YANKEES 4, ANGELS 2
When backup catcher Francisco Cervelli was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 15 and the Yankees recalled 22-year-old John Ryan Murphy instead of Austin Romine it raised a lot eyebrows since Romine had more major-league experience. But after Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium the promotion of Murphy seems to make perfect sense now.
Murphy stroked a two-run single in the second inning and then blasted his first major-league home run in the fifth as he led New York to a nail-biting victory over the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim in front of a national TV audience on FOX Sports 1 and a paid crowd of 40,908.
Murphy was making only his ninth major-league start and his third of the season to allow starting catcher Brian McCann to rest during the day game after playing Friday night. Murphy made the most of it, too.
With the game tied at 1-1 after left-hander Hector Santiago balked in a run and runners on second and third in the second inning, Murphy slapped a 2-2 delivery from Santiago to the opposite field for a single that scored two runs and give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
However, Yankees left-hander Vidal Nuno was unable to hold the lead for long.
Albert Pujols greeted him with single to lead off the fourth inning and Howie Kendrick followed by drawing a four-pitch walk. Erick Aybar then hit a grounder to Kelly Johnson at third.
Johnson retired Kendrick with a throw to Brian Roberts at second but Kendrick upended Roberts and Roberts’ throw to first landed in the Yankees’ dugout for an error that allowed Pujols to score while Aybar was awarded second base.
Chris Iannetta followed with a RBI double to center to score Aybar that again tied the game at 3-3.
With two outs, David Freese singled and J.B. Schuck lofted a shallow sinking fly ball to center that Jacoby Ellsbury made a spectacular diving catch on to keep the Angels from taking the lead.
Nuno was removed from the game with one out and one on in the fifth inning. Besides the two runs in the fourth, he also yielded a one-out solo home run to Mike Trout in the first inning.
Nuno was charged with three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out four in 4 1/3 innings.
Murphy untied the game leading off the bottom of the fifth with a long drive into the left-field bleachers on the first offering from Santiago (0-4).
After Murphy’s home run, Santiago was tagged with back-to-back singles by Ellsbury and Derek Jeter. Santiago retired Carlos Beltran on a flyout and then was removed from the game, ending up being charged with four runs on six hits and a walk while striking three in 4 1/3 innings.
The Yankees bullpen was able to keep the hot-hitting Angels scoreless the rest of the way. But the Angels did have several excellent chances to score.
Dellin Betances (1-0) replaced Nuno in the fifth and he pitched 2 innings of scoreless baseball with three strikeouts to earn his first major-league decision.
Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and David Robertson shut out the Halos for the final 2 2/3 innings to preserve the victory. Robertson was credited with third save in as many chances this season.
The Angels did have two runners and one out in the seventh inning after a Collin Cowgill single chased Betances and Kelley walked the first batter he faced in Trout.
However, Kelley was able to retire Pujols on a flyout and he struck out Kendrick to end the inning.
The Angels then threatened in the eighth when Iannetta stroked a one-out single and Ian Stewart laid down a bunt single against a exaggerated shift. But Freese flew out and Thornton relieved Kelley and got pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez to line out to right to end that rally.
Robertson yielded a one-out single to Trout and Trout was able to steal second. But Robertson got Pujols on another routine flyout and he struck out Kendrick on a 3-2 fastball to save the game.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 14-10. They now lead the American League East by two games over the Baltimore Orioles. The Angels, who have not been above .500 since they won their first game of the season in 2013, fell to 11-12.
- For years the Yankees have had a “defense-first” approach with their backup catchers. Murphy’s recall from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre indicates that philosophy has changed. Murphy batted .269 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs in 108 games in two minor-league stops in 2013. He has now passed Romine in the pecking order and if he keeps hitting he may eventually make Cervelli trade bait. Murphy is 4-for-13 (.308) with a homer and three RBIs in six games.
- Betances, 26, shut the door on the Angels and was very impressive in his two innings of work. With Trout on second after Betances was called for a balk, Betances retired Pujols on a groundout and then induced a weak infield popup from Kendrick to end the fifth. Betances finished by striking out three of the final four batters he faced with his mid-90s fastball and a knee-buckling curveball.
- Robertson passed his first big test after coming off the disabled list with a strained groin on Tuesday. After striking out Cowgill to open the ninth, Trout singled and reached second on a stolen base after a fan interfered with Mark Teixeira’s attempt to catch a foul ball off the bat of Pujols. But Robertson retired Pujols on a fly ball and fanned Kendrick with a flourish to gain a well-earned save.
- Despite the fact that Yangervis Solarte has been hitting well, manager Joe Girardi elected to started the lefty-swinging Johnson at third against the lefty Santiago and Johnson went 0-for-3 and stranded four runners in the game. Johnson is 3-for-16 (.115) with one RBI in his past 10 games and his season average has sunk to .213.
- Beltran had his four-game hitting streak stopped as he was 0-for-4 on Saturday. Despite his poor showing, Beltran still leads the Yankees with five homers and he is tied with Solarte for the team lead in RBIs with 13.
The Yankees on Saturday continued to shuffle their bullpen in the wake of the suspension of right-hander Michael Pineda. The Yankees selected the contract of right-hander Chris Leroux from Scranton and optioned right-hander Shane Greene back to the same club. In addition, to make room of the 40-man roster for Leroux, the team released left-hander Nik Turley. Leroux, 30, was 0-2 with a 12.79 ERA in two appearances with the RailRiders. Greene, 25, had no record with a 6.75 ERA in two appearances with the Yankees. . . . Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan, 32, will begin a rehab stint on Sunday with High-A Tampa in the Florida State League. Ryan has been shelved since March 4 with a cervical spine nerve injury. The Yankees hope to be able to activate him off the disabled list within a week.
The Yankees will try to win the rubber game of the three-game weekend home series against the Angels on Sunday.
Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka (3-0, 2.15 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Tanaka held the Boston Red Sox to just two runs on seven hits and no walks with seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings on Tuesday. Tanaka, 25, has 35 K’s in 29 1/3 innings this season.
The Angels will start Garrett Richards (2-0, 2.52 ERA). Richards surrendered just one run on one hit and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings in a no-decision on Monday against the Washington Nationals.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.
The key to winning baseball has always been pitching and the New York Yankees solidified their 2014 starting rotation by agreeing to terms with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday.
After a disastrous season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons, their stated “goal” of remaining under the $189 million payroll limit and the loss of Robinson Cano to free agency, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner fought back by loosening the pursestrings for general manager Brian Cashman.
The result was a dizzying array of signings that included All-Star catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the additions of key pieces like infielders Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson and left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and the re-signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda.
But none of those signings would have mattered much at all unless the Yankees landed Tanaka.
Tanaka, 25, came off a season with Rakuten Golden Eagles with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in leading his team to the Japanese championship. In his seven seasons he was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA, striking out 1,238 batters in 1,315 innings.
The right-hander possesses a 94-mile-per-hour fastball along with a world-class splitter and a slider. More importantly, Tanaka is not a nibbler in the tradition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last season he struck out 183 batters while walking 32 in 212 innings.
Those eye-popping stats led the Yankees front office to offer a seven-year contract worth $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee that will have to be paid to the Golden Eagles. The signing also proved pundits wrong for predicting that the Los Angeles Dodgers had the inside track in signing Tanaka because his wife, a singing star of some note, preferred to be on the West Coast and craved the glitter of Hollywood.
Tanaka will receive $22 million in each of the first six seasons and $23 million in 2020. The deal also allows the contract to be terminated after four seasons to permit Tanaka to seek free agency. He also has a full no-trade clause.
He also was allotted a $35,000 moving allowance and annual payments of $100,000 per season for housing for the New York metropolitan area or Tampa, FL. The Yankees threw in $85,000 in annual salary for an interpreter and four annual first-class flights from the United States to Japan.
Doubters will question this largesse heaped upon a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. But the Yankees’ front office and scouts were convinced that Tanaka has the potential to be even better than countryman Yu Darvish, 27, who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in his first two seasons as the ace of the Texas Rangers.
Tanaka will slide into the No. 2 spot behind CC Sabathia and join fellow Japanese right-hander Kuroda and 27-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova in a revamped Yankee rotation in 2014.
The Yankees believed they needed to upgrade the rotation this season after the retirement of left-hander Andy Pettitte and the loss of right-hander Phil Hughes to the Minnesota Twins.
There also are questions swirling around Sabathia, 33, after his disappointing 2013 campaign in which he slipped to 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. The ace left-hander had to adjust with a huge drop in velocity on his fastball and his record shows there are more adjustments necessary.
But Sabathia vows that he will show up this spring ready to prove he is still the same pitcher who was 74-29 in his previous four seasons in pinstripes.
That would be a good thing because Sabathia never found his groove after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.35 ERA in April. His ERAs in succeeding months were 4.14, 5.11, 6.60 and 5.94. Yankee fans can take some comfort in the fact Sabathia was 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA in September.
That could indicate he will indeed adjust as Pettitte and Mike Mussina did when they lost velocity.
The odd thing is that after four seasons of being accused of not paying attention to his weight as the season progressed, many of those same “so-called experts” thought Sabathia lost velocity last season because he was too thin. Well, who really knows? But it is ironic those “experts” would mention it.
The Yankees will settle for Sabathia arriving in Tampa in shape and they believe he has enough weapons to remain effective as a starting pitcher because he never really has been a pitcher totally dependent on his fastball to get by.
He will remain atop the rotation in 2014 with the help of the infusion of a young Tanaka behind him.
Strangely, the Yankees’ No. 3 starter was their best pitcher in 2013 despite making only 20 starts.
Nova began the season pitching horribly in spring training and in his first four starts of 2013 before succumbing to a inflammation in right triceps. After spending time on the disabled list, a rehab stint in the minors and pitching briefly out of the bullpen, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23.
From that point on, Nova was absolutely brilliant. He was 7-4 with a 2.59 in his last 15 starts beginning on July 5. This came after a season in which Nova’s game flew off the rails and he ended up 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012.
So the Yankees believe that Nova’s second half is more indicative of what he is as a pitcher after he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011.
Nova decided not to use his slider very much last season in order to concentrate on his mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. The result was 79 strikeouts in those 15 starts. The fact that he still just 27 makes him an excellent No. 3 starter in this bolstered rotation.
Before Nova came on, Kuroda, who will be 39 on Feb. 10, was the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher. In fact, on Aug. 12, Kuroda was sporting a 11-7 mark with a 2.33 ERA on one of the weakest hitting Yankee teams in generations.
But a heavy workload of 154 2/3 innings began to take a toll on the veteran. In his last eight starts, Kuroda was 0-6 with a awful 6.56 ERA. It is clear that Kuroda was overtaxed into pitching past six innings too early in the season because he was not getting adequate offensive support.
Manager Joe Girardi was forced to keep him in a lot of close games and Kuroda paid a heavy price down the stretch. Even still, Kuroda finished the season 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA and he will certainly benefit from an improved offense in 2014.
The Yankees are impressed with the way Kuroda is able to adjust midstream in games by dipping into his arsenal of fastballs, sliders, splitters and curves to find the pitches that are working best for him that night, That is why they chose to re-sign him to a third one-year contract for $16 million.
Kuroda and outfielder Ichiro Suzuki should also help make Tanaka feel at home in the Yankees’ clubhouse.
The big concern for the Yankees now is who will claim the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Fortunately, they have some options to fill the spot.
The “dream scenario” for the Yankees would have 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda ready to take the ball this spring and run with it. Pineda, after all, was obtained in a 2012 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with right-hander Jose Campos, 21, for catcher Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.
However, after a 2011 rookie season in which Pineda made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a weak-hitting Seattle team, Pineda ended up having to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder after his last spring training start in 2012.
He missed the entire season and pitched only 40 2/3 innings in the minors last season until he was shut down in August after experiencing some minor shoulder soreness.
The Yankees still have high hopes for Pineda, who boasted a mid-90s fastball, an above average change-up and a slider before his injury. The Yankees took a lot of heat from their fans when they traded away their No. 1 prospect in Montero and allowed the Mariners to deal Pineda instead of parting with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.
So there is some pressure on Pineda as he enters spring training having not thrown a single pitch for the Yankees in two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much Pineda has lost off his heater and if he still can be effective for the Yankees.
But the Yankees claim he is healthy and should be ready to go.
Another option for the No. 5 spot is right-hander David Phelps.
Phelps, 27, started his second major-league season in his usual role as a long man in the bullpen until he was thrust into the rotation on May 1 to replace the injured Nova.
Phelps showed great promise by going 2-2 with a 4.32 in six starts in May. But he stumbled to a 3-2 record with a 5.57 ERA in his next six starts before he landed on the disabled list in July with a strained right forearm.
Phelps did not return to the roster until Sept. 15 and was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances.
The Yankees see Phelps as a solid Plan B if Pineda is not quite ready to pitch or he suffers a setback in his rehab. But the Yankees clearly see Phelps more valuable in the bullpen, as his numbers in 2012 indicate. Phelps was 4-4 with a 4.34 ERA in his rookie season.
Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild admire Phelps fearlessness in attacking hitters though he owns only a pedestrian fastball.
Phelps makes up for a lack of velocity with good command of the strike zone and he can ring up a lot of strikeouts with his breaking stuff and pitching smarts.
The Yankees also have right-hander Adam Warren, 26, who was 2-2 with a 3.39 ERA in a long relief role for the Yankees in his rookie season in 2013.
Warren did make two late-season spot starts and was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in those starts. Unlike Phelps, Warren has above-average velocity on his fastball. But the Yankees are not sure how high Warren’s ceiling extends as a starter. They would prefer to keep him as a long reliever if they could.
The Yankees got an unexpected boost with a reclamation project in left-hander David Huff last season. Huff, 29, who was former starter with the Cleveland Indians, was signed after his release from the Indians and recalled from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in mid-August.
He was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. Huff was tagged for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 7. Without that disastrous appearance Huff had a 2.37 ERA in his other nine appearances.
Huff also seemed comfortable in a long relief role as well as in his two spot starts in September. He also brings some value as a left-hander.
However, because the Yankees have to make room on the 40-man roster for Tanaka, Huff was designated for assignment. He will only return to the Yankees as a free agent if he is unable to find work elsewhere, which is unlikely considering he is left-handed and he pitched so well in 2013 for the Yankees.
There has been an ongoing rumor this winter that the Yankees might be interested in signing former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
Santana, 34, became a free agent when the New York Mets declined to pick up his option for 2014. Santana did not pitch in 2013 after suffering a second tear of his anterior left shoulder capsule. Santana was 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA over parts of four seasons with the Mets.
The signing of Tanaka makes Santana’s signing less likely. Santana was scheduled to make $25 million before the Mets bought out his option for $5.5 million. If the Yankees can get him for less than $10 million they might take a shot. But Santana also has to prove he is healthy.
The Twins, the team with whom he won those two Cy Young awards, are among the teams interested in Santana when he is given the go-ahead to throw from a mound for scouts at his Fort Myers, FL, home in February.
The Yankees do have some good young pitchers in the minors but none of them look ready to break camp with the team. A few could be called up during the season if they progress well.
At the top of the list is left-hander Vidal Nuno, 26, who was the Yankees top rookie of spring training in 2013.
Nuno was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA at Scranton and he received a midseason call-up to the Yankees. In five appearances, including three starts, Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He missed most of the remainder of the season with a strained left groin.
For some reason Nuno is able to keep batters off-balance with a mix of breaking stuff that he features with a very lackluster upper 80s fastball. The reason is he has pinpoint control. He walked only eight batters in his combined 45 minor- and major-league innings in 2013.
If he has another strong showing this spring, Nuno could certainly leapfrog Phelps or Warren for the No. 5 spot. In addition, he could also make the squad as a long reliever and spot starter. Girardi loves pitchers who challenge hitters and don’t issue walks.
This spring all eyes will be on 22-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, who missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Banuelos was considered the team’s No. 1 prospect at the time he was injured in 2012. In 2011, Banuelos was 1-1 with 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings in spring training, earning him the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie.
However, the young Mexican lefty struggled with his control in 2011, walking 71 batters in a cobined 129 2/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Scranton. He was 6-7 with a 3.45 ERA that season.
In 2012, he made only six starts before being shelved with elbow soreness and he ended up having to undergo surgery to repair a ligament in his left elbow in October.
The Yankees love his low-90s fastball and change-up combination that saw him strike out 125 batters in 2011. He is still young and talented enough to progress quickly if he puts it all together. But the Yankees would like to see him do that at Scranton before they bring him up to the big club.
He remains the team’s No. 8 prospect. He just has to prove he is healthy and regain his control.
The Yankees are also very high on 24-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez, who was 1-3 with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts at Trenton before going 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts at Scranton. Ramirez struck out 78 batters in 73 2/3 innings and the Yankees believe he has a very high ceiling.
But he likely needs a full season at Scranton before he makes a bid for the big club.
The same can be said for left-hander Nik Turley, 24.
Turley, a relative of former Yankees right-hander Bob Turley, was 11-8 with a 3.88 ERA in 26 starts at Trenton last season. Compared to Pettitte in style, teammates call him “Little Andy” and he backed that up by fanning 137 batters in 139 innings last season.
Below Banuelos, Ramirez and Turley the Yankees have a nice corps of young starters who are a few years away from making it to the majors.
The biggest buzz is surrounding the team’s No. 4 prospect Rafael De Paula, 22.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander hits up to 99-mph on his fastball and he has a hard curve and a change-up. He was a combined 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA at High-A Tampa and Charleston last season. More impressive was his 146 punch-outs in only 113 1/3 innings.
DePaula enters the 2014 season as the team’s best young arm and deservedly so. This young Dominican has quality starter written all over him.
Don’t forget about the right-handed Campos, either. Campos, 21, was obtained along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he may have even an higher ceiling than Pineda.
Campos suffered an elbow injury that did not require surgery in 2012, In 2013, he was 4-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 26 games (19 starts) at Charleston. He has an above-average fastball to go along with very good control of two secondary pitches.
That mix will take him far as long he can prove he can stay healthy in 2014.
The Yankees also have high hopes for 22-year-old right-handed flamethrower Bryan Mitchell, who likely will be at Trenton this season. Mitchell was 4-11 with a 4.71 ERA at Tampa and Trenton last season. The Yankees need only to see him command his 96-mph fastball and nearly unhittable curve to make a giant leap this season.
Two others to watch are 2013 first-round draft pick Ian Clarkin, a left-hander, and 20-year-old right-hander Ty Hensley, who was picked in the first round in 2012.
Unlike the position players, the Yankees are pretty rich in young starters at the minor-league level. It is quite possible that three or four of them could be strong contributors with the big club very soon.
In the meantime, the signing of Tanaka has given the Yankees a major shot in the arm. Just ask the rival Boston Red Sox. They see that the $471 million the team has spent on free agents has thrust them back among the top tier teams in the American League East.
Without pitching it is hard to compete in such a tough division. It appears now the Yankees will have a starting staff that can get them back to the playoffs.
That would require one huge “arigato” (thank you in Japanese) to the signing of Tanaka.
YANKEES 4, CARDINALS 0
TAMPA – The New York Yankees have seem to hit upon a great strategy to be successful in 2013 without most all of the power they had last season: Just shut out the opposition.
Kevin Youkilis hit his first home run as a Yankee and drove in two runs while Hiroki Kuroda dazzled the Cardinals with his split-finger fastball to rack up six strikeouts in four shutout innings as New York won its second consecutive game via the shutout by beating St. Louis on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Youkilis, 33, put the Yankees on the board in the fourth inning with a high-arcing blast off the scoreboard in left-center off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (1-2). He added an RBI sacrifice fly to score Brett Gardner in the sixth inning off Seth Maness, who the Yankees touched up for three runs on four hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Kuruda (1-1) held the Cardinals off the board including stranding Shane Robinson at third base with one out by striking out James Romak and Pete Kozma to end the third inning. Kuroda, 38, threw 42 of his 63 pitches for strikes (66%) to lower his spring ERA to 1.59.
Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Shawn Kelley combined to pitch five shutout innings to extend the Yankees’ spring scoreless streak to 18 innings and the Yankee pitchers have only given up two runs over their last 30 innings this spring.
With the victory, the Yankees have now won two consecutive spring training games for the first time and improved their spring ledger to 5-11. The Cardinals dropped to 8-7.
- While the offense has struggled through most of the spring, the Yankees’ starting pitching actually has been quite good. Kuroda, David Phelps and Ivan Nova have combined to give up six runs (three earned) on 20 hits and five walks in 24 2/3 innings over eight starts. That is an ERA of 1.09 and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.01. That is without CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte having pitched an inning yet.
- Youkilis got off to a slow start this spring, going 0-for-9 before delivering his first hit on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. In his last two games, Youkilis is 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, a run scored and two RBIs. In addition, Youkilis played his first spring game at first base and flashed some Gold Glove-quality leather on a few plays there.
- Betances, 24, pitched two scoreless innings and gave up one hit and no walks. After being rated the team’s No. 2 prospect last season, the 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander is now trying to reinvent himself as a relief pitcher. If his performance on Monday is any indication, the Yankees might have found him a niche in which he can succeed after a terrible season in the minors in 2012. Betances was a combined 6-9 with a 6.44 ERA between Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, where he was demoted late last season. Betances walked 99 batters in 131 1/3 innings.
- This is real picky point since the Yankees did win the game but the team was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. That just means they could have put the game way but failed to do so. Other than Youkilis’ two RBIs the Yankees scored runs in the seventh on a hit baseman and a walk with the bases loaded. So the 1927 Yankees they are not.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed on Monday that the team has reached out to first baseman Derrek Lee and third baseman Scott Rolen to see if they would have any interest in playing for the Yankees this season. Cashman also said he would be interested in talking with recently retired third baseman Chipper Jones. The Yankees are in the market for a corner infielder while first baseman Mark Teixeira recovers from a strained left wrist. Jones shot the down the speculation about himself saying that he is “happy with life as a bad golfer.” . . . The Yankees announced on Monday that they have signed veteran outfielder Ben Francisco to a minor-league contract and he will have a chance to earn a roster spot with the team this spring. Francisco, 31, requested and was granted his unconditional release by the Cleveland Indians on Monday so he could sign with the Yankees. Francisco is a career .257 hitter over six seasons with the Indians, Phillies, Blue Jays, Astros and Rays. . . . Austin Romine’s bid to win the starting catching job this spring has come to an end. Romine 24, option was among 11 roster moves the Yankees made after Monday’s game. Romine, left-hander Francisco Rondon and right-handers Betances and Brett Marshall were optioned to Triple-A. Left-handers Manny Banuelos and Nik Turley, right-hander Jose Ramirez, and outfielder Ramon Flores were optioned to Double-A Trenton, while right-hander Chase Whitley, catcher J.R. Murphy and infielder Luke Murton were re-assigned to minor-league camp. The Yankees have 52 players left in camp. . . . Derek Jeter said on Monday that he believes he is ready to play shortstop for the first time this spring. Manager Joe Girardi said he possibly could play Jeter for four or five innings. . . . Right-hander Phil Hughes threw 26 pitches in a bullpen session on Monday and came out of it saying he was pain free. Hughes, 26, who has been sidelined since Feb. 18 with a bulging disk in his upper back, said he is still on target to be ready to pitch by Opening Day on April 1.
The Yankees will travel to Port Charlotte, FL, to face the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova, 26, will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Alex Cobb.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and there will be no telecast of the game.
PHILLIES 4, YANKEES 3
Domonic Brown blasted a solo home run with one out in the seventh inning and three batters later Tommy Joseph followed with a two-run shot off right-hander Zach Nuding as Philadelphia rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat New York on Tuesday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Despite the fact he was tagged by a two-run home run from catcher J.R. Murphy in the top of the seventh inning, Zach Miner (1-0) was credited with the victory. Jeremy Horst escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth to earn a save. Nuding (0-1) was charged with the loss.
The Yankees behind s strong start from right-hander Jose Ramirez kept the Philiies scoreless and with only one hit until the sixth inning when Kevin Frandsen stroked a two-out double off Jim Miller to score Jimmy Rollins with their first run and tied the score 1-1.
The Yankees scored in the first inning on a one-out single by Ichiro Suzuki – one of his three hits in the game – and Mark Teixeira followed a Suzuki stolen base with a RBI double to right.
The Yankees are 1-3 on the young Grapefruit League season while the Phillies won their first game after an 0-3 start.
- Other than a walk to Ryan Howard in the second inning, Ramirez was perfect in his spring debut. The 23-year-old right-hander was 7-6 with an excellent 3.19 ERA in 18 starts for High-A Tampa last season with 94 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings. He is worth keeping an eye on in the future because he throws an excellent change-up and slider. Manager Joe Girardi was raving about him after the game.
- Suzuki’s 3-for-3 afternoon gives him a .667 average in the early spring. He slapped one single to the opposite field in left and two up the middle. He also looked amazingly spry for his 39 years in stealing a base in the first inning to set up Teixeira’s RBI double.
- Both relievers David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain made their spring debuts and they each threw a scoreless inning. Chamberlain looked especially sharp in striking out the first two batters he faced.
- Though Austin Romine is trying to make the team and Gary Sanchez is a several years away, Murphy is a minor-league catcher the Yankees believe is being overlooked. He drew some notice for himself on Tuesday by stroking a 400-foot home run to center in the seventh and he added a 400-foot double off the centerfield fence in the ninth. Murphy had a disappointing season in 2012 in hitting a combined .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 110 games between Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
- Nuding, 23, was obviously a little out of his element on Tuesday. With one out he missed his location on a fastball and Brown made him pay with a mammoth 450-foot blast. Then with two out he gave up a double to Cody Asche and the game-winning homer to Joseph. Nuding was 8-3 with a 3.89 ERA at Tampa last season.
- Miller, 30, looked shaky in his second outing of the spring. The two-out double by Frandsen followed a walk to Rollins. Miller was 2-1 with 2.89 ERA in 49 2/3 innings in 33 appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season. He is a longshot to make the team but could provide veteran depth at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees, once again, had no trouble getting runners on base. They had at least one hit in every inning and ended up with 12 in the game. But they only scored three runs because they did not get a hit that would break the game open. It also did not help they hit into three double plays and committed a batter interference to kill another rally.
Soon Girardi is going to insist his players stay in hyperbaric chambers after games. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup for precautionary reasons with a sore left oblique. Youkilis, 33, will not require any tests but will re-evaluated in a couple of days. Youkilis said he felt a pain just above his left hip. He thought that it was not serious and said if it were a regular season game he would have been able to play. . . . General manager Brian Cashman said the team has no interest in bringing former outfielder Johnny Damon to compete as a potential replacement to the injured Curtis Granderson. Cashman said he no longer sees Damon as a full-time outfielder and he believes that the answer to left-field could be in-house between Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier. . . . Phil Hughes, who is recovering from a bulging disk in his upper back, continued his aquatic rehab at the Yankees’ minor-league complex on Tuesday and continues to progress, Girardi said. Hughes is expected to resume throwing in about a week.
The Yankees return back home to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, to face a Baltimore Orioles split squad.
Young left-hander Nik Turley will get the start for the Yankees. Turley, 23, who is compared to Andy Pettitte, was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts between at Tampa. He will be opposed by veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network and on tape delay at 2 a.m. on Thursday by the MLB Network.
Well, the worst-kept secret through the New York Yankees’ rumor mill became a reality on Thursday. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner will be swapping outfield positions this spring.
Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson will play left and Gardner will play center this spring in an “experiment” to gauge if the move will improve the Yankees’ defense. Of course, Girardi always has the prerogative to change his mind and switch them back, but it doubtful that will be the case.
Gardner, 29, has provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense in left-field – when healthy – since the 2009 season.
Granderson, 31, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers before the 2010 season, has played center-field, at times, shakily. Granderson does not make instinctive reads on balls and loses some. He also takes strange routes to balls and he has to rely a lot on his speed to make up for his mistakes.
The Yankees also have asked him to get his vision checked on a few occasions.
So the move of Gardner to center was almost inevitable and it looks like it could become permanent.
Granderson also is playing in the last year of his four-year contract and it is no secret that the Yankees are not looking to keep him by signing him to multiyear extension. So it makes sense to make the shift now because it is whole lot easier to find a quality player who can play left than it is to find someone with the skills to play good defense in center.
The Yankees are actually quite fortunate that they have three starting outfielders who are capable of playing center, which includes Ichiro Suzuki, 39. Not many teams can say that.
However, there is a big difference from saying someone is capable of playing center than it is to say that someone is better off playing the corner positions. The Seattle Mariners made that decision some years ago with Suzuki because Franklin Gutierrez had more range in center and Suzuki’s arm was perfect for right.
The Yankees are just making a similar decision with Granderson.
With all the talk this offseason that the Yankees offense took a major hit with the departures of Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, it would seem that there would be a premium be placed on pitching and defense this season.
Moving Gardner does that and the Yankees actually boast in Granderson, Gardner and Suzuki one of the best fielding outfields in baseball. They have good speed, range and excellent arms. A good defensive outfield should pay off on preventing a few runs here and there from crossing the plate as the season unfolds.
Managers love it, pitchers love it and the fans will be happy too.
“I have a pretty good idea how they react in center and left, and they do a pretty good job. I just want to see if it improves or stays the same or what happens,” Girardi said. “More, in a sense, how they play individually, but how the tandem works together with covering from right-center all the way over.”
Granderson still considers himself a centerfielder but said that he is good with the move. He said he would have more of an issue if he was benched entirely. Moving to left seems to be a better option than that and so he will play the good soldier.
Gardner has always considered himself a centerfielder. But when he came up in 2009, Melky Cabrera was already entrenched in center. Granderson’s arrival in 2010 pretty much meant he would stay in left since Granderson had not played left since 2007, and only then to play just a handful of games there.
So 2013 is Gardner’s year to shine in center.
But that does not mean Granderson is unimportant in left. Because of the amount of real estate in left-center at Yankee Stadium, leftfielders must possess the range and the ability to cut balls off in the alleys. Granderson can do that and that is why it should not really much of an issue come late May.
The novelty will wear off and there will be other things to talk about.
But the bottom line here is that the Yankees are making a move that is a positive step for the team’s defense and it is going to work out well for both players.
NEWS AND NOTES
- The Yankees will open their spring schedule on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Field at Lake Buena Vista, FL. Right-hander David Phelps, 26, will start for the Yankees and he is expected to pitch two innings. Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm will pitch for the Braves. The game will start at 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on MLB Radio only.
- Girardi also announced that first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Eduardo Nunez will make the trip. In addition, catchers Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine will play with Cervelli getting the starting nod. After Phelps, right-handers Brett Marshall, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder and Chase Whitley and left-hander Nik Turley are scheduled to pitch.
- Girardi announced that after Adam Warren starts the Yankees home spring opener against a Toronto Blue Jays split squad on Sunday that left-hander Vidal Nuno and right-hander Jose Ramirez will start the next two games.
- Phil Hughes, 26, continues to feel better in his recovery from a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes is taking anti-inflammatory medication and expects to be able to advance to working out in a pool in several days. He hopes to be able to return to action within two weeks.
- Alex Rodriguez issued a statement through his spokesman Thursday saying he is working out twice a day in New York in his recovery from hip surgery under the supervision of Dr. Bryan Kelly and trainer Pete Draovitch. Rodriguez is targeting a return to the team at midseason. Kelly performed Rodriguez’s two-hour operation in January at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
- For those of you planning to attend Saturday’s game at Disney’s Wide World Sports complex along with me you will not have to pay a dime for parking. That is the best part of seeing games here. But most of the stadium gets a pretty good dose of sun so you will need to lather on the sunblock.
- The Disney staff is generally accorded to be the best in customer service but last season I was not feeling it. Before the game began I was snapping photos of the Yankees during batting practice when a Disney attendant barked at me for being a section over behind home plate. It was more than an hour before the game and no one was sitting there. Huh? Much later I chose to leave the hot sun and watch the game from the standing-room section behind home plate. Another Disney attendant came up to me and yelled at me for – of all the most serious transgressions – having my right foot a half-inch over the line painted on the floor behind the section. I understand if you put your foot all the way over the line they have to stop the game and remove you for interfering with play. Geesh!
This is the first of a three-part series on how the New York Yankees’ 2013 roster is shaping up this winter. There will be some changes and we will look at the starting pitching, the bullpen and the starting lineup to see what those changes might involve. This is:
PART1: STARTING PITCHING
Meat cleaver or scalpel?
That is the choice every Major League Baseball general manager ponders over the winter with respect to how to deal with their 2013 rosters.
Teams like the Miami Marlins may believe the meat cleaver approach is the way to go while teams like the Los Angeles Angels are looking to add a piece here and cut out a small piece there with a gentle scalpel.
The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman pretty much have the choice made for them by payroll commitments that restrain what they can or can’t do. Long-term contracts handed out to C.C. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter plus potential free agency down the road for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano kind of limits what Cashman can do to repair what needs fixing.
Of course, the criticism of some Yankee fans that the team needs to “get younger” is being counterbalanced by those long-term deals and the signing of veterans like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki.
Some factors have already played out. Catcher Russell Martin has signed a more lucrative multiyear deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and it is a certainty that right-fielder Nick Swisher will not return.
We also know that Rodriguez, once again, will be unavailable to play a full season for the Yankees. Hip surgery scheduled for January will shelve the 37-year-old veteran until June at the earliest. That will mean Rodriguez has failed to play a full season with the team since 2007.
So what will Cashman do to address the needs of the team? Let’s look at the roster and see what the Yankees have and what they may need.
There is a huge debate about the Yankee starting pitchers. Though the Yankees won the American League East with Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, there are those who believe it is not strong enough to carry the team to the team’s 28th championship.
Obviously, Cashman disagrees because he re-signed Pettitte and Kuroda. One reason he may have felt it necessary to sign a 37-year-old right-hander and 40-year-old left-hander was because Kuroda and Pettitte pitched well in 2012. Kuroda posted a career-best 16 victories with a 3.32 ERA. Pettitte was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in his 12 starts in a season abbreviated by a broken ankle.
Cashman sees Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte as the core of the starting staff.
Hughes regained the form that saw him go 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010. He was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA. Though he has won 34 games in his first two seasons as a starter and he is only 26 years old, Yankee fans want him to be more consistent. Unfortunately, Hughes is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher lacking a quality third pitch. So without a quality third pitch, Hughes will pretty much stay on the tract he currently is on.
Nova, however, has possibly the best stuff of the staff. When his fastball, curve and slider are right he can be downright nasty. But after an impressive 2011 rookie season that saw him go 16-4 with a 3.40 ERA, Nova took a step backwards in 2012.
Nova was 12-9 with a 5.02 ERA and he gave up a whopping 28 home runs and hitters hit a ridiculously high .288 against him. But the Yankees are not ready to give up on Nova at age 25. Nova still has the capability of being the same guy who was the team’s No. 2 starter in his rookie season. Why demote a guy who is 28-13 in his first major-league 55 starts?
The Yankees also have a insurance policy behind their top five with rookie right-hander David Phelps.
Phelps earned his way on to the team as a long reliever after being named the team’s top pitcher in the minor leagues in 2011 and the best rookie pitcher on the team last spring. He then drew raves for his work out of the bullpen and as spot starter, finishing the season with a 4-4 record and 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). At age 26, Phelps has a future as a starter.
Cashman may add a starter or two to the mix this winter but it is likely they will be along the lines of the Freddy Garcia scrap-heap variety. Yankee fans are dreaming if they are thinking Cashman is going to obtain Justin Verlander or David Price in a trade.
Of course, the prospects for this staff would have been better if Cashman’s major deal of 2012 did not blow up in his face.
The Yankees traded a power-hitting catcher compared as a hitter to Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez in 22-year-old Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda after he posted a 9-10 record with a 3.34 ERA in 2011. Because Montero was such a heralded young prospect, much was expected of Pineda when he arrived at spring training last February.
However, it was pretty apparent that he came to camp severely overweight and the velocity he showed on his fastball in 2011 was missing. After six starts this spring and he was raked like last winter’s leaves to the tune of a 5.68 ERA it became that there was something wrong.
As it turns out, Pineda was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and he missed all of 2012. Pineda is progressing in his rehab and he hopes to be able to pitch this spring. However, the Yankees are not really counting on Pineda to be able to claim a starting spot this spring. He probably will continue to rehab at the team’s spring complex in Tampa, FL, until he is ready to pitch in a lengthy rehab assignment in the minors.
Pineda could be a big boost to the staff at midseason or he could end up working out in a full season in the minors in order to compete for a starting role in 2014.
The Yankees boasted in 2012 the team’s best minor-league pitching depth they have had in many years. Phelps was among five pitchers the Yankees believed were just on the cusp of possible stardom at the Triple-A level.
Though Phelps succeeded, D.J. Mitchell was traded late in 2012 to the Mariners as the Yankees did with Hector Noesi as part of the Pineda deal. Adam Warren struggled in his only major-league start though he remains a potential starter for the team at age 25.
But the team’s two top pitching prospects had disastrous campaigns in 2012.
Manny Banuelos, 21, made only six starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being shut down with a left elbow injury. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John surgery and he will miss all of the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, Delin Betances, a 24-year-old right-hander, pitched so poorly at Scranton (3-5, 6.39 ERA) he had to be demoted to Double-A Trenton and he was not much better there (3-4, 6.51 ERA). Betances has been unable to harness his control in the minors and he needs to show some significant improvement in 2013 to maintain his prospect status.
The Yankees do have a number of pitchers that could have a long-range impact on the team.
Brett Marshall, 22, was 13-7 with a 3.52 ERA at Trenton in 2012. Though the right-hander has not been labeled as a top prospect, he is similar to Phelps in that he has succeeded at each level he has pitched. He was the Yankees’ best minor league pitcher in 2012.
Lefty Nik Turley, 23, is a tall strike-throwing machine who was 9-5 with a 2.89 ERA at Class-A Tampa. Righty Jose A. Ramirez, 22, was 7-6 with a 3.19 ERA at Tampa. Jose Campos, 20, was acquired along with Pineda in the Montero deal and he could be a real gem.
Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA in five starts for Class-A Charleston before the right-hander had to be shut down with a minor elbow injury. Campos led the Northwest League in ERA and strikeouts in 2011 and he may end up being more valuable in the long term that Pineda. The Yankees will be watching his progress closely in 2013.
Cashman and the Yankees seem to have a matrimonial allegiance to their pitching staff these days. They pledged their devotion to each other to remain in sickness and in health for as both retain their jobs. But in baseball, there are short honeymoons. The problem will manifest itself if the staff does not do its part.
The Yankees’ pledge to reduce payroll makes it hard for this team to spend a large amount of money on a Plan B. So the Yankees have to really hope that what they have on hand is enough.
NEXT: THE BULLPEN