Tagged: Erik Bedard

Tanaka Goes 4-0 As Patient Yankees Hammer Rays

GAME 28

YANKEES 9, RAYS 3

Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.

The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.

After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.

Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.

Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.

“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”

The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.

They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.

James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.

Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for  home run.

True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.

The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.

Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.

But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.

Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.

With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
  • It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
  • You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
  • Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
  • Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss.  . . .  Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.

ON DECK

The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.

Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.

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

 

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CC Uses Home Runs, Triple Play To Deflate Price

GAME 16

YANKEES 10, RAYS 2

David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.

Well, if you did, you lost your house.

Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte.  Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore  –  playing his first career game at first base  –  scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.

Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.

After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.

It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.

Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.

The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.

The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.

With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
  • Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
  • Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays.  . . .  Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin.  . . .  Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.

Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.

Game-time will be at 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Wind-Aided Homers Propel Rays Over Yankees

GAME 8

RAYS 5, YANKEES 4

Desmond Jennings blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning that tied the game at 4-4 and two batters later Matt Joyce hit a wind-aided solo shot that was the eventual game-winner as Tampa Bay edged New York in an exhibition game on Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

A steady 10-mile-per-hour wind with higher gusts were blowing out throughout the game.

Both home runs for the Rays came off right-hander Robert Coello (0-2), who was pounded for four runs on three hits in only a third of an inning to take the loss.

Non-roster invitee Erik Bedard (1-1), who is competing for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation, threw three scoreless innings of relief to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi struck out Pete O’Brien with two on and two out in the ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees scored a pair of runs in the first inning off Rays starter Cesar Ramos on an RBI single by Russ Canzler and an RBI groundout by Kelly Johnson. They added two more runs in the fourth inning off Rays closer Grant Balfour on Brett Gardner’s two-out, bases-loaded single, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

The Rays cut the Yankees’ 2-0 lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first when Ben Zobrist lifted a solo home run to left off Yankee starter Adam Warren in his first at-bat of the spring.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now even at 4-4. The Rays improved to 4-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner’s two-run single in the fourth produced his first two RBIs of the spring. Gardner is off to a very good start to the spring, going 4-for-10 (.400) and an on-base percentage of .500 in the four games in which he has played. With a four-year, $52 million extension in hand and all the trade rumors quashed, Gardner is hoping to build on his solid 2013 season.
  • Warren, 26, actually pitched pretty well despite giving up the leadoff home run to Zobrist in the first inning. He gave up just the one run on four hits and no walks while he struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Warren still hopes to earn the No. 5 starting job with the Yankees after spending most of his rookie season in 2013 as a long reliever.
  • Yangervis Solarte came through again on Wednesday. The 26-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder was 1-for-3, reaching on a single and an error and scoring a run. Solarte is 8-for-12 (.667) with two homers and six RBIs in six games so far. “He’s going to get a good look. He’s got some versatility. We’re looking for versatility because of our infield situation, and he has that,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.
  • Dellin Betances is quickly inserting himself into the bullpen mix and he was awesome again on Wednesday. Betances, 26, threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving up no hits, walking one and striking out two. The 6-foot-8 right-hander has always had a crackling mid-90s fastball but he seems to have conquered the control problems he had as a starter.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The annual award for the “Putrid Pitching in Pinstripes Award” may have been locked up for this spring by non-roster invitee Coello, 29, who has now surrendered nine earned runs on eight hits (three of them home runs), a walk and a hit batter in three appearances covering 1 2/3 innings. His spring ERA is a stratospheric 48.60! Coello, who has pitched briefly with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels, sports a 2-3 record and 5.90 ERA in his career. I have two suggestions for him: (1) Either try to hook back up with the Red Sox or (2) Look for another line of work. He, in a word, stinks.
  • John Ryan Murphy had some early success at the plate this spring battling for a backup catching role behind Brian McCann. But he took a giant step backwards on Wednesday. Murphy, 22, popped out with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning and killed a two on, one out rally in the sixth by grounding into a double play. The Yankees lost by one and he left five runners on base. That is not good.

BOMBER BANTER

After battling through a serious form of the flu, outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is scheduled to make his spring training debut on Thursday, Girardi told reporters. Soriano has been limited to batting practice and off-field workouts.  . . .  Thursday will also mark the spring debut of first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist. Teixeira was limited to just 15 games last season before requiring surgery. Teixeira hopes to get two or three at-bats in the game.  . . .  Former Yankee right-hander Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez has joined the Yankees as a minor-league pitching instructor. Hernandez, 48, spent nine seasons in the major leagues after defecting from Cuba and was 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA. He won three World Series rings with the Yankees from 1998 to 2000.

ON DECK

In addition to the debuts of Soriano and Teixeira, the Yankees will give their first starting assignment to Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as they travel on Thursday to Clearwater, FL, to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Bright House Field.

Tanaka, 25, pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Phillies on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. The Yankees were pleased and the Phillies were impressed with the $155 million free agent.

The Phillies will start veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who was 10-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 30 starts last season.

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

 

Overbay’s Base-Running Boosts Yanks Over Astros

GAME 27

YANKEES 5, ASTROS 4

With the loss of some free agents and a spate of injuries to some key players most people thought the New York Yankees would have to play baseball exactly the way they played it on Wednesday night. I mean how many teams win a game by delaying the execution of a opponent’s double play?

That is exactly how the Yankees beat the Astros, though.

Lyle Overbay delayed running from first base on a double-play grounder in order to allow Eduardo Nunez to score the tie-breaking run in the sixth inning and the team’s strong bullpen protected the lead as New York edged Houston and claimed the series victory in front of a paid crowd of 34.117 at Yankee Stadium.

Nunez opened the sixth against Astros reliever Paul Clemens (1-1) with a line-drive double off the wall in the left-field corner and he advanced to third on a wild pitch while Overbay was at the plate. Overbay then was able to coax a walk.

One out later, Astros manager Bo Porter brought in left-hander Wesley Wright to pitch to Ichiro Suzuki. On a 3-2 pitch, Suzuki hit a slow-hop grounder to second baseman Jose Altuve. Overbay, realizing it would be an inning-ending double play, stopped a few steps off first, forcing Altuve to throw to first to retire Suzuki.

Overbay then broke for second and was eventually tagged out by first baseman Carlos Pena. However, Nunez was able to cross home plate before Overbay was tagged out to break the 4-4 tie.

Boone Logan (2-1) pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory for the Yankees.

David Robertson and Mariano Rivera then mowed down the Astros in the final two innings to seal the victory. Rivera pitched the ninth to earn his 11th save in 11 opportunities this season.

The Yankees actually looked like they would coast to an easy victory when they got out to an early 4-0 lead by scoring singles runs in the first and second innings and adding a pair of in the third off Astros left-hander Erik Bedard.

Jayson Nix followed Suzuki’s leadoff triple in the first with a RBI single to plate the Yankees’ first tally of the game.

After Bedard loaded the bases by walking the first three batters in the second, Chris Stewart lofted a sacrifice fly with one out to increase the lead to 2-0.

Robinson Cano then greeted Bedard with a home run blast into the bleachers in right-field for his eighth home run of the season. Two outs later, slumping outfielder Ben Francisco then added another run with a line-drive solo shot into the left-field bleachers for his first home run and first RBI as a Yankee.

Bedard lasted only four innings, giving up four runs on six hits and four walks while striking out two batters.

However, David Phelps, making his first start of the season replacing injured right-hander Ivan Nova in the rotation, was unable to hold the lead.

With one out, Altuve singled, Juan Castro doubled to advance Altuve to third and Pena scored Altuve with a hard-hit single off Nunez at shortstop.

Phelps then hit Chris Carter and Fernando Martinez with pitches with Martinez getting credit for RBI for scoring Castro.

Brandon Barnes then drove in Pena by beating out a potential double-play ball by sliding head-first into first base just ahead of the relay throw from Cano.

Matt Dominguez then closed out the scoring with an RBI single to right that scored Carter to tie the game.

Phelps pitched 5 2/3 innings and was touched for eight hits and two walks, in addition to the two hit batters, while he fanned five.

While winning the series, the Yankees also have won six of their past seven games. They increased their season record to 17-10 and they are two games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Astros fell to 8-20.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Suzuki did hit into the crucial double play in the sixth, he still was 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in the game. Suzuki, 39, is now 13-for-31 (.419) in his last eight games and that has raised his season average from .200 to .279. 
  • Overbay is helping the Yankees in a lot of ways this season. Some things like his game-winning home run off R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday show up in the box-score. Some things like his delay in running to second on a sure double play do not. Overbay is hitting only .247 but he does have four home runs and 12 RBIs. But Overbay’s biggest contribution has been his defense at first. On Wednesday, Overbay was 1-for -2 with a double and two walks.
  • Some experts thought that Rivera could not recover from a serious knee injury at age 43 and pitch well this season. Well, they were dead wrong. Rivera is 11-for-11 in save chances and has a 1.59 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. It seems the future Hall of Fame closer has not lost anything.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Phelps looked great in his first three innings, pitching to the minimum and only surrendering a leadoff single to Pena in the second. But he totally lost command in the fourth and cost himself what could have been victory. Phelps, 26, is still a talented young right-hander but it seems that after pitching as a starter all spring and then switching to the bullpen left him vulnerable as his pitch count increased. He should be able to pitch better as he gets re-acclimated to going further in games.
  • Though Stewart did drive in the Yankees’ second run on a sac fly in the second inning, he really hurt them team with his last thee at-bats. Stewart made an unproductive out when popped out after Overbay led off the fourth with a double. He followed that by striking out looking with runners on first and third and no outs in the sixth just before Overbay won the game with his delayed double play. Then Stewart grounded out to third base with Overbay on first and Brett Garner on third and one out in the eighth.
  • Stewart stranded five runners but Nix did him one better by stranding six. Nix popped out with the bases loaded to end the second inning. He also struck out swinging to end the eighth with the sacks full. Nix is hitting .221 on the season and the Yankees need him to step up in the absence of Kevin Youkilis.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees acquired infielder Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday in exchange for cash considerations and a player to be named later. Nelson, 27, is 16-for-66 (.242) with the Rockies this season before he was designated for assignment on Sunday. Nelson is a right-handed hitter who can play both second and third base. To add Nelson to the 40-man roster, the Yankees shifted catcher Francisco Cervelli to the 60-day disabled list. In order to get Nelson onto the 25-man roster, the Yankees are expected to option infielder Corban Joseph, who was called up on Monday, back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  Youkilis told reporters on Wednesday that his strained lower back feels much better after he received an epidural injection and he expects to be able to rejoin the team when he is eligible to be activated on May 13.

ON DECK

The Yankees will take a well-deserved break on Thursday before opening a weekend home series against the Oakland Athletics on Friday.

Ace left-hander CC Sabathia (4-2, 3.35 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Sabathia allowed four runs (three earned) in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He has completed at least seven innings in his past five starts. He is 8-8 with a 4.56 ERA in his career against the A’s.

Right-hander A.J. Griffin (2-2, 4.65 ERA) will pitch for Oakland. Griffin has allowed 13 runs over his last 17 innings and is 0-2 in his past three starts. He is 1-0 with a 5.23 ERA in his only start against the Yankees.

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

 

Kuroda, Hafner Lead Way As Yankees Edge Astros

GAME 26

YANKEES 7, ASTROS 4

On the final day of April, a day in which the Yankees placed their ninth player on the disabled list, they did pretty much what they have been doing most of the month:  Finding a way to win.

Hiroki Kuroda recovered from a shaky first three innings to complete the best April of his career and Travis Hafner continued his hot month with three RBI singles as New York downed Houston on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 34,401 at Yankee Stadium.

Kuroda (4-1) surrendered three hits and four walks in throwing 67 pitches in the first three innings but he stranded all seven base-runners. With Kuroda struggling with his command, pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggested the 38-year-old right-hander try pitching only from the stretch.

Over the next four innings, Kuroda gave up only a leadoff single by Jose Altuve in the fifth inning. Kuroda retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced to earn the victory. He shut out the Astros on four hits and four walks while striking out a season-high eight batters.

Meanwhile, the Yankees wasted no time getting to Astros right-hander Philip Humber (0-6).

Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a infield single off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. One out later Hafner delivered the first of his three run-scoring singles, a line drive to the opposite field that left-fielder Brandon Barners trapped in his glove to allow Gardner to score.

Hafner delivered again in the third inning after Suzuki reached first on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike. Suzuki advanced to second on a stolen base and scored on Hafner’s single up the middle against an exaggerated Astros’ shift on the left-handed slugger.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fifth after back-to-back one-out singles by Suzuki and Robinson Cano. After Humber uncorked his second of his three wild pitches of the night, Hafner was walked intentionally and Gardner scored when Brennan Boesch beat out a potential inning-ending double play.

Jayson Nix followed with an RBI single to score Cano.

Humber was touched for four runs on nine hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings.

The Astros cut the lead in half against reliever David Robertson in the eighth inning when Carlos Pena drew a two-out walk and Chris Carter followed with an opposite field two-run home run to right-center.

The Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning when Lyle Overbay led off the inning with his third home run of the season off reliever Brad Peacock. Eduardo Nunez followed with his third hit of the game  –  a double to center  – and Chris Stewart slapped an RBI single up the middle to chase Peacock.

After one out, Suzuki singled to right off reliever Rhiner Cruz and with two out Hafner closed out the scoring on a bloop single to the opposite field in left that scored Stewart.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Shawn Kelley could not hold the team’s five-run cushion in the ninth.

With two out and a Marwin Gonzalez on first, Robbie Grossman singled to right-center and Altuve followed a two-run double.

Manager Joe Girardi replaced Kelley with Mariano Rivera and Rivera struck out Jason Castro swinging to earn his 10th save in 10 chances.

The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and they completed April with a 16-10 record, which puts them in second place in the American League East. The Astros fell to 8-19.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Give Kuroda a lot of credit for shutting down the Astros despite the fact he did not initially have his best stuff. With his seven shutout innings, Kuroda lowered his season ERA to 2.25 and he is tied with CC Sabathia for the team lead in victories with four. His career ERA of 3.38 is the lowest of any Japanese pitcher in history.
  • Hafner finished the month with a flourish. With his 3-for-4 night, Hafner is hitting .318 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. His three-RBI game drew him into a tie with Cano for the team lead in RBIs. That is not bad for a player who has not played a full major-league season since 2007. The Yankees have needed his power with so many players injured and Hafner has delivered.
  • Two players who have been scuffling most of the month are suddenly getting hot. Suzuki was 3-for-5 and scored two runs. In his last seven games, Suzuki is 11-for-27 (.407) with three runs scored and two RBIs. His hot streak has raised his batting average to .268. Meanwhile, Nunez went 3-for-4 with two doubles and run scored. Since hitting coach Kevin Long tweaked his batting stance, Nunez is 5-for-14 (.357), which has raised his season average to .203.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The usually reliable Robertson let the Astros back into the contest by giving up the two-run home run to Carter. Robertson had a uncharacteristically poor month in which he was touched for five runs on nine hits and two walks in 10 2/3 innings over 11 games. His 4.22 ERA is a product of giving up two homers.
  • Kelley may have an excellent slider but he is really having trouble getting ahead in counts to use it. He has surrendered nine runs on 12 hits (four them home runs) and four walks in 10 1/3 innings. He has been scored upon in four of his eight appearances and he soon may be punching his own ticket to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • In his three at-bats in the game, Boesch came up to the plate with six runners on base and he managed to score just one of them. He bounced into an inning-ending double play in the first and then two fielders’ choices. He did drive in a run by beating out a double-play relay in the fifth. The lefty swinging Boesch was 0-for-3 and he is now batting .200 on the season. He is hitting just .167 against righties and .273 against lefties, which is very odd.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed corner infielder Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday after an MRI indicated a lumbar spine sprain. He is the ninth player the Yankees have placed on the DL. Infielder Corban Joseph was recalled from Scranton to take Youkilis’ spot on the roster. Youkilis had missed six games before playing in a game on Saturday. However, Youkilis re-aggravated his back injury in the game and now he can’t be activated until May 13. General manager Brian Cashman and Girardi both admitted playing Youkilis on Saturday was a big mistake. The 34-year-old veteran was hitting .266 with two homers and seven RBIs in 17 games. Joseph, 24, was hitting .273 with four home runs and nine RBIs in 22 games.  . . .  Injured outfielder Curtis Granderson may soon progress to playing in some minor-league rehab games. Granderson has been sidelined with a fractured right forearm suffered in his first at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24. Meanwhile, first baseman Mark Teixeira has not advanced past taking some dry swings and his return is looking more likely in June. Teixeira is on the disabled list with a partially torn sheath in his right wrist.

ON DECK

The Yankees can take the three-game series against Houston with a victory in the rubber game on Wednesday.

Right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.29 ERA) will make his first start of the season as a replacement for injured right-hander Ivan Nova. Phelps, 26, was brilliant in four innings of relief after Nova left Friday’s game with an inflamed right triceps. Phelps gave up one run and struck out a career-high nine. Phelps has never faced the Astros.

The Astros will start veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.98 ERA). Bedard has not pitched more than four innings in any of his four starts. He has allowed 13 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his last three starts. He is 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

A-Rod Drives In Three As Yankees Plunder Pirates

GAME 18

YANKEES 10, PIRATES 3

TAMPA – All spring, Alex Rodriguez has carried the hardened look of a man on a mission to re-establish himself as one of the elite players in baseball. It seems to be working for him, too.

Rodriguez blooped a RBI single to center in the third inning to tie the game and then cracked a two-out, two-run double to left as part of a five-run fourth as New York went on to rout Pittsburgh 10-3 on Tuesday night in a Grapefruit League contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Ageless wonder closer Mariano Rivera (2-0) needed only eight pitches (seven of which were strikes) to retire the Pirates in order in the fourth to get credit for the victory.

Pirates left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1) gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out three in 3 2/3 innings of work to take the loss. But the Yankees jumped on reliever Jo-Jo Reyes with two out in the fourth to score five runs and put the game out of reach early.

Reyes entered the game with Russell Martin at second and Curtis Granderson on first with two out. But Reyes walked Justin Maxwell to load the bases. He then compounded his troubles by walking Robinson Cano to allow Martin to score the tie-breaking run.

Rodriguez followed with his two-run double and Mark Teixeira and Andruw Jones followed with an RBI single and an RBI double, respectively, which chased Reyes from the game.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It is always a positive sign when Rodriguez is healthy and hitting the ball with authority. The veteran third baseman is doing a great job this spring of hitting the ball where it is pitched rather than pulling the ball exclusively. The result has been a very good spring where Rodriguez is hitting .333 with two home runs and nine RBIs.
  • Granderson hit leadoff in the game and was 2-for-2 with two walks and three runs scored. The only regular having a better spring than Rodriguez is Granderson, who is hitting a sizzling .385 and seems primed to follow up on his career season of 2011.
  • Maxwell hit .222 in his first spring training with the Yankees in 2011. This spring, he is a totally different player. Maxwell was 2-for-2 after coming in the game in the third inning to replace an injured Nick Swisher, including a clutch two-run double in the fifth inning. Maxwell is hitting a red-hot .429 with five RBIs and three stolen bases. At age 28, Maxwell will not make the Yankees’ 25-man roster at as outfielder but he could be a valuable call-up from Triple-A Empire State during the season.
  • Rivera looked so surgical in the fourth inning it was scary. Here is a statistic that will absolutely floor you. Rivera has not been scored upon in spring training since the 2008 season. Wow!

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Yankees starter Michael Pineda got off to a very rocky start in the first inning. He gave up a one-out single to former Yankee outfielder Jose Tabata and then left a 3-2 breaking pitch up to Andrew McCutchen that was deposited over the left-field wall for an early 2-0 Pirates lead. Pineda ended up throwing 39 pitches in the first inning alone. However, there were two real good signs in his outing: No. 1 Pineda’s velocity rose to 93 miles per hour and No. 2 Pineda settled in and retired the last seven batters he faced, five of them on strikeouts. He struck out the side in the second inning.
  • Cory Wade got roughed up a bit in the sixth inning. He gave up three straight singles to Tabata, McCutchen and Neil Walker to surrender the Pirates lone run after the first inning. He has given up three runs on eight hits and a walk in seven innings of work spanning six games. But Wade’s role the bullpen looks to be safe because of the fine work he did for the team in 2011.
  • Coming off a day off on Monday, manager Joe Girardi basically played the starting lineup he would have used in the regular season against a left-handed starter with the exception of shortstop Derek Jeter, who was unable to start because of lingering issues with a sore left calf. Then the Yankees lost Swisher to another groin strain in the third inning as he ran to first on a potential double-play grounder then ended up being scored an error. With the veteran club the Yankees have they have to avoid these nagging injuries once the season starts.

BOMBER BANTER

The actual headline news of the day had nothing to do with the game. Andy Pettitte arrived at the Yankees spring training complex and threw an eye-popping and electric bullpen session that had even the most cautious Yankee insiders gushing. Pettitte summed it up nicely after the session: “It’s weird to say, but I feel like I never left”  Martin caught the 50-pitch session and said, “That’s as good of a bullpen as I’ve caught all spring – from anyone.” Pettitte, 39, who signed a minor-league contract for $2.5 million last week, is now on a mission to build up his legs for the season and he is targeting May 1 for his return to the major leagues. Somewhere do you hear Bobby Valentine and Joe Maddon weeping?  . . .  Cano returned to the lineup quicker than anyone expected after he was plunked on the left hand by a pitch from Orioles left-hander Troy Patton. X-rays taken after the game were negative and Cano apparently did not experience any lingering soreness.  . . .  With the Yankees scheduled to play road games on Wednesday and Thursday, Jeter will not return to lineup until Friday, at the earliest. The Yankees are playing it very cautious with their 37-year-old shortstop.

Transmission of this report was delayed by technical difficulties.

 

Yankees Finally Part Ways With Good And Bad A.J.

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a resigned Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 he told the American people in a nationally televised address that “our long national nightmare is over.”

Well, on Feb. 17, 2012 I am hear to tell Yankee Universe that our own “national nightmare” is indeed over.

The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates have tentatively reached agreement on a deal that would send enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two minor leaguers and $13 million in cash.

The deal has not been officially announced and it still would require the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig because of the amount of cash involved. But the fact that the Pirates have released the names of the two players the Yankees are acquiring in the deal is proof that the negotiations are down to one last detail: The payment schedule on the $13 million the Pirates will pay the Yankees.

Burnett is in the fourth year of a five-year, $82 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have insisted in their trade talks with the Pirates that they would have to assume some of the roughly $33 million still owed Burnett over the next two seasons.

In addition to the $13 million the Pirates have agreed to pay, the Yankees will receive 25-year-old right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and 20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both players are natives of Venezuela.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Moreno is entering his sixth season in the minors and was a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 games with Class-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Cayones is entering his fourth minor-league season and hit a combined .228 with no home runs and 12 RBIs between the Pirates’ Class A Gulf League team and Class-A State College in the New York-Penn League.

Neither Moreno or Cayones are listed among the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects rated by MLB. com.

The main reason the Yankees are unloading Burnett without much in return is because he has been a disappointment during his three years in pinstripes and huge salary is a albatross around the Yankees’ necks. Burnett was a combined 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in stint with the Yankees. His average of 3.98 walks per nine innings was second in the American League and fifth in the major leagues, according to STATS, LLC.

Burnett also became expendable when the Yankees traded catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos. The Yankees then added to their rotation by signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.

That left Burnett, 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia left to compete for the No. 5 spot in a Yankee rotation that already boasted ace left-hander CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who was 16-7 in his rookie season,

The Yankees were basically seeking some salary relief from the Pirates in order to sign a designated hitter and a backup infielder for the 2012 season.

The Yankees seem to be most interested in 39-year-old left-hand-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez to pair with 34-year-old right-hand-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones in a platoon at designated hitter. Ibanez, a free agent, has told the Yankees he would willing to sign a contract for less money in order to play with a playoff contender.

Ibanez hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Phillies last season but he hit only .211 against left-handers. He hit .256 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs against right-handers.

If the Yankees fail to sign Ibanez they have two left-handed-hitting options at DH in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who are also free agents.

The Yankees also would like to re-sign 34-year-old backup corner infielder Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.

Once the deal for Burnett is complete and approved by the commissioner, the Yankees expect to act quickly to sign Chavez and one of the free agent DHs.

As for Burnett, the Yankee front office, teammates and fans alike will shake their heads on how a pitcher with such unhittable stuff could pitch so poorly for such a good offensive team like the Yankees.

When he was signed, Burnett was looked upon as the No. 2 starter behind fellow free agent Sabathia for the next five years. They both delivered a world championship in 2009 when Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.

But Burnett will be best remembered for rescuing the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies after Cliff Lee had bested Sabathia in Game 1. Burnett threw a spectacular seven innings and evened the series the Yankees eventually won in six games.

Unfortunately is was mostly downhill from there. Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. In 2011, the Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely on the basis of his proposed fixes to help Burnett get back on track. However, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 after Rothschild tinkered with his delivery.

Burnett also was embroiled in some odd incidents. He cut his finger on his pitching hand angrily trying to open a clubhouse door. He arrived for a start in 2010 sporting a black eye that he refused to explain. He also had an clubhouse run-in with Joe Girardi after he left a start in Minnesota last August.

Burnett also had to deal with a loss in velocity on his fastball, which had made him more hittable.

With the Pirates, Burnett likely will become a co-ace with free-agent left-hander Eric Bedard in a rotation that also includes Kevin Correia, James McDonald and former Yankee Jeff Karstens. The Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from left hip surgery and he is not expected to be able to pitch when the season starts.

In Pittsburgh, Burnett will face less pressure to win and less expectations to succeed than he did with the Yankees.

Though the Yankees and their fans will forever miss “Good A.J.” and his post-game celebratory pies in the face in walk-off victories, those same people will not miss the inevitable unraveling of “Bad A.J.” on the mound.

Speaking for Yankee fans, thanks A.J. for 2009 and good luck in trying to get back on track in the National League.