the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Rookie right-hander Luis Severino (0-1, 2.45 ERA) will make his third career start for the Yankees. Severino, 21, has not yielded more than two runs or pitched less than five innings in his first two starts. However, he is still seeking his first Major-League victory.

The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Drew Hutchison (11-2, 5.26 ERA). Judging by the ERA you can tell that Hutchison, 24, is living off the run support the Blue Jays are providing him. In five starts in July, Hutchison recorded a 6.93 ERA and yet he was 1-1 in those starts.

Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

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Blue Jays Smack Tanaka To Spoil Yanks’ Opener

GAME 1

BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1

Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run home run and Russell Martin added a two-run single as part of a five-run third inning off right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as Toronto defeated New York on Opening Day on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0) held the Yankees to just one run  –  a solo home run by Brett Gardner  –  on three hits and two walks while he struck out three batters in six innings.

Tanaka (0-1) sailed through the first two innings, yielding only one hit and striking out three. But he ran into trouble in the third inning when Kevin Pillar opened the inning with a single and rookie Devon Travis drew a walk.

Jose Reyes then laid down a sacrifice bunt between the mound and third base. Tanaka moved into the path of third baseman Chase Headley and Headley ended up throwing wide of first base for an error that allowed Pillar to score, Travis to reach third and Reyes to second.

Martin followed with a single to right that scored Pillar and Reyes, One batter later, Encarnacion blasted a 2-1 fastball into the left-field bleachers to make it a 5-0 margin.

Tanaka was charged with five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 82 pitches covering for innings.

The Blue Jays added their final tally to begin the seventh inning when Travis belted his first major-league home run to left-field off left-hander Chasen Shreve.

The Yankees were limited to just three hits and three walks in losing their fourth consecutive home opener.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner has always hit the Blue Jays well and on Monday it was no different. Last season, Gardner hit two of his 17 home runs off Hutchison so it was no surprise when he connected off the 24-year-old right-hander for blast into the right-field seats. Gardner ended up 1-for-4 but he hit the ball well three times.
  • Rookie reliever Chris Martin could not have made a better debut with the Yankees than he did in the fifth inning. The 6-foot-8 right-hander faced three hitters who combined last season to hit 98 homers in Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. He fanned all three and looked impressive doing it.
  • Alex Rodriguez drew loud cheers from the sellout crowd of 48,469 as he was introduced and he ended getting more cheers as he drew a walk and singled in the game. The 39-year-old designated hitter lined out to right-field in his last at-bat to finish his day 1-for-2.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Tanaka, 26, revamped his pitching style to put less stress on his elbow but it backfired on him on Monday. Tanaka shelved his 94-mile-per-hour fastball in order to use his lower velocity two-seam fastball. That was the pitch Encarnacion hit out. The Blue Jays basically stopped swinging at pitches diving out the strike zone and Tanaka was forced to serve up batting practice fastballs to them. He is going to have to rethink his strategy next time out.
  • I bemoaned the lack of offense all spring and it reared its ugly head again on Monday. The Yankees made Hutchison look much better than he really is. They hammered him pretty good in his six starts last season. But on Monday they allowed him to use stuff that tops out at around 92 mph to make them look bad. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira combined to go 0-for-6 in the heart of the order.
  • Headley committed a costly throwing error that began Tanaka’s demise but it really was not all his fault. Tanaka sprinted after the ball and ran right into Headley’s path just as he was fielding the bunt. If Tanaka had let it go I do not think Headley would have made the error.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi did not even try to hide his displeasure with Didi Gregorius’ decision to try to steal third base with two out in the eighth inning. Gregorius reached after being hit in the right elbow by a pitch from reliever Aaron Loup. He moved to second when Beltran drew a two-out walk. Then with Teixeira at the plate and the Yankees trailing 6-1, Gregorius dashed for third with third baseman Donaldson shifted over. But Martin was able to gun down Gregorius easily on the first pitch from reliever Miguel Castro. “You know, I’m just going to chalk it up as someone trying to do too much, and in a game like this you’re looking for a three-run homer there,” Girardi told reporters. “Your run doesn’t mean a whole lot.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths before resuming their series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

The Yankees will send to the mound right-hander Michael Pineda, who was the team’s most impressive starter this spring. Pineda was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and just one walk in 19 innings.

The struggling Yankee offense will face right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey. Dickey, 40, was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three spring starts.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Young’s Homer Boosts Yankees Past Nationals

GAME 34

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3

Chris Young blasted a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Nationals closer Drew Storen to propel New York to a come-from-behind victory over Washington on Saturday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Young’s third home run of the spring, which all came off the Nationals, followed a one-out single by Didi Gregorius.

Storen (0-1), who has been hampered all spring with blister on his right foot, took the loss.

David Carpenter (2-0) pitched one-third of an inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Dellin Betances earned a save by striking out the side in the ninth despite making things interesting by yielding a single and a walk in between.

The Yankees concluded their exhibition season with a 17-16-1 record.

FIELD FOCUS

Chris Martin pitched a perfect inning of relief in sixth with two strikeouts. Just the fact he is even pitching on a major-league roster is a miracle in and of itself.

Martin was named a member of manager Joe Girardi’s seven-man bullpen on Friday. But there was a time the 6-foot-8 right-hander was just a regular working stiff at an appliance warehouse.

Down in Arlington, TX, Martin was loading 650-pound refrigerators onto dollies for delivery. The only doubleheaders Martin knew were the shifts he previously worked at the lawn and garden section at Lowe’s warehouse and then evenings at UPS.

Before all this Martin, 27, was drafted as a senior from Arlington High School by the Detroit Tigers in 18th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Instead of signing Martin opted to attend McLennan Community College in Waco, TX.

That following year, the tall right-hander was chosen in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies. Again, Martin opted to stay in school.

However, that fall, Martin severely injured his shoulder. On the advice of Dr. Keith Meister, the team physician for the Texas Rangers, Martin tried resting the shoulder. But with the pain too great, Martin underwent surgery in 2007 to repair the labrum and release the shoulder capsule.

When the shoulder healed, Martin tried out with the Fort Worth Cats of the United Baseball League. When the shoulder still didn’t feel right, Martin quit baseball and went to work at Lowe’s and then at night with UPS for the insurance benefits.

Martin later caught up with former Arlington alum Jordan Bostwick, who graduated a year after Martin. Bostwick urged Martin to come to work for him at Texas Appliance in Arlington.

In June 2010, Bostwick broke out a left-handed catcher’s mitt during a lunch break and had Martin play catch with him. Martin’s pitches busted the seams off the mitt and nearly broke Bostwick’s right thumb.

More importantly, Martin informed Bostwick his shoulder felt really good.

Soon Martin signed a contract for $800 a month with the Grand Prairie Airhogs, an independent team operated by former major-league slugger Pete Incaviglia.

The radar readings of Marin’s pitches were hitting 95 miles per hour. Martin went on to a 4-0 record with a 1.95 ERA in 13 games with the Airhogs.

Incaviglia called the Boston Red Sox on behalf of Martin and the Red Sox signed him for $1,100 a month after a tryout arranged at Martin’s expense in Fort Myers, FL. After stops in Class-A Greenville and Salem, Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Martin was dealt to the Rockies in December 2013.

Martin made his major-league debut with the Rockies against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 26 of last year.

He ended up with an ERA of 6.89 in 16 games with the Rockies before his contract was purchased for $75,000 by the Yankees in January.

Martin was among a large group of non-roster pitchers trying to making the Yankees’ bullpen this spring. At best, he was a long-shot. He ended spring training on Saturday with a 0-1 record and 4.09 ERA in 11 appearances. But the Yankees were enamored more by his 18 strikeouts with only one walk.

So Martin now will have a chance to open the season in the major leagues in 2015. It does not appear he will be making those shifts to load refrigerators in Texas anymore.

Instead he will be living out a dream that looked to be over just a short time ago.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite the fact starter Nathan Eovaldi gave up three runs on three hits in the first inning, he settled in nicely afterwards. Eovaldi, 25, held the Nats to just one hit over the next four frames. In five innings, Eovaldi struck out six while walking three. He ended his spring with a 1-1 record with a 1.93 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
  • Stephen Drew ruined right-hander Doug Fister’s six-inning outing by lashing a two-out, two-run home run in the fifth inning to draw the Yankees to within a run of the Nationals at 3-2. It was Drew’s third homer of the spring and he ended up batting .259 with three homers and nine RBIs. On March 12, Drew was hitting .077. From then on he was 16-for-34 (.471).
  • Betances earned a save by striking out the side in the ninth. But he also yielded a one-out single to Reed Johnson and a one-out walk to Pedro Severino. Betances topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun, which is still a bit off the 97 mph he was throwing at last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The offense is still pretty inconsistent. The Yankees did not get their first hit until the fourth inning and they managed just six hits overall. Fortunately, home runs by Drew and Young bailed them out. The Yankees got great pitching from Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Eovaldi and Adam Warren this spring. It would a shame not to give those guys the support they deserve.
  • Alex Rodriguez started at designated hitter and batted seventh in the game. But A-Rod probably would like to forget about it because Fister fanned him twice and reliever Craig Stammen did it once  –  all three strikeouts came on sharp curveballs.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner set the table exactly as Girardi would have liked in the fourth when Ellsbury reached after being hit by a pitch from Fister. Gardner followed with a sharp single to left. But Carlos Beltran grounded into a force play and Mark Teixiera rapped into a 4-6-3 double play. The RBI guys are paid to produce and Beltran and Teixeira must do it consistently if the Yankees are to contend at all.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees elected to retain John Ryan Murphy as their backup catcher to Brian McCann as they designated for assignment Austin Romine on Saturday. Murphy came off the bench in seventh inning to catch and was 0-for-1 to end the spring with a .238 average. Romine was 6-for-35 (.171) with 10 strikeouts. Romine was out of options so now any team may claim him. If he is not claimed he would remain with the Yankees and be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  In other roster moves, the Yankees added backup infielder Gregorio Petit to the 25-man roster and they placed infielder Brendan Ryan (calf strain), left-hander Chris Capuano (quad strain) and right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) on the 15-day disabled list. Infielder Jose Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will rest on Sunday and prepare to open the season on Monday at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tanaka, 26, will start for the Yankees after ending up 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA in four spring starts. It is the first time since 2008 that a pitcher other than CC Sabathia has started the season for the Yankees.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 24, was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four spring outings. He surprisingly won the starting assignment over former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

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

 

Blue Jays Spoil Sabathia’s Debut To Top Yankees

GAME 16

BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 2

The Blue Jays received a two-out RBI double from Dayan Viciedo and a RBI single by Devon Travis in the second inning off left-hander CC Sabathia as Toronto defeated New York to ruin Sabathia’s spring debut on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Sabathia, 34, pitched a 1-2-3 first inning before being greeted by a leadoff single in the second by former Yankee Dioner Navarro. Two outs later, Viciedo doubled to deep center to score Navarro and Travis followed with a lined single to left to score Viciedo.

Josh Thole then doubled to left, however, Brett Gardner relayed the ball to Didi Gregorius and Gregorius fired a perfect strike from shallow left-field to Brian McCann to nail a sliding Travis at home plate.

The Blue Jays added a run in the third inning off Dellin Betances on a leadoff triple by Jose Reyes and an RBI groundout by Josh Donaldson.

The Yankees got a run in the second inning on a one-out RBI single by Stephen Drew after Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchinson had walked Garrett Jones and Chris Young singled.

They also scored in the fourth on the first spring homer by Mark Teixeira to lead off the frame. Teixiera’s homer was an opposite-field blast to the deepest part of the ballpark in left.

Hutchison (2-0) was the winning pitcher. Sabathia (0-1) took the loss. Roberto Osuna pitched two scoreless innings to earn a save.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now 9-6.

FIELD FOCUS

So much has been made of the Yankees’ starting trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Sabathia all returning from injury-plagued seasons. There obviously is a fair amount of concern about Tanaka’s right elbow, Pineda’s right shoulder and Sabathia’s right knee.

But on Tuesday, Sabathia joined Tanaka and Pineda on the road to health. The result was not what Sabathia wanted. But the Yankees will just be happy that their 6-foot-7 former ace is pitching again after a serious knee injury limited him to just eight starts in 2014.

Sabathia looked free and easy in the first, retiring Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista on routine grounders and striking out Donaldson.

Getting lit up for four hits and two runs in the second was not supposed to be part of the plan. But Sabathia is taking a longer view.

“Obviously, you don’t want to give up runs, but it being spring training, it is what it is,” Sabathia told reporters. “But just being able to command the baseball and let it go, throw it hard, it feels good.”

Sabathia’s career was in jeopardy because of a degenerative condition in his knee that could have resulted in a risky microfracture procedure that no pitcher has undergone. Instead, Sabathia opted for a less invasive surgery that stabilized the knee.

The veteran left-hander, however, does not have any cartilage in the knee and he will have to maintain a program of exercises and conditioning to keep it from flaring up. But Sabathia has added weight to increase his strength and endurance and he believes that he can stay healthy throughout the 2015 season.

Manager Joe Girardi was pleased with what he saw on Tuesday.

“I liked the way the ball was coming out of his hand tonight,” Girardi told reporters. “I just thought he threw the ball really well. I’m not worried about the runs he gave up because he’s still trying to work on things, obviously, but first step really positive for me.”

There is a certain kind of calm in the clubhouse now knowing that Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia are all able to pitch again. Losing all three to injury last season, in addition to right-hander Ivan Nova, was the major reason why 2014 was not a successful campaign.

The success of 2015 is predicated on them each being able to pitch an entire season. Sabathia sees no reason why they can’t.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVE

  • If there is any doubt about Gregorius’ defensive abilities at shortstop, he erased them with his spectacular long relay throw that nipped Travis at the plate that saved a run. Much has been made of Gregorius’ range but what really sets him apart his cannon of an arm. Get used to seeing some highlight reel plays from the young shortstop. He is a very special player in the field.
  • Teixeira’s home run was a huge moment for him and for Yankee fans. Last spring, Teixeira was recovering from surgery on his right wrist and residual pain limited him to 123 games in which he hit 22 home runs and drove in 62 runs. His home run to left-center proves that his right wrist is just fine. The Yankees would like to see him return to his 2011 form, when he hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs.
  • Young was inserted into the lineup to replace a slightly injured Jacoby Ellsbury and he responded with a 2-for-3 night. Young, 31, gives the Yankees a fourth outfielder who is capable of playing all three outfield spots and he provides right-hand power, some speed and steady fielding. In 23 games with the Yankees last September, Young hit .282 with three home runs and 10 RBIs to earn a contract for 2015.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Seeing Sabathia get lit up in the second inning was not an encouraging sign if you are a pessimist. After all, the knee injury Sabathia suffered only prevented him from pitching. It had nothing to do with the 14-13 record and 4.78 ERA he recorded in 2013. Sabathia’s next step is to find a way to be successful without his mid-90s fastball. So in addition to proving he is healthy, Sabathia will have to show he can win with a fastball that tops out at 90.
  • Gardner has been a batting funk of late. Since March 9, he is 1-for-17 (.059). Gardner is being counted upon along with Ellsbury to set table at the start of the lineup for the power hitters that follow him. It is darn near impossible for Gardner to score runs from the dugout after recording outs. He needs to pick it up soon.
  • McCann is also having a sluggish spring. He is batting only .143 and does not have a home run and just a single RBI. After hitting a career low .232 the Yankees are counting on McCann to provide offense in the middle of the lineup this season.

BOMBER BANTER

Ellsbury sat out the game with what was termed a “mild, mild, mild mild” abdominal strain. Ellsbury, 31, noticed the injury on Sunday and he was sent to a doctor, who said it did not require an MRI. Girardi said Ellsbury will sit out two games and will be reevaluated on Thursday. “Am I concerned? I’m not too concerned.” Girardi said.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday to face the Atlanta Braves at Champion Field.

Tanaka will make his second start of the spring and he is expected to pitch three innings. Tanaka recorded two strikeouts and four groundouts in a very impressive two-inning debut against the Braves on March 12 in Tampa.

Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz will get the start for the Braves. Vying for a spot in the Braves’ rotation, the 23-year-old is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in his first two starts.

Game-time will be 6:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis at 11 p.m. by MLB Network and live on MLB Radio through WFOM in Atlanta.

 

Headley’s Homer Propels Yankees Past Phillies

GAME 15

YANKEES 3, PHILLIES 2

Chase Headley hit his first home run of the spring to lead off the seventh inning and broke a 1-1 tie as New York edged Philadelphia on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Headley’s blast came off a 0-2 pitch from right-hander Kevin Slowey and it landed in the right-field bleachers to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish.

Despite giving up the tying run in the top of the seventh inning, David Carpenter (1-0) got credit for the victory. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his second spring save.

Slowey (2-1) took the loss.

The Yankees improved their spring record to 9-5.

FIELD FOCUS

When the Yankees faced the Miami Marlins in an exhibition game in Panama last spring, Nathan Eovaldi made a definite impression on manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees hitters he faced. There was the 95 mile-per-hour fastball, a slider, a curve and a change-up.

The secondary pitches were passable and ordinary but the right-hander had a fastball that could not be taught. It just sizzled. It was electric.

The fact that Eovaldi was only 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA last season was surprising enough. Even more shocking was that he led National League pitchers in hits allowed with 223 and he registered only 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.

So the Yankees asked pitching coach Larry Rothschild of he could “fix” Eovaldi enough to make him a better pitcher. Rothschild said he could by working to improve his secondary pitches and getting him to “elevate” his fastball to make it more of a weapon.

So on Dec. 19 the Yankees dealt infielder Martin Prado and right-hander David Phelps to the Marlins in exchange for Eovaldi, first-baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones and right-handed pitching prospect Domingo German.

This spring Rothschild went to work tinkering with Eovaldi’s pitch assortment. Then he pushed him to use the upper part of the strike zone more with his fastball. So when the exhibition season started, Eovaldi, 25, began testing his new plan of attack on live batters.

The results have been astonishing. On Sunday, Eovaldi pitched four innings and faced the minimum 12 batters. He gave up no runs on two hits and struck out three. But the clearest sign that Eovaldi is developing into a pitcher was that he threw 38 out his 45 pitches for strikes.

“Today, overall everything felt pretty good,” Eovaldi told reporters. “For the most part today, I was able to throw all four of my pitches, so that’s a good sign.”

Eovaldi is being counted upon to be the No. 4 starter in the rotation that includes Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The pressure of pitching in New York is always difficult but Eovaldi looks to be ready to embrace it.

All he has to do is do exactly what he did on Sunday against the Phillies.

Overall this spring Eovaldi is 0-1 with a 1.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in seven innings. Even better he has not walked a batter. The pupil is listening and learning.

“We’re really excited to have him in camp with us as one of our starters. We think he can do a really good job for us,” Girardi told reporters.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Headley entered the game hot and he now has seven hits in his past 12 at-bats (.583). His home run ended up being the game-winning hit and he is making it very hard for Alex Rodriguez to find a defined role with the team. Because he is hitting .384 and he has four-year, $50-million contract in his pocket it is obvious that Headley will be the Yankees’ starting third baseman on Opening Day.
  • Slade Heathcott drove in another run on Sunday with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh that scored Greg Bird. Heathcott, a 24-year-old former first-round outfield pick, was actually released by the Yankees and re-signed to a contract as a non-roster invitee this spring. Heathcott’s all-out style of play has led to a series of injuries that have sidetracked him. Now healthy, he is showing the Yankees he can play. He is 6-for-12 (.500) with a home run and four RBIs in nine games. There is a chance Heathcott may be resurrecting a once-promising career.
  • Chase Whitley pitched two scoreless innings after Eovaldi and looked pretty impressive. He did not give up a hit or a walk and he fanned two batters. Whitley has not been scored upon this  spring. He has a good shot to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Although Carpenter, 29, got the victory he did not pitch all that effectively for a second consecutive game. In his past two outings, Carpenter has been tagged for three runs on four hits and a walk over two innings. Carpenter was 6-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 65 relief appearances with the Atlanta Braves last season. He is being counted upon to be the primary setup man for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances and needs to start pitching better.
  • Stephen Drew reverted back to previous form by going 0-for-3 on Sunday. He is 2-for-19 (.105) this spring after he hit an anemic .162 last season.

BOMBER BANTER

No. 1 pitching prospect Luis Severino and former first-round draft pick Aaron Judge were among 10 players the Yankees cut on Sunday and reassigned to minor-league camp. Severino, 21, gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out five over 2 2/3 innings in two appearances. The 6-foot-7 Judge was 3-for-11 (.273) with four walks, a double and a homer in four games. In addition the Yankees cut catchers Trent Garrison and Juan Graterol, right-handers Nick Goody and Diego Moreno, left-handers James Pazos and Tyler Webb, infielder Cito Culver and outfielder Jake Cave.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take Monday off and resume their exhibition schedule on Tuesday by hosting the Toronto Blue Jays.

It will signal the spring debut of left-hander Sabathia, who was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA in eight starts before undergoing surgery to repair a degenerative condition in his right knee. Sabathia has added weight and said he feels stronger. This will be a good test if he is healthy and ready.

Sabathia will face right-hander Drew Hutchison, who is 1-0 with a 0.0 ERA in two spring appearances. Hutchison was 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA for the Blue Jays last season.

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

Kuroda, Tex Help Yankees End Skid Against Jays

GAME 77

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

There are some managers who will say that their team needs to learn how to win. After four straight losses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must have given his team a master class in Winning 101 on Wednesday.

Hiroki Kiroda gave the Yankees a solid effort, pitching into the seventh inning, and Mark Teixeira homered and drove in three runs as New York salvaged the final game of a three-game set against Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,710 at Rogers Centre.

Kuroda (5-5) yielded three runs on eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to win his first game since May 28 when he defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Initially, it did not look good for Kuroda when Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first by cranking Kuroda’s first offering into the second deck in the right-field bleachers to give the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead.

However, Huroda settled in and the Yankees were able to score four runs in the third inning off right-hander Drew Hutchison.

Kelly Johnson opened the frame by drawing a walk and Francisco Cervelli slammed a double into the gap in right-center to score Johnson and tie the game. It was only Cervelli’s second RBI of the season.

Two batters later, Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle to score Cervelli and Teixeira then launched a 0-1 change-up into the right-field bleachers to give Kuroda and the Yankees a comfortable 4-1 lead. It was Teixeira’s 14th home run of the season and his second in three games in Toronto.

“The whole dugout was excited about those four runs,” Teixeira told reporters after the game. “It had been a while since we had a lead.”

The Blue Jays, however, did draw closer in the bottom of the fifth.

Munenori Kawasaki drew a one-out walk and with two out Reyes stroked a ground-rule double. Then Melky Cabrera slapped an opposite-field single to left to score two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead to a run.

Hutchison (5-6) left after six innings having given up four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned six batters.

The Yankees did add a run in the sixth after Blue Jays left-hander Rob Rasmussen walked Brett Gardner, hit Derek Jeter in the foot with a pitch and then issued another free pass to Ellsbury to load the bases.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summoned right-hander Sergio Santos to pitch to Teixeira and Teixeira was able to loft a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Gardner.

The Yankees’ bullpen took it from there as Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Blue Jays scoreless on just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Robertson retired all five batters he faced, including striking out the first three batters he faced, to earn his 18th save in 20 opportunities this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 40-37 and they are now 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays in third place in the American League East. The Blue Jays dropped to 44-36.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After poor outings from Chase Whitley and David Phelps the past two games, Kuroda was able to keep the Blue Jays contained to allow the Yankee offense to get untracked. Kuroda, 39, has been somewhat of a disappointment after he pitched so well in 2012 and 2013. With his 4.23 ERA, Kuroda could stand to start putting together some good outings and pitch more consistently.
  • Teixiera’s three RBIs give him 39 on the season, which currently leads the team. The Yankees are nearly at the halfway point of the season and it is embarrassing that their team leader only has 39 RBIs. But with Teixiera slowed by a hamstring injury and a sore right wrist and Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran all underperforming the Yankees will take anything they can get from Teixeira.
  • Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Ellsbury has now put together a stretch of eight games in which he is 11-for-31 (.355). But he only has one extra-base hit (a double) and three RBIs in that span.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian Roberts was the only Yankee starter who failed to reach base in the game. He was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Roberts was 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run and two RBIs in his previous five games. Roberts, 36, had his season average fall to .240.
  • Despite the victory the Yankees were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and they left the bases loaded in both the fifth and seventh innings. It is getting to the point where pitchers might just as well just intentionally walk the first three Yankees each inning because the odds the Yankees will score any runs is virtually nil.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a day off on Thursday before opening a three-game home series starting on Friday against the reeling Boston Red Sox.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-4, 5.88 ERA) will begin the series for the Yankees. His one victory was on May 7 and he is 0-4 with a 6.12 since then. He gave up four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

The Red Sox will pitch right-hander Brandon Workman (1-0, 2.88 ERA). Workman surrendered two runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in six innings in a no decision against the Cleveland Indians on June 15.

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