Tagged: Mark Montgomery

Nuno Stars But O’s Edge ‘Watered-Down’ Yankees

GAME 18

ORIOLES 2, YANKEES (SS) 1

Jonathan Schoop scored pinch-runner Jemile Weeks on a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie as Baltimore edged a New York split squad on Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.

Non-roster outfielder Delmon Young opened the seventh with a double of right-hander Mark Montgomery (0-1). Weeks pinch-ran for Young and stole third to set up Schoop’s scoring fly ball.

Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his first major-league appearance to get credit for the victory. Evan Meek pitched the ninth inning to earn his second save of the spring.

With most of the Yankees’ best players either in Panama participating in the two-game Legends Series or resting at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, the Yankees – who brought 13 players who were not on their 40-man roster or who were not invited to spring training – scored their lone run of the game on a leadoff homer in the sixth inning by Francisco Arcia off Orioles starter Chris Tillman.

Tillman had held the Yankees scoreless on two hits and two walks and struck out five in five innings before Arcia’s blast chased him from the game.

The Yankees, meanwhile, got four strong innings of shutout baseball from 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno. Nuno yielded only a hit and a walk while he fanned three batters against an Orioles lineup that included starters Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, the Orioles tied the score with two out in the sixth when Davis launched his third home run of the spring off right-hander Danny Burawa.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record slipped to 8-8-2. The Orioles improved their record to 10-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nuno made a strong case for the fifth spot in the rotation with his effort on Saturday. Nuno threw 38 of his 59 pitches for strikes and only reached three-ball counts on three hitters. Nuno spotted his fastball well and mixed in his off-speed pitches more to keep the Orioles off-balance. Though Michael Pineda is expected to get the No. 5 spot, Nuno showed he deserves some consideration. His spring ERA is now down to 1.50.
  • Brian Roberts was one of the few starters to make the trip and he had a great day against his former teammates. Roberts was 2-for-3 and he also contributed a fine defensive play in the sixth inning to rob Cruz of a single. Roberts, 36, may not be Robinson Cano but he is a fine second baseman as long as he can stay healthy.
  • Ramon Flores was 2-for-3 on Saturday, including a double and single. Flores, 21, is hitting only .217 this spring but, after a season where he hit .260 with six homers and 55 RBIs in 136 games at Double-A Trenton, he will have a chance to develop this season at Triple A.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It may be time for Ichiro Suzuki to admit that his days in baseball are waning. He was 0-for-3 on Saturday and he is 3-for-24 (.125) this spring with only three singles and two RBIs. He has not really stung the ball much this spring either. Though the Yankees might be open to trade Suzuki, it is hard to see if there would be any suitors for his services. Suzuki is in the final year of two-year contract with the Yankees and he is slated to be the fifth outfielder this season.
  • After getting off to a quick start with the bat this spring, Austin Romine has been slumping of late. Romine, 25, batted cleanup and was 0-for-2 with a walk on Saturday. He is 5-for-25 (.200) with no RBIs in 11 games. Though Romine is a superior defensive catcher, his weak bat makes it almost certain that Francisco Cervelli will win the backup catching job. Romine likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
  • Burawa learned a valuable pitching lesson on Saturday. With two out in the sixth, Davis came up the plate for his last at-bat with his team trailing 1-0. Obviously Davis was thinking about hitting a home run to tie it. Burawa, 25, opted to pitch aggressively to Davis instead of making him hit pitches out of the strike zone. His 1-1 fastball was thigh high and Davis drove it deep to left-center and over the wall. If he had walked Davis, Burawa would then have pitched to Steve Pearce, a journeyman who had four homers last season. Davis hit 53. Duh!

ON DECK

The Yankees split squad returns to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday to play host to the Atlanta Braves.

Free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Catcher Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira are also scheduled to play in the game.

McCann’s former team will start right-hander Julio Teheran. Brothers Justin and B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons are scheduled to make the trip for the Braves.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network and MLB Radio through WFAN (660-AM/99.1-FM).

 

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Yankees Brave Wind, Rain To Overtake Phillies

GAME 9

YANKEES 4, PHILLIES 3

If patience is a virtue than New York Yankees fans had it in spades on Thursday.

They waited through a heavy downpour, howling winds and a 86-minute rain delay to watch Masahiro Tanaka make his first start of the spring and then they had to wait out eight innings before New York rallied for a victory over Philadelphia at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

Jose Pirela laced a double off the wall in left-center with one out in the eighth to score Gary Sanchez with the tying run and Ramon Flores followed a walk to Scott Sizemore with a sacrifice fly to right to score Pirela with what proved to be the game-winning run.

Right-hander Danny Burawa (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Mark Montgomery came on to retire the last two batters in the ninth to earn a save.

Phillies right-hander Phillippe Aumont (0-2) gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in the eighth and was charged with the loss.

Tanaka, 25, pitched three innings and was tagged for a solo home run off the bat of Freddy Galvis with two out in the third inning, which tied the score at 1-1. The only other hit off Tanaka was a one-out double by Marlon Byrd in the second. He walked none and stuck out one.

The Yankees took an initial 1-0 lead when Flores cracked a home run to right on an 0-2 pitch from Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick to lead off the third inning.

The Phillies stormed to a 3-2 lead with one out in the bottom of the fifth when Carlos Ruiz and John Mayberry Jr. connected for back-to-back homers off Yankees right-hander Bruce Billings.

The Yankees drew to within a run on the Phillies in the seventh inning off left-hander Jeremy Horst when Sizemore laced a one-out double and Adonis Garcia came up a batter later to slap a single to right that scored Sizemore.

The Yankees snapped a two-game losing streak and improved their Grapefruit League mark to 5-4. The Phillies fell to 1-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Tanaka was not as sharp as his debut last Saturday he was still effective. He retired seven of nine batters on groundouts and of his 41 pitches thrown 25 were strikes. He did struggle a bit with the command of his splitter, pulling a number of them too far into the dirt. But there were still just two good swings put on him by Byrd and Galvis.
  • Derek Jeter entered the game 0-for-9 and he grounded out in his first at-bat. However, Jeter went on to smack a single and a lined double in his next two at-bats for his first hits of the spring. The Yankee captain is very happy to have that 0-for-10 monkey off his back as he gets ready for what will be his final major-league season.
  • The only reason Flores, 21, was in the lineup was because manager Joe Girardi had elected to scratch veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran due to the wet conditions. Flores took advantage by going 1-for-3 with a homer, a run scored and two RBIs in the game. Flores, who is hitting .214 in the early going, likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after hitting .260 with six homers and 55 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2013.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Both first baseman Mark Teixeira and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano made their spring debuts and they were a combined 0-for-6. Teixeira grounded out, flew out and popped out in his first action recovering from right wrist surgery. Soriano looked very rusty with his timing after suffering through a severe week-long illness, striking out swinging in all three trips.
  • Billings, 28, pitched a 1-2-3 fourth but ended up giving up a pair of long home runs to left by Ruiz and Mayberry. Billings is a non-roster invitee who the Yankees signed after he was released by the Oakland Athletics after he was 13-8 with a 4.31 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) at Triple-A Sacramento in 2013.

BOMBER BANTER

Thursday’s game was set up as a trial for Major League Baseball’s new replay system but a power outage ruined what could have been a real test in the bottom of the seventh inning. With two out, Mayberry lofted a double to the right field corner. Garcia fielded the ball and relayed it to shortstop Yangervis Solarte as Mayberry was racing to third. Solarte threw to Sizemore at third and umpire Vic Carapazza ruled Sizemore tagged Mayberry as he slid into the bag. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg requested a video review but the call had to be upheld because a stadium-wide power outage had knocked out the video feed.  . . .  CC Sabathia threw a simulated game at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Since Tanaka and Sabathia each pitched on Saturday, Tanaka drew the start against the Phillies and Sabathia threw in order to stay on his regular schedule.

ON DECK

The Yankees will welcome another player back on Friday as the Yankees play host to the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will pitch in relief of starter Hiroki Kuroda in what will be Pineda’s first major-league action since his final start of spring training in 2012. Pineda, 25, underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum and he has rehabbing ever since.

The Tigers will counter with right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who was 14-8 with a 2.57 ERA in 29 starts last season.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m.EST and the game will not be available via television or radio.

 

McCann Keys Homer Binge As Yanks Tame Tigers

GAME 3

YANKEES 7, TIGERS 4

Newly signed free-agent catcher Brian McCann blasted a solo home run off American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in the first inning as part of a four homer onslaught as New York overpowered Detroit on Friday in Lakeland, FL.

McCann led off the second inning with a titanic blast to right-field – his first home run of the spring – to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez added a two-run shot of his own in the third. Jose Pirela added a two-run blast in the seventh and, three batters later, Yangervis Solarte added a three-run homer to give the Yankees a 7-0 lead.

Adam Warren (1-0), one of four pitchers vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Scherzer (0-1) was tagged with the loss.

Although the Tigers’ minor leaguers were able to rally for four runs off right-hander Brian Gordon in the seventh, the Yankees held on for their first victory of the spring in front of a paid crowd of 7,684 at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The Yankees won despite being outhit in the contest 14-8. One key reason is because the Tigers ended the afternoon having five different players thrown out on the basepaths.

In the first inning, Warren picked off Rajai Davis off second base after he stroked a leadoff double. After Warren later walked Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez drew another walk from Warren. But Cabrera attempted to go from first to third on the play and Warren easily gunned him down at third.

Later in the game, Zoilo Almonte and Ramon Flores each threw a runner out at home plate and Pirela threw out Steven Moya trying to stretch a single into a double in the sixth inning.

First-year Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is encouraging his players this spring into taking chances on the bases in order to put pressure on the opponents’ defense. However, after Friday’s loss he may be rethinking the strategy.

The Yankees are now 1-2 on the spring while the Tigers suffered their first loss and are 2-1.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The four home runs are a good sign after the team’s injuries short-circuited most of the Yankees’ power in 2013. Sanchez, 21, and Pirela, 24, hit their first homers of the spring. However, the Yankees might have found something in Solarte, 26, who now is 4-for-5 (.800) with two home runs and five RBIs in the two games in which he has played.  The former Texas Rangers’ infielder hit .276 with 12 home runs and 75 RBIs in 133 games at Triple-A Round Rock (TX).
  • Three outfield assists in a spring game is also very impressive. Granted, the Tigers were forcing the action with their aggressiveness, but give Almonte, Flores and Pirela credit for perfect throws to nail the runners on the bases. The result of the game could have different without them.
  • Of the eight pitchers the Yankees used, Mark Montgomery, 23, was the only one who managed to retire the Tigers in order. Montgomery did it the fourth inning, which was his only inning of work. After saving 30 games in 32 chances in 2011 and 2012, Montgomery was limited to 29 games in three minor-league stops in 2013 before suffering a shoulder injury in mid-August. Despite the injury, the Yankees still have high hopes for Montgomery as a future bullpen contributor.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Gordon, 35, was shelled for four runs on six hits in his one inning of work. Gordon, who was originally drafted in the fifth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1997 and has spent most of the 16 years since in the minors, was helped by Flores’ throw in the seventh that cut down Eugenio Suarez at the plate. Gordon is very much a longshot to make the team as a non-roster invitee.
  • Warren, 26, was not exactly sharp in his two-inning stint despite the fact the Tigers were held scoreless. Warren yielded two hits – both of them doubles – and two walks. Cabrera’s ill-advised attempt to go from first to third on a walk and Warren’s pickoff of Davis saved his outing from potential disaster.
  • Though Flores, 22, is on the 40-man roster after hitting .260 with six homers and 55 RBIs in 136 games at Double-A Trenton in 2013, his fielding definitely needs some work. For the second consecutive game Flores allowed a routine fly ball to drop in front of him because he misjudged it. He misjudged Ben Guez’s fly in the seventh, allowing one run to score in the Tigers’ four-run seventh inning.

ON DECK

The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Saturday to play host to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The game will feature the Yankee debut of newly signed Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who is scheduled to pitch the fifth inning in relief. CC Sabathia, who was 14-13 with a 4.98 ERA last season, will make his spring debut as the starting pitcher and will be followed for two innings by Tanaka’s fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda.

The Phillies will counter by throwing right-hander David Buchanan. After Buchanan, the Phillies have scheduled to use Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who was signed to a three-year, $12 million contract despite the fact he is largely an unknown quantity.

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

 

Canzler Among 26 Spring Yankee Camp Invitees

With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than two weeks (Feb. 14) and the full squad coming in on Feb. 19, the New York Yankees have invited a total of 26 players to spring training.

Nine players have been signed to minor-league deals including right-hander Bruce Billings, infielder Russ Canzler, right-hander Robert Coello, right-hander Brian Gordon, right-hander Chris Leroux, outfielder Antoan Richardson, infielder Scott Sizemore, infielder Yangervis Solarte and infielder Zelous Wheeler.

Canzler (29 games), Coello (28), Sizemore (160) and Leroux (63) all have previous major-league experience. In addition, left-hander Matt Daley, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Jim Miller also received invites after spending time with the Yankees last season.

Among the position players with major-league experience, the infielders Canzler, Sizemore and Joseph will get opportunities to actually make the squad this spring.

If Canzler’s name is familiar it is because he was on the Yankees’ original spring training roster last season before he was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Travis Hafner. Canzler, 27, was then picked up by the Baltimore Orioles and he was later sent to their Triple A affiliate in Norfolk.

He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 13 and spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Combined at the two stops, Canzler hit .252 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 125 games.

Canzler is valuable utility player in that he can play both corner infield and outfield spots.

In his 29 games in the majors, he is a .271 hitter with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

The Yankees see the 6-foot-2 right-handed power hitter as a possible platoon at third base with left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson and a fill-in for Mark Teixeira at first-base. The fact Canzler also can play the outfield would be a definite bonus.

Sizemore, 29, on the other hand, is primarily a second baseman who figures to be in line as a backup infielder at second, shortstop and third base.

The right-handed-hitting Sizemore, a product of the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system, was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2011. In 160 games, Sizemore has hit .238 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs.

Sizemore elected to become a free agent this winter after knee injuries limited him to just two games since 2011.

Joseph, 25, is product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he made his major-league debut with the Yankees on May 13 during a doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians. Sizemore was 1-for-6 in the two games.

Primarily a second baseman, the lefty-swinging rookie can also play third base.

In 47 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Joseph hit only .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs. He was placed on the disabled list on May 31 and missed the remainder of the season with a right shoulder injury that required surgery.

With Brian Roberts entrenched at second and Johnson penciled in at third, Joseph’s chances of making the major-league roster in 2014 are virtually nil. The Yankees also have veteran backups such as Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez ahead of him as well as second base prospects Dean Anna and Jose Pirela knocking on the door.

Of the pitchers, Miller has the best shot to make the team after spending most of the 2013 season at Triple A, where he was 3-5 with a 3.55 ERA and six saves in nine chances in 43 games.

In one game with the Yankees, Miller, 31, had a 20.25 ERA in 1 1/3 innings. Miller also has pitched for the Orioles, the Colorado Rockies and the A’s in his career.

The list of 26 invitees also includes outfielder Mason Williams, right-hander Danny Burawa, outfielder Tyler Austin, right-hander Chase Whitley and left-hander Fred Lewis. All five were selected by the Yankees during the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Williams, 22, is the team’s No. 2 prospect, and Austin, 22, is the team’s No. 3 prospect.

The organization’s Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, right-handed reliever Mark Montgomery, also was invited.

The other invitees include: Catchers Pete O’Brien, Francisco Arcia and Jose Gil; outfielder Adonis Garcia; infielder Pirela; right-handers Yoshinori Tateyama and David Herndon; and left-hander Francisco Rondon.

The 26 invitees brings the number of players invited to camp to 66, which is 18 fewer than in 2014. Among the 26 players are 13 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders.

Yankees’ Post-Rivera Bullpen Still Looks Talented

This season’s ninth innings are going to seem very strange for the New York Yankees.

For the first time since 1997 the team will not have the benefit of the greatest closer in baseball history.

Mariano Rivera was the gold standard of the modern era one-inning closer and won’t it be odd not hearing “Enter Sandman” reverberate throughout the Yankee Stadium?

Rivera leaves taking his major-league 652 saves and career ERA of 2.21. He also removes the security blanket that managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi had that made them so successful. Opponents will enter the 2014 season extremely happy that No. 42 will not be in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The question is who will take Mo’s place?

Though no promises have been made, David Robertson will have the opportunity to fill the biggest shoes in baseball.

Robertson, 28, like Rivera, is a product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he has been Rivera’s set-up man for the past three seasons.

In four full seasons and parts  of a fifth, Robertson has compiled a 21-14 record with a sparkling 2.76 ERA. Last season, Robertson was 5-1 with 2.04 ERA and superbly set up Rivera in his final season.

The big question is can the former University of Alabama closer handle the job at the major-league level. Robertson has a mere eight saves in 18 chances in the majors.

When handed the role in 2012 when Rivera injured his knee early in the season, Robertson faltered and was replaced by Rafael Soriano. That experience leaves enough doubt about him heading into the new season.

But Robertson has the goods to close. He can bring a low- to mid-90s fastball, a cutter he learned from the master Rivera and a knee-buckling curveball. The only question is can he keep his pitch counts down to get through a clean ninth inning consistently?

Rivera’s lifetime WHIP (Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched) was 1.00, which is excellent. Robertson is sporting a career WHIP of 1.25, which is not great for a reliever. However, his WHIPs over the past three seasons have been 1.13, 1.17 and 1.04.

The 1.04 WHIP from last season is a career low. That is closer material. So Robertson stands as the No. 1 candidate as of today.

The Yankees still could sign a closer before spring training opens. But that is not looking likely.

The best closer on the market, Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics, signed a two-year deal with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays. Former Rays closer Fernando Rodney, 36, was excellent in 2012 but regressed in 2013 with 37 saves and 3.38 ERA and a high WHIP of 1.34.

In addition, the Yankees have already spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason. Can they afford to add more?

A more likely scenario would be a trade packaging some players in return for an experienced bullpen pitcher who can set up and close out games. Stay tuned.

The Yankee bullpen also will be without some other familiar names in 2014.

The Colorado Rockies signed left-hander Boone Logan to a three-year deal. The Detroit Tigers signed right-hander Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal.

The Yankees did sign veteran left-hander Matt Thornton, 37, from the Boston Red Sox. Thornton has some heavy mileage on him but he provides the team a quality left-hander who has had experience as a set-up man and closer.

Thornton has a career record of 32-42 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 23 career saves. He was 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 60 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox last season. He will essentially replace Logan as the team’s main left-hander.

The Yankees also have a holdover in right-hander Shawn Kelley, 29, who was 4-2 with a 4.39 ERA in 57 games with the Yankees last season. The former Seattle Mariner essentially made Chamberlain obsolete after recording 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings with his devastating slider.

Kelley and Thornton are likely to be Girardi’s main seventh and eighth inning options this season.

The Yankees also have high hopes for right-hander Preston Claiborne, 26, who was impressive in the early stages of his rookie season.

Called up in May, Claiborne did not issue a walk in his first nine appearances. On July 28, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 29 games. However, the wheels came off the wagon quickly and he was 0-1 with a 8.80 ERA in his last 15 games.

The Yankees still believe the big Texan nicknamed “Little Joba” can pitch as he did in his first 29 games in the major leagues. As long as Claiborne is attacking the strike zone to get ahead he can be a huge weapon for Girardi this season. Claiborne has a very high ceiling and spring training will determine just how far he can go in 2014.

Speaking of high ceilings, the reliever to watch this spring will be left-handed specialist Cesar Cabral, 25.

A Rule 5 draft pick in 2011, Cabral was competing for a job with the Yankees in 2012 when he suffered a fracture of his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training and he missed the entire 2012 season.

His rehab also extended into 2013. In 30 games in three stops in the minors, Cabral was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. But he had 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He was called up to the majors when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and he made his major-league debut on Sept. 2.

Cabral ended up 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in eight late-season games, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. Lefties hit .125 off him.

It looks as if the Yankees have found a gem in the young lefty. Cabral enters 2014 as almost a shoo-in to make the team to give the team a lefty specialist they have lacked since Clay Rapada injured his arm in spring training last season. Mark my words, Cabral is something special.

The other two spots in the bullpen are up for grabs. But the Yankees have a lot of options to fill those spots.

Should Michael Pineda claim a  spot in the starting rotation and join CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, one obvious choice to fill out the bullpen is David Phelps.

Phelps, 27, has served as reliever and spot starter for the past two seasons.

In two seasons he is 10-9 with a 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 starts). His ERA is inflated because he been less successful as a starting pitcher the past two seasons. Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would like to see Phelps resume his role in the bullpen because of his versatility and effectiveness.

Phelps does not possess a crackling fastball but he does have extreme confidence in his stuff. He throws strikes and his control is excellent.

Along with Phelps, the Yankees used rookie right-hander Adam Warren as a long reliever and spot starter last season. Warren, 26, responded with a 3-2 record and a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two of them starts).

Warren enters spring training in the running for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could very well end up as the long man out of the bullpen again. Unlike Phelps though, Warren has a mid-90s fastball and he has been better as a starter.

The same can be said for 26-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno.

Nuno won the James P. Dawson Award in 2013 for being the most impressive rookie in spring training. He then went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his major-league debut as a reliever in last April.

He was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five games (three starts) before a strained left groin sustained on May 30 shelved him for the rest of the season.

Nuno is a soft-tosser but he has exceptional control. His ability to fool hitters with his breaking stuff makes him a good possibility as a No. 5 starter if he is impressive again this spring. He also could become a third lefty as a long man in the bullpen.

At the very least, Nuno could return to Scranton and be ready for fill in as a starter or reliever for the Yankees should they need to replace an injured pitcher. Nuno is an excellent insurance policy for Girardi.

One very intriguing bullpen possibility for the Yankees is former top prospect starter Dellin Betances, 25.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander flamed out as a starter in 2012 when he recorded a 6-9 record and 6.44 ERA with 99 walks in 113 1/3 innings at two minor-league stops. The Yankees made him a reliever in 2013 and he was much better.

Betances was 6-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 84 innings at Scranton. He cut his walks to just 42.

He was called up in September and had a 10.00 ERA in six games late in the season. But the Yankees believe he has potential to be a dominant reliever in the major leagues is he continues to harness his control. He has mid-90s fastball and his power curve is getting better.

Betances enters this spring as a dark-horse bullpen candidate with the tools to become an excellent reliever someday and perhaps a future closer.

The same can be said of right-hander Mark Montgomery, 23, the team’s current No. 11 prospect.

Montgomery has a 93-mile-per-hour fastball but his biggest weapon is a drop-off-the-table slider that has shot him through the minor-league ranks.

In 2012 he struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings as he advanced through Double-A Trenton. He also led the organization in saves. Last season, Montgomery was 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 40 innings at Scranton.

He will get an opportunity to show his progress this spring but he likely will start the season in Scranton. The Yankees still see him as a future setup man or closer. He may get his shot sometime in 2014.

Another minor-leaguer worth watching this spring is 24-year-old right-hander Chase Whitley, who spent most of last season at Scranton.

Whitley was 3-2 with a 3.06 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings in 29 games. The Alabama native also showed some ability as a starter late in the season.

In five late-season starts, Whitley was 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. The Yankees will evaluate him this spring and determine what role he might be best suited. But his solid numbers in the minors indicate he is on track to make the major leagues in a few years.

One interesting aspect of the candidates I have mentioned so far is that seven of them (Robertson, Claiborne, Phelps, Warren, Betances, Montgomery and Whitley) were originally drafted by the Yankees. Two others (Cabral and Nuno) are products of the team’s minor-league system.

The other two candidates (Thornton and Kelley) were signed as a free agent and via a trade, respectively.

Although the Yankees’ position players in the minors are progressing slowly. The same can’t be said for the starters and relievers they have been developing the past few seasons. That is a testament to the scouting department and general manager Brian Cashman.

The Yankees need to continue that development as they move forward.

The biggest testimony to that progress will be if Robertson seamlessly settles in as the team’s closer. He may be replacing a huge legend. But if anyone can do it, it  is Robertson.

A lot is riding on Robertson;s right arm and the Yankees are very hopeful he can meet the challenge.

 

Sabathia Fine In Debut As Yankees Hook Marlins

GAME 20

YANKEES 7, MARLINS 3

TAMPA  –  You can make a case that spring has not really sprung until a major-league team’s ace pitches in his first exhibition game. Well, for the Yankees it sprung on Friday as CC Sabathia toed the rubber for the first time and he pitched five solid innings.

Later the Yankees broke a 3-3 tie when Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto’s passed ball with the bases loaded in the bottom of seventh inning allowed Jose Pirela to score the tie-breaking run as New York went on to overtake Miami at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Yankees added another run in the frame when Realmuto was charged with an error on an attempted pickoff of Ichiro Suzuki at first base that allowed Gil Velazquez to score.

David Robertson (1-0) pitched an inning of scoreless relief to get credit for the victory. Dan Jennings (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees initially rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead on a solo home run by Francisco Cervelli in the second inning and a mammoth two-run blast to right off the bat of Travis Hafner in the third. The home runs were the first of the spring for both Hafner and Cervelli.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 8-12. The Marlins fell to 7-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner finally provided the power the Yankees were looking for when they signed him to a one-year contract to be the team’s left-hand designated hitter. Hafner’s home run with one out in the third inning came off former Mets right-hander John Maine, who is attempting to win a starting rotation spot with the Marlins. Hafner, 35, is now hitting .174 with a homer and four RBIs.
  • The pitching line for Sabathia looks bad at first glance: Two runs on eight hits and one walk and two strikeouts in five innings. But most of those eight hits were not hard-hit balls. They included a bunt single, two bloop singles and a few others that just wriggled through holes in the infield. Sabathia, 32, was making his first start after recovering from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow.
  • Pirela, 23, has very quietly had a great spring. He entered the game in the fourth inning and ended up going 2-for-3 with a triple and a single and he scored the tie-breaking run and drove in another run in the eighth. Pirela, who hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Double-A Trenton last season, is hitting .385 this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After a scorching hot start Brett Gardner is beginning to struggle a bit. He was 0-for-4 on Friday with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out the infield. In his last six starts dating back to March 7, Gardner is a miserable 1-for-18 and his spring average has plunged to .324.
  • Non-roster infielder Dan Johnson is seemingly playing his way out of a chance to make the 25-man roster. Johnson, 33, was 0-for-2 on Friday and he is hitting a ridiculously low .043 this spring with seven strikeouts in his 23 at-bats. With injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Johnson had a great shot to make the team as backup corner infielder  –  the same role Eric Chavez filled last season. But it looks like that ship may have sailed unless Johnson gets awful hot in a hurry.
  • Even in scoring seven runs the Yankees still did not hit well with runners in scoring position. They were 1-for-8 in the game and it remains a major concern going forward.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees have added to their outfield depth by signing Brennan Boesch, who was released earlier this week by the Detroit Tigers. Boesch, 27, hit .240 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs in 132 games with the American League champions in 2012. He was hitting .188 in 16 at-bats with the Tigers this spring. Boesch signed a one-year major-league contract for $1.5 million and $600,000 in performance incentives and he will give the Yankees a left-handed hitting corner outfielder as Curtis Granderson recovers from broken right forearm. It appears that Juan Rivera and the newly acquired Ben Francisco are competing for the right-hand portion of the corner outfield spots. Rivera also has been playing some first base in Teixera’s absence.  . . .  Utility man Ronnier Mustelier was forced to leave Friday’s game with multiple contusions on both legs after he ran into a metal dugout railing chasing a foul pop off the bat of Juan Pierre in the fourth inning. Manager Joe Girardi said Mustelier likely will be out until at least Tuesday. Mustelier, 28, has been a hitting sensation this spring and the Yankees have looked him at the corner outfielder spots and at third base.  . . .  Yankees relief prospect Mark Mongomery and rising star outfielder Tyler Austin were presented with 2012 Kevin O’Brien Lawn awards before Friday’s game. Montgomery, 23, received the “Pitcher of the Year” award after going a combined 7-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 15 saves between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Austin, 21, was named “Player of the Year” after batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in four minor-league stops last season. The annual awards are dedicated to Kevin O’Brien Lawn – the son of longtime Yankees Vice President and Chief of Operations Jack Lawn – who passed away in 1999.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play a pair of games on Saturday.

In one game the Yankees will play host to the Philadelphia Phillies. In the other game, the Yankees will send a split squad to play the Atlanta Braves at Champions Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

Hiroki Kuroda will start at home against the Phillies. He will be opposed by reliever Raul Valdes.

Game-time will be one hour earlier than usual at 12:05 p.m. EDT to accommodate an evening concert at Raymond James Stadium by country star Kenny Chesney.  The game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.

David Phelps, who is still in the running to be the team’s fifth starter, will pitch in the road contest. He will square off against left-hander Paul Maholm of the Braves.

Game-time will be 5:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network.

 

Phelps Sharp But Yankees Fire Blanks At Braves

GAME 11

BRAVES 2, YANKEES 0

TAMPA  –  Jordan Schaffer led off the game with a double and later scored on a Justin Upton groundout as Atlanta shut out New York on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Paul Maholm (1-1) and four Braves relievers held the Yankees to five hits. David Phelps (1-1) pitched four strong innings in his bid for a rotation spot despite taking the loss. J.R. Graham pitched two scoreless innings to earn his second spring save.

The Yankees helped the Braves immensely by going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine men on the bases.

The Yankees fell to 3-8 on the spring. The Braves improved to 6-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • If Brett Gardner were to get any hotter with the bat you could fry an egg on his forehead. Gardner went 2-for-3 against the Braves and is hitting .579 on the spring. For those Yankee fans who are angling for Gardner to lead off for the team this season you may as well keep dreaming. Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki will hit in the top two spots. Gardner likely will hit ninth.
  • Despite giving up the double to Schaffer that led to a run in the first inning, Phelps pitched exceptionally well. He gave up just two hits and a walk and struck out two. In his nine innings this spring, Phelps has given up just one run on seven hits and two walks and struck out three. It is hard to see how the Yankees can keep him out of the rotation.
  • Suzuki doubled off the base of the rightfield wall in the fifth inning and went 1-for-3 in the game. Suzuki is also having a pretty productive spring. He is hitting .400 and he shows no ill effects from his recent car accident last week.
  • Shawn Kelley looked really sharp in the the ninth inning, putting the Braves away 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. Kelley, 28, was 2-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 47 games with the Seattle Mariners last season. He could figure to make the team because he has a power arm.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Travis Hafner has only had 10 at-bats but he needs to start showing that he can drive the ball. Hafner was 0-for-1 with two walks and is 2-for-10 so far this spring. With the Yankees missing so much of their power from last season Hafner is important piece to providing consistent power as the left-hand designated hitter.
  • The team’s errors seem to multiplying like rabbits. There were three more errors against the Braves and two by Corban Joseph, who was playing – you guessed it – third base. Third has been like a black hole for the Yankees all spring. In 11 games the Yankees have committed 19 errors this spring and 11 of them have been committed by third basemen.
  • Mark Montgomery, 22, had a night he would like to forget. He gave up a single to Tyler Pastornicky and Pastornicky stole second and advanced to third when J.R. Murphy overthrew second. Then Montgomery was called for a balk to allow Pastornicky to score. Montgomery followed that up by walking two batters and hitting another to load the bases. He was replaced by Francisco Rondon, who wriggled out of the bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a groundout.

BOMBER BANTER

The M*A*S*H unit that is the Yankees received another patient who was not even in Tampa to get injured. Mark Teixeira, who was training in Arizona with Team USA, strained the inside of his right wrist taking swings in batting practice preparing for an exhibition game against the White Sox. X-rays were negative for a break but Teixeira will be unable to play in the World Baseball Classic and will be shelved for at least two weeks. At this rate, Francisco Cervelli may end up as the team’s Opening Day cleanup hitter.  . . .   Manager Joe Girardi told the YES Network on Tuesday that the team is shooting for Mariano Rivera to make his spring debut on Saturday in a game against the Braves. He also said that Jeter could play on Sunday.  . . .  General manager Brian Cashman showed up at camp sporting a cast on his right ankle and crutches he will be using for about eight weeks. Cashman broke his fractured his right fibula and dislocated his ankle skydiving on Monday as part of a charity event for the Wounded Warriors Project. If at any time I report that the Yankees’ batboy has been injured you know this team is truly cursed.  . . .  The team’s top prospect, catcher Gary Sanchez, was among eight players reassigned to minor-league camp. Along with Sanchez, 20, the Yankees sent out infielders David Adams, Greg Bird, Cito Culver and Rob Segedin; outfielder Tyler Austin and catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka. That leaves the Yankees with 68 players in camp.

ON DECK

It may be a bit strange but the Yankees will be looking at bench coach Tony Pena and second baseman Robinson Cano in the opposing dugout on Wednesday. The Yankees will be playing an exhibition against the Dominican Republic team from the WBC. Cano likely will start at second base and Pena is the team’s manager.

Hiroki Kuroda will get the start for the Yankees and he will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Jose Veras.

Game-time will be 1:05 p..m. EST and the game will be telecast live by the MLB Network.