YANKEES 14, ROYALS 1
After losing 10 of their past 11 games the Yankees went into Monday’s Memorial Day matinee just hoping to show some kind of life for a team that was 21-12 on May 11. Well, they quickly proved to the Royals that they were far from dead.
The Yankees jumped on Jeremy Guthrie for 11 runs with no outs in the second inning and Nathan Eovaldi pitched a solid seven-plus innings as New York ended a frustrating six-game losing steak by pounding Kansas City in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
After averaging just over three runs in their past 11 games, the Yankees received three-run home runs from Brian McCann, Brett Gardner and Stephen Drew, while also adding a pair of two-run homers by Chase Headley and rookie Slade Heathcott.
Guthrie (4-3) pitched to 13 batters in the first inning and three more in the second before departing charged with a career-worst 11 runs on nine hits (four of them homers) and three walks with one strikeout.
Headley started the Bronx bombing with a two-run shot after Gardner had led off the first with a double. Three batters later, McCann hit a hit-arcing fly ball that ticked off right-fielder Paulo Orlando’s glove and into the first row for a three-run home run.
Later in the inning, Gardner lined a round-tripper of his own to tack on three more runs, which made the score 8-0.
After McCann walked to open the second, Garrett Jones singled and both runners advanced on a fielding error in right by Orlando. Drew then ended Guthrie’s second-shortest career outing with a long blast into the second deck that padded the lead to 11-0.
Eovaldi (4-1), who was one of the worst-supported pitchers in the National League in 2014 when he was pitching for the Miami Marlins, was able to breeze his way through the Royals’ high-octane offense. He was charged with one run on eight hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
The Royals’ lone run came in the fifth inning on a one-out double by Alcides Escobar and a two-out bloop RBI single off the bat of pinch-hitter Jarrod Dyson.
The Yankees added a single run in the fifth off left-hander Franklin Morales on a one-out walk to Gardner, a wild pitch that allowed Gardner to take second and an RBI double by Headley.
They added two more in the seventh off right-handed closer Greg Holland on a leadoff walk to Didi Gregorius and the first major-league homer from Heathcott.
The 14 runs matched their season high the Yankees scored against the Boston Red Sox in a 14-4 victory on April 12. The five home runs also tied a season high set in an 11-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on May 11, which ended up being the beginning of a dreadful 11-game slide that started the next day.
With the victory the Yankees improved to 23-22 and they climbed to within a half-game of the first-place Rays in the American League East. Both teams are tied in the loss column. The Royals, who entered the day with the best record in Major League Baseball, dropped to 28-16.
- Gardner, Headley, McCann and Drew each drove in three runs. The Yankees now lead the majors with 48 runs scored in the first inning. They have not scored more than 25 runs in any other frame. This is the power and offense the Yankees need consistently and they also need to be able to put teams away once they do get out to early leads. Lately they have been coughing up leads and never getting them back.
- Even with the early 8-0 and 11-0 leads, there was still pressure on Eovaldi to pitch well and go seven innings since the past three days the starters only were able to pitch 6 2/3 innings. So give Eovaldi credit for continuing to pitch into the eighth inning. Eovaldi kept the hot-hitting Royals off-balance with a mixture of a lot of off-speed pitches. He had an especially sharp slider.
- Ostensibly, Heathcott was brought up to bolster the bench with Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list with a sprained knee. But the 24-year-old Texas native is 5-for-12 (.417) with a double, a homer and three RBIs in four games (three starts). Heathcott was the team’s first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft but he has been hampered throughout his minor-league career with serious shoulder and knee injuries. He likely will get a lot more playing time going forward. It also is no coincidence that Jones, 33, is 6-for-11 (.545) with a homer and three RBIs since his three-run pinch-hit homer on May 22. Jones was hitting .150 with no homers and one RBI before that home run. Heathcott still could make Jones expendable when Ellsbury returns.
I would hard-pressed to come up with anything negative. I could say they did not get the shutout but that would be quibbling. This is a game the Yankees really needed to stop the major bleeding this team inflicted upon itself during the previous 11 games. The thing now is to back it up with another victory, then another and another, etc.
The Yankees on Monday selected the contract another rookie, left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and optioned right-hander Branden Pinder to the same the club. They also made room on the 40-man roster for Lindgren by shifting backup infielder Brendan Ryan from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list. Lindgren, 22, made his major-league debut against the Royals and pitched two scoreless innings of relief. Lindgren, a starter for Mississippi State, was the team’s first selection in the second round (55th overall) in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. He is the first Yankee draft pick to play in the majors within 12 months of being drafted since Deion Sanders did it in 1989. . . . McCann was 1-for 3 with a homer, two walks, two runs scored and three RBIs on Monday despite being unsure if he would even be ready to play. McCann left Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning with tightness in his right calf and foot. McCann, 31, was able to play because the tightness turned out to be just cramps and nothing serious. Meanwhile, outfielder Carlos Beltran, 38, missed another game with flu-like symptoms. He is day-to-day, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Royals on Tuesday.
Right-hander Adam Warren (2-3, 4.26 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Warren, 27, took a tough loss on Wednesday to the Washington Nationals. He was charged with yielding just two runs on four hits and four walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
The Royals placed left-hander Danny Duffy on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with left biceps tendinitis and they will start left-hander Jason Vargas (3-1, 5.26 ERA) when they activate him off the disabled list on Tuesday. Vargas was on the DL with a left flexor strain and has not pitched since May 5.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.
RAYS 6, YANKEES 5
Desmond Jennings led off the sixth inning with a home run and the Rays later added a run that frame on a wild pitch uncorked by right-hander Chris Martin as Tampa rolled to victory over New York on Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.
Right-hander Brad Boxberger (1-1) yielded a run in seventh inning on an RBI double off the bat of Didi Gregorius but still got credit for the victory. Khan Martinez also yielded a run in his two-thirds of an inning in the ninth but was credited with the save.
Martin (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record dropped to 13-11.
Going into Thursday’s contest Yankees starter Adam Warren had the No. 5 starting job pretty much locked up.
It is always a good think to have the team’s general manager say as much.
“I think there’s a predictable favorite. I guess that’s as far as I can go on that one,” Brian Cashman told reporters on Wednesday. “Right now, if we had to make a decision today, I think we all know what that decision would be. There’s a Secretariat right now in this race for me that’s got a number of lengths ahead of the field.”
Cashman, without saying it, was actually saying that Warren was the clear favorite. After Thursday’s start that has not changed.
Warren surrendered a run on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings against the Rays. The lone blemish was a solo home run off the bat of Evan Longoria.
The 27-year-old right-hander entered the spring having started only three major-league games and none of them were last season as he was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 relief appearances.
But the former University of North Carolina star pitched as a starter in all 90 of his minor-league games and was 28-25 with a 3.71 ERA. The Yankees merely shifted one of the better minor-league starters to the bullpen out of necessity in 2013 and Warren helped solidify the bullpen last season.
Circumstances changed on March 11 when No. 5 starter Chris Capuano, 36, strained his right quad covering first base on the second batter he faced in an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees had been auditioning Warren and several others as candidates to be a potential sixth starter because the Yankees play 30 games in 31 days in late April and early May. With Capuano out at least a month and likely more, the audition purpose was altered to become the fifth starter.
Warren clearly has been the best among Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley, Scott Baker and Bryan Mitchell. He is now 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts and he has recorded 11 strikeouts while issuing just one walk in 16 2/3 innings.
The Yankees are expected to make a final decision this weekend after manager Joe Girardi discusses it with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the rest of his staff. But if Warren does not get the nod it would be real shocker.
Now Warren just has endure constant ribbing is he has been getting from his teammates who now insist on calling him Secretariat. For Warren it is minor cross to bear.
- Ramon Flores was a hero earlier this week with his walk-off three-run homer in the ninth that defeated the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. On Thursday, Flores was building on that success. He started in right-field and was 2-for-4 with a single and a double, scored a run and drove in two runs. Flores is only 7-for-33 (.212) but he has made his hits count because he has two home runs and seven RBIs, which leads the team this spring.
- Gregorius also was 2-for-4 with a single, a double and an RBI. Since March 18, Gregorius has been a real tear, going 9-for-20 (.450) with three doubles, two triples and three RBIs. That has raised his spring average to .308 and that does not even take into account his magnificent defense throughout March. The 25-year-old shortstop is following in the footsteps of a legend but he is handling the pressure very well.
- Jake Cave, 22, got into the game late and added another RBI single to his spring resume. The young outfielder is leading the Yankee regulars with 10 or more at-bats with a .462 average (6-for-13) with a homer and six RBIs. Cave is ticketed for Double-A Trenton along with fellow prospect Aaron Judge. But you may be hearing more about him very, very soon. He can flat-out hit.
- The biggest issue besides the lack of offense out most of the regulars this spring has been some disappointing pitching out of the bullpen. On Thursday, Jose Ramirez was one of the culprits. He was touched for two runs on three hits and a walk in just 1 1/3 innings of work. The 25-year-old former starter now has a 5.40 ERA on the spring. Though the Dominican right-hander has a gifted arm he has dropped from top prospect status because of recurring injuries and inconsistency.
- Martin, 28, was also tagged pretty good by the Rays, giving up two runs on two hits despite ending up striking out the side in his inning of work. The former Colorado Rockies right-hander has wonderful backstory, having been out of baseball after suffering a severe shoulder injury in college and discovering he could pitch again some years later in a hardware store parking lot. However, he has a 6.14 ERA and he is going to have to improve if he wants a minor-league assignment with the team.
- Garrett Jones was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Thursday and now is in a huge hitting funk. He is 1-for-13 with five strikeouts in his past four games. He is now 7-for-40 (.175) on the spring and likely has lost a chance to claim the primary designated hitter role from Alex Rodriguez, who is batting .290 this spring.
Jacoby Ellsbury participated in hitting off a tee and took some swings from soft tosses on Thursday at the Yankees spring complex in Tampa, FL. Ellsbury, who has been sidelined since March 15 with a mild right oblique strain, says he believes he will be ready to play on Opening Day. Girardi said that if Ellsbury can play in an exhibition game by March 31 he will start the season in center-field. . . . The Yankees on Thursday decided to unconditionally release right-hander Jared Burton. The 33-year-old right-hander had not pitched since March 17 with a strained lat. He allowed no runs on two hits with no walks and two strikeouts in four innings over four appearances.
The Yankees will take the short trip to Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL, for their fifth and final contest this spring against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will start for the Yankees. Pineda is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three spring starts. He is slotted to be the Yankees’ No. 2 starter to start the season.
The Phillies will counter with top pitching prospect Aaron Nola. The right-hander was the team’s No. 1 selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and he could possibly end up on the Phillies’ 25-man roster this season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m EDT and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis on Saturday at 6 a.m. by the MLB Network.
NOTE: A word of warning if you do plan to attend this game. There is a 50 percent chance of rain in Clearwater during the early-afternoon hours on Friday.
YANKEES 2, PIRATES 1
Tyler Austin preserved a 1-1 tie with his arm in the sixth inning and then handed New York its first Grapefruit League victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday with a solo home run to lead off the eighth at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.
Austin fielded a single in right-field off the bat of Deibinson Romero in the bottom of the sixth inning and threw out Jeff Decker at home plate right after Decker had tied up the game with an RBI single that scored Willy Garcia from second base.
Two innings later, Austin blasted a tape-measure home run into the left-field stands off right-hander Deolis Guerra (0-1) that broke the 1-1 tie and eventually stood up as the game-winning run.
Left-hander Fred Lewis (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Taylor Garrison pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
With all the early buzz in camp about 22-year-old right-fielder Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 size and his tremendous power potential, you could not blame Austin for feeling like a forgotten man.
Austin, 23, was once among what looked to be a golden group of young outfielders the Yankees had in the minor leagues. They included Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Austin. In many circles, Austin was considered the cream of the crop.
While myriad injuries, off-field problems and poor performance have plagued Heathcott, Flores and Williams, Austin has had his share of misfortune also.
Austin was not a heralded 13th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but he had thrust himself into hot prospect status by batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in 110 games in four minor-league stops in 2012. He was named the organization’s best minor league player that season.
In 2013, he sustained both a thumb and a wrist injury that limited the right-handed hitter to a .265 average with six homers and 40 RBIs in 85 games in two minor-league assignments. Though he was injured, he remained the team’s third-rated prospect entering 2014.
Instead of getting untracked at Double-A Trenton, Austin slumped to a .275 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games. The thumb injury he suffered in 2013 was still an issue, robbing him of his ability to hit the ball with authority.
As a result, he entered camp in 2015 as the team’s No. 15 prospect and Judge has shot past him to No. 5. So it has been Judge who has been getting all the attention early while Austin has quietly tried to put the injuries behind him and recover his patented line-drive stroke.
At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds Austin may not have the imposing stature of Judge. But if he can put up some good numbers this spring and have a rebound 2015 season, Austin might just get re-establish himself as a up-and-coming prospect again.
After Thursday’s throw from right-field and his game-winning home run it appears that Austin is well on his way to reopening some eyes in the organization. He obviously is hoping more of those days will come.
- Both right-handed starter Emil Rogers and fellow right-hander Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, only yielded a two-out double to South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang in the second inning. He fanned one and did not issue a walk in a 28-pitch outing. Whitley, 25, surrendered two hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter as he also threw 28 pitches. Both pitchers are eventually slated for the bullpen, but manager Joe Girardi wants Rogers, Whitley, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to be stretched out as starters in case the Yankees opt for a sixth starter early in the season or if they are needed to start in case of an injury.
- Former Pirate Garrett Jones started at first base and was 2-for-2 with a double and he drove in the team’s first run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the fifth inning. Jones, 33, followed Chris Young’s two-out double with a hit that was scored as a double. Jones actually hit a routine fly ball that dropped between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.
- Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, 23, has a horrible debut in Tuesday’s opener against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. But he atoned for that on Thursday by going 2-for-3 against the Pirates. Refsnyder doubled to right in the second off starter Francisco Liriano but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a triple on a perfect relay from Rodriguez to third baseman Justin Sellers. He then added an infield single in the fourth off right-hander Charlie Morton that loaded the bases with two outs. However, Cito Culver ended the threat with a weak popout.
I am going to give the Yankees a pass in this one because they managed to put together nine hits after collecting just five in their home opener on Wednesday. The pitching, led by Rogers and Whitley, also held the Pirates to just one run. On defense, the Yankees threw out two runners on the basepaths. All things considered it was a good effort.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention of issuing the title of captain to any Yankee in the near term. In fact, he even added that he thought retired shortstop Derek Jeter, who held the honor for 12 seasons, should be the last Yankee captain. “From my chair, it’s not something I think we have to fill,” Cashman said to reporters. . . . Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, is scheduled to play in right-field for the team’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates on Friday. It will the first game action for Beltran, who played in only 109 games last season due to a bone spur and three bone chips in his right elbow. As a result, Beltran batted a career low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. So Beltran underwent surgery to repair the elbow last September. “I feel pretty good, making improvement every day,” Beltran told reporters. “I’m taking a lot of swings like I used to in the past in spring training. The elbow feels good.”
The Yankees will play on Friday in the first of what will be three scheduled split-squad games.
In the afternoon, the Yankees will play the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. It will be their third meeting with the Phillies in the past four days.
The Yankees will start Mitchell, a 23-year-old right-hander who was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 of them starts) at two minor-league stops before making his major-league debut with the Yankees. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one of them as a spot starter).
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley will be among the group of players who will play in the game.
The Phillies will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, 31, who was 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. Rumors claim that the Phillies are shopping Hamels for a trade before the end of spring training.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
The Yankees also on Friday will host the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, for what will the team’s first night tilt this spring.
Left-hander Chris Capuano, 36, will get his first start of the spring. Capuano was 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees after he was acquired last July from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. He also is the favorite to become the team’s No. 5 starter this spring.
Alex Rodriguez, coming off his excellent debut on Wednesday, will serve as the team’s designated hitter in the game.
The Pirates have scheduled 27-year-old left-hander Jeff Locke to start. Locke is competing to be the team’s No. 5 starter after going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live via MLB Radio through station KDKA in Pittsburgh.
YANKEES 5, PHILLIES 5 (9 INNINGS)
With two on, two out and a 3-2 count Aaron Judge clubbed a three-run, game-tying homer as New York rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the ninth inning on Tuesday to escape with a tie with Philadelphia in their Grapefruit League season opener at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Judge, 22, is a 6-foot-7, 255-pound outfielder rated as the team’s No. 5 prospect after he hit a combined .308 with 17 home runs and for Class-A Charleston (SC) and Class-A Tampa last season.
Judge’s home run came off left-hander Mario Hollands, who the Yankees tagged for four runs on five hits in two-thirds of an inning.
When you see Judge at the plate you will see a striking resemblance to Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, the 6-foot-6, 240 -pound outfielder who blasted 37 home runs and drove in 105 runs last season.
The similarly built Judge hopes to be able to be doing the same for the Yankees in a few years. If Tuesday’s opener is any indication the Yankees will wait patiently for what is the top power-hitting prospect in their minor-league system.
“I’m trying to make it as hard as I can for them to send me back across the street for the minor leagues,” Judge told reporters. “Just doing whatever I can to help us win.”
Judge was the Yankees’ 32nd selection in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Since then he has been drawing comparisons with Stanton and former Yankee Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
The Yankees love the fact that Judge is not just “all-or-nothing” swinger at the plate. He showed his knowledge of the strike zone by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning. He grounded out in his first at-bat.
“I think we’ve said all along, there’s some really good position players that are coming,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Judge is definitely one of those good players.
“I was more nervous on deck than I was on the field,” Judge told reporters. “That first AB, warming up, I was pretty nervous. But once I got in the box, it’s all the same game.”
- Adam Warren started for the Yankees and pitched two scoreless innings, yielding one single, walking none and striking out none. He threw 25 pitches and looked to be in total command. Warren is pitching as a starter this spring in case the Yankees opt to go with six starters in the early part of the season.
- Another power-hitting position player also had a nice game. First baseman Greg Bird was 2-for-3 with a single and double in his first game action. Bird, 22, batted .271 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs at Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season.
- The Yankees scored all of their runs with two outs. Two batters before Judge’s game-tying homer, outfield prospect Jake Cave legged an RBI infield single. In the first inning, second baseman Jose Pirela chopped an RBI single over Ryan Howard’s head to score Chris Young.
- Two of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects pitched but ended up giving up four runs in two innings between the two of them. The team’s No. 1 prospect, right-hander Luis Severino, struck out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3 third inning. However, the Phillies managed three straight singles to start the fourth, culminating in an RBI single on a 3-2 pitch by Howard. After giving up another single to Domonic Brown, Cody Asche broke the 1-1 tie with a sacrifice fly off reliever Diego Moreno’s first pitch.
- Left-hander reliever Jacob Lindgren, rated the team’s No. 9 prospect, was touched for two unearned runs on two hits and a costly error in two-thirds of an inning of work in the seventh. Lindgren, a standout pitcher with College World Series champion Mississippi State in 2013, was having trouble locating his breaking pitches in a shaky 25-pitch outing.
- Rob Refsnyder, a converted second baseman who is ranked as the team’s No. 6 prospect, had the worst day you could possibly imagine. He committed a throwing error that led to the two unearned runs off Lindgren in the seventh. At the plate, Refsnyder, 23, was 0-for-2 with a walk, including a weak infield popup with one out and the base loaded in eighth and a strike out with the game-winning run at second in the ninth.
With the good news about some of the Yankees’ young prospects there was some real bad news coming out of minor-league camp in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday. The team has announced that catcher Luis Torrens, 18, suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he will miss the entire 2015 season. Torrens is rated as the team’s No. 10 prospect. He was signed out of Venezuela in 2012 and played at three Class-A sites last season, batting .256 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 62 games. Torrens will undergo surgery on Wednesday in New York. . . . Alex Rodriguez said he is ready to go on Wednesday. Rodriguez is scheduled to start for the Yankees as the designated hitter. “I’ll be a little nervous, for sure,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I haven’t been in front of our fans for a long time. I’m excited about that. I have some challenges ahead.” Rodriguez, 39, enters the spring without a starting position and could end up as a backup at first and third base or a platoon designated hitter. . . . The Phillies decided to pull a switch of their scheduled pitchers for Tuesday’s opener. After announcing 33-year-old right-hander Jerome Williams would start, the Phillies elected to start right-hander David Buchanan instead. Williams did come in to pitch a scoreless third and fourth inning.
The Yankees return the favor with the Phillies on Wednesday by having them in for their Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees have named newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to start the game. Eovaldi, 24, was 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA with the Marlins last season. He was acquired along with first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones and right-hander Domingo German in exchange for infielder Martin Prado and David Phelps.
The Phillis, as they did on Tuesday, elected to switch their starting pitcher from veteran right-hander Aaron Harang to non-roster invitee Kevin Slowey, 30, who was 1-1 with a 5.30 ERA in 17 games with the Marlins last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be televised nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
Chase Headley, 30 (.243, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs, 135 games)
Like most Yankee fans Alex Rodriguez just assumed that after his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs that he would resume his spot as the team’s starting third baseman.
He (and we all) assumed wrong.
The Yankees, who acquired Headley from the San Diego Padres on July 22 last year in exchange for infielder Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, liked what they saw after the veteran hit .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 58 games after the deal.
So much so that the Yankees signed Headley to a new four-year, $50 million deal on Dec. 15.
They also have been giving A-Rod hints that they do not exactly want him real badly. They have made it clear they have no intention of paying him a series $6 million marketing bonuses due Rodriguez as he moves up the all-time home run ladder.
After installing Headley as the starting third baseman they made it known that Rodriguez may be tried out at first base as a potential backup to Mark Teixiera. On top of that they have indicated that newly acquired first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones will be the team’s primary designated hitter this season.
What’s next? Handing A-Rod a rake and telling him he will be part of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew.
There is no doubt that the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player deserves the treatment he is getting because of the lies he has told about his drug use and the way he trashed the organization throughout his effort to have his suspension overturned.
But how it impacts Headley remains to be seen.
Headley is two seasons removed from a career year in which he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs for the Padres in cavernous Petco Park. On top of that he was awarded a Gold Glove that season and he won the Silver Slugger Award at third base.
Since then Headley has fallen victim to a recurring back injury that necessitated a cortisone injection last July. Headley faltered to hit .250 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs for the Padres in 2013 and he was hitting only .229 in July when the Yankees made the deal.
The Yankees were forced into making the deal because Rodriguez’s season-long suspension left them without an experienced third baseman on the roster.
The Yankees intended to start Kelly Johnson at the position despite the fact he had little experience there. But manager Joe Girardi quickly turned to the 27-year-old rookie Solarte after a hot spring and quick start with the bat in April.
But Solarte’s bat quickly cooled and the Yankees ended up using a series of players such as Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Martin Prado and Zelous Wheeler until Headley was obtained.
Headley, a switch-hitter, does possess the ability to hit for power. He does have double-digit homers in five of the past six seasons. However, other than the 31 homers he hit in 2012 his next highest total was the 13 he has hit the past two seasons.
So is he a 30-homer guy or 13-homer guy? The Yankees would settle for 20 or so.
The RBI totals should not really be as much of an issue because Headley is expected to hit either sixth or seventh in the batting order. But they could use some production for the lower half of the order this season because their offense is not as powerful as Yankee teams have been in the past.
It is Headley’s defense the Yankees are extremely pleased about. Though Rodriguez played the position after having won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers he never really was considered more than a bit above average defensively at the position.
Headley is a considerable step up, particularly if his back issues are truly under control. He committed only eight errors at the position last season and the Yankees were very happy to see him there late last season after they watched a parade of players try to play the position earlier.
A late-season injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to even shift Headley to first base to fill in for six starts. Headley had only played the position in two previous games but the Yankees were desperate because of the many injuries that ravaged their roster in 2014.
Headley will concentrate on playing third base and likely will not be using a first baseman’s mitt anytime in the foreseeable future.
As for A-Rod, he reported to spring training two days early on Monday and said he was looking forward to winning a roster spot with the team. What that spot will be remains to be seen because Girardi has no idea what Rodriguez has left in the tank.
After all, Rodriguez has only played in only 44 games over the past two seasons due to injuries and the suspension. He did play in 122 games in 2012 but underachieved by hitting .272 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs.
But A-Rod, to his credit, was optimistic on Monday.
“Right now, I’m just focused on making this team,” Rodriguez told reporters. “Obviously it was a rough year, but I’m very excited that’s behind me and I have a chance to hopefully make this team.”
Whether Rodriguez makes the team or not the Yankees are still on the hook to paying him more than $60 million for the next three seasons. So their options if he should falter in spring training are limited.
Cutting him loose is not an option really. A trade is possible but is there any team that would want a fading star who will get booed anywhere he goes? If there was a team that would want Rodriguez (such as the Marlins in his hometown of Miami) it would mean that the Yankees would still have to pay a major portion of his contract.
So Rodriguez remains the giant albatross that hangs around the necks of general manager Brian Cashman and the team’s managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. They can’t execute the moves they would like to improve the team because of this giant pain in the butt in Rodriguez.
Should the Yankees decide to rid themselves of Rodriguez they would have to find themselves a backup to Headley.
Ryan, 32, can play the position in a pinch but his bat would be a big liability. (He is career .234 hitter with absolutely no power.)
Among the non-roster invitees is 24-year-old Dominican Jonathan Galvez, who hit .280 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A El Paso last season. But he has no major-league experience.
Super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, batted .305 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. But he is primarily a middle infielder with only one minor-league game at the position in 2013.
Wheeler has been released and there is no player at the Triple-A level who is near a major-league quality option.
There is a long-range option for the position but he is nowhere near ready for the majors.
He is 22-year-old lefty-swinging Eric Jagielo, who the Yankees selected 26th in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
The Yankees feel he has a tailor-made lefty power swing for Yankee Stadium and he already has put up 13 homers in 2013 and 16 last season. Jagielo also drove in 53 runs while batting .259 at Class-A Tampa in 2014.
Jagielo will not be Gold Glove winner at third but he is improving and he has excellent arm strength for the position. The Yankees do not think he will be ready until 2016. But they are hopeful he will continue to develop.
He is currently ranked as the Yankees third best prospect.
Their 18th-ranked prospect is Miguel Andujar, 19, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2011.
Andujar struggled early in the 2014 season but quickly rebounded to hit .319 in the second half of the season with Class-A Charleston (SC). The right-handed power threat has a very quick bat and he is projected to be able to hit 20 or more homers a season.
Andujar still needs to work on his plate discipline and that will help him raise his average. He also is obviously trying too hard in the field because he has committed 51 errors in 196 pro games at third base.
To say he is a work in progress is putting it mildly. But the Yankees will be patient with the youngster.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: ADEQUATE
The fact the Yankees had the courage to diss A-Rod by signing Headley to a long-term deal and handing him position is a good thing. The Yankees simply do not know if Rodriguez can play at a high level anymore and Headley is a decent fallback position.
The big hope has to be that Headley is able to shake off his back woes enough to hit 20 homers and drive in a decent amount of runs at the lower end of the batting order. Healey is a career .265 hitter and the Yankees would settle for that in 2015.
Headley also promises to be a big help defensively if he is healthy. The former Gold Glove winner has good quickness and agility at the hot corner and he is capable of making some spectacular plays. His defense will benefit the pitchers and the Yankees will need to limit the runs they give up this season.
Whether Rodriguez is able to make the team as Headley’s backup is an open question.
Over the years Rodriguez has been booed in every stadium he is played in except Yankee Stadium. That will change this season because even Yankee fans have tired of his lies and his selfish attitude.
The guess here is that Rodriguez will make the roster only because the Yankees do not have another third baseman to replace Headley should he go down at any point for any length of time. But the only at-bats A-Rod likely will get this will be as a right-handed designated hitter in a platoon with Jones.
As a right-handed DH in 2011, Andruw Jones received 190 at-bats in 77 games, hitting .247 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs. The Yankees would be happy with that from A-Rod and hope that he is not a distraction in the clubhouse or that he does not embarrass the team in the tabloids.
The Yankees options if they rid themselves of Rodriguez are limited. They likely would have to bring in a backup from outside the organization because Ryan and Pirela are ill-suited for the position.
However, the future looks bright if Jagielo or Andujar develop. Jagielo, a former Notre Dame star, looks like one of the most promising third base prospects the Yankees have had in years.
With Headley signed for four seasons they can for afford to be patient with them both.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
Stephen Drew, 31 (.162, 7 HRS, 26RBIs, 85 games)
It was not that long ago that the Yankees could boast about an infield of Mark Teixeira at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Alex Rodriguez at third and team captain Derek Jeter at shortstop. From an offensive and defensive standpoint it could have been considered the best in baseball.
Entering 2015, the Yankees may end up with one of the weakest infields in baseball because Teixeira is in a steep decline, Cano is playing in Seattle, Jeter has retired and Rodriguez is not considered the starting third baseman anymore.
But no place on the team is any weaker than second base because the Yankees declined to offer Cano a 10-year, $325 million contract last winter. Cano went to the Mariners and the Yankees opted to fill the void with then 36-year-old Brian Roberts, who had been allowed to leave the Baltimore Orioles after four injury-plagued seasons.
Roberts was nowhere near the player who had hit 18 home runs and drove in 73 runs while batting .314 for the O’s in 2005. Nor was he the player who stole 50 bases in 2007.
Instead the Yankees got a switch-hitter who batted .237 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 91 games before the Yankees decided they had enough and they designated him for assignment on July 31 to make room for Drew.
(Roberts very smartly decided to announce his retirement this winter.)
The Yankees had dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in order to obtain Drew even though Drew was mired in one of the worst seasons in his career.
After sitting out all of spring training and the first two months of the season after rejecting a qualifying offer, Drew finally signed a deal with Boston and promptly struggled to hit .176 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 39 games with Boston before the trade.
Drew languished in limbo without any offers from other teams after he hit .253 with 13 homers and 76 runs driven in with Red Sox in 2013. His lack of timing at the plate was obvious all season.
He fared even worse with the Yankees, hitting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games.
To say that 2014 was a season to forget for Drew would be putting it mildly. Please also forgive Yankee fans to not get too excited about Drew starting at second base after Cano batted over the .300 mark for the sixth consecutive season with the Mariners last season.
Drew, who spent the all eight seasons of his career at shortstop before he joined the Yankees last season and was immediately shifted to second base since Jeter was playing his final season at shortstop for the Yankees.
There is still a possibility that Drew could wind up at shortstop this season if 25-year-old Didi Gregorius does not show an ability to be able to hit major-league pitching after the Yankees acquired him in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers on Dec. 5 that cost the Yankees 26-year-old right-hander Shane Greene.
Gregorius hit .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 90 games with the D-backs last season. There is no doubt Gregorius is a major-league quality defensive player. He committed only five errors in 66 starts at the position last season and he also was utilized at second and third base.
Drew, however, is considered a steady fielder at shortstop and he is still learning the intricacies of second base, having played there all of 34 games (31 of them starts). Drew registered four errors at second base and three in 46 starts at shortstop between the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Yankees are not worried that Drew will be able to pick up second base enough to start. The only major question is whether he can snap out of what amounted to his worst season in the major leagues. The late start had to have a major part in it.
But, at the same time, Drew should have been able to get better at the plate as the season progressed. The fact he never did come around has Yankee fans scratching their heads as to why the Yankees elected to sign him to a one-year, $5 million contract that was made official on Jan. 16.
But there he is penciled in as the Yankees’ second baseman at the start of spring.
“If I could take a year back and kind of restart it, it’d be this year (2014), offense-wise,” Drew told reporters in September. “Other than that, you can’t do anything about it.”
Drew, who spent the first six seasons plus playing for the Diamondbacks has averaged .256 with 97 homers and 442 RBIs in his major-league career entering 2015. The Yankees are only hoping he hits closer to that career average and that he can play solid defense at second.
If Drew should continue to falter as he did last season the Yankees will have to put a ready-made Plan B in place.
Veteran infielder Brendan Ryan, 32, is slated to be the backup at both second base and shortstop for the Yankees in 2015. Offense, however, has never been a strong suit for Ryan. He batted just .167 with no homers and eight RBIs in 49 games with the Yankees last season.
Ryan was sidelined early in spring training with a neck injury and he was not activated until May 5.
The reason Ryan was signed to a two-year, $5 million deal last season was his ability to play defense at shortstop. In fact, because Gregorius struggles against left-handers Ryan is expected to get most of the starts at shortstop against lefties this season.
Ryan is a defensive wizard at short and he is well above average at second base. He committed only four errors with the Yankees in 176 innings at second, third and shortstop in 2014.
Fortunately for the Yankees they have a pair of Plan B alternatives who will be a phone call away in the minors this season.
Jose Pirela, 25, is on the team’s 40-man roster entering spring training after he made his major-league debut with the Yankees in late September.
Pirela showed some flashes of brilliance in hitting .333 in 24 at-bats. Pirela had batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.
There are doubts that Pirela is a long-term solution at second base but the Yankees believe that he could eventually take over Ryan’s utility infielder role at some point. Pirela is a pretty versatile player having played first base, second, short and even 45 games in the outfield.
After making 37 errors at shortstop in 2011, Pirela was shifted to second base and his fielding has improved a great deal since then. If he continues to hit well, Pirela could be a super sub along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr.
You could see him get a call-up this season. But he likely is returning to Scranton when spring training ends.
The Yankees are very excited by 23-year-old second baseman Rob Refsnyder, who is currently ranked as the Yankees’ sixth best prospect. There is a good reason why.
Refsnyder followed up a good 2013 minor-league season with an even better 2014 season between stops at Double-A Trenton and Scranton where he hit a combined . 318 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs.
The former University of Arizona star burst onto the scene in 2012 by hitting .476 with two homers in leading the Wildcats to the College World Series title. He also was named the series’ Most Outstanding Player.
He was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of 2012 First-Year Player Draft as an outfielder but was converted to second base in the minors.
Refsnyder is considered the best pure hitter in the organization and he shows a professional approach by using all fields. His power was unexpected bonus that could translate into 15-homer power at the major-league level.
His defense is shaky, at best, which is to be expected after being moved from the outfield. But Refsnyder has the ability to develop into an adequate defender at the position.
With Drew and Ryan already signed the Yankees would prefer to keep Refsnyder on track to play at Scranton to get more experience at second base under his belt. But his Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) is looking to be 2015 as a late-season call-up.
He could emerge as a starter in 2016 if he progresses as the Yankees expect.
Also keep an eye on 20-year-old Gasuke Katoh, who hit .222 with three homers and 37 RBIs in 121 games for Class-A Charleston (SC) in 2014. He was selected in the second round by the Yankees in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and the Yankees love his speed (20 bases) and his ability to get on base (.345 OBP).
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: INADEQUATE
I personally have some real doubts about Drew’s ability to bounce back from his horrible 2014 numbers.
In the past good Yankee teams have had such greats at second base such as Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph and Cano. The decision the Yankees made to allow Cano to walk as a free agent last winter will have the Yankees paying dearly for a long time.
I doubt Drew will hit .150 again. But even if he hits .253 he is still going to pale in comparison to Cano, who is the best second baseman in baseball now. There is no doubt this position is in a transition phase and Drew is just placeholder until something better comes along.
The Yankees would be in big trouble if Gregorius fails at shortstop and they are forced to move Drew there. That would open up a huge hole at second base and the Yankees do not want to have use Pirela or Refsnyder at the position this season.
The Yankees want Drew, Gregorius and Ryan to remain healthy and productive throughout the 2014 season to allow Refsnyder to develop as a second baseman.
If they get that time Refsnyder might reward them by becoming a productive hitter with an adequate enough glove to hold the position for years to come. That is the hope anyway.
NEXT: THIRD BASE
YANKEES 7, BRAVES 4
TAMPA – There was a buzz amongst the 10,527 in attendance at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch. Such is the anticipation for what the 2014 season holds for the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander.
He did not disappoint.
Facing a large portion of the Braves’ everyday lineup, Tanaka allowed one run on three hits and two walks while he fanned six in 4 1/3 innings in his his second start of the spring.
His mound opponent, Julio Teheran, was every bit as impressive, giving up a run on five hits and a walk while striking out five in four innings of work.
But the game actually turned on a key hit from former Braves catcher Brian McCann, who delivered a two-run double with one out in the fifth inning as part of a six-run rally that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 7-2 lead.
The Braves had just broken a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth against Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton on an RBI single by B.J. Upton that scored Jason Heyward.
The Yankees started the pivotal fifth when Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez drew back-to-back walks off left-hander Atahualpa Severino. One out later, McCann laced his game-winning double down the right-field line that scored Suzuki and Nunez.
The Yankees added runs on a wild pitch, an RBI single by Ramon Flores, a sacrifice fly by Mason Williams and an error by shortstop Andrelton Simmons as the Yankees brought 10 men to the plate in the frame.
Thornton (1-0) got credit for the victory despite having a shaky outing. Severino (1-2) took the loss, giving up five runs on three hits and two walks in a third of an inning.
The Yankees evened their spring training record to 9-9-2. The Braves fell to 7-12.
- The Braves hitters were raving about Tanaka’s devastating split-finger fastball after the game. “That split-finger he’s got, it’s a good pitch. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman told reporters. It looks as if the Yankees’ $155 million commitment to Tanaka was a very wise move. Tanaka looks to be something very special.
- McCann is a Georgia native who spent nine seasons playing for the Braves. So it was an emotional day for him to visit with his former teammates. But his two-run double made the day complete. McCann originally was supposed to head to Panama this weekend for the Legends Series. But he was held back to work some more with Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda.
- Suzuki and Nunez did some serious table setting in this game. They combined to go 4-for-6 with a double, three singles, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. Neither player will start this season but they could make a huge impact off the bench if they hit like they did on Sunday.
- I have not been impressed with the pitching of Thornton so far this spring. His ERA is a staggering 11.57 and lefties are hitting .750 off him. Ouch! If the Yankees had acquired Thornton in 2010 it would have been great. But he is 37 years old and his ERA in the past three seasons has ballooned from 3.32 in 2011 to 3. 46 in 2012 to 3.74 in 2013. That is not a good sign. This team will miss Boone Logan.
- Catcher Pete O’Brien should receive an endorsement deal from Carrier air conditioners. This spring he is 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts. He was 0-for-2 with a walk on Sunday and struck out twice. O’Brien, 23, played baseball at the University of Miami and was the team’s pick in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2012. O’Brien hit .291 with 22 homers and 96 RBIs at two stops at Single A in 2013. He also struck out 134 times.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from Sunday’s lineup due to tightness in his right calf. Ellsbury also will be held out of Monday’s game. The Yankees called the decision “precautionary.” Ellsbury, 30, said it was nothing serious but he did feel his calf tighten up on Saturday during a workout. . . . The Yankees optioned left-hander Manny Banuelos to Class-A Tampa on Sunday. General manager Brian Cashman said Banuelos, 23, will remain a starter. Banuelos was once considered the team’s No. 1 pitching prospect but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and he missed the 2013 season. Banuelos hopes to get on track enough to earn his way to the major leagues this season. . . . There is still buzz that the Yankees are receiving offers for backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is out of options and is hitting .409 with three homers this spring. Cashman declined to comment. . . . Backup infielder Brendan Ryan (back stiffness) is beginning to hit off a tee and is getting closer to returning to action in a few days.
The Yankees will take to the road to Bradenton, FL, to play the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on Monday.
Kuroda, coming off an outing in which he was tagged for six runs 10 hits last Wednesday, will try to get back on track for the Yankees.
The Pirates will start right-hander Stolmy Pimentel.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay at 11 p.m. by the MLB Network.