YANKEES 1, ASTROS 0
When two of the top three home run hitting teams in baseball meet at Yankee Stadium with its inviting short right-field porch it only stands to reason that the game will be . . . a pitchers’ duel!
Both the Yankees and Astros went against type but it was the Yankees who managed to win the game on Monday with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.
Carlos Beltran scored Brett Gardner with the only run of the game with no outs in the ninth as New York edged Houston to reclaim a share of first place in the American League East in front of a paid crowd of 37,125 in the Bronx, NY.
Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and Astros right-hander Scott Feldman matched each other pitch for pitch for eight innings until Astros manager A.J. Hinch elected to use left-hander and former New York Mets headcase Oliver Perez to pitch the ninth.
Gardner was able to work a leadoff walk and, after Perez uncorked a wild pitch to allow Gardner to reach second, the Astros decided to walk Alex Rodriguez intentionally so Perez could face left-handed hitting Brian McCann.
But Perez ended up also walking McCann to load the bases and Hinch called upon right-hander Chad Qualls to pitch to the switch-hitting Beltran.
Beltran jumped on the first pitch and he lofted the ball into deep center-field to score Gardner easily with the game-winning run.
Left-hander Andrew Miller (2-2) struck out two batters in a scoreless ninth inning to earn the victory in relief. Perez (2-2) was saddled with the loss.
Eovaldi, who entered the game undefeated in his past 11 starts and winner of eight straight decisions, held the Astros to just four hits and three walks and he struck seven in eight innings.
He also managed to kept the Astros 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. He was at his best in the seventh inning after Carlos Correa singled to open the frame and Colby Rasmus drew a walk.
Carlos Gomez laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners but Eovaldi got out of the jam on a fielder’s choice off the bat off Evan Gattis that retired Rasmus roaming too far off second and Luis Valbuena flied out to center.
Feldman, 32, held the Yankees to six hits and he struck out six without issuing a walk in eight innings.
The Yankees had an excellent opportunity to score in the second when Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew opened the inning with singles. But Feldman retired Drew on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, Gardner struck out swinging and Rodriguez flied out.
The Yankees also had a chance to score with McCann on third and Beltran on first with no outs in the seventh. However, Greg Bird struck out swinging and Chase Headley hit a fly ball to medium center and Gomez was able to throw out the slow-footed McCann at home plate on a three-hop heave for an inning-ending double play.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 69-55 and they jumped into a tie with the Toronto Blue Jays for the top spot in the division. The first-place Astros dropped to 69-57.
- Eovaldi has come a long way in his development as a starter this season. In his past 12 starts, he is 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA. He used his slider to compliment his 100-mile-per-hour fastball, splitter and curveball to keep the Astros guessing all night. The Yankees very quietly are developing a strong, young rotation in 26-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, 26-year-old Michael Pineda (who will be activated form the disabled list on Wednesday), 25-year-old Eovaldi, 27-year-old Ivan Nova and 21-year-old Luis Severino.
- McCann was 3-for-3 with a walk in the game and he is now 5-for-11 (.455) with his new forward-leaning stance. In addition, McCann also managed to throw out pinch-runner Jake Marisnick attempting to steal on a strike out of Valbuena in the ninth inning. McCann has now caught 22 of 55 base-runners stealing this season, which puts him at a career-best 40 percent. McCann credits bullpen coach Gary Tuck. “We work every single day on it,” McCann told reporters. “I’ve gotten better as the season’s gone on. It’s good to put the ball on the bag there.”
- Beltran’s night began with him striking out looking in the second and bouncing into a double play in the fourth. But he singled to advance McCann to third before McCann was thrown out to end the seventh. But his at-bat in the ninth was classic Beltran. Though Qualls is noted as a ground-ball pitcher, he was able to get under his first offering and hit it deep enough to get Gardner home with the winning run.
- Rodriguez was placed back into the lineup after two days off but he ended up 0-for-3 with a walk. He struck out in the sixth on a pitch that was about two feet outside and it nearly hit the dirt. Since Aug. 7, Rodriguez is 7-for-57 (.123) with two homers and six RBIs. That has dropped his season average from .281 to .259. As long as he slumps he is killing the Yankees offense.
- Gardner and Ellsbury combined to go 0-for-7 with two strikeouts. If you add Rodriguez batting third they were a combined 0-for-10, which makes you wonder how Perez was able to walk Gardner and Rodriguez to begin the inning. The Yankees need their top three hitters to HIT! If they don’t, the team loses to last-place teams like the Cleveland Indians and surrenders first place in the A.L. East. It’s that simple.
The Yankees will not say it but I will: CC Sabathia has thrown his last pitch of the 2015 season and his career in real jeopardy. Sabathia, 35, was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with inflammation in his right knee. Sabathia left Sunday’s game against the Indians with two out in the third inning due to pain in the knee, which was drained twice this season and received a cortisone shot last week. After making only eight starts last season, Sabathia underwent debridement surgery on the knee and was told that he would have to follow strict procedures to limit recurring pain. Sabathia, who is 4-9 with a 5.27 ERA in 24 starts this season, will see a specialist on Tuesday. But Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters, “Is it possible that he doesn’t pitch the rest of the year? It’s a possibility.” To replace Sabathia on the roster the Yankees announced that left-hander Chris Capuano had elected free agency and then signed a new Major-League contract with the team of the rest of the season. . . . Mark Teixeira, who has been nursing a deep bone bruise on his right leg, said on Tuesday that he was available to pinch-hit in Monday’s game. He was not used and Teixeira has now missed the team’s past six games with the injury. Girardi told reporters that he is hopeful Teixeira will be able to start Tuesday’s game.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home series with the Astros on Tuesday.
Nova (5-5, 3.72 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Nova is coming off a loss against the Indians on Thursday in which he was tagged for three runs on six hits and two walks while he struck four in five innings.
The Astros will start left-hander Dallas Keuchel (14-6, 2.37 ERA). Keuchel did not get a decision while giving up two runs on seven hits and one walk with five strikeouts in seven innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
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 all beginning with the catching position.
Brian McCann, 31 (.232, 23 HRs, 75 RBIs, 140 games)
When the Yankees signed McCann to a five-year, $85 million free-agent contract last winter they were hoping they had solved the team’s problem with offense from the catching position that had festered since Jorge Posada retired in 2011.
McCann, a native of Athens, GA, left the Atlanta Braves hoping to duplicate his eight full seasons of averaging 21 homers and 80 RBIs. He pretty much did that by producing 23 homers and 78 RBIs last season. The issue with McCann was a slow start and the fact he hit 50 points below his career average of .272.
The Yankees have said that they believe McCann’s slow start and his low batting average was a product of his unfamiliarity with pitchers in the American League. That seems like a plausible reason and the Yankees are sure hoping that was the case.
The fact is that McCann’s batting averages for the past three seasons since he hit .270 in 2011 have been .230, .256 and .232. The Yankees do not want to think of those marks as McCann’s new normal because they need his bat in the middle of the order this season.
For a team that is woefully lacking in power and RBI production McCann, when healthy, provides it. His left-hand power translates well to the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium and McCann seemed able to find the right stroke to get 19 long balls out at home. However, McCann was virtually absent on the road, where he hit just four homers and drove in a paltry 22 runs. The Yankees would like to see him do better away from the friendly confines.
“I think McCann came on strong for us in the second half, and I think next year we’ll have a full season of what we expected from him,” general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “It’s important. Bottom line, it’s important. We need to be a better offensive club than we were last year.”
McCann drew rave reviews from his pitchers for his game calling, blocking and pitch framing behind the plate. Although McCann has never won a Gold Glove he is considered above average behind the plate. He committed just four errors and last season he managed to throw out 37 percent of potential base-stealers, the highest rate of his career.
With power at a premium and the speed game on the rise throughout Major League Baseball, McCann does provide a pretty good deterrent to the running game.
But perhaps McCann’s largest contribution to the Yankees this season will be his leadership in the clubhouse. With the retirement of team captain and future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, McCann is going to be expected to take care of business behind the scenes and be the team’s main face to the media.
One of the more unexpected developments from last season was McCann’s emergence from behind the plate to play first base. That was out of necessity due to the extended periods of time Mark Teixeira was unavailable last season. McCann had never played the position.
Manager Joe Girardi pressed McCann into service and he started 11 games at the position. The surprise was that McCann – though no threat of winning a Gold Glove there either – proved he was more than adequate. He made only one error.
Though he is not going to be expected to play the position much if at all this season, it does provide a potential landing spot for him later in his contract with the Yankees. It would allow the Yankees to keep his bat in the lineup and free the veteran from the wear and tear of catching.
The Yankees entered 2014 with an extremely strong group of catchers at the major and minor-league levels.
They broke spring camp with 28-year-old Francisco Cervelli as McCann’s backup. Throughout Cervelli’s six-year stint with the Yankees he has been prone to injury and 2014 was no different for him.
Cervelli pulled his right hamstring running the bases in Boston on April 14 and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list, short-circuiting yet another season for the Venezuelan native. When Cervelli did return it was in September and he ended up batting .301 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 49 games.
In the offseason the Yankees elected to trade Cervelli to the team where former Yankee catchers seem to find a home: the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Veteran catcher Russell Martin left the Yankees after two seasons in the winter of 2013 to sign a free-agent contract with the Bucs. He was joined in 2014 by veteran backup catcher Chris Stewart, who the Yankees let go last winter.
But now that Martin has left the Pirates to sign a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cervelli figures to start for the Pirates in 2014 with Stewart as his backup.
That leaves the Yankees with a pair of catchers vying to be McCann catching caddy in 2015.
One is 23-year-old John Ryan Murphy, who made his major-league debut when Cervelli landed on the disabled list last April. Murphy quickly drew rave reviews from the Yankees’ coaching staff for his defense.
Murphy also proved that he could be productive as a hitter, which was his history in the minors. Murphy batted .284 with one home run and nine RBIs in 32 games (21 starts) with the big club after hitting .246 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 51 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
It was Murphy’s emergence last season that allowed the Yankees to trade Cervelli to the Pirates on Nov. 13 in exchange for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson.
Last season catching instructor Gary Tuck compared Murphy’s catching style to that of Girardi and told the Wall Street Journal that he “as good as anybody I’ve ever had – and that’s 40 years of some of the greatest catchers who have ever been behind the plate.”
Murphy’s spring competition will be 26-year-old Austin Romine, who batted .242 with six homers and 33 RBIs at Scranton in 2014. He played in only seven games with the Yankees in 2014 and hit .231.
Romine is considered a major-league quality catcher defensively, however, his weak bat has been holding him back. Though he averaged .275 throughout his minor-league career, he has only batted .204 in span of 76 games with the Yankees.
So he enters spring training behind the younger Murphy on the depth chart. However, there is one thing in Romine’s favor for supplanting Murphy as McCann’s backup: He is out of options.
That mens the Yankees would not be able to option Romine back to Scranton at the end of camp. They would be forced to trade or release him. So there is a scenario where the Yankees could elect to install Romine as the backup and allow Murphy to catch on a regular basis at Triple-A to further his development.
The Yankees perhaps further weakened the catching position by electing to trade 24-year-old Pete O’Brien to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline on July 31 last season in exchange for infielder Martin Prado.
O’Brien had hit a combined 65 home runs over three minor-league seasons with the Yankees after being selected in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. O’Brien had hit a combined .267 with 23 doubles, 33 homers and 70 RBIs with Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton up to that point.
Though the Yankees were enamored with his prodigious power, O’Brien struggled defensively behind the plate. He ended up being shifted to first base and outfield for long stretches of last season.
The Yankees also ended up dealing Prado to the Miami Marlins on Dec. 19 as part of a five-player deal than allowed the Yankees to obtain right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who is expected to be a starter with the Yankees this season.
But even though the Yankees dealt O’Brien away, the Yankees still have their second-best prospect in 22-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez, who batted .270 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs in 110 games at Trenton last season.
The Dominican was signed in 2009 at age 16 and he has been impressive at every stop along the way. He has hit at least 13 home runs in each of his minor-league seasons and the scouts believe his stroke will make him a very good all-around hitter at the major-league level.
His defense is still a work in progress but he does feature a very good arm.
Sanchez has no chance of making the team’s roster but he will be ticketed to Triple-A. He will have a chance to play there regularly. There is a chance that if an injury develops at the position Sanchez could make his major-league debut in 2015.
If Sanchez develops as the Yankees hope he does they might have the flexibility to move McCann to first base eventually when the young catcher is ready. It is rapidly becoming sooner rather than later.
But time is still on the side of Sanchez.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT
McCann was a seven-time All-Star selection and he won five Silver Slugger awards with the Braves so there is no reason to believe that he could not regain that status with the Yankees in 2015. He is going to be asked to shoulder a big burden this season.
He is being asked to handle the pitchers, call games, hit for power, drive in runs and be a team leader in the clubhouse. Because McCann is more than capable of doing all those things well there is nothing standing in his way now.
Look for a huge comeback season for the veteran catcher.
It does not really matter who gets the backup job. However, Sanchez will develop much quicker at Triple-A if Murphy is around. Look for the Yankees to keep Murphy and allow Romine to walk as a free agent.
The catching prospects for the Yankees look bright for many years to come if Sanchez delivers as advertised when he is ready to assume the job in a few years. The Yankees, however, would be wise to find another young catcher to groom like Sanchez.
NEXT: FIRST BASE
It did not take the new manager of the Boston Red Sox, Bobby Valentine, to show that he is an ego-driven a–hole.
On Tuesday, Valentine was discussing relay throws at the team’s spring complex in Fort Myers, FL, and he just happened to take a shot at the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and his celebrated “flip play” in Game 3 of the ALCS against Oakland.
For those of you unfamiliar with the circumstances, the Yankees were down 2-0 in the series to the Athletics and leading Game 3 by a 1-0 score in the seventh inning. Terrence Long of Oakland doubled to right-field and Yankee right-fielder Shane Spencer missed two cutoff men and Jeter seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the overthrow in foul territory and flip the ball to catcher Jorge Posada to nab Jeremy Giambi at the plate.
The Yankees won the game and rallied to win the series. The play has become a treasured piece of Yankee lore.
Valentine said that the Red Sox would never practice that play. He then went on to thoroughly expose his hindquarters by saying, “And I think (Jeter) was out of position and I think the ball gets (Giambi) out if he doesn’t touch it, personally.”
Switch scenes to Wednesday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, Fl, and Jeter and the team just happened to be, in fact, practicing that very play during their fielding workouts. Oops!
Seems like Booby, er huh Bobby, spoke without actually having the facts. For those of you Red Sox Nation brethren unfamiliar with Mr. Ego’s act you had better to get accustomed to it. It will be happening a lot more during the course of the season and his stupidity will not always be aimed at the Yankees. Bobby V. is an equal opportunity man who will rip into his own players if it suits him.
Give credit to Jeter for not taking Valentine’s bait, either. When asked about Valentine’s comments, Jeter restated that the Yankees have always practiced the play since he has been in the minors. He actually pointed out out he was lining up in the same position in Wednesday’s workout.
“I don’t think anything. I really don’t. I have no thoughts whatsoever,” Jeter said. “Who cares? Why are we talking about this? They must be bored over there, huh? I don’t understand.
“Think about it. We don’t practice it? We do. You guys see it. What else can I say. I was out of position? I was where I was supposed to be.”
When apprised of his verbal heap of smelly manure on Wednesday, Valentine did what he always does: He apologized and then said it was interesting because “why are we going to practice a bad throw?'”
Apparently Valentine realized he needed to chow down on some crow after asking Red Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck, who used to work with the Yankees, if the team did indeed practice the play. Tuck assured him the Yankees did practice the play.
But then Valentine had to sharpen the knife one more time. “And he said that when they practiced it, Jeter always got there late in practice. In that game, he got there on time.”
What an a–hole.
Congratulations, Red Sox, on hiring the complete opposite of a classy and knowledgeable baseball man in Terry Francona. I am now counting the days Valentine will be the manager when the Red Sox finish third and about three Red Sox guys are grousing under the cloak of anonymity about what an idiot Valentine is as a manager.
Trust me, the day is coming. Bobby V. has a way of wearing out his welcome with the players, management and the fans. Why else would it have taken him this long to get an offer to manage? Boston needed a name manager and Bobby was out there self-promoting himself for the job before the ink was dry on Francona’s walking papers.
To show even further what a senseless scumbag Valentine can be just listen to this quote praising Jason Varitek: “”He was a big hitter when needed. He was a leader of the pitching staff. He was able to beat up Alex [Rodriguez]. All that stuff is good stuff. He was exactly what he was supposed to be.”
Before the Yankees and Red Sox have even played one Grapefruit League game, Valentine is already taking shots at Jeter and Rodriguez. This is something Francona refused to do during his entire tenure with the Bosox.
Ironically, Francona was at George M. Stienbrenner Field on Wednesday as part of his duties as an analyst for ESPN. Though not taking on Valentine’s comments per se, Francona did say that he used to hold back on some of his thoughts to the media when the Red Sox were playing the Yankees, claiming that things often were sensationalized.
Well, that points out the difference between Francona and Valentine out perfectly. Francona is willing to hold back. Bobby not only ignores the possibility things can blown out of proportion, he is out making sure he is fanning the flames himself.
Oh, and just to set the record straight on this so-called Varitek beating up Rodriguez, watch the videotaped replay and notice that Varitek “bravely” took on A-Rod with his mask, chest protector, glove and shin guards on. Rodriguez had dropped his bat and only had his batting helmet to protect him.
That is like a football player beating up a coach on the sideline with his helmet and pads on. It is not exactly what I would call a fair fight. I assure you if Varitek was not in his gear he would not get anywhere near a fight.
That would be similar to Valentine. Without a microphone in front of his pompous mouth, he is just a another hack who thinks he can manage because he knows how many outs there are in an inning and some of the rules. He, at the same time, will break all the rules of baseball decorum to cover up for the fact he is just a spoiled brat who really don’t have a clue on how to act in front of the media.
Team president Larry Lucchino better have an interim manager stashed away on standby somewhere. The team will need him before too long.