For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.
The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.
Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.
He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.
Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.
The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.
Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.
Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.
He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.
But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.
On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.
That is a shame.
Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.
He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.
But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.
Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.
But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.
On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.
Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.
Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.
Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.
Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.
His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.
On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.
The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.
Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.
In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.
Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.
The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.
Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.
The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.
Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.
So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.
The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.
The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.
The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.
The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.
Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.
He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.
The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.
Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.
The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.
The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.
In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.
Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.
Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.
His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.
Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.
But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.
His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.
These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.
In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.
The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.
YANKEES 7, ORIOLES 5
With time running out in their chase for a playoff spot, the Yankees were hoping on Friday that struggling left-hander CC Sabathia could find some of his old magic to hold down the Orioles. But, instead, their rejuvenated offense came through with a five-run fifth inning to win the first game of a very important weekend series.
Ichiro Suzuki cranked a two-run homer and Robinson Cano added a key two-run single in the fifth as New York overcame a 4-2 deficit to defeat Baltimore and climb within a half-game of third place in the division standings in front of paid crowd of 45,159 at Yankee Stadium.
Sabathia (12-11) actually began the game pitching a perfect 3 1/3 innings before giving up a double to Manny Machado. Two batters later, Chris Davis blooped a single to center to score Machado with the game’s first run.
However, the Yankees reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Cano drew a two-out walk from right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (8-7) and Alfonso Soriano swatted his 29th home run of the season and 12th since he was acquired by the Yankees on July 26.
The Orioles then answered with three runs off Sabathia on a two-run home run by Danny Valencia and two-out RBI single by Machado.
The Yankees took the lead for good, however, in the fifth when Curtis Granderson led off with a double and Mark Reynolds slapped an RBI double of the wall in left-center. Suzuki then cranked a two-run homer to right, his eighth of the season, that gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead.
Austin Romine doubled and Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a single to left. Derek Jeter then drew a walk that loaded the bases with no outs and ended Gonzalez’s evening.
Cano then greeted left-hander T.J. McFarland with a two-run single to right to put the Yankees up 7-4. The Yankees entered the evening 22-1 this season in games in which they have scored at least seven runs.
Gonzalez, who started the game with a career record of 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in six starts against the Yankees, gave up seven runs on six hits and three walks in four-plus innings.
After Adam Jones led off the sixth with a double and Nick Markakis delivered a two-out RBI single, manager Joe Girardi elected to pull Sabathia from the game early.
Despite getting credit for the victory, Sabathia yielded five runs on seven hits and one walk while he fanned four in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees added an insurance run in the seventh off McFarland on a two-out RBI single by Alex Rodriguez that scored Cano.
The Yankees’ bullpen of Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the O’s over the final 3 1/3 innings on two hits and a walk while they struck out one to preserve the victory for the Yankees.
Rivera pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 39th save in 44 chances this season.
The Yankees now are 71-63 on the season and they are eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. However, they are only a half-game behind the Orioles, who are now 71-62. They are tied with the Cleveland Indians in the wild-card standings, 4 1/2 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.
- It was unclear if Cano would be able to start because of a bruised left hand he sustained when he was hit with a pitch on Tuesday night by J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays. But Cano started and was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, a walk, two runs scored and two RBIs. Cano still leads the Yankees in batting (.307), home runs (24) and RBIs (87).
- Since July 26, Soriano and American League MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers lead the major leagues with 12 home runs apiece. Davis of the Orioles, who leads the majors with 47, is third with 10. Soriano is hitting .270 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 32 games with the Yankees.
- Of the Yankees’ 13 hits, Reynolds contributed three of them, including a pair of doubles. Reynolds worked with batting coach Kevin Long to eliminate a left toe tap in order to shorten his swing and Reynolds has responded by going 7-for-12 (.583) with a homer and three RBIs in his past three starts.
- It is becoming quite clear that Sabathia is a liability as a starter this season. His season ERA now stands at 4.91, which would be the highest ERA he has recorded in a season since he was 17-5 with a 4.39 ERA in his rookie season with the Indians in 2001. The Yankees have no choice but to pitch him but they can’t expect much when he does.
- Base-running mistakes cost the Yankees some additional runs in this game. Reynolds was thrown out at third base by Jones from center-field on a single by Suzuki with one out in the sixth. With Soriano on third and Rodriguez on second with two out in the seventh, Granderson bunted a ball along the third-base line. Soriano froze at third, realized Rodriguez was advancing to third and he ended up being tagged out easily by catcher Taylor Teagarden. Reynolds also was thrown out at home by shortstop J.J. Hardy on a high-hopper off the bat of Romine in the eighth.
Though Cano returned to the lineup, infielder Eduardo Nunez missed a second straight game with a sore right knee. But Nunez insisted he was available to play if needed. Nunez twisted his knee in Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays. . . . Reynolds started at first base despite the fact the right-handed Gonzalez was pitching because he been hotter at the plate than lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay. Since being signed off waivers from the Indians, Reynolds is batting .316 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 12 games with the Yankees. . . . The Yankees elected on Friday to move right-hander Phil Hughes’ next start back to Monday against the Chicago White Sox and named Andy Pettitte to start the series finale against the Orioles on Sunday. Hughes has not won a game since July 2 and he has lost 11 of his past 13 decisions.
The Yankees will have a chance to move ahead of the Orioles into third place in the division with a victory on Saturday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova walked six batters (one intentional) but still was able to hold the Rays to two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision on Sunday. He is 4-2 with a 4.95 ERA in his career against the O’s.
The Orioles will counter with right-hander Scott Feldman (4-3, 4.56 ERA). Feldman gave up one run on three hits and four walks in five innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics last Saturday. He is 3-3 with a 4.78 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 1
After suffering through a stretch of 28 games without a home run from a right-handed hitter the Yankees added some pop to that side by trading for Alfonso Soriano, picking up Mark Reynolds off waivers and they waited for the return of Alex Rodriguez.
Now there is no power shortage at all. Just ask the Blue jays.
Soriano hit a pair of home runs and drove in four runs and Reynolds and Rodriguez added a pair of solo shots to support Andy Pettitte’s seven innings of shutout baseball as New York cruised past Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 34,047 at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday.
The Yankees wasted no time in getting to left-hander J.A. Happ (3-4).
Brett Gardner led off the contest with a double of the right-field wall and he advanced to third on a wild pitch. Derek Jeter then scored him with an RBI single.
The Yankees did receive a scare, however, when Happ’s 0-2 pitch to Robinson Cano struck the All-Star second baseman in the lower left part of his left palm. Cano immediately left the game for precautionary X-rays but they later indicated no broken bone and he is listed as day-to-day.
Happ is the same pitcher who hit Curtis Granderson in the right forearm with the first pitch in Granderson’s first at-bat in spring training on Feb. 24. Granderson suffered a fractured arm and missed the first eight weeks of the season.
One pitch later, Soriano launched a titanic blast into the second deck down the left-field line to give Petttte a 4-0 lead before he even threw a pitch.
Soriano added his second homer of the evening on the first pitch from Happ in the third inning. It also was the 400th career home run for the 37-year-old outfielder. Since being obtained from the Chicago Cubs on July 26, Soriano is hitting .275 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 30 games with the Yankees.
Reynolds led off the sixth inning off right-hander Esmil Rogers with a home run to left-center, his second with the Yankees since being signed on Aug. 16 after he was released by the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 5.
Rodriguez added a long home run off Rogers to straightaway center with two out in the seventh for his fourth home run – his second in two nights against the Jays – since being activated from the disabled list on Aug. 5.
While the Yankees pounded Happ for five runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings and got to Rogers for two runs on three hits and walk in 3 1/3 innings, Pettitte (10-9) was in cruise control on the mound for the Yankees.
He yielded only five hits and two walks while he fanned three in seven innings to notch his second victory in five days against Happ and the Jays his 25th career victory against Toronto.
The victory improves the Yankees’ season mark to 70-62 and they are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The are 4 1/2 games back in the wild-card standings. The Blue Jays fell to 59-74.
- Can general manager Brian Cashman make a trade or what when it comes to Soriano? Of course, I have been pushing the Yankees to get Soriano ever since Andruw Jones flamed out early last season but it is better late than never. Soriano is not just contributing to the offense. He is pretty much carrying it night after night. If Soriano gets the Yankees into the playoffs it might be the trade of Cashman’s career.
- Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with the home run and he extended his modest hitting streak to four games. He also has hit three of his four home runs and driven in half of his eight runs in his past nine games. The Yankees need both Soriano and Rodriguez to produce as long as teams continue to run lefties out against the Yankees.
- Pettitte, 41, looked real sharp in what has to be his best start of the season. After going five consecutive starts without a victory, Pettitte has now reeled off three straight winning decisions and he has yielded only one earned run on 15 hits and six walks while striking out 11 in 19 2/3 innings in those starts. That is an ERA of 0.46 and a WHIP of 1.07.
Nothing to complain about in this contest. The Blue Jays are now 2-13 against the Yankees this season and they looked defeated after they were down 4-0 in the first inning. The game was a perfect combination of offense and pitching and they put the Blue Jays away early for an easy victory.
Eduardo Nunez replaced Cano at second base in the bottom of the first inning and was 1-for-4 in the game. However, he received a scare in the eighth inning when he caught a spike in the stadium’s artificial turf and tweaked his right knee. Lyle Overbay pinch-ran for him in the ninth inning and Reynolds shifted from first base to second base in the bottom of the inning. It was only the third time in his career Reynolds has played second base. Cano has a left hand contusion but Nunez’s status for Wednesday is unclear also. . . . Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday he is not going to pull right-hander Phil Hughes from the rotation just yet. There has been speculation that Hughes, who is 2-11 with a 5.26 ERA since May 15, could lose his spot after he lost to the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
The Yankees will attempt to take the rubber game of the three-game series against Toronto on Wednesday.
Staff ace Hiroki Kuroda (11-9, 2.71 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda was tagged for four homers and seven runs at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays last Friday in what probably was his worst start of the season. Kuroda is 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA in his career against the Jays.
The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Todd Redmond (1-2, 4.44 ERA). Redmond surrendered seven runs and failed to get out of the fourth inning in his last start against the Houston Astros. He has never faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3
If the Yankees could play the Blue jays every day they would never have to worry about making the playoffs. After sitting out a three-hour and thirty-two minute rain delay on Thursday the Yankees showed Canada’s team that trying to beat them these days is pretty much a futile exercise.
The Yankees got six strong innings out of Andy Pettitte and they used some timely hitting in the middle innings to sweep Toronto in the four-game series and end the 2013 season with a 10-0 record against them at home in front of a paid crowd of 40,116.
The Yankees not only have won five in a row and 11 of their past 14 games, but they also moved to within 3 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot with 35 games left to play in the season.
Pettitte (9-9) held the Jays to just one run on four hits and three walks while he fanned three to win his second straight start after not having won in his previous five starts. Pettitte also evened his record as he has never recorded a losing season in his 18 years in the majors.
The Blue Jays scored their only run off Pettitte when J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers.
But the Yankees quickly evened it up at the start of the bottom of the fifth when Curtis Granderson launched a rocket of his own into the second deck in right-field off left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3) for his fourth home run of the season.
In a sense it was a bit of retribution for Granderson because it was Happ who hit him in the right forearm on the first pitch he saw in his first spring training game on Feb. 24 and it forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.
The Yankees ended up taking the lead later in the inning but how it unfolded and how they scored the run was just about as bizarre as it can get.
With one out, Happ walked Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart followed with a single to center. The Yankees then loaded the bases when Happ issued a walk to Ichiro Suzuki.
Vernon Wells then slapped a sinking line drive into center-field that replays showed was caught on a sliding attempt by Rajai Davis.
However, first-base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball was trapped and Davis threw the ball to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki as Nunez tagged up and headed home with the lead run.
Kawasaki first tagged Stewart off second base and then tagged Suzuki on second base. Stewart was ruled out and Suzuki was ruled safe. However, the Yankees got credit for the run because Nunez touched home plate just before Stewart was tagged.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued the call and was ejected by Barry. Moments later crew chief Ted Barrett also gave Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle the heave-ho.
Despite the missed catch call Nunez would have scored the tie-breaking run in either case.
The Yankees then broke the game open and chased Happ in the sixth inning when Happ walked both Alex Rodriguez and Granderson with one out.
Right-hander Brad Lincoln was summoned from the bullpen and he promptly loaded the bases by walking Mark Reynolds. Nunez followed with a two-run single to right-center.
Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup then relieved Lincoln and Stewart closed out the Yankees’ scoring for the evening by plating Reynolds on a sensational grab of a grounder and a jump throw from well into foul territory by third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Happ was charged with four runs on three hits and five walks while he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings. The other run was charged to Lincoln.
The Blue Jays did make it interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Shawn Kelley on an RBI single by Kawasaki and a RBI groundout off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.
But Boone Logan shut the door on the rally by striking out Adam Lind with two on and two out.
Rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne, who was just recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, pitched a scoreless eighth and David Robertson twirled a perfect ninth to earn his second save because Mariano Rivera was unavailable to pitch.
The Yankees’ season record now stands at 67-59 and they remain six games behind first-place Boston in fourth place in the American League East. The Blue Jays are now 57-71 and they remain deep in the division basement.
- After struggling much of the summer, Pettitte is showing signs of coming around. In his past two starts he has yielded only four runs (one earned) on 10 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.71. If the Yankees are to make a legitimate run a playoff spot they will need their No. 4 starter to pitch well.
- Nunez two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning proved to be the back-breaker for the Blue Jays. Nunez is having much more success at the plate. Since Aug. 7, Nunez is 17-for-50 (.340) with a home run and nine RBIs. It is shame he is likely to lose his starting spot to Derek Jeter this weekend.
- Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. But he actually helped win the game with his glove in the fifth inning. After Arencibia’s homer, the Jays loaded the bases with one out when Reyes reached on an infield single. Davis then smashed a scorching ground ball that Rodriguez was able to glove before it scooted past him. He then stepped on third and threw to first to double up the speedy Davis to end the inning.
When the Yankees win five in a row there is not much to complain about. The team is finding ways to win games and a large part of it is the batting order they now have is not the one of three weeks ago that looked like the team was playing a split-squad game in Clearwater, FL, in March. The pitching is beginning to shine again also.
The human yo-yo, Claiborne, was recalled on Thursday to replace infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-man roster. Nix likely will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured left hand he suffered when he was struck by a pitch from R.A. Dickey in second inning of Wednesday’s game. Last Friday, Claiborne was optioned to the RailRiders to make room for Reynolds on the roster. On Tuesday, he was called up as the team’s 26th roster player for a doubleheader with the Blue Jays and he was sent back to Scranton the next day. But on Thursday he was back with the team. . . . Jeter batted second and played shortstop on Friday in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild calf strain, likely will play another rehab game for Scranton on Friday and he could rejoin the Yankees on Saturday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
The Yankees open a critical weekend road series with the Rays on Friday.
Ace right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.41 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is looking to bounce back after giving up 11 hits on Saturday in a loss to the Red Sox. It was just his second loss in his past eight starts. Kuroda is 2-1 with 6.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.
Right-hander Chris Archer (6-5, 2.95 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Archer allowed one run on four hits in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday but he did not get a decision. He is 2-0 with 0.60 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 2
It seemed like it was a night just like every other night for the New York Yankees on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
One of their future Hall of Fame players reached a rare milestone. Alfonso Soriano proved again why he is a godsend. The team lost another player for the rest of the season. And they continued to dominate the Toronto Blue Jays as they have all season.
On a night that Ichiro Suzuki collected his 4,000th hit as a professional, Soriano broke a 2-2 tie with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning with a two-run home run as New York ran its season record against Toronto to 11-1 with a victory in front of a paid crowd of 36,140.
Suzuki, who entered the game with 3,999 combined hits between Japan (1,278) and the majors (2,721), slapped a 1-1 offering from right-hander R.A. Dickey past third baseman Brett Lawrie into left-field in the first inning to join Pete Rose and Ty Cobb as the only three players who reached the 4,000-hit plateau in professional baseball.
The crowd immediately stood up to pay homage as the Yankee players and coaches streamed from the dugout to congratulate Suzuki on his achievement. The 39-year-old outfielder then tipped his batting helmet and bowed to the adoring crowd.
Once the game resumed, it became a battle of wills between the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner in Dickey and a pair of young pitchers who the Yankees used only to give 41-year-old left-hander Andy Pettitte an extra day of rest in Adam Warren and David Huff.
The game was locked up into a 2-2 tie until the bottom of the eighth when Robinson Cano laced a 1-1 pitch from the knuckleball-tossing Dickey into right-field for a single. Soriano followed by blasting a belt-high 0-1 knuckler about 12 rows deep into the left-field bleachers for his 26th homer of the season and his ninth for the Yankees since he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 26.
Huff (1-0), who pitched five innings of one-hit, no-run baseball in relief of Warren was credited with the victory.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 37th save of the season.
Dickey (9-12) was saddled with a tough-luck loss despite giving up two runs on four hits and two walks over the first seven innings. Dickey ended up yielding four runs on six hits while he struck out in eight innings. He is the first Cy Young Award pitcher the Yankees have defeated twice in a season since Barry Zito of the Oakland Athletics in 2003.
The Blue Jays opened the scoring after there were two out in the second against Warren when Anthony Gose snuck a bouncing ball just under the glove of Cano into right-field. Gose stole second and scored on a single by Munenori Kawasaki.
The Yankees tied it in the bottom of the frame when Eduardo Nunez led off with a lined single to left. He stole second and reached third on a wild pitch charged to Dickey.
One out later, Dickey struck Jayson Nix in the left hand with a pitch and Nix removed himself from the game to have tests to determine the severity of the injury. The tests indicated that Nix sustained a fractured hand and he likely will miss the remainder of the regular season.
Mark Reynolds was inserted into the game to pinch-run for Nix.
Austin Romine then tied the game with a long sacrifice fly to the wall in left that scored Nunez easily.
The Yankees staked Warren to a 2-1 lead in the third inning when Cano laced a one-out double off the right-field wall and with two out Curtis Granderson slapped a 1-1 Dickey offering into right to score Cano.
Unfortunately, Warren could not hold the lead for long because the Blue Jays tied it back up in the fourth inning when light-hitting catcher Josh Thole smacked a 2-0 fastball off the back wall of the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center for his first home run of the season.
Warren left one batter later after giving up two runs on four hits and two walks while he fanned four batters over three-plus innings.
But Huff became the story by coming in and shutting the Blue Jays out over the next five innings. He only gave up a high-hop infield single to Lawrie as he led off the eighth inning. He walked four and struck out two before giving way to Rivera in the ninth.
The Yankees have now won four straight games and nine of their 10 of their past 13 games.
The team’s season record now stands at 67-59 and they are 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. They are just four games back in the wild-card standings. The Blue Jays have now dropped all nine road games to the Yankees and are 57-70 on the season.
- Soriano was the hottest player in baseball through a five-game stretch from Aug. 13 through Aug. 17 when he was 15-for-22 (.682) with five home runs and 18 RBIs. But he then went into a 0-for-17 tailspin that he broke with his two-run homer in the eighth. Soriano is hitting .260 with 26 home runs and 76 RBIs on the season. But he is hitting .284 with nine homers and 28 RBIs in just 24 games with the Yankees.
- Cano looks to be on one of his patented late-season hitting tears. Cano was 2-for-4 with a double, a single and two runs scored on Wednesday. Since Aug. 5, Cano is 28-for-61 (.459) with two home runs and 11 RBIs. In that 16-game span he has failed to get a hit in only one game and he has raised his season average from .288 to a team-leading .310.
- Huff, who turns 29 on Thursday, was picked up off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in May and he was 1-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre when the Yankees selected his contract on Aug. 15 and placed him on the 25-man roster. He gives the Yankees a left-handed option out of the bullpen and he looked impressive on Wednesday.
It is hard to criticize Brett Gardner and Lyle Overbay for going a combined 0-for-7 in the game because Dickey’s knuckleball was dancing pretty good. The fact the Yankees have turned things around by winning four straight series is encouraging to a team that looked destined for fourth place in the division. Things are starting to look up.
Though it would seem with Nix going on the disabled list on Thursday, it is unlikely the Yankees will recall shortstop Derek Jeter just yet. Jeter is scheduled to begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Thursday with the Scranton RailRiders. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild strain in his right calf, will likely play two games and return to the team in St. Petersburg on Saturday for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. . . . Suzuki’s 4,000th hit also gave him 2,722 in the United States, which ironically allowed him to pass Yankee legend Lou Gehrig on the all-time hits list. Suzuki said that although 4,000 hits means a lot to him he still would like to reach 3,000 hits in the major leagues.
The Yankees can sweep the four-game series and go 10-0 at home against the Blue Jays this season with a victory on Thursday.
Pettitte (8-9, 4.39 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte won his first game in more than month on Friday against the Red Sox allowing three unearned runs in 6 1/3 innings. He is 14-10 with a 4.66 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will start left-hander J.A. Happ (3-2, 4.93 ERA). Happ gave up two runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings in a victory against the Rays on Sunday. He is 2-0 with a 5.16 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
Because of the spate of injuries the New York Yankees have incurred over the past two seasons there has been a suggestion that the team’s iconic logo should be changed to a Red Cross symbol to replace the “Y” laid over a pair of crutches and a Band-Aid to form the “N.” Most fans know about the injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. But there are some injuries which many fans are not aware to lesser players. Let’s look at all of the injuries, when they might return and what impact they could make upon their return.
As most fans know, Alex Rodriguez had surgery to repair a congenital defect in his left hip in January. There has been some question as to why he waited until January to have this surgery. The answer is because the doctor who was performing the surgery believed A-Rod could cut the rehabilitation time by doing exercises prior to the surgery. The surgery was pronounced successful and Rodriguez, 37, is expected to return sometime after the All-Star break. There has not been any word from the Yankees extending that time frame. However, Rodriguez is facing potential accusations surrounding the Miami clinic Biogenesis, which Major League Baseball believes was distributing performance enhancing drugs to players. Rodriguez’s name surfaced in an examination of the clinic’s documents and there have been allegations representatives attempted to purchase the documents on the All-Star third baseman’s behalf. The surgery on Rodriguez was a major reason why the Yankees elected to sign Kevin Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. Youkilis now is an insurance policy in case A-Rod either can’t come back from his surgery or is suspended by MLB. Rodriguez was back on the field in Tampa, FL, for the first time on Monday. He ran sprints, played catch and hit off a batting tee. If MLB does decide to suspend Rodriguez it likely will come just before he is activated because they don’t want Rodriguez to cheat the suspension by spending part of it rehabbing from his surgery.
Much like Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Jeter, 38, suffered a major injury during the playoffs in 2012, fracturing a left ankle that he had hobbling upon for a month prior. Jeter had surgery to repair the ankle and he vowed to return by Opening Day on April 1. The Yankees held him out of early exhibition games and allowed him to play at first as the designated hitter on May 10. However, it was clear that though Jeter was able to hit as he always has, he still was unable to run at full speed. It became inevitable that when Jeter was shut down because of recurring soreness that something was – if you pardon the pun – afoot. A trip back to Charlotte, N.C., in April to the doctor who performed his surgery led to a new X-ray that showed a tiny break near the spot of the original fracture. Jeter is now in a removable walking boot. He will be able to work out without the boot but the timetable for his return has been shifted back to mid-July. He should be able to return to full workouts when the boot is removed within a month. Jeter vows he will play this season and there does not seem to be any reason to discount it. The only real concern is will he be able to display enough range to play shortstop on a daily basis. The Yankees, in the interim, have Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix to play the position. But Nunez has already been shelved twice for two games after being hit by pitches and is currently day-to-day with tightness in his right rib cage. If Nunez is placed on the disabled list, Nix would have to play short and the only available shortstop at Triple-A Scranton is Addison Marausak. The Yankees might be forced to make a trade for another shortstop, preferably someone who could start at the position ahead of Nix.
Teixeira, 33, accepted an invitation this spring to play first base for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He was taking batting practice prior to exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, AZ, when he felt pain in his right wrist. Tests indicated he sustained a partially torn sheath in the wrist, an injury similar to the one suffered by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista last season, which eventually required surgery after a failed comeback. The Yankees believe Teixeira will be able to avoid surgery because it is partial tear and they are lengthening his rehab from their original timetable of 8-to-10 weeks. Teixeira has had the brace from his wrist removed and he hoped to be cleared to take swings in time to return by May 1. However, his doctor withheld clearance for an additional two weeks. Teixiera is in Tampa, FL, taking “tee and toss” swings and he soon hopes to progress to begin taking swings off live pitching in a batting cage. His target date for his return is now closer to June 1. In his absence the Yankees had hoped to use lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay and righty-swinging Youkilis in a platoon. However, a lower back sprain landed Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list so the Yankees are using Overbay full-time and exposing his weakness against left-handers. But they are hoping to have Youkilis back in the lineup soon.
Granderson, 32, was playing in his first exhibition game of the season on Feb. 24 when Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ hit him in the lower right forearm with his first pitch. Granderson left the game and underwent X-rays that indicated he suffered a fractured right forearm and would miss eight weeks. Though the injury was a major blow to the Yankees, of all the injuries the team has suffered, this one the Yankees felt sure about Granderson’s ability to return because bones do heal eventually. Granderson targeted May 1 for his return but that timetable was adjusted two weeks because Granderson missed all of spring training. So the Yankees have him hitting against live pitching at their complex in Tampa. In fact, Granderson was struck on the left tricep by a pitch on Saturday. But it was termed not serious and Granderson remains on track to return to the active roster in a couple of weeks. The Yankees obtained veteran outfielder Vernon Wells to play in left for Granderson and Wells is hitting .280 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the middle of the lineup. That has forced manager Joe Girardi to shift his thinking of how to use Wells when Granderson returns. Wells obviously could be a right-handed DH but those at-bats would be limited because there are so few left-handed starters. So Girardi is considering rotating some rest for his lefty-swinging outfielders (Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) in order to keep Wells’ bat in the lineup more often.
Two things were apparent when the Yankees signed Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. One was that with Rodriguez injured someone had to play the position for a long period of time. Perhaps the player might have to play there the entire season. The second thing was the Yankees were taking a risk on the 33-year-old Youkilis, who had his past two seasons ruined by injuries to his groin and his back. Because Youkilis was versatile enough to play third and first base he also became the player the Yankees could LEAST afford to lose. That scenario played out when Youkilis was removed in the sixth inning of a game on April 20 against the Blue Jays with stiffness in his lower back. The Yankees held him out of competition for six games when Youkilis assured them he was fine. He started a game on April 27 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. However, CC Sabathia slipped off the mound on a ground ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the third inning. Youkilis was forced to slide hard to beat the speedy Cabrera to the base. Youkilis made it but re-aggravated his back injury and had to be placed on the disabled list on April 28. Youkilis was administered an epidural pain-killing injection and he claims he already is feeling better. However, the Yankees are angry Youkilis “talked” them into believing he was fine. They could have backdated his DL stint April 21 and he would have been able to play on May 7. Now he will be able to be activated on May 13 at the earliest. The Yankees are going to make darn sure he is really 100 percent before they activate him. In his absence the Yankees have used Nix at third base and traded to obtain Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies. Nix, however, has not contributed much offensively (.227 batting average with a home run and six RBIs) and on Sunday Nix was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two weak infield popups and he stranded seven base-runners in 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Nelson has played in two games and is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.
With the departure of free-agent catcher Russell Martin, the Yankees opened up the catching competition this spring to Cervelli, backup catcher Chris Stewart and rookie Austin Romine. But Cervelli, who was shipped to Triple A on the last day of spring training to make room for Stewart in 2012, was determined to prove to the Yankees he belonged in the major leagues. Cervelli, 27, reneged on his commitment to play for Italy in the WBC so he could concentrate on winning the starting catching job. Though Girardi left spring camp without naming a starter, Cervelli quickly won the job by playing good defense, throwing well and surprisingly he was even contributing offensively. Cervelli was hitting .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs when he was struck on the right hand by a foul tip off the bat of Rajai Davis leading off a game on April 26 against the Blue Jays. Cervelli sustained a fractured hand and had to undergo surgery to repair the hand the next day. He will be in a cast for more than a month and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He is expected back sometime after the All-Star break. To Yankee fans Cervelli getting injured should not be a total shock. Bad luck and injuries have hovered over Cervelli like a dark cloud. In spring training in 2009, Cervelli had his wrist broken in a home-plate collision with Elliot Johnson of the Tampa Bay Rays. In spring training in 2010, Cervelli fouled a ball off his foot and missed the most of the first month of the season. In spring training of 2011, Cervelli was hit in the helmet with a pitch and missed time with a concussion and had to wear a special batting helmet upon his return. In September of that season, Cervelli suffered another concussion, the third of his professional career, when he was involved in a home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles. He was unable to play for the rest of the season and missed the playoffs. In his place, Stewart is now the starter. Stewart is hitting .256 with two home runs and four RBIs but he is definite step down offensively from Cervelli. Romine was recalled from Scranton to be the backup catcher. Romine’s defense is excellent but his bat is major question mark. Romine also has had his development derailed by a recurring back problem. Stewart is a fabulous defensive catcher but the offense will definitely suffer until Cervelli returns in July.
Chamberlain, 27, returned to the Yankees last season because he missed most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and freakishly breaking his ankle in a spring training trampoline accident. He pitched in 22 games and was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. With Rafael Soriano gone via free agency, much was expected of Chamberlain this season. He was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings over 10 appearances when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain last Thursday. Oblique strains are tricky. He might be back in two weeks but he may miss a month. Either way it shortens the Yankees bullpen considerably. The Yankees recalled 25-year-old right-hander Preston Claiborne to replace him. Claiborne pitched two perfect innings of relief in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the A’s on Sunday. Claiborne is perhaps the best of the young relievers the Yankees have been developing within their system. He is going to have a chance to prove his 95-mile-per-hour fastball can hold up against major-league hitters. With Chamberlain a potential free agent after the season, Claiborne has a perfect opportunity to make his future mark in the Yankees’ bullpen with this recall.
Nova, 26, is your typical enigma. After a sensational rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, Nova fell into the deep end of the pool by going 12-8 with 5.02 ERA last season. This spring Nova was put into a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation with David Phelps. Phelps was 3-3 with a 4.18 ERA in seven starts while Nova was 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in five starts. Girardi elected to keep Nova as his fifth starter and keep Phelps in the bullpen role he filled last season. Nova was not impressive in any of his four starts. He was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA when he was pulled from his last start in the third inning of a game against the Blue Jays with what originally was termed a sore elbow. But tests after the game showed a right triceps strain and Nova was placed on the 15-day DL. Nova’s injury could be two weeks but it could turn out to be much longer. In the interim, the Yankees shifted Phelps into the starting rotation to replace Nova and recalled 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno from Scranton to fill Phelps’ role in the bullpen. Phelps gave up four runs on eight hits, a walk and hit two batters in 5 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros on May 1. Nuno pitched three scoreless innings and gave up three hits in his only outing on April 29 against the Astros. Phelps got better as the season progressed in 2012 so there is no doubt he will pitch better. Nuno was sensational this spring, winning the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie. He just needs chances to prove he can pitch well in the majors. The Yankees actually may be better off without Nova until he conquers his command issues.
It is almost like Pineda is the forgotten Yankee. After all, he has never worn pinstripes in a major-league game even though he has been a member of the team for two seasons. He was acquired in the 2012 offseason in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero. He showed up at training camp 20 pounds overweight and he proceeded to throw some horrible spring training games culminating with a terrible beating at the hands of the Phillies in his final spring tuneup. It turned out Pineda, 24, was pitching with some right shoulder pain and he did not bother to mention it until after that game. Pineda underwent tests that showed he had a torn labrum and the surgery would mean he would need at least a year to recover. Pineda was one of the most impressive young rookie pitchers in 2011 when he made the American League All-Star team. But the Mariners as a team and Pineda had a horrible second half and Pineda finished with a 9-10 record and a 3.74 ERA. There were whispers about Pineda losing velocity in the second half but the Yankees made the trade for the right-hander just the same. Now they are hoping he will be able to make it back to the big leagues this season. He has been rehabbing at the team’s complex in Tampa and reports indicate he has been hitting 95 mph on the radar gun. However, the hope is that Pineda might be ready to start pitching in games in June. The question is will those games be with the Yankees or with a minor-league team. It is looking more likely Pineda will pitch in the minors until he indicates he is ready to pitch in the majors. It is unclear when that will be.
Even more obscure than Pineda is Cabral. The 24-year-old left-handed reliever was a Rule V selection for the Yankees by the Kansas City Royals from the Boston Red Sox in the winter of 2012. Cabral had racked up some impressive numbers with two Red Sox minor-league teams but was left off their 40-man roster. With those two teams Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and racked up 70 strikeouts in only 55 innings. The Yankees saw him as a potential second left-hander to Boone Logan in the bullpen and Cabral battled fellow lefty Clay Rapada all through spring training until Cabral sustained a fractured left elbow in what would have been his final appearance. Cabral has not pitched in a game since and the Yankees are hoping that he can begin throwing this month in a rehab stint that might lead to him being available to pitch in the majors. They hope that could mean he could pitch for them this season. But until Cabral begins throwing it is unclear if he will be able to help and when.
That said, it leads us to some injuries the Yankees have suffered that are actually under the radar. They are not part of the 10 players the Yankees have listed on the disabled list but they actually are important injuries that are having an effect on the current roster. Here they are:
Rapada, 32, benefitted from Cabral’s injury but he likely would have won the job anyway. He also did a great job as the lefty specialist in Girardi’s bullpen last season, recording a 3-0 record and 2.82 ERA while keeping lefties to a low .100 batting average. Rapada likely would have kept his job this season if he did not come down with bursitis in his left shoulder that prevented from pitching this spring. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster but they were able to sign him to a minor-league contract and they have him pitching at Scranton. Rapada has pitched just one inning of one game but there is hope that he might be able to return to the Yankees sometime soon this season because the Yankees have a starting pitcher in Nuno along with Logan in the bullpen. Neither Nuno or Logan are really lefty specialists like Rapada. There is a good possibility that Rapada will be back with the Yankees real soon if he has overcome the bursitis.
Mustelier, 28, is the Cuban defector who turned heads all spring with his hitting. The corner outfielder even was utilized late in the spring at third base and actually had a good shot to make the team. That was until he ran smack into a camera well along the third base line chasing a foul popup in the fourth inning of a game in Tampa against the Miami Marlins on March 15. Mustelier suffered multiple bone bruises to both legs and his shot of making the team was over. In fact, Mustelier only recently recovered enough to be able to start playing at Scranton. He is hitting .231 with a home run and one RBI in five games. Mustelier still has a great shot of being able to help the Yankees at some point this season. He bats right-handed and can play the outfield and third base. In fact, if the Yankees had a healthy Mustelier when Youkilis injured his back, he would have been the player the team recalled from Triple A instead of Corban Joseph or would have not forced the team’s decision to trade for Nelson.
Banuelos, 22, remains as the team’s top pitching prospect despite the fact he has not pitched since the early stages of the 2012 season. Banuelos came up with a sore elbow last season and later tests showed ligament damage that required Tommy John surgery. So Banuelos will miss all of the 2013 season with hopes of being able to compete for a roster spot with the Yankees in spring training in 2014. After impressing the Yankees with a fine 2011 season in which he was 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA at Double-A Trenton the Yankees wanted to see him pitch in the spring in 2012. His combination of a plus fastball and devastating change-up had them salivating at the prospect of him in the majors. But Banuelos took a detour on his control in 2012 and the balky elbow might have been the cause. With veteran starters Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one-year contracts and Phil Hughes eligible for free agency, Banuelos’ recovery could be important to their prospects in 2104.
YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 4
The New York Yankees season is looking like the scene in the 1975 film classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” when the Black Knight insisted on continuing his sword fight with the Green Knight despite having no limbs left and saying “I will bite your leg off.” The only difference is that the injury-riddled Yankees have a lot of bite left in them.
The Yankees’ knight in shining armor on Saturday was Travis Hafner and his bat was mightier than the sharpest sword. Hafner was given a rare start against a left-hander and proved to manager Joe Girardi he should have been starting against lefties all along.
Hafner blasted a three-run home in the fourth inning that drew the Yankees into a 3-3 tie and he added an RBI triple in the seventh inning that broke a 4-4 tie as New York defeated Toronto for a third straight game in front of a paid crowd of 40,258 at Yankee Stadium.
Despite not having his best stuff, CC Sabathia (4-2) pitched eight innings to win a fourth game in April for the first time in his 10 major-league seasons.
The Blue Jays opened a 1-0 lead on Sabathia by pushing a run across in the third on infield groundout by Rajai Davis following a one-out single by Maicer Izturis and a double by Emilio Bonifacio.
They added a run in the fourth on a leadoff home run by Jose Bautista.
Edwin Encarnacion followed Bautista’s home run with a single and he advanced to second on an infield groundout by J.P. Arencibia. He then advanced to third on a passed ball by Chris Stewart, who was playing in his first game as the new starting catcher replacing Francisco Cervelli.
Brett Lawrie then lofted a fly ball to medium right that Ichiro Suzuki caught and Suzuki fired a strike to home plate in time to nail Encarnacion, however, Stewart dropped the ball as he applied the tag, giving the Blue Jays a 3-0 lead.
The Yankees were able to get to left-hander J.A. Happ in the bottom of fourth when Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis, playing in his first game in a week, opened the frame by drawing walks. Hafner then launched a 2-1 fastball into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center field for his sixth home run of the season.
Unfortunately, Sabathia coughed up another home run to begin the sixth inning when Lawrie connected for an opposite-field shot to right-center.
But Sabathia battled and did not allow a base-runner after the home run, retiring the final nine hitters he faced.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to rally in the seventh inning when Robinson Cano slapped a one-out double into right-field off right-hander Esmil Rogers (1-2) and Wells followed with an RBI single to center to score Cano with the tying run.
One out later, Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Rogers with left-hander Brett Cecil. Hafner, who was 0-for-11 lifetime off Cecil, then launched a fly ball to center that ticked off Davis’ glove at the wall in center-field for an RBI triple that scored Wells with the go-ahead run.
The injury-riddled Yankees also were without their two top relievers in David Robertson and Mariano Rivera because Girardi did not want to use them in a third consecutive game. So Girardi instead used Joba Chamberalin to close out the game in the ninth.
Despite giving up a one-out infield singles to both Izturis and Bonifacio, Chamberlain was able to retire Davis and Melky Cabrera for his first major-league save since the 2010 season.
With their third victory in a row the Yankees improved their season record to 14-9. The Blue Jays have sunk to 9-16.
- With Ben Francisco hitting a miserable .103, Girardi elected to start Hafner against a left-hander and it paid off big-time. Hafner was 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs and he is now hitting .309 with six home runs and 14 RBIs. His 14 RBIs are now second on the club behind Cano’s 17.
- Wells was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored as he continues his assault on his former team. Wells is 13-for-29 (.448) with three home runs and six RBIs in six games against the Blue Jays this season. For the Yankees, Wells is hitting .309 with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
- Cano is also continuing his hot streak. He was 2-for-4 with a run scored on Saturday and is 28-for-72 (.389) with seven homers and 17 RBIs since April 8.
- Stewart is kind of a mixed bag as a starting catcher. Though he threw out two base-stealers on Friday he has committed two passed balls in consecutive games and his dropping of Suzuki’s perfect peg to home plate to get Encarnacion in the fourth inning was inexcusable. It hurt Suzuki and Sabathia and it cost the team a run. He better have thanked Hafner after the game for bailing him out.
- I hate to pick on Youkilis but he returned to the lineup in the midst of a slump and he was the only starter without a hit in the game. He is now 3-for-31 (.097) in his last eight starts. In addition, Youkilis is just 1-for-21 against left-handers this season! You would think Youkilis would be smashing lefties but he is not. He needs to start doing it and soon.
- Sabathia gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits and no walks while he struck out four in eight innings. Though he won the game, Sabathia looked very pedestrian at times. He also has given up five home runs in last two starts and that is very much not like the veteran ace left-hander.
Cervelli was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken right hand on Saturday and rookie catcher Austin Romine was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace him on the roster. Cervelli underwent successful surgery on his hand on Saturday and he is will miss a minimum of six weeks. Romine was 14-for-42 (.333) with a home run and four RBIs in 14 games with Scranton. Girardi said he will play matchups in deciding between Stewart and Romine as starters. . . . The Yankees also placed right-hander Ivan Nova on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right triceps. Nova, who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in four starts, was replaced on the roster by left-hander Vidal Nuno, who was the rookie sensation of spring training. Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts at Scranton and he will join Boone Logan as a second left-hander in the bullpen. Girardi said David Phelps will replace Nova in the starting rotation. Because Nuno was not on the 40-man roster the Yankees were forced to shift Derek Jeter to the 60-day disabled list in order to call him up.
The Yankees will go for a very rare four-game sweep of their home series against the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (0-2, 5.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Hughes pitched seven innings of two-run baseball against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday but he did not get a decision. He is 5-5 with a 5.03 ERA lifetime against Toronto.
Hughes will be opposed by reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey (2-3, 4.66 ERA). Despite tightness in his upper neck and back, Dickey is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last three starts. He is 3-1 with a 3.13 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 4
Some victories are just victories but on Friday the New York Yankees earned a hard-fought victory that came at a very high price.
Lyle Overbay stroked an RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth inning that broke a 2-2 tie and New York went on to defeat Toronto in front of paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 36,151 despite the fact they lost their starting battery within the first three innings of the game.
The seemingly cursed Yankees lost starting catcher Francisco Cervelli in the first inning with a fractured right hand after he was struck by a foul tip off the bat of Blue Jays leadoff hitter Rajai Davis. Cervelli’s hand will require surgery and he will be sidelined a minimum of six weeks.
Two innings later, right-hander Ivan Nova was removed from the game with soreness in his right elbow. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI late Friday but his status is unclear.
But the Yankees were able to win the game behind the stellar relief pitching of David Phelps (1-1). Phelps took over for Nova with two on and no out in the third inning and he was able to mostly shut the Blue Jays down over the next four innings.
After Phelps surrendered an RBI single to Colby Rasmus in the third inning, he settled in and only was touched for a solo home run – his second of the game – by Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the sixth inning. Phelps gave up one run on two hits and walked two while he struck out a career-high nine batters.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were the beneficiaries of a season-high 10 walks from Blue Jays pitchers. They also benefitted from a wild pitch and a passed ball to score a pair of runs.
Two pitches after Overbay tripled in the tie-breaking run off Blue Jays reliever Brad Lincoln (0-1) in the fourth, Lincoln uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Overbay to score.
The Yankees also scored in the seventh after Robinson Cano doubled and advanced to third on a Vernon Wells groundout. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki was intentionally walked and Cano trotted home when J.P. Arencibia was unable to catch a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar.
After Jose Bautista blasted a solo home run in the eighth off Yankees reliever David Robertson to draw the Blue Jays to within a run at 5-4, Brett Gardner closed out the scoring for the Yankees with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning off Blue Jays left-hander Darren Oliver.
Although the Blue Jays were able to string out three hits in the ninth inning off closer Mariano Rivera to load the bases with two out, Rivera struck out Rasmus swinging to record his eighth save in eight opportunities this season.
With the victory, the Yankees are 13-9. The slumping Blue Jays fell to 9-15.
- Overbay’s triple in the fourth came off the only right-hander that the lefty swinging first baseman faced on Friday. Overbay was 0-for-3 against three different left-handers on Friday and he is now 1-for-24 (.042) against lefties this season. Overbay is 15-for-48 (.313) against right-handers. He has been forced to make a lot of starts at first base against left-handers due to the back injury that has sidelined Kevin Youkilis since last Saturday.
- Though he gave up an RBI single to Rasmus and a solo home run to Encarnacion, Phelps was absolutely brilliant in his four innings of relief. Phelps faced 15 batters over his four innings of work and struck out nine, seven of them swinging. Phelps had devastating command off both sides of the plate and he likely will replace Nova in the starting rotation should he have to miss time with his right elbow injury.
- Wells continues to swing a hot bat. The Yankees only collected six hits but Wells had two of them. He was 2-for-3 with two singles and a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 2-2 in the third inning. In five games against his former team, Wells is 12-for-26 (.462) with three home runs and and five RBIs.
- The Yankees were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Friday and they stranded nine runners in the game. The Yankees mainly took advantage of the 10 walks, the wild pitch and passed ball from Blue Jays starter Aaron Laffey, relievers Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Delabar and Oliver, and the catcher Arencibia. This was a night of being lucky and not especially being good.
- The Yankees had chances for big innings in the second and third against Laffey but Overbay grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners at first and third and one out in the second inning. In the third inning, Laffey was removed when he walked the bases loaded with two out but Suzuki struck out swinging against Lincoln to end that threat.
- It was almost a blessing Nova was removed in the third inning. He was not pitching well again. He left having given up two runs on four hits and he struck out two in two-plus innings. Nova has been unable to recapture his rookie season form of 2011. Phelps promises to be a big improvement as the No. 5 starter.
Youkilis, 33, took swings in a batting cage on Friday but was unable to start for the sixth consecutive game. Manager Joe Girardi said if Youkilis is unable to play on Saturday the Yankees likely will place him on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 21. That means Youkilis could not return until May 7 when the Yankees open a series against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. . . . Laffey started for the Blue Jays on Friday because the scheduled starter, right-hander Josh Johnson, reported pain in right triceps and he had to be scratched.
The Yankees have a shot to win the four-game weekend series against the Jays with a victory on Saturday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He is coming off a very poor outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday in which he gave up five runs in seven innings, serving up three home runs. Sabathia, 32, is 13-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.
Sabathia will be opposed by left-hander J.A. Happ (2-1, 3.68 ERA). Happ allowed just one run on four hits in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles. But he did not get a decision. Happ is 2-0 with 5.40 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
BRAVES 2, YANKEES 1
TAMPA – To the Yankees and their fans, the tradition and history of the team is almost as important than the future direction of the franchise. On Saturday, the current legends of the team and the promise of the future were on proud display on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, fresh from a morning news conference to announce that 2013 will be his final season in pinstripes, and team captain Derek Jeter, rehabbing from offseason surgery to his left ankle, both made triumphant spring training debuts.
As a metaphor for the future, 23-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez threw four shutout innings against the Braves, yielding just one hit and striking out four batters.
However, as a reminder of the team’s present, the Yankees’ offense could not match its excellent pitching and they fell to Atlanta for their fourth consecutive spring training defeat.
Rivera, 43, spurred the crowd of 10,973 to its feet as he trotted to the mound in the fifth inning serenaded by his personal anthem “Enter Sandman.”
It did not take the master long to establish his signature cutter as Dan Uggla hit a weak infield popup and Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson were caught looking in only 15 pitches. The gathered throng shot to its feet again as one of their heroes strode off the mound and tipped his cap just before he entered the dugout.
Their other “Golden Boy,” Jeter, wasted no time after his standing ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning. He sent the initial offering from left-hander Mike Minor between the shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and the third baseman Francisco in left-field. Though Jeter’s gait appeared to be somewhat labored. It did not make a difference to the fans who cheered the captain they love so dearly.
In a spring marked by injury after injury, disappointment and mounting losses, the fans were just happy to have No. 2 and No. 42 back on the field.
Minor matched Ramirez with four shutout innings of his own. He gave up three hits and two walks.
The Braves scored their first run in the seventh inning on a one-out triple by Pastornicky and a two-out bloop RBI single to center by Uggla. They added an insurance run in the ninth on a Jordan Schaffer double and Schaffer later scored on a sac fly off the bat of Jordan Parraz.
That run proved significant because the Yankees ended a 19-inning spring scoring drought against the Braves that dates back to the team’s spring opener on Feb. 23. Thomas Neal scored Bobby Wilson on a groundout off reliever Alex Wood.
Anthony Vavaro (1-0) pitched a perfect sixth inning to get credit for the victory. Wood pitched two innings to earn his second spring save. Left-hander Francisco Rondon took the loss for the Yankees.
The punchless Yankees are now 3-11 this spring. The Braves improved to 8-8.
- Of all the young pitchers, it’s Ramirez, 23, who’s looked the best. He’s gotten two starts and has pitched a total of shutout nine innings allowing four hits with one walk and five strikeouts. “He’s been great,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The kid has thrown the ball really well. He’s throwing strikes. He’s got an outstanding changeup. His slider is a work in progress. He spots his fastball with velocity. He’s had an outstanding spring.”
- Ichiro Suzuki was 2-for-3 and a stolen base on Saturday. He is hitting .450 for the spring. It is just too bad that nobody in the No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 spots can get enough going at the plate to score him. I bet Girardi is counting the days until mid-May when Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are expected back. Until then it is not much of an offense. It is just plain offensive is what it is.
- Ronnier Mustelier may be built like a tank but he proved on Saturday that he can run when he stroked a two-out triple to right-center in the seventh. Mustelier, 28, is hitting a robust .375 this spring and Girardi even tried him out at third base on Saturday. Mustelier was moved to the outfield because he seems to be better there. But if he could play third well enough the Yankees might keep him because of his potent bat.
- Surprise! The Yankees were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Saturday. It is apparent that the team’s downfall in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers has not been rectified. They are going to have to do better when the season starts.
- Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, two players who are likely going to make the team and are being counted upon in the absence of Granderson and Teixeira, were a combined 0-for-6 on Saturday. Rivera is hitting a respectable .273 but Diaz is struggling, hitting just .222.
- Left-handed designated hitter Travis Hafner was 0-for- 2 and he’s hitting .167. It may not yet be time to panic but you may want to keep the Xanax handy.
Right-handers Phil Hughes, David Robertson and David Aardsma threw bullpen sessions on Saturday and all three reported feeling fine afterward. “All good news,” Girardi said. “Maybe the worm has turned.” . . . After the game right-handers Tom Kahnle and Kelvin Perez were optioned to minor-league camp.
The Yankees hope to seek a better result on Sunday on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.
Right-hander David Phelps will make his fourth start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by J.A. Happ.
Game-time will be at 1:05 EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 3 a.m. on Monday.
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
It hardly can be called a Yankee-Red Sox rivalry without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz playing can it? Well, whatever it was, New York managed to fire the first salvo across the bow in the 2013 season with a victory over Boston in a Grapefruit League game played on Sunday at JetBlue Field in Fort Myers, FL.
Eduardo Nunez keyed a three-run sixth inning with an RBI single and Yankee pitchers only allowed four hits as they came from behind to defeat the Red Sox.
Jose Ramirez (1-0) pitched three shutout innings to earn credit for the victory, Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan (0-1) was the losing pitcher – although two fielding errors by third baseman Drew Sutton led to all three Yankee runs in the sixth being unearned.
The Yankees began the sixth trailing 1-0 on the strength of a leadoff home run by Mike Napoli in the second inning and five dominant shutout innings from starter Ryan Dempster and relievers Koji Uehara and Andrew Miller.
But Corban Joseph started the frame with a one-out, broken-bat single. Bobby Wilson then reached on the first of Sutton’s two errors and Hanrahan walked Brett Gardner to load the bases.
Nunez then stroked a single into right-field to tie the game at 1-1. Jayson Nix then scored Wilson on a RBI fielder’s choice and Gardner scored when Sutton was unable to glove a shot off the bat of Juan Rivera.
The Yankees added a single run in the eighth on a two-out double by Jose Pirela and an RBI double by J.R. Murphy. They added another run in the ninth on a leadoff home run by Thomas Neal.
With the victory the Yankees are now 3-7 this spring and the Red Sox dropped to 5-5.
- Though starter Adam Warren did give up the home run to Napoli, he was extremely sharp otherwise. The 26-year-old right-hander surrendered only the one hit and walked one while striking out two batters. Warren has opened the spring with a sparkling 1.80 ERA. In fact, Warren set the tone for the day because Ramirez followed with his three shutout innings and Chase Whitley, Preston Claiborne and Josh Spence combined to keep the Red Sox off the board until the ninth inning.
- Nunez is making a strong bid to make the team with his clutch hitting and improved fielding. Nunez had hit into a double play and ground out in his first two at-bats before slapping a bases-loaded single just past a diving attempt of second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Nunez may only be hitting .176 this spring but he has committed just one throwing error. That deserves kudos because Nunez has been shaky in the field throughout his career.
- Murphy continues to impress with his hitting this spring. He was 1-for-2 in the game and he is now hitting .500 with a home run and three RBIs in limited playing time. Murphy, 21, is catcher but he is overlooked because of prospects like Austin Romine and 20-year-old Gary Sanchez.
- Melky Mesa had been having a fine spring until Sunday. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and one of the punchouts came with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth. Mesa is now hitting .222 but he still leads the team with two home runs this spring. Mesa is bidding to make the team as either the replacement for Curtis Granderson while he recovers from a broken right forearm or as a reserve outfielder.
- Right-hand reliever Kelvin Perez made it more interesting than it had to be in the ninth inning. Perez entered the inning with a 5-1 lead and gave up two walks and uncorked a wild pitch to allow a run to score before retiring the last three batters to end the game.
- Errors have been killing the Yankees all spring and they made two more on Sunday. But the real culprits have been the third baseman. After third baseman Rob Segedin committed an error in the eighth, Yankee third basemen now have combined to make nine of the 17 errors the Yankees have been charged with in their first 10 games. They don’t call it the hot corner for nothing.
Ichiro Suzuki was able to avoid injury after his sports utility vehicle was totaled in a car crash in Tampa on Saturday. Suzuki was traveling south on Dale Mabry Highway at about 4 p.m. EST when his Land Rover was struck by a vehicle attempting to turn left from West Kennedy Boulevard about three miles from George M. Steinbrenner Field. Suzuki emerged from the vehicle unhurt and the driver of the other car was cited by the Tampa Police Department for failure to yield. Suzuki was not scheduled for the trip to play the Red Sox and he is not expected to miss any Grapefruit League action. . . . Manager Joe Girardi said on Sunday that when Granderson returns to the team he will play centerfield and Gardner will stay in leftfield. Girardi had planned to shift Granderson to leftfield this spring but he was struck in the right forearm by a pitch from J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays in his first at-bat of the spring. He will miss about 10 weeks. Girardi believes it would be too much to ask Granderson to adapt to left during the regular season. Girardi said if Mesa makes the team and starts for the Yankees that he will play center. However, Gardner will play center if the any of the other candidates win the job (Zoilo Almonte, Matt Diaz, Ronnier Mustelier or Juan Rivera). . . . Left-hander Andy Pettitte and closer Mariano Rivera threw simulated games on Sunday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Rivera threw 21 pitches and Pettitte threw 34. Neither pitcher has appeared in a spring game but both said they are on track to pitch in a game soon. . . . Phil Hughes began throwing again on Sunday as part of his rehab work after discovering a bulging disk in his upper back on Feb. 18. Hughes, 26, threw 25 tosses at about 60 feet and he pronounced it a “positive first step.” . . . An MRI on left-hander Boone Logan’s left elbow showed minor inflammation and he is expected to be back on the mound sometime within this week.
The Yankees will have a day off from exhibition games on Monday.
They will resume their schedule on Tuesday by playing host to the Atlanta Braves.
David Phelps will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Left-hander Paul Maholm will start for the Braves, which will make it a rematch of the opener of the Yankees’ spring schedule on Feb. 23 at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST – the Yankees’ first home night game this spring – and the game will be televised live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.
NOTE: In my previous post I indicated that Sunday’s Yankees-Red Sox game would be broadcast by WCBS Radio in New York. This was incorrect information that was listed in the yankees.com web site’s 2013 Broadcast Schedule. I apologize for any inconvenience. The game only was broadcast by WEEI in Boston, which also was available on MLB Radio.