YANKEES 6, ASTROS 4
TAMPA — With Sergio Mitre being dealt, Kevin Millwood being signed and a competition for a rotation spot going down to the wire, Ivan Nova did what he was supposed to do Friday night.
Nova (2-0) pitched six strong innings and was backed by home runs from Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner as New York defeated Houston at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Chavez, who was 3-for-3 in his first game since he was sidelined with a right calf injury, hit a solo home run to lead off the second inning off losing pitcher Nelson Figueroa (2-1). Three batters later Gardner added a two-run homer, his first of the spring.
Russell Martin added a two-run triple in the sixth inning as the Yankees improved their spring record to 11-14-3. The Astros are now 11-20.
- Nova did not have his best stuff but showed an ability to compete anyway. He gave up two runs on three hits and two walks and struck out two. Nova had one shaky one-third of an inning after two were out in the third inning. He walked Carlos Corporan after a 10-pitch battle. Michael Bourn singled and Nova tossed a wild pitch to allow the two runners to move up a base. Nova then hit Clint Barmes and Hunter Pence followed with a two-run single.
- Chavez started at third base and raised his spring average to a sizzling .421 with his three hits. Chavez becomes a very important player to the Yankees and not only as a backup to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira at the corners. He also could become the DH if Jorge Posada is injured.
- Gardner’s two-run home run proves that Gardner’s surgically repaired wrist is doing just fine. Gardner’s ability to drive the baseball has been apparent this spring.
- Martin is showing signs of life at the plate after a slow start. He was 2-for-2 and and raised his spring average to .250.
- In the first inning, Gardner reached on an infield single and Derek Jeter singled to center. Mark Teixeira then drew a walk to load the bases with no outs. However, Robinson Cano struck out swinging and Nick Swisher grounded into an inning-ending double play. This has been an issue most of the spring. The Yankees were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position in the game.
- Rafael Soriano was touched for two doubles and two runs (one earned) in two-thirds of an inning. It was the first time this spring that Soriano had been touched for a run.
- Andruw Jones is really struggling. He was 0-for-2 in the game and is hitting a woeful .189 on the spring. He also has struck out nine times in 37 at-bats.
GM Brian Cashman said his trade of Mitre to the Brewers was a “surplus-for-surplus” trade. The Yankees felt Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon could fill the two back-end rotation spots and the long relief role. The acquisition of outfielder Chris Dickerson gives the Yankees some insurance if Curtis Granderson is unable to start the season with his strained right oblique muscle. . . . Dickerson is expected to arrive in Tampa on Saturday and could see action. . . . Gustavo Molina, 29, has emerged as the potential backup to Russell Martin when the season starts. The Yankees like the fact that Molina has major-league experience and this would allow the Yankees to send top catching prospects Jesus Montero and Austin Romine to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre so they both can play more often. Molina would likely remain on the roster only until Francisco Cervelli recovers from a broken foot he suffered early in the spring.
For those fans hoping to see CC Sabathia make his last tuneup start of the spring on Saturday, you are out of luck. Sabathia will pitch in a minor-league game instead.
The Yankees will host the Pittsburgh Pirates at Steinbrenner Field on Saturday and they will start 20-year-old Manny Banuelos. The Pirates will start right-hander Kevin Correia.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.