YANKEES 4, MARINERS 3
The epic showdown between former American League Cy Young Award winners Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia on Tuesday may have ended in what could be scored a draw. But the New York Yankees ended up victorious by virtue of a technical knockout of Hernandez.
Trailing 3-1 when “King Felix” abdicated the mound, New York rallied for three runs in the seventh inning off the Mariners’ bullpen to defeat Seattle in front of a paid crowd of 41,267 at Yankee Stadium.
Reliever Shawn Kelley (2-0) bailed Sabathia out of a jam in the top of the seventh with runners on first and third and one out by striking out Kelly Shoppach and retiring former Yankees’ 2012 playoffs legend Raul Ibanez on a flyout to get credit for the victory.
Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his 624th career save and his 16th save in as many chances this season.
Mariners left-hander Charlie Furbush (0-2) was saddled with the loss.
Lyle Overbay, who in some way “caused” Hernandez to leave the game, and Robinson Cano keyed the crucial rally in the seventh.
Chris Nelson led off the frame with a bloop single to center off right-hander Yoervis Medina and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Austin Romine struck out swinging, Mariners manager Eric Wedge summoned Furbush.
Brett Gardner drew a walk and Cano followed by lacing a 3-2 slider off the base of the wall in right-center to score Nelson and Gardner to tie the game at 3-3.
Wedge elected to have Furbush walk Vernon Wells intentionally but Furbush also ended up walking Curtis Granderson – who was activated from the 15-day disabled list and was playing in his first game of the season – to load the bases.
That brought up Overbay, who had stroked a two-out double off Hernandez in the sixth to plate the Yankees’ first run of the night. After working the count to 3-2, Overbay laced a line drive to deep center that easily scored Cano with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Hernandez had been in control against the Yankees much of the night. However, a misplay by Hernandez that led to a collision with Overbay in the fourth inning doomed him.
With one out and Wells on first, Overbay hit a bouncer that just eluded a dive by first baseman Kendrys Morales but the ball was gloved by second baseman Robert Andino, who double-clutched and threw to Morales at first base. However, Hernandez also came over to cover first and was standing in the baseline behind Morales when Overbay collided with him, striking the back of Hernandez’s left knee.
Though first-base umpire Alan Porter originally called Overbay out, the umpiring crew discussed the play, ruled Hernandez was guilty of obstruction and awarded first base to Overbay.
Hernandez noticeably limped and stretched out his back throughout the rest of his outing until he was removed after six innings. The 27-year-old ace yielded one run on five hits and two walks while he punched out eight batters.
The Mariners, meanwhile were able to build a 3-0 lead on Sabathia.
They scored an unearned run in the third when, with one out ,Overbay committed a fielding error on a ball off the bat of Michael Saunders. One out later, Kyle Seager ripped a double to the wall in right-center to score Saunders.
They padded their lead in the sixth when Shoppach slapped a first-pitch single to the opposite field in right and Ibanez, who hit three dramatic late-inning home runs for the Yankees during the 2012 playoffs, showed the fans what they were missing when he roped a two-run home run into the first row of the bleachers in right-field.
Sabathia left in the seventh having given up three runs (two earned) on a season-high 10 hits and two walks but he also fanned season-high 10 in 6 1/3 innings.
With the come-from-behind victory the Yankees are now 8-2 in one-run games this season.
The Yankees have also won seven of their past eight games and they improved their season record to 25-14. They also extended their lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles to two games in the American League East. The Mariners are now 18-21.
- Though Overbay committed his second error of the season and misplayed another ground ball by Ibanez that was ruled a single, his contributions at the plate have been huge all season. He was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and he is hitting .256 with six home runs and 24 RBIs. In fact, his RBI total is only one behind the team leader, Cano, who has 25.
- Cano came through in the clutch against a left-hander on a night the Yankees ended up 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Cano was 2-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs. The two hits pushed his season average back over the .300 mark at .306. He came in hitting .299.
- Rivera remains perfect in saves this season and he needed only 11 pitches to close out the Mariners in the ninth. The Yankees bullpen trio of Kelley, David Robertson and Rivera held the M’s s off the board over the final 2 2/3 innings to extend the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 23 2/3 innings, which extends back to May 5.
- Sabathia did not pitch well in this game. The Mariners had at least one base-runner on in every inning against him except the first inning. In the fourth they loaded the bases with two out, but Sabathia escaped the jam by fanning Saunders swinging. Sabathia left in the seventh having thrown 112 pitches.
- Granderson had a rough return to lineup having to face Hernandez. It showed. Granderson grounded into a double play in the first, struck out swinging in the fourth and hit into a fielder’s choice in the sixth. But he did draw a key walk in the seventh against Furbush that set up Overbay’s game-winning sac fly.
- Romine also had a rough night. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he is now hitting .071. Romine also misplayed a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Brendan Ryan in the eighth inning. Robertson earlier had walked pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley on four pitches to open the inning. Romine fielded the bunt and tried to throw out Ackley at second instead of taking the sure out at first. But Ackley beat the throw. Robertson escaped the jam by striking out Saunders and retiring pinch-hitter Justin Smoak on an unassisted double-play liner to shortstop Jayson Nix.
Granderson returned to the lineup since breaking his right forearm on his first at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24 and he batted fourth and played left-field. In order to get Granderson on the 25-man roster the Yankees optioned rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre a day after he won his first major-league game in first major-league start by pitching five shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians. . . . It would not be the Yankees if on the same day they get one player back (Granderson) they possibly lost another for a period of time. Designated hitter Travis Hafner, 35, did not play in Tuesday’s game because of tendinitis in his chronic problem right shoulder. An MRI taken on the shoulder was negative but Hafner did receive a cortisone injection for the inflammation. He is listed as day-to-day.
The Yankees will continue their three-game home set against the Mariners on Wednesday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (2-2, 4.43 ERA) will get the call for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off his second straight victory, but he gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out three against the Kansas City Royals on Friday. Hughes is 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA against the M’s in his career.
Hughes will be opposed by right-hander Hasashi Iwakuma (4-1, 1.74 ERA). Iwakuma, 32, gave up two runs on four hits and punched out nine in seven innings in a victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday. In his two starts against the Bronx Bombers last season he was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 9, BLUE JAYS 4
A lot of the experts predicted the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League East in 2013 and that the injury-riddled New York Yankees would finish in last place. I wonder after watching Friday’s game at Roger’s Centre if those so-called “experts” feel the same way.
Andy Pettitte showed no signs of any problems with his back in pitching into the eighth inning and the Yankees teed off on the Blue Jays for three home runs – two of them by former Blue Jays – as New York pounded Toronto in front of a paid crowd of 40,028.
Pettitte (3-0) gave up three runs on six hits and one walk while he struck out five in 7 1/3 innings to notch his 23rd career victory against the Blue Jays. The 40-year-old left-hander had not pitched in 10 days because his spot in the rotation was skipped due to back spasms.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to build Pettitte a huge lead early against right-hander Brandon Morrow (0-2).
The Yankees scored two runs in the opening frame on Travis Hafner’s RBI double and a RBI groundout off the bat of former Blue Jays Vernon Wells.
They added three more runs in the third inning on Hafner’s fifth home run of the season and a two-base throwing on Toronto center-fielder Colby Rasmus that allowed two unearned runs to score.
The Yankees finally chased Morrow in the sixth when former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay led off with a solo home run and Francisco Cervelli slapped an opposite-field ground-rule double.
Jays manager John Gibbons replaced Morrow with left-hander Brett Cecil and Brett Gardner greeted him with an RBI triple. Robinson Cano then scored Gardner and on an RBI groundout to make the score 8-1.
Wells, who was booed heavily by Blue Jays fans each time he was introduced, closed out the scoring for the Yankees by slapping a line-drive home run to left off Cecil in the seventh.
Morrow gave up seven runs (five earned) on nine hits and one walk and he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings of work.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 9-6. The Blue Jays fell to 7-10.
- Hafner’s early-season hot streak continued on Friday. He was 2-for-5 with a double, a home run, a run scored and two RBIs. He now leads in the team in hitting with a .349 average. He also is tied for the team lead in home runs with Cano with five and second to Cano in RBIs with 10.
- Wells and Overbay came back to the Rogers Centre with a vengeance. They were a combined 3-for-10 with a single, two home runs and three RBIs. Both were booed heavily throughout the game by the fans that used to cheer them. But they both also got a measure of revenge of against the team for which they used to toil.
- Pettitte did give up a leadoff triple to Rajai Davis that led to an RBI groundout by Melky Cabrera in the inning. He also gave up a two-run home run to Jose Bautista in the seventh following a Cabrera single. But the rest of night he was in command. He threw only 90 pitches on the night and 61 of them were strikes (68 percent). He also lowered his season ERA to 2.01.
- Kevin Youkilis was 0-for-4 and he is in a bit of batting slump over his past six games. He is 3-for-25 (.120) with no home runs or RBIs. That has lowered his season average from .424 to .293.
- Eduardo Nunez is also in a bit of a batting funk. He was 0-for-4 and his season average is at .206. Nunez got the news on Thursday that he will have a chance to start at shortstop until Derek Jeter returns after the All-Star break but he might lose the role to Jayson Nix if he does not produce.
- Shawn Kelley came in to pitch the final 1 2/3 innings and he could not resist giving up a solo home run to J. P. Arencibia with two outs in the ninth. Kelley has been tagged for four home runs in just seven innings over five appearances this season. His season ERA is 9.00.
For those baseball experts who thought the Yankees would be in big trouble without Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list and with free agents like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez elsewhere here is a statistic for you to chew on. The Yankees lead the American League with 25 homers.
The Yankees will continue their weekend three-game series in Toronto on Saturday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 2.87 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda is coming off a complete-game shutout against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. He gave up five hits, walked none and fanned five. Kuroda, 38, is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA lifetime against the Jays.
The Jays will counter with left-hander Mark Buehrle (1-0, 7.31 ERA). Buehrle shut down his former Chicago White Sox teammates on just two runs for his first victory of the season. He is 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, RAYS 1
Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.
Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters. His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.
The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.
Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.
Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.
- Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
- In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
- Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
- Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
- Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.
The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.
The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.
The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.
Well, the worst-kept secret through the New York Yankees’ rumor mill became a reality on Thursday. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner will be swapping outfield positions this spring.
Manager Joe Girardi said that Granderson will play left and Gardner will play center this spring in an “experiment” to gauge if the move will improve the Yankees’ defense. Of course, Girardi always has the prerogative to change his mind and switch them back, but it doubtful that will be the case.
Gardner, 29, has provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense in left-field – when healthy – since the 2009 season.
Granderson, 31, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers before the 2010 season, has played center-field, at times, shakily. Granderson does not make instinctive reads on balls and loses some. He also takes strange routes to balls and he has to rely a lot on his speed to make up for his mistakes.
The Yankees also have asked him to get his vision checked on a few occasions.
So the move of Gardner to center was almost inevitable and it looks like it could become permanent.
Granderson also is playing in the last year of his four-year contract and it is no secret that the Yankees are not looking to keep him by signing him to multiyear extension. So it makes sense to make the shift now because it is whole lot easier to find a quality player who can play left than it is to find someone with the skills to play good defense in center.
The Yankees are actually quite fortunate that they have three starting outfielders who are capable of playing center, which includes Ichiro Suzuki, 39. Not many teams can say that.
However, there is a big difference from saying someone is capable of playing center than it is to say that someone is better off playing the corner positions. The Seattle Mariners made that decision some years ago with Suzuki because Franklin Gutierrez had more range in center and Suzuki’s arm was perfect for right.
The Yankees are just making a similar decision with Granderson.
With all the talk this offseason that the Yankees offense took a major hit with the departures of Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones, it would seem that there would be a premium be placed on pitching and defense this season.
Moving Gardner does that and the Yankees actually boast in Granderson, Gardner and Suzuki one of the best fielding outfields in baseball. They have good speed, range and excellent arms. A good defensive outfield should pay off on preventing a few runs here and there from crossing the plate as the season unfolds.
Managers love it, pitchers love it and the fans will be happy too.
“I have a pretty good idea how they react in center and left, and they do a pretty good job. I just want to see if it improves or stays the same or what happens,” Girardi said. “More, in a sense, how they play individually, but how the tandem works together with covering from right-center all the way over.”
Granderson still considers himself a centerfielder but said that he is good with the move. He said he would have more of an issue if he was benched entirely. Moving to left seems to be a better option than that and so he will play the good soldier.
Gardner has always considered himself a centerfielder. But when he came up in 2009, Melky Cabrera was already entrenched in center. Granderson’s arrival in 2010 pretty much meant he would stay in left since Granderson had not played left since 2007, and only then to play just a handful of games there.
So 2013 is Gardner’s year to shine in center.
But that does not mean Granderson is unimportant in left. Because of the amount of real estate in left-center at Yankee Stadium, leftfielders must possess the range and the ability to cut balls off in the alleys. Granderson can do that and that is why it should not really much of an issue come late May.
The novelty will wear off and there will be other things to talk about.
But the bottom line here is that the Yankees are making a move that is a positive step for the team’s defense and it is going to work out well for both players.
NEWS AND NOTES
- The Yankees will open their spring schedule on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Field at Lake Buena Vista, FL. Right-hander David Phelps, 26, will start for the Yankees and he is expected to pitch two innings. Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm will pitch for the Braves. The game will start at 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on MLB Radio only.
- Girardi also announced that first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Eduardo Nunez will make the trip. In addition, catchers Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine will play with Cervelli getting the starting nod. After Phelps, right-handers Brett Marshall, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder and Chase Whitley and left-hander Nik Turley are scheduled to pitch.
- Girardi announced that after Adam Warren starts the Yankees home spring opener against a Toronto Blue Jays split squad on Sunday that left-hander Vidal Nuno and right-hander Jose Ramirez will start the next two games.
- Phil Hughes, 26, continues to feel better in his recovery from a bulging disk in his upper back. Hughes is taking anti-inflammatory medication and expects to be able to advance to working out in a pool in several days. He hopes to be able to return to action within two weeks.
- Alex Rodriguez issued a statement through his spokesman Thursday saying he is working out twice a day in New York in his recovery from hip surgery under the supervision of Dr. Bryan Kelly and trainer Pete Draovitch. Rodriguez is targeting a return to the team at midseason. Kelly performed Rodriguez’s two-hour operation in January at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
- For those of you planning to attend Saturday’s game at Disney’s Wide World Sports complex along with me you will not have to pay a dime for parking. That is the best part of seeing games here. But most of the stadium gets a pretty good dose of sun so you will need to lather on the sunblock.
- The Disney staff is generally accorded to be the best in customer service but last season I was not feeling it. Before the game began I was snapping photos of the Yankees during batting practice when a Disney attendant barked at me for being a section over behind home plate. It was more than an hour before the game and no one was sitting there. Huh? Much later I chose to leave the hot sun and watch the game from the standing-room section behind home plate. Another Disney attendant came up to me and yelled at me for – of all the most serious transgressions – having my right foot a half-inch over the line painted on the floor behind the section. I understand if you put your foot all the way over the line they have to stop the game and remove you for interfering with play. Geesh!
I started this blog in 2009 and I have vowed to my loyal readers that I would provide an unvarnished and journalistic approach to covering the New York Yankees. I feel I have fulfilled that promise and more over the years.
With the opening of spring exhibition games beginning for the Yankees on Feb. 23 against the Atlanta Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL, through the spring finale against the Washington Nationals in Washington, D.C. on March 29, I will be personally attending 18 games to provide reporting and analysis.
In addition, I will have access to one national television broadcast through ESPN and 13 additional games through radio broadcasts to ensure you will be getting complete and authoritative coverage of the Yankees this spring.
I will provide game coverage but I also will look at how the team is shaping up as a whole. I will look at the starting rotation, the bullpen battles, how the starting lineup is shaping up and how the young Yankees and spring invitees are doing in seeking roster spots.
If there is an injury that could affect the Yankees in 2013 you will know about it fast and accurately.
Last spring, I lamented through my game reports about how poorly the Yankees were hitting with men in scoring position. As we later learned, it became a significant issue for the team in the first half of the season and it was their ultimate undoing in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.
I will try to provide the same analysis that I have through the past three spring training schedules. It will be done as if I was the Yankees’ correspondent for yankees.com. I was passed over for that post some years ago despite the fact I have been a journalist for more than 20 years and have worked for a number prestigious newspapers and wrote my own syndicated sports column.
But their loss is your gain because I always tell the truth about the Yankees and I do not hold punches in order avoid angering players, coaches and club executives as yankees.com reporters do. I am free to speak my mind and tell you that Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross around the necks of the Yankees and will be through the 2017 season.
I also have already told you my belief that Phil Hughes would be more suited and more effective of he pitched out the bullpen rather than basically a two-pitch starter.
Earlier this winter, I wrote how the Yankees are missing so much of their power from the 2012 club (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones) that manager Joe Girardi would be wise to use a more unconventional slash and dash approach using his better base-runners like Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter.
Call it the “Bronx Bunters.”
That would mean more bunting, hit and runs and base stealing instead of waiting for the home run. We will see if the Yankees implement that strategy this spring.
Join me for my reports direct from Tampa, FL, and I promise you will be ready and primed for my regular season game reports when the Yankees open their 2013 schedule at Yankee Stadium on April 1 when they will play host to the Boston Red Sox.
Thank you for those who have been my loyal readers and thank you to the new readers I have picked up along the way. I intend to give you the best information I can. Your feedback is always appreciated and encouraged.
Go Yankees in 2013!
With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.
Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.
Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.
Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.
In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.
Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.
Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.
Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.
Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.
Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.
Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.
Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.
He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.
With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.
The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.
The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.
The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.
Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.
However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.
Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.
Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:
CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.
INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.
OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.
PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
PHIL HUGHES (16-13, 4.19 ERA)
If you were casting a James Bond movie would you select Owen Wilson for the role? If you were casting a new dramatic Broadway play would you cast Zach Rogan?
Of course, the answer would be no to both. Yet the Yankees still insist on miscasting Phil Hughes as a starting pitcher.
They can point to his two full seasons as a starter in which he is a collective 34-21 with a 4.20 ERA. Considering the fact Hughes came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system as a highly touted starter, why shouldn’t he be a starter?
The reason he shouldn’t is not because of what Hughes has accomplished. It has more to do what he has failed to accomplish that limits his ceiling as a quality starter.
Hughes, 26, is basically a two-pitch starter: Fastball and curve. Efforts to add a cutter and a change-up have been met with mixed results. There is no doubt that with good run support he can remain a successful starter. But think back to a time when Hughes had his best success with the Yankees.
That was in 2009 when Hughes was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a fill-in starter and then, out of necessity, was shifted to the bullpen. Hughes’ two-pitch assortment was perfect for the bullpen and his fastball got some added zip during his short stints. Gradually manager Joe Girardi shifted him into the setup role in front of Mariano Rivera.
Hughes was simply sensational. His ERA, his WHIP and his strikeout rate were all better than Rivera’s in 2009 and Hughes became a major reason why the Yankees won their 27th world championship that season.
There is one huge reason why Hughes has not pitched out of the bullpen since and it has nothing to do with Hughes. It has to do with the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make it as a starting pitcher. Once the Yankees determined that Chamberlain was not suited to start they were not about to do the same with Hughes.
The Yankees did not want to suffer the indignity of having both of their prized homegrown youngsters in the bullpen. Besides, the bullpen has been crowded with hard throwers behind Rivera and Chamberlain like Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.
So Hughes became a starter in 2010 and he had so much initial success (he sported an 11-2 record at the All-Star break and he made the American League All-Star team) that those minor-league scout comparisons to Roger Clemens did not seem so farfetched anymore.
But after the break, the league caught up to him and he was a very pedestrian 7-6 the rest of the way.
High hopes for him in 2011 were very quickly dashed when he showed up to spring training with a noticeable drop in velocity. After getting blasted early and often in April, the Yankees placed him on the disabled list with weakness in his right shoulder. Though Hughes did return late that season, his 5-5 record and 5.79 ERA cast a lot of doubt on his future.
But Hughes worked his way back last season and he did pitch well enough to tie with Hiroki Kuroda for the team lead in victories with 16. Hughes also matched his season ERA of 4.19 in 2010. So not all the numbers were bad or disastrous.
There are still some numbers Hughes with which he can’t be pleased.
Hughes was vulnerable to the longball as the 35 home runs he surrendered in 191 1/3 innings pitched indicate. That was a home run given up every 5 1/2 innings.
Consistency has also been a problem. Hughes started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA before he rebounded to go 8-2 with a 3.34 from May 6 through July 1. From July 1 on, Hughes was pretty mediocre, going 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA the rest of the way.
Pitch count has also been problem for Hughes. In 14 of his 32 starts Hughes failed to pitch at least six innings. That was mostly due to elevated pitch counts coming from batters repeatedly fouling off pitch after pitch. Hughes basically succumbed in a lot of games due to just the attrition of pitches.
Another pitch in his arsenal would help Hughes with this problem but it appears that it is unlikely Hughes will be able to develop a major-league quality third pitch at this stage of his career.
So the Yankees are committed to Hughes as a starter but they are gong to have to accept his limitations. Absent another weapon what you currently see with Hughes is pretty much what you are going to get.
Though the top three pitchers on the staff (Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) might be able to adapt to getting a bit less in run support, Hughes might be severely harmed by the loss in power the Yankees suffered when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones signed with other teams in the offseason.
But with Chamberlain still in the bullpen, along with Robertson and Rivera, the fact that the Yankees top young pitchers such as Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are a long way away from being able to step into the starting rotation, Hughes will be forced to remain a starter this season.
How he fares may come down to his ability to adjust and adapt. At age 26 there is still time for him to improve. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild could be very valuable in putting the final pieces to the Hughes puzzle in place.
However, there is faction of Yankee fans who want Hughes to be traded for some young prospects. That would not seem to make much sense given the plight of Pineda, Banuelos and Betances and the fact that Ivan Nova has his own issues to deal with this spring.
It just seems to be a fact that Hughes is locked in as the team’s No. 4 starter and the Yankees can take comfort in the fact that they could do worse than have a pitcher who has won 34 games in his first two full-time seasons as a starter.
Hughes is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of the Yankees’ staff. He gets little respect for what he has done and he has taken far too much of the blame for what he has failed to accomplish.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander from southern California signed a one-year contract worth $7.15 million last week to avoid arbitration so Hughes can now concentrate on the task of getting ready for the 2013 season.
The Yankees are just hoping that the unusual amount of patience they have accorded a young pitcher in their system like Hughes is rewarded with a huge breakout season. But realistically, the Yankees should be happy if Hughes is healthy for a full season and ends 2013 above .500 in winning percentage.
Those are pretty achievable goals.
Perhaps someday Hughes might get a chance to replace Rivera as the team’s closer. But for now he will just have to continue to play the role he has been given – no matter how miscast he seems to be.
NEXT: IVAN NOVA