YANKEES 4, RED SOX 1
On a night where Japan’s Hajime Motegi hit a walk-off two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth to beat Taiwan, 2-0, in the International Bracket of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, two of the team’s major-league heroes were putting on a show on the big stage at Yankee Stadium.
Hiroki Kuroda turned in yet another stellar outing on the mound and Ichiro Suzuki homered twice as New York sent Boston packing from the Bronx, N.Y. on Sunday looking up out of a huge 13 1/2-game hole with just 41 games left to play.
Kuroda (12-8) gave up only a one-out solo home run to Adrian Gonazalez in the seventh as he shut down the listless Red Sox offense on just four hits and no walks over eight very breezy innings.
The 37-year-old right-hander ran his scoreless-inning streak to 16 2/3 innings before Gonzalez connected with his meaningless solo shot. Kuroda is 8-2 with a 2.73 in his last 20 starts dating back to May 27.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at the Red Sox’ disappointing ace Josh Beckett (5-11), scoring single runs in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings.
The runs in the fourth and sixth came on the sixth and seventh home runs of the season from Suzuki, marking his first multi-homer game as a Yankee. After Suzuki’s second home run of the night, many in the paid crowd of 48,620 chanted “Ichiro, Ichiro” until the 37-year-old veteran came of the Yankees’ dugout to take a curtain call.
The Yankees opened the scoring with Derek Jeter leading off the game with a ringing double to the wall in center, the first of three hits on the night for Jeter. With two out, Curtis Granderson stroked a lined double off the right-field wall to score Jeter.
Two innings later, Jeter again opened the inning with a ground-rule double to center off Beckett. Nick Swisher drew a walk and both Jeter and Swisher pulled off a double steal. Jeter then scored when a pitch from Beckett to Robinson Cano bounced in the dirt and eluded catcher Ryan Lavarnway, allowing Jeter to score easily.
Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth, punctuating the victory by retiring Gonzalez by striking out him swinging. Soriano saved two of the three games in the series and he has 31 saves in 33 chances this season.
With the loss, the Red Sox’s nightmarish August continues. They are 6-12 this month and they now trail in the wild-card standings by 7 1/2 games. If it is not time to stick a fork in the Bosox it is not far away.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to an American League-best record of 72-49 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. The Red Sox are now 59-63 and their playoff chances are about as bright as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson winning the 2012 presidential election as the Libertarian candidate.
- In the absence of CC Sabathia, Kuroda has turned out to be a true ace over his last 20 starts. Kuroda retired 16 of his 24 outs on 12 ground balls and four strikeouts. Out of his 112 pitches, 75 (67 percent) were strikes. He could not have looked in more command against the Red Sox if he were throwing from a La-Z-boy recliner.
- Suzuki came to the Yankees with only four home runs but he now has three in his 26 games with the team. On his current pace, Suzuki possibly could become the 11th Yankee to reach double digits in home runs. The Yankees lead the major leagues in home runs with 189. Suzuki also has only failed to record at least one hit in just two of his starts since he was acquired on July 23.
- Jeter was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored. The three hits give him 163 on the season, which leads the majors. Though he had his 13-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday, Jeter is hitting .351 with two home runs and 11 RBis in August. His season average is now .321.
Nothing to say here. Any win over the Red Sox is pretty much devoid of negatives.
Mark Teixeira, who has been sidelined throughout the three-game Boston series with a sore left wrist, hopes to return to action on Monday. Teixeira took ground balls on Sunday wearing a compression brace on his wrist. Teixeira missed games from July 31 through August 2 with the same problem and took a cortisone shot to ease the pain. . . . Left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano threw a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast Yankees on Saturday and there is a strong possibility he could pitch some for the Yankees in September. Feliciano signed a two-year contract with the Yankees before the 2011 season and he has not pitched an inning for the Yankees because he had to undergo surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder.
The Yankees travel to the Windy City to play the Chicago White Sox in a three-game series beginning on Monday.
Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (7-5, 4.68 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Garcia is 5-3 with a 3.69 ERA in his eight starts replacing left-hander Andy Pettitte in the rotation. In his last time out, he gave up two home runs to Josh Hamilton but still beat the Texas Rangers for his third straight victory. Garcia is 5-5 with a 4.46 ERA in his career against the Chisox.
The White Sox will counter with right-hander Gavin Floyd (9-9, 4.43 ERA). Floyd notched his first career victory in Toronto and only his second road victory of the season by downing the Blue Jays in his last outing. He is 2-3 with a 6.07 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 10, BLUE JAYS 3
When the New York Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners they were just expecting some great outfield defense and some singles and some steals at the bottom of the batting order. It is now beginning to look like they have a top-flight RBI man instead.
Suzuki drove in five runs to lead a late-inning seven-run assault on Toronto pitching as New York put away a badly depleted Blue Jay team on Friday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Suzuki gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead in the second inning by driving in a run beating out a potential double-play grounder. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning and a bases-loaded two-run double in the ninth inning. Suzuki, who had only 28 RBis when he was obtained on July 23, has driven in 11 runs in his last 11 games and nine and his last four games with the Yankees.
Meanwhile, veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia (6-5) pitched six solid innings to pick up his second straight victory. Garcia gave up two runs on four hits and struck four against a Blue Jays team missing Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind.
The Yankees built an early lead on Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero in second inning after Robinson Cano led off the frame with a single and Romero walked Andruw Jones.
Jayson Nix attempted to bunt the next pitch and it rolled just out in front of home plate. But Blue Jays catcher Jeff Mathis threw the ball past third baseman Omar Vizquel and into left-field to allow Cano to score and Jones to advance to third. Suzuki followed with a grounder that forced Nix at second but Suzuki beat the relay to first and Jones scored.
The Yankees added a run in the following inning on a leadoff single by Nick Swisher and a one-out RBI single by Cano.
Romero ( 8-9) then shut down the Yankees over the next four innings on just one hit. He left having given up four hits and three walks and struck out two over seven innings.
Kelly Johnson proved to be Garcia’s big nemesis. He struck with one-out solo home run in the bottom of the second inning to halve the Yankees’ lead at 2-1. Two innings later, he followed a bunt single by Yunel Escobar and a lined single by David Cooper with a double down the right-field line that scored Escobar to make it 3-2.
But Garcia ended the threat by striking out Vizquel and inducing Mathis to tap back to the mound.
The game stayed 3-2 until Steve Delabar’s first offering in the eighth inning in relief of Romero was tagged by Mark Teixeira for his 22nd home run of the season.
With two out, Nix and Russell Martin each dunked in a pair of bloop hits and Suzuki followed with an RBI single up the middle to break the game open at 6-2.
The Yankees added four runs in the ninth off rookie reliever David Carpenter and Brad Lincoln. Suzuki culminated the scoring with base-loaded liner that Rajai Davis lost in the lights and it was scored a double.
With the victory the Yankees have now won three games in a row and are 66-46 on the season. They remain 5 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The reeling Blue Jays have lost four in a row and are in last place in the division with a record of 53-59.
- Suzuki has had at least one hit in 16 of the 17 games he has played with the Yankees. The five-RBI night tied a career high and it was the third time in Suzuki’s career he achieved the feat. But it was the first time since the 2004 season. He also started his first game in center-field since the 2008 season and he has now started in all three outfield position since coming to the Yankees. He was acquired to provide speed, defense and a consistent bat at the bottom of the order and he has done all three very well.
- Teixeira’s home run was the second straight game in which he has delivered a home run in the eighth inning on the road. Teixeira and Eric Chaez combined to hit back-to-back solo home runs to turn a 3-2 Yankee deficit on Thursday into a 4-3 victory over the Tigers. It was the first time two Yankees had hit consecutive home runs in the eighth inning or later to win a game on the road since Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle did it during the 1955 season. Teixeira extended his team-leading RBI total to 76.
- Garcia is never going to be confused with Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander, but he put in another solid effort to win his second straight start. In his eight starts since replacing Andy Pettitte in the rotation, Garcia is 4-3 with a 3.83 ERA. The 35-year-old right-hander has been valuable as a placeholder for Pettitte.
I can’t think of much to complain about. Garcia pitched well and the offense has scored 31 runs and notched double-digits in hits over the team’s last four games. Perhaps they can put that stretch of nine losses over 12 games behind them now.
It is possible that left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano could be added to the Yankees’ expanded roster in September. Feliciano has not pitched since the 2010 season with the New York Mets because he underwent surgery for torn rotator cuff. On Friday, Feliciano made his second rehab appearance for the Yankees’ rookie Gulf Coast League. Feliciano was signed to a two-year $8 million deal prior to the 2011 season but he has not pitched a single game for the Yankees. He is 22-19 with a 3.31 ERA over 459 appearances over his eight-season career.
The Yankees will continue their weekend road series with Blue Jays on Saturday.
Ivan Nova (10-6, 4.81 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Nova has a lot to prove after giving up seven runs on 11 hits on Monday against the Tigers. He is 0-3 with a 8.36 ERA in his last five starts. Nova is 2-1 with a 3.75 ERA against the Blue Jays in his career.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Aaron Laffey (3-2, 4.39 ERA), who pitched briefly for the Yankees last season. Laffey gave up four runs on six hits in his last start, a victory over the Oakland Athletics. He is 0-1 with an 11.74 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to the Yankees’ spring training complex in a few weeks, it might be a good time to look at the five things that would be good signs the Yankees are on their way to their 28th world championship. They are:
NO. 5 – CC Sabathia reports to camp minus about 30 pounds he was carrying at the end of last season.
Sabathia struggled with a knee injury at the tail end of the 2010 season. He ended up having surgery to repair the damage and actually dropped about 30 pounds before he reported to spring training last year. The result was Sabathia got off to one of the better starts of his career. At the All-Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA and he had won 10 of his last 11 starts. Can you figure out what happened next? He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. The reason was he had gained weight during the course of the season and it really showed in his postseason appearances against the Tigers. He was 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA with a WHIP of 2.08 in 8 2/3 innings over three games. Sabathia chose not to opt out of his contract in order to sign a lucrative extension that will keep in pinstripes until the year 2017. The Yankees got in return from Sabathia a pledge that he will take the excess weight off this winter and keep it off during the course of the season. In a few weeks we will see if Sabathia has succeeded in his pledge.
No. 4 – The Yankees find a second left-handed reliever to help Boone Logan.
Logan, 27, is a good enough pitcher. He was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 2010 and 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 2011. But he is terribly miscast as a “lefty specialist.” Left-handed hitters batted .260 off him last season while right-handers fared a bit better at .262. That is because Logan is nothing like Damoso Marte or Pedro Feliciano. The Yankees traded with Kansas City for Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral from the Red Sox and signed former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to compete this spring for a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen. Cabral, 23, was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 appearances with Salem in the Carolina League and Portland in Eastern League. He notched 70 strikeouts and walked 21 batters in 55 innings. Okajima, 36, was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket after posting a 1-0 record and a 4.32 ERA in seven appearances with Red Sox. He was 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances with the Pawsox. With Feliciano recovering from left shoulder surgery and not expected to pitch in 2012, the Yankees have no other left-handers on their 40-man roster. So either Cabral or Okajima take the bull by the horns and win a job or the Yankees will either have to deal for another lefty or be forced to use starter Manny Banuelos in the role at some point during the season. That is something they do not want to do unless they are forced into it.
No. 3 – A.J. Burnett is not on the roster when the season starts.
The Yankees have made it as clear as possible without saying it publicly: They have no confidence that the enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander will recapture the magic of his 2008 season in Toronto when he was 18-10 with 4.07 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 221 1/3 innings. He has gotten worse in his three years with the Yankees, ending up 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 2011. He also has lost velocity on his heater and that is a sign he is in a steep decline. The problem is the Yankees are on the hook for two more years and $33 million on his contract. But the Yankees acquired 23-year-old Michael Pineda and signed 36-year-old free agent Hiroki Kuroda to pitch behind Sabathia and the Yankees are saying that Ivan Nova will retain a spot in the rotation he earned with a 16-4 rookie season. That leaves 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes, 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia and Burnett to compete for the No. 5 spot. Barring an injury, the Yankees likely will only keep one of the two starters that fail to win a spot for the bullpen. So the odds for Burnett are not good. The Yankees have made it known they have dangled Burnett in a trade. They are offering to pay about $8 million of his contract but, so far, they have had no serious takers. But as the season nears and teams assess their starting staffs, it could be possible that Burnett could be dealt, much like Sergio Mitre was in 2011. That would be a good thing because Burnett has just about tested every last bit of patience out of manager Joe Girarddi and pitching coach Larry Rothscild. Yankee fans are getting sick of trying to guess whether they will see “Good A.J.” or “Bad A.J.” from start to start. They are seeing the bad version more often these days. It also does not really matter what the Yankees get in return. The Yankees would settle for young prospects – a power-hitting young outfielder and a young pitcher would be just fine. Let’s hope general manager Brian Cashman gets it done before the season starts.
No. 2 – The Yankees either acquire or sign a legitimate and experienced DH.
With the trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners and the retirement of Jorge Posada, the Yankees currently do not have a major-league designated hitter. For the moment they are touting 29-year-old minor-league corner infielder Jorge Vazquez as a potential starter there. Vazquez, a veteran of the Mexican League, did hit .262 with 32 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But the Yankees might be looking for a more experienced DH from among free agents such as Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Pedro Guerrero. Of that mix, Damon appears to be the best fit. He spent four seasons with the Yankees and has shown he can take advantage of the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium. In 2011 with the Rays, Damon hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games. Damon would be of use as a DH, part-time outfielder (despite his weak arm) and solid veteran pinch-hitter or pinch-runner off the bench. The others are limited in the field and have declined significantly at the plate. Granted, Girardi does like to rotate his veterans at the DH spot to give them rest. But the Yankees need another bat to replace Montero and they can’t wait too long to fill it.
NO. 1 – Alex Rodriguez shows up in Tampa healthy and displaying prodigious power throughout spring training.
Let’s face it, love him or hate him, Rodriguez is the key to the Yankees’ offense in 2012. Since 2007 when he played in 158 games, Rodriguez has been sidelined for significant periods of time by a hip injury, shoulder problems, a knee injury, a calf injury and a sprained finger. In 2011, he was limited to 99 games and he hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. He entered the American League Division Series with Detroit at less than 100 percent and it showed. He was 2-for-18 (.111) with six strikeouts in the series. For the Yankees to have any chance of getting back to the World Series, Rodriguez must remain healthy throughout 2012, particularly during the playoffs. Although Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano pretty much carried the team throughout the 2011 season, it is Rodriguez who strikes the most fear in pitchers when he is “locked in” and pounding out home runs. Borrowing a line from Reggie Jackson, A-Rod is the straw that stirs the drink in the Yankees’ lineup. They need him more than any other player and Rodriguez must also prove he is not in a precipitous decline at age 36. The Yankees are paying him through the 2017 season and they can’t afford to be paying $32 million to a player who hits 16 home runs and drive in 62 runs.
NEW YORK YANKEES WINTER MEETINGS PREVIEW
One person you are not likely to see much of at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Monday is Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
As baseball’s 2011 Winter Meetings open, Cashman habitually spends most of his time in his suite. And it is not because he is diving into the honor bar. Cashman is in “bunker mode” hoping to make a deal or signing or two that will help the Yankees improve for the 2012 season.
Of course, Cashman has already done a few important things that will help the Yankees in the upcoming season.
The most important mission he had this offseason was keeping ace left-hander CC Sabathia from opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent. Cashman was able to get Sabathia to sign an extension through 2016 worth $122 million. So that took what would have been the most-prized pitcher off the market and kept him with the Yankees.
Determined to ensure the Yankees enter 2012 with a solid starting rotation, Cashman set the Yankees priorities as “pitching, pitching and pitching.” That is why the Yankees picked up the options on Nick Swisher and Russell Martin and is allowing Jorge Posada to go as a free agent.
The only major signing of a non-pitcher this winter was the signing of infielder Jayson Nix to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Nix, primarily a second baseman, can also play third base and has logged some time in the outfield.
Nix, 29, played for Toronto in 2011 and hit .169 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats in 46 games. He has hit .209 over the span of four major-league seasons.
Nix is an insurance policy in case reserve first baseman and third baseman Eric Chavez decides to retire or signs with another club as a free agent. The Yankees have made it clear they would love to have Chavez and free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones return to the team next season.
So when it comes to the Yankees’ starting lineup and bench, the Yankees pretty much are looking at a status quo with rookie catching prospect Jesus Montero expected to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012 replacing Posada.
Cashman proved how important he values pitching by re-signing Freddy Garcia to a one-year contract worth between $4 million and $5 million. Garcia, 35, was selected as a starter out of spring training after he signed $1.5 million contract over the winter. Garcia posted a 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts (over 26 games).
With Garcia’s signing the Yankees rotation features Sabathia, rookie surprise Ivan Nova, a recovering Phil Hughes, enigmatic veteran A.J. Burnett and Garcia. That starting five does not exactly appear to be a championship caliber staff if you ask most Yankee fans. So the speculation has been that Cashman would dip into the Yankees’ rich financial reserves to pony up some big money for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle, Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson.
Or Cashman might look to make a substantial posting bid for 25-year-old Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish.
The Yankees have also been linked in trade rumors for pitchers such as Matt Cain of the Giants, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and Matt Garza of the Cubs.
Of course, Cashman has a collection of six pitchers in the organization who are currently 24 years old or less who could advance to help the major-league club as starters or relievers in 2012 including Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and Adam Warren.
Noesi compiled a 2-2 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games (two starts) over four separate stints with the Yankees last season. Cashman has been getting glowing reports about how Noesi is throwing this winter in the Domincan Republic and he is touting Noesi as the “next Ivan Nova.”
So the Yankees could go in a lot of directions this winter with their pitching staff: (1) they could stand pat, (2) sign a free agent, (3) trade for a starter or (4) look to shore up the staff with a young pitcher in their minor-league system.
But any addition to the staff surely would mean that one of the current five starters would either have to go to the bullpen or leave the team entirely. That will not include Sabathia, Garcia or Nova. So that means Hughes and Burnett might be in the crosshairs should the Yankees decide to add another starter.
Hughes was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA in an injury-plagued 2011 season. However, if you throw out his first three starts when he was pitching with a weak right shoulder and two consecutive starts in August in which he gave up 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings, Hughes was 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA in his other nine starts.
What this would indicate that is if Hughes is healthy at the start if spring training there is a good possibility he could return to his 18-8 form of 2010. The Yankees have heard good reports about Hughes, 25, who is working out in his native California this offseason.
Hughes has pitched well in the bullpen before as he did in the Yankees’ championship season in 2009, however, the Yankees are stocked with right-handers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and a recovering Joba Chamberlain. There does not seem to be much room left for Hughes here. So, for now, Hughes is a starter.
Burnett, 34, is another story altogether.
Though Burnett’s Game 4 start against the Tigers in the American League Division Series was excellent, he is coming off two seasons in which he was a combined 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA. Because the Yankees owe Burnett $65 million he has been the proverbial albatross around the Yankees necks and he possibly could remain that way for another two seasons.
The Yankees could hope that Burnett somehow finds a way to consistently put the ball in the vicinity of the plate and cuts down on his gopher balls or they could also decide – like a malignant tumor – he must be removed from the roster even if it means that the Yankees have to pick up most, if not all, of his contract to pitch for another team.
Yankee fans are certainly rooting for the latter. They have seen enough of “Bad A.J.” to know that it is time to bring the curtain down on his bad act.
Other than that potential shift in the rotation, the only other move Cashman likely could make is to add a left-hander to the bullpen.
Boone Logan, 27, has been the lone lefty in the bullpen for two seasons. Though he did OK with a 5-3 record and a 3.46 ERA in 2011, he is not, by definition, a real lefty specialist. He has been pressed into that role due to injuries to Damaso Marte and Pedro Felciiano the past two seasons.
But Marte has been released and Feliciano has undergone shoulder surgery and he won’t pitch at all under the final year of his two-year deal with the Yankees. So the Yankees do need to explore obtaining a lefty who can consistently retire left-handed batters.
Cashman could really help the Yankees out a lot by finding the one piece of the puzzle that would make the Yankees’ bullpen even better than it already is.
Also do not be surprised if Cashman comes up with a surprise or two, much like he did with Granderson deal two winters ago.
Cashman always plays his cards close to the vest and he never really signals what he is likely to do. That is why if a rumor surfaces about the Yankees interested in making a deal, I automatically discount it. Cashman does not make deals that are rumored in the press. He does it with cunning and stealth.
Although Cashman has signed disasters like Burnett and Kei Igawa, he also has made some nice deals such as the Granderson and the Swisher deals. Although it appears Cashman is likely to use a scalpel and a Band-Aid rather than a hacksaw to this winter’s roster, you never really know if players like Swisher, Eduardo Nunez, Montero or Betances could be traded in order to obtain the pitching help the Yankees seem to need.
If you do not see Cashman much in the hotel lobby you can almost be assured he is stoking the fears of his rival GMs. That is just the Cashman way.
With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
PART 2 – Relief Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two
NOTE: As I predicted, the New York Yankees were able to keep CC Sabathia off the free-agent market by signing him an one-year contract extension that will pay him $122 million over the next five seasons and the Yankees will control an option to bring him back in 2017. This means the Yankees can turn their sights to Priority No. 2 (Fixing A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes) and Priority No. 3 (signing or trading for another starting pitcher). Sabathia’s signing is double bad news for the Texas Rangers. They were looking to add Sabathia to their rotation and now they face the prospect of losing C.J. Wilson to the Yankees. That would be enough to send Rangers manager Ron Washington back on drugs.
The Yankees, simply stated, had the best bullpen in the major leagues in 2011.
The proof is in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series with the Tigers. The only run given up after Ivan Nova left the game with an injury after the first inning was off of Sabathia. The bullpen itself kept the Tigers within striking distance for a comeback that never came.
Looking at 2012, the Yankees can again point to their bullpen as being the strongest part of this team.
At age 41, Mariano Rivera showed no real signs of aging by saving 44 of 49 games and becoming the major-league leader in all-time saves with 603. For the fourth straight season and the eighth season out of the last nine, Rivera recorded an ERA under 2.00. Rivera is under contract for another season and that is just fine with the Yankees because having the greatest reliever in major-league history in your bullpen is a huge plus.
The Yankees also have managed to shorten games by the use of their setup men.
Nobody did that better than David Robertson last season. With injuries shelving both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain, Robertson, 26, stepped up his game to go 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and strike out 100 batters in 66 2/3 innings. He also tied Daniel Bard of the Red Sox for the American League in holds with 34 and he earned a selection to pitch in the 2011 All-Star Game.
Robertson’s best work, though, came in pressure situations – either ones he inherited or those messes he created for himself. Robertson was able to wriggle out of bases-loaded situations with amazing regularity.
The Yankees also will have 32-year-old right-hander Rafael Soriano back for the 2012 season. Soriano has elected not to opt out of his three-year contract and remain with the Yankees for $11 million this coming season and $14 million for 2013.
Soriano, who led the major leagues with 45 saves in 2010, was 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA and two saves in a season plagued by elbow soreness. Soriano pitched exceptionally well after he returned from the disabled list in July. He was 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA and he ended up with 23 holds.
The only question is will Soriano regain his eighth inning role from Robertson in 2012? Either way the Yankees know that most teams will have to obtain the lead by the sixth inning or face the prospect of losing the game because Robertson, Soriano and Rivera are pretty tough to beat when they are all healthy and pitching well.
The Yankees also possibly may have Joba Chamberlain back healthy again.
Chamberlain, 26, missed most of the 2011 season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He was effective in the 27 games he pitched. He was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA and he recorded 12 holds.
Reports indicate Chamberlain is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and he hopes to be ready to go once spring training begins in February. But with Robertson and Soriano filling the setup roles in the bullpen, the Yankees can afford to be cautious with Chamberlain. They will gladly start the season with Chamberlain on the disabled list and bring him along slowly to make sure he is 100 percent.
The rest of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2011 was pretty good. The Yankees got good work out of right-handers Cory Wade and Luis Ayala.
Wade, 28, was 6-1 with a 2.04 ERA after being acquired off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays in June. Ayala, 33, made the team out of spring training after being signed as free agent and was 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA.
Wade is likely to be retained for 2012 as insurance policy on Chamberlain but Ayala likely will not return.
That leaves the only left-hander the Yankees had in 2011, Boone Logan. Next to A.J. Burnett, the 27-year-old Logan is the pitcher Yankee fans love to the hate the most.
At times, Logan can be brilliant. Other times, Logan can be awful. Overall, Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA for the Yankees. However, he is terribly miscast as “lefty specialist.” It is sort of like asking Owen Wilson to play the part of Tony Soprano in the “The Sopranos.” It just doesn’t work.
Left-handed hitters hit .260 off of Logan while right-handers hit .262 off him.
That points up the Yankees’ biggest need in 2012: Looking for a reliable and effective lefty specialist.
The Yankees ignored my pleas to go all out to sign free-agent lefty Scott Downs last off-season. Downs ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels and he was 6-3 with a 1.34 ERA with 26 holds for the Angels. Instead, the Yankees overpaid Soriano to accept a setup role.
The Yankees did sign left-hander Pedro Feliciano from the New York Mets. But the 35-year-old free agent developed a shoulder soreness in spring training and ended up undergoing rotator cuff surgery without ever throwing a pitch for the Yankees in 2011. He likely won’t pitch in 2012 and his two-year contract with Yankees will end with him very much a question mark as a free agent in 2013.
The Mets abused Feliciano by pitching him in a major-league high of 344 appearances over the four previous seasons, including 92 in 2010. Feliciano paid the price for it and he likely will never be the same pitcher he was.
The Yankees also hoped to have veteran left-hander Damaso Marte back in 2011. But the 36-year-old hero of the 2009 postseason championship run for the Yankees has not be able to recover from left shoulder surgery he underwent in 2010. The Yankees have since declined an option on him and released him.
So the Yankees are in the market for a lefty specialist in 2012 who can either augment or replace Logan.
There are no other left-handers listed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. There no lefties who would be of much help in the bullpen in the minor leagues. So general manager Brian Cashman must look to acquire several candidates to audition in spring training.
One pitcher the Yankees would love to have is Rafael Perez of the Indians. Perez, 29, was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 12 holds with the Indians in 2011. Perez was replaced as the primary lefty in the bullpen by 28-year-old Tony Sipp.
But Perez can still get out left-handed batters. They batted only .237 against him last season.
The Yankees also might be interested in Eric O’Flaherty, 26, of the Braves and Sean Marshall, 29, of the Cubs. Both of them had excellent 2011 seasons. But they would cost dearly in a trade.
Guillermo Mota, 38, could be a big free-agent target. He was 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 52 appearances with the Giants. More impressive was his 77 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. Lefties hit just .234 off him in 2011. His age might be a concern but, given the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, he might be worth an offer.
Look for the Yankees to bring in at least two left-handed relievers to compete for a spot in the bullpen in spring training.
Of course, the Yankees’ right-handers do have an ability to get out lefties.
Left-handers hit only .240 off Rivera, .156 off Robertson, .250 off Chamberlain, .246 off Wade and .250 off Ayala. They only feasted on Soriano, who was hit for a .302 by left-handers last season. The effectiveness of the right-handers against left-handers is one reason why the bullpen was such a strength in 2011.
Given the depth here, it looks like the bullpen – barring injury – looks to be just as strong in 2012.
NEXT: PART 3 – STARTING LINEUP
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Who will the Yankees keep at catcher?
- Yankee starter Bartolo Colon pitched a very impressive three scoreless innings. He struck out five batters, gave up two hits and walked none. Colon is the only Yankee starter to have given a run this spring. He gave up one run in the Yankees’ spring debut against the Phillies last Friday.
- Manny Banuelos, who will be 20 on March 13, again impressed the Yankees with his two innings of work. He pitched a 1-2-3 fourth but was nicked for a two-out double and a walk in the fifth. But he struck out Darnell McDonald out looking on three pitches. His command and poise show he is a rising star.
- Alex Rodriguez had a single and double in the game. His double hit off the left-center wall and would have been a home run if not for a steady gale wind blowing almost directly towards home plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
- Robinson Cano’s one-out double scored pinch-runner Ramiro Pena with the tying run in the sixth inning. It was the first hit of the spring for Cano.
- Once again, the starters struggled to get hits early in the game. They collected five hits in the first five innings. They scored just the one run.
- Neither left-hander Pedro Feliciano or Boone Logan looked particularly good. Feliciano was touched for a double by Jed Lowrie and an RBI single by Daniel Nava in the sixth inning, Logan faltered after he got the first two outs in the seventh inning.
- Andruw Jones did not look good at the plate. In three at-bats, he rolled out to third, struck out and hit into an unassisted double play.