BLUE JAYS 4, YANKEES 3
TAMPA – Kelly Johnson led off the game with a triple and scored on a Yunel Escobar groundout and drove in Yan Gomes with a single in the third inning as Toronto beat New York 4-3 in Grapefruit League game on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Kyle Drabek (2-0) pitched five scoreless innings, giving up five hits and two walks while fanning five batters to earn the victory. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia (0-1) was touched for three runs on six hits and no walks and struck out five in six innings of work. Aaron Loup of the Jays earned a save despite giving up two runs (one earned) in the ninth inning.
The loss snapped an 11-game unbeaten streak the Yankees have compiled (8 wins, no losses and 2 ties) since March 14 when the Yankees lost a 7-5 decision to these same Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.
The Yankees are 12-10 on the spring while the Blue Jays are 20-4.
- Brett Gardner was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the game. His one-out single off reliever Francisco Cordero in the seventh inning drove in Chris Dickerson with the Yankees’ first run of the game. Gardner also stole a base, his fifth of the spring, which leads the club.
- Lefty Clay Rapada, who is vying for a spot in the bullpen, pitched another scoreless frame in the ninth and struck out a batter. Rapada, 30, has not given up a run in 8 1/3 innings of work in nine spring appearances. He has given up just three hits and three walks and struck out 11.
- If Rapada wins the job that means fellow lefty Cesar Cabral will not and he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. Cabral gave up an unearned run in the eighth inning on one hit and a walk. Cabral 23, has a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over nine appearances. He has given up 11 hits and two walks and has struck out 12.
- Eduardo Nunez came off the bench late and stroked an RBI single in the ninth inning as part of two-run rally that just fell short of tying it in the ninth. Nunez is a robust .375 this spring despite missing most of the first two weeks with a bruised right hand.
- Some of the same issues that plagued the Yankees on Sunday against the Tigers cropped up again Tuesday – an inability to get runners across after the Yankees get on base. Drabek was not dominating in his five innings of work.
- Sabathia was not as sharp as he would have liked to have been. But chalk it up to spring training. Sabathia has a 4.50 ERA this spring but it is doubtful that it truly indicates how he will pitch in the regular season. He will make one more start on Sunday before pitching the season opener on April 6 against James Shields and the Tampa Ray Rays in St. Petersburg, FL.
- Robinson Cano took a rare 0-for-3 in which he failed to get a ball out of the infield. Cano is hitting .196 this spring but I doubt manager Joe Girardi is worried about his All-Star second baseman.
Outfielder Curts Granderson had to be scratched from the lineup on Tuesday due to a sore right elbow. Granderson will undergo a precautionary MRI exam on Wednesday but the injury is not considered serious. Granderson is hitting a red-hot .333 this spring with a home run and four RBIs. . . . Nick Swisher, who has been sidelined by a sore right groin since March 20, also was unable to play on Tuesday and is slated to take some at-bats on a minor-league game on Wednesday. . . . After the game, the Yankees optioned infielder Jorge Vazquez to minor-league camp. Vazquez hit only .091 this spring. . . . It was no surprise that Girardi named 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda as the team’s No. 2 starter and he will face the Rays in the second game of the opening series on April 7. Kuroda also is scheduled to start on April 13 in the Yankees’ home opener against the Angels.
The Yankees take to the road to face the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Kuroda will be making his fifth spring start. Cano, Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez are scheduled to make the trip.
The Braves are scheduled to start 25-year-old right-hander Brandon Beachy.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
YANKEES 4, RED SOX 4 (9 INNINGS)
If the quote “a tie is like kissing your sister” applies than the Yankees probably feel like they lip-smacked the ugliest sister they have in the Red Sox.
Jason Repko laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Ryan Sweeney with one out in the ninth inning as Boston overcame a 4-0 lead in the final two innings to tie New York on Wednesday night at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
If Yankee fans want a culprit for blowing the big lead, look no further than right-handed reliever Cory Wade. Wade gave up three runs on four hits (three of them long doubles) in a less-than-stellar two-thirds of an inning.
Juan Cedeno struck out Josh Kroeger with a tying run on second to end the eighth, however, he ran into trouble in the ninth by allowing a leadoff single by Sweeney. George Kontos entered the game and after one out, Mike Aviles slapped a double off the left-field wall to setup Repko’s squeeze bunt that tied the game.
The Yankees built their four-run lead with two runs off Red Sox starter Aaron Cook in the fourth inning, keyed by a RBI double by a red-hot Curtis Granderson and RBI single by Andruw Jones.
They added two runs in the fifth off of former Yankees right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. Brandon Laird led off the frame with a double, Jose Gil singled to right to advance Laird to third. Then with one out, Doug Bernier rolled a single into right to score both runners.
Yankees right-hander Adam Warren started the game and pitched an excellent four innings. Warren, 24, blanked the Bosox on two hits and no walks and he fanned three.
- Originally the Yankees had announced David Phelps would start. But Warren pitched instead and he looked sensational. Warren is 0-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings spanning four appearances this spring. The Yankees obviously have no room for Warren with seven pitchers vying for five starting spots but Warren will be part of the “Fab Five” starting for Triple-A Empire State with Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell and Phelps.
- Granderson’s RBI double raised his spring average to .393. Granderson has six doubles, a triple and a home run among his 11 hits and he is slugging at a .786 clip this spring. For those of you who might have thought that 2012 was a fluke you had better think again.
- Bernier is 31 and there s no way he will make the team with Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena ahead of him on the depth chart at shortstop. But he has had a sensational spring in the field and he is hitting .364. If Bernier ends up staying with the Yankees he will play at Triple-A Empire State.
- Wade, 28, has given up four runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings over his last two appearances. That has forced his ERA to balloon to a very ugly 7.04 this spring. Wade was integral to the Yankees’ bullpen last season, recording a 6-1 record and a 2.04 ERA. But with potentially two starters being shifted to the bullpen when Andy Pettitte returns in May, Wade might be out of a job if he does not turn it around soon.
- The Raul Ibanez spring hit meter is still stuck on two. Ibanez was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and his average has dipped (and we do mean dipped) to .054. That means the Yankees are paying Ibanez a whopping $2.25 million per hit. Where do I sign up for that gig?
- The spring “Siesta Award” will have to shared by Jones and Eric Chavez. Chavez singled to lead off the second but was picked off first base by Cook. After Jones drove in Granderson with his single in the fourth inning he was promptly picked off first by Cook also. Getting caught napping is embarrassing enough but worse when it s the Red Sox. Wake up, guys!
Pettitte will throw a live batting practice session for the Yankees on Friday at their spring complex. The Yankees are also saying that it is possible the lefty could pitch in a spring training game. Pettitte, 39, said he is targeting May for his return to the big leagues. . . . Infielder Jorge Vazquez was struck in the right hand on a pitch from former Yankees right-hander Mark Melancon in the eighth inning and he left the game immediately. Vazquez, 29, will have precautionary X-rays done on the hand and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss. . . . Jeter participated in a full team workout on Thursday and he is expected to start on Friday. Jeter has missed the last seven games with a sore left calf. . . . Nick Swisher said his sore groin is improving and he could return to the lineup sometime this weekend. Swisher left Tuesday’s game against the Pirates when he felt his groin tighten up as he ran out a ground ball. . . . CC Sabathia gave up one run in six innings in a game against Double-A hitters on Wednesday. He is on track to pitch the opener for the Yankees on April 6 in St. Petersburg, FL., against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Once again, Red Sox manager “Booby” Valentine has shown his hindquarters. Manager Joe Girardi informed home-plate umpire Mark Lollo that he did not have any pitchers available to pitch a 10th inning against the Red Sox. Girardi did have Mitchell on the trip but he had thrown a side session earlier because Girardi did not expect him to get into the game. By the typical spring rules, managers are within their rights to end a tie game after nine innings if they do not feel it is in their interest to push a pitcher into throwing too much. Valentine took umbrage because he chose to warm up Clayton Mortensen in the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth. “It was regretful that Mortensen warmed up, though, and then we were told they weren’t going to play extra innings,” Valentine said. “I don’t think that was very courteous.” Courtesy is extended to those who earn it, “Booby.” Your remarks about Jeter and Alex Rodriguez earlier this spring, which were designed to get back to the Yankees, were uncalled for and extremely discourteous. So as far as see it, “Booby,” you can just suck on it. It is so ironic that it is you that are fit to be tied. Welcome to the rivalry you stoked!
The Yankees will play a pair of games on Friday.
The home squad will face the Minnesota Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Ivan Nova, coming off a horrible performance against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday, is expected to pitch for the Yankees in that game. The Twins will start veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and live locally on the YES Network.
The road squad will travel to Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL., to face the Philadelphia Phillies. Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is scheduled to start for the Yankees. The Phillies will start right-hander Vance Worley.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay.
YANKEES 5, RAYS 2
Upstart rivals like the Rays are like cockroaches. You can’t be satisfied with just watching them flail aimlessly in their backs. You have to step on them hard to remove all hope. The Yankees did that on Wednesday.
Justin Maxwell, who continues to impress this spring, hit a bloop double near the right-field line to score Cole Garner with the tie-breaking run in the ninth to put Tampa Bay on their backs and Gustavo Molina followed with a two-run home run to snuff them out as New York came from behind to win at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.
The Rays took an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on infield single by Carlos Pena and a two-run home run to straightaway center by Matt Joyce off Yankee starter Phil Hughes.
The Yankee rallied to score single runs in the sixth and seventh innings off Rays left-hander Ceasr Ramos.
Rule 5 selection Cesar Cabral (1-0) pitched two innings to earn the victory. Michael O’Connor pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save. Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and pushed over the .500 mark on the spring at 10-9, The Rays are 5-11.
- Cabral earned this victory the hard way. In both innings he struck out the side with a potential lead run on third base. His work in the eighth was particularly impressive. Elliot Johnson opened the inning with a double down the left-field line. Cabral then committed a balk that advanced Johnson to third. Cabral escaped disaster by fanning Jeff Salazar, Luke Scott and Matt Mangini. Cabral, 23, is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and has given up two runs on 10 hits and one walk in seven appearances this spring. More impressive is his 11 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Cabral is competing to become a second left-hander in the bullpen and if he loses the battle he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. That would be a shame because Cabral looks like he is a very talented young pitcher.
- Hughes pitched a sensational five innings despite the Joyce two-run home run. Hughes only gave up one hit after the second inning, walked one and struck out three. Hughes threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 19 batters he faced including the last 10 batters he faced. Hughes is 0-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his four spring outings and he may be on the verge of winning a spot in the rotation.
- Maxwell’s spring heroics continued on Wednesday. Cole Garner opened the ninth with a ground-rule double off Gomes. Jorge Vazquez, who tied the game in the seventh with an RBI double, advanced him to third on a long flyball to center and Maxwell scored him with his bloop double. Maxwell, 28, is hitting a sizzling hot .435 with five doubles among his 10 hits this spring. Maxwell, as I said before, won’t make the 25-man roster but his impressive play may win a call-up this season.
- The Yankees scored their first run in the sixth inning when Raul Ibanez grounded out to first with the bases loaded and one out. OK, why would an RBI by Ibanez be a negative? Well, Ibanez was 0-for-3 again and his average has now dipped to .059. Seriously, grounding out with the bases loaded? That is bad. Pretty soon they are going to replace the Mendoza Line with the Ibanez Line to measure hitters. Of course, hitting better than .059 could be a piece a cake for even most pitchers.
Nick Swisher said that his groin injury was much better on Wednesday. Swisher was removed from Tuesday’s game in the third inning after he struggled to run out an infield grounder. After resting a tight left groin, Swisher now has soreness in his right groin. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will not return to the lineup until he is fully recovered. He is listed as day-to-day. . . . On the heels of Andy Pettitte’s impressive bullpen session on Tuesday the Yankees have scheduled him to throw batting practice to live hitters on Friday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte is targeting May 1 for his return to the major leagues. . . . Freddy Garcia, who suffered a bruised right hand on a hard-hit grounder by Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL on March 14, will start on Saturday in Lakeland, FL., against the Detroit Tigers. The presence of Pettitte means Garcia will have to pitch well to win a spot in the rotation.
It is time for the 2012 version of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry Part 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees, who lost a 1-0 game on two errors on one play in the ninth on March 13, will make their first visit to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
CC Sabathia will skip the game in order to pitch in minor-league game. The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps, who ironically was the losing pitcher in that March 13 game against the Red Sox. Phelps is 0-1 with a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring. Overshadowed in the organization by mega-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Phelps has actually outpitched them both.
The Red Sox will start veteran right-hander Aaron Cook, one of the many pitchers they invited in an open casting call for a No. 5 starter for the 2012 season. Cook is 0-0 with a 0.00 in two outings (one start) covering 5 1/3 innings.
Game-time will ve 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 6, ASTROS 3
Major-league pitchers like to look at the batting averages of the hitters they will face in an upcoming game and Astros pitcher Bud Norris must have relished seeing that Robinson Cano was batting .190 as of Saturday.
Unfortunately for Norris, Cano connected on an 0-2 pitch with two out in the second inning and launched a tape-measure three-run home run over the picnic pavilion in right-field to help New York to defeat Houston in a Grapefruit League game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees led 2-0 beginning the second inning and Norris retired the first two batters before he walked Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. Cano then made him pay for his wildness with a mammoth blast that stretched the Yankees’ lead to 5-0.
Hiroki Kuroda (1-1), making his third start of the spring, turned his most impressive performance to date, giving up just one run on three hits, no walks and he struck out two over his four innings of work. Right-hander Dellin Betances worked a scoreless ninth inning to earn a save.
Norris (1-1) was tagged with the loss after giving up five runs on five hits and four walks in just three innings of work.
Granderson stroked an RBI double to score Gardner with the game’s first run and Andruw Jones added a two-RBI single in the same frame to score Granderson. The Yankees final run came on a solo home run off the bat of Bill Hall in the seventh inning.
With the victory the Yankees evened their spring record at 8-8, The Astros, meanwhile, fell to 7-7.
- It can’t be good news to pitchers that Cano is getting hot. In his last two games, Cano is 2-for-6 with a double and home run and four RBIs. He has raised his spring average over the Mendoza Line at .208.
- Kuroda looked extremely sharp in his four innings of work. Despite the fact he gave up a pair of doubles to J.D. Martinez and Chris Johnson in the fourth, Kuroda showed excellent command of all of his pitches. Kuroda threw 59 pitches and 39 were strikes (66 percent).
- Although a lot of the Yankees have been struggling in the first two weeks of spring games, Granderson is not among that group. He walked and doubled, scored two runs and drove in another on Saturday. He is hitting a sizzling .333 on the spring and it looks like he is ready to start 2012 like he left off in his career year in 2011.
- Mariano Rivera continues to amaze at age 42. He hit the first batter he faced but he still needed just eight pitches to retire the side in the fifth inning. Rivera struck out Brett Wallace on three pitches and then retired Marwin Gonzalez on a double-play grounder. Rivera has not given up an earned run in spring training since the spring of 2008. Amazing!
- Raul Ibanez did draw a walk in the first inning but finished the day 0-for-2 and his spring average has now dipped to a polar-capped .077. Ibanez seems to be just missing good pitches in the strike zone and a bit slow on fastballs. There is still time for him to recover. But Ibanez seems anxious at the plate.
- What a difference a spring makes. Last season Jorge Vazquez tore the cover off the ball and he hit .412. He followed up on that with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games at Triple- A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Vazquez can’t buy a hit this spring and is hitting an anemic .059.
- Boone Logan struggled for the first time this spring. He gave up two runs on three hits in the eighth inning. Logan had looked sharp in his previous four outings.
Although most all of the Yankees seem to be willing to welcome back Andy Pettitte with open arms, it does not appear right-hander Freddy Garcia is as thrilled as they are. Garcia, who was signed to a one-year contract before the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda and signed Kuroda as a free agent, is trying to win a job in the rotation and now finds Pettitte on his way back also. When asked if the Pettitte signing was good for the team, Garcia said “I don’t know, man. Ask the people. I don’t know. I guess.” . . . Eduardo Nunez (bruised right hand) retunred to the starting lineup and was 1-for 2 in his four innings of work against the Astros on Saturday. Nunez was struck on the right hand by a pitch from Austin Hyatt of the Phillies on March 5. . . . Nick Swisher (left groin), Russell Martin (left groin) and Derek Jeter (left calf) all were held of action on Saturday but they could return to action on Tuesday.
The Yankees will travel to Sarasota, FL., on Sunday night for a contest against a split squad of the Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees’ scheduled starter will be right-hander Ivan Nova, who will be making his fourth start of the spring. Nova is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA but pitched four scoreless innings against the Red Sox last Tuesday.
The Orioles are scheduled to start right-hander Alfredo Simon, who will be making his second spring start. He has not given up a run in five innings of work.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 8, PHILLIES 5
Jorge Vazquez rolled a sharp single into right-field to score Cole Garner from second base to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning as New York opened its 2012 Grapefruit League season on a wind-swept Saturday with a victory over Philadelphia at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Twenty-year-old rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Veteran left-hander Dontrelle Willis took the loss for the Phillies.
Curtis Granderson was 2-for-2 with a double, a solo home run and two runs scored to pace the Yankees’ attack early. Garner added a two-run home run off reliever Chad Qualls in the seventh inning and outfielder Zoilo Almonte, who had four RBIs in Friday’s 11-0 exhibition victory against the University of South Florida, added a pinch-hit, two-run double in the ninth to cap the Yankees’ scoring for the afternoon.
- Granderson is off to fast start this spring. He singled in his only at-bat on Friday against USF and is 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Granderson had a career season in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and 136 runs scored.
- Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and gave up one hit, no walks and struck out two batters in his two innings of work. Unfortunately, two errors (including his own error on a pickoff throw) did not help his cause and the only hit he surrendered was a two-run home run to right-center by Hunter Pence off a 3-0 fastball in the first inning. Nova was still pleased with the outing, particularly his second inning.
- Former Phillie Raul Ibanez got back at his old team by hitting a bloop double on the left-field foul line off the Phillies’ left-handed starter Cole Hamels that scored Granderson with the game’s first run. Ibanez figures to be the Yankees’ designated hitter against right-handers this season.
- Garner, Almonte, Vazquez and Dewayne Wise all came off the bench to drive in runs for the Yankees and all the team’s eight runs were scored with two outs. Vazquez stroked his single off Willis on a 1-2 count and that hit stood up as the game-winning RBI. Garner’s two-run home run was blasted straight down the left-field line and somehow stayed fair. Wise preceded Garner’s home run with an RBI double to right-center. Almonte’s two-run double to right-center came off reliever Mike Stutes.
- The first ball of the spring hit to shortstop Eduardo Nunez off the bat of Shane Victorino skipped past him for an error and Victorino later scored an unearned run on Pence’s homer. Nunez led the team in 2011 with 21 errors in roughly half the playing time of the infield starters.
- Though Banuelos was credited with the win, fellow rookie Dellin Betances and he did not show much in the way of command of their pitches. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Banuelos gave up a single to Tyson Gillis and then walked Laynce Nix and Hector Luna with two out before retiring John Mayberry Jr. to leave the bases loaded, Betances walked the first two batters he faced before retiring Kevin Frandsen on a double play and Freddy Galvis hit a fly-ball out to center to end the seventh.
- Former Met Michael O’Connor got off to a bad start in his quest to make the team as a second lefty in the bullpen. He was tagged for three hits and he walked another batter as he gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The big blow was a two-run homer off the bat of Frandsen.
The game was played under sunny skies and 82-degree weather. However, a 20-mph wind with much higher wind gusts blowing out to left contributed to the two home runs each by both teams and led to some adventurous paths by fielders on high pop-ups. . . . A sellout crowd of 10,539 turned out for the Phillies’ home opener at Bright House Field. . . . When Ibanez stepped to the plate in the first inning, some fans cheered and others appeared to have been booing. However, Ibanez was unsure if the fans were chanting “Raul” and not booing at all. Ibanez, 39, was allowed to leave the Phiilies as a free agent and he was signed a few weeks ago by the Yankees to a one-year contract. . . . The game was broadcast nationally by MLB Network through Comcast Sports of Philadelphia and the Phillies’ television broadcasters described the game.
The Yankees continue their home-away-home three-game series with the Phillies on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will start the game for the Yankees. Garcia, 35, is vying for a spot in the rotation after a season in which he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts for the Yankees. As part of the opening ceremonies, the Yankees will wear their pinstripe uniforms and they are scheduled to open with their 2012 projected starting lineup.
The Phillies will counter with 34-year-old right-hander Roy Halladay, who is coming off a season in which he was 19-6 with a 2.34 ERA for the Phillies. Joel Pineiro, David Purcey, Antonio Bastardo and Phillippe Aumont are also scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast nationally by MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees announced Wednesday the signing of 13 players to minor-league contracts and have issued invitations to 27 players to spring training.
Besides utility man Bill Hall, who was signed to a minor-league deal on Tuesday, the biggest name on the list was left-handed power hitter Russell Branyan, who was signed on Wednesday. Branyan could figure as a cheap solution to the designated hitter spot should the Yankees fail to reach agreement with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or Raul Ibanez.
Branyan, 36, played in 68 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels and hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. Branyan is capable of playing first base, third base and as a corner outfielder but has primarily been a DH or pinch-hitter. In his 14-year career, Branyan has 194 home runs, 467 RBIs and a .232 batting average.
Branyan also has the distinction of hitting two of the longest home runs in the short history of the new Yankee Stadium.
Among the other prominent veterans invited to spring training are former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen, former Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima and former Blue Jays outfielder Dewayne Wise.
Delcarmen, 29, was a combined 3-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 57 appearances with the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. He will compete for a spot in a stacked and talented Yankee bullpen.
Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Okajima will have to compete with fellow Red Sox left-hander Cesar Cabral, 23, to join Boone Logan in the bullpen as a second left-hander. Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in just seven appearances with the Red Sox last season before he was sent to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, where he spent the rest of the season before being released.
Wise, 33, is best known for his spectacular ninth-inning catch to preserve Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. Last season, Wise hit .202 with two home runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 69 games with the Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins. Wise is considered an excellent fielder with good speed and he has the ability to play all three outfield spots.
Among the group of players also invited to spring training is the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, left-handed starter Manny Banuelos. Banuelos, 20, will join the team’s No. 2 prospect, right-handed starter Dellin Betances, who already was on the 40-man roster. Naeither pitcher is expected to make the major-league club out of spring training but they could be factors later in the season.
In addition, the Yankees have also invited two star catcher prospects: Gary Sanchez, 19, and J.R. Murphy, 20. Sanchez, ranked as the team’s No. 3 prospect, and Murphy, is ranked No. 13, both require seasoning at the minor-league level but are considered excellent future catching prospects.
The other players who received invitations include:
Left-handed pitchers: Juan Cedeno, Mike O’Connor.
Right-handed pitchers: Daniel Burawa, Matt Daley, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, Kevin Whelan, Chase Whitley.
Catchers: Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Gustavo Molina.
Infielders: Doug Bernier, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez.
Outfielders: Colin Curtis, Cole Garner, Brett Marshall.
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to the Yankees’ spring training complex in a few weeks, it might be a good time to look at the five things that would be good signs the Yankees are on their way to their 28th world championship. They are:
NO. 5 – CC Sabathia reports to camp minus about 30 pounds he was carrying at the end of last season.
Sabathia struggled with a knee injury at the tail end of the 2010 season. He ended up having surgery to repair the damage and actually dropped about 30 pounds before he reported to spring training last year. The result was Sabathia got off to one of the better starts of his career. At the All-Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA and he had won 10 of his last 11 starts. Can you figure out what happened next? He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. The reason was he had gained weight during the course of the season and it really showed in his postseason appearances against the Tigers. He was 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA with a WHIP of 2.08 in 8 2/3 innings over three games. Sabathia chose not to opt out of his contract in order to sign a lucrative extension that will keep in pinstripes until the year 2017. The Yankees got in return from Sabathia a pledge that he will take the excess weight off this winter and keep it off during the course of the season. In a few weeks we will see if Sabathia has succeeded in his pledge.
No. 4 – The Yankees find a second left-handed reliever to help Boone Logan.
Logan, 27, is a good enough pitcher. He was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 2010 and 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 2011. But he is terribly miscast as a “lefty specialist.” Left-handed hitters batted .260 off him last season while right-handers fared a bit better at .262. That is because Logan is nothing like Damoso Marte or Pedro Feliciano. The Yankees traded with Kansas City for Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral from the Red Sox and signed former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to compete this spring for a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen. Cabral, 23, was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 appearances with Salem in the Carolina League and Portland in Eastern League. He notched 70 strikeouts and walked 21 batters in 55 innings. Okajima, 36, was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket after posting a 1-0 record and a 4.32 ERA in seven appearances with Red Sox. He was 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances with the Pawsox. With Feliciano recovering from left shoulder surgery and not expected to pitch in 2012, the Yankees have no other left-handers on their 40-man roster. So either Cabral or Okajima take the bull by the horns and win a job or the Yankees will either have to deal for another lefty or be forced to use starter Manny Banuelos in the role at some point during the season. That is something they do not want to do unless they are forced into it.
No. 3 – A.J. Burnett is not on the roster when the season starts.
The Yankees have made it as clear as possible without saying it publicly: They have no confidence that the enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander will recapture the magic of his 2008 season in Toronto when he was 18-10 with 4.07 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 221 1/3 innings. He has gotten worse in his three years with the Yankees, ending up 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 2011. He also has lost velocity on his heater and that is a sign he is in a steep decline. The problem is the Yankees are on the hook for two more years and $33 million on his contract. But the Yankees acquired 23-year-old Michael Pineda and signed 36-year-old free agent Hiroki Kuroda to pitch behind Sabathia and the Yankees are saying that Ivan Nova will retain a spot in the rotation he earned with a 16-4 rookie season. That leaves 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes, 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia and Burnett to compete for the No. 5 spot. Barring an injury, the Yankees likely will only keep one of the two starters that fail to win a spot for the bullpen. So the odds for Burnett are not good. The Yankees have made it known they have dangled Burnett in a trade. They are offering to pay about $8 million of his contract but, so far, they have had no serious takers. But as the season nears and teams assess their starting staffs, it could be possible that Burnett could be dealt, much like Sergio Mitre was in 2011. That would be a good thing because Burnett has just about tested every last bit of patience out of manager Joe Girarddi and pitching coach Larry Rothscild. Yankee fans are getting sick of trying to guess whether they will see “Good A.J.” or “Bad A.J.” from start to start. They are seeing the bad version more often these days. It also does not really matter what the Yankees get in return. The Yankees would settle for young prospects – a power-hitting young outfielder and a young pitcher would be just fine. Let’s hope general manager Brian Cashman gets it done before the season starts.
No. 2 – The Yankees either acquire or sign a legitimate and experienced DH.
With the trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners and the retirement of Jorge Posada, the Yankees currently do not have a major-league designated hitter. For the moment they are touting 29-year-old minor-league corner infielder Jorge Vazquez as a potential starter there. Vazquez, a veteran of the Mexican League, did hit .262 with 32 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But the Yankees might be looking for a more experienced DH from among free agents such as Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Pedro Guerrero. Of that mix, Damon appears to be the best fit. He spent four seasons with the Yankees and has shown he can take advantage of the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium. In 2011 with the Rays, Damon hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games. Damon would be of use as a DH, part-time outfielder (despite his weak arm) and solid veteran pinch-hitter or pinch-runner off the bench. The others are limited in the field and have declined significantly at the plate. Granted, Girardi does like to rotate his veterans at the DH spot to give them rest. But the Yankees need another bat to replace Montero and they can’t wait too long to fill it.
NO. 1 – Alex Rodriguez shows up in Tampa healthy and displaying prodigious power throughout spring training.
Let’s face it, love him or hate him, Rodriguez is the key to the Yankees’ offense in 2012. Since 2007 when he played in 158 games, Rodriguez has been sidelined for significant periods of time by a hip injury, shoulder problems, a knee injury, a calf injury and a sprained finger. In 2011, he was limited to 99 games and he hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. He entered the American League Division Series with Detroit at less than 100 percent and it showed. He was 2-for-18 (.111) with six strikeouts in the series. For the Yankees to have any chance of getting back to the World Series, Rodriguez must remain healthy throughout 2012, particularly during the playoffs. Although Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano pretty much carried the team throughout the 2011 season, it is Rodriguez who strikes the most fear in pitchers when he is “locked in” and pounding out home runs. Borrowing a line from Reggie Jackson, A-Rod is the straw that stirs the drink in the Yankees’ lineup. They need him more than any other player and Rodriguez must also prove he is not in a precipitous decline at age 36. The Yankees are paying him through the 2017 season and they can’t afford to be paying $32 million to a player who hits 16 home runs and drive in 62 runs.