Tagged: Jake Odorizzi

McCann Spurs Win But Yankees Put Tanaka On DL

GAME 21

YANKEES 4, RAYS 2

The baseball diamond is usually the proving ground but sometimes events off the field greatly overshadow what occurs in between the lines. Tuesday was one of those days.

While the New York thoroughly frustrated Tampa Bay and got two doubles and three RBIs from Brian McCann to run their season record against the Rays to 5-0, the team learned that ace starter Masahiro Tanaka was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Tanaka, 26, is experiencing tendinitis in his right wrist and tightness in his right forearm and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the right-hander will not throw for at least seven to 10 days and will miss a month at a minimum.

For the Yankees this is a major blow to a rotation that helped push the team into first place in the American League East. Tanaka, who felt the discomfort a day after pitching a bullpen session on Sunday and reported it to the team on Tuesday, becomes the third Yankee starter on the disabled list along with left-hander Chris Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova.

Cashman told reporters that Tanaka’s current injury is unrelated to the partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow he sustained last July.

“It has nothing to do with my elbow, so that’s something that’s out of the question for me,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter.

Tanaka is 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA in four starts.

As for the game, the Yankees used right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0) as a spot starter ostensibly to give Tanaka an extra day of rest and he kept wriggling out jams so well over his five innings that he earned a victory.

The Yankees spotted him an early 2-0 lead in the first inning as Jacoby Ellsbury used his speed to manufacture a run. He singled off starter Jake Odorizzi (2-2), stole second and advanced to third when catcher Rene Rivera’s throw to get him at second trickled into center-field.

Brett Gardner then scored him on an infield groundout.

Mark Teixeira followed Gardner with a double and McCann, who entered the game 6-for-15 (.400) with two home runs in his career against Odorizzi, touched him for an RBI double to score Teixeira.

The Rays halved the lead in the third inning after Steven Souza Jr. worked a one-out walk and scored on a RBI double by Asdrubal Cabrera.

But the Yankees added two more runs in the fifth on an infield single by Ellsbury, a single by Gardner that advanced Ellsbury to third and, after Gardner stole second, McCann scored both of them one out later on an opposite-field double.

Odorizzi was charged with four runs on nine hits and no walks with four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

Whitley only pitched one perfect inning  –  the first. But he was able to keep the Rays from getting any closer by escaping trouble Houdini style.

In the second, the Rays loaded the bases with one out but Whitley retired Tim Beckham on a shallow fly ball to left and Rivera hit into a force out.

In the third after Cabrera’s RBI double, Whitley uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cabrera to take third. However, Whitley struck out both Evan Longoria and James Loney to end the threat.

In the fourth the Rays got a one-out double from Kevin Kiermaier but Whitley retired Beckham on a groundout and he struck out Rivera.

Whitley gave up just one run on six hits and one walk with six strikeouts in five innings of work.

The Rays did add a run in the sixth off left-hander Chasen Shreve on a leadoff walk to Loney and a RBI triple to Logan Forsythe. But Shreve did strike out Kiermaier before he gave way to right-hander Esmil Rogers.

Keeping with the theme of the evening, Rogers stranded Forsythe at third by striking out Beckham and getting Rivera on a groundout.

The Rays were a pathetic 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position an left 10 men on base.

Right-hander Chris Martin pitched the ninth inning because Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller had been used in the past two games and he ended up pitching a scoreless frame to earn his first career major-league save.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 13-8 and the Rays fell to 11-10 and they are two games back in the division tied with the Boston Red Sox.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Whitley’s start does not appear as if it will be a singular event with Tanaka on the disabled list. Although the right-hander allowed one run and seven base-runners in five innings, he battled through 93 pitches to hand the lead over to the bullpen. Whitley made 12 starts for the Yankees last season and eventually was shifted to the bullpen. He ended the season 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA. But he had an excellent spring (0-1, 1.17 ERA in seven games  –  two of them starts) and he was 2-0 with 2.12 ERA in three starts with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • McCann has been like a one-man wrecking crew against the Rays and Odorizzi this season. In his past three starts against the Rays, McCann is 7-for-12 (.583) a home run, a triple, two doubles and three singles with six RBIs. In his two starts against Odorizzi this season, McCann is 5-for-6 (.833) with a triple and two doubles and five RBIs.
  • Ellsbury was 3-for-4 with two stolen bases and two runs scored in the game. Since April 18, Ellsbury is 14-for-39 (.359) with a homer, three RBIs and nine runs scored. He also has stolen five bases. The 10-game hot streak has raised his average from .256 to .308.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

On a night when a call-up from the minors pitches five solid innings and the bullpen protects the lead with its four top pitchers (Betances, Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson) unavailable to pitch, you can’t really complain about much. The Yankees are 10-2 since they began the season 3-6. Enough said.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned backup infielder Gregorio Petit to Scranton on Tuesday in order to make room on the roster for Whitley. Petit, 29, was 5-for-24 (.208) with no home runs and five RBIs in 13 games. That temporarily leaves the Yankees with 13 pitchers but they will have to make a roster move to replace. Infielder Jose Pirela, who suffered a concussion late in spring training was just sent out to Double-A Trenton on a rehab assignment and veteran Brendan Ryan has not resumed baseball activities after suffering a calf strain late in the spring. That means the Yankees would have to move somebody off the 40-man roster if they want call up another middle infielder.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to sweep the Rays for the second time this season on Wednesday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (3-0, 3.86 ERA), who was originally scheduled to open the Red Sox series on Friday, will now replace Tanaka for this start. Pineda, 26, yielded just one run on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings on Friday against the New York Mets. He defeated the Rays on April 19.

Left-hander Drew Smyly (0-0, 3.86) will make his second start for the Rays after coming off the disabled list. Smyly, 25, gave up two runs on four hits with no walks in 4 2/3 innings in a no decision against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.

Game-time will be 1 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

McCann’s Blast Beats Rays As Yankees Claim First

GAME 20

YANKEES 4, RAYS 1

Brian McCann signed with the New York Yankees because Yankee Stadium was perfectly suited to his swing. He entered play on Monday having hit 20 of his 24 home runs with the Yankees at home.

Make it 21 out of 25.

McCann connected for a one-out solo shot into the second deck in right-field to break a 1-1 tie and New York went on to end Tampa Bay’s five-game winning streak to take sole possession of first place in the American League East.

McCann’s second home run of the season came off right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) and was immediately followed by a double by Carlos Beltran. One out later, Stephen Drew doubled off left-hander Everett Teaford for an RBI double that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.

Justin Wilson (1-0) relieved starter Adam Warren in the sixth inning and pitched an inning to get credit for the victory.

As it did the previous night against the Mets, the Yankees bullpen consisting of Wilson, David Carpenter, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller shut down the Rays on one hit and one walk and four strikeouts over the final 3 1/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen came into the game in second place in the America League in ERA and first in strikeouts.

Miller pitched the final inning to earn his eighth save in as many opportunities. He is the first Yankees pitcher to have recorded eight saves in the team’s first 20 games.

The Yankees’ two-run sixth broke up a pitcher’s duel between Warren and Rays right-hander Nathan Karns.

Karns shut out the Yankees on just two hits in the first four innings and recorded the first two outs in the fifth before walking Drew. Didi Gregorius followed with an infield single and Jacoby Ellsbury chased Karns by fighting through a eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk that loaded the bases.

Rays manager Kevin Cash then brought in Gomes and the veteran reliever walked Brett Gardner on a 3-2 pitch to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

However, the Rays fought back in the sixth inning when David DeJesus led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and took third on a flyout by Steven Souza Jr.

With the infield drawn in, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ground ball to Drew at second base. Drew fired a one-hop throw to McCann at home but DeJesus touched the plate before McCann could apply the tag to tie the game at 1-1.

Some curious strategy by Cash allowed the Yankees to add a run in the eighth inning off a noticeably struggling Teaford.

McCann led off with a single and, two outs later, Drew singled to right. Then Gregorius drew a walk to load the bases. As the inning unfolded, Cash did not have anyone warming up in the Rays bullpen.

It proved costly because Teaford then hit Ellsbury with a 1-1 pitch to force in another run.

The Yankees came into the game tied with the Rays at 11-8. Now they are 12-8 and the Rays fell to 11-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann entered the contest hitting .232 and ended up going 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored and an RBI. McCann also showed that he is willing to hit against the overshift that opponents have been using against him. Leading off the eighth, he first attempted to bunt the ball towards third base and ended up hitting a single that way on the next pitch for a single.
  • Warren actually pitched his best game of the season and it is unfortunate he could not stay in long enough to have earned the victory. Warren yielded just one run on five hits and no walks and he struck out six in 5 2/3 innings. He is now 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA after four starts. Warren had absolutely no command issues and pitched out of a tough jam in the first when Souza hit a one-out single and Cabrera followed with a bloop ground-rule double. Warren fanned Evan Longoria, who entered the game on a 7-for-7 hitting streak, and then retired James Loney on a groundout to end the threat.
  • The Yankees bullpen is simply one of the best collections of power arms the Yankees have had. Wilson, Carpenter, Betances and Miller all throw in the mid-90s or better and opposing teams are quickly learning they will lose if they do not have the lead by the sixth inning. Betances and Miller are quickly making Yankee fans see there has been no dropoff after the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent departure of David Robertson.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I can’t complain about anything when the team gets good pitching and some timely hitting. They also scored two runs without having to swing the bat which proves they are finding all kinds of ways to win games. It looks as if all those so-called experts who were predicting gloom for the Yankees this season were dreadfully wrong.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira was named the American League Player of the Week on Monday. Teixeira, 34, was 8-for-24 (.333) with five homers and 10 RBIs in his past seven games. His hot hitting fueled the Yankees to a 5-2 record for the week. It was the fifth time Teixeira has won the award.  . . .  Ellsbury returned the lineup on Monday after missing Sunday’s game against the Mets with a tightness in his right hip. Ellsbury was 1-for-3 with a walk and was hit by a pitch. He also stole a base and drove in a run.

ON DECK

The Yankees, who are 4-0 against the Rays this season, will look to continue their matter over them on Tuesday.

The Yankees will call up right-hander Chase Whitley from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to allow right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to have an extra day of rest while the Yankees are in the middle of playing 30 games in 31 days. Whitley, 25, is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts with the RailRiders.

The Rays will throw right-hander Jake Odorizzi (2-1, 1.65 ERA). Odorizzi’s lone loss came at the hands of the Yankees on April 18 at Tropicana Field. In his last start he gave up one run on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of a no decision against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.

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

 

Tanaka Shuts Up Critics By Silencing Rays’ Bats

GAME 11

YANKEES 9, RAYS 0

“I’ve been there. I know that (Masahiro) Tanaka is probably at 65 percent. He might be better than a young kid rushed up from the minor leagues, but in the end, it’s going to come back to bite them. I think Tanaka is not committed to his pitches. Tanaka is a guy who’s aggressive in the strike zone and attacks the strike zone. He doesn’t look like he’s attacking the strike zone.”

                                                                    –  Supreme pitching expert Pedro Martinez on April 10

Flash forward to Saturday and I think Martinez may want to season his steaming plate of crow liberally with some salsa because he is going to have to eat his words.

Tanaka held the Rays to just two hits in a brilliant seven-inning performance to outduel Jake Odorizzi as New York went on to score seven runs in the seventh inning to thoroughly humiliate Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

So dominant was Tanaka (2-1) that after he allowed a leadoff single to David DeJesus in the first inning, he did not allow another hit until Logan Forsythe led off the sixth inning with a double. In retiring 15 batters in a row, Tanaka struck out six of them and only three balls made it into the outfield.

Oh, by the way, after Forsythe’s double, Tanaka fanned Rene Rivera and DeJesus and retired Steven Souza Jr. on a groundout.

Tanaka walked none and ended up with eight strikeouts on only 85 pitches (60 of them were strikes). It was as if the Japanese right-hander was telling Martinez that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

By the looks of Tanaka on this evening, he looks as dominant as he ever was in his rookie season last year when he was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.

Odorizzi (2-1) entered the game with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over two starts and he pitched that way for the first five innings of the game. He matched Tanaka pitch-by-by-pitch in allowing only three hits and fanning seven in that span.

However, the sixth inning proved to be his undoing when he issued back-to-back one-out walks to Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez. One batter later, Brian McCann, who entered the game 5-for-10 with two homers off Odorizzi and was 2-for-2 against him at that point, spanked a hanging change-up to deep right-field.

The ball caromed off the very top of the yellow home-run line and rolled back into shallow right-field for a two-run triple for McCann, only the fourth triple of his career.

Buoyed by the 2-0 lead, the Yankees opened the seventh with a single by Chase Headley, which promptly chased Odorizzi.

Stephen Drew greeted left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser with a fly ball that fell out of the glove of Souza for a double. Gregorio Petit scored Headley with a sacrifice fly. Jacob Ellsbury singled and Gardner scored Drew with an opposite-field single to make it 4-0.

Right-hander Grant Balfour replaced Riefenhauser and he immediately issued a walk to Rodriguez to load the bases and Mark Teixeira scored Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly.

Balfour then hit McCann with a pitch to reload the bases and Chris Young ripped a 2-2 slider into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam home run, his third homer of the season, which put the game out of reach at 9-0.

Odorizzi was charged with three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out nine in 6-plus innings.

With the victory the Yankees already clinched the three-game series and improved to 5-6. The Rays dropped to 6-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka’s velocity was there. The command was there. He looked like, well, Tanaka. Perhaps this will finally shut up all the critics and naysayers who have been dogging out the Yankees all season like FOX Sports play-by-play man Joe Buck and everybody who works for the Red Sox Sports Network in Bristol, CT, also known as ESPN. Tanaka got advice not to have Tommy John surgery by FOUR of the best orthopedic experts in the country and he is fine. Now please shut up about him being one pitch away from oblivion. Please!
  • McCann’s dominance over Odorizzi is just amazing. He is now 8-for-13 with two homers, a triple and two doubles. McCann ended up 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. He came into the game batting .179 and ended up raising his average to .250. I said it many times but the Yankees need production from Teixeira, McCann, Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. It appears after a slow start they may be getting it.
  • Young was only in the lineup because Beltran was benched with a bad head cold and he ended up with the big blast that put the icing on drubbing of the Rays. In limited play, Young is batting .276 with three home runs and eight RBIs. The 31-year-old veteran was practically run out of Citi Field by the front office of the New York Mets last season but he has resurrected what was a pretty promising career with the Yankees. Young also made a fine running catch in right-field in the fifth inning on a drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

What is there to complain about? I could say that the Yankees failed to score 10 runs or they did not get to Odorizzi soon enough. But the fact is Tanaka pitched like the ace he is and the Yankees got a shutout to win their first season series. They are making the Rays look like the old Devil Rays they used to beat up on for all those years.

BOMBER BANTER

Beltran, 37, likely will sit out the weekend with that bad cold, Girardi said on Saturday. “He’s got that bad congestion, a bad cold that’s kind of been going around our team,” Girardi told reporters. “He sounds really bad. He was bad yesterday and he’s worse today.” Young started for him in right-field and he did a great job of filling in for him.   . . .  As I predicted in Friday’s post, Girardi opted to move the red-hot Rodriguez into the No. 3 spot in the order on Saturday and he ended up with a no-contact evening. A-Rod walked twice and struck out three times. Rodriguez was 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs while batting seventh against the Rays on Friday.  . . .  Also as predicted, Girardi decided to sit struggling shortstop Didi Gregorius on Saturday. Girardi shifted Stephen Drew to shortstop and started Petit at second base. Petit, 30, was 0-for-3 with a sac fly RBI. Gregorius, 25, is batting .152 and has been somewhat shaky in the field and on the bases.

ON DECK

The Yankees will look to sweep the shell-shocked Rays on Sunday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (1-0, 5.11 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. He is coming off a victory on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles despite yielding five runs on nine hits with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

Pineda will be opposed by rookie right-hander Matt Andriese (0-0, 3.86 ERA). Andriese, 25, gave up two runs on five hits and one walk in 3 2/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday.

Game-time will be 1:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by WPIX.

 

A-Rod’s MVP Throwback Evening Shocks Rays

GAME 10

YANKEES 5, RAYS 4

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs in leading the Yankees to the playoffs in what was his third season as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. On Friday, the Rays got a glimpse of what that A-Rod could do.

Rodriguez homered twice and drove in the go-ahead run with a single in the eighth as New York came from behind to defeat Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Losing pitcher Kevin Jepsen (0-1) said it best after the game: “That guy just killed us tonight.”

Right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller combined to pitch 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to close out the Rays. Betances (2-0) earned the victory while Miller notched his third save in three opportunities.

Rodriguez, 39, staked the Yankees to an early lead with a 471-foot blast into left-center off starter Nathan Karns to lead off the third inning. Two innings later, Stephen Drew touched Karns for a two-out home run to right-center.

However, Yankees starter Adam Warren was unable to hold the 2-0 lead for long.

Evan Longoria started a rally in the fourth inning with an infield single and Desmond Jennings followed with a walk. Rookie Allan Dykstra then launched a high-arcing blast that hit the foul pole in right for a three-run homer, the first of his career.

Four pitches later Logan Forsythe lined a solo shot into left to give the Rays a lightning-quick 4-2 lead.

But Rodriguez was just getting started.

Right-hander Ernesto Frieri entered the game in the sixth and he issued a one-out walk to Brian McCann. Rodriguez then followed with a line-drive rocket into the stands in left for the 558th home run of his career, his 49th against the Rays and his fourth of the season.

Carlos Beltran opened the eighth against Jepsen by singling against the shift into left-center. Manager Joe Girardi sent Brett Gardner in to pinch-run for Beltran.

With two out and Rodriguez at the plate, Gardner stole his first base of the season. Rodriguez followed it with a lined single to center that scored Gardner with what proved to be the game-winning run.

The Yankees managed only five hits in the game. Rodriguez collected three of them and three of them were home runs.

“He was really good. Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame,” Girardi told reporters. “Four RBIs, two home runs, a big hit in the eighth inning to put us ahead. Just a great night for Alex.”

With the victory the Yankees are 4-6 on the season. The Rays dropped to 6-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It looks as if Girardi might have to move Rodriguez up in the batting order. With his 3-for-4 night, he is now leading the Yankees in batting (.344), home runs (4) and RBIs (11). After the hip surgeries and the suspension it was not clear what the Yankees had in A-Rod. I think we have a good idea now. He looks like the three-time MVP he always has been.
  • After the bullpen’s meltdown at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Wednesday it was good to see both Betances and Miller come in and combine for 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Miller looked especially sharp after giving up a leadoff infield single to Forsythe. He struck out the side to earn his third save.
  • Drew is only hitting .167 but he does have three homers and seven RBIs. His home run in the fourth inning was the 100th of his career and it is starting to look as if he will be able to contribute offensively at the low end of the batting order.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Warren started off well but hit a brick wall in the fourth inning. Girardi yanked him after he allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in four innings. In his two starts, Warren has yielded six runs (five earned) on 11 hits and four walks in 9 1/3 innings. After pitching so brilliantly this spring, Warren appears lost as a starter. If he continues to struggle look for Esmil Rogers to make another bid to be the No. 5 starter that he lost to Warren this spring.
  • Chase Headley had a night at the plate he would love to put behind him. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts (two of them looking) and in his final at-bat he laced a hard-hit ground ball that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera turned into a double play. Headley is batting .204 on the season.
  • The Yankees are not saying anything publicly, but they are concerned that Didi Gregorius is putting too much pressure on himself. His base-running gaffes, some shaky fielding and his slow start with the bat have them worried. Gregorius, 25, was 0-for-4 on Friday and he is now hitting .152.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi told reporters on Friday that because the Yankees have started a stretch of 30 games in the next 31 days they are considering using a sixth starter to take some strain off their rotation. Girardi said that Rogers and right-handers Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell, who are at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are viable options as starters. “I wouldn’t really call it a six-man rotation. I’d call it more of inserting a sixth man one time through, and my guess is you might see it,” Girardi told reporters. “Weather could play a role, so you just have to wait and see, but it’s something that’s in the back of our minds. We’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend road series with the Rays on Saturday.

Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (1-1, 7.00 ERA) will make his third start of the season for the Yankees. His is coming off a 14-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, when he gave up four runs in 5 innings.

The Rays will start right-hander Jake Odorizzi (2-0, 0.61 ERA), who has given up just one run in 14 2/3 innings this season. He held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on two hits in 8 innings on Monday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by Fox Sports 1.

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Tanaka Goes 4-0 As Patient Yankees Hammer Rays

GAME 28

YANKEES 9, RAYS 3

Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.

The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.

After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.

Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.

Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.

“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”

The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.

They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.

James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.

Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for  home run.

True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.

The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.

Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.

But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.

Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.

With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
  • It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
  • You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
  • Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
  • Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss.  . . .  Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.

ON DECK

The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.

Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Wind-Aided Homers Propel Rays Over Yankees

GAME 8

RAYS 5, YANKEES 4

Desmond Jennings blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning that tied the game at 4-4 and two batters later Matt Joyce hit a wind-aided solo shot that was the eventual game-winner as Tampa Bay edged New York in an exhibition game on Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.

A steady 10-mile-per-hour wind with higher gusts were blowing out throughout the game.

Both home runs for the Rays came off right-hander Robert Coello (0-2), who was pounded for four runs on three hits in only a third of an inning to take the loss.

Non-roster invitee Erik Bedard (1-1), who is competing for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation, threw three scoreless innings of relief to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi struck out Pete O’Brien with two on and two out in the ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees scored a pair of runs in the first inning off Rays starter Cesar Ramos on an RBI single by Russ Canzler and an RBI groundout by Kelly Johnson. They added two more runs in the fourth inning off Rays closer Grant Balfour on Brett Gardner’s two-out, bases-loaded single, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

The Rays cut the Yankees’ 2-0 lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first when Ben Zobrist lifted a solo home run to left off Yankee starter Adam Warren in his first at-bat of the spring.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now even at 4-4. The Rays improved to 4-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Gardner’s two-run single in the fourth produced his first two RBIs of the spring. Gardner is off to a very good start to the spring, going 4-for-10 (.400) and an on-base percentage of .500 in the four games in which he has played. With a four-year, $52 million extension in hand and all the trade rumors quashed, Gardner is hoping to build on his solid 2013 season.
  • Warren, 26, actually pitched pretty well despite giving up the leadoff home run to Zobrist in the first inning. He gave up just the one run on four hits and no walks while he struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Warren still hopes to earn the No. 5 starting job with the Yankees after spending most of his rookie season in 2013 as a long reliever.
  • Yangervis Solarte came through again on Wednesday. The 26-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder was 1-for-3, reaching on a single and an error and scoring a run. Solarte is 8-for-12 (.667) with two homers and six RBIs in six games so far. “He’s going to get a good look. He’s got some versatility. We’re looking for versatility because of our infield situation, and he has that,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.
  • Dellin Betances is quickly inserting himself into the bullpen mix and he was awesome again on Wednesday. Betances, 26, threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving up no hits, walking one and striking out two. The 6-foot-8 right-hander has always had a crackling mid-90s fastball but he seems to have conquered the control problems he had as a starter.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The annual award for the “Putrid Pitching in Pinstripes Award” may have been locked up for this spring by non-roster invitee Coello, 29, who has now surrendered nine earned runs on eight hits (three of them home runs), a walk and a hit batter in three appearances covering 1 2/3 innings. His spring ERA is a stratospheric 48.60! Coello, who has pitched briefly with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels, sports a 2-3 record and 5.90 ERA in his career. I have two suggestions for him: (1) Either try to hook back up with the Red Sox or (2) Look for another line of work. He, in a word, stinks.
  • John Ryan Murphy had some early success at the plate this spring battling for a backup catching role behind Brian McCann. But he took a giant step backwards on Wednesday. Murphy, 22, popped out with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning and killed a two on, one out rally in the sixth by grounding into a double play. The Yankees lost by one and he left five runners on base. That is not good.

BOMBER BANTER

After battling through a serious form of the flu, outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is scheduled to make his spring training debut on Thursday, Girardi told reporters. Soriano has been limited to batting practice and off-field workouts.  . . .  Thursday will also mark the spring debut of first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist. Teixeira was limited to just 15 games last season before requiring surgery. Teixeira hopes to get two or three at-bats in the game.  . . .  Former Yankee right-hander Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez has joined the Yankees as a minor-league pitching instructor. Hernandez, 48, spent nine seasons in the major leagues after defecting from Cuba and was 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA. He won three World Series rings with the Yankees from 1998 to 2000.

ON DECK

In addition to the debuts of Soriano and Teixeira, the Yankees will give their first starting assignment to Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as they travel on Thursday to Clearwater, FL, to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Bright House Field.

Tanaka, 25, pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Phillies on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. The Yankees were pleased and the Phillies were impressed with the $155 million free agent.

The Phillies will start veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who was 10-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 30 starts last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live nationally by the MLB Network.