Tagged: Preston Claiborne

Yankees Succumb To Pirates’ Late 4-Run Rally

GAME 1

PIRATES 6, YANKEES 5

Chris McGuiness capped a four-run rally in the seventh inning with an RBI single as Pittsburgh came from behind to defeat New York in both teams’ Grapefruit League opener at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.

Duke Welker (1-0) pitched one inning of relief to get credit for the victory. Chase Whitley (0-1) was hammered for four runs on three hits, a walk and he hit a batter in one inning plus to get tagged with the loss.

Five batters before McGuiness’ game-winning hit, Tony Sanchez cranked a three-run homer off Whitley to turn a 5-2 Yankees’ lead into a tie.

Right-hander Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, however, he did not have much command. Nova surrendered two hits and two walks and had to be replaced by right-hander Bruce Billings in the second innings because he had reached his pitch limit.

The game was played in front of announced crowd of 6,870, which is a record for exhibition opener at McKechnie Field, the Pirates’ spring home since 1969.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The late rally overshadowed what was a great day for two of the Yankees’ three high-priced free agents who started the game. Jacoby Ellsbury collected an infield single and two walks and he scored two runs. Catcher Brian McCann was 1-for-2 with an RBI single in the first inning. The third free agent, Carlos Beltran, was 0-for-2.
  • The Yankees also received key offensive contributions from shortstop Yangervis Solarte and outfielder Ramon Flores. Solarte, 26, a minor-league free agent out of the Texas Rangers’ organization, slugged a two-run home run in the second inning off veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez. Flores, 21, followed McCann’s RBI single in the first with an RBI single of his own off left-hander Francisco Liriano.
  • The Yankees’ pitching was shaky most of the day, but one pitcher did shine despite the gloomy windy and overcast game conditions. Right-hander Dellin Betances, 25, pitched two scoreless innings, giving up one bloop single and striking out two. Betances, a former top pitching prospect as a starter, is opening eyes as a reliever.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Whitley’s first spring outing was a disaster. After pitching a scoreless sixth inning, Whitley, 24, gave up a single, hit a batter and then was tagged for a wind-aided three-run home run by Sanchez. After walking Chris Dickerson he was replaced by Preston Claiborne.
  • Claiborne, 25, did not help matters much by surrendering a walk and the game-winning RBI single to McGuiness. After pitching in 44 games with the Yankees in 2013, Claiborne is being counted upon to shore up a Yankee bullpen that lost closer Mariano Rivera and Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain.
  • After collecting four hits in the first two innings, the Yankees managed to rap out just three more hits the rest of the game. The also hit into a pair of double plays.

ON DECK

Derek Jeter will begin his final spring training on Tuesday as he makes his first start against the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Right-hander David Phelps, one of four competitors for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, will get the start for the Yankees. Phelps, 27, was 6-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 22 games (12 starts) last season.

The Yankees also should play most of what will be their projected starting lineup for the 2014 season. They also will wear their regular-season pinstripe uniforms.

Right-hander Charlie Morton will start for the Pirates. He was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 20 starts last season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a delayed basis at 9 p.m. by the MLB Network.

 

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Starting Spot, Bench, Pen Yankees Only Unknowns

With the first exhibition a day away the New York Yankees pretty much have answered all their roster questions.

By investing $475 million on free agents this winter they have turned a team that was ravaged by injury in 2013 into a possible contender in 2014.

The rotation is almost set with C.C. Sabathia heading up a group that includes a Japanese sensation in Masahiro Tanaka and holdovers Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.

The starting lineup is set with shortstop Derek Jeter returning from injury along with first baseman Mark Teixeira. Free agents Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will primarily play second and third base, respectively. Fellow free agent Brian McCann gives the Yankees the best hitting catcher they have had since Jorge Posada retired.

The outfield was strengthened with the free-agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carlos Beltran in right. Brett Gardner, fresh off signing a new four-year extension, will move back to left and last year’s key acquisition, Alfonso Soriano, will be the primary designated hitter.

The bullpen is pretty set with David Robertson being asked to fill the mighty big cleats of the best closer the game as ever seen in Mariano Rivera.

With him are free agent left-hander Matt Thornton, who will assume the role of the departed Boone Logan. Shawn Kelley will also try to build on what was a fairly good first season with the team.

The Yankees even added to the bullpen with the signing of oft-injured former closer Andrew Bailey, who could easily slip into Robertson’s setup role if he is sound.

The bench already will have backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Ichiro Suzuki, who suddenly became the odd man out of a job with the new outfielders looks to have the backup outfield spot assured unless he is traded.

So there are few jobs left to fill. But here they are and the players who are competing for them:

NO. 5 STARTER

The Candidates: Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

Pineda, 25, has missed two complete seasons following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2012. The Yankees hope and Pineda believes it is time for him to resume what was once a promising career. The velocity may not be what it was in his rookie season in 2011 when he was an American League All-Star and he had nine victories, 173 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA with the Seattle Mariners. But the Yankees hope that his stuff is still effective enough to get out major-league hitters. If Pineda proves that this spring the job is really his. That is why they traded Jesus Montero for him. Now it is time for results.

Phelps, 27, has spent the past two seasons as the Yankees’ long man and spot starter out of the bullpen. He has done the job pretty well. He is 10-9 with 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 of them starts) the past two seasons. But Phelps had his 2013 season interrupted by a right forearm strain that sidelined him for two months. But he is 100 percent this spring and he will get a chance to win the final spot in the rotation. However, he likely won’t get it if Pineda shines. The reason is that Phelps’ numbers the past two seasons have been better out of the bullpen than as a starter. Phelps actually might move into a short relief role, where he could even end up setting up Robertson at some point. Phelps, barring injury, will leave spring training with a role. The only question is what role.

Warren, 26, surprisingly made the team out of spring training last season and he was the team’s long reliever. Warren also pitched very well. He was 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two starts). Warren is excellent insurance if Pineda is not ready because Warren is actually better suited as a starter than Phelps. But his value as a long reliever is excellent. So a likely scenario is that Pineda becomes the starter, Warren keeps his long man and spot starting gig and Phelps shifts to the bullpen again. It is hard for Warren not to want to start. Obviously he does. He will get a lot of chances to do it. Do not be surprised if you see very little of Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda early this spring. The reason is you will be seeing a lot of these four pitchers instead.

Nuno, 26, won the James P. Dawson Award last spring as the team’s most impressive rookie after going 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over seven games. That does not even include the five shutout innings he tossed against the Yankees when he was offered to the Dominican Republic for an exhibition game before the World Baseball Classic. Nuno was sent out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five games before he was summoned to fill a spot in the bullpen. In five games with the Yankees (three of them starts), Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings. Nuno subsequently had his season ended by a groin injury. Nuno is the real wildcard in this equation. His fastball barely reaches 88 miles per hour yet he keeps hitters off-balance and doesn’t walk many either. But if Nuno loses out to any of the other three he likely will be returned to Scranton, where he will be available should an injury occur. Nuno is not as experienced pitching out the bullpen and the Yankees prefer he remain stretched out as a starter.

BACKUP INFIELDER

The Candidates: Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler.

Nunez, 26, has had huge opportunities after he batted .265 with 22 steals in 112 games in 2011. In the past two seasons, Nunez has blown those chances. In 2012, his inconsistent fielding got him sent to Scranton and Nunez injured his right hand and missed a huge chunk of the summer. In 2013, the Yankees lost Jeter for most of the season as he battled to get back from a severe ankle injury. Nunez was handed the job early but it went downhill in a hurry after he got injured himself. Nunez hit .260 in 90 games but he did not have that same fire he had in 2011. It was a shame because Nunez worked on a new throwing motion and cut down on his errors. The Yankees sealed Nunez’s fate by deciding to keep Ryan, who can also play second base. That means the only way Nunez can make the team is as a right-handed portion of a platoon with Johnson at third base. This is Nunez’s last shot with the Yankees and he could very well be dealt away before the spring is over.

Anna is a year OLDER than Nunez but has never received a single at-bat in the majors. Yet, Anna chances of making the team may be better than Nunez. Anna was traded to the Yankees by the San Diego Padres in return for right-hander Ben Paulus. The reason Anna is intriguing is that he led the Pacific Coast League in batting in 2o13 with a .331 average with nine homers and 73 RBIs. Anna also bats left-handed and he can play second, third, shortstop and the two corner outfield spots. He lacks speed and range in the field but his fielding is above average. So a good spring could catapult Anna into a backup spot with the Yankees. He could be valuable in that Roberts has spent the past four seasons battling injuries. He also could win the primary starting spot over Johnson at third. The Yankees can’t wait to see what Anna can do this spring.

Sizemore, 29, was a hot minor leaguer like Anna in 2009 when he batted .308 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs at two stops in the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system. He was handed the starting second base job for the Tigers in 2010 and he promptly handed it back by hitting .224 in 48 games. He did not fare much better by hitting .245 in 110 games for the Tigers in 2011. For the past two seasons Sizemore has had two separate surgeries for a torn ACL in his left knee. He reinjured the ACL just 10 days into the 2013 season with the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Sizemore is working out with the Yankees but he is not going all-out just yet. Sizemore has hopes of winning a job as a backup at second and third base. As a right-handed hitter, Sizemore could be of use if he could recapture his old form. The odds are not in his favor but Sizemore is not one to give up that easily.

Canzler, 28, is different from the other three because he can play first base. With Teixeira coming off surgery to repair the sheath in his right wrist, having someone on the roster who can first would be a plus. The current depth chart lists Johnson as the backup there but Johnson has started only two games in his career there. That was why the Yankees re-signed Canzler to a minor-league contract after they cut him loose from the 40-man roster when the team signed designated hitter Tracis Hafner last February. Canzler spent the 2013 season at Triple A, first with the Baltimore Orioles and later with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted a combined .252 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s real value is that he can play both corner infield and both corner outfield spots. That means if the right-handed slugger is impressive he could end up in a platoon with Johnson at third and back up for Teixiera at first. That is why Canzler bears watching so closely this spring.

FOUR BULLPEN SPOTS

The Candidates: Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Bailey, Phelps, Warren, Nuno and Dellin Betances

Robertson is a lock at closer. Thornton and Kelly seem to safe as late-inning options. The Yankees are also very high on the first two names on the candidate list, Cabral and Claiborne. Both made their major-league debuts last season and both impressed manager Joe Girardi. Cabral, 25, missed all of the 2012 season and most of 2013 after fracturing his left elbow in his final spring appearance in 2012. The big left-hander is deadly to left-handed hitters and the Yankees covet a specialist as they had in Clay Rapada in 2012. Something they did not have in 2013. That why it is almost certain that Cabral will make the team, barring injury.

Claiborne, 26, did not walk his first major-league batter until his 15th appearance. He also carried a 2.13 ERA into August before he was shuttled from Scranton to New York five times. His control left him and he got shelled hard in his final 11 games. But the Yankees think very highly of Claiborne. With Logan and Joba Chamberlain gone, the Yankees have a need for Claiborne in their bullpen. Girardi only wants to see the youngster attacking the strike zone consistently this spring to add him to the roster.

Bailey, 29, is the former closer for the A’s and the Boston Red Sox. However, a series of injuries have derailed his once-promising career. After saving 75 games for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, Bailey was acquired by the Red Sox but he endured an injury-plagued 2012 season, pitching in only 19 games and recording a 7.04 ERA. He began 2013 well but ended up having right shoulder surgery in July. The Bosox opted to cut him from the roster by not tendering him a contract. He will not be ready to pitch to start the season. But the Yankees are hoping he may be able to bolster the bullpen later. If he comes back healthy he could very well become the team’s setup man.

The other two bullpen spots likely will go to the losers of the No. 5 starter competition – with the exception of Pineda. If Pineda is not ready to pitch in the majors the Yankees likely will keep him for some while in extended spring training in Tampa, FL. They then would ship him to some rehab assignments before they choose to bring him up later in the season.

That leaves Phelps, Warren and Nuno to fight for the last two spots in addition to a former top-rated starting prospect in Dellin Betances. Betances, 25, was shifted into a bullpen role last season after he struggled with his command as a starter. The result is that Betances is on the verge of becoming a dominant relief pitcher with much better control. He made his major-league debut in September after posting a 6-4 record and a 2.68 ERA with five saves at Scranton. Betances struck out 108 while walking 42 over 84 innings in 38 (six starts) games . Betances looks to be a budding future closer candidate and the Yankees could have him up sometime in 2014 if he does not make the team this spring.

 

Here Are Five Key Yankees To Watch This Spring

Spring training is here!

We are days away from the New York Yankees’ spring home opener and camp is already abuzz about Derek Jeter’s final season, the anticipation of seeing Japanese star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the new boatload of free agents the team signed like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.

But before the games begin I have picked five players to watch this spring. They are not necessarily big names but they do bear watching because of how they will affect the makeup of the Yankees’ 25-man roster that will open the season.

In reverse order of importance, here are the five:

NO. 5 – DEAN ANNA, 27, INFIELDER

The name may not be familiar because Anna played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in Tucson and he batted .331 with nine homers and 73 RBIs in 132 games. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade with the Padres for minor-league right-hander Ben Paulus. Anna is primarily a second baseman but he also has logged time at shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots in his pro career. That versatility makes him potentially valuable to the Yankees if he can hit anywhere near his .286 minor-league career average.  Anna will be battling Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore for a backup infielding spot on the roster. His acquisition shows the Yankees do not have much faith in the development of Corban Joseph and David Adams was released after he flopped in his brief major-league trial last season. With injury-plagued veteran second baseman Brian Roberts as the starter and with Kelly Johnson the primary starter at third base with the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, Anna could back up at both positions. He has the bat to produce and his glove is more than adequate. If Anna impresses the Yankees, Nunez could be packaged in a deal to strengthen the bullpen or bench. If Anna fails to make the roster, he will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he will be phone call away should any of the infielders get injured during the season. Watch him closely.

NO. 4 – PRESTON CLAIBORNE, 26, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER

Claiborne was recalled from Scranton and made his major-league debut on May 5. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander made an immediate impression on manager Joe Girardi by not walking a single batter in his first 14 appearances. If you want to get on Girardi’s good side you don’t walk batters. Claiborne did that and also impressed everyone with his effectiveness out of the bullpen. By Aug. 9, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.08 in 33 games. The Texas native, who was nicknamed “Little Joba,” for his resemblance to Joba Chamberlain had actually supplanted his namesake in the bullpen pecking order. However, a roster numbers crunch forced the Yankees to send Claiborne back and forth from the Bronx to Scranton five times in a 10-day period in August. Claiborne was not the same the rest of the season. In his final 11 appearances, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent losses of Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan, Claiborne will get a chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues. If he does and pitches as he did initially in 2013, the Yankees might have a stronger bullpen than the experts imagine. Claiborne has the ability. It is just a matter of doing well this spring,

NO. 3 – RUSS CANZLER, 27, INFIELDER/OUTFIELDER

Canzler actually was acquired by the Yankees last winter but was designated for assignment before the exhibition season started because the team had signed designated hitter Travis Hafner. Canzler instead was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles, sent to their Triple-A affiliate and then traded late in the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two minor-league stops, Canzler batted .252 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s value is that he is capable of playing both infield corner spots as well as both corner outfield spots. Last season he started 42 games at first, 13 at third and 16 in the outfield. He even started one game at second base. But Canzler’s calling card is power. The right-handed hitter has 118 career home runs in the minors. The reason he intrigues the Yankees is because the current depth chart lists Johnson as the primary backup to Mark Teixeira at first base. Teixeira is coming off surgery on his right wrist after playing in only 15 games last season. The Yankees could stand to have a player who can play the position. Johnson has only made two major-league starts at first. So Canzler could make the roster if he has an impressive spring. That would allow him to platoon with Johnson at third and back up Teixeira at first and he could even log some time in the outfield, if needed. The odds of Canzler making it are slim. But he bears watching.

NO. 2 – CESAR CABRAL, 25, LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER

Bad luck forced this 2012 Rule V draft pick from the Kansas City Royals via the Boston Red Sox to delay his major-league debut. Cabral came into camp in 2012 as a candidate to be a lefty specialist out the bullpen. Throughout the spring, Cabral battled Clay Rapada until the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dominican fractured his elbow in his final appearance of the spring. He did not pitch at all in 2012 and he missed the early stages of the 2013 season while rehabbing the injury. But once he got started, Cabral got rolling. In three minor-league stops he was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. That does not look impressive but he struck out 43 batters in 36 2/3 innings. That got him a September call-up to the Yankees. Cabral took advantage of the opportunity by going 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings in eight games. Lefties hit .125 off him. Girardi was very impressed and Cabral enters the spring with an excellent chance of making the team as a lefty specialist. The other lefties on the team’s 40-man roster are starters and the two non-roster invitee lefties, Fred Lewis and Francisco Rondon, are huge longshots to make the roster. Cabral is worth watching because he has 376 career strikeouts in 383 2/3 innings in the minors. With the bevy of strong left-handed hitters such as David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and our old buddy Robinson Cano around, it helps to have a effective lefty who can get them out. Cabral could be that guy for the Yankees.

NO. 1 – MICHAEL PINEDA, 25, RIGHT-HANDED STARTER

This selection was really a no-brainer. Since the Yankees elected to trade promising prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Pineda and right-hander Jose Campos in 2012, the anticipation of seeing what Pineda could do has been palpable. After he made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in his rookie season in Seattle, the Yankees could not wait to see this 6-foot-7, 260-pound righty bring out his best. Unfortunately, Pineda showed up to camp overweight in 2012 and he did not pitch well during the exhibition season. His velocity was down and he was getting hit hard. It ended with a shellacking from the Philadephia Phillies in his last start of the spring and Pineda admitted after the game his right shoulder was sore. That led to surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. Pineda, as a result, missed the entire 2012 season and he was not ready to answer the bell at the start of the 2013 season either. Pineda made three stops in the minors last season with hopes of receiving a call back to the majors in September. He was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings in 10 starts. But minor soreness in the surgically repaired shoulder ended his season. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the free-agent loss of Phil Hughes, the Yankees want Pineda to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation. They figure it is about time he produce something. Pineda will battle right-handers David Phelps and Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno for the spot. But the smart money is on Pineda. His velocity may not be what it was but the Yankees think he can be effective. We will soon find out how effective Pineda can be.

 

 

Yankees’ Post-Rivera Bullpen Still Looks Talented

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

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

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

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

The question is who will take Mo’s place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yanks’ 8-Run Deluge In 4th Drowns Hapless Chisox

GAME 136

YANKEES 9, WHITE SOX1

They had to be wondering when  –  or even if  –  it was ever going to stop. What started out as a just a trickle became a torrent and there was nothing but dark angry clouds overhead.

I am not talking about the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,125 that had to brave a one-hour and 53-minute rain delay and halted the game with one out in the top of the second inning. I am speaking about the Chicago White Sox during the Yankees’ eight-run bottom of the fourth inning as 13 batters came to the plate in a frame that took 32 minutes to play.

New York rode that eight-run explosion  –  the team’s largest run total of any inning this season  –  to a comfortable thrashing of last-place Chicago in a Labor Day matinee.

The Yankees began the inning with a 1-0 lead with which Derek Jeter had staked them on an RBI single following a leadoff double by Brett Gardner off left-hander Jose Quintana (7-5) in the bottom of the first.

Alex Rodriguez opened the fourth with a double off right-hander Dylan Axelrod, who replaced Quintana after the rain delay in the bottom of the second. Vernon Wells then reached on an infield single and Curtis Granderson drew a walk to load the bases.

Mark Reynolds opened the scoring with an infield single that scored Rodriguez. Austin Romine followed with a two-run single to center and Gardner stroked his second double of the day to score Reynolds and advance Romine to third.

Jeter scored Romine on an infield roller to third and, one out later, Alfonso Soriano laced an RBI double to left to score Gardner and advance Jeter to third.

After Rodriguez walked to reload the bases, White Sox manager Robin Ventura lifted Axelrod in favor of right-hander Jeff Petricka.

Wells grounded into what appeared to be a routine inning-ending double-play ball to Adam Dunn at first. However, Dunn’s toss to second base was behind shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which allowed Jeter and Soriano to score and left Rodriguez safe on the error at second.

That gave the Yankees a 9-0 lead over a White Sox team that had swept them in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from Aug. 5-7.

Veteran left-hander David Huff (2-0) relieved starter Phil Hughes after the rain delay with one out in the second inning and pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball to gain credit for the victory.

Paul Konerko connected for a solo home run  –  his 10th of the season  –  with one out in the seventh to account for the only run for the Chisox.

Huff yielded five hits, walked none and fanned three batters to pick up his second victory with the Yankees.

Axelrod, on the other hand, was shelled for eight runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks and struck one in 2 1/3 innings.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 73-64 and they are eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. However, the Yankees are just three games back in the wild-card standings. The White Sox fell to 58-80.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Jeter entered the game hitting .167 in the 11 games in which he played this season. But Jeter broke through by going 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBIs. Jeter also looked good advancing to third on a fly ball to right off the bat of Robinson Cano in the first inning. Jeter’s two hits raised his season average to .196.
  • Gardner was 2-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. In his past four games, Gardner is 7-for-17 (.412) with five doubles, five runs scored and two RBIs. The hot streak has raised Gardner’s season average to .273 and he has eight homers and 45 RBIs out of the leadoff spot.
  • Huff, 29, has been excellent since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 16. In his five appearances, Huff has given up just one run on six hits and a walk while striking out 10 batters in 16 innings of work. That is an ERA of 0.56 and a WHIP of 0.43. If Hughes loses his starting spot it most definitely will be given to the left-hander.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After Sunday’s disastrous bullpen meltdown and after being swept this same White Sox team a month ago, it was good to see the Yankees put the game away early. The Yankees can’t afford to let teams think they still have a chance to win when they have a lead. They nailed the door shut and got the White Sox to give up early. I have nothing critical to say.

BOMBER BANTER

After being called up and being sent down five times in a 10-day period, Preston Claiborne was recalled  –  likely for the rest of the season  –  from Class-A Tampa on Monday by the Yankees. The Yankees now have 31 players on their expanded September roster, including 11 relief pitchers. Claiborne, 25, is 0-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 37 appearances with the Yankees this season.  . . .  Left-hander Cesar Cabral and catcher J.R. Murphy both made their major-league debuts on Monday for the Yankees and Murphy’s insertion into the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning for Robinson Cano set an all-time record for the Yankees when they used their 52nd player of the season. Murphy, 22, collected his first major-league hit in that pinch-hitting appearance, drilling a hot shot to third that was scored an infield hit. Meanwhile, Cabral, 24, pitched a scoreless eighth inning, giving up one hit and striking out two batters. Cabral, a left-hander, missed all of the 2012 season after suffering a stress fracture in his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the White Sox on Tuesday.

Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.89 ERA) will get the nod for the Yankees. The 39-year-old right-hander has been blasted for 12 runs in his past two outings and needs to get back to his previous form for the Yankees to have a shot of winning a playoff spot. Kuroda is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA in his career against the Chisox.

The White Sox will counter with left-hander Chris Sale (10-12, 2.99 ERA). Sale set a franchise record with his fourth start of 12 strikeouts or more in a victory over the Houston Astros. He has a personal high of 193 strikeouts for the season. He is 2-0 with 0.49 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Nova Tosses Goose Eggs As Yankees Down Birds

GAME 135

YANKEES 2, ORIOLES 0

When Ivan Nova took the mound on Saturday he carried the weight of a pennant race, a proud franchise and a paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 42,836 on his broad shoulders. After watching him pitch, though, it appeared as if he was toying with the Baltimore Orioles as he calmly and cooly retired them one after another.

The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander surrendered only three hits and a walk while he fanned five en route to a complete-game shutout over Baltimore to allow the Yankees to claim third place in the American League East standings.

Nova (8-4) threw only 104 pitches in recording his first major-league shutout over an Oriole team that did more flailing at Nova’s sharp curveball than a dodo bird pointlessly trying to take flight.

Nova received all the support he really required in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner led off with a sharply stroked double down the right-field line off Orioles right-hander Scott Feldman (11-10). One out later, Robinson Cano laced a double of his own off the right-field wall to score Gardner.

The game remained 1-0 until Feldman left the game after seven innings, giving up just the one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Left-hander Troy Patton opened the eighth by throwing a 2-1 slider that Cano drove over the auxiliary scoreboard in right and about 12 rows back for his 25th home run of the season, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Nova only gave up a bloop single off the bat of Matt Wieters with no outs in the second inning, a ground-ball single to left by Manny Machado with two out in the sixth and an infield single off Nova’s glove by Nate McLouth to leadoff the ninth.

Nova opened the second by hitting Adam Jones on a 1-0 pitch and Wieters followed with his single. But Nova escaped the jam by retiring Nick Markakis on a double-play grounder and J.J. Hardy flew out with Jones on third to retire the side.

Nova also hit Chris Davis with a errant curve with one out in the fifth. But Nova retired Jones and Wieters to end that inning.

Nova also walked Hardy to lead off the eighth but he then induced Wilson Betemit to hit into a double play and ended the inning by cutting down Brian Roberts on a come-backer to the mound.

After McLouth’s single in the ninth, Nova got Machado on a routine fly to left, survived a scare when Davis flew out to the warning track in right and ended the game by getting Jones on a line drive to short.

Since returning to the rotation as full-time starter on July 5  –  ironically with a complete-game 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium over the Orioles  –  Nova is 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his 10 starts during that span.

The Yankees not only have won this crucial three-game weekend series with the Orioles. They now are 72-63 and are a half-game ahead of the Orioles in third place in the division. The Orioles fell to 71-63. In addition, the Cleveland Indians lost 10-5 to the Detroit Tigers, which allowed the Yankees to move ahead of the Indians in third place in the wild-card standings, four games away from a playoff spot.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes struggling of late, Nova came through with one his best starts in of his career. Nova threw no more than 16 pitches in any inning and retired the Orioles in six frames on 12 pitches or less. Nova also allowed the vaunted Yankee bullpen to get a well-deserved day off. After falling off measurably last season and spending most of the first half of this season on the disabled list, Nova is becoming the pitcher the Yankees thought he was when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season in 2010.
  • Cano was pretty much the team’s offense again on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. Cano finished August by batting a sizzling .370 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He has raised his season average to .309 and he leads the Yankees in home runs (25) and RBIs (89).
  • Gardner reached base in three of his four plate appearances and ended up 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored. Gardner’s double in the first inning gave him 133 hits for the season, which is a career high. Gardner had 132 hits in both 2010 and 2011. Gardner struggled in August, hitting just .238 with a home run and nine RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

There is nothing negative to this effort. Nova was sensational from his first pitch to his last, Cano provided the team just enough offense and the defense helped Nova mow down the Orioles like tall blades of grass. This was a very important victory for the Yankees. But they can’t rest on their laurels. They have to keep winning.

BOMBER BANTER

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez had to be scratched late from the starting lineup due to weakness associated from flu-like symptoms. Mark Reynolds was moved from first base to third base to replace Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay was inserted into the lineup to play first. Overbay, who entered the game hitless in his past 16 at-bats, was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles in the game. Manager Joe Girardi said he is hopeful that Rodriguez will be able to play on Sunday.  . . .  Since Aug. 16 the Yankees can boast of having the best bullpen in the major leagues. In that span, the bullpen has an ERA of 1.05 with a 3-0 record and five saves.  . . .  The Yankees are undecided about what players and how many players they will add when the rosters expand on Sunday. The only obvious choice will be the recall of rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne to bolster the bullpen.

ON DECK

The Yankees can collect a sweep of the Orioles on Sunday and put some distance between them in the division.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.05 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pettitte, 41, has won his past three starts and he is coming off the seven scoreless innings he threw against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA against the Orioles.

The Orioles will counter with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 3.76 ERA). Chen was shelled for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday in what Chen said was the worst start of his career. Chen is 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

 

Red-Hot Yankees Take Out Brooms On Blue Jays

GAME 127

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

If the Yankees could play the Blue jays every day they would never have to worry about making the playoffs. After sitting out a three-hour and thirty-two minute rain delay on Thursday the Yankees showed Canada’s team that trying to beat them these days is pretty much a futile exercise.

The Yankees got six strong innings out of Andy Pettitte and they used some timely hitting in the middle innings to sweep Toronto in the four-game series and end the 2013 season with a 10-0 record against them at home in front of a paid crowd of 40,116.

The Yankees not only have won five in a row and 11 of their past 14 games, but they also moved to within 3 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot with 35 games left to play in the season.

Pettitte (9-9) held the Jays to just one run on four hits and three walks while he fanned three to win his second straight start after not having won in his previous five starts. Pettitte also evened his record as he has never recorded a losing season in his 18 years in the majors.

The Blue Jays scored their only run off Pettitte when J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers.

But the Yankees quickly evened it up at the start of the bottom of the fifth when Curtis Granderson launched a rocket of his own into the second deck in right-field off left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3) for his fourth home run of the season.

In a sense it was a bit of retribution for Granderson because it was Happ who hit him in the right forearm on the first pitch he saw in his first spring training game on Feb. 24 and it forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

The Yankees ended up taking the lead later in the inning but how it unfolded and how they scored the run was just about as bizarre as it can get.

With one out, Happ walked Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart followed with a single to center. The Yankees then loaded the bases when Happ issued a walk to Ichiro Suzuki.

Vernon Wells then slapped a sinking line drive into center-field that replays showed was caught on a sliding attempt by Rajai Davis.

However, first-base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball was trapped and Davis threw the ball to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki as Nunez tagged up and headed home with the lead run.

Kawasaki first tagged Stewart off second base and then tagged Suzuki on second base. Stewart was ruled out and Suzuki was ruled safe. However, the Yankees got credit for the run because Nunez touched home plate just before Stewart was tagged.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued the call and was ejected by Barry. Moments later crew chief Ted Barrett also gave Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle the heave-ho.

Despite the missed catch call Nunez would have scored the tie-breaking run in either case.

The Yankees then broke the game open and chased Happ in the sixth inning when Happ walked both Alex Rodriguez and Granderson with one out.

Right-hander Brad Lincoln was summoned from the bullpen and he promptly loaded the bases by walking Mark Reynolds. Nunez followed with a two-run single to right-center.

Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup then relieved Lincoln and Stewart closed out the Yankees’ scoring for the evening by plating Reynolds on a sensational grab of a grounder and a jump throw from well into foul territory by third baseman Brett Lawrie.

Happ was charged with four runs on three hits and five walks while he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings. The other run was charged to Lincoln.

The Blue Jays did make it interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Shawn Kelley on an RBI single by Kawasaki and a RBI groundout off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.

But Boone Logan shut the door on the rally by striking out Adam Lind with two on and two out.

Rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne, who was just recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, pitched a scoreless eighth and David Robertson twirled a perfect ninth to earn his second save because Mariano Rivera was unavailable to pitch.

The Yankees’ season record now stands at 67-59 and they remain six games behind first-place Boston in fourth place in the American League East. The Blue Jays are now 57-71 and they remain deep in the division basement.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After struggling much of the summer, Pettitte is showing signs of coming around. In his past two starts he has yielded only four runs (one earned) on 10 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.71. If the Yankees are to make a legitimate run a playoff spot they will need their No. 4 starter to pitch well.
  • Nunez two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning proved to be the back-breaker for the Blue Jays. Nunez is having much more success at the plate. Since Aug. 7, Nunez is 17-for-50 (.340) with a home run and nine RBIs. It is shame he is likely to lose his starting spot to Derek Jeter this weekend.
  • Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. But he actually helped win the game with his glove in the fifth inning. After Arencibia’s homer, the Jays loaded the bases with one out when Reyes reached on an infield single. Davis then smashed a scorching ground ball that Rodriguez was able to glove before it scooted past him. He then stepped on third and threw to first to double up the speedy Davis to end the inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the Yankees win five in a row there is not much to complain about. The team is finding ways to win games and a large part of it is the batting order they now have is not the one of three weeks ago that looked like the team was playing a split-squad game in Clearwater, FL, in March. The pitching is beginning to shine again also.

BOMBER BANTER

The human yo-yo, Claiborne, was recalled on Thursday to replace infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-man roster. Nix likely will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured left hand he suffered when he was struck by a pitch from R.A. Dickey in second inning of Wednesday’s game.  Last Friday, Claiborne was optioned to the RailRiders to make room for Reynolds on the roster. On Tuesday, he was called up as the team’s 26th roster player for a doubleheader with the Blue Jays and he was sent back to Scranton the next day. But on Thursday he was back with the team.  . . .  Jeter batted second and played shortstop on Friday in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild calf strain, likely will play another rehab game for Scranton on Friday and he could rejoin the Yankees on Saturday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a critical weekend road series with the Rays on Friday.

Ace right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.41 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is looking to bounce back after giving up 11 hits on Saturday in a loss to the Red Sox. It was just his second loss in his past eight starts. Kuroda is 2-1 with 6.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.

Right-hander Chris Archer (6-5, 2.95 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Archer allowed one run on four hits in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday but he did not get a decision. He is 2-0 with 0.60 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.