Tagged: Kevin Russo

Nova Shines As Yanks Maul Tigers To Snap Skid

GAME 9

YANKEES 10, TIGERS (SS) 3

TAMPA  –  It was as if Yankees manager Joe Girardi was getting just as tired of all the losing as the fans so he played pretty much all of his starters against an inexperienced Tigers split squad on Saturday. The result was an end to a horrific seven-game losing streak.

Ivan Nova pitched two scoreless innings in his spring debut and Chris Stewart cracked a two-run home run in the fourth inning to break a 2-2 tie as New York blasted Detroit on a chilly and windy day at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Nova (1-0) gave up just an infield hit and struck out one in his effort to claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The 26-year-old right-hander threw 22 of his 27 pitches for strikes and looked extremely sharp in his first outing.

Left-hander Kyle Lobstein (0-1), who gave up the tie-breaking home run to Stewart, took the loss.

The Yankees are now 2-7 in Grapefruit League play. The Tigers are 3-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nova, it would appear at first blush, has put behind a 2012 spring training in which he was 1-2 with an 8.06 ERA and a regular season in which he was 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA. With Phelps 1-0 with 0.00 ERA in his first two spring starts, Nova is serving notice he is not giving up that No. 5 rotation spot without a fight. It is going to be a great competition between the two.
  • Brett Gardner has hit in each of his six spring games and was 2-for-3 with two stolen bases and a run scored on Saturday. Gardner is hitting a red-hot .571 this spring and doing exactly what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do: Get on base and score runs.
  • Stewart’s home run was his first of the spring and he was 1-for-2 in the game to raise his spring average to .429. Stewart also gunned down Don Kelly attempting to steal in the sixth inning so he is not conceding the starting catching spot to Francisco Cervelli just yet.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Matt Diaz came up with the bases loaded and two out in the third inning against left-hander Kenny Faulk and promptly struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch. Though the pitch may have been close, Diaz should have been ready to protect the plate in that situation and he did not. Diaz, who is seeking to start in left-field while Curtis Granderson is recovering from a broken right forearm, is hitting just .231 so far this spring.
  • Mark Montgomery, 22, walked the leadoff batter in the sixth inning and then gave up a single to Torii Hunter and an RBI single to Andy Dirks that brought the Tigers to within 5-3. But give the team’s top reliever prospect credit for inducing Kelly to hit in fielder’s choice and – after Stewart gunned down Kelly at second – Montgomery struck out Kevin Russo swinging to end the rally.
  • Ichiro Suzuki had an uncharacteristic 0-for-3 day at the plate with a strikeout. Even though Suzuki took the collar he is batting .421 this spring and picking up where he left off from when he joined the Yankees in June last season.

BOMBER BANTER

Outfielder Melky Mesa has decided that he will not play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Mesa, 26, wants to stay with the Yankees to compete for the starting leftfield job. Mesa is the best defensive option among candidates Diaz, Juan Rivera, Zoilo Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier.  . . .  The Yankees have six players participating in the World Baseball Classic: Second baseman Robinson Cano and left-hander Juan Cedeno are playing for the Dominican Republic, infielder Walter Ibarra and infielder Gil Velazquez will play for Mexico, first baseman Mark Teixeira is playing for Team USA and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will pitch for Italy.  . . .  After Saturday’s game the Yankees sent nine players to their minor-league camp: right-handers Corey Black, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien and Ryan Pope and infielder Kyle Roller. That leaves the Yankees with 75 players on the roster including injured starters Alex Rodriguez and Granderson.  . . .  The Yankees announced that outfielder Slade Heathcott has a sprained right thumb and left-hander Boone Logan has been shut down with a tender elbow. Neither injury is considered serious.

ON DECK

The Yankees head out on the road to Fort Myers, FL, as the Yankees will tangle with heated rival Boston on Sunday.

Right-hander Adam Warren will start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by veteran Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster. Gardner, Rievra and shortstop Eduardo Nunez are scheduled to make the trip.

Game-time will be 1:35 p.m. EST and the game will not be broadcast on television but is available via WCBS Radio.

 

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Cano’s Late Second Wind Salvages Good Season

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (33 HRs,94 RBIs, .313 BA)

If this report were written on Sept. 24, when Robinson Cano was hitting just .293 with 30 home runs and 80 RBIs, it would not have been so flattering to Cano. Though Cano managed to set a career high with 30 home runs, Cano would have looked at that RBI total and season average and called it subpar season.

But in his last nine game, Cano went on an Most Valuable Player-like tear, going 24-for-39 (.615) with three home runs and 14 RBIs to enter the playoffs as one of the hottest hitters in the playoffs.

The truth is, Cano did not have the season at the plate he would have liked to have. For most of the season, Cano did not hit well with runners in scoring position. He finished at a somewhat respectable .268 thanks to his final surge.

Cano also, for the first time in his career, was not very good against left-handers. He hit just .239 with six home runs and 26 RBIs.

Cano was known in the past as someone who routinely crushed left-handers. Managers would scramble out to the mound to bring in anyone who remotely could get the ball over the plate left-handed only to watch Cano come up to the plate and crush their first pitch into the upper reaches of Yankee Stadium’s second deck.

Not this season.

One reason why is that left-handers have been ordered to throw him only fastballs inside on his hands or slow breaking stuff away. Cano never really adjusted to it and there you go.

In the first half, Cano had 20 home runs, 50 RBIs and he batted .316. He ended up in the second half adding 13 homers, 44 RBIs and his average dipped slightly to .313.

But to call a season in which someone hit .300 with more than 30 home runs and more 90 RBIs a disappointment shows just how good Cano really is. He remains the game’s best hitting second baseman. He remains the game’s best fielding second baseman.

And, on a team loaded with veteran stars and All-Stars, Cano is simply the best player on the Yankees.

His swing is so balanced and fluid that it could almost be called a work of art. It is beautifully lyrical and when bat meets ball the ball seems to rocket farther than it would off the bat of anybody else. His hands are so skilled it just seems he could hit just about any pitch anywhere it was pitched.

However, here is also where Cano’s weakness lies. Cano is so adept at putting the bat on the ball and averse to walks (He did draw a career-high 61 this season) that he is wont to hit pitches out the strike zone that end up as weak flies or pops or dribbling grounders to an infielder.

So pitchers prey upon Cano’s impatience and let him get himself out when he is going bad. However, look out when he is going good like now. There is just no way to pitch Cano when he is going good because he can hit any pitch, anywhere in the zone and hit it hard.

He hit a grounder so hard against the Red Sox on Tuesday it nearly carried Dustin Pedroia into right-field. So even his outs are loud and hard to catch.

Watching Cano in the field is similarly fun.

He is so graceful and fluid he even makes the tough plays look so easy. It is if he is playing the game of baseball like it was one level below where he should be playing it. He looks effortless.

Which is why they tag Cano as “lazy.” Which is ridiculous. Cano is simply the best-fielding second baseman in the game and his range to run down outfield popups and sprints to his right to flag grounders up the middle is incredible.

But where Cano really shines in the field is his cannon of an arm and the unbelievable turns he makes on double plays. It is like watching Leonardo da Vinci doing brushstrokes. It is simply masterful stuff.

Cano started 150 games at second base and committed only six errors, his second-lowest total of his career. His lowest total came in 2010 when he won his first and only Gold Glove. The same year he also won the Silver Slugger at the position. Cano should win both this season, if there is any justice.

Where I will say Cano is the weakest is when he is on the bases. Though he only has average speed, Cano should do batter at stealing bases but he doesn’t. He also is one of the worst instinctive base-runners I have ever seen. He makes a lot of mistakes on the bases and his judgment is poor.

But that is a mere quibble compared to his overall game.

Cano could very well carry the Yankees to their 28th championship on his back alone. His two home runs and six RBIs on the final game of the season show just how dangerous he can be with the bat.

Cano has been highly praised his career but he has a opportunity to join some Yankee immortals with a breakout postseason. He seems ready to do it. Yankees fans have watched him grow up as a little pup at 22 in 2005 to the strapping “Best In Show” purebred we see today at age 29 in 2012.

Any way you look at it, Cano is a star. This postseason he can become a superstar.

MIDSEASON GRADE: A-

SECOND-HALF GRADE: B+

OVERALL GRADE: A-

BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (4 HRs, 18 RBIs, .243 BA)

When you look at the numbers Nix put up this season you might think he was a failure and the Yankees would be looking to get rid of him. But Nix is one of those players that numbers do not tell the story.

Nix, 30, was not in the team’s original blueprint for 2012. He was invited to spring training as a non-roster player and he hit .323 while not embarrassing himself playing shortstop, second base, third base and the outfield.

So when the Yankees decided the had enough of the errors from Eduardo Nunez they summoned Nix from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 3.

So Nix played some left for Brett Gardner, some shortstop for Derek Jeter, Some second for Cano and some third for Alex Rodriguez. He committed only four errors all season.

His home run and RBI total do not look like much but he only received a 177 at-bats. Nix solidified this team as infield reserve and he simply was this team’s best bunter this season. So Nix did the little things to help the Yankees win and that is something very special.

Unfortunately, Nix suffered a left hip flexor injury in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 27 and he is expected to miss the next 10 to 14 days. So Nix will not be on the postseason roster in the American League Division Series that begins on Sunday.

But Nix did a good job for the Yankees whether he plays in the postseason or not.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND-HALF GRADE: C+

OVERALL GRADE: C+

The Yankees also used Nunez and Ramiro Pena at the position, although Pena was designated for assignment and released.

Nunez, however, will be the backup at second in place of Nix in the postseason. But he won’t play here because Cano is not coming out of the lineup, barring injury.

Nunez, 25, has swung the bat well since he recall on Sept. 1 and he likely will replace Andruw Jones as the team’s right-handed hitting designated hitter.

Nunez hit .227 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 33 games at Scranton. But he was hampered most of the season with a right thumb injury that sidelined him for more than two months. The Yankees do not look at Nunez as a second baseman but as a future starting shortstop.

At Scranton, Corban Joseph, 23, hit .266 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 84 games after replacing Kevin Russo, 28, once he was recalled from Trenton. Though Joseph once held prospect status, his star has fallen somewhat and he is not considered more than a potential backup second baseman at this point.

The Yankees do have a pair of raw former shortstops playing second base in the minors in Angelo Gumbs and Jose Pirela.

Gumbs, 19, hit .272 at Class-A Charleston but his defense is such he may end up being shifted to the outfield. Loaded with speed (28 stolen bases), Gumbs is the team’s eighth-ranked prospect.

Pirela, 22, played all over the diamond at Trenton and hit .293 in 82 games. He is ranked as the team’s 15th best prospect. But he looks to be a potential utilityman in the majors.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A

Cano is the best second baseman in baseball and he is the best player a on talented Yankee team. He is also primed for a monster postseason if he continues to hit as he has done the final nine games of the season.

Cano is also playing in the next to his last season under contract with the Yankeees and he switched agents to hire Scott Boras. So after the 2013 season the Yankees are going to have to pony up some serious money to Cano to keep him in pinstripes while maintaing their pledge to reduce payroll by 2014.

Good luck with that task.

Cano is worth an awful lot and Boras will not hear anything about a home-team discount. The Yankees, much less any team in baseball, have anyone who can replace what Cano does for the Yankees.

So they are going to have to open their wallets if they want to keep him. My guess is they will. But with Boras in the mix anything is possible. Remember Boras’ antics during Rodriguez’s contract negotiations?

Yankee fans and A-Rod would like to forget.

 

Despite Criticism, Cano Remains Second To None

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (,292 BA, 14 HRS, 54 RBIs)

After Robinson Cano’s breakout season of 2010, it was hard to imagine how the 28-year-old second baseman could top it. He hit a team-best .319 with 29 home runs and 109 RBIs. He won both the Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove at his position.

How do you top that?

As Cano has witnessed in the team’s first 81 games. You don’t really.

Cano, however, remains the best hitter on the Yankees and the best second baseman in baseball. His first half pretty much proved it and he was voted to start his second straight All-Star Game. All this despite the fact his season was not quite as good as his season in 2010.

The funny thing about Cano is that he is still a superstar that is defining himself even though he is in his seventh season. Those batting titles he was predicted to win have not materialized. His fielding is still wonderful and effortless but fans and critics say he can do more. It is not easy to have all that talent and be able to shape it into what other people think it should be. Cano just seems to be content letting his bat and glove do the shaping and not worry about what people are thinking.

If you double his first half home run and RBI numbers, Cano is right in line with his 2010 numbers. His batting average is 16 points lower than 2010 but only 11 below his career .303 average. It is not hard to imagine that as the warm summer months unfold, Cano’s bat will catch fire as well. He has always been a better second-half hitter. There is nothing to suggest it won’t be the case this season.

There are those who believe, and I am among them, that Cano would actually be the ideal No. 3 hitter for this team. The reason is the No. 3 spot is always reserved for the team’s most feared hitter. Opposing managers will tell you they fear Cano more than any other hitter in the Yankees’ lineup.

It is because his swing is so effortless and the ball jumps so hard off his bat that he can turn a game with a key hit. Managers bring in lefties to neutralize him. But Cano merely hits them better than he does right-handers. Cano is hitting a ridiculous .347 against left-handers and a very pedestrian .270 against right-handers this season. So when you see a manager coming out to the mound to bring in a left-hander they are actually playing into Cano’s strength. Like a cobra, Cano can bite the best-laid of plans to get him out.

There have been clamors about his defense this season. The range is still there. He is also making the most difficult plays look easy. But Cano set a high standard last season by committing only three errors.

Much like his lofty hitting, the standard is hard to maintain. So Cano has made six errors and most of those came on routine plays.

That is the curse of being Cano. When the game is so easy to play it is sometimes easy to get bored with the perfection you play it. Cano sometimes does fall into that trap of looking lazy and disinterested. But it is not really true. Can’s defense is still as sterling as it ever was and it would be a crime of he did not collect another Gold Glove in 2011.

See the big question is that if Cano is not the best second baseman in baseball, who is? Dustin Pedroia? He’s hitting .278 with less power and production. Danny Espinosa of Washington has 15 home runs and Kelly Johnson of Arizona has 14. But they are both hitting south of ,244. Ian Kinsler of Texas and Chase Utley of Philadelphia have had off-seasons and have dealt with injuries. Dan Uggla of Atlanta has more power, but he is not a hitter for average and he is a butcher in the field with limited range.

Rickie Weeks of Milwaukee comes the closest to Cano’s physical gifts. He can run better than Cano. But he is not the fielder Cano is.

So the best thing Yankee fans can do is appreciate what Cano is and what he is providing. They are not likely to see a better second baseman in the history of the franchise. Think of him as an Alfonso Soriano who can field like Roberto Alomar and you get a measure of what Cano means to this team. If this team is to win it all in 2011, Cano will have be right in the middle of it — hitting and fielding.

He may not win that batting title this season. But I think Cano would gladly forego it for a championship ring.

Cano deserves an A- for his first half. The only knock is the .292 average, which I believe will be in the .300 range by season’s end, barring injury. They just do not come any better than Cano.

OTHERS

Here is another Cano trait: He is durable. He has started 79 of the team’s 81 games. Eduardo Nunez started the other two and you are less likely to see Nunez here than you will at short and third for two reasons. One is that it is not a position he is as suited to play. The other is he is needed more often to replace the older Jeter (37) at short and Rodriguez (35) at third. The Yankees also have Ramiro Pena on the roster to play second base.

Nunez starred as a hitter replacing Jeter at shortstop but still needs work in the field at age 24. But the fact he hit .339 in place of Jeter is not lost among manager Joe Girardi. It will be Girardi’s task to find places for Nunez to play so he can get his bat in the lineup more. The fact the team sent outfielder Chris Dickerson back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the roster for Jeter is one clue. Nunez might be seeing more time in the outfield in the second half.

Pena, 25, who is hitting .111, is the opposite of Nunez. He can play infield with the best of them but he won’t hit much. His real value is that he is the team’s best bunter and he can steal a base or two even though he is not as fast as Nunez.

At the minor-league level, the Yankees’ best second base prospect is Reegie Corona, a 25-year-old switch-hitter. However, Corona is on the 60-day disabled list with a broken arm suffered during the winter. He has a long way to go in his rehab and it just looks like a lost season for him.

Kevin Russo, 27, is playing second base in Scranton and he is hitting .278 with a home run and 28 RBIs. He is solid in the field but he is not the athlete Corona is and he is a long dropoff from Cano at the position. We likely will not see Russo unless something happens to Pena or Nunez.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Cano A-

Nunez B

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-

Cano is right where he should be in production and he should be better with his hitting and fielding in the second half. The Yankees rely on Cano for so much that he gets taken for granted at times. But managers, coaches and scouts from opposing teams think he is the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. That is a scary thought considering Rodriguez was “that guy” for so long and he still is pretty scary. Just enjoy the second half of watching Cano making everything look easy and helping lead this team to a division title and beyond.

It is almost assured Cano will do just that.

NEXT: THIRD BASE

Yanks Score Late Off Miscue To Draw Even With Rays

GAME 6
YANKEES 1, RAYS 1 (10 innings)
Gustavo Molina singled, moved to second on a Kevin Russo single and scored on an error by shortstop Ray Olmedo as New York tied Tampa Bay in the top of the eighth inning in a game that was called after 10 innings at Charlotte Sports Park in Post Charlotte, FL.
The Rays scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a two-out double by Casey Kotchman and consecutive walks to Daniel Mayola, Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer by Dellin Betances.
The Yankees are 2-3-1 in Grapefruit League play. The Rays are 1-4-1.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Freddy Garcia pitched two scoreless innings in his first start of the spring. Garcia, who is bidding for a rotation spot, gave up a walk in the first and a double in the second inning but escaped both frames without giving up a run.
  • Ivan Nova followed Garcia and pitched three scoreless innings. He gave up a thee hits but was bailed out by Brett Gardner in the third inning. After Tim Beckham doubled for the Rays, B.J. Upton singled to left. Gardner fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike to catcher Jesus Montero to nail a sliding Beckham at home plate.
  • Give credit to Adam Warren, Robert Fish, Daniel Turden and D.J. Mitchell, too. They shut down the Rays over the final 2 1/3 innings on two hits, no walks and four strikeouts.
  • Eric Chavez is swinging a good bat in his bid to become the backup corner infielder. He had a double and hit a ball well in the fifth inning that was held up by a 22-mile-per-hour gale blowing towards home plate. Chavez is hitting .333 early in spring.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Betances actually was sailing along in the seventh inning when he suddenly “lost” the strike zone. The 22-year-old right-hander completed an easy 1-2-3 sixth inning on only nine pitches and fanned Manny Ramirez and Matt Joyce looking to begin the seventh before Kotchman’s double opened the floodgates.
  • Once again, the Yankee starters were unable to manufacture any offense. Other than the Chavez double, the Yankees only other hit came from Curtis Granderson, who doubled in the seventh. In the past three games the Yankee starters have combined to go 10-for-77 (.130) and scored one run.
  • Gardner opened the game by drawing a walk and stole second base. However, he fell asleep and allowed Rays starter James Shields to pick him off second base.
BOMBER BANTER
The Yankees have sent the results of Francisco Cervelli’s CT scan and MRI off to New York to allow team doctors to analyze them. Cervelli fouled a ball off his left foot in a game against the Astros on Wednesday. The team hopes it is just a bad bruise but there are fears it could be a fracture. Cervelli is locked in a battle with Montero and Austin Romine to be the backup catcher for Russell Martin. Manager Joe Girardi said a prolonged absence could affect Cervelli’s chances of making the team.  . . .  Garcia told reporters that he deserves to be a starter for the Yankees and it is his job to lose. He said if he loses the spot than it would be his fault.  . . .  The Yankees renewed acquaintances with old friend Johnny Damon, who signed as a free agent with the Rays. Damon said he talked to the Yankees about returning this winter but felt he was not ready to become a part-time player because the Yankees outfield was set and Jorge Posada would be the full-time DH.  . . .  The weather in Florida has been great temperature wise and Wednesday’s game was played at 78 degrees and under sunny skies. But the wind played havoc with fly balls to the outfield and definitely was an advantage to the pitchers. Their mistakes ended up be knocked down in the wind and caught.
ON DECK
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field to host their old rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the first night home contest of the season. The Yankees are scheduled to start non-roster invitee Bartolo Colon. The Red Sox are countering with young right-hander Clay Buchholz.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

Yankees Really Like Blend Of Talent In 2011 Outfield

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
OUTFIELD
What a difference a year makes. Last season the Yankees basically jettisoned their 2009 championship outfield by trading Melky Cabrera and star prospect Austin Jackson and allowed Johnny Damon and DH Hideki Matsui walk as free agents.
They acquired Curtis Granderson and installed Brett Gardner in leftfield to go with holdover right-fielder Nick Swisher. The results in 2010 were a mixed bag but substantially better than what would have happened if the Yankees stood on a pat hand.
Swisher re-invented himself by adjusting his swing to make more contact. The results were very evident. He raised his average from .249 to .288 and hit 29 home runs and drove in 89 runs. 
For a player Brian Cashman picked off the Chicago White Sox scrap heap for reserve Wilson Betemit, Swisher, 30, has turned into the unsung hero of this team for the past two seasons. His power, his ability to switch-hit and his exuberance in the field make him a valuable cog in the Yankees’ attack.
His fielding may leave a lot to be desired. He is not exactly ballet in motion but he does catch what comes what comes his way and he has a strong arm. He made only four errors last season but, more importantly, he registered 10 outfield assists.
Manager Joe Girardi is likely to have a plenty of opportunities to remove Swisher late in games for a defensive replacement. But more on that later.
The Yankees essentially acquired Granderson for Jackson and left-hander Phil Coke. His first season in the Bronx was not one to write home about. 
Though Granderson is a great individual who won praise for his charitable pursuits, his play in 2010 was not real good overall. He got off to a good start with the bat, slumped and then injured a groin muscle and missed a month.
Upon his return, Granderson continued to struggle and he looked hopeless against left-handers. But hitting coach Kevin Long took him aside and reworked his swing and a new Curtis Granderson emerged.
From Sept. 1 through the end of the season, Granderson hit .263 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. He also began to hit left-handers with his quicker and more powerful stroke. So Granderson’s 2010 totals of 24 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .248 average look pathetic but there is hope his new swing will carry through the 2011 season.
Granderson, 29, also would like to be more aggressive on the bases. He stole only 12 bases in 2010. He has stolen as many as 26 in his career.
Where Granderson struggles the most is on defense. He simply lacks good first-reaction instincts on fly balls. He has the speed to outrun his mistakes but Granderson will misread a ball or two in the outfield.
He made only two errors in the field last season and contributed five outfield assists. But the Yankees would like him to continue to work on his first step and make better reads on fly balls this season.
The Yankees rolled the dice by allowing Gardner to win the left-field spot in 2010 and the Yankees were happy with what they got overall. Gardner established he could get on base often enough to unglue a few pitchers with his blazing speed.
Gardner hit .277 with five home runs and 47 RBis. But, his true value was that he scored 97 runs primarily batting at the bottom of the order and he stole 47 bases. All this despite having been hampered by a recurring wrist injury that required surgery this offseason.
The Yankees hope the wrist surgery will allow Gardner to hit with more authority into the gaps of the outfield. Gardner also needs to work on his bunting. Blessed with such great speed it is a crime that Gardner has been slow in learning to how to bunt effectively.
Gardner, 27, also has a much too much of a safety-first approach on the bases that keeps him planted at first reading pitchers too deep into counts. The Yankees want him going more often and earlier in pitch counts in 2011.
There is no such safety-first mentality in the field. Gardner is, by far, the best defensive outfielder the Yankees have and he is close to Gold Glove status.
Comfortable in left and in center, Gardner made only one error last season and contributed an amazing 12 outfield assists. With Damon out in left Yankee fans forgot that outfielders could actually throw runners out on the bases. That mentality changed with Gardner.
Gardner’s superior defense in left is a plus to what is an excellent fielding team overall.
Last season the Yankees reserve outfielders left a lot to be desired defensively. Though Marcus Thames was signed mostly as a DH, when pressed into service it was a lot like the U.S. Navy. Every fly ball was an adventure.
Austin Kearns was not much better. He actually got struck in the head with a ball in Baltimore late last season.
The 2011 backup outfielders carry a much stronger reputation led by former 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones. Jones, 33, may not have the jets to play center like he did in his salad days, but he still can play the outfield with skill.
Jones will likely be a backup at the corner outfield spots and likely will be the late-inning replacement for Swisher in right field in games the Yankees are leading. 
Jones can also mash at the plate. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 48 runs in 278 at-bats with the White Sox last season. A right-hand batter, Jones hit eight home runs and drove in 23 runs against right-handers last season.
He can hit right-handers for power but his batting average against right-handers was a meager .219. Perhaps Kevin Long can help there, too.
The Yankees also have two holdovers from last season competing for a roster spot. One is speedster Greg Golson, who hit .261 in only 23 at-bats in 2010 but probably made the highlight reel play of the season in right-field.
It was Golson, 25, who threw out Carl Crawford at third base to end a one-run game against the Tampa Bay Rays last season. 
Golson’s strengths are his speed, his defense and his great right arm. Girardi loves to use him late as a pinch-runner or as defensive replacement.
Colin Curtis played a bit last season but he only hit .186 in 59 at-bats. Curtis is a plus defensive outfielder but he lacks the speed of Golson. At age 26, Curtis also is running out of time to impress the Yankees.
He will need a solid spring to stick. But Golson has a big edge on him.
The Yankees also will get time this spring to look at Justin Maxwell, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals.
Maxwell stirred up a lot of air in Washington, D.C. last season, literally. He struck out 43 times in 104 at-bats with the Nats. He ended up hitting .144 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. 
He is 27 and, like Curtis, is running out of time to stick with a parent club.
The Yankees also have supersub Kevin Russo in camp. Russo, primarily an infielder throughout his minor-league career, is trying to make the switch to outfield to become a ja
ck-of-all-trades reserve.
Russo hit just .184 last season with the Yankees.
The Yankees also have the what they hope is the second but the better of two outfielders named Melky. Melky Mesa, 24, was the Florida State League Most Valuable Player in 2010 and he was an All-Star with the Tampa Yankees.
But it appears Jones and Golson have the inside track on the two reserve spots this spring, unless there is somebody who steps up this spring.
The Yankees do go into 2010 with a nice balance in their outfield between the power of Granderson and Swisher (53 home runs) and the speed of Granderson and Gardner (59 stolen bases) and the fielding prowess of Gardner and Jones.
It is a nice mix of talent and should be a strength of the 2011 Yankees.

A-Rod Enters Playoffs On Heels Of Hot Second Half

With the end of the season it is time to hand out the final report cards for the New York Yankees for 2010. The Yankees reached the halfway point with the best record in baseball but with much promise to even improve in the second half. But some key injuries and some inconsistency with the starting pitchers dragged this team down a few notches. They qualified as a wild card but to defend their 2009 title they will have to dig deep. Here are the grades:

THIRD BASE

Alex Rodriguez (30 HRs, 125 RBIs, .270 Avg.)

The one thing for which you can count on Alex Rodriguez is production. He set a major-league record this season for stringing together 13 consecutive seasons of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
And he did it in the third straight season in which he played in 138 games or less.
So the critics can bring up the steroids, the off-field romances and all the negatives that make him so unpopular around baseball. But the fact remains, Alex Rodriguez is one of the most dangerous power hitters of his generation and perhaps of all-time.
Rodriguez got off to a slow start this season despite coming off the best postseason of his career and after he silenced critics by winning his first World Series ring.
At the halfway point, Rodriguez had only 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and he was hitting .272. The only reason he had 62 RBis is that just before he reached the halfway point he went an RBI tear with 18 RBIs in the last 12 games leading up to the halfway point.
Nonetheless, that showed fans that A-Rod was indeed primed for an excellent second half. The fact that he hit 18 home runs and drove in 63 runs in the second half silenced those he did not have the same home run power because he was not “juicing.”
The pitchers in the American League would beg to differ.
Though A-Rod hit 33 points below his career average, he overcame missed time due a hip flexor injury (unrelated to his prior hip injury) and a calf injury that landed him on the disabled list to provide the Yankees with another productive season in the cleanup spot.
Though Rodriguez will never steal the 24 bases he did in 2007 because of the hip injury. He still can run the bases intelligently. But he failed to score 100 runs for the second straight season so it is obvious the hip injury has hurt him as base-runner.
It also perhaps has robbed him of a bit more range in the field. But Rodriguez turned in one of his best seasons at third base by committing only seven errors in his 122 starts at the hot corner.
He also can say something not many Yankees can say: He is headed into the postseason on the heels of a torrid last month of the season. From Sept. 1 until the end of the season, Rodriguez hit .295 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs.
No matter what the Yankees troubles leading up to the playoffs, the Yankees know that Alex Rodriguez is capable fo carrying the Yankees throughout the playoffs if he is hot at the right time. There are signs this might be the right time.
There are some concerns, however. For one, Rodriguez hit an astoundingly low .217 off LEFT-HANDERS! That is right, 217!
In contrast, he bashed right-handers to the tune of .290 with 24 home runs and 90 RBIs. However, I doubt you will see Twins manager Ron Gardenhire or Rays manager Joe Maddon summon a lefty out the bullpen to face Rodriguez in a key situation. 
The fact that Mark Teixeira has struggled mightily against right-handers this season makes that even more unlikely. Managers usually have their lefty in the bullpen warming up to face Robinson Cano and that has been an enormous help to Rodriguez to come through with big hits late in games.
It should prove out again in the playoffs.
When Rodriguez was out of the lineup, Ramiro Pena made 27 starts at the position. He fielded the position well, which is his strong suit. But he failed to homer and hit only .214 on the season.
The other games were started by rookies Eduardo Nunez and Kevin Russo. Neither of them field the position as well as Pena but Nunez is a better hitter and can steal bases. But Pena and Nunez are better suited as shortstops and Russo is actually better at second base.
The Yankees have a legitimate up-and-coming star third baseman on the horizon in Brandon Laird. Laird, 23, ripped up Double-A pitching at Trenton with 23 home runs, 90 RBIs and a .291 average in only 107 games.
He struggled a bit in 31 games in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he has plenty of time to develop because Rodriguez is entrenched at the major-league level for some time to come. Laird will either have to shift positions or he could end up as potential trade bait for other teams down the road.
Rodriguez earned a B- for his first half, largely due to his RBI production. You have to give him a B+ for his second half. That means he deserves an overall grade of B for the season. The main reason is his drop in batting average to .270.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

With the playoffs looming, it is a good thing for manager Joe Girardi that he rested Rodriguez regularly and allowed him to heal his injuries during the season. Rodriguez enters the playoffs injury-free and well-rested.
He also is coming off his hottest month of the season since he hit .330 in May. It is a good thing that with the pitching problems the Yankees endured in September that elements of the offense like Cano and A-Rod have been productive leading  up to the playoffs.
They will have to produce to give the Yankees a chance to advance for a return trip to the World Series. Should A-Rod get hot at the right time, there could be a repeat in store for the Bronx Bombers.

Jeter’s Steady First Half Boosts Hopes For Stretch Run

It is the halfway point of the season for the New York Yankees and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time to had out grades for the first term. Some of our Yankees were scholars and some need some remedial work. But with the best record in baseball the Yankees already have a great grade as a team. The funny thing is that they have not really pushed themselves and there is still potential to be even better in the second half. Let’s start evaluating the positions and players.


SHORTSTOP

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter entered the 2010 after having won the American League Silver Slugger award and his fourth Gold Glove and he was third in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player.
But the prize Jeter coveted the most was his fifth championship ring. But he has put that ring away and now is looking for a sixth.
Judging by his first half, Jeter is well on his way on accomplishing that team goal. The individual awards will take care of themselves.
At age 36, Jeter still remains the heart and soul of this team.
His first half was not up to the standards he set last season. But they are still good enough to make him the overwhelming fans choice to start at shortstop for the American League. It will be his 11th All-Star appearance.
Jeter’s numbers at the halfway point are soild: eight home runs, 39 RBIs and a .281 batting average. Any manager would take a full season of 16 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .281 average from their shortstop or leadoff hitter.
But knowing Jeter, he would like to improve that batting average. Jeter, after all, is a career .316 hitter and he hit .334 last season. Jeter seemed to be on that pace when June started because he was hitting .302.
But from June 2 through June 23, Jeter fell into a slump where he was only 16-for-80 (.200) with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Overall in June, Jeter hit only .243. But if manager Joe Girardi knows anything about his team and his team captain it is that the least of his worries looking to the second half is Derek Jeter.
Jeter at age 36 is still well ahead of the hit pace of major-league hits leader Pete Rose and only Ichiro Suzuki has more hits than Jeter since 2001. So history proves that any Jeter slump likely will be short-lived and American League pitchers will pay a heavy price the next three months.
Jeter’s defense has been solid, too. He has committed just four errors this season. He even has made a few of his spectacular jump throws to first and second this season. But it would be folly to say that Jeter’s range is not what it was 10 years ago. But Jeter still makes the plays on the balls he can get to and he anchors what is arguably the best defensive infield in baseball.
Jeter has missed six starts and has played in all but five games this season. Illness and minor aches were the reason. It is obvious that at age 36, Jeter will need more rest as he gets older. But Jeter remains in great shape and he will be ready to play into October this season as he has been every season.
Ramiro Pena has replaced Jeter for all six starts he missed and he has filled in capably there defensively. Pena has only made one error at the position. He just has not carried the position offensively as well as he did last season. Pena is hitting around .200 for the season.
The Yankees also have Kevin Russo to play the position, although Russo is not as skilled defensively as Pena and does not really have the arm to play it on a consistent basis. 
In the minor leagues, the Yankees have a top-flight prospect in Eduardo Nunez, who is very athletic in the field and much better offensively that Pena. However, at age 24 he may not be ready to make the leap unless Pena plays himself out of the job.
Because of Jeter’s slump in June and slow start in July, you have to give him a B+ for his first half. There is still some room for improvement since he is batting 35 points below his career average.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B+

The Captain has it well within him to have a really good second half. His track record proves that whenever he goes through stretches where he struggles, he always bounces back.
There is no reason to doubt he won’t. The only real concern is Jeter’s strikeouts are up slightly. But they are not alarmingly high either. Jeter is also below his usual pace in stolen bases. He has nine and he had 30 last season. This may be simply be Jeter “saving” his legs for the second half and is just a minor concern.
There is no reason to beleieve that Jeter will be too far off his 2009 numbers of 18 home runs, 66 RBIs and somewhere around his career .316 average. The Yankees will take that from their leader and follow him for the 14th time in last 15 postseasons.
Yankee fans would not want it any other way.