Tagged: Mark Buehrle

Yankees Score Early As Pineda Baffles Blue Jays

GAME 27

YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 3

For the first time in his short career, Michael Pineda is firmly entrenched as the ace of a pitching staff. In Seattle he pitched behind Felix Hernandez and with New York he has played second fiddle to Masahiro Tanaka until Tanaka went on the disabled list last week.

Now Pineda is showing the baseball world why he should be considered an ace.

Pineda (4-0) pitched eight shutout innings, giving up just five hits and one walk while he struck out six, and the Yankees scored him five runs early as New York went on to defeat Toronto on Tuesday at Rogers Centre.

It was Pineda’s fourth consecutive outing in which he allowed three runs or less and it was his sixth straight victory, which dates back to Sept. 22, 2014.

The Yankees immediately jumped on right-hander Marco Estrada (1-1), who was making his first start of the season and his first start for the Blue Jays after being acquired last November in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the first inning with a single and advanced to third on a double off the bat of Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez then scored both runners with a double to left.

The Yankees added a run in the second inning on an odd play with Gregorio Petit on second and Ellsbury at the plate with a 1-1 count. Estrada was called for a balk by home-plate umpire Ed Hickox in the middle of his delivery to the plate. Ellsbury singled on the pitch to left to score Petit.

Major League Baseball rules give teams the option of accepting the balk or the result of the play. So the Yankees gladly accepted Ellsbury’s RBI single, which gave them a 3-0 lead.

The Yankees chased Estrada in the fifth inning after Ellsbury, who extended his hitting streak to eight games and was 3-for-5 on the night, singled to start the frame. He later stole second and scored two batters later on Mark Teixeira’s 10th home run of the season.

Estrada was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits and no walks while he struck out three in 4 2/3 innings.

The Yankees added another run with two out in the eighth against right-hander Chad Jenkins. With Brian McCann on second via a walk and Stephen Drew on first after a single, Didi Gregarious scored McCann on a lined single to center.

The Yankees summoned right-hander David Carpenter to finish the game in the ninth but the Blue Jays jumped on him immediately when Russell Martin hit a leadoff home run. Then with two outs, Kevin Pillar walked, Chris Colabello stroked an RBI double and Ryan Goins followed him with an RBI single.

Left-hander Andrew Miller brought in to close the game and, after he walked pinch-hitter Jose Bautista to bring up the potential tying run, he got Devon Travis to fly out to right to earn his 11th save in 11 chances this season.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 17-10 and they extended their lead in the American League East over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays to three games. The Blue Jays dropped to last in the division at 13-15, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • One scout who watched Pineda in spring training said he was the best pitcher he saw in Florida. There are a few good reasons why Pineda is so tough on batters. His mid-to-low 90s fastball has a natural cut to it. His curveball is devastating when it is on. In addition, Pineda rarely walks batters. When you add it all up, he is undefeated with a 2.97 ERA and he has 38 strikeouts and only three walks in 39 1/3 innings. Now that is an ace!
  • Ellsbury could not be on fire any more if he threw himself in a volcano. He entered the game batting .347 and he went 3-for-5 (all singles) with two stolen bases and two runs scored. Ellsbury, 31, is now batting .358, which is fifth in the American League.
  • Teixeira just keeps rolling out the power and the Yankees are reaping the benefits. Teixeira, 34, now has a team-leading 10 homers and 22 RBIs. Of Teixeira’s 18 hits this season, he has five doubles, 10 homers and only three singles. He also is batting only .205 but manager Joe Girardi is not complaining about it.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees have to be a bit concerned about Carpenter, 29. He was tagged for three runs on three hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. That gives Carpenter an 0-1 record and a 5.23 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over 11 appearances. The fact that he forced Girardi to bring in Miller when the Yankees held a 6-0 lead going into the ninth is not going to endear him to the manager.
  • Carlos Beltran was the only Yankee starter to not get a hit on Tuesday. He was 0-for-4 and his season average has now dipped to .193. He also is still looking for his first home run of the season. It is beginning to look like at age 38, Beltran may have hit the end of the line of his excellent career after 15 seasons.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira returned to the lineup on Tuesday after resting what has been a nagging lat injury. Teixeira said he first noticed pain in his back just before the series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. “You deal with bumps and bruises all year, and yesterday Joe [Girardi] thought was a good day for me to take off and let it rest,” Teixeira told reporters. “It felt a little better today.”  . . .  Jose Pirela, 24, has ended his rehab assignment at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees plan to activate him from the disabled list on Wednesday. Pirela suffered a concussion running into a wall in a Grapefruit League contest against the New York Mets and he was sent on a rehab assignment on April 30. In four games, Pirela was 11-for-19 (.579) with one homer and four RBIs. The Yankees will likely option out or disable Petit, 29, to make room for Pirela, who can play second, third and the outfield. Petit was struck on the right hand by a pitch he swung at from Jenkins in the eighth inning and he was replaced at third base by Rodriguez.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game series against the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-4, 5.40 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Sabathia, 34, held the Red Sox to two runs on seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts in six innings but he did not get the decision.

He will be opposed by left-hander Mark Buehrle (3-2, 6.75). The Yankees are Buehrle’s kryptonite. In 21 career starts against them, he is 1-14 with a 6.12 ERA. In fact, the Blue Jays altered their rotation in the first series of the season to make sure Buehrle did not face the Yankees. No pressure, Mark!

Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

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Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

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

NEW YORK YANKEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOSTON RED SOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY RAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

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

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

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

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

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

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

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

So there is a lot to like.

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

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

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

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

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

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

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

Young’s Homer Boosts Yankees Past Nationals

GAME 34

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3

Chris Young blasted a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Nationals closer Drew Storen to propel New York to a come-from-behind victory over Washington on Saturday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Young’s third home run of the spring, which all came off the Nationals, followed a one-out single by Didi Gregorius.

Storen (0-1), who has been hampered all spring with blister on his right foot, took the loss.

David Carpenter (2-0) pitched one-third of an inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Dellin Betances earned a save by striking out the side in the ninth despite making things interesting by yielding a single and a walk in between.

The Yankees concluded their exhibition season with a 17-16-1 record.

FIELD FOCUS

Chris Martin pitched a perfect inning of relief in sixth with two strikeouts. Just the fact he is even pitching on a major-league roster is a miracle in and of itself.

Martin was named a member of manager Joe Girardi’s seven-man bullpen on Friday. But there was a time the 6-foot-8 right-hander was just a regular working stiff at an appliance warehouse.

Down in Arlington, TX, Martin was loading 650-pound refrigerators onto dollies for delivery. The only doubleheaders Martin knew were the shifts he previously worked at the lawn and garden section at Lowe’s warehouse and then evenings at UPS.

Before all this Martin, 27, was drafted as a senior from Arlington High School by the Detroit Tigers in 18th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Instead of signing Martin opted to attend McLennan Community College in Waco, TX.

That following year, the tall right-hander was chosen in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies. Again, Martin opted to stay in school.

However, that fall, Martin severely injured his shoulder. On the advice of Dr. Keith Meister, the team physician for the Texas Rangers, Martin tried resting the shoulder. But with the pain too great, Martin underwent surgery in 2007 to repair the labrum and release the shoulder capsule.

When the shoulder healed, Martin tried out with the Fort Worth Cats of the United Baseball League. When the shoulder still didn’t feel right, Martin quit baseball and went to work at Lowe’s and then at night with UPS for the insurance benefits.

Martin later caught up with former Arlington alum Jordan Bostwick, who graduated a year after Martin. Bostwick urged Martin to come to work for him at Texas Appliance in Arlington.

In June 2010, Bostwick broke out a left-handed catcher’s mitt during a lunch break and had Martin play catch with him. Martin’s pitches busted the seams off the mitt and nearly broke Bostwick’s right thumb.

More importantly, Martin informed Bostwick his shoulder felt really good.

Soon Martin signed a contract for $800 a month with the Grand Prairie Airhogs, an independent team operated by former major-league slugger Pete Incaviglia.

The radar readings of Marin’s pitches were hitting 95 miles per hour. Martin went on to a 4-0 record with a 1.95 ERA in 13 games with the Airhogs.

Incaviglia called the Boston Red Sox on behalf of Martin and the Red Sox signed him for $1,100 a month after a tryout arranged at Martin’s expense in Fort Myers, FL. After stops in Class-A Greenville and Salem, Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Martin was dealt to the Rockies in December 2013.

Martin made his major-league debut with the Rockies against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 26 of last year.

He ended up with an ERA of 6.89 in 16 games with the Rockies before his contract was purchased for $75,000 by the Yankees in January.

Martin was among a large group of non-roster pitchers trying to making the Yankees’ bullpen this spring. At best, he was a long-shot. He ended spring training on Saturday with a 0-1 record and 4.09 ERA in 11 appearances. But the Yankees were enamored more by his 18 strikeouts with only one walk.

So Martin now will have a chance to open the season in the major leagues in 2015. It does not appear he will be making those shifts to load refrigerators in Texas anymore.

Instead he will be living out a dream that looked to be over just a short time ago.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite the fact starter Nathan Eovaldi gave up three runs on three hits in the first inning, he settled in nicely afterwards. Eovaldi, 25, held the Nats to just one hit over the next four frames. In five innings, Eovaldi struck out six while walking three. He ended his spring with a 1-1 record with a 1.93 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
  • Stephen Drew ruined right-hander Doug Fister’s six-inning outing by lashing a two-out, two-run home run in the fifth inning to draw the Yankees to within a run of the Nationals at 3-2. It was Drew’s third homer of the spring and he ended up batting .259 with three homers and nine RBIs. On March 12, Drew was hitting .077. From then on he was 16-for-34 (.471).
  • Betances earned a save by striking out the side in the ninth. But he also yielded a one-out single to Reed Johnson and a one-out walk to Pedro Severino. Betances topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun, which is still a bit off the 97 mph he was throwing at last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The offense is still pretty inconsistent. The Yankees did not get their first hit until the fourth inning and they managed just six hits overall. Fortunately, home runs by Drew and Young bailed them out. The Yankees got great pitching from Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Eovaldi and Adam Warren this spring. It would a shame not to give those guys the support they deserve.
  • Alex Rodriguez started at designated hitter and batted seventh in the game. But A-Rod probably would like to forget about it because Fister fanned him twice and reliever Craig Stammen did it once  –  all three strikeouts came on sharp curveballs.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner set the table exactly as Girardi would have liked in the fourth when Ellsbury reached after being hit by a pitch from Fister. Gardner followed with a sharp single to left. But Carlos Beltran grounded into a force play and Mark Teixiera rapped into a 4-6-3 double play. The RBI guys are paid to produce and Beltran and Teixeira must do it consistently if the Yankees are to contend at all.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees elected to retain John Ryan Murphy as their backup catcher to Brian McCann as they designated for assignment Austin Romine on Saturday. Murphy came off the bench in seventh inning to catch and was 0-for-1 to end the spring with a .238 average. Romine was 6-for-35 (.171) with 10 strikeouts. Romine was out of options so now any team may claim him. If he is not claimed he would remain with the Yankees and be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  In other roster moves, the Yankees added backup infielder Gregorio Petit to the 25-man roster and they placed infielder Brendan Ryan (calf strain), left-hander Chris Capuano (quad strain) and right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) on the 15-day disabled list. Infielder Jose Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will rest on Sunday and prepare to open the season on Monday at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tanaka, 26, will start for the Yankees after ending up 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA in four spring starts. It is the first time since 2008 that a pitcher other than CC Sabathia has started the season for the Yankees.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 24, was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four spring outings. He surprisingly won the starting assignment over former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

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

 

McCann-ical: Yankee Catcher’s 5 RBIs Dumps Jays

GAME 70

YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3

For most of the season, the Yankees have been wondering where their All-Star slugging catcher Brian McCann was because the one they have been watching was hitting ,220 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. Well, cross your fingers and do a sign of the cross, but there was a rare McCann sighting at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.

McCann lined a two-run home run to put the Yankees ahead and later added a three-run triple as part of a career-best-tying five RBIs to lead New York past Toronto to bring them to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.

A paid crowd of 41,342 in the Bronx, N.Y., watched the Yankees win their 15th consecutive game over the Blue Jays at home.

Chase Whitley (3-0), buoyed by an early 1-0 lead, held the Blue Jays scoreless until the fourth inning when he was stung by back-to-back two-out RBI singles by Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus, who was just activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game.

But the Yankees were able to answer in the bottom of the fourth against left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-4), who has now lost his past three starts.

Carlos Beltran led of the frame with a single and McCann, after battling Buehrle to a 2-2 count in a nine-pitch at-bat, lined a curveball into the second row of the bleachers in right-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.

The home run was McCann’s eighth of the season but his first since May 23 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Buehrle was also touched for an unearned run in the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a single, one of his four singles on the night. Derek Jeter then reached when Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie misplayed Jeter’s slow roller into an error.

Two batters later, another one of the Yankees struggling sluggers, Alfonso Soriano, slapped Buehrle’s first pitch up the middle to score Gardner.

Buehrle was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings.

Whitley, however, was able to hold on for his third straight victory and the Yankees are now 7-0 in his starts since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 15. He yielded two runs on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts in five innings.

The Yankees were able to put the game away in the seventh inning against right-hander Chad Jenkins and left-hander Brett Cecil.

Gardner singled and, two outs later, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira hit consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Jenkins with Cecil and pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki drew a walk for score Gardner.

McCann then followed with a base-clearing triple into the gap in right-center to become the first Yankees catcher to hit a home run, a triple and drive in five runs in a game since Elston Howard did it in 1962.

The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth off rookie right-hander Jose Ramirez on a leadoff double by Melky Cabrera and an RBI double off the bat of Jose Bautista. But the bullpen combination of Adam Warren, Dellin Betances and David Robertson pitched four scoreless innings on no hits, one walk and six strikeouts to close out the victory for Whitley.

The Yankees’ season record is now 37-33 and they only trail the Jays by one game in the loss column in the tightly bunched A.L. East. The Blue Jays fell to 41-32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • McCann was 2-for-3 with a walk and his five RBIs on Tuesday leave him in a tie with Teixeira for the team lead with 33. McCann, 30, a career .274 hitter, is still hitting only .226 but the Yankees are hoping that he is about to break out of what has been a prolonged power and hitting drought to provide what he did for the Atlanta Braves in his previous eight seasons.
  • Gardner entered the game hitting .325 at Yankee Stadium this season and he added to it with a 4-for-5 night with four singles and two runs scored. In 30 games at home, Gardner is now 41-for-119 (.345) with four home runs and 15 RBIs. In his past nine games, Gardner is 14-for-38 (.386) with two homers and five RBIs.
  • Whitley, who turned 25 on Saturday, got caught up in a heavy pitch count in trying to battle the major league’s best home run hitting team. But he kept the Yankees in the game until the Yankees were able to take the lead in the fourth. Whitley’s walk to Cabrera with one out in the fifth was the first he has issued since May 21 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In 38 2/3 innings, Whitley has walked just four batters. It looks like he is going to be a keeper in the rotation.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There are hints that the Yankees may be ready to bust out of their offensive funk and it could not have come at a better time because the Yankees are in the midst of 15 games against teams in their division. They have now won the first two of those 15 games against the best team in the division. They need to keep it going.

BOMBER BANTER

Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday for a second consecutive day and he is expected to throw another bullpen session on Saturday. Sabathia, who was limited to throwing just fastballs on Tuesday, mixed in some sliders on Wednesday and reported no problems with his right knee after the session. Sabathia has been sidelined since May 10 after having a stem-cell injection in his right knee.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that he is not considering any shakeup in the starting rotation but he is watching left-hander Vidal Nuno closely. Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA this season and he was shelled for eight runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. With right-hander Shawn Kelley back in the bullpen after a stint on the DL, Warren could be inserted into the rotation if Girardi needs to make a move.

ON DECK

The Yankees have a chance to sweep the first-place Blue Jays on Thursday and draw to within 1 1/2 games of the lead in the division.

Right-hander David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, is coming off what may have been the best start of his career on Saturday when he shut out the A’s on two hits and three walks while fanning four in 6 2/3 innings. That victory broke a string of four straight losses for Phelps.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 23, shut out the Baltimore Orioles on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in seven innings for his fifth victory on Friday. He was lit up for six runs on six hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings by the Yankees in Toronto on April 6.

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

 

Tanaka Earns 11th Win As Yankees Top Blue Jays

GAME 67

YANKEES 3, BLUE JAYS 1

Whispers around the American League caution teams that to beat Masahiro Tanaka you better get to him early in the count and in the game. The Toronto Blue Jays applied that game plan in Tanaka’s first major-league start and again on Tuesday and it did not work either time.

In Tanaka’s major-league debut, Melky Cabrera led off the game with a home run and the Blue Jays lost the game 7-3. Jose Reyes led off Tuesday’s game by hitting Tanaka’s first delivery into the right-field bleachers and Toronto still lost the game.

Tanaka (11-1) pitched six innings to record his major-league-leading 11th victory as New York cut a game off the Blue Jays’ lead in the American League East with a victory over Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 41,834 at Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old right-hander yielded just that one run on five hits and two walks and he fanned 10 to lower his A.L.-leading ERA to 1.99 and post his 14th quality start in as many games pitched.

“What he’s done has been remarkable,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

The victory also was Girardi’s 600th in his career as the team’s manager, the sixth skipper to reach that mark.

Tanaka and the Yankees weathered the early 1-0 deficit before taking the lead in the bottom of the third against rookie right-hander Marcus Stroman, who is a native of nearby Medford, N.Y.

Kelly Johnson laced a one-out double to the wall in right-center and Brett Gardner followed by lining a 2-1 slider off the netting of the right-field foul pole for his sixth home run of the season.

Stroman (3-2) was charged with two runs on four hits and three walks while he struck out two in 3 2/3 innings.

The Yankees pushed across another run against left-hander Aaron Loup when Derek Jeter reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Jacoby Ellsbury’s groundout advanced Jeter to third, Loup made a mistake by failing to walk Mark Teixeira on a 3-1 pitch.

Instead, the switch-hitting Teixeira lined Loup’s inside fastball up the middle for a one-out RBI single with the left-hand-hitting Brian McCann on deck.

Meanwhile, Tanaka got even tougher, striking out Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion on swinging strikes in succession in the fifth inning.

Rookie Dellin Betances pitched a perfect two innings, striking out three, and David Robertson pitched around a two-out triple by Munenori Kawasaki to notch his 17th save in 19 chances this season.

The victory improves the Yankees’ season record to 36-33 and boosts them into second place in the A.L. East 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays. The Jays are now  41-31.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The conventional wisdom prior to the game was that because Tanaka’s loss came against the only team he has faced twice this season, the Chicago Cubs, that the Blue Jays would have success against him in their second meeting. It did not happen. Tanaka was even better. “They mowed us down pretty good tonight,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters.
  • If you combined the numbers this season for Tanaka, Betances and Robertson they are 15-3 with a 2.09 ERA with 224 strikeouts in 164 innings. I doubt seriously you can name a better starter and two-man bullpen combination in baseball today. They just dominate hitters and they combined on Tuesday to strike out 15 batters against the best home-run hitting team in baseball.
  • Gardner was batting .344 in his past 14 home games and his home run on Tuesday was his fourth at Yankee Stadium. Overall, Gardner is hitting .325 at home this season and he also leads the Yankees in bating with runners in scoring position at .315. Despite mostly batting in the leadoff spot, Gardner is tied with McCann and Yangervis Solarte for third on the team in RBIs with 28.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees probably could have done better than just six hits against Stroman and the Blue Jays relievers but with Tanaka on the mound it just does not seem to matter. The Yankees face the Blue Jays in five of the next 10 games. So winning the first one is a good start in cutting their lead in the division.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected on Tuesday, the Yankees activated catcher Francisco Cervelli from the 60-day disabled list and John Ryan Murphy was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cervelli, 28, has been sidelined since April 13 with a torn right hamstring and just completed a 10-game minor-league rehab stint. Murphy, 22, hit .286 with a home run and eight RBIs and drew raves about his play over 24 games. Cervelli, however, was out of options and the Yankees did not want to risk losing him.  . . .  CC Sabathia reported no issues with his right knee of Tuesday after throwing a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Sabathia, 33, has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 11 after requiring a stem-cell injection to his knee when some degenerative breakdown in the cartilage was discovered by Dr. James Andrews. There is still no firm date for Sabathia’s return but it likely will be sometime after the All-Star break.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game midweek series with Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.41 ERA) will make his seventh start of the season. Whitley is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in past two starts including giving up just two runs on five hits with no walks and six K’s in his major-league best 7 2/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.28 ERA) will pitch for the Blue Jays. Buehrle is coming off back-to-back losses and yielded four runs on eight hits and one walk in 6 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday.

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

 

Yankees, Rays Look To Be Class Of Tough A.L. East

The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:

NEW YORK YANKEES

After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.

Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.

Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.

The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.

Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.

The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.

Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.

The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.

Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.

If you don’t you lose.

The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.

The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.

The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.

The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.

Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.

The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.

As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.

In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.

BOSTON RED SOX

Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.

The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.

They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.

Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.

Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.

To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.

Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.

The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.

Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.

The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.

The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.

So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays are all about redemption.

They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.

The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.

So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.

Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.

But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.

Now that is some reclamation project.

Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.

But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.

There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.

The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.

It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?

The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.

Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.

The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.

The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.

They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.

So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.

Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.

 

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

 

1) NEW YORK YANKEES

2) TAMPA BAY RAYS 

3) BOSTON RED SOX

4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS

5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES

 

I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!

 

 

Buehrle Helps Jays End Yankees’ Winning Steak

GAME 27

BLUE JAYS 3, YANKEES 1

TAMPA – Mark Buehrle pitched 6 1/3 strong innings and Toronto took advantage of some sloppy defensive lapses to end New York’s seven-game wining streak on Sunday in front of a paid crowd of 10,983 at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

On this 35th birthday, Buehrle (1-1) yielded one run on seven hits and he did not walk or strike out a batter in a 98-pitch outing. Left-hander Aaron Loup recorded the final two outs in the ninth to earn a save.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (2-1) entered the game not having given a run in nine innings of work covering four appearances (three of them starts).

However, the Blue Jays touched him for a run in the second inning after a Edwin Encarnacion reached first on a fielding error by Eduardo Nunez. Adam Lind followed with a  single and Dioner Navarro scored Encarnacion with a lined single to center.

They added a pair of runs in the fifth when Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie led off the frame with back-to-back singles. On an attempted sacrifice bunt by Ryan Goins, Pineda threw the ball wildly past first to allow Rasmus to score. Lawrie later scored when Pineda uncorked a wild pitch.

Despite the loss, Pineda pitched well in giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk while he struck out two.

The Yankees’ lone run came in the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki led off with a double and Brett Gardner singled him to third. Suzuki then scored on a double play off the bat of Derek Jeter.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record dropped to 15-10-2. The Blue Jays are now 12-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With Jacoby Ellsbury out of the lineup for the past week with a sore right calf, Gardner has been doing a great job in the leadoff spot for the Yankees. He was 2-for-3 on Sunday and is 12-for-42 (.286) this spring with a .354 on-base percentage. The Yankees now look very smart in deciding to not trade him and instead sign him to a four-year extension.
  • Dellin Betances made a giant statement toward staking his claim to a bullpen spot in the seventh inning. With one out, Cesar Cabral entered the game and promptly gave up a single to Maicer Izturis and then walked Munenori Kawasaki and Melky Cabrera to load the bases. Betances came in and struck out Jose Bautista and then retired Encarnacion on a fly ball. In eight games, Betances is 0-0 with an 0.87 ERA with nine strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings.
  • Carlos Beltran is looking much more comfortable at the plate lately. He was 2-for-3 on Sunday with a single and a double. In his past five starts, Beltran is 8-for-17 (.471) to raise his spring average from .120 to .262.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Because backup infielder Brendan Ryan is nursing a back injury that likely will land him on the disabled list to start the season, Nunez is probably going to earn a spot on the roster. But is becoming increasingly apparent that Nunez’s act is wearing thin. His throwing error, his second of the spring, helped open the floodgates. In addition, he was 0-for-3 and he is hitting .238 this spring. The Yankees need to look into cutting ties with this infielder I have dubbed “Eduardo Scissorhands.”
  • It is a good thing that Jeter is Derek Jeter and not Derek Smith. If he were Derek Smith he would be booed unmercifully for his struggles hitting this spring. After going 0-for-3 on Sunday and hitting into a double play that killed a potential rally, he is 5-for-44 (.114). Jeter also leads the team this spring by grounding into five double plays. Manager Joe Girardi can say he is not concerned all he wants but WE are very concerned.
  • Cabral’s outing on Sunday was shocking considering how well he had pitched up to that point. Despite the hiccup, Cabral has not given an earned run this spring and has eight strikeouts in 8 innings of work. His competition, Fred Lewis, also has 0.00 ERA but hitters have hit .242 off him while they hitting only .115 off Cabral.

BOMBER BANTER

Ellsbury participated in a full workout on Sunday and will play in a minor-league game on Tuesday, Girardi told reporters. Ellsbury has been nursing a sore right calf he injured last Friday. An MRI taken two days ago revealed no structural damage but the Yankees want to make sure their starting center-fielder is 100 percent before he plays.  . . .  With the Yankees not playing a game on Monday, Girardi will have right-hander Ivan Nova pitch in a minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa to stay sharp. Nova pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in his most impressive outing of the spring.

ON DECK

The Yankees will not play again until Tuesday when they play host to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Right-hander David Phelps (1-0, 2.75 ERA) will have his last chance to show he deserves the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He will start for the Yankees.

The Phillies will counter with right-hander Jeff Manship (1-0, 2.25 ERA).

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