Tagged: Gustavo Molina

Yankees Exterminate Rays Behind Maxwell, Molina

GAME 19

YANKEES 5, RAYS 2

Upstart rivals like the Rays are like cockroaches. You can’t be satisfied with just watching them flail aimlessly in their backs. You have to step on them hard to remove all hope. The Yankees did that on Wednesday.

Justin Maxwell, who continues to impress this spring, hit a bloop double near the right-field line to score Cole Garner with the tie-breaking run in the ninth to put Tampa Bay on their backs and Gustavo Molina followed with a two-run home run to snuff them out as New York came from behind to win at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

The Rays took an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on infield single by Carlos Pena and a two-run home run to straightaway center by Matt Joyce off Yankee starter Phil Hughes.

The Yankee rallied to score single runs in the sixth and seventh innings off Rays left-hander Ceasr Ramos.

Rule 5 selection Cesar Cabral (1-0) pitched two innings to earn the victory. Michael O’Connor pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save. Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and pushed over the .500 mark on the spring at 10-9, The Rays are 5-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cabral earned this victory the hard way. In both innings he struck out the side with a potential lead run on third base. His work in the eighth was particularly impressive. Elliot Johnson opened the inning with a double down the left-field line. Cabral then committed a balk that advanced Johnson to third. Cabral escaped disaster by fanning Jeff Salazar, Luke Scott and Matt Mangini. Cabral, 23, is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and has given up two runs on 10 hits and one walk in seven appearances this spring. More impressive is his 11 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Cabral is competing to become a second left-hander in the bullpen and if he loses the battle he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. That would be a shame because Cabral looks like he is a very talented young pitcher.
  • Hughes pitched a sensational five innings despite the Joyce two-run home run. Hughes only gave up one hit after the second inning, walked one and struck out three. Hughes threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 19 batters he faced including the last 10 batters he faced. Hughes is 0-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his four spring outings and he may be on the verge of winning a spot in the rotation.
  • Maxwell’s spring heroics continued on Wednesday. Cole Garner opened the ninth with a ground-rule double off Gomes. Jorge Vazquez, who tied the game in the seventh with an RBI double, advanced him to third on a long flyball to center and Maxwell scored him with his bloop double. Maxwell, 28, is hitting a sizzling hot .435 with five doubles among his 10 hits this spring. Maxwell, as I said before, won’t make the 25-man roster but his impressive play may win a call-up this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees scored their first run in the sixth inning when Raul Ibanez grounded out to first with the bases loaded and one out. OK, why would an RBI by Ibanez be a negative? Well, Ibanez was 0-for-3 again and his average has now dipped to .059. Seriously, grounding out with the bases loaded? That is bad. Pretty soon they are going to replace the Mendoza Line with the Ibanez Line to measure hitters. Of course, hitting better than .059 could be a piece a cake for even most pitchers.

BOMBER BANTER

Nick Swisher said that his groin injury was much better on Wednesday. Swisher was removed from Tuesday’s game in the third inning after he struggled to run out an infield grounder. After resting a tight left groin, Swisher now has soreness in his right groin. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will not return to the lineup until he is fully recovered. He is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  On the heels of Andy Pettitte’s impressive bullpen session on Tuesday the Yankees have scheduled him to throw batting practice to live hitters on Friday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte is targeting May 1 for his return to the major leagues.  . . .  Freddy Garcia, who suffered a bruised right hand on a hard-hit grounder by Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL on March 14, will start on Saturday in Lakeland, FL., against the Detroit Tigers. The presence of Pettitte means Garcia will have to pitch well to win a spot in the rotation.

ON DECK

It is time for the 2012 version of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry Part 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees, who lost a 1-0 game on two errors on one play in the ninth on March 13, will make their first visit to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.

CC Sabathia will skip the game in order to pitch in minor-league game. The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps, who ironically was the losing pitcher in that March 13 game against the Red Sox. Phelps is 0-1 with a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring. Overshadowed in the organization by mega-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Phelps has actually outpitched them both.

The Red Sox will start veteran right-hander Aaron Cook, one of the many pitchers they invited in an open casting call for a No. 5 starter for the 2012 season. Cook is 0-0 with a 0.00 in two outings (one start) covering 5 1/3 innings.

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

 

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Yankees’ Nova Lays Giant Egg In Orioles’ Nest

GAME 17

ORIOLES (SS) 6, YANKEES 3

Adam Jones connected for a three-run homer and Matt Wieters added a solo shot in the first inning off Ivan Nova as a Baltimore split squad powered their way past New York in a Grapefruit League game on Sunday night at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.

Alfredo Simon (1-0) pitched two innings, giving up one run on two hits and a walk, to get credit for the victory. However, it was a painful victory. Simon had to leave the game after two innings after re-aggravating a groin injury. Stu Pomeranz struck out the side in the ninth to earn a save.

Nova (0-2) regressed from his last start against the Red Sox, giving up five runs on seven hits in four innings of work despite striking out four. Nova did, however, retire seven of the last eight hitters he faced in the last 2 1/3 innings he pitched.

The Yankees, after winning three consecutive games to even their spring record, fell to 8-9. The Orioles improved to 6-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Mark Teixeira doubled off Simon in the second inning and later scored on a Justin Maxwell groundout to push across the Yankees’ first run. Teixeira is beginning to show signs of coming around with the bat and his spring average is now at .238.
  • Dewayne Wise and Jose Gil drove in a run apiece in the seventh inning off right-hander Jon Link. Link came on with one out in the inning and allowed a single to Bill Hall and walked Chris Dickerson. Hall scored on Wise’s double to left-center and Dickerson scored easily on Gil’s sacrifice fly.  Wise was 2-for 2 with a walk, stole a base and drove in a run.
  • Brett Gardner showed off his defensive skills in the second inning by hauling in a fly ball in center field off the bat of J.J. Hardy and firing the ball on the fly to Teixeira at first to double off the speedy Endy Chavez.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Manager Joe Girardi was not pleased when Nova told reporters that the home runs Jones and Wieters hit came on a slider (to Jones) and a curve (to Wieters) that catcher Gustavo Molina called, but Nova did not have confidence in throwing. Girardi said what the pitcher throws is his decision because he holds the ball. Despite the hiccup on Sunday night and his 7.82 spring ERA, Nova is still pretty much assured a spot in the rotation.
  • The Raul Ibanez saga continues. He was 0-for-3 on Sunday and he is now hitting a dreadful .065. Not only that, but his bat speed through the hitting zone looks slow and methodical rather than free and easy. With the money Ibanez is making, he is assured a spot on the roster and will open the season as the designated hitter. But his work this spring is reminiscent of the spring Randy Winn had two seasons ago. Winn ended up being released in May.
  • The Yankees’ base-running was atrocious. Eduardo Nunez and Mason Williams were caught stealing by Wieters. Wise managed to steal a base but Wieters threw him out after he strayed too far off the bag. Also Hall nearly got passed on the base-paths by Dickerson when Hall mistakenly started back to second on Wise’s double.

BOMBER BANTER

All-Star reliever David Robertson pitched a pain-free bullpen session in Tampa, FL., and he hopes to be able to pitch in a spring game in about a week. Robertson has been sidelined since March 7 when he suffered a bone bruise on his right foot slipping on step at his home.  . . .  The injuries are piling up. This one can be blamed on another Oriole pitcher trying to “impress” by pitching inside without control. Last spring, Jeremy Guthrie seemed to be pitching to Yankee targets in the batter’s box. This season it is left-hander Troy Patton. Patton unleashed a 3-2 pitch right at Robinson Cano in the sixth inning and it struck the All-Star second baseman in the left hand. Cano left the game to have precautionary X-rays, which showed no broken bones. Girardi said Cano just has a contusion and some soreness. Cano is listed as day-to-day. To add insult to the injury, first base umpire Tim Welke incorrectly ruled Cano swung at the pitch and he was called out. Television replays showed Cano never actually brought the bat forward to swing.  . . .  Girardi all but ruled out that the team would go to a six-man rotation to accommodate 39-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte. The Yankees will allow Pettitte to get in game shape for about seven weeks but it is unclear what role Pettitte will assume when he is ready.

ON DECK

Good news for Ibanez and Cano, the Yankees do not have a game scheduled on Monday. Cano can ice his sore left hand and Ibanez can see if he can hit a ball in the cage. The Yankees will resume their spring schedule on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Right-hander Michael Pineda is scheduled to make his fourth start for the Yankees. In addition, walking wounded Russell Martin (groin), Nick Swisher (groin) and Derek Jeter (calf) are scheduled to return to the lineup.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be shown nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and locally via a live broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Lose As Fringe Pitchers Give Up 8 Runs

GAME 3

PHILLIES 9, YANKEES 3

Hector Luna cracked a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning to cap a six-run rally as Philadelphia defeated New York in a Grapefruit League contest on Monday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Phillies right-hander Austin Hyatt (1-0) pitched two innings and got credit for the victory in relief despite the fact he gave up two runs that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead heading into the sixth. Yankees right-hander Adam Miller (0-1) took the loss after facing six batters and not retiring one of them.

Reserve infielder Mike Martinez, who misplayed three ground balls in a 7-4 loss to the Yankees on Sunday, added a two-run home run in the seventh inning off left-hander Juan Cedeno.

The Yankees are 2-1 in Grapefruit League play. The Phillies are 1-2.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Michael Pineda, who was acquired by the Yankees in the trade with the Seattle Mariners for Jesus Montero, made his spring debut for the Yankees and looked sensational. Pineda gave up one hit and struck out two in his two innings of work, throwing 19 of his 30 pitches for strikes. Pineda’s highlight was fanning veteran Jim Thome in the first inning on a high fastball.
  • The Yankees scored their first run without the benefit of a hit off Hyatt in the fifth. Russell Martin worked a leadoff walk and Hyatt then struck Eduardo Nunez on the right hand with a pitch. Martin advanced to third on a fly ball off the bat of Bill Hall and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Nix. The Yankees scored in the following inning because of more shoddy Phillies fielding. Brett Gardner’s fly ball to left was misjudged by left-fielder Domonic Brown and the ball then caromed off the knee of center-fielder Tyson Gillies and rolled to the left-field wall. Gardner was attempting to slide into third when second baseman Kevin Frandsen’s relay throw got past Luna at third and Gardner ran home on what was scored as a triple and a throwing error on Frandsen.
  • The Yankees have no real jobs open but they have been very impressed with the bat of 22-year-old outfielder Zoilo Almonte. Almonte did it again on Monday. In the seventh inning he delivered a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander Brian Sances to score Brandon Laird with the Yankees’ third run. Almonte had four RBIs in Friday’s 11-0 exhibition victory against the University of South Florida. In his three games against the Phillies he is 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Almonte hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs in 116 games with Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
  • Reliever Ryan Pope looked good in the final 1 2/3 innings of the game. He retired all five batters he faced and fanned two. In a day when Miller and Cedeno combined to give up eight runs, Pope was a godsend.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Miller looked terrible in his Yankee debut. The former Indians prospect was signed on Jan. 4 as a free agent. Miller’s progress was delayed after he suffered ligament damage in his right finger that forced him two miss two seasons. Miller opened the sixth with a 2-1 lead and he gave up a leadoff single to Jim Thome. Thome was replaced by pinch-runner Juan Pierre but catcher Gustavo Miolina nabbed him attempting to steal second. Then the roof caved in for Miller. He walked Scott Podsednik, Ty Wigginton and Brown in succession. Erik Kratz followed with a RBI single and Miller forced in another run by hitting Frandsen with his next offering. Girardi then removed him.
  • Cedeno, the pitcher who replaced Miller, is among four lefties vying for a bullpen spot on the team. He has some work to do because in relief of Miller in the sixth he gave up a sac fly to Freddy Galvis, walked Gillies and then gave up a bases-loaded double to Luna that broke the game open. The following inning he gave up a two-run home run to Martinez.
  • David Robertson did not look sharp in his spring debut. After retiring the first two batters, he walked Jimmy Rollins and Rollins made him pay by stealing both second and third base. Rollins then scored the game’s first run on a sharp single up the middle by Placido Polanco.

BOMBER BANTER

The only real good news from Monday’s game was that X-rays on the right hand of Nunez were negative for a break. Nunez had swelling and pain but the injury is not considered serious and he is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  For all intents and purposes the battle for the backup catcher spot behind Martin is over. The back injury suffered by Austin Romine will put him so behind Francisco Cervelli that he will not be able to win the job. Manager Joe Girardi said the Yankees want to take a cautious approach with Romine’s back because it is a recurrence of an injury he suffered last season at Double-A Trenton. Girardi told Romine it would better for him to rest now and clear up the problem rater than have it crop up again later in the season.  . . .  For the first time this spring, the Yankees played a game in which the wind was not howling and became a factor in the game. Temperatures were in the upper 60s and the wind was blowing in from center-field at just 5 mph. That was likely good news for the players and the crowd of 9,956 that attended the game at Bright House Field.

ON DECK

After winning two of three in their opening series with the Phillies, the Yankees travel to Bradenton, FL, to play the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday.

The Yankees plan to start ace left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander Phil Hughes is also scheduled to pitch. The Yankees will bring their starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to the game.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will not be broadcast on television.

 

Pineda, Banuelos Drawing Raves From Yankees

Most of the early buzz around the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, has revolved around two young starting pitchers, Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos.

That is just fine with Yankee genetral manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi because a lot of the team’s future is riding on those two young arms.

Pineda, 23, came to camp 10 pounds overweight and burdened by the pressure that Yankee fans expect him to be great because he was traded from the Seattle Mariners for one of the best young power-hitting prospects the Yankees have ever developed in Jesus Montero.

However, once the Yankees saw what Pineda had in his bullpen sessions they have been gushing with praise. With good reason, too.

The first thing you notice about Pineda is that he has the same intimidating height as staff ace CC Sabathia. But he also backs it up with an electric fastball and a biting slider.

On Monday, minor-league outfielders Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa stood in the batter’s box to face Pineda and Sabathia at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Each pitcher threw about 25 pitches and there was not much in the way of solid contact by either Curtis or Mesa.

“He’s a monster,” Curtis said about Pineda. “He’s big up [on the mound.]”

Veteran catcher Gustavo Molina also praised Pineda’s stuff. “Really good stuff. That’s the first time I have caught [Pineda]. It looks like he has power in everything he throws. It looked good for me. They know what they are doing. That is why they made the move.”

During his session on Monday, Pineda mixed in a handful of change-ups. Pitching coach Larry Rothshild and Girardi want Pineda to use spring training to work on throwing the change-up so he can add it to his arsenal during the season. Pineda threw only his fastball and slider in his rookie season in which he was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA wit the Mariners.

“It is important to him, and it is important that he works on it in spring training,” Girardi said.

Meanwhile, Banuelos caught the eye of guest pitching instructor and fellow left-hander Andy Pettitte on Monday.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen him throw. He looks great, man,” Pettitte said. “The ball just explodes coming out of his hand.”

Banuelos, 20, was a combined 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. However, Banuelos walked 71 batters in 129 2/3 innings and he realizes that it was way too many.

So Banuelos is trying to command his fastball in the strike zone and keep the pitch more consistent.

For his part, Petitte was thoroughly impressed by what he saw.

“You never know what anybody’s going to do until they get to the big-league level and they go out there and they are kind of battle-tested,” Pettitte said. “You can talk about people all you want, but he looks great. His stuff looks great.”

Because the Yankees have six starters competing for the five-man rotation, Banuelos will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton along with fellow starters Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell to work on his craft without the pressure of the big lights in the Bronx.

But Pettitte does a future for Banuelos and the Yankees could call him up at some point if he is needed this season. But a more realistic ETA is probably 2013.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi announced how his rotation will line up for the beginning of the Grapefruit League season and Warren will get the starting nod for Friday’s exhibition game against the University of South Florida at Steinbrenner Field. First pitch will be at 1:05 p.m. Ivan Nova will open the official Grapefruit League season on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. That game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network. Veteran Freddy Garcia will have the honor of opening the home schedule on Sunday against the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. Pineda will make his spring debut on Monday against the Phillies in Clearwater, also at 1:05 p.m. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes will each pitch in a March 6 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Bradenton, FL. Hiroki Kuroda will make his Yankee debut on March 7 at home against the Tampa Bay Ray at 1:05 p.m.  . . .  Robinson Cano has been excused from camp in order to attend the funeral in the Dominican Republic for his grandmother, who passed away on Sunday.  . . .  The Yankees announced that outfielder Chris Dickerson has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to the Triple-A Scranton roster. Dickerson, 29, will remain in camp because he is out of minor-league options. The move clears roster space for Eric Chavez, who signed a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Yankees to return as corner infield reserve in 2012. In another move, the Yankees placed former Mariners closer David Aardsma on the 60-day disabled list. Aardsma, 30, saved 69 games for the Mariners in 2009 and 2010 but did not pitch last season after undergoing Tommy Jone surgery on his right elbow on July 22.

 

Branyan Among 27 Players Yanks Invite To Tampa

The New York Yankees announced Wednesday the signing of 13 players to minor-league contracts and have issued invitations to 27 players to spring training.

Besides utility man Bill Hall, who was signed to a minor-league deal on Tuesday, the biggest name on the list was left-handed power hitter Russell Branyan, who was signed on Wednesday. Branyan could figure as a cheap solution to the designated hitter spot should the Yankees fail to reach agreement with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or Raul Ibanez.

Branyan, 36, played in 68 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels and hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. Branyan is capable of playing first base, third base and as a corner outfielder but has primarily been a DH or pinch-hitter. In his 14-year career, Branyan has 194 home runs, 467 RBIs and a .232 batting average.

Branyan also has the distinction of hitting two of the longest home runs in the short history of the new Yankee Stadium.

Among the other prominent veterans invited to spring training are former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen, former Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima and former Blue Jays outfielder Dewayne Wise.

Delcarmen, 29, was a combined 3-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 57 appearances with the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. He will compete for a spot in a stacked and talented Yankee bullpen.

Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Okajima will have to compete with fellow Red Sox left-hander Cesar Cabral, 23, to join Boone Logan in the bullpen as a second left-hander. Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in just seven appearances with the Red Sox last season before he was sent to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, where he spent the rest of the season before being released.

Wise, 33, is best known for his spectacular ninth-inning catch to preserve Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. Last season, Wise hit .202 with two home runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 69 games with the Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins. Wise is considered an excellent fielder with good speed and he has the ability to play all three outfield spots.

Among the group of players also invited to spring training is the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, left-handed starter Manny Banuelos. Banuelos, 20, will join the team’s No. 2 prospect, right-handed starter Dellin Betances, who already was on the 40-man roster. Naeither pitcher is expected to make the major-league club out of spring training but they could be factors later in the season.

In addition, the Yankees have also invited two star catcher prospects: Gary Sanchez, 19, and J.R. Murphy, 20. Sanchez, ranked as the team’s No. 3 prospect, and Murphy, is ranked No. 13, both require seasoning at the minor-league level but are considered excellent future catching prospects.

The other players who received invitations include:

Left-handed pitchers: Juan Cedeno, Mike O’Connor.

Right-handed pitchers: Daniel Burawa, Matt Daley, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, Kevin Whelan, Chase Whitley.

Catchers: Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Gustavo Molina.

Infielders: Doug Bernier, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez.

Outfielders: Colin Curtis, Cole Garner, Brett Marshall.

 

Injuries Short-Circuit Martin’s Good First Half

 

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (.222 BA, 10 home runs, 34 RBIs)

It is not easy replacing a legendary figure like Jorge Posada. But Russell Martin came to the Yankees looking to re-establish himself as one of the best catchers in baseball as he was in 2007.

At age 39, Posada was being phased out as a catcher after 13 seasons in which he had helped the Yankees win four World Championships. He was now the team’s designated hitter. Martin was let go by the Los Angeles Dodgers after two injury-plagued seasons. It was a new opportunity for Martin. A fresh start.

Martin was slowed initially in spring training as he recovered from surgery on his right knee. But once he started catching again it was obvious the skills that made him a Gold Glove catcher in 2007 were still there. The big question was what Martin would hit? Injuries had plagued Martin in 2009, though he played in 143 games. Last season, a hip injury limited him to only 97 games and he hit a miserable .248 with five home runs and 26 RBIs. It was a far cry from the .293 he hit in 2007 with 19 home runs and 87 RBIs.

The Yankees hoped he was healthy enough to play the good defense he displayed with the Dodgers. Any offense he provided would be bonus.

In the first month and a half, the Yankees got to see all that Martin could do. In April, Martin hit .292 with six home runs and 19 RBIs. Not only that but he was providing great defense behind the plate, slowing down opposing teams’ running games and building a rapport with the pitchers.

In May, Martin played well up until he fouled a ball of his left toe in a game in late May. Martin was hurt but he would not come out of the lineup and he played on. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake. He was not that same hitter after that. On May 24, Martin was hitting .270 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. Since then, Martin’s offense has fallen off a steep cliff.

Then Martin wrenched his back lifting weights after a game on June 4. He missed eight of the next nine games and finally reclaimed his starting job on June 16. The defense was there. The ability to control a running game was there. The rapport with the pitchers was there.

But the bat wasn’t. Since May 24, Martin is 14-for-79 (.177) with one home run and eight RBIs. Clearly the toe and back injuries have cost Martin dearly at the plate. He fell into some bad habits compensating for the injuries and it has him trying to recover the stroke he had in the first part of the season. With hitting coach Kevin Long working with him, Martin should be able to do that.

But Martin’s biggest contribution is his work with the pitchers and the fact that teams can no longer turn games into track meets as they did last season. Yankee catchers only caught 12 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on them in 2010. Martin came into the season with a career mark of 30 percent and he is at 27 percent this season. He also is the calling the pitches for a pitching staff that has exceeded expectations and the No. 1 bullpen in the league based on ERA.

Martin initially led all American League catchers in the voting for the 2011 All-Star Game. However, he was overtaken in the last round of voting by Tigers catcher Alex Avila. But a measure of the respect Martin has already gained is proven out by the fact that he was voted in as a reserve by the players. That speaks volumes as what Martin has been to the Yankees in the first half.

There is a good chance that since Martin is a career .268 hitter, that we will see a bounce-back from his .222 current average in the second half. The main thing for Martin is staying healthy and keeping up his good work behind the plate.

Because of his great first part of the season, Martin was headed for an A grade. But injuries have obviously put his offense in a tailspin. So I am going to give a solid B for now. Replacing a legend is not easy but Martin is making it look like a smooth transition so far.

BACKUP CATCHER – FRANCISCO CERVELLI (.231 BA, 1 HR, 13 RBIs)

Cervelli began the season on the disabled list after he hit a foul ball off his left foot in spring training. He returned on May 1 and he has hit about what he should be for a backup catcher.

Though he does not have much power, his second major-league home run was a huge grand slam home run against the Texas Rangers in Arlington on May 8, which led to a comeback victory.

But when Cervelli has been behind the plate, he has had trouble throwing out base-runners. He is at less than 10 percent this season. In addition, he has committed five throwing errors, which have cost the Yankees an additional base on each error. I said this last season and I will say it again: Cervelli has to address his throwing issues and resolve them if wants to remain the backup catcher for this team.

The Yankees do not really care what Cervelli hits as a backup catcher. What they really want from him is solid defense, for him to call a good game and deter base-runners from running wild on the pitchers. Cervelli is doing two of those three.

He gets a first-half C for his efforts.

OTHERS

Gustavo Molina, 29, was the backup catcher for the first month of the season when Cervelli was hurt. But he only appeared in three games and started two because Martin was able to catch most of April because of a series of rainouts. Molina hit .167 and he did not commit an error or passed ball. He also caught one of the two runners who attempted steals against him. Molina is just a veteran defender who is back at Triple-A Scranton in case anything happens to Cervelli.

The centerpieces of the Yankees’ future at the catcher position are in the minors now.

Jesus Montero, 21, is hitting .289 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs at Scranton. Austin Romine, 22, is hitting .302 with four home runs and 35 RBIs at Double-A Trenton. And Gary Sanchez, 18, is hitting .250 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs at Single-A Charleston.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Martin B

Cervelli C

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B-

There is room for improvement for both Martin and Cervelli in the second half. Martin needs to shake the nagging injuries and get his bat going again, while Cervelli needs to improve his throwing. But these two are doing an excellent job guiding this pitching staff and they deserve some of the credit for the strength of the pitching in the first half. The fact that Posada has not been needed behind the plate is also a good thing. The torch has been passed successfully and the future of this position is very, very bright.

NEXT: FIRST BASE

Yanks Score Late Off Miscue To Draw Even With Rays

GAME 6
YANKEES 1, RAYS 1 (10 innings)
Gustavo Molina singled, moved to second on a Kevin Russo single and scored on an error by shortstop Ray Olmedo as New York tied Tampa Bay in the top of the eighth inning in a game that was called after 10 innings at Charlotte Sports Park in Post Charlotte, FL.
The Rays scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a two-out double by Casey Kotchman and consecutive walks to Daniel Mayola, Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer by Dellin Betances.
The Yankees are 2-3-1 in Grapefruit League play. The Rays are 1-4-1.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Freddy Garcia pitched two scoreless innings in his first start of the spring. Garcia, who is bidding for a rotation spot, gave up a walk in the first and a double in the second inning but escaped both frames without giving up a run.
  • Ivan Nova followed Garcia and pitched three scoreless innings. He gave up a thee hits but was bailed out by Brett Gardner in the third inning. After Tim Beckham doubled for the Rays, B.J. Upton singled to left. Gardner fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike to catcher Jesus Montero to nail a sliding Beckham at home plate.
  • Give credit to Adam Warren, Robert Fish, Daniel Turden and D.J. Mitchell, too. They shut down the Rays over the final 2 1/3 innings on two hits, no walks and four strikeouts.
  • Eric Chavez is swinging a good bat in his bid to become the backup corner infielder. He had a double and hit a ball well in the fifth inning that was held up by a 22-mile-per-hour gale blowing towards home plate. Chavez is hitting .333 early in spring.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Betances actually was sailing along in the seventh inning when he suddenly “lost” the strike zone. The 22-year-old right-hander completed an easy 1-2-3 sixth inning on only nine pitches and fanned Manny Ramirez and Matt Joyce looking to begin the seventh before Kotchman’s double opened the floodgates.
  • Once again, the Yankee starters were unable to manufacture any offense. Other than the Chavez double, the Yankees only other hit came from Curtis Granderson, who doubled in the seventh. In the past three games the Yankee starters have combined to go 10-for-77 (.130) and scored one run.
  • Gardner opened the game by drawing a walk and stole second base. However, he fell asleep and allowed Rays starter James Shields to pick him off second base.
BOMBER BANTER
The Yankees have sent the results of Francisco Cervelli’s CT scan and MRI off to New York to allow team doctors to analyze them. Cervelli fouled a ball off his left foot in a game against the Astros on Wednesday. The team hopes it is just a bad bruise but there are fears it could be a fracture. Cervelli is locked in a battle with Montero and Austin Romine to be the backup catcher for Russell Martin. Manager Joe Girardi said a prolonged absence could affect Cervelli’s chances of making the team.  . . .  Garcia told reporters that he deserves to be a starter for the Yankees and it is his job to lose. He said if he loses the spot than it would be his fault.  . . .  The Yankees renewed acquaintances with old friend Johnny Damon, who signed as a free agent with the Rays. Damon said he talked to the Yankees about returning this winter but felt he was not ready to become a part-time player because the Yankees outfield was set and Jorge Posada would be the full-time DH.  . . .  The weather in Florida has been great temperature wise and Wednesday’s game was played at 78 degrees and under sunny skies. But the wind played havoc with fly balls to the outfield and definitely was an advantage to the pitchers. Their mistakes ended up be knocked down in the wind and caught.
ON DECK
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field to host their old rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the first night home contest of the season. The Yankees are scheduled to start non-roster invitee Bartolo Colon. The Red Sox are countering with young right-hander Clay Buchholz.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.