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.
BRAVES 2, YANKEES 0
TAMPA – Jordan Schaffer led off the game with a double and later scored on a Justin Upton groundout as Atlanta shut out New York on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Paul Maholm (1-1) and four Braves relievers held the Yankees to five hits. David Phelps (1-1) pitched four strong innings in his bid for a rotation spot despite taking the loss. J.R. Graham pitched two scoreless innings to earn his second spring save.
The Yankees helped the Braves immensely by going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine men on the bases.
The Yankees fell to 3-8 on the spring. The Braves improved to 6-6.
- If Brett Gardner were to get any hotter with the bat you could fry an egg on his forehead. Gardner went 2-for-3 against the Braves and is hitting .579 on the spring. For those Yankee fans who are angling for Gardner to lead off for the team this season you may as well keep dreaming. Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki will hit in the top two spots. Gardner likely will hit ninth.
- Despite giving up the double to Schaffer that led to a run in the first inning, Phelps pitched exceptionally well. He gave up just two hits and a walk and struck out two. In his nine innings this spring, Phelps has given up just one run on seven hits and two walks and struck out three. It is hard to see how the Yankees can keep him out of the rotation.
- Suzuki doubled off the base of the rightfield wall in the fifth inning and went 1-for-3 in the game. Suzuki is also having a pretty productive spring. He is hitting .400 and he shows no ill effects from his recent car accident last week.
- Shawn Kelley looked really sharp in the the ninth inning, putting the Braves away 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. Kelley, 28, was 2-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 47 games with the Seattle Mariners last season. He could figure to make the team because he has a power arm.
- Travis Hafner has only had 10 at-bats but he needs to start showing that he can drive the ball. Hafner was 0-for-1 with two walks and is 2-for-10 so far this spring. With the Yankees missing so much of their power from last season Hafner is important piece to providing consistent power as the left-hand designated hitter.
- The team’s errors seem to multiplying like rabbits. There were three more errors against the Braves and two by Corban Joseph, who was playing – you guessed it – third base. Third has been like a black hole for the Yankees all spring. In 11 games the Yankees have committed 19 errors this spring and 11 of them have been committed by third basemen.
- Mark Montgomery, 22, had a night he would like to forget. He gave up a single to Tyler Pastornicky and Pastornicky stole second and advanced to third when J.R. Murphy overthrew second. Then Montgomery was called for a balk to allow Pastornicky to score. Montgomery followed that up by walking two batters and hitting another to load the bases. He was replaced by Francisco Rondon, who wriggled out of the bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a groundout.
The M*A*S*H unit that is the Yankees received another patient who was not even in Tampa to get injured. Mark Teixeira, who was training in Arizona with Team USA, strained the inside of his right wrist taking swings in batting practice preparing for an exhibition game against the White Sox. X-rays were negative for a break but Teixeira will be unable to play in the World Baseball Classic and will be shelved for at least two weeks. At this rate, Francisco Cervelli may end up as the team’s Opening Day cleanup hitter. . . . Manager Joe Girardi told the YES Network on Tuesday that the team is shooting for Mariano Rivera to make his spring debut on Saturday in a game against the Braves. He also said that Jeter could play on Sunday. . . . General manager Brian Cashman showed up at camp sporting a cast on his right ankle and crutches he will be using for about eight weeks. Cashman broke his fractured his right fibula and dislocated his ankle skydiving on Monday as part of a charity event for the Wounded Warriors Project. If at any time I report that the Yankees’ batboy has been injured you know this team is truly cursed. . . . The team’s top prospect, catcher Gary Sanchez, was among eight players reassigned to minor-league camp. Along with Sanchez, 20, the Yankees sent out infielders David Adams, Greg Bird, Cito Culver and Rob Segedin; outfielder Tyler Austin and catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka. That leaves the Yankees with 68 players in camp.
It may be a bit strange but the Yankees will be looking at bench coach Tony Pena and second baseman Robinson Cano in the opposing dugout on Wednesday. The Yankees will be playing an exhibition against the Dominican Republic team from the WBC. Cano likely will start at second base and Pena is the team’s manager.
Hiroki Kuroda will get the start for the Yankees and he will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Jose Veras.
Game-time will be 1:05 p..m. EST and the game will be telecast live by the MLB Network.