YANKEES 5, RAYS 2
Upstart rivals like the Rays are like cockroaches. You can’t be satisfied with just watching them flail aimlessly in their backs. You have to step on them hard to remove all hope. The Yankees did that on Wednesday.
Justin Maxwell, who continues to impress this spring, hit a bloop double near the right-field line to score Cole Garner with the tie-breaking run in the ninth to put Tampa Bay on their backs and Gustavo Molina followed with a two-run home run to snuff them out as New York came from behind to win at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.
The Rays took an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on infield single by Carlos Pena and a two-run home run to straightaway center by Matt Joyce off Yankee starter Phil Hughes.
The Yankee rallied to score single runs in the sixth and seventh innings off Rays left-hander Ceasr Ramos.
Rule 5 selection Cesar Cabral (1-0) pitched two innings to earn the victory. Michael O’Connor pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save. Rays right-hander Brandon Gomes (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and pushed over the .500 mark on the spring at 10-9, The Rays are 5-11.
- Cabral earned this victory the hard way. In both innings he struck out the side with a potential lead run on third base. His work in the eighth was particularly impressive. Elliot Johnson opened the inning with a double down the left-field line. Cabral then committed a balk that advanced Johnson to third. Cabral escaped disaster by fanning Jeff Salazar, Luke Scott and Matt Mangini. Cabral, 23, is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and has given up two runs on 10 hits and one walk in seven appearances this spring. More impressive is his 11 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Cabral is competing to become a second left-hander in the bullpen and if he loses the battle he will have to be offered back to the Kansas City Royals. That would be a shame because Cabral looks like he is a very talented young pitcher.
- Hughes pitched a sensational five innings despite the Joyce two-run home run. Hughes only gave up one hit after the second inning, walked one and struck out three. Hughes threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 19 batters he faced including the last 10 batters he faced. Hughes is 0-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his four spring outings and he may be on the verge of winning a spot in the rotation.
- Maxwell’s spring heroics continued on Wednesday. Cole Garner opened the ninth with a ground-rule double off Gomes. Jorge Vazquez, who tied the game in the seventh with an RBI double, advanced him to third on a long flyball to center and Maxwell scored him with his bloop double. Maxwell, 28, is hitting a sizzling hot .435 with five doubles among his 10 hits this spring. Maxwell, as I said before, won’t make the 25-man roster but his impressive play may win a call-up this season.
- The Yankees scored their first run in the sixth inning when Raul Ibanez grounded out to first with the bases loaded and one out. OK, why would an RBI by Ibanez be a negative? Well, Ibanez was 0-for-3 again and his average has now dipped to .059. Seriously, grounding out with the bases loaded? That is bad. Pretty soon they are going to replace the Mendoza Line with the Ibanez Line to measure hitters. Of course, hitting better than .059 could be a piece a cake for even most pitchers.
Nick Swisher said that his groin injury was much better on Wednesday. Swisher was removed from Tuesday’s game in the third inning after he struggled to run out an infield grounder. After resting a tight left groin, Swisher now has soreness in his right groin. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will not return to the lineup until he is fully recovered. He is listed as day-to-day. . . . On the heels of Andy Pettitte’s impressive bullpen session on Tuesday the Yankees have scheduled him to throw batting practice to live hitters on Friday at the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa, FL. Pettitte is targeting May 1 for his return to the major leagues. . . . Freddy Garcia, who suffered a bruised right hand on a hard-hit grounder by Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL on March 14, will start on Saturday in Lakeland, FL., against the Detroit Tigers. The presence of Pettitte means Garcia will have to pitch well to win a spot in the rotation.
It is time for the 2012 version of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry Part 2 on Thursday night. The Yankees, who lost a 1-0 game on two errors on one play in the ninth on March 13, will make their first visit to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
CC Sabathia will skip the game in order to pitch in minor-league game. The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps, who ironically was the losing pitcher in that March 13 game against the Red Sox. Phelps is 0-1 with a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring. Overshadowed in the organization by mega-prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Phelps has actually outpitched them both.
The Red Sox will start veteran right-hander Aaron Cook, one of the many pitchers they invited in an open casting call for a No. 5 starter for the 2012 season. Cook is 0-0 with a 0.00 in two outings (one start) covering 5 1/3 innings.
Game-time will ve 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 8, NATIONALS 5
During a time when a lot of the starters are struggling with hitting this spring the non-roster and minor-league players who dominated the Yankees’ lineup on Thursday were the ones who came up big.
Bill Hall drove in two runs with a double in the third inning and New York’s spring reserves scored four runs in the seventh inning off Washington’s John Lannan en route to a Grapefruit League victory over the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL.
Brett Marshall (1-0) got credit for the victory in relief. Lannan (0-1) gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and a walk in four innings and he ended up taking the loss. Adam Warren retired the last batter and picked up a save.
The Yankees mounted a 13-hit attack led two hits by Hall and Justin Maxwell and Hall and Jose Gil each drove in two runs.
There were two significant injuries incurred during the game. Nationals starter and former Yankee right-hander Chien-Ming Wang had to leave the game in the third inning with a strained right hamstring after he lost his balance fielding a Russell Martin grounder and stumbled awkwardly over the first-base bag.
In the fourth inning, Yankee shortstop Ramiro Pena left after spraining his right ankle as he slid into second base on an unsuccessful steal attempt.
The Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak and improved their spring record to 6-8. The Nationals are 5-6.
- The Yankees were losing 3-2 with Lannan beginning his third inning of work in the sixth when the Yankees greeted him with five consecutive hits. Jayson Nix singled, stole second and scored the tying run on a RBI single by Gil. Doug Bernier advanced Gil to third on a bunt single and Maxwell scored Gil on a single to left. J.R. Murphy followed with a single to right to score Bernier. Maxwell then scored the fourth run of the inning on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Zoilo Almonte. Nix is the only player involved in the rally who had started the game.
- The Yankee reserves turned the game into a rout with two more runs in the seventh. Brandon Laird, who reached base on an error by shortstop Andres Blanco, scored on a passed ball by catcher Jhontan Solano. Dewayne Wise, who doubled in the inning, later scored on a sacrifice fly by Gil, giving the Yankees an 8-3 lead.
- Michael Pineda made his third start of the spring and there were some mixed results. Pineda pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits and a walk while he fanned four batters. The good news was that Pineda was able to throw about 10 change-ups and his slider was virtually unhittable. The velocity on his fastball, however, reached only 91 miles per hour, down considerably from his 2011 average of 94.5, which ranked fifth in the majors. The Yankees refuse to talk about it, but the lack of velocity has to be a concern at this stage of spring training.
- Three of the left-handers competing to become a potential second lefty in the bullpen pitched in the game and none of them were exactly sharp. Clay Rapada did not give up a run in 1 1/3 innings and has a 0.00 ERA this spring. However, he walked two and gave up a hit before inducing Chad Tracy to ground out with the bases loaded in the fifth.
- Juan Cedeno opened the sixth by issuing a leadoff walk to Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth followed with a double. Then with one out, Steve Lombardozzi hit a sacrifice fly to score LaRoche.
- Michael O’Connor opened the ninth with a 8-5 lead and promptly issued a leadoff walk to Roger Bernadina and one-out single to Mark Teahan to bring the tying run to the plate. After O’Connor retired Tracy on a grounder to advance Bernadina and Teahan, manager Joe Girardi summoned Warren to close out the game.
With Eduardo Nunez still nursing a bruised right hand for the past 10 days, the injury to Pena is not good news. Pena said he hopes to miss only two or three days by Girardi said he is not so sure about that. No tests are planned on the ankle and Pena will be re-evaluated in Tampa, FL., on Friday. . . . It appears doubtful that veteran right-hander Fraddy Garcia will be able to pitch in his next scheduled start because of a bruised right thumb and index finger. Garcia was struck on the hand on a grounder off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays in the fourth inning of a game on Wednesday. The Yankees think Garcia just has a bad bruise and they do not believe the injury is serious.
The Yankees will complete a two-game home-and-away series with the Nationals at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday.
Ace left-hander CC Sabathia is scheduled to pitch for the Yankees. He will be making his third start of the spring. The Nationals will start former Oakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who has not given up a run in his two previous appearances spanning seven innings.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network on tape delay and locally live by the YES Network.
ASTROS 4, YANKEES 2
TAMPA – George Springer doubled in a run to break a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning and later stole third and scored himself as Houston edged New York in a Grapefruit League contest on Monday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Astros reliever Fernando Rodriguez (1-0) worked his way around two walks to pitch a scoreless eighth inning to get credit for the victory. Yankees left-hander Michael O’Connor took the loss. Despite giving up a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jorge De Leon got credit for his first save of the spring.
The Astros limited the Yankees to only five hits while they collected 12 of their own on offense.
The Yankees’ spring record drops to 5-6 and the Astros are 5-4.
- In his second spring outing Hiroki Kuroda did manage to blank the Astros in his three innings of work, however, even he admitted he did not have his best stuff. Kuroda gave up two hits, walked two batters and struck out two in a 41-pitch outing (23 were strikes).
- With the Astros up 1-0 in the fifth, Dewayne Wise stroked a one-out single, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Brandon Laird groundout. Wise is trying to make the team as a non-roster outfielder and he is hitting .364 in the early going.
- Nick Swisher tied the game in the sixth inning with a booming one-out triple off wall in the right-center to score pinch-runner Melky Mesa. It was only the Yankees’ third of the game. Swisher is hitting .294 so far this spring and already looks more comfortable hitting from the left side. He hit .232 against right-handers in 2011.
- Dellin Betances, the team’s No. 2 prospect, pitched an impressive two scoreless innings against the Astros. He gave up a scratch single and fanned two batters in a 32-pitch outing (22 were strikes). Betances showed much better command than he did in his previous two outings and he has a spotless 0.00 ERA this spring.
- Allowing the Astros to outhit you 12-5 is not something to brag about. Former Red Sox right-hander Kyle Weiland made hsi first start for the Astros and he held the Yankees hitless and scoreless for four innings. Weiland walked one batter and hit another but was very much in command. Eric Chavez flew out twice and they were the only two balls Weiland allowed to reach the outfield.
- Speaking of Chavez, he committed a pair of mistakes that cost the Yankees dearly. In the fourth inning, Fernando Martinez lofted a foul popup near the first-base line. Chavez broke late and the ball dropped between he and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Martinez then laced a one-out double and later scored. In the fifth inning, Jordan Schafer attempted two bunts before he laid down a bunt down the first-base line. Chavez fielded the ball cleanly but bobbled it as he shuffled a toss to pitcher Cesar Cabaral that was too late to get Schafer.
- O’Connor’s bid to become the second lefty in the bullpen took a huge hit when he gave up two runs in the ninth inning. O’Connor’s spring ERA is a gawdy but even 15.00. He allowed a single, a double and two stolen bases in the nightmarish ninth and he definitely deserved to take the loss.
Yankees All-Star reliever David Robertson had the walking boot removed from his right foot and he discarded his crutches. Robertson, who suffered a bone bruise landing hard on a step at his home last Wednesday, insists he thinks he will be ready for Opening Day after he played catch for about five minutes on Monday. . . . Non-roster right-hander Dan Burawa suffered a tear in his ribcage and he will be sidelined for at least the remainder of spring training. Burawa, 23, pitched three scoreless innings this spring. The former 10th round draft choice in 2010 will likely begin the season in Double-A Trenton. . . . The Yankees hope to have backup infielder Eduardo Nunez back in the lineup on Tuesday if he can get through batting practice without feeling pain in his right hand. Nunez has been sidelined for eight days after being hit in the hand on a pitch from Phillies right-hander Austin Hyatt.
There is no need to hype Tuesday night’s contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field. It will be Round 1 of the Yankees’ 2012 rivalry with the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees will open the game with right-hander Ivan Nova on the mound. Nova will be making his third appearance and he hopes the control issues that have plagued his first two starts are behind him.
The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront, who is bidding for the fifth spot in the rotation. Another candidate, Vicente Padilla, is also scheduled to pitch. Mike Aviles, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are making the trip from Fort Myres, FL.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 8, BRAVES 3
LAKE BUENA VISTA – There is no better game plan then taking advantage of a struggling pitcher, putting up some early runs, adding to it and coasting to victory. That is exactly what the Yankees did to the struggling Braves on Saturday.
Alex Rodriguez drove in two runs and Mark Teixeira added another RBI as New York took advantage of six walks issued by Jair Jurrgens and beat Atlanta easily in a Grapefruit League game played at Champion Stadium.
Although starter Michael Pineda (1-0) struggled with his command also, he was still able to notch the victory by limiting the damage to just one run on four hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings.
On the other hand, Jurrjens (0-1) could not command his pitches in the strike zone and gave up three runs on five hits and six walks in 2 1/3 innings.
The Yankees pounded Braves pitching for 15 hits. Jose Gil, Gary Sanchez and Jayson Nix came off the bench to stroke two hits apiece in the late stages of the game as the Yankees pulled out to a 7-1 lead in the eighth inning and cosated the rest of the way.
The Yankees evened their spring record to 4-4 while the Braves are a miserable 1-8.
- Rodriguez continues his fine hitting this spring. His slow grounder to short allowed Brett Gardner to score in the first inning with the game’s first run. He then doubled in Doug Bernier in the second inning to make it 3-1. It is still very early but A-Rod is sporting a .500 spring average.
- Left-hander Cesar Cabral replaced Pineda with two outs in the third inning and retired all four men he faced, striking out two of them. Cabral, 23, is battling three other left-handers (Clay Rapada, Michael O’Connor and Juan Cedeno) for a potential second lefty spot in the bullpen spot. His spring ERA is 2.08
- Gardner used his bat and legs to wreak havoc on the Braves. In the first inning, Gardner turned a walk into a “triple” by stealing second and reaching third on a throwing error by catcher J.C. Boscan on the steal attempt, Gardner then scored on Rodriguez’s groundout. In the second inning his bunt single advanced Bernier to second and he later scored on Rodriguez’s double. Even though Gardner is hitting .214, he is beginning to show signs of coming around with the bat lately.
- Pineda has to locate his pitches better or he will get hurt badly. He threw 27 pitches in the first inning, 15 in the second and 21 in the third before he was removed. The lack of command was the big culprit. General manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi have been reminding reporters that Pineda is not the team’s No. 2 starter but that he could be a top-end pitcher someday. Pineda is working on adding a change-up to his fastball and slider and he is still a work in progress.
- Despite the fact the Yankees scored eight runs on 15 hits and seven walks they still managed to leave 13 runners on base. Hitting into three double plays did not help.
- Ryan Pope was touched for a pair of runs on two hits and two walks in the eighth inning. Pope, 25, was once highly thought of as minor leaguer but a lot of pitchers have passed him in recent years. He has a early spring ERA of 6.75.
The game drew a sellout, standing-room crowd of 10,755 to Champions Stadium and the weather was perfect – temperatures in the 80s, a light wind and partly sunny skies.
Th Yankees will play their first split-squad game of the season on Sunday.
Phil Hughes will have Girardi watching hom closely as he starts against the Minnesota Twins in Ft. Myers, FL. The starting outfield will make the trip.
Meanwhile, CC Sabathia will make his second spring start against a Phildelphia Phiilies split squad at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mariano Rivera is scheduled to make his spring debut. The starting infield will play in this game.
Game-time for both games is 1:)% p.m. EDT and the home game will be telecast by the YES Network. The road game will be telecast by the MLB Network on tape-delay.
YANKEES 8, PHILLIES 5
Jorge Vazquez rolled a sharp single into right-field to score Cole Garner from second base to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning as New York opened its 2012 Grapefruit League season on a wind-swept Saturday with a victory over Philadelphia at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Twenty-year-old rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Veteran left-hander Dontrelle Willis took the loss for the Phillies.
Curtis Granderson was 2-for-2 with a double, a solo home run and two runs scored to pace the Yankees’ attack early. Garner added a two-run home run off reliever Chad Qualls in the seventh inning and outfielder Zoilo Almonte, who had four RBIs in Friday’s 11-0 exhibition victory against the University of South Florida, added a pinch-hit, two-run double in the ninth to cap the Yankees’ scoring for the afternoon.
- Granderson is off to fast start this spring. He singled in his only at-bat on Friday against USF and is 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Granderson had a career season in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and 136 runs scored.
- Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and gave up one hit, no walks and struck out two batters in his two innings of work. Unfortunately, two errors (including his own error on a pickoff throw) did not help his cause and the only hit he surrendered was a two-run home run to right-center by Hunter Pence off a 3-0 fastball in the first inning. Nova was still pleased with the outing, particularly his second inning.
- Former Phillie Raul Ibanez got back at his old team by hitting a bloop double on the left-field foul line off the Phillies’ left-handed starter Cole Hamels that scored Granderson with the game’s first run. Ibanez figures to be the Yankees’ designated hitter against right-handers this season.
- Garner, Almonte, Vazquez and Dewayne Wise all came off the bench to drive in runs for the Yankees and all the team’s eight runs were scored with two outs. Vazquez stroked his single off Willis on a 1-2 count and that hit stood up as the game-winning RBI. Garner’s two-run home run was blasted straight down the left-field line and somehow stayed fair. Wise preceded Garner’s home run with an RBI double to right-center. Almonte’s two-run double to right-center came off reliever Mike Stutes.
- The first ball of the spring hit to shortstop Eduardo Nunez off the bat of Shane Victorino skipped past him for an error and Victorino later scored an unearned run on Pence’s homer. Nunez led the team in 2011 with 21 errors in roughly half the playing time of the infield starters.
- Though Banuelos was credited with the win, fellow rookie Dellin Betances and he did not show much in the way of command of their pitches. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Banuelos gave up a single to Tyson Gillis and then walked Laynce Nix and Hector Luna with two out before retiring John Mayberry Jr. to leave the bases loaded, Betances walked the first two batters he faced before retiring Kevin Frandsen on a double play and Freddy Galvis hit a fly-ball out to center to end the seventh.
- Former Met Michael O’Connor got off to a bad start in his quest to make the team as a second lefty in the bullpen. He was tagged for three hits and he walked another batter as he gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The big blow was a two-run homer off the bat of Frandsen.
The game was played under sunny skies and 82-degree weather. However, a 20-mph wind with much higher wind gusts blowing out to left contributed to the two home runs each by both teams and led to some adventurous paths by fielders on high pop-ups. . . . A sellout crowd of 10,539 turned out for the Phillies’ home opener at Bright House Field. . . . When Ibanez stepped to the plate in the first inning, some fans cheered and others appeared to have been booing. However, Ibanez was unsure if the fans were chanting “Raul” and not booing at all. Ibanez, 39, was allowed to leave the Phiilies as a free agent and he was signed a few weeks ago by the Yankees to a one-year contract. . . . The game was broadcast nationally by MLB Network through Comcast Sports of Philadelphia and the Phillies’ television broadcasters described the game.
The Yankees continue their home-away-home three-game series with the Phillies on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will start the game for the Yankees. Garcia, 35, is vying for a spot in the rotation after a season in which he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts for the Yankees. As part of the opening ceremonies, the Yankees will wear their pinstripe uniforms and they are scheduled to open with their 2012 projected starting lineup.
The Phillies will counter with 34-year-old right-hander Roy Halladay, who is coming off a season in which he was 19-6 with a 2.34 ERA for the Phillies. Joel Pineiro, David Purcey, Antonio Bastardo and Phillippe Aumont are also scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast nationally by MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees got some game-condition work in on Friday with a 11-0 exhibition victory over the University of South Florida at George M. Steinbrenner Field at Tampa, FL.
Right-hander Adam Warren pitched two scoreless innings to pick up the victory. Warren, 24, gave up one hit and walked none while striking out two as part of a group of seven Yankee pitchers who limited the Bulls to four hits, no walks and struck out 10.
Manager Joe Girardi started all his regulars with the exception of second baseman Robinson Cano and catcher Russell Martin and the regulars were given only one or two at-bats.
Girardi was pleased with the hitting of outfielder Zoilo Almonte (2-for-2, two RBIs) and second baseman David Adams (1-for-2, one RBI). Outfielder Colin Curtis and Infielder Ramiro Pena added two hits apiece as the Yankees pounded out 14 hits against USF pitching.
The USF Bulls are coached by Lelo Prado, the brother-in-law of former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, currently a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman. USF is in fourth place in the Big East standings with a 4-4 record.
The Yankees are 3-0 against USF in spring exhibitions by a combined score of 31-5. Proceeds from the game benefitted the USF baseball program.
Most of Friday’s news surrounded two former Yankees. Former Yankee right-hander A.J. Burnett underwent successful surgery to repair an injury to his right-eye orbital bone in Pittsburgh and the Pirates announced that he will miss about eight to 12 weeks. Bunrett sustained the injury fouling a bunt off his eye during a bunting contest at the Pirates spring training complex in Bradenton, FL. . . . Former Yankee catcher and designated hitter Jesus Montero took two foul shots off his jaw in the fifth inning of the Mariners’ spring Cactus League opener against the Oakland Athletics and had to be removed from the game. Up to that point, Montero, 22, was 1-for-3 at the plate with two runs and two RBIs in the game in Phoenix, AZ. The Mariners have already announced that Miguel Olivo will open the season as the team’s starting catcher and that Montero would be a candidate to DH and develop as a catcher as a backup to Olivo.
The Yankees will open their 33-game spring training schedule on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. Ivan Nova, a 24-year-old right-hander who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, will start for the Yankees. Girardi also said that Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Michael O’Connor and David Phelps will pitch for the Yankees. The starting outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher along with Martin will start for the Yankees.
The Phillies will counter by starting left-hander Cole Hamels, who was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA for the Phillies last season. David Bush, Jonathan Papelbon, Dontrelle Willis, Raul Valdes, Chad Qualls and Mike Stutes are also slated to pitch. The Phiilies willl open their spring slate without three of the top regulars available to play on Saturday. First baseman Ryan Howard has an infection in his left Achilles tendon and has not reported to camp. Second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco are also being held out of action by manager Charlie Manuel. Utley suffers from a chronic knee condition and Polanco is recovering from sports hernia surgery.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network.
With the New York Yankees exactly one week away from their Grapefruit League opener in Clearwater, FL, against the Philadelphia Phillies, there is a relaxed and upbeat mood filtering throughout their spring training complex in Tampa, FL.
There are 67 players in camp and yet most every role on the 25-man roster has been resolved, barring injury, of course.
There is one starting pitching spot up for grabs between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. Hughes is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season in which he was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Garcia, meanwhile, rescued what looked to be a thin rotation by going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA.
If the Yankees’ management and coaching staff had their druthers, Hughes would be 100% healthy and pitching like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. If Hughes did that he would make the rotation even stronger because not many teams could boast having a No. 5 starter who won 18 games.
If Garcia loses the battle for that final starting spot, he would be shifted to the bullpen as a long relief man and spot starter. Garcia also is good insurance should any of the starters come down with an injury. Depth in the rotation will be a key in 2012.
There will be a battle this spring for a job as a second left-hander in the bullpen to pair with Boone Logan.
The two main candidates are 30-year-old veteran Clay Rapada, who was signed this week when former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima failed his physical and was released, and 23-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees received from the Kansas City Royals after the Royals selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox.
Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season. However, he held left-handed batters to a .104 batting average.
Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA with Class A Salem and 2-4 with a 3.52 ERA with Double-A Portland. More impressive was the fact that he struck out 70 batters in 55 innings.
The Yankees also invited Juan Cedeno and Michael O’Connor to camp as non-roster players. Cedeno, 28, was 3-1 with 6.49 ERA with Rio Grande Valley in the North American Baseball League in 2011. O’Connor, 31, was 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in nine games with the Mets last season and 5-5 with a 5.22 ERA with the Mets’ Triple-A team in Buffalo.
If none of the four left-handers are impressive enough to remain on the roster, manager Joe Girardi said he would just select another right-hander and keep Logan as the only left-hander in the bullpen.
The backup catcher role behind starter Russell Martin is also an open competition between veteran Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine.
Cervelli, 25, hit .266 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees last season. However, Cervelli began the 2011 season on the disabled list with a broken bone in his left foot and his season was ended in early September when he suffered a concussion in a collision at home plate with the Orioles’ Nick Markakis.
Cervelli has been cleared to resume baseball activities but he will have to prove he can stay healthy to remain the backup catcher.
Romine, 23, is already a very polished defensive catcher but he has to prove he can hit at the major-league level. Romine hit .286 with six home runs and 47 RBIs in 85 games for Double-A Trenton. He hit .15o in 20 at-bats with the Yankees when he was called up to replace Cervelli as the backup catcher last September.
The prevailing wisdom in camp is that the job is Cervelli’s to lose. The Yankee brain trust would prefer that Romine get an additional year of seasoning at the Triple-A level and he would still be available if Martin or Cervelli had to be placed on the disabled list.
Theoretically, there also is a competition for one backup infield spot. The holdover, Eduardo Nunez, would seem to have a huge edge in retaining it. Nunez, 24, hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBis and 22 stolen bases. Nunez particularly shined when he replaced shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez when they were on the disabled list.
However, Nunez plays the field like he is Edward Scissorhands. His 21 errors in 122 1/3 innings in the field is horrific. Nunez will have to show marked improvement this spring.
Former backup Ramiro Pena, 26, lost his job to Nunez last spring and is back to try to reclaim it. He is pretty much the polar opposite of Nunez. Pena is an exceptional player in the field but his offense is severely lacking. Pena hit .100 in 40 at-bats with the Yankees last season.
The Yankees also invited 31-year-old utility infielder and outfielder Bill Hall to camp as a non-roster invitee. Hall hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in separate stints with Houston and San Francisco last season. Hall is valuable in that he can play all spots on the diamond except first base and catcher.
But Hall and Pena are both longshots to make the roster. Pena likely will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could be called up in case of an injury to an infielder.
The starting lineup is set and Girardi will likely set the batting order as follows:
- Derek Jeter SS
- Curtis Granderson CF
- Robinson Cano 2B
- Alex Rodriguez 3B
- Mark Teixeira 1B
- Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones DH
- Nick Swisher RF
- Russell Martin C
- Brett Gardner LF
The starting rotation is mostly set and reads as follows:
- CC Sabathia
- Ivan Nova
- Michael Pineda
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia
One oddity for the Yankees is that if Nunez and Cervelli make the team the Yankees would have the same bench as last season with the following:
- Francisco Cervelli
- Eduardo Nunez
- Eric Chavez
- Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones
The bullpen will consist of the following:
- Mariano Rivera (closer)
- David Robertson (setup)
- Rafael Soriano (setup)
- Boone Logan (lefty)
- Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada (second lefty)
- Corey Wade (middle innings)
- Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes (long relief and spot starts)
You can sum up this roster by saying the starting rotation has been improved from the 2011 rotation and the starting lineup with the addition of Ibanez replacing the retired Jorge Posada looks formidable if they can remain healthy. The bullpen, the strength of the 2011 club, looks to just as string in 2012 and the bench is pretty deep and talented.
This team led the American League with the 97 wins in 2011 despite the fact the team suffered through key injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano. They also won despite having a patchwork rotation filled by free-agent right-handers Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
I would not dare predict a 28th world championship because the Los Angeles Angels with Albert Pujols and the Detroit Tigers with Prince Fielder could lie in wait in the playoffs. But this easily is the class of the American League East and I do not think there is any doubt about it.
The division is the Yankees to lose.