YANKEES 6, PHILLIES 2
TAMPA – So much of the early weeks of spring were filled with such bad news for the Yankees but on Wednesday night a page seemed to turn and it all of it centers around the presence of the team’s “Key Three.”
Andy Pettitte threw three-plus innings his spring debut, Derek Jeter played shortstop for the first since his ankle injury last October and Mariano Rivera pitched another perfect inning as New York flexed its collective muscle to down Philadelphia at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Pettitte (1-0) gave up one run on four hits and three walks while striking out three to pick up the victory. An uncharacteristically out-of-sync Cliff Lee (0-1) took the loss after giving up five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.
In addition to Lee’s inability to command his breaking pitches, the Phillies did not help his cause by committing four errors behind him.
The surprise hitting star of the night was the newly acquired Ben Francisco, who laced a two-run double to the wall in centerfield with two out in the first inning to score the Yankees’ first runs. Francisco batted fifth and played rightfield.
With the victory the Yankees have now reeled off four straight victories and they are 7-11 in Grapefruit League play. The Phillies dropped to 7-10.
- Although Pettitte’s outing was less than stellar, there were some positives. He wriggled out of a two-on, two-out situation in the first by getting Domonic Brown on a flyout. And after giving up a two-out RBI single up the middle to Brown in the third, he retired Darin Ruf on a great play by third baseman Kevin Youkilis and a great stretch by first baseman Juan Rivera. Petitte’s command was off but it was not a bad 58-pitch first effort in spring.
- Francisco has a great opportunity to make the club and his debut could not have been better. Francisco was hitting .400 and he had six doubles when he was released on Monday by the Cleveland Indians at his request. With Rivera seemingly looking like the team’s replacement first baseman for Mark Teixeira, Francisco could emerge as the starting leftfielder until Curtis Granderson returns in mid-May.
- It is easy to overlook Ichiro Suzuki but opposing teams are learning that is unwise. Suzuki was 2-for-3 with a run scored, a stolen base and a key two-out RBI single in the second inning. For those fans and so-called experts who think Suzuki is over the hill at age 39 listen to this: He is hitting .462 this spring, which leads the team.
- Pettitte gave up a run in the third inning which broke the Yankees’ earned run scoreless inning streak at 30 innings. Before that the last earned run the Yankees had allowed was on March 9 when Jim Miller allowed a ninth-inning run on a Jordan Parraz sacrifice fly in 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Just before Wednesday’s game the Yankees announced three roster moves. They optioned outfielder Zoilo Almonte, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Adam Warren to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Almonte, a 23-year-old switch-hitter with power, had an outside shot to make the team after Granderson’s injury on Feb. 24. But Almonte has not played above the Double-A level and the Yankees would like to see him continue to develop at Scranton.
The Yankees will travel to Dunedin, FL on Thursday to square off with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old who has been the best young pitcher the Yankees have showcased this spring, will make his third start. He will be opposed by newly acquired right-hander Josh Johnson.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.
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.
- In Alex Rodriguez’s first two at-bats the combined the distance the ball traveled was about 35 feet. He rolled a ball in front of home plate in the first inning and was tagged out at home plate by catcher Humberto Quintero. In the third inning he fouled out halfway between home plate and first base to first baseman Brian Dopriak. He made up for it with his third at-bat in the fifth when he hit a 400-foot-plus blast well over the left-field wall for a two-run homer, his first home run of the spring. It tied the game at 4-4 at the time.
- In the first seven games of the spring, the Yankees scored a total of 23 runs. In their last two games, they have scored 18 runs. Derek Jeter, Russell Martin, Robinson Cano and Andruw Jones were among the starters who contributed two hits apiece. Eduardo Nunez, Parraz and Justin Maxwell had two hits each off the bench.
- Left-hander Steve Garrison, who worked three innings after starter Phil Hughes, pitched very well. He gave up one run on three hits and a walk. His pitching allowed the Yankees to rally from a 4-2 deficit to take an 8-4 lead.
- Brewer made a spectacular diving catch in right-field in the sixth inning to rob Jason Michaels of a hit. Brewer was fighting gusts of about 20 to 25 miles per hour blowing straight out to center to catch the sinking liner.
- Hughes was touched for three runs on five hits in three innings, including a pair of long home runs he served up to Michaels and Carlos Lee. Hughes felt he located his fastball well but he was disappointed with his command on his curve and changeup.
- Reliever Brian Anderson was tagged for three runs in two-thirds of an inning. The Astros chased him in the seventh inning after pounding out five hits. His ERA has ballooned to 21.60 on the spring.
- Despite his late-game hitting heroics, Parraz started out his day on a sour note. Used a pinch-runner for Andruw Jones in the seventh inning, Parraz misjudged the double off the bat of Brewer. Not only did he end up getting thrown out at the plate, his retreat on the bases when the ball was hit also kept Maxwell from scoring.