YANKEES 7, BLUE JAYS 3
With the crush of American and Japanese media on hand and an unfriendly sellout crowd at Rogers Centre on Friday it was understandable if Masahiro Tanaka was a little nervous making his major-league regular season debut.
After Melky Cabrera deposited his third offering over the center-field wall reality set in. But Tanaka gradually overcame his nerves and settled in to win his first game in the United States as New York pounded out 16 hits to defeat Toronto in front of paid crowd of 48.187.
Tanaka (1-0) actually lost a 2-1 lead in the second inning when two hits and an error loaded the bases and Jonathan Diaz touched him for a two-run single. But after that hit, the 25-year-old right-hander retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced, striking out six of them to allow the Yankees to come back and win the game.
Tanaka’s final line was excellent. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks and he struck out eight batters in seven innings.
“I was missing some spots earlier in the game, but as the game progressed, I think I was getting better out there,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Obviously I’m happy. I think No. 1 is that I’m relieved.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was once again sparked by rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI in his major-league debut against Houston Astros on Thursday.
With the Yankees trailing 3-2 in the third inning, Brian Roberts drew a one-out walk from Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-1) and stole second. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki bound a ground ball to Ryan Goins at second base and Suzuki was called out on a close play at first.
However, manager Joe Girardi successfully overturned first-base umpire Dana Demuth’s call through a instant-replay challenge, which put Roberts at third and Suzuki at first for Solarte.
The 26-year-old switch-hitter Solarte then laced a two-run double to right-center to give the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish.
That hit also ended McGowan’s evening. The 32-year-old right-hander, who was making his first major-league start since 2011, was charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out three in 2 2/3 innings.
The Yankees took an early 2-0 lead against McGowan in the first inning as Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 3-for-4 with a walk, stole two bases and scored two runs in the game, cranked a double to deep center. Brett Gardner advanced him to third on a hard-hit single to left.
Carlos Beltran then scored Ellsbury with a bloop single to left-center and Mark Teixeira scored Gardner with a single to right.
The Yankees only bad news of the evening came in the third inning as the Blue Jays took the lead against Tanaka. Teixiera injured his right hamstring while moving to field a foul ball. He was forced to leave the game and his immediate status is unclear.
The Yankees padded their lead in the fourth when Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a one-out RBI single off left-hander Aaron Loup after the Blue Jays elected to intentionally walk Beltran to face the lefty swinging McCann.
They added single runs in the eighth on Gardner’s RBI single off right-hander Steve Delabar and in the ninth on another RBI double by Solarte off right-hander Jarred Jeffress.
With the victory, the Yankees evened their season record to 2-2. The Blue Jays fell to 2-3.
- Tanaka’s ability to recover from the mistakes he made pitching to Cabrera and Diaz are a testament to the fact he is not just a thrower. Tanaka knows how to pitch and make adjustments at a very young age. That attribute actually may be just as valuable as his split-finger fastball. The $155 million the Yankees invested in him may end up being a bargain. He is that good.
- After two games, Solarte is 5-for-10 (.500) with three doubles and two runs scored. He also leads the team in RBIs with four. If Teixeira is sidelined for any length of time it is a pretty good bet that Kelly Johnson will move from third base to play first and Solarte will become the starting third baseman. The Yankees may have found a real gem in this youngster.
- Ellsbury showed what he can do from the leadoff spot on Friday. His two doubles, two stolen bases and two runs scored really set the tone for the evening. To top it all off, Ellsbury also made a nice sliding catch of Dioner Navarro’s sinking line drive in the sixth inning.
- Teixeira’s injury exposes the weakest area on the Yankees’ roster. Johnson is not an experienced first baseman and he will be asked to fill in while Teixiera is out. The Yankees do have corner infielder Russ Canzler at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he is not anywhere close to Teixeira in offense or defense. he also is not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees have to hope Teixiera is not sidelined for an extended period of time.
- Dellin Betances was brought in to the game in the eighth to face Jose Bautista with two out and a four-run lead. He walked him. Although he got out of the inning by retiring Edwin Encarnacion, he opened the ninth by walking Adam Lind on four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. Girardi then summoned David Robertson to close out a game in which he should not have had to appear. Betances has had control issues in the past so he bears watching.
Teixeira will be re-evaluated on Saturday but it is highly unlikely he will play. The strain is is considered mild but Teixeira is scheduled to have an MRI on the right hamstring in New York on Monday. Teixeira played in only 15 games last season before having to undergo surgery to repair a torn sheath in his right wrist. . . . After Solarte got his first major-league hit in his debut on Thursday, Dean Anna singled in the ninth inning in his first major-league start on Saturday. Anna, 27, was in the lineup at shortstop to give Derek Jeter a rest. Anna was 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run.
The Yankees wil continue their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Saturday.
After trading top prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners before the 2012 season the Yankees will finally see Michael Pineda on the mound for them in a major-league game. Pineda, 25, was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 innings this spring after missing almost two seasons due to shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.
He will be opposed by right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey (0-1, 10.80 ERA), who was out of sync in his 2014 debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. Dickey walked six batters and ended up surrendering six runs on five hits in five innings.
Game-time will be 1:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, PIRATES 2
CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki have one thing in common. These two former stars have had a lot of baseball pundits digging their graves and ready to start shoveling dirt on them.
After watching them both play on a damp and cloudy Thursday afternoon at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, it might be time to put away those shovels. Both have a lot left in the tank.
Suzuki was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI and Sabathia extended his spring training scoreless inning streak to 17 as New York defeated Pittsburgh in front of a paid crowd of 8.134.
In his final tuneup before Opening Day on April 1, Sabathia (3-1) held the Pirates to three hits, he did not walk a batter and he threw 33 of his 44 pitches for strikes. The 33-year-old left-hander leaves spring training with a sparkling 1.29 ERA.
Meanwhile, Suzuki helped spark the an offense that tagged right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-1) for four runs on nine hits and a walk over four innings.
Suzuki led off the game with an opposite-field single and he advanced to third on a hit-and-run single by Eduardo Nunez. Mark Teixeira scored Suzuki on a groundout. Two batters later, Zoilo Almonte, who also had three hits in the game, laced a single to left to score Nunez.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fourth after Pimentel had retired the first two batters.
Adonis Garcia doubled to the wall in right-center and Suzuki scored him on another opposite-field single. Suzuki moved to second on a wild pitch and he then scored on a single by Nunez.
The Pirates did not score until the eighth, when Jarek Cunningham greeted reliever David Phelps with a single and Andy Vazquez followed with a double. Travis Snider drew a walk to load the bases and Cunningham scored on a double play off the bat of Drew Maggi.
South African infielder Gift Ngoepe then laced a double to score Vazquez.
With the victory the Yankees assured themselves of a Grapefruit League record over .500. They are 16-12-2. The Pirates completed their Florida schedule with a 14-10 mark.
- After Sabathia finished the 2013 season with a 14-13 record with a 4.78 ERA, he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his work this spring he has a good chance to make good on the promise. A great gauge on Sabathia’s progress is that in 21 innings this spring, he has walked only three while striking out 16. Despite reduced velocity on his fastball Sabathia is able to get outs with command of his pitches, mixing of speeds and the addition of a cutter.
- Suzuki, 40, even hit the ball hard in the one out he made in sixth. He lined out to left. On March 15, Suzuki was batting .125 and looking his age at the plate. Since then he is 9-for-23 (.391) with five RBIs in his past seven games. Though he likely will be the team’s fifth outfielder unless he is traded, Suzuki appears to be ready to play whenever manager Joe Girardi calls on him.
- Nunez, 26, was having a disappointing spring until he went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI on Thursday. Nunez is among three players being considered for two backing infield jobs that are open with infielder Brendan Ryan nursing a sore back and headed for the disabled list to start the season. Nunez raised his average to .265 and he has a homer and four RBIs.
- In his second appearance after learning he was not chosen as the No. 5 starter, Phelps struggled with his command in his two-thirds of an inning of work. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. Only a bases-loaded double play turned by Carmen Angelini and Jose Pirela saved him from disaster. Phelps will have to get used to throwing out of the bullpen again.
- Though he drove in the game’s first run on a groundout, Teixeira was 0-for-3 and saw his spring average dip to .091. Because Teixeira underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, he was unable to prepare as he would have liked for spring training. Being a switch-hitter also means he has to work on his stroke from both sides of the plate. Teixeira is likely going to need more time to get going. But, then again, Teixeira has never been known to hit much in April anyway.
The Yankees made seven roster moves after Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL. They optioned right-hander Preston Claiborne and Almonte to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In addition, they reassigned infielders Russ Canzler and Scott Sizemore, and right-handers David Herndon, Jim Miller and Yoshinori Tateyama to minor-league camp. On Thursday, the team also reassigned right-handers Danny Burawa and Chris Leroux and left-hander Fred Lewis to minor-league camp. The team is expected to finalize its 25-man roster on Friday. . . . Jacoby Ellsbury worked out at the team’s spring training complexion Tampa, FL, and he is expected to play in minor-league contests on Friday and Saturday. Ellsbury is recovering from a strained right calf and he is progressing well, Girardi told reporters. . . . Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is continuing to receive treatment for a sore right shoulder. Though the Yankees are monitoring the injury it is not considered serious.
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday to face the Miami Marlins.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA) will make his fourth appearance of the spring and his third start. Kuroda likely will be limited to about 50 pitches.
The Marlins will counter with right-hander Jacob Turner (2-1, 2.79 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio via WIOD-610 AM in Miami.
YANKEES (SS) 6, ORIOLES 0
TAMPA – Michael Pineda pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings in his first start of the spring and Brett Gardner collected two hits, scored two runs and drove in another as a New York split squad blanked Baltimore on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Pineda (1-0) yielded three hits, a walk and struck out five in a performance marked by both brilliance and some inconsistency. Pineda reached three-ball counts on five batters.
Meanwhile, the Yankees jumped on Orioles starter Bud Norris (0-1) for a single run in the first and a pair of runs in the second.
Carlos Beltran singled in Gardner in the first and Gardner doubled in Zoilo Almonte in the second. A Norris throwing error trying to nail Gardner at third ended up allowing Gardner to score to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.
The Yankees added a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Alfonso Soriano off reliever Kevin Gausman.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 8-5-2. The Orioles fell to 9-5.
- Pineda was far from sharp but still showed signs he can definitely handle the No. 5 spot in the rotation. You can pin the inconsistency to his two years of rust. The five strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings shows he has good stuff. He will just have to harness it.
- Gardner hit the ball hard three times and he is now batting .304 on the spring. The Yankees can’t wait to see how Gardner works out of the ninth spot this season with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off.
- Almonte followed up his two-run, game-tying home run in the ninth on Wednesday with a double and a single on Thursday. Almonte will not make the roster but will be a call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees hoped that Russ Canzler might have a place on the roster with his power and his ability to play both corner infield and corner outfield spots. Canzler, though, was 0-for-3 on Thursday and struck out swinging each time. He is hitting .158.
- After showing some early promise, Dean Anna is cooling off. He was 0-for-3 on Thursday and he is hitting .316.
The On Deck feature will be in the next post.
RAYS 5, YANKEES 4
Desmond Jennings blasted a three-run home run in the fifth inning that tied the game at 4-4 and two batters later Matt Joyce hit a wind-aided solo shot that was the eventual game-winner as Tampa Bay edged New York in an exhibition game on Wednesday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, FL.
A steady 10-mile-per-hour wind with higher gusts were blowing out throughout the game.
Both home runs for the Rays came off right-hander Robert Coello (0-2), who was pounded for four runs on three hits in only a third of an inning to take the loss.
Non-roster invitee Erik Bedard (1-1), who is competing for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation, threw three scoreless innings of relief to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi struck out Pete O’Brien with two on and two out in the ninth to earn a save.
The Yankees scored a pair of runs in the first inning off Rays starter Cesar Ramos on an RBI single by Russ Canzler and an RBI groundout by Kelly Johnson. They added two more runs in the fourth inning off Rays closer Grant Balfour on Brett Gardner’s two-out, bases-loaded single, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
The Rays cut the Yankees’ 2-0 lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first when Ben Zobrist lifted a solo home run to left off Yankee starter Adam Warren in his first at-bat of the spring.
The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now even at 4-4. The Rays improved to 4-1.
- Gardner’s two-run single in the fourth produced his first two RBIs of the spring. Gardner is off to a very good start to the spring, going 4-for-10 (.400) and an on-base percentage of .500 in the four games in which he has played. With a four-year, $52 million extension in hand and all the trade rumors quashed, Gardner is hoping to build on his solid 2013 season.
- Warren, 26, actually pitched pretty well despite giving up the leadoff home run to Zobrist in the first inning. He gave up just the one run on four hits and no walks while he struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Warren still hopes to earn the No. 5 starting job with the Yankees after spending most of his rookie season in 2013 as a long reliever.
- Yangervis Solarte came through again on Wednesday. The 26-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder was 1-for-3, reaching on a single and an error and scoring a run. Solarte is 8-for-12 (.667) with two homers and six RBIs in six games so far. “He’s going to get a good look. He’s got some versatility. We’re looking for versatility because of our infield situation, and he has that,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.
- Dellin Betances is quickly inserting himself into the bullpen mix and he was awesome again on Wednesday. Betances, 26, threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, giving up no hits, walking one and striking out two. The 6-foot-8 right-hander has always had a crackling mid-90s fastball but he seems to have conquered the control problems he had as a starter.
- The annual award for the “Putrid Pitching in Pinstripes Award” may have been locked up for this spring by non-roster invitee Coello, 29, who has now surrendered nine earned runs on eight hits (three of them home runs), a walk and a hit batter in three appearances covering 1 2/3 innings. His spring ERA is a stratospheric 48.60! Coello, who has pitched briefly with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels, sports a 2-3 record and 5.90 ERA in his career. I have two suggestions for him: (1) Either try to hook back up with the Red Sox or (2) Look for another line of work. He, in a word, stinks.
- John Ryan Murphy had some early success at the plate this spring battling for a backup catching role behind Brian McCann. But he took a giant step backwards on Wednesday. Murphy, 22, popped out with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning and killed a two on, one out rally in the sixth by grounding into a double play. The Yankees lost by one and he left five runners on base. That is not good.
After battling through a serious form of the flu, outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is scheduled to make his spring training debut on Thursday, Girardi told reporters. Soriano has been limited to batting practice and off-field workouts. . . . Thursday will also mark the spring debut of first baseman Mark Teixeira, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist. Teixeira was limited to just 15 games last season before requiring surgery. Teixeira hopes to get two or three at-bats in the game. . . . Former Yankee right-hander Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez has joined the Yankees as a minor-league pitching instructor. Hernandez, 48, spent nine seasons in the major leagues after defecting from Cuba and was 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA. He won three World Series rings with the Yankees from 1998 to 2000.
In addition to the debuts of Soriano and Teixeira, the Yankees will give their first starting assignment to Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as they travel on Thursday to Clearwater, FL, to face the Philadelphia Phillies and Bright House Field.
Tanaka, 25, pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Phillies on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. The Yankees were pleased and the Phillies were impressed with the $155 million free agent.
The Phillies will start veteran right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who was 10-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 30 starts last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live nationally by the MLB Network.
ORIOLES 3, YANKEES 2
TAMPA – Quintin Berry stroked an RBI single to tie the game and Julio Borbon later followed with an RBI groundout in the seventh inning as Baltimore rallied to defeat New York in an exhibition game on Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Brad Brach (1-0) pitched an inning of scoreless relief to get credit for the victory. Brock Huntzinger pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn a save.
Right-hander Chase Whitley (0-2) was tagged with the loss.
The Yankees scored both their runs with two out in the second inning against Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen. Francisco Cervelli blasted a solo home run and, after back-to-back singles by Brendan Ryan and Russ Canzler, Yangervis Solarte delivered an RBI single to score Ryan.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Yankees and dropped their Grapefruit League record to 4-3. The Orioles improved to 3-2.
- Cervelli celebrated his 28th birthday a day early with his first home run of the spring. Cervelli was 1-for-2 with a walk and is now 4-for-9 (.556) early this spring. Cervelli is the leading candidate in the backup catching competition between Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy and himself.
- Solarte entered the contest 6-for-7 (.857) with two home runs and five RBIs. The 26-year-old minor-league free-agent utility infielder came through again on Tuesday with an RBI single in the second inning. Though Solarte’s odds of making the team are real long, he is drawing attention with his bat, his glove and his hustle this spring.
- Chris Leroux, a 29-year-old Canadian right-hander, pitched two perfect innings of relief with a pair of strikeouts. Leroux has pitched in 63 major-league games with the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates with a 1-2 record and a 5.56 ERA. He is a non-roster invitee to camp.
- Yankees starter David Phelps was not as sharp as he would have liked on Tuesday. He gave up a run on five hits and a walk with two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. However, Phelps did wriggle out of trouble in the first two innings before surrendering a leadoff triple to David Lough and an RBI groundout by Jemile Weeks in the third. Phelps got out of a two-on and nobody out situation in the first by getting Delmon Young to hit into double play and inducing Steve Clavenger to hit into a groundout in the first. He escaped the same two on and no out situation in the second by retiring Francisco Peguero, Berry and Cord Phelps in order.
- Whitley, 24, is having a lot of trouble in the early going. Whitley came into camp with a 3-2 record and 3.06 ERA in 29 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. He has been tagged for six runs on six hits and three walks in innings. He is 0-2 with a 18.00 ERA.
- Derek Jeter started the game as designated hitter and went 0-2, including bouncing into his third double play. The Yankee captain is 0-for-9. He may not be panicking but he is not really happy with his early performance at the plate. Jeter has yet to hit a solid line drive.
The Yankees travel to Port Charlotte, FL, on Wednesday to face the Tampa Bay Rays for the first time this spring.
Right-hander Adam Warren, 26, will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees.
Left-hander Cesar Ramos will start for the Rays.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio.
The publishing of this report was delayed by technical difficulties.
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.
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.
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.