Tagged: Giants

A-Rod’s Slam Delivers Knockout Blow To Twins

GAME 118

YANKEES 8, TWINS 4

Great Major-League players soar to amazing peaks and yet they also can sink to some really deep valleys. The valley Alex Rodriguez was in entering Tuesday’s game was approaching the width of the Grand Canyon, having not gotten a hit in 18 at-bats and riding a 3-for-39 slide until he came to the plate in the seventh inning.

All of that changed with one big swing.

Rodriguez laced a 1-0 fastball into the Yankees bullpen in right-center for his 25th career grand slam to lead New York to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Minnesota in front of 38,007 fans at Yankee Stadium.

Rodriguez’s 25th home run of the season and his first since his 40th birthday on July 27 came off right-hander T.J. Graham (0-1), who had inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam from left-hander Ryan O’Rourke.

O’Rourke entered the seventh protecting a 4-1 Twins lead but Chase Headley led off with a pinch-hit single and Brendan Ryan drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. One out later, O’Rourke also walked Brett Gardner on a 3-2 pitch to set the stage for Rodriguez’s heroics.

Rodriguez already had passed former Yankee great Lou Gehrig for the most career grand slams with No. 24 on Sept. 20, 2013 against the San Francisco Giants. No. 25 put the Yankees in the lead for the first time since the fourth inning and received a fevered request for a curtain call from the crowd, which Rodriguez obliged.

The Yankees added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off Graham to pad their lead to four runs. Headley keyed the rally with a two-run double and Jacoby Ellsbury added an RBI single.

Rookie right-hander Nick Rumbelow (1-0), who was just called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, allowed an RBI single in the seventh but completed the inning by striking out Aaron Hicks to earn his first Major-League victory.

Left-hander Andrew Miller pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out three to earn his 27th save in 28 chances this season.

The game began as a pitcher’s duel between Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey.

Sabathia opened the game by throwing 4 1/3 innings of perfect baseball and he held a 1-0 lead after a one-out ground-rule double in the fourth off the bat of Carlos Beltran and the first Major-League RBI on a single by Greg Bird, who was in the lineup replacing an injured Mark Teixeira.

However, Sabathia allowed a one-out free pass to Trevor Plouffe in the fifth. One out later, Eduardo Escobar singled to right and Kurt Suzuki followed with a double down the left-field line that scored Plouffe.

However, Escobar was thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay from Garder in left to shortstop Didi Gregorius to catcher Brian McCann, who tagged Escobar for the final out of the inning.

The game remained tied until the top of the seventh when Sabathia issued a leadoff walk to Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano hit his next offering into the first row of the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the season and his third against the Yankees.

After Sabathia retired the next two batters, Escobar and Suzuki chased him from the contest with a pair of singles. Shane Robinson then greeted Rumbelow with an RBI single that extended the Twins’ lead to 4-1.

Sabathia, 35, was charged with four runs on five hits and three walks and he struck out five batters in 6 2/3 innings. Sabathia has not won a game since July 8 at home against the Oakland Athletics, a stretch of six starts.

Pelfrey, 31, was charged with one run on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

The Yankees have rebounded from a five-game losing streak to have posted five victories in their past six games. They are now 66-52 on the season and they have maintained their one-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

The Twins have fallen under .500 to 59-60.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia did pitch well but the Yankees never seem to score runs until after he leaves the game. It happened again on Tuesday. Though Sabathia is 4-9 with a 5.23 ERA, he has a 3.38 ERA in his past three starts. He also pitched deep into the seventh inning on a night the Yankees needed length from their starter after rookie right-hander Bryan Mitchell left Monday’s game with a nasal fracture in the second inning.
  • Rodriguez has always seemed to thrive on the big stage in the Bronx, NY, and he did again on Tuesday. It is not clear of his prolonged slump is over but he came up with a huge game-winning hit just when it was needed. With Teixeira nursing a bruised right shin the Yankees need Rodriguez to provide power and drive in runs. Though his season average has fallen to .261, he is second on the team in homers (25) and third in RBIs (67).
  • Headley came off the bench in the seventh and provided a single that began the four-run uprising in the inning and then he added a two-run double in the eighth to extend the lead to 7-4. Since the All-Star break, Headley os batting .327 with one home run and 20 RBIs. His clutch hitting has been overshadowed by McCann, Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran but he has been producing a lot under the radar.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Just as they did last night with right-hander Kyle Gibson, the Yankees allowed Pelfrey to lull their bats to sleep with a steady diet of breaking pitches. Fortunately for the Yankees, the Twins eventually have to use their bullpen and it is a powder keg just awaiting a spark. In the past two nights, the Yankees are 12-for-32 (.375) against Twins relievers and they scored 10 runs on them in seven innings.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees placed Mitchell, 24, on the seven-day concussion disabled list after he sustained a small nasal fracture on a line drive off the bat of Eduardo Nunez in the second inning of Monday’s 8-7 victory in 10 innings. In addition the Yankees also optioned right-hander Caleb Cotham, 27, to Scranton and recalled Rumbelow and selected the contract of left-hander Chris Capuano from the same club. Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Tuesday that it is possible that Mitchell could pitch in seven days depending how his recovery goes.  . . .  Teixeira, 35, was held out the lineup on Tuesday with a sore right leg after he fouled a pitch off himself in the sixth inning on Monday. Both X-rays and a CT scan indicate Teixeira has a deep shin bone bruise. But Girardi said it is unlikely to result in Teixeira being placed on the disabled list. Bird, 22, started in his place on Tuesday and was 2-for-4 with an RBI.

ON DECK

The Yankees can sweep the Twins in their three-game home series with a victory on Wednesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (12-2, 4.26 ERA) will start for the Yankees riding an eight-game winning streak. Eovaldi yielded four runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings in a victory against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.

The Twins will counter with veteran right-hander Ervin Santana (2-3, 5.66 ERA). Santana, 32, was rocked for five runs on eight hits and two walks in six innings in a no-decision against the Texas Rangers on Friday.

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.

 

Betances, Miller Lead Yankees Revamped Bullpen

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.

BULLPEN

Co-closers: Dellin Betances, 26 (5-0, 1.40 ERA, 1 save, 70 games), Andrew Miller, 29 (5-5, 2.02 ERA, 1 save, 73 games)

Set-up man: David Carpenter, 29 (6-4, 3.54 ERA, 3 saves, 65 games)

Lefty specialist: Justin Wilson, 27 (3-4, 4.20 ERA, 70 games)

The Yankees have had somewhat of a revolving door at the closer position for the past three seasons and 2015 will the fourth consecutive season they will be featuring a new closer or closers.

In 2012, an early-season injury to Mariano Rivera forced the Yankees to use Rafael Soriano as the team’s closer. In 2013, Rivera returned to health to complete a great final chapter to Hall-of-Fame career. And in 2014, David Robertson assumed the closer’s role and all he did was go 4-5 with a 3.08 ERA and convert 39 of his 44 save opportunities.

However, Robertson was unhappy that the Yankees did not look to extend his contract. So he declined their qualifying offer and signed a four-year, $46-million deal with the Chicago White Sox on Dec. 9.

Once again the Yankees will be auditioning another new closer in 2015.

The obvious choice is Betances after his meteoric rise from a spring training curiosity to the devastating setup weapon he became in 2014. The numbers speak for themselves.

He allowed only 46 hits and 24 walks in 90 innings. Batters hit an anemic .149 against him. He fanned 135 batters. The 6-foot-8, 265-pound right-hander dominated hitters from Opening Day to the end of the season.

The question then becomes could he do what he did last season in the ninth inning in 2015?

Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild believe that he can but they are not going to leave that question to chance without a Plan B.

On Dec. 5, the Yankees signed left-hander Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36-million contract with the intention of making him a setup man for what was Robertson at the time. Miller struck out 14.87 batters per nine innings and held opponents to a .153 batting average for the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles last season.

For now, Girardi says that although the Yankees would prefer to have one set closer when they begin the season, they are not averse to having Betances and Miller work as co-closers.

“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of meetings about that,” Girardi told reporters last Sunday. “We’ll decide what’s best. We want to see how they’re both throwing the baseball at the end of spring training. There will be just a lot of discussion of how we feel our team is built. Could they be interchangeable? Yeah.”

There is no doubt that however they are used both Betances and Miller have great stuff and are nearly impossible to hit consistently. That gives the Yankees two powerful weapons at the back end of the bullpen.

Betances was originally drafted as a starting pitcher out of New York City and his high-octane fastball seemed to have him on a fast track to the Yankees’ starting rotation. But control problems plagued him and got worse as he progressed through the minor-league system

His status as a top prospect diminished until the Yankees decided to try him in the bullpen in 2013. That turned everything around. Betances found a delivery that he could repeat and that devastating fastball and slider combination left batters baffled.

He impressed Girardi in a spring game when he faced Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays with the bases loaded and retired both of them to get out of the jam unscathed. It was inevitable Betances would make the roster as a reliever from that point on.

That led to Betances’ impressive first season with the big club and his reward could be eventually becoming the team’s closer.

Ironically, Miller’s career path was very similar.

Miller was a former No. 1 draft pick of the Detroit Tigers who just could not harness his control as a starter. After a short and unsuccessful stop with the then-Florida Marlins, Miller reached rock bottom when he was 6-3 with a 5.54 ERA in 12 starts with the Boston Red Sox in 2011.

Miller walked 41 batters in just 65 innings.

Then the Red Sox shifted him to the bullpen and he has not looked back. From 2012 through 2014, Miller has developed into what could be considered the most devastating left-handed relievers in all of baseball.

His walks have dropped, his strikeouts have increased and Miller is now in line to perhaps share a closers role  –  a job he also has never had before.

The Yankees are obviously thrilled they have both of these pitchers available for the ninth inning.

A curious thing happened after the 2014 season. For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees basically reshuffled the deck on the rest of the bullpen. David Phelps, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and Preston Claiborne are gone.

Phelps was dealt to the Marlins in the trade where the Yankees acquired starting right-hander Nathan Eovaldi and first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones. Kelley was shipped to the San Diego Padres for minor-league right-hander Johnny Barbato. Thornton was waived last August and is now with the Washington Nationals. Claiborne was released and signed with the Marlins.

So behind Miller and Betances will be a whole new cast of characters.

The team’s primary setup man will be Carpenter, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves along with left-hander Chasen Shreve for left-hander Manny Banuelos, who was once considered the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization.

Carpenter comes to the Yankees highly recommended by Brian McCann, who was his primary catcher in 2013 when Carpenter was 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 65 innings over 56 appearances.

Carpenter’s numbers slipped considerably last season but he is very excited to be reunited with his former battery mate.

“B-Mac is the kind of guy that you love going to battle with,” Carpenter told reporters. “He’s a team guy, he busts his butt out there, he’s everything you could ask for in a leader, especially a catcher. To be reunited with him, it’s going to be really, really special.”

The Yankees also made a deal for a second left-hander by trading veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Wilson, who like Carpenter had a sensational 2013 season.

Wilson, a converted starter, was 6-1 with 2.08 ERA in 58 games with the Pirates in 2013. Last season his numbers slipped a bit but general manager Brian Cashman said Wilson will remind Yankee fans of Boone Logan, who had a very successful stint with the Yankees as their primary left-hander.

Beyond these four, the makeup of the rest of the bullpen will be up for grabs this spring, although Adam Warren eventually will be part of it. It is just unclear when that will be because Warren is slated to pitch as a starter in spring training.

The Yankees are looking to possibly use Warren as a sixth starter in the first six weeks of the season because several Yankee starters are coming off injuries and the Yankees face a stretch in late April and early May in which they are scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days.

Warren, 27, is coming off a sensational year in the bullpen. He was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 games, all in relief. Between Warren’s ability to pitch in almost in any role, including that of a starter, and the fact that he pitches effectively in those roles, it is easy to see why he was one of the few relievers the Yankees opted to keep for 2015.

Warren will be a big help either in the middle or late innings when he finally is shifted back in mid-May.

Right-handers Chase Whitley (25), Esmil Rogers (29) and Bryan Mitchell (23) also will get opportunities to start this spring. All three have started in the past but Whitley is better suited to be a relief pitcher. Rogers has not fully developed as a starter or a reliever but he has been better in the bullpen. Mitchell is a capable starter but the Yankees will evaluate him for both roles this spring.

Mitchell likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre so that he could be available as a emergency starter this season. The Yankees really like his ability.

There are several relievers on the 40-man roster who will get a look this spring including Danny Burawa, Jose De Paula, Branden Pinder and Shreve.

Burawa, 26, is a right-hander who was 3-1 with a 4.70 between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. De Paula, 27, was signed out of the San Francisco Giants system and the left-hander was 4-3 with a 4.21 ERA at Triple-A Fresno in 2014. Pinder, 26, is a right-hander who was 3-0 with 2.04 ERA in three minor-league stops last season, ending with a stint in Scranton. Shreve, 24, was acquired along with Carpenter in the Banuelos trade and was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA at stops in Double-A and Triple-A in 2014.

Most of the time non-roster pitchers are invited into camp for a look but they don’t make the team. But the Yankees invited a veteran right-hander reliever to camp who was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2009 and a two-time All-Star with the Oakland Athletics.

He is 30-year-old Andrew Bailey, who saved 75 games in 84 opportunities for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, but has suffered through a series of injuries that have hindered his effectiveness and kept him off the field.

Bailey was released by the Red Sox in July 2013 after posting a 3-1 record with 3.77 ERA in 30 games. Bailey suffered a torn capsule and labrum in his right shoulder and underwent surgery in 2013. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract in 2014 knowing he would be unavailable to pitch until 2015.

The Yankees extended him an invitation this spring and Bailey will have an opportunity to test where he is in his rehab. If he is healthy, Bailey could be a valuable addition to the bullpen. Though his closing days are over he could land a spot to pitch in the middle innings. If he is anywhere close to the pitcher he was in Oakland the Yankee bullpen will be even more formidable.

Another intriguing pitcher to watch this spring will be former starting prospect Jose A. Ramirez, 25, who was converted to relief because of recurring oblique injuries.

Ramirez was once a very highly touted prospect as a starter and he did make his major-league debut with the Yankees as a reliever last season. He was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in eight appearances in relief.

At Scranton, the Dominican right-hander was 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA in nine appearances after spending an early part of the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain.

The Yankees see their 13th-ranked prospect as a full-time reliever and they hope it does for Ramirez what it did for Betances. Ramirez just maybe could make a leap to the majors this season because of his change-up, which is the best in the organization  –  including those in the majors now.

He also features a plus fastball though he lacks overall command and he is working hard to develop his slider. Because he has struggled to work more than 115 innings the Yankees believe keeping in the bullpen will lessen his injury issues and keep his arm fresh for a full season.

Another young pitcher to watch is 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Lindgren, who pitched Mississippi State to the 2013 College World Series title as a starter and then was shifted to the bullpen by the Yankees last summer.

The Yankees selected him with their first pick of the 2014 draft in the second round and he immediately paid dividends by advancing all the way to Trenton. In his four minor-league stops he combined to go 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA He struck out 48 batters in 25 innings.

Lindgren was able to increase his fastball speed up to 95 mph and his slider (82-84 mph) has enough bite on it to make it a wipeout pitch. It is very possible that Lindgren could make the Yankees’ bullpen in 2015 if he shows that he can throw strikes consistently in the minors.

He is ranked as the team’s No. 9 prospect.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT

The bullpen has been the strength of the team for the past two seasons, though the team as a whole has not had much success. Even with the reshuffling of a lot of new faces and new roles in the bullpen, it remains one of the team’s strengths.

Another reason is that Girardi has been a master at selecting the best organization arms and utilizing a bullpen to the team’s advantage. No one gets overworked because Girardi is strict about not using pitchers three days in a row if he can help it.

This season the big test will be if Betances can take the reins as the team’s closer. The odds are that he is capable and he should be successful. If he isn’t Miller is there back him up. Whether they work as setup man and closer or as co-closers, the fact remains they are two very nasty hombres that hitters do not feel comfortable hitting against.

Neither pitcher also has a decided bias pitching against right-handed or left-handed batters. They are equal-opportunity strikeout artists. That will make it awful difficult for teams who are behind come the eighth inning.

Carpenter will likely ease into what was Kelley’s role last season. He will set up for Miller and Betances. Though Carpenter struggled a bit last season, he still is considered a good young pitcher with a very good arm.

Once Warren finishes his role as a starter in the early part of the season he will join Carpenter in a setup role. Though Warren came out of the minors as a starter, he has had great success pitching out of the bullpen and he can pitch multiple innings if needed.

The Yankees also traded Cervelli for a second left-hander in Wilson and he provides a great opportunity for Girardi to match him up against a tough left-handed hitter in the middle innings.

With these five players set in their roles, the other three spots are up for grabs this spring.

Whitley and Rogers have a great shot at winning two of those spots because they both are former starters. Whitley is ideal for the long-relief and spot-start role Phelps once had. Rogers has not harnessed his ability yet and time is running out. But he is veteran with a good arm.

The last spot will be decided in spring training with a lot of potential candidates.

One good thing is that a lot of those candidates such as Burawa, Pinder and Shreve are young, Behind them are a pair of up-and-coming prospects like Ramirez and Lindgren.

There is good chance you may see both Ramirez and Lindgren on the 25-man roster this season. The Yankees have developed a lot of great depth here.

END OF SERIES

Tanaka Wins 10th Game By Fanning 11 Mariners

GAME 64

YANKEES 4, MARINERS 2

In the 1979 Blake Edwards classic comedy “10” a songwriter (Dudley Moore) goes through a mid-life crisis and becomes enamored with a sexy blonde (Bo Derek) on her honeymoon. The number 10 refers to the absolute perfection of the woman’s looks.

However, in 2014, the New York Yankees have fallen in love with their ace right-hander from Japan. On Wednesday, Masahiro Tanaka not only proved he was a “10” as pitchers go. He also won his 10th game.

Tanaka threw eight shutout innings before giving up two runs in the ninth in pitching his second complete game with 11 strikeouts as New York defeated Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 28,434 at Safeco Field.

Tanaka (10-1) retired the first 10 batters he faced before James Jones singled with one out in the fourth. Two batters later Kyle Seager singled as well. But Tanaka ended the inning by striking out Logan Morrison swinging.

That strikeout began a stretch in which Tanaka struck out six of the next seven batters he faced.

Other than a walk to Seager in the seventh, Tanaka did not allow another base-runner until Mike Zunino doubled to left with one out in the eighth and Brad Miller followed a single. However, Tanaka quashed that Mariners threat by retiring Cole Gillispie on a soft liner to second baseman Brian Roberts, who threw to first to double off Miller.

The Mariners scored in the ninth when Jones reached on an infield single with one out and former Yankee Robin$son Cano hit his first home run at Safeco Field, a lined shot that scraped off the top of the wall in left-center.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had no trouble solving 35-year-old right-hander Chris Young (5-4).

Roberts opened the third inning with a opposite-field single to left. Brett Gardner drew a walk and, one out later, Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a looping single into center that plated Roberts.

The Yankees added to their 1-0 lead in the fourth when Gardner led off with a lined single to right and Ellsbury slapped an opposite-field single to left.

Mark Teixeira then launched his 11th home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center. It was Teixeira’s 17th home run at Safeco Field, which ties Rafael Palmeiro for the most home runs hit by an opponent.

Young was charged with four runs on seven hits and two walks with a pair of strikeouts in five innings. It was his first defeat ever at Safeco Field covering 10 starts.

But Tanaka was, as always, the story the night.

He now has thrown quality starts in all of 13 of his appearances this season. He also became only the fourth pitcher in history to strike out more than 100 batters (103) in his first 13 major-league starts, joining Kerry Wood, Herb Score, Jose DeLeon and fellow countryman Hideo Nomo.

Tanaka also kept his major-league-leading ERA at 2.02.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 33-31 and they remain tied with the Baltimore Orioles for second place in the American League East. They both trail the first-place Toronto Blue Jays by 4 1/2 games and just three games in the loss column.

The Mariners fell to 34-31.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s dominance almost was predictable because the Mariners are one of the worst hitting teams in the American League and they lack power. Tanaka threw 75 of his 110 pitches for strikes for 68 percent. Tanaka’s 11 strikeouts tied his season high on April 27 when he fanned the same number against the Los Angeles Angels in 6 1/3 innings at Yankee Stadium. Not only is Tanaka in the Cy Young discussion. Because in winning 10 of the Yankees’ 33 games, he also is in the Most Valuable Player hunt also.
  • Derek Jeter is getting back on a bit of a roll. He was 2-for-5 in the game with two stolen bases and he is now 5-for-9 (.556) in his first two games in Seattle. Jeter’s stolen bases also were Nos. 350 and 351 in his career. He becomes only the third player in the major-league history with 3,000 or more hits, 350 or more stolen bases and 250 or more home runs, joining Craig Biggio and Rickey Henderson.
  • Ellsbury was 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI in the game. His 15-game hitting streak is the longest active streak in the majors and is the longest for a Yankee since Jeter’s 19-game streak in September 2012. During that span, Ellsbury is 23-for-60 (.383). Despite the return of Carlos Beltran to the lineup, manager Joe Girardi has kept Ellsbury in the third spot in the order and it is paying off.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

So Tanaka lost the shutout thanks to the sellout Cano and his homer. The Yankees were in command once they took the lead and Tanaka is earning every penny of that $178 million contract he signed. Despite all the injuries to the starting staff, the Yankees are hanging in behind the Blue Jays. No complaints here.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees made two moves on Wednesday to strengthen their bullpen. They activated right-hander Shawn Kelley from the 15-day disabled list and they acquired left-hander David Huff from the San Francisco Giants. Kelley, 30, has been out since May 6 with a lumbar spine strain. He is 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 16 appearances this season. Huff, 29, was with the Yankees last season and he was picked up for cash considerations. He was 1-0 with a 6.30 ERA in 16 appearances with the Giants this season. Last season, Huff was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA in 11 games (two starts) with the Yankees. Huff will assume the long-relief duties in the bullpen. To make room for Kelley, the team optioned right-hander Matt Daley to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. To make room for Huff, the Yankees designated for assignment left-hander Wade LeBlanc. Daley, 33, had no record with a 4.85 ERA in 12 games. LeBlanc, 29, who was claimed off waivers from the Angels on June 3, also had no record with an ERA of 18.00 in one appearance.  . . .  Beltran made 25 tosses of about 90 feet before the game on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right elbow. Beltran missed 21 games with a bone spur and has been limited to designated hitter since he was activated on June 5. Beltran hopes to be able to play the outfield later in the season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have a chance to sweep the Mariners at home on Thursday in the series finale.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 2.42 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Whitley held the Kansas City Royals to two runs on five hits and no walks while he struck out three in seven innings on Friday to earn his first major-league victory.

The Mariners will start rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (5-4, 3.64 ERA). Elias yielded four runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. He bested the Yankees on May 1 at Yankee Stadium 4-2 with 10 strikeouts.

Game-time will be 10:10 EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Ellsbury Shines As Yankees Clip Cardinals’ Wings

GAME 52

YANKEES 7, CARDINALS 4

Since May 3, Jacoby Ellsbury has been struggling at the plate. So much so that his season average dipped from .346 to .259 entering Wednesday’s contest. By the time the game was over Ellsbury seemed back on track.

Ellsbury was 3-for-5 with three RBIs, two stolen bases and two runs scored to lead a seven-run, 12-hit attack to help Hiroki Kuroda and New York take a three-game series over St. Louis in front of a paid crowd of 45,267 at Busch Stadium.

The Yankees scored four runs in the third and three in the fourth against right-hander Shelby Miller and Ellsbury had a hand in both rallies.

With one out in the third, Brett Gardner drew a walk and Brian Roberts followed with a single up the middle. Ellsbury then scored Gardner with the game’s first run with a single to right-center as Roberts hustled into third.

Ellsbury stole second without a throw from catcher Yadier Molina and Brian McCann walked on four pitches to load the bases because Miller was pitching around him to face rookie catcher John Ryan Murphy.

But Murphy spoiled the strategy by delivering a single to center to score both Roberts and Ellsbury and Ichiro Suzuki capped the scoring by beating out a potential double-play grounder to score McCann.

With two out in the fourth and Kelly Johnson on first base after a single, Roberts doubled into left-center and Ellsbury scored both of them with a lined single to center. Ellsbury then stole second, again without a throw from Molina, and McCann followed with a single to right to score Ellsbury, giving the Yankees a 7-0 lead.

Miller (6-4) was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits and two walks with one strikeout in five innings.

Kuroda (4-3), who has spent most of major-league career as a pitcher who has received very little run support, suddenly has an abundance of runs provided by his teammates.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals took advantage of Kuroda’s desire to limit walks and keep his pitch count down by teeing off on Kuroda’s fastball.

The Cardinals managed to score single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth and they chased Kuroda from the game in the sixth when Matt Carpenter laced an RBI double off the wall to score pinch-hitter Jhonny Peralta from first with two out.

Kuroda yielded three runs on nine hits with no walks and three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen quartet of Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson were knocked around a bit, giving up four hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings. In fact, after Warren was chased by a two-out double by Carpenter, Kolten Wong greeted Robertson with an RBI single, his fourth hit in five at-bats on the night.

But Robertson ended the eighth by striking out Matt Holliday looking.

Then in the ninth, Robertson was touched by a leadoff single by Allen Craig and he walked Molina to bring up the potential tying run.

But Robertson ended the night with a flourish by striking out in succession John Jay, pinch-hitter Matt Adams and Daniel Descalso.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 28-24. They are in second place in the American League East, three games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Cardinals fell to 29-24.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury’s night also included an impressive sliding catch of a sinking line drive off the bat of Craig in the second inning. Ellsbury is an extremely talented player who was responsible for carrying the team through the first month of the season. He now has at least one hit in four of his past five games and is 7-for-20 (.350) with a homer and seven RBIs in that span.
  • Murphy was 1-for-5 in the game but that single drove in two big runs with the bases loaded in the third inning. It raised a few eyebrows when manager Joe Girardi had him batting fifth in the lineup. But the 22-year-old rookie is batting .357 with a home run and eight RBIs in limited playing time behind McCann.
  • Give Roberts credit for doing well in the second spot in the order replacing a resting Derek Jeter. Roberts was 2-for-4 with a double and a walk and two runs scored. Roberts also extended his hitting streak to five games and he is 7-for-19 (.368) in that span. He has raised his season average to .248.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It was hard to judge whether the Cardinals were knocking Kuroda around or if he was losing his competitive edge because he had such a big lead. Kuroda is 4-3 and he has not lost a start since May 1. But his ERA is hovering now at 4.57 and his highest ERA since he came to the United States was in his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 when it was 3.73. The Yankees need him to pitch better.
  • The Yankees had a chance to extend their lead in the eighth when they loaded the bases on right-hander Sean Maness. But left-hander Randy Choate struck out Gardner and Roberts smacked a 3-0 pitch to Carpenter at third and ended up in an inning-ending double play. The Yankees have to stop coming up empty in bases loaded and no out situations.
  • Robertson looked a little shaky in yielding two hits and a walk but he made up for it with recording all four of his outs on strikeouts. The Yankees know that comparing Robertson to Mariano Rivera is not fair but it is inevitable. The fact that Robertson has one blown save in 12 tries and a 2.20 ERA in 16 appearances is pretty darn good.

BOMBER BANTER

It is amazing that the Yankees got seven runs out of their offense with Mark Teixeira nursing a sore right wrist, Jeter sitting out to rest and slumping Alfonso Soriano and Yangervis Solarte held out of the lineup. McCann even started his first professional game at first base. But it all worked. Solarte was benched after hitting just .152 since his nine-game hitting streak was stopped on May 15. So Johnson moved to third, which opened first base for McCann.  . . .  Teixeira will have his right wrist examined on Thursday by Dr. Keith Raskin, who performed Teixeira’s surgery to repair the torn sheath in the wrist in the offseason. Teixeira will also have precautionary ultrasound. However, the Yankees are saying the stiffness and soreness are normal after this type of surgery and Teixeira is expected to be back in the lineup soon.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Thursday off and they return home to begin a three-game weekend series against the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-1, 5.49 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off what was his best start of season on Saturday. Nuno gave up three runs in the first inning to the Chicago White Sox but did not give up another run in the following six innings. Nuno walked one and struck out five.

Veteran right-hander Ricky Nolasco (2-5, 6.12) will get the nod for the Twins. Nolasco has lost his past two starts and was shelled by the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. Nolasco was tagged for seven runs on nine hits and a walk in  4 2/3 innings.

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

 

Cano Swats Two Homers As Phelps Handcuffs Jays

GAME 43

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 2

Just ask any pitcher in baseball and they will tell you that the most dangerous hitter in any lineup is a great hitter who has been in the throes of a slump. Brandon Morrow could tell you a whole lot about what Robinson Cano did to him on Saturday.

Cano hit a pair of two-run home runs off Morrow and David Phelps gave up up just one run over seven innings as New York ran its season record against Toronto to 8-1 in front of a paid crowd of 45,557 at Yankee Stadium.

Cano followed a two-out RBI single by Brett Gardner off Morrow (1-3) in the third inning with a high looping line drive into the first row of the short porch in right-field that extended the Yankees’ lead to 3-0.

Two innings later he connected off Morrow again for a two-out, two-run shot that landed over the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center field. It was Cano’s second multi-homer game of the season and he now leads the team in batting average (.295), home runs (12) and RBIs (31).

Meanwhile, Phelps (2-2) held the power-laden Jays to six hits and three walks while he struck out eight batters in what was the longest start of his major-league career.

The Blue Jays only managed to score off Phelps in the fourth inning when Adam Lind laced a one-out double to center and Colby Rasmus lined a two-out single off the wall in right-field to score Lind to draw the Jays to within two runs at 3-1.

But Phelps frustrated the Blue Jays most of the day because they had a multiple scoring opportunities taken away from them. They ended the day 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

The Jays had two runners on and two out  with Lind at the plate in the first when Phelps picked off Jose Bautista at second base to end the inning.

Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio both reached first on singles to begin the third inning but Melky Cabrera was retired on a double play and Edwin Encarnacion struck out swinging.

Cabrera reached on a one-out double in the fifth but Bautista flew out and Encarnacion was retired on a diving stop of a hard grounder by Jayson Nix and a great scoop of a Nix’s throw by Lyle Overbay at first.

In stark contrast, the Yankees took advantage of some misplays by the Blue Jays.

Nix singled off Morrow to begin the third inning and rookie David Adams then hit a hot come-backer to Morrow. However, Morrow bobbled it and had to settle for throwing out Adams, allowing Nix to reach second. One out later Gardner drove him in with a single and Cano followed with the first of his two home runs.

After Cano had padded the Yankees’ lead to 5-1 in the fifth, David Robertson came on in the eighth in relief of Phelps and surrendered a one-out solo home run to Encarnacion.

But the Yankees put the game away in the bottom of the inning after Izturis committed a throwing error on a ball off the bat of Vernon Wells. Travis Hafner, who was starting his first game since May 13 due to soreness in his right shoulder, blasted a two-run home run down the line in right-field.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 27-16 and they remain a game ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Blue Jays fell to 17-26 and they are last in the division a staggering 10 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Phelps is pitching as if he does not want to return to the bullpen. In his last two starts, Phelps has given up just two runs on 10 hits and eight walks while he has fanned 15 in 13 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 1.32 despite the high walk total. It might be very hard for Ivan Nova (sore right triceps) to reclaim his starting spot when he is activated from the disabled list.
  • Cano entered play on Saturday in the midst of an eight-game slump where he was 6-for-32 (.188) with a home run and six RBIs. But he busted out of it in a big way against the Blue Jays by going 2-for-4 with two home runs, two runs scored and four RBIs. Cano did not hit his 12th home run last season until June 17, when the Yankees were playing their 65th game. So he is a month ahead of what was a career-best home run pace in 2012.
  • Hafner’s home run in the eighth was his seventh home run of the season and he has 20 RBIs. Hafner was bothered with soreness in what has been a chronic right shoulder for him and he was given a cortisone shot earlier in the week to relieve the pain. It appears the soreness is gone. The Yankees suffered a bit without his power presence in the lineup.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Adams was unable to extend his hitting steak since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to four games. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball past the infield.  Despite the unproductive afternoon, Adams is impressing the Yankees with his approach at the plate and his defense has been better than advertised.
  • Curtis Granderson came in hitting .364 but he was 0-for-4 on Saturday and his average dipped to .267. Granderson also misjudged Rasmus’ liner off the right-field wall in playing his very first major-league game in right-field. Manager Joe Girardi opted to rest Ichiro Suzuki and played Granderson in right to keep Gardner in center-field.
  • Robertson looked a little shaky in the eighth in giving up a home run to Encarnacion and a single J.P. Arencibia before he retired the last two hitters. It was first time Robertson has given up  a run since an appearance against the Houston Astros on May 30, a span of seven games.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees did some more roster shuffling on Saturday. The team acquired infielder Reid Brignac from the Colorado Rockies in return for cash considerations. To make room on the roster, the team designated for assignment infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Brignac, 27, is a career .228 hitter who is capable of playing second base, third base and shortstop. Brignac was batting .250 with one home run with Colorado when he was designated for assignment last week. Brignac also played  for the Tampa Bay Rays. General manager Brian Cashman said Brignac, a left-handed hitter, will platoon with both Adams at third and Nix at shortstop.  . . .  Joba Chamberlain (strained right oblique) played long toss on Saturday and soon will throw a bullpen session that likely will lead to a rehab assignment.

ON DECK

The Yankees can sweep the Blue Jays in their three-game series with a victory on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.19 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up three runs (two earned) in 6 1/3 innings against the Mariners on Tuesday and did not get a decision. Sabathia is 14-4 with a 3.00 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.

For the second consecutive outing Sabathia will be facing off against a fellow Cy Young Award winner. The Blue Jays will be countering with 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A.Dickey (3-5, 4.83 ERA). Dickey allowed two runs on six hits and two walks and he fanned 10 against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. He is 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Phelps Strikes Out 9 As Yankees Outslug Orioles

GAME 31

YANKEES 11, ORIOLES 8

On a chilly evening in Sarasota, FL, Yankee right-hander David Phelps came out of the gates guns blazing and the offense caught fire late to back him.

Bobby Wilson broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning with a sacrifice fly that scored Jayson Nix and Phelps struck out nine Orioles in 5 1/3 innings of work as New York outslugged Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 8,660 at Ed Smith Stadium.

Phelps (3-3) gave up three runs on four hits and two walks to earn the victory. Journeyman left-hander Mark Hendrickson (0-1) took the loss for the O’s. Preston Claiborne pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees believed they had put the game away with a six-run seventh inning off Orioles reliever Chris Petrini, keyed by a two-run single by top outfield prospect Mason Williams, a two-run homer off the bat of Brennan Boesch and solo shot by Ben Francisco.

The Orioles did draw to within 10-8 with a five-run seventh inning off Yankees reliever Branden Pinder. Taylor Teagarden keyed the inning with a three-run home run.

The victory gave the Yankees a 13-17 record in Grapefruit League play. The Orioles are now 18-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite a shaky fifth inning in which he was touched for a two-run home run off the bat of Nate McLouth, Phelps was outstanding. Five of his nine strikeouts were called and he only gave up one hit with no walks in his other 4 1/3 innings of work. Phelps will open the season as a starter until Phil Hughes is activated off the disabled list.
  • A day after the Yankees completed a trade for outfielder Vernon Wells, the two outfield candidates most affected by the deal hit home runs. Boesch drove a blast to left-center on a 1-0 pitch in the seventh for his first homer of the spring. Francisco then followed him by launching a 2-1 pitch just to the right of where Boesch’s landed for his third home run of the spring. Neither Francisco or Boesch want to be cut or sent to the minors, However, it does appear there is no room on the roster for both of them.
  • Very quietly Eduardo Nunez is beginning to get hot with the bat. Nunez was 2-for-3 with a RBI and a run scored in Wednesday’s game. Since March 14, Nunez is 13-for-29 (.448) and he has raised his spring average to .293. Nunez will begin the season replacing Derek Jeter at shortstop.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I have no real reason to complain. Oh, Pinder giving up five runs in the bottom of the seventh did let the O’s back in the game. But Pinder is not going to make the Yankees’ 25-man roster. You can’t really complain when every Yankee in the starting lineup got at least one hit in the game.

BOMBER BANTER

Nix played second base on Wednesday because Robinson Cano had to be scratched with a stomach virus, manager Joe Girardi told reporters. In addition, Addison Maruszak was inserted at third base in place Ronnier Mustelier. The reason for Mustelier being removed was not disclosed.  . . .  Jeter will not play in a minor-league game until at least next week, general manager Brian Cashman reported on Wednesday.  . . .  Ivan Nova gave up seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and a walk in five-plus innings against the Toronto Blue Jays’ Class-A Dunedin club on Wednesday.  . . .  The Yankees on Wednesday claimed right-hander Sam Demel off waivers from the Houston Astros. Demel, 27, is 4-4 with two saves and a 4.95 ERA in 72 appearances with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2010 to 2012. To make room for Demel the Yankees released right-hander Daniel Otero, who they claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will wrap up their Grapefruit League season on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-2, 2.31 ERA) will make his last tuneup start for the Yankees. Left-hander Jeff Locke will pitch for the Pirates.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.

 

 

Yankees To Showcase Four Huge Spring Battles

The pitchers and catchers of the New York Yankees have reported to spring training camp in Tampa, FL, and the position players will soon be joining them. The Yankees’ first scheduled exhibition game is a week away. There are very few jobs on the line this spring as it is with most seasons with the Yankees. But there are four battles worth watching this spring and the result may determine how successful the team will be in 2013. Let’s look at them.

4) STARTING CATCHER: FRANCISCO CERVELLI vs. CHRIS STEWART

With the departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent, the Yankees will be looking at replacing him from within their own ranks. The Yankees elected not to sign such free agents as A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Oilvo. The problem is that Martin not only provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense behind the plate, he also provided power despite the fact his batting average was stuck below .200 for most of the 2012 season. The two main candidates to replace Martin are Cervelli, 26, who had been the team’s primary backup catcher in 2010 and 2011 but was optioned to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on the final day of spring training last season due to the acquisition of Stewart, 30, from the San Francisco Giants. Cervelli arrives as the team’s best hitting option because he owns a career .271 batting average. But he lacks power and, although he calls a good game behind the plate, his throwing can be very erratic. He has a career success rate of throwing out 19.8 percent of base-runners. In contrast, throwing out base-runners is Stewart’s forte. He has nailed 33.7 percent of potential base-stealers and Stewart’s other defensive skills are pretty much on par with Martin’s. The big negative with Stewart is that he is a career .217 hitter and he has no power. In addition to this battle, there are a pair of catchers looking to make an impression in rookie Austin Romine, 24, and non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson, 29. Romine is coming off a season in which he was plagued by a lower-back strain that limited him to just 33 games in the minors last season. Wilson, a former backup catcher with the Los Angels Angels, was released by the Toronto Blue Jays after spending the entire 2012 season at Triple A. Romine’s strong suit is defense and manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, both former catchers, believe Romine is ready to catch at the major-league level now. The issue with Romine is that he has to prove he is healthy and he has to improve as a hitter. Wilson is almost a carbon copy of Stewart. He has nailed 27.1 percent of potential base-stealers but his career major-league batting average is .208.

PREDICTION: Cervelli should win the job, barring injury, which is a legitimate concern. Cervelli has suffered three separate concussions, a broken wrist and a broken bone in his foot over the past five seasons. So his durability is an issue. Stewart, on the basis of his solid season as backup in 2012, seems to be almost assured of retaining his job. But Romine is worth watching this spring. If he is healthy and he shows signs his hitting is improving he might get a promotion to the majors this season. But realistically the Yankees would prefer that he get in a full season at Scranton and he could be promoted in September with a hope he can compete for a starting role in 2014. Wilson will be insurance in case there is an injury to Cervelli or Stewart and he likely will share the catching chores with Romine at Scranton.

3) RESERVE INFIELDER: JAYSON NIX vs. EDUARDO NUNEZ

Although this is, in a sense, a rematch from last spring, it also is not. Confused? Well, Nunez was actually competing for the backup infield spot with Ramiro Pena and Nix, who was signed as a minor-league free agent, was just invited to spring training. Nunez, 25, easily won the role by hitting .372 while Pena hit .240. Nix, 30, was a longshot to make the team and did not. However, he did open some eyes by hitting .323 and flashing some solid defense at second base, third base and shortstop. Nix also proved valuable in that he could play the corner outfield spots. So he was optioned to Scranton and he hit .233 there before he was summoned on May 3. Nunez was hitting a sizzling .294 but his penchant to commit careless fielding errors doomed him. He was optioned to Scranton on May 11 and Nix became the team’s backup infielder. Nunez’s season pretty much fell apart after that. He suffered an injury to his right hand that sidelined him for most of the minor-league season. He was recalled to the Yankees when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 but the Yankees top brass insisted that Nunez was being groomed as primarily a shortstop and that he would not used as a utility infielder anymore. Nix,meanwhile, flourished in his role, hitting .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 174 at-bats in 77 games. Though Nunez is clearly a better athlete, a better hitter and a better base-stealer, Nix was so much steadier in the field that the Yankees were pleased with his work. Nunez committed seven errors in 38 games with the Yankees while Nix was charged with only three. A quick look at the Yankees’ depth chart on yankees.com shows something interesting this spring. Nunez is listed as the primary backup at second, third, shortstop and leftfield. Huh? I guess the Yankees changed their minds about Nunez not being a utility player and he will battle Nix for the role. If anyone believes Nunez is going to shed his nickname of “Eduardo Scissorhands” this spring than I have some prime swampland to sell you. But the Yankees may need his hitting and his base-stealing ability more than they need his fielding this season. The Yankees lost a lot of power from the 2012 club and they may need to score more runs by moving runners around the bases and stealing more bases. That would favor Nunez, who actually embarrassingly was third on the team last season with 11 stolen bases despite playing in only 38 games. Nix is still in the picture because of his fielding and steady play. It is going to be a very close call either way it goes.

PREDICTION: Nunez not only has hitting and base-stealing advantages this spring. He also may benefit from the slow recovery of Derek Jeter from surgery on his fractured left ankle and the presence of camp invitee Dan Johnson. If Jeter can’t start the season at shortstop, Nunez will man the position in his place. The reason Johnson is important is that he is a left-handed power hitter who can play both first and third base. If Johnson can make the team and show he field third base adequately enough, Nunez would only need to back up at shortstop and second base. That would lessen the chances Nix would have to making the 25-man roster. Johnson would, in effect, replace Eric Chavez, who opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. That would allow Nunez to remain as a backup middle infielder and potentially a right-handed platoon designated hitter. If I was a betting man, I would wager that this is the scenario that likely will play out. Nix could accept a demotion to Scranton as insurance. It also is possible that Nunez could be packaged in a trade before the season starts. But that won’t happen until Jeter shows he will be ready to play by Opening Day.

2) BACKUP OUTFIELDER: MATT DIAZ vs. JUAN RIVERA

One of the reasons Nunez is listed as a backup in leftfield is because both Diaz and Rivera are non-roster invitees to spring training. But, rest assured, one of them make the team as a right-handed hitting backup outfielder. Diaz, 34, was released by the Atlanta Braves after suffering through a season cut short in August by season-ending surgery on his right thumb. Diaz hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. He is a career .291 hitter and he has been an exceptional hitter against left-handed pitching. Rivera, 34, originally came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system and played with the Yankees in parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being traded to the then Montreal Expos before the 2004 season. Rivera was reserve outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He is a career .274 hitter and h also has been a much better hitter against left-handers. When the Yankees chose to allow Andruw Jones sign with a team in Japan, the Yankees opened up a spot on the roster for a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who could also serve as a right-handed platoon designated hitter. Neither player is considered as accomplished fielders though Diaz has a bit more range. As hitters, Diaz is a better hitter for average though Rivera boasts considerably more power. Because the Yankees starting outfield is an all left-handed-hitting group consisting of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki it is important that the Yankees have a right-handed-hitting option on the bench. So these two players will be fighting it out.

PREDICTION: Because of Rivera’s former ties to the club and the fact he hits with more power, he has a big edge over Diaz. Neither Gardner or Suzuki have much power so it will be important to have a hitter on the bench who can provide it from the right side. Should Girardi also need a right-handed DH, Rivera fits the Jones mold better than Diaz does. Diaz also has slipped significantly since the 2009 season when he hit .313 and he also is coming off surgery. Rivera, on the other hand, also has slipped from his 2009 season when he hit .287 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs with the Los Angeles Angels. But last season was the first season in which he has failed to connect for double-digit home runs since the 2007 season in which he played in only 14 games. Rivera will likely win the job easily barring injury or something else unforeseen.

1) NO. 5 STARTING PITCHER: IVAN NOVA vs. DAVID PHELPS

Those other position battles are the undercard but this one is the Main Event. It is also odd that there is even a competition involving Nova considering how good he was in his rookie season in 2011. But Nova, 26, struggled from the minute spring exhibitions started in 2012 and it got so bad that he was taken out of the rotation in favor of Phelps by Girardi in September. Nova’s record in 2011 was 16-4 and he was 12-8 last season. However, his ERA jumped from 3.70 to 5.02 and, though he recorded a 1.26 ERA in June last season, his ERA in the other months was: 5.18 in April, 5.87 in May, 5.97 in July, 7.03 in August and 6.23 in September. Ouch! So that is the reason Phelps is challenging him for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Phelps, 25, arrived in camp last spring voted as the organization’s best minor-league pitcher in 2011. Though scouts have always doubted him, Phelps rose through the minors and carries a record of 40-15 with a 2.51 ERA in 90 starts. In spring training, Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven appearances and was named the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. He also earned a spot in the bullpen. Phelps then turned in some sparkling performances as a long reliever and spot starter with the Yankees. He ended the season 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). This competition is hard to handicap because Nova – truth be told – has the nastiest stuff of any of the Yankees’ starters. Last season he just could not harness it and he got hit hard when he fell behind and had to throw fastballs. Phelps is pit-bull on the mound who has supreme confidence in himself and his stuff.

PREDICTION: I really have no idea on how this will turn out but I still believe that Nova has a bit of an edge on the basis of his rookie season. But Phelps has been doubted at every step of the way since he starred at Notre Dame. You can never measure desire and he has it. I can tell you the loser of this battle will not necessarily be heading to the bullpen. For one thing, Nova has little or no bullpen experience. Another reason is that the Yankees probably will want to make sure that the starter they do not select for the rotation remains “stretched out” as a starter at the minor-league level so they can step in case of an injury. I can also say it is refreshing to see that with homegrown starters like Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes already in the rotation and two homegrown starters like Nova and Phelps battling for the last rotation spot, that the Yankees’ minor-league system is beginning to churn out talent at a time when the payroll needs to be reduced.  It sure beats shelling out money to guys like Sergio Mitre and Freddy Garcia. That is progress.