Tagged: Russell Branyan

Tex Eyes 2013 Rebound But Depth At First Lacking

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)

The one thing you could count on every season from Mark Teixeira was 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs driven in. He had, after all, done it in eight consecutive seasons when the 2012 season began.

But for the first time since his rookie season with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Teixeira failed to reach those totals for the New York Yankees. A pulled calf muscle that limited him to only four at-bats in September took away any hope that Teixeira had to extend the streak.

It was hardly the season Teixeira had envisioned for himself after taking a lot of criticism for batting .256 in 2010 and a career-low .248 in 2011. Teixeira had pledged that he try to go back to hitting to “all fields” instead of the pull-happy approach he had developed with that inviting short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium.

He even said he might bunt against the exaggerated shifts teams had employed against him when he was batting left-handed.

That never happened, however.

In fact, once Teixeira got off to another one of his annual slow starts in April (three home runs, 12 RBIs and a .244 average), he abandoned the “all fields” idea altogether and just hit. There is no doubt he would have likely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had not suffered the injury, but Teixeira decision was also directed to Yankee fans.

He basically was telling them he was not going to be hitter that hit a combined .306 with the Rangers and the Atlanta Braves in 2007 and .308 with the Braves and Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He even was not going to be the player that hit .292 in his first season with the Yankees.

Nope. If Teixeira was to be the productive hitter the Yankees wanted him to be Yankee fans would just have to settle for .250 batting averages from now on. That is just going to be the way it is.

Teixeira, 32, is reaching the same stage Jason Giambi did after his Most Valuable Player season with the Oakland Athletics in 2001 when he hit .342 with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.

Giambi hit .314 with 41 home runs and 122 RBIs in 2002 in his first season with the Yankees. Then his batting averages fell off a cliff to .250, .208 (in an injury-racked 2004 season), .271, .253, .236 and .247.

Teixeira is headed to similar fate and, though it does not make Yankee fans happy, it appears they will have to accept it because Teixeira has another four years on the eight-year, $180 million contract he signed with the team in 2009.

Yankee Stadium has actually become somewhat of  “The Killing Fields” for Teixeira. He hit just .218 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 2012 while he hit .277 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs on the road. That does not bode well looking ahead to 2013.

Teixeira is also having problems hitting right-handers. He hit only .239 against them last season while he hit .269 against lefties. That also does not look good when you consider he will bat a lot more left-handed than he will right-handed because of the dearth of quality left-hand pitching in baseball.

Like most of the Yankees last season, Teixeira also failed to hit well with runners in scoring position (.230) and with two outs in an inning (.190).

Unlike Giambi, however, Teixeira actually can play a little a defense and that is putting it mildly.

Teixeira is the gold standard of fielding first basemen. Last season he collected his fifth Gold Glove Award and his third since joining the Yankees. But the real story is how he won the award.

Teixeira committed just one error in 1,055 total chances for a fielding percentage of .999, which broke a Yankee record of .998 established by Don Mattingly in 1994 (two errors in 989 total chances). In fact, Teixeira’s .999 mark was the tenth best fielding mark recorded in the modern era (after 1900).

So to say Teixeira can play a little first base is like saying Jimi Hendrix could play a little guitar. Teixeira is simply the best fielding first baseman of his generation and there aren’t as many who are close.

Tex combines the range of the former third baseman he was and catlike reflexes that allow him to stop line drives and grounders that other first baseman would have left on the board as doubles down the line. Combine that with the fact that Teixeira saves his fellow Yankee infielders numerous errors by scooping and snagging poor throws to first, you have pretty much summed up what makes Teixeira special with the glove.

Here is another statistic for you: Teixeira committed 10 errors with the Rangers in 2004. In all of his major-league seasons since, Teixeira has not committed more than five errors. In his four seasons with the Yankees he has not committed more than four. Any way you slice it, Teixeira is very special as a fielder.

The biggest concern about Teixeira in 2013 has nothing to do with Teixeira himself. It has to do with who will back him at the position this season.

When Teixeira was injured last season, the Yankees had the luxury of being able to slide Nick Swisher in from right field or they could used veteran Eric Chavez if they needed another left-handed bat.

They will not have that ability this season. The Yankees elected to let Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and Chavez opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. So the Yankees find themselves very thin at first base.

Of course, Teixeira has been somewhat durable throughout his career. He has played less than 145 games only twice in nine seasons. Last season was one of those.

Still, Yankee fans would feel more comfortable if the Yankees had someone like Swisher (24 home runs, 93 RBIs, .272 BA) or Chavez (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA) playing behind Teixeira just in case they are needed.

For now Yankee fans have to hope that the acquisition off waivers of Cleveland Indians utility man Russ Canzler is the answer.

Canzler, 26, had three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 in just 98 at-bats in September with the Indians in 2012.

The right-handed Canzler can play first base, left field and serve as a designated hitter for the Yankees. He does have power in that he hit 22 home runs and drove in 79 runs in 130 games with Triple-A Columbus before being called by the Indians as a late-season addition to the roster.

Though Canzler did lead the International League in doubles (36) as well as home runs and RBIs, he is still a far cry for a proven veteran backup at first like Swisher and Chavez.

General manager Brian Cashman may still be looking to find a veteran to come into camp and bolster the bench.

Slick-fielding Casey Kotchman, 29, and Lyle Overbay, 36, are still available on the free-agent market. Of course, so are former Yankees Giambi, 41, and Nick Johnson, 34, but they are real longshots.

The Yankees also might look to the trade route. The point is don’t expect Canzler to be handed the backup job. He will have competition.

Of course, that competition will not be forthcoming from the Yankees’ minor-league system.

Steve Pearce, 29, came up for a brief period with the Yankees last season and hit .160 with one home run and four RBIs in 25 at-bats after he was released by the Houston Astros and he hit .318 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

He signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles for 2013.

Russell Branyan, 37, was invited to spring training in 2012 by the Yankees as a non-roster invitee but a back injury shelved him throughout camp and he played in only 36 games last season, hitting .309 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs with Scranton.

However, Russell and his muscle bat have taken their act to spring camp with the Angels in 2013.

Addison Maruszak, 26, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs in 117 games at Double-A Trenton. Maruszak, a right-hand hitter, split time at first base with Luke Murton, 26, a left-hand hitter who hit .249 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games.

Though Murton led the Yankees’ minor leaguers in home runs, his and Maruszak’s advanced age at the Double-A level do not make them future prospects for the Yankees.

Kyle Roller, 24, hit .266 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs in 121 games at Class-A Tampa in the Florida State League. He is perhaps worth watching in 2013 but he does not carry a high prospect label and he is several years away from helping the Yankees at the major-league level.

Because the Yankees do not have a proven major-league backup to Teixeira and their minor-league talent is severely lacking at first base, the position ranks as one of the weakest on the roster. Cashman is aware of this and it would seem to be a priority in the coming weeks to shore up the position before camp opens.

Nonetheless, the Yankees are lucky to have a durable starter in Teixeira to man the position. If he can be forgiven for hitting .250, his 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs will be vital to the Yankees’ success in 2013. His glove actually is an even bigger asset.

Teixeira will likely bat between third and fifth in the Yankee lineup and with the loss of power hitters such as Swisher, Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf for at least half the season, Teixeira is a vital piece to the Yankee puzzle in 2013. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.

There is not much behind him on the depth chart.

NEXT: LEFT FIELD

 

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Injury Cuts Down Tex For First Time In Pinstripes

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)

When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.

Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.

He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.

Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.

But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.

The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.

After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.

But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.

The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.

But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”

Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.

Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.

So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.

Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.

The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.

The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.

Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.

So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.

Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND HALF GRADE: I

OVERALL GRADE: C

BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)

Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.

Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.

But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.

Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.

He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.

No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.

MIDSEASON GRADE: B

SECOND HALF GRADE: B+

OVERALL GRADE: B

The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.

Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.

Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.

At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.

Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.

The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.

Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.

What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.

But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.

 

‘Comfy’ Yankees Rip Bosox To Go One Up In East

GAME 160

YANKEES 10, RED SOX 2

There is something to be said for feeling comfortable in your own environment and having a full compliment of players to fill out a powerful lineup. The  Yankees returned to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium on Monday with Mark Teixeira back in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 8 and they celebrated with an old-fashioned pounding of the remnants of what was the Boston Red Sox.

They unleashed a torrent of four home runs and nine runs in the second inning off right-hander Clay Buchholz while CC Sabathia turned in another dominant eight-inning outing as New York reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League East with a thrashing of what essentially was a Triple-A Pawtucket squad.

The Tampa Bay Rays did the Yankees a great favor by defeating the Baltimore Orioles 5-3 to push the Orioles back into second place and the loss reduced the Yankees’ magic number to clinch the division to two.

Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Teixiera all connected for home runs in the second inning, marking the first time the Yankees had accomplished that feat since June 21, 2005 against the then Devil Rays.

Buchholz (11-8) was rocked for eight runs on six hits and two walks and struck out two in 1 2/3 innings as the pennant-hungry Yankees laid into him like a starving lion on the prowl.

Cano opened the inning with a mammoth 446-foot blast off the glass off the restaurant in center-field for his 31st home run of the season. He joins Russell Branyan, who was with the Seattle Mariners at the time but played at the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate this season, as the only two players to have accomplished the feat.

Three batters later, Granderson smacked his 41st home run of the season with one out and Nick Swisher aboard. Martin then smacked Buchholz’s next offering into right-center when a Red Sox fan wearing a Dustin Pedroia jersey reached over into the field with his hat to catch the ball in the first row.

The ball, however, struck the fan in the wrist and was ruled a home run by second-base umpire C.B. Bucknor. Beleaguered Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine protested the call but Martin’s home run was upheld after a brief review of the video replay by the umpires. It was Martin’s career-high 22nd home run of the season.

The Yankees then loaded the bases against Buchholz on back-to-back walks to Eric Chavez and Derek Jeter and a hard-hit single to right by Ichiro Suzuki. Alex Rodriguez then hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Chavez.

It was Rodriguez’s first RBI since Sept 19, a stretch of 12 games.

Cano, who came into the game hitting .625 over his last seven games, laced a two-run double into right-center to score Jeter and Suzuki.

Valentine pulled Buchholz in favor of former Yankee right-hander Alfredo Aceves and Teixeira slammed a 3-2 offering deep into the bleachers in right-center for his 24th home run of the year.

Sabathia (15-6) pretty much took it from there.

He gave up a solo home run to Daniel Nava to lead off the fourth inning and the Red Sox added a run in the sixth without the benefit of a hit.

Mauro Gomez walked to open the frame and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third on an infield groundout by Ryan Lavarnway and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The Red Sox lineup was without injured stars David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury was benched because Sabathia was starting.

Sabathia gave up just four hits and one walk and struck out seven batters en route to his third consecutive outing of eight innings. In those three outings, Sabathia was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, giving up just four runs on 13 hits and four walks while fanning 31 in 24 innings of work.

Sabathia will next pitch the opening the game of the playoffs for the Yankees.

The Yankees tallied the last run in the ninth off Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey when pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez reached first on an infield single, took second a groundout by Brett Gardner and he scored on the first-major-league hit and RBI from pinch-hitter Melky Mesa.

Despite the fact a lot of intensity of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry has been muted by the ineptitude of the last-place Bosox, a paid crowd of 45,478 witnessed the beatdown on a mild 71-degree evening in the Bronx.

The Yankees improved their season ledger to 93-67. They can wrap up their third division crown over the past four years with a victory over Boston on Tuesday combined with loss by the Orioles to the Rays. The Red Sox are ridiculously woeful 69-91, 24 games behind the Yankees in last place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano is getting hot at just the right time to perhaps carry the Yankees into the playoffs. He was 3-for-5 with two doubles, a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored on the night. During his eight-game hitting streak Cano has had multiple hits in each one and is 18-for-29 (.621) during that span. He is sizzling hot!
  • Sabathia has finally quieted the whispers over his lack of velocity when he first came off the disabled list. He has been exceptional over his last three starts and looks to be in prime form heading into the playoffs. Since he was signed as free agent by the Yankees in 2009, Sabathia is 74-29.
  • Swisher was 3-for-4 in the game and has been red hot since Sept. 19. Over that span, Swisher has failed to get a hit in just one game and is 20-for-52 (.385) with four home runs and 14 RBIs. Swisher also ably played first base in place of Teixiera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

It was worth it just to look at that scoreboard after Teixeira’s home run and see the Yankees ahead 9-0 over the Red Sox. It appears with the Boston franchise in such disarray the rivalry with the Yankees will be a distant memory. The Red Sox have failed to make the playoffs in the last three seasons. How can it be a rivalry now?

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi made it official on Monday that Ivan Nova would not start on Tuesday against the “Dead” Sox. Rookie right-hander David Phelps will make the start instead. With the division on the line, Girardi did not have much faith in Nova, who was 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his three starts since coming off the disabled list.  . . .  Teixeira’s return marked the first time the lineup has been together since Sept. 8 but that was only for one game. Teixeira originally injured his left calf on Aug. 27 and the Yankees have definitely missed his defense as well as his offense. Teixeira was 1-for-3 in the game with a walk and home run. He has been told not to run hard while his calf is still healing.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their crucial home series with the PawSox on Tuesday.

Phelps (4-4, 3.44 ERA) gets the start for the Yankees. He gave up only one run on three hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings in a victory in his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 19 at home. Phelps is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in his two career starts against the Red Flops.

Left-hander Jon Lester (9-14, 4.94 ERA) will get the start for Boston. Lester gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk against the Rays last Wednesday. Lester is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA against the Yankees this season.

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

 

First And Foremost, Tex Needs To Provide Power

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  


FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (14 HRs, 46 RBIs, .247 BA)

When Mark Teixeira arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, he vowed we would see a whole new player this season. He said he would bunt against the shift teams employ against him and he would look to go the opposite field to bring his batting average up to his career average of .280.

But that never really happened.

Teixeira, 32, junked that strategy early in the 2012 season because it was not working. He decided the old way would produce home runs and drive in runs. Of course, that is the reason Teixeira is being paid by the Yankees.

What we have left in Teixeira is just a shell of what he was when he hit a combined .308 with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels and Atlanta Braves in 2008, a year before he signed his lucrative seven-year contract with the Yankees.

Teixeira has altered his stroke to take advantage of the short porch in right-field in Yankee Stadium. The result is the same thing that happened to Jason Giambi when he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees in the winter of 2002.

Giambi was coming off a season in which he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs in a not-so-hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum for the Athletics. Giambi’s career with the Yankees was marked by precipitous drop in batting average while he remained productive in hitting home runs and driving in runs.

In his final season with the Yankees in 2008, Giambi hit .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Teixeira not only took the reins at first base from Giambi in 2009, he became Giambi – even down to Giambi’s annual slow starts in April.

It is a shame that such a talented switch-hitter that could hit with power to all fields has become a “pull-happy” hitter prone to pitchers who feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches in the dirt. But that is pretty much what Teixeira has become.

His numbers this season are just horrendous, too. He is on a pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 92 runs after hitting 39 home runs and driving in 111 runs last season. Of course, Teixeira was plagued for more than a month with a bronchial infection that did sap him of some strength. He is fine now.

Of course, is does not mean Teixeira can’t go on a tear in the second half and improve those numbers. But he better get busy.

The issue with Teixeira is not just the drop in batting average and production, though. It is his .216 average with runners in scoring position.

He is not alone with this problem. It is pretty much team wide. But Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano are the players who are expected to drive the big runs and it did not happen, for the most part, in the first half.

For the Yankees to be able to succeed in winning the American League East and getting deep into the playoffs, Teixeira is going to have to step it up big time. Home runs are nice but it also comes down to hitting that two-out double in the seventh to tie a game or a single with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a lead.

Those hits are important and Teixeira has just not been getting them with regularity this season.

What you can count on with Teixeira is his exceptional defense. He nearly made it through the entire first half without making a single error. His first was on Monday and it cost the Yankees a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But that was the small exception to what has been a huge rule.

Teixeira’s glove at first is simply golden and he been decorated with four of them. If I was doing the voting this season, he would win his fifth.

Teixeira plays with exceptional range around first and his quick reactions allow him to stop a lot of line drives that would be rattling off the right-field wall if he was not there.

You add to that his ability to scoop bad throws to first out of the dirt and you have the consummate first baseman. In this respect, Teixeira is not anything like his predecessor Giambi. But the Yankees have come to expect flashy defense from their first baseman since they got so much of it from Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez.

Teixeira also is a durable player. He has started 74 games at first base and played in 77 of the team’s 81 games. At age 32, he can use a day off here and there to keep him sharp. But the Yankees really need his defense at first.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

BACKUP  – ERIC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)

Chavez, 34, is primarily a third baseman by trade and he has played more this season there to back up Rodriguez.

But he also can play some first and he has made four starts there.

After a 2011 season in which he missed more than two months with a fractured bone in his left foot, Chavez has provided the Yankees with quality work off the bench this season.

He is hitting for a decent average considering he does not get regular at-bats and he is providing some power at the bottom of the batting order.

Chavez also has six Gold Gloves in his trophy case when he was third baseman with the Athletics so his value is immense with the Yankees needing to rest Rodriguez a lot and Teixeira some.

There is no way Chavez will provide Teixeira’s level of defense to first base. But he will hold his own here and he really is not needed to play the position much.

The Yankees are also fortunate to have Nick Swisher available to play first on occasion. Swisher has also started three games at first and there is no dropoff in offense when he is there. Oddly, enough Swisher is not really that bad a fielder either. He is no Teixeira, but then who is?

MIDSEASON GRADE: B

The Yankees do not have a high-ranking young first baseman in the minor leagues. At this time, they are fielding a platoon of former major leaguers at first base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Lefty slugger Russell Branyan, 36, is hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. Righty slugger Steve Pearce, 29, is hitting .321 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.

Branyan, who has the two longest home runs in the new Yankee Stadium, was invited to spring training as a non-roster player but injured his back as was unable to play in any exhibitions. Pearce was acquired a free-agent out of the Pirates’ organization.

Both are there as insurance in case of injury to either Teixeira or Chavez.

At Double-A Trenton, the Yankees have a right-handed line-drive hitting first baseman in Addison Maruszak, 25, who is hitting .278 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs, and a right-handed power-hitter in Luke Murton, 26, who is hitting .257 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs.

Neither is considered a top prospect.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C

The Yankees’ success in the first half has been tempered by the slow starts of Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano and their lack of production with runners in scoring position.

I guess the Yankees are just going to have to accept Teixeira as a 30 home run, 100 RBI player who is going to hit below .260 for the rest his stint in pinstripes.

That said, Teixeira can certainly improve on the 14 home runs and 46 RBIs he has produced thus far – not to mention his horrible .216 average with runners in scoring position.

Though Teixeira’s defense is exceptional, the Yankees need his bat if they want to succeed heading into the postseason. Teixeira’s season will be judged harshly if the Yankees fail to make it to the World Series.

He has got to step it up if he wants to bring a 28th world title to the Bronx.

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Yankees Hit Some Long Rockets To Down Astros

GAME 29

YANKEES 11, ASTROS 9 (RAIN SHORTENED)

KISSIMMEE, FL – A week or so ago it just seemed the Yankees were not scoring any runs. After Saturday’s Grapefruit League game against the Astros you have to wonder are they ever going to stop scoring.

Raul Ibanez homered and drove in four runs and Robinson Cano added a home run of his own and two RBIs as New York pounded out 16 hits – four of them homers – to down Houston at Osceola County Stadium in a game that was called with one out in the ninth inning due to rain.

Right-hander Adam Warren (1-0) was the winning pitcher despite the fact he gave up six runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. The Yankees made life miserable for Astros starter Jordan Lyles (0-3), who was knocked around for eight runs on 11 hits and he walked one batter in 4 2/3 innings.

Preston Claiborne gave up two runs in the ninth inning but still got credit for a save.

In their last two spring training contests the Yankees have scored 24 runs on 31 hits and 11 walks.

With the victory the Yankees improved their spring record to 15-11 and that means they can finish the spring with no worse than a .500 record. The Astros completed their Florida portion of spring training and ended up 14-15.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The story of the week has been the resurrection of Ibanez. In his last five games, Ibanez is 6-for-14 (.429) with three home runs and eight RBIs. Not to mention he had another potential home run taken away by a leaping grab at the wall by Justin Heyward of the Braves on Wednesday. Ibanez has raised his once dismal spring average from a low of .054 to a still poor, yet encouraging, .157. It looks like the extra work Ibanez has been putting in with hitting coach Kevin Long is paying dividends at the right time.
  • Cano also had a slow start to the spring but he is gearing to put up a monster season from the No. 3 spot in the batting order. Cano singled and scored in the first and preceded Ibanez’s two-run home run in the fifth with one of his own as the Yankees rallied from a 5-4 deficit to 8-5 lead, a lead they did not relinquish. Cano is hitting .236 with two home runs and a team-leading 12 RBIs.
  • Curtis Granderson is also primed for another big season. Granderson was 3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored. Granderson is hitting a sizzling .381 this spring and it seems he is determined to show 2011 was not a fluke.
  • It also bears mentioning that the Yankees’ firstup  draft pick in 2011, Dante Bichette Jr., served notice on Saturday that he is a force to be reckoned with in the future. Bichette entered the game in the fifth inning and promptly hit a solo home in the sixth off right-hander Ruben Alantz. He followed that with another solo home run in the eighth off Astros closer Brandon Lyon. Both home runs came on the first pitch.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The pitching was atrocious but manager Joe Girardi wanted to make sure his rotation was lined up for the start of the regular season on Friday so Warren was pressed into action. The 24-year-old former North Carolina Tarheels star had trouble locating his fastball and he paid dearly for it. He gave up four runs in the fourth, three of them on a three-run home run by Justin Ruggiano.
  • It had to happen sooner or later but left-hander Clay Rapada surrendered his first run of the spring on Saturday. Called on to relieve Warren with two outs in the sixth, Rapada gave up a solo home run to Brian Bogusevic, a left-handed batter. Rapada, 30, will likely make the 25-man roster as a lefty specialist in the bullpen. His spring ERA is 0.93.
  • Eduardo Nunez was the only Yankee starter to not get a hit on Saturday. Nunez was 0-for-3 but he still has had an excellent spring, hitting at a .381 clip.

BOMBER BANTER

An MRI conducted on Saturday on 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda’s sore right shoulder indicated he merely has tendinitis. However, he will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. Pineda complained of soreness behind his right shoulder after he was blasted for six runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Phillies on Friday night. The Yankees said Pineda will rest the shoulder and then resume throwing until he is ready to return. Pineda was acquired along with right-hander Jose Campos from the Mariners in a trade for top catching prospect Jesus Montero this winter. With Pineda on the disabled list, manager Joe Girardi  set the rotation as follows: No. 1 CC Sabathia, No. 2 Hiroli Kuroda, No. 3 Phil Hughes, No. 4 Ivan Nova and No. 5 Freddy Garcia.  . . .  With Pineda on the DL, the loser in the six-man fight for five rotation spots will not be headed to the bullpen. That opens the door for young right-handers David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell and Warren as candidates for a long-relief role.  . . .  Left-hander Cesar Cabral has a stress fracture on the tip of his left elbow and he also will begin the season on the disabled list. Cabral, 23, was in considerable pain after pitching an inning against the Phillies on Friday. An MRI, an X-ray and a CT scan was conducted on Saturday and Cabral’s left arm was placed in a splint. The silver lining in this is that with Cabral on the disabled list the Yankees will not have to offer the Rule 5 selection back to the Kansas City Royals.  . . .  In a procedural move the Yankees released first baseman/DH Russell Branyan on Friday and signed him to a new minor-league deal on Saturday. Branyan, 36, has been unable to play in any games this spring due to a herniated disc in his back. Branyan will stay in Tampa, FL, after spring training ends to work back into shape for about four weeks.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Miami, FL., on Sunday to play the Marlins in a pair of games and open their brand-new retractable roof stadium, Marlins Park.

In the Sunday opener the Yankees will start Sabathia in his final tuneup before his April 6 start against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, FL. The Marlins will counter with right-hander Ricky Nolasco.

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

 

‘The Chief’ Looks Sharp As Yankees Blank Braves

GAME 7

YANKEES 3, BRAVES (SS)  0

TAMPA – Just when it looked like the Yankees were looking so bad pitching, hitting and fielding they would not win another Grapefruit League game the stars aligned and everything went right for a change.

The Yankees got two-out RBI hits from Nick Swisher and Melky Mesa, Freddy (The Chief) Garcia and five other Yankee pitchers blanked the Braves on just five hits and the defense played flawlessly as New York downed an Atlanta split squad on sun-plashed Friday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Garcia (1-0) looked sharp in his three innings of work, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out two using his assortment of split-finger fastballs, change-ups and sliders. Garcia threw only 33 pitches and 20 of them were strikes as he took s huge step forward in his battle for a spot in the starting rotation.

Julio Teheran (0-1) took the loss, giving up one run on three hits and one walk and he struck out three batters. Tehetan gave up six home runs in just two innings in his last outing against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. So even though he lost he probably felt a lot better about this performance.

The Yankees scored a run in the first after first baseman Freddie Freeman could not a complete a double play on a grounder off the bat of Robinson Cano. It allowed Derek Jeter to reach second and Swisher made the Braves pay for the bobble when he laced a double off the base of the left-field wall, allowing Jeter to coast home.

The Yankees added a run off Braves right-hander Cristhian Martinez in the fifth when Jeter drew a one-out walk and advanced to third on a single by Curtis Granderson. Cano then lofted a sacrifice fly to medium center-field to score Jeter.

The Yankees final run came in the seventh with two out. Doug Bernier hit a looping fly into right-center off Braves reliever Adam Russell and he hustled it into a double. Mesa followed with a broken-bat looper to right that dropped in score Bernier and cap the Yankees scoring.

The Yankees improved their spring ledger to 3-4. The Braves dropped to 1-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Garcia appeared as if he were toying with the young Brave hitters – taking a little off this and adding a bit to that, Garcia pretty much used his entire arsenal. He looked excellent in doing so, keeping the Braves off balance through all three innings. This is not good news for Phil Hughes, who must step up his game in order to stay in the running for a starting spot.
  • The Yankees’ No. 1 minor-league prospect, 20-year-old lefty Manny Banuelos, tossed a very impressive two innings. He gave up two hits, walked none and struck out three. He struck out Jose Constanza looking with two out and Brandon Hicks at second base in the fifth and he fanned Freddie Freeman on foul-tipped check-swing with Michael Bourn on second and two out in the sixth. Banuelos has drawn nothing but raves since he arrived at camp.
  • Rafael Soriano needed just nine pitches to retire the Braves in order in the fourth inning. Soriano has looked sharp in both of his appearances this spring.
  • Catcher Russell Martin turned in a gem of a defensive play in the third inning. Leading off the inning, Bourn dropped a bunt down to the left in front of home plate. Martin uncoiled out of his crouch, pounced on the ball, stopped on a dime and threw out Bourn at first.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • I hate to complain on a day when the Yankees did play well but Chris Dickerson had a day to forget as the designated hitter. With one out in the second inning and Martin at third base , Dickerson struck out swinging. In the fourth inning, with two out and Martin at second he struck out looking.
  • In that same fourth inning, Eric Chavez committed a bad base-running blunder that cost the Yankees. He doubled to lead off the frame but he was thrown out trying to advance to third on a Martin grounder to shortstop Tyler Pastornicky. The baseball rule states that you do not advance if the ball is in front of you.
  • The Yankees were 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position. That is OK when the pitching is good but the Yankees need to get better in these situations so they can be competitive when their pitching is not so good.

BOMBER BANTER

After a shutout victory the Yankees got even better news concerning All-Star reliever David Robertson. Tests on Robertson’s right foot indicate he only has a bone bruise and his walking boot will be removed on Sunday. Robertson injured his foot on Wednesday at his home when he slipped on a step carrying some empty boxes. After an initial scan showed some cause for concern, Robertson made two trips to a Tampa hospital on Thursday for X-rays, a CT scan, an MRI and a weight-bearing X-ray on his injured foot. All the tests showed a simple bone bruise. Manager Joe Girardi called the diagnosis “as good as it gets for us.” Robertson will likely miss about a week before he can resume getting ready for th 2012 season.  . . .  Eduardo Nunez also got some good news on Friday. A CT scan on his bruised right hand was negative. Nunez reported some discomfort in his hand when he took batting practice on Thursday. Nunez was injured when he was struck on the hand on a pitch from the Phillies’ Austin Hyatt on Monday. He will not play on Saturday and is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Meanwhile, catcher Austin Romine and first baseman and DH Russell Branyan remain sidelined with back inflammation. There is no timetable for them to play in spring exhibition games.

ON DECK

After playing host to the Braves, the Yankees will visit the Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL., on Saturday.

The Yankees are scheduled to start 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda. He will be making his second spring start. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner and Raul Ibanez will make the trip for the Yankees.

The Braves will start right-hander Jair Jurrjens.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will not be telecast.

 

Yankees To Open Spring Playing South Florida

The New York Yankees will open the spring with an exhibition game against the University of South Florida on Friday.

Manager Joe Girardi is planning to have his starters get one at-bat or two and right-hander Adam Warren will be the starting pitcher for the Yankees.

Warren, 24, is a non-roster player who was 6-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With the Yankees’ rotation loaded with six pitchers vying for five spots, Warren is obviously headed back to Triple A.

But Warren hopes to leave a good impression this spring with hopes of in-season call to the major leagues as a starter or reliever.

Girardi also announced the pitchers who will follow Warren to the mound. They are: Brett Marshall, Dan Burawa, Juan Cedeno, Graham Stoneburner, Ryan Pope and Kevin Whelan. All of them are non-roster pitchers who were invited to spring training.

The game, which begins at 1:05 p.m. EST at George M. Steinbrenner Field, will benefit the University of South Florida baseball program.

WALKING WOUNDED

The club has five players who have come up with injuries this spring.

Right-handed reliever Manny Delcarmen, another non-roster invitee, will miss four to five days with a slight strain of his right lat muscle.

Rookie catcher Austin Romine has been hobbled by inflammation in his back and the Yankees are being very cautious before letting him return to action.

First baseman and designated hitter Russell Branyan has been shelved with tightness in his back. Catcher Kyle Higashioka has been bothered with right shoulder soreness and right-handed reliever George Kontos has a slight oblique strain.

ALL EYES ON A.J.

Speaking of wounded, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Thursday that A.J. Burnett will undergo surgery in Pittsburgh on Friday after he suffered a fractured right orbital bone in his right eye in a bunting drill on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fl..

The Pirates do not have a timetable for his recovery at this time.

Burnett, 35, was acquired by the Pirates on Feb. 18 from the Yankees in return for two minor-league pitchers.

The Pirates scrapped Burnett’s scheduled start on Sunday and now face the likelihood with the setback in his spring preparation that he likely will not open the season on the team’s roster.

Burnett was injured while participating in the team’s bunting tournament. He fouled a ball from a pitching machine into his right-eye area and had to be immediately tended to by trainers.

On behalf of the Bottom of the Ninth blog and all the Yankee fans who still love and support A.J., we wish to express to A.J. and his family that we are are hoping the surgery goes well and he bounces back to pitch well for the Pirates this season.

BOMBER BANTER

Robinson Cano returned to camp in Tampa, FL, on Thursday after spending a few days in the Dominican Republic attending his grandmother’s funeral. She died of cancer at age 91. Cano will not play in a exhibition game until Sunday.  . . .  The Yankees’ annual team-building outing was held on Thursday at the Tampa Improv in Ybor City, FL. The team participated in improvisational skits and activities designed to loosen up the players and allow them to have some laughs together. Girardi said the trip was especially important for the young players in camp in helping them feel a part of the team.  . . .  Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said Thursday that the team has a goal to lower payroll to $189 million over the next two years and the development of the team’s young pitchers would help toward that goal.  He said the team’s current payroll is around $210 million.